Issue Related

I’ve Got Issues

by George Wolf

Toward the end the nearly 20 vignettes that make up I’ve Got Issues, a mournful woman proclaims, “The world is absurd. I’ve lost all my humor. But I must continue.”

That’s when you realize how deeply the lede has been buried.

Because that’s exactly what writer/director Steve Collins serves up: a host of absurdity that soldiers on, no matter how few laughs are generated.

Featuring occasional narration from Jim Gaffigan, bare bones production values and an ensemble of actors in ever-changing roles, the film wallows in the lowest of keys and the shaggiest of dogs. From a KKK recycling program to a self-help guru who’s of very little help, from a woman caught on a tilt-a-whirl to a singer sending out a demo tape addressed only to “Hollywood,” this film strings together segments on absurd futility that begin to make the title feel more like a cry for help.

Those with a very particular sense of humor may enjoy this film very much. God bless them.

Leap of Faith

Them That Follow

by George Wolf

When a way of life not only makes you a social outcast, but presents increasing dangers to those closest to you, what would motivate you to cling even tighter?

It’s a premise that could easily lead to vilification, so credit filmmakers Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage for taking Them That Follow in a more resonant direction. Rather than relying on lazy condescension, they want to probe the psychological politics of control.

Mara (Alice Englert) is the pastor’s daughter in a small community of snake handlers in the Appalachian mountains. Her father Lemuel (Walton Goggins) preaches strict adherence to the Word, which requires frequent tests of faith, subjugation of women and shunning the ways of the material world.

But Mara’s interest is starting to move beyond the mountain, raising the suspicions of the stern Sister Slaughter (Olivia Coleman, recent Oscar-winner for The Favourite) and sparking the curiosity of her best friend Dilly (Kaitlyn Dever).

“Who you choose, girl, chooses your whole life,” Sister Slaughter cautions Mara. And Mara will soon face choices that will alter several lives.

Them That Follow benefits from a beautifully rustic production design and an unhurried pace, building earnest layers of authenticity that mirror a sublime ensemble cast (which includes a nice dramatic turn from comic Jim Gaffigan).

Poulton and Savage are not here to mock religious beliefs, but rather to question the motives of leaders who seek control by division. Followers are belittled by proxy (“They look down on you!”) while leaders make unhealthy demands and wash their hands of culpability (“It’s God’s law, not mine”).

While the film’s concerns are especially timely now, a third act that seems rushed and overly tidy loosens the grip of Them That Follow. The tail here has more bite than the head, but the serpent still deserves respect.

Yo, Chucky!

Chuck

by George Wolf

I remember the sweaty, battered face staring at me from the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1975, a face that had taken plenty of punches, and was lining up to take more at the hands of The Greatest.

It was face of Chuck “The Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner, who was about to fight Muhammed Ali in the old Richfield Coliseum near Cleveland – then a sparkling new jewel – for the heavyweight championship and inspire a young Sly Stallone to write a screenplay about “The Italian Stallion.”

Chuck finally gets the story of the real-life Rocky on the screen, utilizing painful honesty, subtle humor and a compelling performance from Liev Schreiber to craft a touching look at hard lessons learned.

Director Philippe Falardeau (Monsieur Lazhar, The Good Lie) gets the 70s period details just right, and surrounds Wepner’s shot at the title with cinematic versions of the cliched boxer looking for his chance to be a contender, sharply illustrating how much Wepner defined all that is celebrated about life in the ring.

As Wepner claws his way to the New Jersey heavyweight championship, he watches 1962’s Requiem for a Heavyweight and longs for respect, even as he continually takes his wife (a terrific Elizabeth Moss) and daughter for granted while following his love for “wine, women and song.”

Besting all expectations, Wepner’s plan to “wear (Ali) down with my face” lasted into the 15h and final round, and he became one of the few opponents to actually knock Ali to the canvas. His increased celebrity status, and the news that the Oscar-winning Rocky was based on his life, only fueled Wepner’s primal urges and accelerated a downward spiral that included drugs, divorce, and fighting live bears.

Schreiber is transformational, adopting the voice, gait and body control of a lumbering man with a good heart and great survival instincts, but a child-like self control that often betrayed him. Schreiber commands the screen without ever being showy, blending easily with an outstanding supporting cast that includes Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman, Jim Gaffigan, Michael Rappaport and Morgan Spector (as Stallone).

Familiar in theme but illuminating with its intimacy, Chuck is a fascinating glimpse at life imitating art imitating life.

Verdict-3-5-Stars