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.
The idea of doppelgängers has been explored before in film, but never in a fashion quite as twisted as Jordan Peele’s Us, a furiously entertaining horror show that gets weird, wild and so refreshingly unpredictable in a genre where the climate tends to flatline with endless Conjuring universe carbon copies and what have you. There’s a ton of ideas at play here and it makes the film hard to pin down as one thing or the other, but it works beautifully as a breathless, streamlined home invasion shocker with deeply unsettling undercurrents and implications that can be read many different ways. When Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) was a young girl, she had a terrifying encounter within a shadowy hall of mirrors on Santa Cruz beach, an encounter which will herald the arrival of feral versions of her, her husband (Winston Duke) and two children (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) as they vacation at their summer house a stone’s throw away from that very same beach. The prologue with her as a kid is set in the late 80’s and has a retro horror feel as Peele uses his favourite scary movies as both fuel and inspiration for the style on display here. The home invasion of these shadow selves is a brilliantly staged piece of white knuckle suspense and impressive physical acting, especially by Lupita as both shellshocked Adelaide and her other self Red, a growling fiend who is the only one of them that can talk. She rasps enigmatically about stuff that seems like both straightforward exposition and cryptic allegory, hinting at the secrets in store for the third act. Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker are flat out hilarious as the Wilson’s bickering neighbours, bringing uproarious comic relief before confronting their own set of homicidal visitors. Lupita gives the strongest performance here in both her characters, a frantic dual role knockout that holds the film in panicky distress with her wide eyes and instills deep terror with what she does to her voice, she’s a consistently brilliant actress and I love her work in this. This is clearly a passion project for Peele, the imagination on display is something else and fresh new scripts like this are always welcome for me. Some may have issues with certain things in the third act like explanation and climactic resolution, but he deliberately leaves a lot of it for us to ruminate on instead of telling us every detail about what we just saw. There is a scene where Lupita’s Red imparts some of it but it’s still somehow told in a roundabout way and not laid open bare in spark-notes fashion. Some may find this frustrating, but I loved it. This is probably the best horror film I’ve seen since 2014’s It Follows, and definitely one of the most original. A shock inducing siege thriller, an acidic jab at personal identity and a quietly discomforting look at the rifts you can see beginning to form in the world today. Great stuff.
Roger Ebert made it clear that Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie doesn’t even make it into his most hated canon of flicks (a hard enclosure to gain access to as the guy was a pretty fair critic right to the end). A small part of me sees the exasperation in a guy who took his cinema seriously. But most of me, especially the parts that enjoy humour so off the wall and bizarre that I’d be labelled just as far on the spectrum as the two demented wunderkinds behind this ninety minute freak show, loves it. You have to be a special kind of deranged to enjoy Tim and Eric’s brand of humour; the words abstract, surreal and extremely bizarre come to mind, but that doesn’t begin to cover the maniacal parade they’ve whipped up here. One thing does fascinate me though: since the very beginning when they first got their show rolling (Great Job!), they have been a magnet for some of the most prominent and prolific talent in Hollywood’s comedy arena, scoring cameos from the likes of Will Ferrell, Jeff Goldblum, John C. Reilly and more. That tells me that a lot more folks than you might think have an innate affinity for this extreme brand of shock humour and madness than would care to admit, and that when it comes down to it, humans organically produce their own humour in this weird, abstract fashion that’s much more natural than most scripted, constructed comedy we see in film. The humour here is so far into the stratosphere of weirdness that it understandably made a lot of folks uncomfortable, but that just makes the whole thing funnier. The ‘plot’ is just a series of running gags loosely connected by Tim & Eric owing a billion dollars to the Schlaaaaang Corporation (run by William Atherton and Robert Loggia in one of his last movie roles). They skip town and decide to take up Will Ferrell on his offer to be caretakers of a giant dilapidated shopping mall, after a few back to back viewings of Top Gun. The mall is host to a whole array of weirdos and insane people including slightly retarded Taquito (John C. Reilly), snarky sword salesman Allen Bishopman (Will Forte), a man who sells used toilet paper, Bob Ross, a bunch of hobos, oh and a wolf too, among others. Don’t expect it to make much sense, that’s not the Tim and Eric way. Just expect to be shocked, disgusted, disoriented, appalled, and if you’re tuned into the right frequency, to laugh your ass off. Their outright deliberation in pushing boundaries of taste and coherency no doubt had people running from the theatre and demanding money back in droves, but as Mia Wallace iconically put it, don’t be a 🔲. The real endurance test is when Ray Wise (Twin Peak’s Leland Palmer) shows up as a nutso self help guru whose brand of treatment (Shrim!) really goes to some gag-worthy places. Other notable cameos include Jeff Goldblum as (wait for it) ‘Chef Goldblum’, Johnny Depp, Zach Galifianakis, Mark Cuban and Bob Odenkirk. It’s a weird world, and in a genre that routinely isn’t weird enough, plays it safe and sticks to the often bland script, we need guys like Tim and Eric to shake shit up, open their bag of tricks and assault audiences with their very specific, certifiable brand of comedy. Buckle up.