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IR Film Review: AN AMERICAN PICKLE [HBO Max]

The element of Seth Rogen’s humor has always reflected in the aspect of material he both acts in and produces (with which he is proficient). Another actor that does this albeit in a different way is Brad Pitt who knows the right material that both fits his brand but also angles into his taste and ambition. It is unusual that he hasn’t directed yet. Rogen and Evan Goldberg, his producing partner, have been part of the force behind such TV series as “Preacher” on AMC and “The Boys” currently on Amazon. His movie angles have been getting a little more specific in playing on the edge of his sandbox lately while still pushing him on the point of the every-man. “The Long Shot” was an effective movie since he knows placing himself against an actress like Charlize Theron but breaking it down to his strengths and showing new sides to her (which were always there) is a good move. Rogen understands how to share the screen and be generous, even when he is playing against himself.

The premise of “An American Pickle” reflects this literally. Ben’s great grandfather returns to modern day Brooklyn because of a pickle mishap. If you actually think of it, the set up is very heartbreaking yet disturbingly and wonderfully nonsensical. But the way Rogen sets it up (since he plays both characters of the great grandson and great grandfather) is the heart. And it is there from the beginning in the scenes in 1911. It literally is some of Rogen’s best acting because it feels real. He is, of course, channeling Topol from “Fiddler On The Roof” but it is not like he breaks out into song. The irony and humor resides in the fact that the great grandfather Herschel is out of time and out of sorts but he is not out. He works his butt off which again is part of metaphor of what the movie drives towards. Herschel as a character is both a revelation but also a throwback of non-PC elements that are frowned upon in the current world.

Rogen leans into this in the script and performance since he knows that this character however far it goes has the possibility of redemption if his heart is pure even if his ways of understand the world and thinking aren’t. Balance this with certain angle of vindictiveness from someone who is literally himself and it is actually quite a cool little tome. It would have done well in a theater but it seems almost abrasive comfort food in a way for COVID. Just simple story and belly laughs. Rogen doesn’t even mention weed in the movie once. He can do it without that reference. There is no CG and yet Rogen himself is the special effect since he is playing against himself which required that to look effortless. The ebb and flow is nice but also comments on the social consciousness currently and is prescient of any things (as this was shot before the pandemic).

Like “Greyhound” which went to Apple from Sony, this was originally made for the studio who has always let Rogen try things (look at “The Interview”). Without getting too heavily into plot specifics, the pickle structure is actually a literal thing which reflects in the idea of success and the American Dream. It is actually fairly timeless in its delivery despite some app references. But the reason it works is because of the heart. it is almost hard to imagine that it is Rogen dong both but it is. But interestingly enough it is Herschel that is the revelation because despite the face, as a viewer you really don’t see Rogen which makes the progression that much more interesting. The mid credits scene is also a great throw back with a really nice and funny shout out to a former co-star.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: SUMMERLAND [IFC]

The aspect of myth comes down in many ways to the notion of metaphor versus what might be going on in the actual world. In times of war, it becomes an interesting motif since it tends to reflect more in the idea of escapism. With a story like “Summerland” which is set during World War II in a small town near the Cliffs Of Dover, it becomes more about the texture of acceptance and perception. It is the story of a woman who lives her life alone for a reason, burned in a way by love, which leaves her alienated just as much by the circumstance as she is by the time. Gemma Arterton who rose to prominence in large scale films like “Quantum Of Solace” and “Clash Of The Titans” devotes herself more to character work here. Her foil in many ways is two-fold. One is in the past with Gugu Mbatha-Raw who plays Vera and Lucas Bond who plays Frank in her present day. Because of the war and children being shepherded away from London because of the Blitz, Alice ends up taking care of Frank because of an edict to take in children displaced. “Bedknobs & Broomsticks” used a similar construct.

The relationship starts off as all similar situations do but these two disparate yet similar souls start to teach each other about acceptance. However, the idea of masks and perceptions begin to take a toll. There is an earnestness and a ease to the relationship as it is balanced with the flashbacks to Alice & Vera spending times together (which honestly is portrayed more as dreamlike — but that might be Alice’s remembrance since the movie is primarily from her POV). What gives the movie a bit of edge is having Frank have a young friend, both open minded and yet close, precocious and yet piratical in Dixie Egerickx’s Edie who is able to walk a thin line of a girl independent but still of that age. It is a maturity which is both effective and yet unrefined in a good way in terms of acting style. The story of course to a head in terms of perspective and sometimes resorts too readily into melodrama. Also the film is bookended to give a sense of completion which is alright but in may ways too neatly packed. The overall myth of a floating city and how that keys into the psychology of the characters, grasping at a peace just beyond their fingertips which they can’t reach, is an apt metaphor and keys into the greater themes of the film.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: THE POOL [Shudder]

The simplicity of a film is sometimes a hard aspect to accomplish. While some of the circumstances in “The Pool” are a bit exaggerated, its end result is not. One can look over many aspects of certain shortcomings including some of the CGI but the direction creating a sense of darkness where escape is impossible is hard to do in modern cinema and especially with this kind of construct. Granted this takes place in Thailand so the infrastructure and the mystery of it is an interesting progression for sure that works for internationally audiences. While the movie within a movie construct is deceptively meta, part of the film was supposedly inspired by the director’s claustrophobia of the space in certain ways. The creature in effect is not played overly in terms of behavior but rather very effectively in what could happen. One aspect of it pushes credibility a little too hard but again the concept definitely works well in terms of the logic it is propelling. It makes one think of those abandoned Olympic stadiums in Sochi, Russia. There is a probably a horror film waiting to happen there.

What this pool complex was used for in real life and how long ago is interesting. The sets perfectly integrate. More important is the acting. While at times overplayed, it is mostly silent in many ways which makes it not about subtitles, but the action of the characters. It is a primal play. The brutality for the most part is singular. It doesn’t come down to brutality until the end. But the certain sacrifices are quite intense. Very few films have that cringe factor since it is overall done with gore which has become desensitized in modern horror. Anticipation is the more psychological based horror. Here it is animal and human nature which can be far more vicious. Certain coincidences obviously again strain credibility but in all perspectives “The Pool” is its own beast. It is a film that works perfectly in its world but would not work in a remake. It works well because of where it is set but also the characters it places in the scenario. It is simple, effective and visceral without claiming to be anything more than entertainment with a sense of the real.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

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