Beaver Trilogy Part IV

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Movie review by Greg Carlson

Filmmaker Brad Besser unpacks the unbelievable story of cult moviemaker/artist Trent Harris and his best known work in “Beaver Trilogy Part IV,” an engrossing examination of underground cinema and the siren song of Hollywood fame. Starting in 1979 and concluding in 1985, Harris completed three movies revolving around a teenage dreamer known as Groovin’ Gary. While testing equipment at a Salt Lake City television station, Harris happened upon Gary (whose real name was Richard Griffiths), an affable kid captivated by the thought of being recorded on camera. The interaction resulted in “The Beaver Kid,” a nonfiction account of that first meeting and a later performance of Olivia Newton-John’s “Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting,” made by Griffiths in drag as an alter-ego he called Olivia Newton-Dawn.

Among other things, the earnestness, sincerity, and vulnerability displayed by Griffiths as Newton-Dawn resonated with the storyteller in Harris, leading to a dramatized reinterpretation of the original movie. Titled “The Beaver Kid 2” and starring a young Sean Penn, who would later inject a bit of Groovin’ Gary into Jeff Spicoli, the second film walks a narrow line between respect for the original subject and a kind of ghoulish and exploitative fascination with Griffiths’ self-disclosure and naiveté. The latter charge, not directly confronted or deeply explored by Besser, manifests instead through a sense of gnawing guilt experienced by Harris.

Had “The Beaver Kid 2” concluded the odd saga of Groovin’ Gary, the tale might have been enough for the film’s fever dream status, but Harris cinematically returned to it one more time, making “The Orkly Kid” as his thesis at the American Film Institute. Shot on color film stock and featuring Crispin Glover in the lead role, the final chapter cemented the legend of Griffiths, now forgotten and out of contact with Harris. Although Besser plays fast and loose with his timeline, and punches up the melodrama with a comically heavy voiceover narration provided by Bill Hader, the best sections of “Beaver Trilogy Part IV” speculate on the feelings and motivations of Griffiths. Like all documentaries of this type, Besser saves a revelation or two for maximum impact.

Besser opts not to sustain the Griffiths thread as his movie’s sole subject, and turns to several of Harris’ other projects to pad the running time. Glover disciples who collected the fanzine “Mr. Density” in the pre-internet era of mom-and-pop video stores will especially enjoy the section on “Rubin and Ed,” the 1991 curiosity written and directed by Harris. The gonzo buddy movie, which tags along with Glover’s outré platform shoe enthusiast Rubin Farr as he seeks a final resting place for a frozen cat, was released too late to capitalize on a notorious 1987 “Late Night with David Letterman” appearance in which a fully committed Glover narrowly missed kicking the perplexed talk show host in the face.

“Beaver Trilogy Part IV” does not, unfortunately, include on-camera interviews with Penn and Glover, which for some will diminish much of the potential impact of the Groovin’ Gary metanarrative. A late section in which Besser recounts his own path to Harris, via the Utah filmmaking community, lacks the urgency of the movie’s previous content. The relationship of Harris to the Sundance Film Festival, which also factors in the saga, sparks additional interest, but like “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” “Winnebago Man,” and the found footage curated by the Everything Is Terrible! team, the very best part of “Beaver Trilogy Part IV” is the way in which the hidden treasures of the weird, the outside, the independent, and the low and no-budget got around in a time before YouTube.

Hitchcock/Truffaut

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Movie review by Greg Carlson

Finally making its way to HBO following a 2015 Cannes premiere and a festival run, Kent Jones’s “Hitchcock/Truffaut” (onscreen: “Hitchcock Truffaut”) demands attention from cinephiles of all ages. Bringing to life the 1966 book that emerged from a detailed series of face-to-face interviews conducted by Truffaut in Hollywood, Jones and co-scripter Serge Toubiana build a hagiographic monument to the filmmaker least in need of one. Even so, Jones makes a compelling case for Hitchcock’s lasting appeal as a master storyteller, and the tight documentary — which at 80 minutes will leave some salivating for more — serves as a visually engaging guide to one of the great directorial careers in motion picture history.

Crisply narrated by Bob Balaban (Mathieu Amalric in the French-language edition), “Hitchcock/Truffaut” cuts between key scenes from Hitchcock’s films — often accompanied by shrewdly selected audio clips from the 1962 meetings — and talking head interviews with a host of moviemakers inspired by the master’s techniques. Not surprisingly, Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich are on hand to offer anecdotes and perspectives. They are joined by Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, Olivier Assayas, and others, who frequently annotate unforgettable moments from “Sabotage,” “Notorious,” “The Wrong Man,” and on and on.

“Hitchcock/Truffaut” is not without significant shortcomings. While Hitchcock’s most important collaborator, his spouse Alma Reville, earns a brief, perfunctory mention, not a single woman is included among the contemporary interview subjects. Kiyoshi Kurosawa is the only representative from outside America and Europe. Indispensable translator Helen Scott can be heard several times on the tapes, but unfortunately, we are offered no context for her key role in the original enterprise. By contrast, Robert Fischer’s “Monsieur Truffaut Meets Mr. Hitchcock,” in which terrific insights are shared by Madeleine Morgenstern, Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia, and Truffaut’s daughter Laura, accomplishes a more equitable representation of gender.

Another of the safe choices made by Jones is the emphasis placed in the second half of the film on “Vertigo” and “Psycho.” That two of Hitchcock’s most venerated movies feature prominently in the commentary is hardly a shock, especially given the longtime adoration of the pair by Hitchcock scholars and cineastes. The 2012 crowning of “Vertigo” in the number one spot on the Sight and Sound poll, which ended the fifty year record held by “Citizen Kane,” goes unmentioned in “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” but that “achievement” points to the unique position now held by the 1958 thriller. For the whetted appetite, Harrison Engle’s 1997 “Obsessed with Vertigo” makes a fine companion to Jones’s feature.

For the most devoted Hitchcock fans, Jones covers largely familiar territory. It is something of a welcome surprise, then, that the director deliberately omits explanations of the Bomb Theory and the MacGuffin, the latter of which is certainly a close cousin to Hitchcock’s fetishization of what Paul Schrader identifies as “dream objects,” those keys, handcuffs, ropes, lapel pins, and glasses of milk that, according to Assayas, may seem like minor details but “take a preeminent place” in the narrative, not unlike the way in which our own dreams govern what is important and what is not. In one delicious moment, Truffaut asks whether Hitchcock dreams much. The initial reply, in the negative, is only a surprise until Hitchcock slyly adds, “Daydreams, probably.”

Suicide Squad

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Movie review by Greg Carlson

Filmmaker David Ayer’s “Fury” featured muscular action, effective use of screen space, coherent storytelling logic, and — even though we knew they were doomed from the first trailer — a ragtag group of soldiers with distinct personalities. Not surprisingly given the nonstop tales of creative second-guessing and executive interference, virtually none of these qualities are on hand in the frustrating “Suicide Squad,” a critic-proof franchise rocket launcher affiliated with Warner Bros.’ full-frontal assault on Disney/Marvel’s tentpole stranglehold over the wallets of fanboys and fangirls across the planet.

For many who follow the fortunes of (or are personally invested in) the cape-and-tights world at the multiplex, the behind-the-scenes saga of “Suicide Squad” is equally if not more compelling than the disappointing mess that finally showed up. In a must-read story in “The Hollywood Reporter,” Kim Masters notes, “…despite grueling moments, multiple editors and competing cuts, the production of ‘Suicide Squad’ barely stands out in today’s landscape.” In other words, we should all exercise some caution in blaming or praising Ayer alone when Masters traces the mind-boggling “intervention” that led to an apparent “six or seven different versions of the film” (according to the filmmaker).

The 123-minute presentation certainly feels like it has been smudged with the fingerprints of a small army of decision-makers, highlighting the dreariness of the movie’s principal engagement — a dispiriting bullet festival of urban combat and bad one-liners staged in a complex of steel and glass sets (as Anthony Lane asks rhetorically, “What are the chances for gun control, honestly, if this is what Hollywood… prefers to hold aloft…?”). If indeed Ayer’s vision was darker and/or grimmer still, perhaps the powers that be should have called in the staff of teaser editors Trailer Park much sooner.

Given the pronounced lack of teammate-focused interrelationships, “Suicide Squad” should have more closely followed the better instincts of inspiration “The Dirty Dozen,” the cinematic template for stories in which the worst of the worst are pressed into service to complete what looks like an impossible task. Instead of exploring the psyches, desires, and motivations of the Suicide Squad participants through action and dilemma-forced negotiation, Ayer’s script chokes by filtering the bulk of communication through outsiders Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), two authority figures with the power to terminate misbehaving metahumans/supervillains who might try to cut and run.

One final complaint must be registered regarding the visual presentation of the movie’s climactic crucible: the uninspired reliance on yet another column of computer generated energy geysering heavenward. As you watch the supremely potent Enchantress make the questionable decision to engage the Suicide Squad in close combat while simultaneously maintaining/monitoring the earth-to-sky gate that so lazily represents the AWESOME POWER of the story’s Big Bad, ask yourself where you might have seen this before (a few answers: “The Avengers” and several other MCU titles, obviously, but just this year “Warcraft” and “Ghostbusters”). Joshua Rivera devoted an entire post to it, astutely arguing that “‘Suicide Squad’ is more proof movies need to stop with the giant beams of light in the sky already.”

 

Captain Fantastic

Movie review by Greg Carlson

Filmmaker Matt Ross’s “Captain Fantastic” pursues a multifaceted thematic agenda as it explores the unorthodox off-the-grid lifestyle of a politically energized father of six played to prickly perfection by Viggo Mortensen. Despite the film’s “power to the people, stick it to the man” refrain, Ross accomplishes his most satisfying returns by examining the universally recognizable toll of grief on a nuclear family. While some key moments test the limits of believability, Ross labors to construct this universe with care and respect (arguably too much of the latter for Mortensen’s Ben Cash). Given the ubiquity of dystopian tales on cinema screens, it is refreshing to encounter a thoughtfully considered tale that wonders whether utopia is still within reach.

Cash’s progeny, introduced in a feral, rite-of-passage forest hunt, range in age from roughly seven to eighteen. Frustrated and confused by the absence of their hospitalized mother Leslie (Trin Miller), the children follow a grueling schedule of intense exercise, survival training, and intellectual and philosophical study overseen by Ben. Eldest son Bodevan (George MacKay), who secretly plots to leave the compound for college, is the most fully defined of the sextet. Even though we don’t get to know daughters Kielyr and Vespyr (Samantha Isler and Annalise Basso) quite as well, Ross can be commended for fairly consistently delineating the specific personalities of the brood.

Initially, Ross lays out a challenging binary pitting Ben’s leftist idealism against the man’s physically dangerous and emotionally cultish dominance over his flesh and blood. To a certain extent, the question of whether Ben’s way of life has helped or hindered his offspring continues throughout the film as one of Ross’s going concerns. In one scene, Ben defends his educational methodologies by exposing the ignorance of his rude, screen-addicted nephews. In another, Bodevan reveals a shocking naiveté in matters of courtship and romance. Parallel to the trusty road trip framework, Ross uses these fish-out-of-water culture clashes as a way to drive forward the action and feed conflict.

Mortensen’s charisma and Ross’s admiration for Ben make it difficult to question the extent to which the man may be stunting and even harming his kids. In one scene that recalls a similar ruse in Gus Van Sant’s “Drugstore Cowboy,” Ben stages a distraction to “liberate” supplies from a supermarket. Later, father-in-law Jack (Frank Langella) calls out Ben for the crime, but as far as Ross is concerned, Ben is saintly and even at times heroic. A more complex, nuanced portrait of Ben, especially in the last third of the film, lays just out of reach.

With a running time of nearly two hours, “Captain Fantastic” might have benefited from a haircut, particularly given the protracted final section and a series of false conclusions (even if Ross ultimately lands a terrific closing shot). While critic Keith Watson identifies “about five different feel-good endings,” he takes special umbrage at the curious choice of “Sweet Child o’ Mine” — performed diegetically by the characters — during the movie’s emotional climax. Questioning the likelihood of the Guns N’ Roses hit given the family’s fierce anti-corporate belief system and previously documented pop culture illiteracy, Watson argues that the “moment is calculated for maximum emotional punch.” While that particular critique is certainly true, an alternative reading suggests that the song was loved by Leslie, a touch that would be in keeping with other evidence of the matriarch’s softer attitudes about the world left behind.

Ghostheads

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Movie review by Greg Carlson

Following a work-in-progress premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Brendan Mertens’ “Ghostheads” moves to Netflix to capitalize on the theatrical release of Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” reboot. Pitched to crowdfunders as a “documentary that explores the extreme side of Ghostbusters fandom, and looks back at the impact the franchise has had on the world over the past three decades,” Mertens’ film favors the former, exploring the cosplay subculture that devotes much time, energy, and money to proton packs and public appearances.

Despite talking head interviews with a sizable contingent from the original movie, including Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Ivan Reitman, Sigourney Weaver, and William Atherton (sorry, but no Murray or Moranis), Mertens spends most of the time following the average folks who know the intricacies of class 5 free-roaming vapors and unlicensed nuclear accelerators. One Ghosthead, Tom Gebhardt of Keansburg, New Jersey, emerges as the movie’s de facto mouthpiece, articulating the philosophy of shared community and charitable giving embodied by Ghostheads across the United States, Canada, and regions beyond.

Gebhardt, like rabid devotee Peter Mosen and many of the other Ghostheads profiled by Mertens, speaks to the therapeutic aspects of fandom that in several cases have functioned as a safe haven for recovering addicts. Many of the on-camera interviews quickly bring tears to the eyes of the subjects, and Mertens labors, not always successfully, to strike a balance between the lighthearted and comedic components of the Ghosthead world and sentimental uplift that veers dangerously close to mawkishness.

While it is tremendous fun to reconnect with the likes of Jennifer Runyon and Steven Tash (the students involved in Venkman’s electric shock ESP test) as well as check in with Ray Parker Jr. (who deserves a more thorough look at his hit theme song), Mertens takes a keener interest in the DIY everyperson willing to pursue “Ghostbusters”-themed marriage proposals or build screen-accurate replicas of the Ecto-1. The strongest argument on behalf of the true faith’s appeal lies in its egalitarianism: Ghosthead uniforms are most commonly and proudly adorned with the wearer’s own last name rather than the moniker of one of the fictional Ghostbusters.

Given the inventive design efforts that Ghosthead groups have poured into their geographically specific collectible patches, Mertens misses an opportunity to address the durability of the instantly recognizable international prohibition logo created by Michael C. Gross for the 1984 film. The simultaneous ubiquity and appeal of the so-called Icon Ghost (nicknamed Moogly by Reitman and Aykroyd) represents the gateway to “Ghostbusters,” and its fascinating history, which included a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Harvey Cartoons against Columbia Pictures due to the character’s resemblance to Fatso of the Ghostly Trio, marks a key chapter in Tobin’s Spirit Guide.

It is difficult to say how much or to what extent Mertens knew about the misogynist and racist backlash against the new “Ghostbusters” during the production of “Ghostheads,” but his movie – which significantly exploits the timing of renewed enthusiasm in the franchise by interviewing Feig, visiting the NYC set, and showing a number of Ghostheads already emulating the costumes worn by the female squad in general and Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann in particular – could have been a richer and more rewarding record had it taken that decidedly anti-Ghosthead issue into account.

Ghostbusters

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Movie review by Greg Carlson

The insightful Caity Birmingham recently said, “Someday we’ll be able to give ‘Ghostbusters’ an honest B- and cite ten movies that did the female scientist action buddy movie so much better.” You gotta admire the optimism in Ms. Birmingham’s note, since the discourse in the almost two years leading up to Paul Feig’s parallel universe/remake/reboot/reimagining of the hugely popular 1984 comedy phenomenon has focused on an awful lot of ugly and ignorant outbursts screamed by angry trolls.

From the horrific racist and misogynist abuse suffered by Leslie Jones to commentaries unpacking the head-scratching chauvinist myth that women can’t be funny, the noise surrounding the new movie is so cacophonous virtually no major critic has tackled the film without addressing what Dana Stevens perfectly describes as the “acrid reception” of “Ghostbusters” by the “airless lairs of hardcore fanboys of the original, irked that a classic of their childhood has been slimed by the presence of women.”

While the laughable cries of “ruined childhoods” are misplaced in an industry that survives on the constant recycling and extending of any product that carries even the slightest whiff of money, one wonders if the invective would have reached the same fever pitch had the new squad featured XY chromosomes. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones are uniformly terrific, breathing far more life into their characters than what has been provided or required by Feig and Katie Dippold’s wobbly screenplay.

Arguably, our new “Ghostbusters” does not go far enough to distinguish itself from the movie directed by Ivan Reitman, depending as it does on familiarity with the first one when it could and should be exploring new directions and a fresher climax. This blueprint tactic is particularly detrimental in the second half of the movie, when a full-scale “save the city” SFX extravaganza misses the hysterical urgency of Peter Venkman’s confrontation with William Atherton’s obstructionist Walter Peck. Instead, the plot hurtles chaotically toward a kitchen sink melee featuring cameo appearances by the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (in ghostly parade balloon form) and Slimer (hijacking the wheel of the Ecto-1).

In addition to the appeal of the central quartet, the new “Ghostbusters” looks absolutely gorgeous, with eye-popping colors and stunning visual effects that honor the apparitions we saw more than thirty years ago. Feig and Dippold stumble, however, with the ill-defined creeper Rowan North (Neil Casey), a functional combination of the conduit-to-malevolent-spirits aspect of both Dana Barrett and Louis Tully. The filmmakers fail to come up with anything as funny as the gonzo mythology of Sumerian destroyer Gozer the Gozerian, Zuul the Gatekeeper, and Vinz Clortho the Keymaster.

Even so, another of my friends, the redoubtable cinephile Dan Hassoun, speculated that the Gilbert/Yates/Holtzmann/Tolan “Ghostbusters” was preferable to a “Ghostbusters III” featuring the surviving cast members from the original film. For that we may thank Bill Murray, who was widely reported to refuse participation following the death of Harold Ramis in 2014, but now turns in an appearance as a foppish debunker.

And as for the contingent crying foul, let’s not forget that “Ghostbusters” is hardly a pristine relic. Along with the 1989 sequel, the brand has spawned episodic animated television, comic books, action figures, and more than a dozen different video games. Whether you are a Ghosthead or not, the new incarnation is a welcome addition to a property that will be a going concern of Sony for years to come. Strap on your proton pack and take a look. Busting just might make you feel good.

What We Had Was Good: Prince and Girl 6

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Movie reflection by Greg Carlson

In 1996, six years following the disappointment of “Graffiti Bridge,” Prince agreed to provide the soundtrack music for director Spike Lee’s “Girl 6.” The project would mark the artist’s final full-scale cinematic collaboration, even though filmmakers continued to use his material and seek him out. Functionally, the “Girl 6” record — credited to Prince even though at the time he was using the unpronounceable symbol to signify his name — constitutes a fantastic collection that rivals any of the other official Warner anthologies. Only three previously unreleased songs, including “Girl 6” (which plays during the closing credits), “She Spoke 2 Me” (underscoring the opening titles), and “Don’t Talk 2 Strangers,” which was originally recorded for, but cut from, the fully reworked version of the James L. Brooks film “I’ll Do Anything,” tantalized devoted completists.

While Lee uses several familiar numbers as transitional cues, multiple songs play out in their entirety, providing a kind of thematic counterpoint to the film’s narrative that bears a close resemblance to the way in which the music in “Purple Rain” drove the action and extended the characterizations. In the film’s first scene, Lee shows Theresa Randle’s struggling actor Judy at a grim motion picture audition overseen by Quentin Tarantino (playing “QT,” a too-close-for-comfort version of his media persona). While neither “Raspberry Beret” nor “Take Me with U” showed up on the 13-track compilation sold in stores, Lee delivers them as a one-two punch, playing uninterrupted and back-to-back. For Prince fans, the familiarity and optimism of the two bright, positive songs clash with the incongruity of the ugly sexual exploitation faced by Judy at the videotaped audition.

In a commentary on the construction of identity in both screen performance and sex work, Randle’s character becomes primarily known as Girl 6 to her colleagues and Lovely to callers, supplying her heterosexual male clientele with live-chat fantasies from a drab cubicle at a female-led agency. Screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks, who would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize for “Topdog/Underdog,” examines Girl 6’s curiosities, particularly as they relate to the power of voice and the regulation and control of the libido. While the technologies of phone sex operation would soon shift from landlines to web-based options, Parks’ script retains a freshness regarding the emotional and psychological costs of the industry on its female laborers.

Girl 6 struggles to separate the rush of her auditory encounters from offline mundanity and a failed relationship with her torch-bearing ex (Isaiah Washington). In one thread, she arranges an ill-advised face-to-face meeting with a frequent caller known as Bob from Tucson (Peter Berg). The rendezvous is to take place at Coney Island, but Girl 6/Lovely is stood up. The sequence is accompanied by the brilliant 1982 B-side “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” in what may be the movie’s most effective marriage of Prince’s music, Parks’ story, and Lee’s visuals. Later, Lee will turn to “The Cross” (one of five chosen cuts from “Sign o’ the Times,” making it the most well-represented of Prince’s albums) when Girl 6 hits rock-bottom with an abusive caller who humiliates and threatens her.

In a sequence paying homage to Dorothy Dandridge, Lee drops the needle on “Habanera” (“L’amour est un oiseau rebelle”) from Bizet’s “Carmen,” but it is the only time in the film when Prince’s music — including recordings by Vanity 6, the Family, and the New Power Generation written and produced by Prince — is not deployed. Additionally, Lee skips any other traditional accompanying score, emphatically underlining the thematic link between the Prince songs and the events that take place onscreen. Devotees are well-served by taking a second look at a largely neglected chapter in the up and down, hot and cold affair Prince had with the silver screen.

Maggie’s Plan

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Movie review by Greg Carlson

Based on a story by Karen Rinaldi, Rebecca Miller’s adaptation of “Maggie’s Plan” imagines the intellectual, white, fairytale New York City familiar to Woody Allen fans as the backdrop for a screwball-inspired comedy of amour fou and remarriage. Featuring Greta Gerwig as the young woman who comes between, and then determines to reunite, academics Julianne Moore and Ethan Hawke, “Maggie’s Plan” covers little that hasn’t already been thoroughly examined by Allen during his lengthy career. The results, however, are lighthearted, warm, and observant. Gerwig, in particular, continues to build a strong case for her star’s ascendance, riffing on the charming persona that has emerged onscreen in the last five years.

With a wardrobe to die for, Gerwig’s Maggie, who offers guidance to graduating collegians as they prepare to leave the school nest, is a fastidious planner. Organized to a fault, her decision to become a mother sets up a comic encounter with “pickle entrepreneur” Guy (blissed-out Travis Fimmel), an acquaintance who agrees to serve as the sperm donor. In what could be read as one of several plans explored during the plot-happy proceedings, the slapstick insemination telegraphs an obvious outcome saved for the movie’s denouement. As a classic secondary storyline, Guy recedes into the background, even though Fimmel surely deserves at least one more solid exchange along the way.

Instead, Miller’s focus turns to Maggie’s affair with ficto-critical anthropologist (cue groans) John, whose spouse Georgette is a Columbia superstar. As Georgette, Moore tries on an initially distracting Danish accent that hides some of her character’s vulnerabilities, but as usual, the gifted performer soon wins over the skeptical. Like Maggie, viewers eventually come to appreciate the complementary dimensions of John and Georgette – especially during the execution of Maggie’s contrivance to patch up the couple at a Slavoj Zizek-headlining conference at a beautiful Quebecois ski resort so impossibly cool that Kathleen Hanna performs “Dancing in the Dark” after the lectures.

Certainly, the best parts of “Maggie’s Plan” comment on the entrenched patriarchal systems that allow John to take for granted the overworked and underappreciated Maggie, who manages the bulk of caregiving, feeding, and shuttling their daughter and John’s two children with Georgette. Miller stylistically mirrors the chaotic rhythms of post-divorce scheduling, and in a large ensemble filled with recognizable performers including Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader, the filmmaker coaxes some lovely moments from the kids, especially surly teenager Mina Sundwall and scene-stealing tot Ida Rohatyn (daughter of the movie’s composer Michael Rohatyn).

In her review of the film, April Wolfe wonders, “Will Greta Gerwig have to do a quirky solo dance scene in every movie she’s in? Because that’s quickly becoming the case.” The quip alludes to a kind of typecasting – as Wolfe puts it, “the adorably inept almost-a-grown-up” – that represents aspects of Gerwig’s work in her collaborations with Noah Baumbach and many of her other movies. Certainly the actor is capable of breaking free of the image, and many admirers look forward to that moment. Even so, it is difficult if not impossible to scowl at Maggie – a woman so determined to set things right in the universe that she selflessly orchestrates what she believes is the best possible outcome to her own failed romance.

Graffiti Bridge

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Movie reflection by Greg Carlson

“Graffiti Bridge,” Prince’s final theatrical film as director and onscreen performer, was the sequel to “Purple Rain” that nobody wanted. Ridiculed, dismissed, and derided upon release in November of 1990, the movie serves as an ideal object lesson in artistic hubris. Just a few short years earlier, Prince’s look and sound defined cool and ushered millions of fans into the fascinating orbit of his musical philosophy. By the time of “Graffiti Bridge,” Prince seemed to be following and not leading. The stabs made by “Purple Rain” at psychological realism and quasi-autobiographical verite-like docufiction are gone. Instead, the Kid recites bad poetry, caresses a revolver, and writes letters-never-sent to his deceased father. And it doesn’t work.

While “Graffiti Bridge” is not only a shaky continuation of “Purple Rain” (Billy willed a club to the Kid and Morris!) but a lukewarm rehash — down to the love triangle and battle of the bands — the movie makes its indie predecessor look like it cost a fortune by comparison. Shot primarily on the cramped stages of Paisley Park dressed to look like an urban streetscape, the sets of “Graffiti Bridge” instead telegraph a middle school theater production of “West Side Story.” Arguably, the script, such as it is, would have worked better as a live stage show, even if the songs failed to ignite like the lineup of tracks in “Purple Rain.” Not surprisingly, the soundtrack fared better than the film, even if Prince gave away the catchiest song to teenager Tevin Campbell, who, along with Mavis Staples and George Clinton, also appeared in the movie as gossamer wisps of characters.

Even by the time of “Graffiti Bridge,” diehard fans were accustomed to pangs of disappointment occasioned by Prince’s inexplicable creative decisions. Hindsight has afforded many the opportunity to claim that the post-“Sign o’ the Times” arc of his career might have benefited from key advisers keeping his worst impulses in check. As far back as “Under the Cherry Moon,” which also received its share of critical and commercial contempt, a narrative emerged suggesting that Prince would simply replace anyone incapable of accepting his orders. True or not, I will take the pushback and conflict of Wendy and Lisa and the Revolution over the yes-men of the New Power Generation any day of the week.

Ingrid Chavez’s Aura, an angel sent from the heavens presumably to teach the Kid and Morris moral lessons that embrace the spirit and not the flesh, is nevertheless subjected to the same ugly levels of misogynist shenanigans suffered by Apollonia. In one extended sequence, Morris and Jerome team up to sexually harass Aura, straight up spiking her drink en route to a grotesque near rape that instead unspools as another slapstick routine trading on the unbreakable and deeply affectionate homosocial relationship shared by the cousins. None of this, of course, stops the Kid from “rescuing” (kidnapping?) Aura to set up his own celestial sex session with God’s messenger.

Chavez can’t be faulted for the awful dialogue she is given, but for “Graffiti Bridge” MVP, my money remains on perpetual bridesmaid Jill Jones, one of the great “almosts” in Prince’s bullpen of ingenues. Jones, whose role in “Purple Rain” kept shrinking throughout production, finally gets a chance to shine in a small part as the Kid’s jilted lover. Jones manages to turn a scene in which she removes and discards her underwear into a defiant feminist gesture calling out the shabby treatment of women by chauvinist players like the Kid and Morris. That, by itself, is a rare occurrence in the cinematic universe inhabited by Prince.

Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

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Movie review by Greg Carlson

Once its cult bona fides were established at the 2002 Butt-Numb-A-Thon (when Eli Roth presented a VHS dub to Harry Knowles as a birthday gift), the adaptation of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” made by kids over the better part of a decade in the 1980s enjoyed a run of successful public screenings – including a stop at the Fargo Film Festival courtesy of Ellen Shafer and Margie Bailly. While Steven Spielberg and George Lucas graciously looked the other way concerning rights issues, audiences finally enjoyed the opportunity to be thrilled and delighted by the time-capsule oddity that saw a trio of childhood friends painstakingly recreate a shot-for-shot homage to the screen debut of Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones, Jr.

Mississippi teens Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, and Jayson Lamb accomplished what many movie geeks now call the ultimate “sweded” artifact, the subject of new documentary “Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made.” Directed by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen, the curious “making of a making-of” giddily covers the saga that Alan Eisenstock wrote about in the official companion book of the same title. Quick sketches color many of the highlights of the disaster-courting production: multiple failed attempts to construct the giant boulder; setting fire to basement walls to achieve the Nepalese tavern inferno; an industrial plaster mishap requiring an emergency hospital visit; the endearing and hilarious age and voice fluctuations caused by the necessity of shooting out of sequence.

During post-screening interactions with viewers whenever the “Raiders” remake was shared, one question inevitably got asked of the moviemakers: how come your version didn’t include the Flying Wing scene where Indy dukes it out with the hulking, bald Nazi mechanic? Given the seemingly never-ending blessing/curse of Strompolos and Zala’s childhood dream, it’s a minor stroke of genius for Coon and Skousen to use the “lost” sequence as the backbone of their account. Once again with personal safety at risk and this time with careers on the line, Zala and Strompolos decide to capture the ambitious and elusive puzzle piece and insert it into their epic.

While Strompolos and Zala are the public faces of “Raiders!” and the co-founders of Rolling Boulder Films, “visual effects wizard” Jayson Lamb emerges in the documentary as an instrumental contributor to the success of the adaptation. Commendably, Coon and Skousen clarify and explore Lamb’s partnership with Strompolos and Zala, allowing Lamb to address several of his most innovative DIY solutions to thorny challenges like melting faces, exploding heads, and ghostly angels of death flying out of the Ark of the Covenant. Lamb’s eccentricities are a welcome addition to the narrative, especially as he continues to insist that the Flying Wing should be accomplished with a scale model.

The only significant complaint is the scant amount of time afforded to Angela Rodriguez, the actor who portrayed a spirited version of Marion Ravenwood. As the only significant female participant, her commitment to the project is noteworthy, especially since she was not close friends with the filmmakers and still stuck it out – including her return as an adult for the completion of the Flying Wing content. Rodriguez and Strompolos generated heat when the camera rolled, and it was no accident that the cabin kissing scene was handled early and with plenty of takes.

Practically designed to be shown as a companion to the adaptation in a double feature, “Raiders!” draws on vintage local news packages, TV interviews, outtakes, behind-the-scenes footage, clips of Spielberg directing the actual “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and of course, a healthy collection of shots from the final cut of the lo-fi love letter that inspired all the attention. Following Eisenstock’s lead, Coon and Skousen concentrate on the offscreen divorces and rivalries that partially account for the fire-and-ice alchemy of Strompolos and Zala’s complex relationship and their need to keep an impossible dream alive.