Fantastic Fest Diaries Day 4

(Welcome to The Fantastic Fest Diaries, where we will be chronicling every single movie we see at the United States’ largest genre film festival.)

Welcome to Fantastic Fest 2019, day four. In this entry, Fractured is a stylish adventure in the familiar and Dolemite is My Name is the best filmmaking biopic since Ed Wood.

Fractured

With Fractured, Brad Anderson directs the hell out of a screenplay that will prove familiar to anyone who has ever seen a “man’s family vanishes and everyone pretends they don’t exist” movie. That’s a surprisingly robust genre, but each film like this ultimately takes us to a climactic fork in the road where either a grand conspiracy is revealed or the main character was a lunatic all along. In this particular case, it never really matters because both outcomes never feel especially interesting or shocking. You’ve seen this movie before and you’ve seen it done better.

That’s not to say there aren’t elements worth savoring here. Anderson, who specializes in grim movies about men who may or may not be losing their minds, directs the hell out of the overly familiar screenplay, infusing many sequences with a dread and panic that make you reconsider that you’re watching something predictable. It’s an odd feeling: a movie so well-directed that you often allow yourself to consider that you’re wrong for feeling like there’s nothing new on the page here and to give it all the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, the film’s biggest revelations will not leave you as pleasantly surprised as Anderson’s direction.

There’s nothing outwardly offensive about Fractured. Sam Worthington acts up a storm, individual scenes impress, and it’s easy to imagine this filling that specific Netflix niche of “totally adequate thriller that keeps you half-occupied while you fold laundry.” There’s a time and place for a movie like this and Fractured is not bad – it’s just well-made junk food, empty calories that power you for 100 minutes before vanishing from your mind forever.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10

dolemite is my name review

Dolemite is My Name

I worry that calling Craig Brewer‘s Dolemite is My Name “the blaxploitation take on Ed Wood” sounds reductive, especially since it hails from the same writers as Tim Burton’s 1994 biopic masterpiece. But at the same time, this seems to be the perfect niche for Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, whose affection for lovable outcasts with grand ambitions and big hearts powers both of these films and offers a similar energy. Like Ed Wood, this is a movie about a man who has no business making movies as he struggles to make a movie. And like that film, you fall so deeply in love with this man and his mission that it becomes the rare biopic to overcome the typical template and transform into something special. This film isn’t just a celebration of comedian and blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore, but a party that verges on a riot – everything that can go wrong for these characters does go wrong, but we’re invited to feel like we’re part of the club. We take it personally when they succeed and fail. And we cheer and laugh the entire way because movies this good at being good-natured are so damn rare.

We meet Moore in middle-age, where he’s already failed as a performer and finds himself working a soul-sucking job in a Los Angeles record store circa 1970. This is where the masterful casting of Eddie Murphy as Moore first connects: we rarely see Murphy, one of the most energetic actors of all time, looking so downbeat, so down, so deeply sad and disappointed in his life. When he adopts a new on-stage persona (a rhyming, tough-talking pimp with plenty of filthy stories) that wins him legions of loyal fans, we witness something powerful: the onscreen resurrection of Murphy. He’s an actor who has been disappointing us for so long in other projects that his portrayal of Moore finding his feet feels real and personal. Moore finding his voice is Murphy finding his again. On a meta-textual level, it’s nothing short of magnificent and moving, but you don’t have to have any knowledge of Murphy outside of the confines of this film to appreciate how fully he throws himself into the part, turning the charm on when he’s on the stage and unleashing the floodgates of anxiety as he beats himself up in private, wrestling demons that have left him with something to prove.

As anyone with knowledge of blaxploitation cinema knows, Moore and his friends eventually mount a low-budget film production to bring the Dolemite character to the masses, the kind of bootstrap production that involves taking loans, asking for favors, recruiting bewildered white film students, and asking each and every person in Moore’s life to contribute to the production in ways that are generally above their pay grade. Murphy’s enthusiasm is balanced by the deep bench of supporting players, with Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Titus Burgess, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph all turning in strong work as crew and actors whose enthusiasm to help their friend achieve his dream outweighs their lack of experience. As the high-minded writer who wants to infuse Moore’s crass humor with social commentary, Keegan-Michael Key is the hilarious audience stand-in that helps remind us that yes, this is all ridiculous. As the seasoned actor with high aspirations who gets recruited to direct the film, Wesley Snipes reminds us he’s one of the absolute best actors Hollywood has been misusing for too long.

There’s a powerful energy of Dolemite is My Name, a sense of positivity that proves downright infectious. Like Ed Wood, this is a movie about why we make and why we watch movies. Like Ed Wood, this is a movie about raw vision proving more important than any kind of training. Like Ed Wood, this movie rests on the shoulders of an ensemble so lovable that even when the film verges on hokey, we’re so deep in it that we let our hearts swell rather than repel the sweetness. Am I doing this film a disservice because I keep on comparing it to another film? I hope not. After all, it’s only the spiritual sequel to one of my favorite movies of all time. And goodness, that has to be enough.

/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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