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Movie Reviews (5/31/15)

Movie: I Am Divine (2013)
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****
Notes: With the exception of "Hairspray" and subsequent films, I've never been a fan of John Waters's early work, so watching an entire documentary on crossdresser Divine, the centerpiece of those films, was a calculated risk. Strangely enough, for an actor who specialized in low-budget, ghastly cinema and utterly trashy stage performances, this Kickstarted biopic is unexpectedly affecting. Taking Divine out of context reveals a darkly satirical intent that isn't as evident within her movies to anyone but Waters's most strident devotees, and an exploration of the actor's personal life reveals a contradictory and counterintuitive personality. The movie clips outside of their individual features are hilarious absurdity, especially the further back you go, and the story of Divine's unlikely success is the strangest, yet most upbeat of rags-to-riches success stories. The talking heads are Waters's circle of acquaintances, so they're readily odd to outright weird, and it seems a bit naive to think the dark side is fairly represented, but for such a sharply vulgar character, this documentary's positive bent provides a perfect balance. Surprisingly recommended.

Movie: We Cause Scenes (2013)
Rating: **** out of *****
Notes: Wow, another good Kickstarted documentary? This fan-made and funded film examines the rise of Improv Everywhere, a social media-generated performance/prank crowd that spontaneously appears to act out silly, upbeat, and/or quirky gags in public, then abruptly dispersing into anonymity. Charlie Todd, the group's organizer talks at length about how Improv Everywhere evolved, along with his friends who supported and participated in the effort. Todd and his buds aren't polished Hollywood actors, so it all comes off as a bunch of college drama club kids messing around with a novelty idea in various public areas - which is exactly how it all went down. The interviews are interspersed with plenty of behind-the-scenes video of the stunts themselves which is the primary entertainment portion if you're unfamiliar with them, but more of a review and fill-in-the-blank if they're known. Very fluffy and borderline student film, describing the upbeat experience of the few years of viral success of a socially positive movement.

Movie: Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****
Notes: Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson star in the not-quite-true story of Walt Disney's courting of P.L. Travers for the rights to produce her famous book, "Mary Poppins." It alternates between the present-day interactions of Travers and the Disney team, and flashbacks to Travers's life growing up in rural Australia alongside her troubled family. The backstory elements are well-produced but highly melodramatic and the tie-in to the main plot feels forced, whereas the core storyline isn't as contentious as one would hope or expect. Hanks doesn't really work well as Disney either - his stilted dialogue failing to emulate the smooth, teacherly droll of Disney's presence, and bearing a slight but not insignificant resemblance to a certain unnamed WW2 villain. That being said, the star of the show, Emma Thompson, steals the show with her brilliantly cranky and severe performance of P.L. Travers, obstinately nitpicking and roadblocking the mouse house's best efforts to appease her like a classroom nun with her favorite ruler. Her acting itself is worth giving this Disney-made Disney story about a Disney film a look, despite many elements being made up out of whole cloth for flattery's sake.

Next: After The Dark, Big Bad Wolves, The Rocket

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