MEEK AT THE MOVIES : Indie DIY – Two Far-flung Visions on the Cheap

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^ young dalliance : Michael Cera and Gaby Hoffman

For the second time this summer we find Michael Cera behaving badly in a bathroom. In “This is the End” he was effete and self-centered as he was orally pleasured by two nubile ingénues. Here, in “Crystal Fairy,” as an American in Chile on a quest for the ultimate peyote, his Jamie has some flushing complications after a number two. Normally this would be a conundrum for most, but Jamie happens to be stoned and hanging out with a few of his Chilean hommies, so what’s a little stink among friends?

The head-trip objective runs its narrative arc fairly straight up with a few scatological sprinkles and some moronic lunacy along the way. In most every scene, Jamie’s shrieking hubris consumes the screen, and it doesn’t help he can’t speak Spanish. As far as the project’s origins, you can almost see director Sebastián Silva cooking it up with Cera after coming down from an altered state: “Hey man, all we need is an investor or your Indie famous mug on Kickstarter.” One-time child star Gaby Hoffman checks in as the title character continually at odds with Jamie. She’s a true free-spirit, resoundingly exemplified as she drinks cocktails with the boys in the buff. Jamie, who sees her as an interloper raining on his parade, tells her to cover up, but no one else cares. So goes the movie. She’s tuned in, in touch and can speak the language, he’s just an ugly American. That’s the trip.

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^ Anwar Congo : garrote that man

“The Act of Killing” isn’t a documentary in the conventional sense, not even. Its director, Joshua Oppenheimer has described the film as a “documentary of the imagination,” which is deftly more to the point. What Oppenheimer has done is quite ingenious. The film within a film tautly sheds light on the Indonesian death squads of the ’60s (sanctioned by the nascent government that was passively green-lighted by Western powers) without being a chronicle. Back then, Anwar Congo, who looks slightly like Nelson Mandela, was a petty hood scalping movie tickets until the power shift made him the leader of a militia group that operated with autonomy, little accountability and assumed impunity. He killed thousands, mostly by garrote as he grimly demonstrates for the camera, but Oppenheimer isn’t interested in recreation or testimony, he’s after the soul of a killer and gives Congo a camera to make a movie that encapsulates his legacy.

What Congo comes up with are staged, grand military invasions replete with jeeps, gun turrets mounted, rolling into a jungle village — and surreal nightmare sequences in which he plays the victim. The production values are low, and there is plenty of baroque imagery, like the siren-esque women singing alongside a misty waterfall, the ample overuse of studio blood, and – almost in every sequence — a chubby former executioner in drag. Oppenheimer inter-cuts it starkly with some revelations from Congo and TV footage from back when Congo was revered as a national hero. The journey is amazing, but at some point Oppenheimer becomes too much of a bystander and the wonderment becomes inert. Looming questions never get answered, but you still leave with a pit in your stomach and an itch to google Anwar Congo and the whole bloody chapter on the South Pacific isle.

Crystal Fairy – 2.5 STARS

The Act of Killing – 3 STARS

—- Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies

MEEK AT THE MOVIES : THIS IS THE END (rating : 3 ***)

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“This is the End” may be the most meta-vanity project ever to come out of Hollywood, where things meta usually don’t fly unless Charlie Kaufman is involved. The film co-written and co-directed by Seth Rogen has Rogen playing Seth Rogen — the asshole extrapolation of himself.  James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride all do the same. Baruchel is the one out of towner visiting Rogen in Los Angeles. Baruchel despises LA and just wants to hangout and smoke weed and watch 3D TV, but Rogen pries him off the couch and drags him to a house party at Franco’s manse.
Pot humor and pop up party guests like Rihanna keep the slow moving premise (Baruchel also hates Hill and is a bit of whining wet noodle to boot) alive, though there are nuggets of WTF humor that snap you out of the stupor : for example,  Michael Cera (yup, the anemic sweet wimp from “Juno”) doing blow and getting a rim job in the bathroom while sipping an effete cocktail that he seemingly relishes more than the sex act.
If that’s not an apocalyptic vision, the real apocalypse does arrive. A la the Rapture and Judgment Day, ‘good’ people are sucked up in blue tractor beams; the middlers and miscreants are left on Earth to perish in the building inferno. No one at Franco’s party gets beamed up to say the least, and, as the hills of Hollywood burn, it takes a while before the revelation sets in, and when it does, the sink hole from hell (literally) opens up and takes all but the main lads.
Most everything on view is aflame, and the six performers bunker up in Franco’s art-deco fortress, smoke more weed, divvy up supplies and jockey for masturbation rights to the lone porn mag in the house. McBride, so funny and unshakable in “Pineapple Express,” turns out to be the loose cannon, depleting the supplies in a matter of minutes; and Emma Watson shows up to provide a sexual distraction, not to mention dissension and Potter jokes.
This film, ostensibly birthed by the 2007 short film “Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse,” gets teeth from its self-deprecating nature. When wondering if they’ll be saved, one the insightful lot remarks, “They always save actors and famous people first.” One of the film’s wittier turns has Franco breaking out the video-camera from “127 Hours” and the boys making a cheeky, low-fi sequel to “Pineapple Express.” Things that don’t work so well are the heavily peddled spoof of “The Exorcist.” It’s dull, uninspired flatness will leave your head spinning.
Outside creatures that look like the minions of the Gatekeeper in “Ghostbusters” or some rubber costume baddie in a Scooby Doo episode tear up the turf. Eventually the posse must venture out; and when they do, the scale of special FX won’t wow you so much as make you wonder how such a hokey skit idea stretched into a feature length film got such big dollars.
“This is the End,” won’t get you any deeper into the personas on display or change your perception of them, no matter how you feel about them, but it will make you laugh — and test your patience a bit too.
—- Tom Meek  / “Meek at the Movies”