BEYOND THE REEL: Anghus reviews a broad bunch of films showing at Cucalorus 23

Nov 7 • ARTSY SMARTSY, FEATURE BOTTOM, Film, Reviews, Interviews and FeaturesNo Comments on BEYOND THE REEL: Anghus reviews a broad bunch of films showing at Cucalorus 23

Calling Cucalorus a “film festival” no longer feels apt. Now in its 23rd year of bringing groundbreaking creativity to Wilmington, the festival is expanding beyond the reel. Though dance has been a part of its opening-night festivities with Dance-a-lorus (Wed., Nov. 8, 7 p.m., Thalian Hall), which marries film and movement, over the years we have seen it expand even more, as it has introduced CONNECT, a conference of technology and entrepreneurship. For 2017, we also will see stage performances evolve, with standup, plays, readings, and experimental theatre taking over one of many venues across town.

Certainly film is a major part of Cucalorus, still, and this year over 300 flicks will be shown, ranging from features to shorts, docs to dramas, comedies to horror, and more. Film fans, artists, industry professionals, musicians, and an oddball collection of entertaining eccentrics are collectively heading to the Port City for five days, Nov. 8-12, to celebrate art and the artists responsible for its creation.

Check out the full schedule in encore’s center spread, or download encoreGO and have the schedule at your fingertips. But, first, check out a few movie reviews through page 27.

THE BRINK OF DEATH: ‘Everything Beautiful is Far Away’ is a product of love set in a dystopian landscape. Courtesy photo

THE BRINK OF DEATH: ‘Everything Beautiful is Far Away’ is a product of love set in a dystopian landscape. Courtesy photo

Everything Beautiful is Far Away
Fri., Nov. 10, 7 p.m.
Thalian Ballroom
Tickets: $15

There are so many reasons to love independent cinema—and I’m talking about real independent cinema, not the bullshit $50 million “independent” movies from human garbage like Harvey Weinstein. You know? The ones that have A-list actors working for scale to try and win an Oscar.  I’m talking about real indie films—labors of love crafted with little to no money by artists desperate to get their vision out into the world.  Usually, they’re movies that force interesting, creative choices to showcase a world instead of throwing money at a warehouse full of computer programmers to build a world in a virtual space.

“Everything Beautiful is Far Away” is a product of love—a movie that quietly, carefully and methodically leads us into a beautiful story about loneliness, desperation and hope. Lernert (Joseph Cross) is wandering a barren desert with the a disembodied robot head named Susan. His life is simple and metered in a way that he finds peaceful. Life isn’t easy in his dystopian landscape: Food must be foraged. Water must be searched for with marked regularity. Susan is his only companion, and she’s only present when he can find batteries to keep her powered.
Lernert comes across another wanderer who has eaten poisoned fruit. He successfully nurses her back from the brink of death. Their paths continue to cross, and eventually Rola (Julia Garner) joins Lernert on his journeys. She’s new to the wandering lifestyle and curious about those who have abandoned city life for a lonely desert existence. Her naïveté and innocence is something Lernert finds both charming and exhausting. Rola has journeyed into the desert to try and discover a lake that most consider a myth. She believes there are still pure places to be found. Rola’s idealism is a stark contrast to Lernert’s pragmatism.

There’s a lot to like about “Everything Beautiful is Far Away.” Most of the credit goes to exceptional lead actors who do a great job making the characters both believable and engaging. Joseph Cross brings an awkward charm and vulnerability to Lernert.  While the character fits neatly into the “book smart guy not great with feelings” trope, there’s an ease and earnestness that makes him naturally likable. Julia Garner is equally excellent in her portrayal of Rola. She has an ability to simultaneously appear naive and wise beyond her years.

For a small film, there’s a lot of scope. The futuristic sci-fi plot is given credence thanks to cinematography that carves beauty out of the bleak landscape. There’s a real sense of being in the middle of nowhere that grips the film and makes Lernert and Rola’s journey feel treacherous. When the two encounter another traveller who has been wandering aimlessly in the vast expanse, the look of madness and detachment in his eyes is completely believable. It’s a madness that grips all who have ventured too far off the grid and succumbed to loneliness. It is difficult to achieve in any movie.  Kudos to directors Peter Ohs and Andrea Sisson who were able to create dystopia on a dime. Even the techniques employed to bring Susan the robot to life has a believable low-fidelity vibe that sells the concept as well as the character.

The film lingers a little too long thanks to some issues with pacing. The film is methodologically slow, something that feels intentional—like another way for the filmmakers to transport us to a frustrating world so we experience the maddening stagnation of isolation.

It’s extremely effective and manages to achieve lofty cinematic goals with a modicum of resources. It is exactly the kind of film Cucalorus exists to showcase: a strong creative vision successfully brought to the screen by a cast and crew who understand that sometimes less is more. “Everything Beautiful is Far Away” is a well-crafted piece of independent cinema and earns every moment while showcasing some fine talent in front of as well as behind the lens.

Bernard and Huey
Thurs., Nov. 9, 10 a.m.; Sat., Nov. 11, 7 p.m.
Thalian Main
Tickets: $15

I always enjoy films that introduce enjoyable characters with whom I like spending spent time. Unique creations present a rarely seen perspective rather than depending on typical stereotypical molds most cinematic characters are crammed into. “Bernard and Huey” is a character study that examines two very different personalities. Bernard (the great Jim Rash) is a typical nebbish New Yorker, molded from the same block of clay that Woody Allen uses for so many protagonists.  He’s neurotic, introspective to a fault, and at 49 years old still struggles with the constant conundrum that is the opposite sex.

Bernard has made a life for himself in New York City in publishing (historical fiction) and manages to pick up the occasional woman thanks to his mental prowess and a spoonful of charm.  It hasn’t always been easy for Bernard.  His marriage lasted all of six weeks.  Even before he was obsessed with women only able to get involved with women by befriending local lotharios like Huey (David Koechner).  In their prime, Huey was sleeping his way through the five boroughs while Bernard was scoring with his castaways.  It was a symbiotic relationship, like one of those remoras that attaches itself to a shark for stainability.

It’s been 25 years since they’ve last seen each other.  That is until Huey shows up on Bernard’s doorstep drunk, disheveled and in need of a place to crash.  Soon enough Huey is sleeping on the floor and taking over Bernard’s life with reckless abandon.  To be fair, it’s not like Bernard is doing much with it. and in spite of his protests he seems to have no issue with attaching himself to Huey again.

Huey’s life is more complicated and fragmented than Bernard’s, but in equally shabby shape.  He has a strained relationship with his daughter Zelda (Mae Whitman) and has never really taken the time to become an adult.  He’s still a sex obsessed man-child who has lost his looks and hair—a ladies’ man no longer appealing to the 20-something sex goddesses for whom he pines.  Huey channels some of his energy into repairing the relationship with his daughter, by urging Bernard to show some of Zelda’s comics to his peers at the publisher for whom he works. This forces Bernard to spend some time with the abrasive Zelda.  The unlikely pair do what unlikely pairs do: bang like crazy in a May-December romance that looks as awkward as it sounds.

“Bernard and Huey” is an interesting examination of men at a certain age: depressing mid-life where single men struggle with their own sexual mortality. The days of bedding gorgeous young women with ease are over.  Relationships with women their own age disintegrate because of their lack of maturity. On paper, Huey has amassed more adult responsibility than Bernard, but his selfishness and immaturity make it impossible for him to appreciate what he has or bring any value to his ex-wife of daughter.  While Huey is still searching for an identity and validation through his relationships.  He lacks Huey’s ties to the world but probably wouldn’t know how to handle them if he did.

This is a very “New York” movie—an introspective character analysis expected from Pulitzer Prize and Oscar-winning writer Jules Feiffer.  It’s a smart film about dumb men and the choices they make.  We get to see the modern-day older versions of Bernard and Huey and flash back to their younger selves when they were young and full of combustible sex drives. Jim Rash and David Koechner are great in the title roles. Their friendship is unlikely and somewhat frustrating.  Audiences get the feeling that without each other these two might never make another friend.

There’s a little Felix/Oscar “Odd Couple” thing going on between the two. It makes sense a writer like Feiffer is able to craft the same kind of characters found in Neil Simon plays and Woody Allen films since the artists were all inspired by the same city and the people populating its five boroughs. “Bernard and Huey” is an engaging and entertaining film poignantly directed by Dan Mirvish and carried by an excellent cast of character actors who make the material pop.

Ginger Nation
Fri., Nov. 11, 1:15 p.m.
CFCC Union Station
Tickets: $10

Stand-up specials and one-person shows take a special kind of performer. Commanding an audience for an hour or more straight is one of the hardest gigs in show business.  It’s a marathon for any performer—a gauntlet few have truly mastered. There are exceptional artists in this genre, like Spalding Gray, Eric Bogosian and John Leguizamo, all of whom excelled in this creative space. Shawn Hitchins has entered the thunderdome that is personal performance with his challenging piece “Ginger Nation.”

Hitchins is a natural ham—a wear-it-all-on-his-sleeve performer who has absolutely no issue spilling the most intimate details of his life in the most graphic way possible.  He’s like the guy at the party whose mixed prescriptions pills and hard liquor suddenly unload a brutal, self-effacing world view on anyone within earshot.

As the title implies, this is the story of a ginger: super rare, fair-skinned, strawberry-haired minority often portrayed in a less-than flattering light. He’s also a gold-star gay (I’ll let you figure that one out for yourself) and takes great pride in his genetics and sexual identity. The film allows Hitchins to deep dive into some of the formative experiences of his life and life-changing decisions he made.

Much of the crux of “Ginger Nation” revolves around being asked by a lesbian couple to donate sperm for artificial insemination—a process far more complicated than movies and television would have you believe. Hitchins goes hilariously into the minute detail of the process of masturbating into a sterile cup in a hilarious bit that he sells with broad physical comedy in a way that has to be seen to be believed.

Shawn Hitchins is fearless in an endearing way. This is the kind of performance that could easily derail through the editing process. “Ginger Nation” is an all-or-nothing experience, and Hitchins is willing to deliver it all. Ever wondered how many ejaculations it would require to fill a liter? Shawn has. All these bombastic moments serve as a nice segway between more personal moments that allow him to stew in melancholy for a few moments before launching into another funny moment. He is very comfortable spinning personal tragedy into comedy and finding absurdity in the mundane.

Like all one-person shows your ultimate enjoyment relies on the performer. Hitchins is an infectious presence who is capable of drawing you into his madcap and manic observations. He laughs at his own material a little too much. Sometimes a good line or comment is completely smothered by his cackling laughter to serve as punctuation, which gives the audience almost no opportunity to absorb the moment before making a judgement on its comedic/dramatic merit.

“Ginger Nation” is a unique piece, and something that feels remarkably fresh as part of the Cucalorus line-up. Shawn Hitchins is raw, unapologetic and honest.  His narrative is interesting, entertaining and unique. While I think the show could benefit from a little more theatrics, it’s still well worth watching. Sometimes it feels like an intimate “evening with” type show, while other moments make it feel like a really long TEDTalk. Take a chance on a solid hour of brutal, hilarious honesty.

CUCALORUS Venues

Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts
310 Chestnut Street / 910-632-2285

CFCC Union Station
502 N. Front Street / 910-362-7488

Jengo’s Playhouse
815 Princess St. / 910-343-5995

Bourgie Nights
127 Princess St. /910-763-5252

Expo 216
216 N. Front St. /910-769-3899

Blind Elephant
21 N. Front St. / 910-833-7175
Down Smith Alley

Hell’s Kitchen
118 Princess St. / 910-763-4133

Dead Crow Comedy Room
265 N Front St. / 901-399-1492

TheaterNOW
19 S 10th St. / 910-399-3669

North Front Theater
21 N Front St. #501 / 910-342-0272

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