IFFBoston 2016: ‘Folk Hero & Funny Guy,’ ‘The Alchemist Cookbook,’ and ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’

folkheroandfunnyguy

Film: Folk Hero & Funny Guy
Directed by: Jeff Grace
Starring: Wyatt Russell, Alex Karpovsky, Meredith Hagner

I don’t know who created the road movie genre where two best friends work out their shit after nights of drinking and philandering, but people have been trying to create greatness out of that simple concept for years. Director/writer Jeff Grace luckily knows the genre well and has crafted a funny and endearing time bolstered by two lead actors at their sardonic best. Alex Karpovsky (Girls) and Wyatt Russell (Everybody Wants Some!!) make the perfect case that the road comedy genre isn’t dead, just in need of talent who understand the dramatic and comedic shortcomings that can come embedded.

Jason (Russell) is a semi-famous folk musician about to go on tour when he meets up with his sad-sack, stand-up comedian best friend, Paul (Karpovsky), at one of his shows. Jason, being the all-powerful and all-knowing guru that he is, decides that he needs to bring Paul on his tour to get him out of his current creative rut. Chaos ensues further when Bryn (Meredith Hagner), an enterprising young country musician, screws up the all-male dynamic, sending the two men hurtling towards the important decisions they have to make in life.

Sounds a bit hokey, right? Well, Grace understands that and knows the exact right moment to pull back and let the actors do the work. This is a performance-driven film and it’s immediately clear that Russell and Karpovsky had more than enough quality time together before shooting began. There’s a laissez-faire vibe to everything that resonates with you, making the seemingly aimless ride all worth the while. But when things take a turn for the climactic, we already know these characters’ motivations and can predict the resolution to conflict. That doesn’t make it any less endearing, though. Also: points for Grace’s choice of Hagner who is almost sunk into a role that could be misconstrued as pure plot motivation.

GRADE: B-


alchemist cookbook

Film: The Alchemist Cookbook
Directed by: Joel Potrykus
Starring: Ty Hickson, Amari Cheatom

One thing became clear during my stay at IFF Boston 2016: these films are from a slew of filmmakers who watched the right genre movies and then continued to make great genre movies. Director/writer Joel Potrykus is no different, with some reservations that I will get to later. His 2014 film Buzzard was/is a hilarious take on how capitalism may be the root of all evil. While some of that fervent hate was injected into The Alchemist Cookbook, it’s clear that Potrykus has crafted something that will outlive all of the hot takes on his films: a captivating, hilarious, scary and altogether pissed off “fuck you” to conventional filmmaking.

Sean (Ty Hickson), a young alchemist living out in the middle of the woods with his cat, is determined to crack an ancient mystery with rewards of fortune. Something evil is awakened when he begins messing around with spells and metals, though, and his desire to become rich leads him down a dangerous path.

Potrykus is the kind of guy that thrusts you into the middle of a story without clearly explaining what came before the first frame. That’s no fault on him because his characters are so painstakingly detailed that you can draw conclusions for yourself. Sean is no exception. Whether it’s the excessive snacking on Doritos or the mental fits brought on by his lack of medication, Sean is running from something and trying to suppress those feelings.

The Alchemist Cookbook may be microbudget but Potrykus shoots the hell out of the wilderness in Michigan. Sean’s tale is a lonely, confused, angry one and Potrykus lingers on the desolate (almost post-apocalyptic) landscape that he inhabits. Oh, and it’s incredibly funny due to the comedic stylings of Sean’s friend, Cortez (Amari Cheatom). The numbered chapters in the story add structure to an almost structure-less plot, a story that almost regales in not submitting Sean’s tale to text. It’s the assured perfection of “showing, not telling” that makes the film so damn great.

Anyway, see this damn thing whenever it hits theaters or VOD. Imagine if Sam Raimi and Jim Jarmusch had a baby addicted to Mountain Dew and junk food. Joel Potrykus continues to be one of the freshest voices in independent cinema today.

GRADE: A-


wilderpeople

Film: Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Starring: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rhys Darby

Director/writer Taika Waititi proved with the vampire spoof What We Do in the Shadows that he’s got a deep love for the kind of B-movies you watched on VHS as a kid. The same goes for Hunt for the Wilderpeople, based on a book written by Barry Crump but ostensibly jettisoned by the absurdist satire from films like Robocop. Even where the story seems to struggle in finding the right way to go about things, Waititi’s newest keeps laughs coming at bullet speed and in close proximity to each other.

Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a chubby and raucous ward of the state forced to live with new foster parents, Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (Sam Neill). This is his last chance at acclimating to society or he’s going to get thrown into juvie. When all is going well and Ricky is finally feeling loved by someone, Bella passes away suddenly and social services wants to take him away from Hec since he’s not deemed a fit parent. Ricky retreats to the New Zealand bush to escape his fate but when Hec is accused of kidnapping Ricky, they retreat further and further in search of what they really want. The woods are a weird and revealing place.

What I didn’t expect to find in Hunt for the Wilderpeople was Waititi’s view of how the media can turn a story to fit its own narrative. After Hec and Ricky run off further into the woods, the whole small New Zealand town is thrown into a frenzy. Rumors of Hec being a molester bounce about and the longer they stay unseen, the higher the price is put on their heads (especially after roughing up some dickish hikers). Hec and Ricky keep thinking about facing the consequences but they’re having way too much fun avoiding them and causing destruction in their path—not unlike Waititi’s direction, which becomes a bit unwieldy, especially when introducing Rhys Darby’s Psycho Sam. Sam is a gillie suit-wearing mountain man driven crazy by government conspiracies. His place in the story works, but the performance almost gets away with itself.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople almost rests directly on how its comedy lands and if the audience will be appeased even when things get as goofy as a Looney Tunes short. Hec and Ricky’s story about finding a place in a world that doesn’t accept them takes a backseat to their comedic stylings, but you won’t find yourself complaining for too long due to how gut-busting every joke is. If anything, this is an interesting exercise for Waititi, who flourishes so much with comedy that it almost sinks any dramatic effect. Not exactly a detestment or anything, though.

GRADE: B

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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