ANIMAL CRACKERS: Tusk and Bird People

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tusk-movie-wallpaper-20Okay, I’m just going to say it and get it out of the way because if I don’t, I won’t be able to concentrate and write the rest of the review.
Tusk, writer/director Kevin Smith’s new horror film, is a…wait for it…are you sitting down…you really should be sitting down for this…Tusk is a…little long in the tooth.
There, I said it.
Whew. I’m glad that’s over and done with. Now to the gist of the matter.


Okay, so, Tusk has been getting a lot of credit for originality. I mean, I’ve heard many people say, “Well, if nothing else, at least it’s original” (don’t you love damning with faint praise?).


And, yes, I would have to agree that you will not see many movies about someone turning someone else into a walrus come up on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon in the near future (or at your local Odeon for that matter). It’s definitely a plotline that isn’t employed all that much.


At the same time, I’m not quite sure it’s as original as many would suggest. After all, it does have elements of The Island of Dr. Moreau (it’s sort of a reverse of that movie), as well as some of the recent Pedro Almodovar film The Skin I Live In where a mad doctor turns a man into a woman.


But to be brutally honest, the story here is as old as Greek mythology and has been used in many ways in many forms.


Yes, for me, Tusk is just another version of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, with Justin Long playing the Eliza Doolittle part.


At the same time, it really doesn’t matter whether it is original or not, as far as I’m concerned, since almost nothing about it works. And doesn’t work almost from the opening scene. And yes, you do look on the film with horror in your eyes, but not so much because of what is happening on the screen, but in not believing quite how not working it is.


Long plays the lead, the brash, arrogant, narcissistic podcaster Wallace, who tends to make fun of people (said podcast having a name that is a play on some Third Reich names, which, I guess, is supposed to show how edgy and bad boy Wallace is, but just seems childish and silly to me, and even worse, far, far worse—not that clever a pun).


How you feel about these earlier scenes will probably depend on how you feel about Long in the role.


I never bought him. Not for one nano of a second.


I think he works very hard. I think he is working his ass off. I think he plays the character given him.


But I think he’s also just a bit too much and overdoes it more than a tad, telegraphing his character rather than becoming it.


And I also think maybe he is just miscast and as hard as he works at it, there’s probably nothing he could do to ever be convincing to me in this particular role and that, as they say, is that.


Eh, it happens.


He has a co-host, Teddy (Haley Joel Osment, yes, that Haley Joel “I see dead people” Osment—and Osment actually gives the best performance in the movie; in contrast to Long, he’s just so relaxed in his role and seems to be convincing without any real effort).


Wallace also has a girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriquez), but she’s more one of these male fantasy girlfriends one often sees in movie. I have no idea why she is remotely interested in Wallace, she seems so out of his league. I suppose it could be because his podcast is so successful and he spends a ton of money on her and he has potential to become a big celebrity.


Or it could be that she just has incredibly low self esteem.


Either is possible I suppose, bit neither is the way she’s written.  She seems to actually care for him, though for the life of me, I have no idea why.


Wallace goes to Canada to interview a subject of one of his podcasts only to find that that someone has killed himself (a plot turn that could have been really milked for a lot more than it is here since it really isn’t milked for anything at all).


So, desperate to justify his expensive trip north of the border (beyond making fun of a nation of people who say aboot instead of about), he responds to an ad he finds on a bulletin board and ends up at the home of one Howard Howe (a very slooooooooooow talking Michael Parks; I mean, he’s not in a contest with David Carradine from Kill Bill, Vol II., but if he was, he might just win), who has, so he claims, led a fascinating life.


And at that point, Wallace is taken prisoner and Howe starts turning him into a walrus.


There are a few plot problems here. First, Howe is a serial killer, but the Canadian police, for reasons never revealed, or never believable revealed, just don’t seem to care and aren’t doing anything about it.


Second, it’s never really explained (or I missed it) how Howe could possibly afford to serial kill in the lavish lifestyle with which he does it.


But there’s a bigger problem, a story problem. Early on, Wallace reaches a point of no return, where it doesn’t really matter whether he is rescued or not, it’s all over for him. So, in many ways, for almost half the movie, what’s driving the story is a rescue attempt of someone who can’t really be rescued anymore.


(It’s almost like a story about someone trapped in a mine cave in where, halfway through, the miner dies, but the suspense of the rest of the movie is whether they will rescue the dead body.)


Also about this time, Johnny Depp (as Guy Lapointe), who does to French Canadian accents what Peter Sellers did to French, enters the scene as an ex-police officer, now private investigator, who has made it his goal in life to stop Howe.


Okay, fair enough. But to be honest, every scene that Depp is in just stops the forward momentum of the story dead, dead, dead.


At the same time, I will congratulate Smith on a couple of aspects of the film.


It’s rather well made from a technical standpoint. There are some wonderful tracking shots at Howe’s house as the camera glides down some outside windows, and Howe’s home was a real find when it comes to a location and is used very well.


In addition, there is an often rather clever structure where parts of Wallace’s history and character are revealed in flashbacks along the way.


Perhaps the best scene is a repeat of an earlier one wherein Wallace stopped at a convenience store to get directions to Howe’s house. The second time the scene is dramatized, it’s played out more fully with bits and dialog shown that were left out earlier. It’s clever and a lot of fun and made you wish that the rest of the movie had been written as well as this.


I also much confess that I didn’t understand the ending (why don’t they just take Wallace out of his walrus suit) and I think it might have helped if Wallace had been a lot more unlikeable at the beginning (such as his actually being the cause of the one character’s suicide in some way).


But in the end, I guess I should just sum it all up by saying Tusk is…wait for it… …are you sitting down…you really should be sitting down for this…Tusk is a…bit too toothless.


bird-people-cannes-2014Bird People is, to keep with the suggestion of the title, an odd duck of a movie.


It’s about two people, a burnt out American from Silicon Valley who decides, almost on a whim, but a whim years in the making, to just quit his job during a major business deal, and the maid at the hotel he is staying at, a young woman lying to her father about going to college and who at one point turns into a bird.


Yup, you read that right. She turns into a bird. I’m not kidding.


The two characters only cross paths and only sort of do so a couple of times during the film until they meet more fully at the end. But for all practical intents and purposes, their stories are totally separate.


The screenplay is Guillaume Bréaud and Pascale Ferran, and the movie is directed by Ferran, and there are some rather marvelous moments here and there.


The film opens with a series of shots of people on a bus and metro as their thoughts are revealed. There is something so sure and unusual and captivating about these scenes, that it fills one with true optimism of what may be coming.


And there are some strong plot turns, such as that businessman, Gary Newman (get it, get it, he’s called Newman because that is what he wants to be) resigning out of seemingly nowhere, and the maid, Audrey, cleaning a room on a top floor and the electricity goes out, but only on her floor.


But the movie as a whole is a bit hit and miss. Newman is played by The Good Wife’s Josh Charles and he’s very good when he’s looking out soullessly into space, or having a low key panic attack, trying to figure out what he is going to do.


When he gets into actually arguing with people, though, he seems more than a bit at sea and becomes a bit flat, and the more he talks, the less interesting and flatter he becomes. Part of this may be due to the dialog which isn’t that strong. And there is one long scene where Newman skypes with his wife Elisabeth and they fight over the situation.


This is a scene that really goes nowhere. It’s such a pointless to and fro. The audience knows that Newman ain’t going home and the argument isn’t remotely interesting, but feels a bit vague and clichéd (it reminds me of those fights that you overhear couples having in which you have no idea what they are talking about, but you’re sort of stuck and can’t leave and just have to hear them out).


But the point where Newman’s story stops working happens not that long after he makes his announcement that he is quitting, and it stops because of four words: “What about the children”. Before this, one had assumed he was pretty much on his own or, as it turned out, had just the wife, and one could easily empathize with his existential crisis.


However, once it’s revealed that he has children that he is deserting, he then goes from sympathetic guy who is lost to a douchebag, asshole, SOB who pretty much deserves whatever he gets. Except that the movie makes it clear he’s not going to remotely get what he really deserves.


I really feel sorry for his kids. Even Newman’s wife doesn’t mention them until the end of their argument and almost as an afterthought (I predict a bunch of therapists making a fortune off of this family).


Meanwhile, Audrey, the maid, is played by Anaïs Demoustier and she, I have to say, is absolutely radiant. Light seems to shine forth from her face and rosy cheeks and the movie bursts with life every time she shows up on the screen.


But Audrey’s through line has its own issues. The scenes where she turns into a bird are quite intriguing and at first fun. But she spends so much time as the bird and to no purpose, just flying around and flying around and flying around, that this part of the film starts to drag a bit.


It’s not that there aren’t some interesting bits here. She is invited into a hotel room to snack on potato chips while an artist draws her with watercolors and this is a pretty transcendent scene.


Still, I have to be honest and say that overall, by the time she returned to human form, I really wasn’t sure what the whole point was.


Then at the end, the two characters meet. And they connect. And they bond.


And, again, I’m a little lost as to how I’m supposed to feel about it. I never got the idea that either of them had difficulty connecting with people before. The scene more feels like a way to try to bring the film as a whole to a close, but I’m not convinced it does.


Yet, strangely enough, and in spite of all the movie’s faults, I found the whole thing to be more original that Tusk.


Take a bite out of that.


With Mathieu Amalric as the narrator during Newman’s story, and Roschdy Zem (the petit lieutenant of La petit lieutenant) as a concierge (always a welcome addition to any movie).



So tell me what you think.

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