There are a lot of ways to ingest food, information, and more with this week’s movies. To recap: with new movies postponed from original release dates and theaters closed, things may be different for a while, but there’s still room for new reviews. Thanks to some films made digitally available either by studios or various streaming services, I have assembled some brief takes on new films either currently available or arriving in the near future, along with one retro pick for the week. The following features reviews for The Platform, Uncorked, The Other Lamb, How to Build A Girl, Butt Boy, and Kung Fu Hustle.
The Platform: 7 out of 10
The Setup: A man voluntarily heads to a vertical prison, which features one cell per level, and two people per cell. A platform of food arrives daily, for a couple of minutes at a time, traveling downward, feeding people on the way. Those higher up are able to have more food, but things become more dangerous with less and less scraps to have, as the platform moves lower.
Review: I knew very little about this film going in, but what a wild premise to be both intrigued and grossed out by. I’m not one to take kindly to watching people eat so heavily, let alone eat chewed up leftovers, but getting past that element, there was a lot to like about this Spanish sci-fi thriller. Working as a mix of ideas found in films such as Snowpiercer, Cube, and Delicatessen, director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia does all he can to keep such a high concept moving and visually compelling, giving the (basically) single location there is to work with.
Key to this are the characters (each with a symbolic name). Ivan Massague’s Goreng is a good enough lead, but there’s a lot to appreciate in the others, including Antonia San Juan as a mysterious woman traveling between platforms, Emilio Buale Coka as a man of faith living through hell, and especially (or obviously) Zorion Eguileor as an older man who believes he knows the best ways to cope with his situation. The thing is, the way everyone deals tends to have twisted repercussions.
The Platform has to rely hard on the nature of society leaning on its darkest impulses as a way of letting the premise deliver on some gnarly moments, building on themes of classism, among other areas. It may feel limiting and unbalanced, but that’s the nature of any dystopian feature. At the same time, with an inherent sense of nihilism in place, finding a way to build the film towards some sense of plot momentum that could change the status quo becomes compelling enough to deliver an almost-great finale. The final minutes end up losing some steam due to a sense of familiarity and not being nearly as excitingly unique as what led up to it.
Minor issues aside, there is a lot to like about The Platform. The characters are limited in characterization by design but shift around enough to be well-utilized for the time they are on screen. From a filmmaking perspective, there’s a lot here to show what Gaztelu-Urrutia can accomplish on a limited budget, which should help the future of his career, whether he gets bigger projects or more high concept scripts. All of this in mind, the film is a wicked, gross little movie that’s quick-paced and to the point, so don’t expect any leftovers.
Where To Watch: Currently available on Netflix.
Uncorked: 8 out of 10
Review: Working as a good-natured throwback to black films of the 90s and early 00s like Soul Food, The Best Man, and Barbershop, before Tyler Perry took over, Uncorked is a very likable drama. This is the kind of easy-going movie that has enough character work to deliver a solid overall journey while keeping up a spirit that balances light humor with some real emotions. It was enough to have me caught up in feeling for the sense of loss certain characters go through, as well as feel a sense of triumph in the payoffs that deliver.
Mamoudou Athie, steadily building a solid resume, is quite good as Elijah, the wine geek. His knowledge of wine is something we don’t see explored in films all that often, so watching a deeper dive into this culture proved to be quite fascinating. The same can be said for Courtney B. Vance’s work as Elijah’s father handling the BBQ business. The tension between them plays well into the film’s story, as there’s enough of a rift in their relationship allowing for viewers to see both sides, while also feeling more involved because of the family dynamic as a whole.
Writer/director Prentice Penny adds plenty of visual flavor to the film, both in his display of the wine and BBQ, along with the establishing shots doing well to bring focus on Memphis living, and trips to other parts of the world. Really, all of the work to infuse culture, hip-hop, and more into a story about a father and son played quite nicely. The added bonus of likable supporting characters, such as the other people studying with Elijah to become master sommeliers, his girlfriend, and the mother (Niecy Nash), all allow the film to feel lived in, even with the effort to bring a sense of style to the proceedings.
Working as the kind of film where a formula can be proven to stand strong when the ingredients are right, Uncorked is unassuming enough to not feel too maudlin in its efforts to tell a family story. Instead, the film stays grounded and enjoyable, moving in the right sort of ways. Athie, Vance, and Nash are all doing terrific work, which only adds to what a film like this is capable of. Don’t bottle this film up, take it in and let it breathe.
Where To Watch: Currently available on Netflix.
The Other Lamb: 7 out of 10
Review: The continued intrigue I take away from movies about cults is just how calming the atmosphere always is until things take a turn for the worse. Sometimes the sense of foreboding is enough to create a constant level of dread. Other times, the films wait until the last possible minute to show their true hand. With all of that in mind, if actor Michiel Huisman is involved, it’s time to run the other direction. Not from the films though, as they seem to be doing what it takes to make for compelling horror scenarios.
I’m thinking of The Invitation, another brilliant film with some terrific reveals, but The Other Lamb finds Huisman as the leader of a cult that feels not too different from what was seen in Martha Marcy May Marlene. At the very least, while there’s a substantial icky factor involving Huisman’s Shepherd leading multiple wives and daughters (thankfully not shown in any truly explicit manner), this group is less focused on the harm of those outside of their little faction.
Where things shine is the trickiness in exploring the politics of this cult, and how Raffey Cassidy’s Selah both comes of age and quickly begins seeing through all of her Shepherd’s BS. Working as a commentary on religion to some degree, as well as a game of cat and mouse (or ram and lamb), the tension continually building between those in on the truth and those with blind faith means ratcheting up a level of anxiety. This is only increased by director Malgorzata Szumowska’s insistence on injecting dead lamb and drowning body imagery throughout the film.
Shot in isolated, serene locations, this film manages to find vivid, natural imagery to put on display while utilizing harsh, cool filters to put a damper on things when necessary. Cult living never seems appealing, but it’s not surprising to find them generally located in very inviting settings, making for a film all the more dangerous, as it unfolds. Perhaps a bit too blunt overall, but a compelling watch.
Where To Watch: Available on VOD April 3, 2020.
Butt Boy: 7 out of 10
The Setup: A prostate exam reveals an ordinary man’s ability and growing desire to absorb objects of varying size, and eventually people inside of him from…down below. After a few disappearances, one cop believes he knows the truth.
Review: Okay, so with the premise in mind, this is the ultimate example of playing something straight. Yes, the plot involves a man essentially becoming a serial killer by sticking things (or people) up his butt. It’s ridiculous, but having director/co-writer/star Tyler Cornack devote himself so hard to the joke ends up paying off big time. While the premise is ludicrous, the film is structured as a neo-noir that nails all the details to work as the grittiest take on the detective story concept. Similarly, Tyler Rice’s work as the detective figuring it all out is entirely necessary to hold this movie together.
As a low-budget film, there’s no deep emphasis on the “weapon” being used, and aside from a third act that goes truly bonkers with the premise, much of the film is actually quite tense. There’s a very deadpan sense of humor held throughout, which plays well for a movie like this, but it’s not hard to classify Butt Boy as a thriller, given the level of technical confidence on display. Cinematography is vital in all of this, as it makes mundane locations all the more exciting, and various reveals leave an impact.
Everyone is committing to the bit, and it makes the film incredibly watchable. Sure, with a premise that could easily work as a comedy skit or a short film, stretching this out to a 100-minute movie could prove to be too much for some. Still, others will be on the exact wavelength of this very dry comedy that has clearly been influenced by a wide variety of things from older noir to Tim & Eric. That Butt Boy happens to have some strong performances amid all the craziness is what helps set it apart from other absurdist films like it.
Yes, the film finds a way to go to dark places amid all its silliness, yet there’s somehow something rewarding about the way it manages to pull this off. I supposed that’s a great credit to a film getting away with the title of Butt Boy. Whatever the case may be, however, I was able to get behind what it was aiming for.
Where To Watch: Available on VOD April 14, 2020.
Retro Pick: Kung Fu Hustle: 8 out of 10
The Setup: A wannabe gangster aspires to join the notorious Axe Gang, leading him to be caught up in the crossfire between these deadly criminals and the residents of a housing complex that’s home to a few kung fu masters.
Review: I needed some good-natured fun, given all that’s going on in the world, so revisiting 2004’s Kung Fu Hustle was a blast. Stephen Chow managed to deliver an incredible film allowing for both comedic hijinks and spectacular action scenes. Made during a time when modern wuxia films were at a peak resurgence period for mainstream audiences, this film absolutely nails what it takes to be on the same high level found in dramatic attempts such as Hero and The House of Flying Daggers.
A lot of this success is thanks to Chow’s ability as a writer and director. Giving way to the many characters who make up this world, there’s a lot of great setups and payoffs to the story being told, which means caring more about the various figures we meet (such as the landlady and her husband), and being in awe of how they handle themselves during wild set piece moments, such as a musical fight set at night, or a casino brawl. The added comedic component means getting to see a great variety of gags, ranging from the visual humor to Looney Tunes-style craziness.
Not unlike Chow’s Shaolin Soccer, there’s too much in this movie for it to ever grow old. Exaggerated visual effects, memorable lines, and characters, let alone the dedication to getting the best people involved in directing the high-flying martial arts sequences, Kung Fu Hustle has it all for anyone hoping to see some pure joy in a movie devoted to delivering on all levels when it comes to fun kung fu flicks.
Where To Watch: Currently available on Netflix.