Rick Alverson’s Entertainment

There are some films that just aren’t for everybody, and seem to have even been fashioned to deliberately repel a certain demographic, as if to weed out those unwilling to take a trip down the weird end of the street and serve as a litmus test to determine who will stand-fast. Folks like John Waters, Todd Solondz and Lars Von Trier are prime examples of artists who traffic in such cheerfully provocative, knowingly inflammatory ventures and now Rick Alverson is well on his way with an eerie, uncomfortably abstract mood piece called Entertainment that I saw a long time ago and recently caught up with, and let me tell you it’s just as fucking bizarre as I remember. Alverson wrote this alongside Tim Heidecker himself and their buddy actor Gregg Turkington, who graduated with honours from the proverbial Tim & Eric Theatre Of Shock & Awe and works frequently with the two, so his badge of bizarre was squarely pinned to his chest before churning out this relentlessly off-putting curio of dust-bowl doldrums, against type cameos, agonizing awkwardness, surreal dreamscapes and nightmarish atmosphere. The film follows pitiful nebbish ‘The Comedian’ (Turkington), a would be standup comic with no audience on a tour to nowhere somewhere in the desolate American southwest. His jokes are excruciatingly cringe, his onstage personality is a grating head-scratcher, his doubting manager (John C. Reilly in a hilariously deadpan cameo) subtly begs him to tone the weirdness down, and just overall this guy’s life seems like a dead end that’s swiftly leading to a deader end. His one respite and glimmer of hope is infrequent phones calls where he leaves forlorn voicemails to an estranged daughter that we never see, perhaps because she never existed at all and it’s his last ounce of conviction to cry for help into an abysmal void. He runs into many characters along the way played by the likes of Heidecker himself, Dean Stockwell, Tye Sheridan, Amy Seimetz and Michael Cera as an impossibly creepy dude that he has an icky run-in with in a men’s bathroom. Many will find this to be a frustrating, confounding, empty, disquieting experience and that’s fine, I would be worried if *everyone* liked it. I admit that this particular flavour of weird isn’t typically my bag and that chunks of it were lost on me, like his interminable bouts of caustic and repulsive verbal digression on the standup stage. However, when the perception and focus shifts over to his ponderous meanderings in the Mojave desert and the incredibly effective, soul shaking original score by Robert Donne I got a real sense of this character’s waywardness, disconnect from everything around him and complete, utter loneliness, and on that front I was able to connect with the film. It’s unique, it’s weird, it’s darkly funny in a sort of brittle, curdled way and uses illogical, jagged sensibilities to explore an artist whose work alienates and humiliates him. You will either vibe with this intensely or be wholly turned off, there’s no real middle-ground.

-Nate Hill

Marvel’s Ant Man

In a world of gargantuan Marvel Movie phenomena, it’s nice to see the little guy get some love amidst titans, superheroes and demigods, and by little guy I mean Ant Man, who I recently heard referred to as the underdog of Marvel movie protagonists, and that he is, given adorable slacker charm by Paul Rudd, who couldn’t have been cast better. From InnerSpace to Antibody (first rounds on me if anyone’s heard of that one), the concept of people shrinking down to minuscule size has been a staple of cinema since before The Borrowers said they were doing it before it was cool, and this one, although stubbornly an MCU entry, functions better as a loving throwback to the kind of old school Sci-Fi bliss you’d find someone like Dennis Quaid, Jeff Bridges or Michael Douglas headlining in the late 80’s, early 90’s. Speaking of Douglas, he’s in this, as Dr. Hank Pym, a fancy scientist who should star in his own spinoff/crossover called Honey I Shrunk Paul Rudd, because that’s more or less what happens. Rudd is petty thief Scott Lang, a middle aged dude who acts like he’s twelve until a little fatherly guidance from Pym and a *lot* of snazzy metaphysical science turns him into a microscopic hero. Of course the technology is coveted by a sinister rival scientist, played by Corey Stoll and set set up for this summers sequel as the super villain The Wasp. What I loved so much about this is it knows how to have fun and utilize the potential of it’s premise so effectively. All the scenes involving shrinking have a thoughtful innovation, absurd sense of humour (the toy train crash jump cut killed me) and warped, trippy style. The third act sees a scary malfunction in which he literally can’t stop shrinking and starts to lose himself in molecular infinity, which is probably the coolest or at least most original Sci-fi set piece of any Marvel flick. Joining Rudd and Douglas is whip smart scientist Evangeline Lily (Kate from LOST), and the cast is thick with excellent talent including the lovely Judy Greer as Rudd’s exasperated wife, Bobby Cannavle as her new cop boyfriend, Michael Pena, TI and David Dastmalchian as Rudd’s merry band of thieves, with work from John Slattery and Hayley Atwell to remind us we’re in the Marvel Universe, and a cameo from oddball entertainer Greg Turkington (Baskin Robbins always knows) to remind us this is also a departure for the MCU into something a little more delightfully bizarre. A rockin good time.

-Nate Hill