(Germany/Austria - 2016)
That's the first hour of TONI ERDMANN. There's a lot of insider talk about the corporate world and how the structure is such that Ines has to work twice as hard as her male counterparts to make an impression, and even after she delivers a presentation to her boss Henneberg (Michael Wittenborn), he concludes the meeting with "Well, gents," choosing only to address the men in the room. Ade makes salient points like this, but belabors them. It's roughly 65 minutes in before we finally meet "Toni Erdmann," who shows up at a bar where Ines is having drinks with two female colleagues. "Toni" is clearly Winfried in his most grandiose prank yet, with a shaggy black wig and those same fake teeth, the Tony Clifton to his Andy Kaufman, claiming to be a life coach visiting Bucharest for the funeral of his Italian dentist friend's turtle. This kind of absurdist humor provides the highlights of TONI ERDMANN, but these moments are too sporadic. As "Toni," Winfried keeps following Ines around, meddling in her work life, eventually working his way into her office to act as a life coach for Henneborg and later trying to pass himself off as the German ambassador to Romania. Ade eventually caves to shock comedy with a pair of much-talked about scenes that really aren't that funny: one in a hotel room where Ines denies sex to workplace friend-with-benefits Tim (Trystan Putter), forcing him to masturbate and ejaculate on to a tray of petits four brought up by room service, after which she scarfs down one of the semen-covered appetizers. The other is the impromptu "naked party" sequence that was hailed as a set piece of Blake Edwards-ian genius but is really just awkward, uncomfortable, and not funny, especially when Winfried crashes it wearing a Bulgarian kukeri costume. Of course, it goes for sentiment at the end when father and daughter reach an understanding, but should it have taken a meandering and punishing two hours and 40 minutes to get there? TONI ERDMANN has already been deemed a modern classic, and yeah, there's some big laughs scattered throughout, Huller has a great incredulous, deadpan glare and convincingly belts out an impressive version of Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All," and Simonischek often demonstrates a kind of Peter Sellers-meets-Sasha Baron Cohen quality with his endless antics (though his "Toni Erdmann" get-up really looks a lot like the late, great Alan Bates). With a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I'm obviously in the minority by not adoring this film, but by the two-hour point, part of me was hoping Winfried would choke to death on those goddamn fake teeth the next time he slipped them into his mouth with an impish grin. A Hollywood remake is already in the works, with Kristen Wiig and Jack Nicholson in his first film since 2010's HOW DO YOU KNOW? (R, 162 mins)
WAR ON EVERYONE
(UK/UAE - 2016; 2017 US release)
There's also time for Monroe to have a romance with stripper Jackie (Tessa Thompson of CREED), and for him to find the caring soul within when it comes to Danny (Zion Leyba), a nice kid whose mother's been arrested for killing his father for reasons that are deliberately left obscure but, of course, will tie into the main plot much later. There's a lot in WAR ON EVERYONE that's amusing, but too much of it is just posturing attitude and characters saying things just to see how offensive the film can get. Elsewhere, McDonagh (the older brother of IN BRUGES writer/director Martin McDonagh) tries too hard to do some post-Tarantino pop culture riffing, with Monroe being an obsessive Glen Campbell fanatic (there's a Monroe/Jackie dance number set to "Rhinestone Cowboy"), Bolano and Reggie griping that "you can't see Jennifer Lopez's tits" in OUT OF SIGHT, and Monroe trying to recall if the first movie he ever saw was THE BLUE LAGOON or DOC SAVAGE: MAN OF BRONZE. There's scattered moments where WAR ON EVERYONE gets some momentum going and scores an occasional sterling bit of quotable dialogue ("European jizz?"), and James (the DIVERGENT series) makes a truly loathsome villain, but McDonagh probably should've given his script another polish before rolling the cameras. (R, 98 mins)
(UK - 2016)
HIGH-RISE, the upcoming FREE FIRE), and it's the feature writing/directing debut of protege Nick Gillespie, who's served as a camera operator on all of Wheatley's films. The plot begins with faint echoes of Neal Marshall's DOG SOLDIERS before becoming something more surreal and psychological and by the end, it feels like a longer-than-usual episode of BLACK MIRROR, something that's probably inevitable in UK genre fare given the show's popularity and fervent following. An enemy is closing in on a team of mercenaries led by blustery, barking Smith (Gordon Kennedy), who orders everyone to retreat and leave injured Capper (Wheatley semi-regular Michael Smiley) behind with a bone jutting out of his leg. Smith has two hooded prisoners in orange jumpsuits and they pick up another tag-along in an unnamed woman (Alex March), who they find in utter hysterics until she's sedated by medic Karlsson (Deirdre Mullins). The squad is rounded out by unstable Gantz (Steve Garry), who's already seeing flashing visions of a barely-discernible creature following them, and requisite voice-of-reason Reeves (Rupert Evans, of Amazon's THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE), who's struggling to hold it together. After finding several headless bodies of decapitated mercenaries in a barn, Smith leads everyone--minus one of the two prisoners who's killed a scuffle, leaving only Annabella (April Pearson) as the recovered quarry in their unspecified assignment--to an abandoned tank in the middle of an empty field. Deciding it's the safest place to take refuge from whatever is pursuing them, they all pile into its cramped, claustrophobic confines.
It isn't long before everyone's sanity starts to crumble, especially once they're inside and the only door in or out is jammed and no one can pry it open. Whatever's after them taunts them from outside, clanging and banging on the tank. Gantz unsuccessfully tries to start the tank, shits himself, and goes catatonic after being exposed to a strange orange powder. And Karlsson finds a box filled with files--on each of them. Too much of TANK 432 is just everyone shouting at one another, and Gillespie tips his hand too early with constant shots of Smith eyeballing everyone, scribbling in a notebook, and being evasive whenever anyone asks what he's writing, making it fairly obvious that things aren't what they seem, there's some kind of secret, and that Smith is on it. When that secret is finally revealed, it's hardly worth the elaborate and shouty buildup. Gillespie does a decent job establishing a tense atmosphere early on, but the film eventually grows tedious, and by the time Capper improbably reappears, Gillespie and Wheatley just let their buddy Smiley run rampant, ranting and yelling and basically hijacking the climax. (Unrated, 88 mins, also streaming on Netflix)