Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Reviews: Norberto Leo Butz shines in “Give or Take,” Wallace Shawn is in a Less than Festive “Festival” and a Creepy, Haunted “House”

Reviews: Give or Take, Rifkin’s Festival, The House 

Give or Take (c) Obscured Pictures

Film: Give or Take 
In Cinemas (Quad Cinemas in NY on Friday) 

Stage actor Norbert Leo Butz finally gets a film role that spotlights the talents we theatergoers have known since he stole the Broadway production of “Thou Shall Not” from star Harry Connick Jr. Butz has always played slightly flighty characters in musicals, like the lead in the musical adaptation of “Big Fish” – and in “Give or Take” he plays Ted, an equally free spirit, who has to deal with the death of longtime partner, Kenneth, as well as Kenneth’s estranged son, Martin (Jamie Effros). The big dilemma is the Cape Cod house the couple shared, but since they weren’t married, Martin has to decide if he wants to sell the house, with prodding by real estate agent Patty King (Cheri Oteri) or continue to let Ted live there. Director Paul Riccio and Effros wrote the script, and while there are touching moments of heart-to-heart conversations, the actual plot of the story feels rather contrived just to ramp up the drama, which all could have been solved with one frank conversation. Ted is the loose cannon here as his grief makes his unpredictable reactions both nonsensical and yet totally believable thanks to Butz’s itchy but sympathetic performance. Effros also has some fine moments as the conflicted son, especially when he hears about a kinder side to his father he never witnessed growing up. Although the story may take some questionable detours, the resolution feels right and just. The performances elevate the movie into a worthwhile, emotional and funny family drama. 

Rifkin's Festival (c) The Mediapro Studios

Film: Rifkin’s Festival 
In Cinemas and Streaming 

“Rifkin’s Festival” is Woody Allen’s first movie since the sexual abuse allegations resurfaced in 2017 as well as the release of a scathing TV documentary about Allen’s relationship with Mia Farrow. But as a director, it is business as usual, and “Rifkin’s Festival” rehashes the same themes and neuroses as many (many!) of his previous films. There’s even a scene in which Rifkin (Wallace Shawn) and his wife Sue (a game Gina Gershon) mention pot as a recreational sexual drug, straight out of “Annie Hall.” One hurdle I still can’t get over in most of Woody’s movies is the schlubby guy with the beautiful women trope as Rifkin not only has a younger, beautiful wife but also chases after a gorgeous Spanish doctor (Elena Anaya, from “The Skin I Live In”). There really is no story beyond Rifkin joining his publicist wife to the San Sebastian Film Festival because he thinks she’s having an affair with one of her clients, the hotshot director Philippe (a wasted Louis Garrel), but the nice twist is that the festival of the title is actually Rifkin imagining his life through the lens of great film directors like Jean Luc-Goddard, Ingmar Bergman and Orson Welles. Also, an asset to the film is Shawn, who, when he’s not playing the jealous husband or mooning for a woman thirty years his junior, actually humanizes some of Woody’s oft-used themes. And he‘s funny too. When his wife says Philippe’s next movie is about the reconciliation of the Arabs and Israel, Rifkin replies, “I’m glad he’s turning to science fiction.” “Rifkin’s Festival” is Allen’s 50th feature film as a director, and so far, there hasn’t been an announcement of a future project. It won’t be a bad thing if his career as a filmmaker ends with a love letter to cinema. 

The House (c) Netflix

Film: The House 
On Netflix 

Don’t watch “The House” and think it’s the usual stop-action animated film. This is a British anthology film about a creepy house and three of its inhabitants, with each story directed by a different director. All three stories are written by Irish writer Enda Walsh, and the haunted house theme makes this movie feel more “Creepshow” than, say, “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” “And heard within, a lie in spun,” directed by Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels, is about a human family that signed a contract to move out of their humble home and into a new house built by a maniacal millionaire. (It has overtones of the Helen Mirren film “Winchester.”) “Then lost is truth that can’t be won,” directed by Niki Lindroth van Bahr and co-written by Johannes Nyholm, takes place in a rat world in which a jumpy, nervous real estate agent (Jarvis Crocker) tries to sell the house overrun by creepy crawly things. In director Oakina Baeza’s “Listen again and seek the sun,” we are in a cat world, and the owner of the house (Susan Wokoma) is trying to make ends meet by renting out rooms, but she seems unaware of an impending apocalypse. Each story is fine on its own, but put together, only the first one really creates a mood (Mia Goth voicing the daughter Is particularly fine), but ultimately where the story goes makes no sense. All three are well-directed, but I didn’t find a point to the movie once it ended. The house itself never comes to life.

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