The Map of Tiny Perfect Things: Kathryn Newton as both angel and catch of the day.
From the look of things, Mark (Kyle Allen) is definitely a morning person. He impresses both his dad and younger sis by tending to every item on his breakfast menu with the skill and grace of a six-handed juggler. En route to school, he guides his bike in the direction of the car with a coffee cup perched atop the driver’s side window. He scoops! He sips! He scores with a perfectly-timed slam dunk into a turning garbage truck. Mark is so good, his “Bless you!” anticipates a sneeze by seconds. Has he seen Groundhog Day, or are these sites of interest on The Map of Tiny Perfect Things about to unfold before us? Yes to both!
The team of director Ian Samuels and writer Lev Grossman (adapting his short story for the screen) score points early on for referencing by name Harold Ramis’ revered romantic comedy that finds Bill Murray forced to relive the same day. Ditto a mention of Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow. (Before I Fall, A Dog’s Journey, and, to a certain degree, Remember would also qualify, for those looking for a subject to binge watch.) Such is Mark’s fate: a life of “infinite do-overs” with no end in sight, until that day the beach ball is intercepted. Lonely Mark spends his mornings at a local swimming pool, where each day a runaway inflatable toy careens off Phoebe’s (Anna Mikami) head, knocking her into the pool. Everything changes the moment Margaret (Kathryn Newton) interrupts the repetitiveness to lend a hand.
Her amber aviators and frizzy blond hair flowing from beneath a backward-turned baseball cap turn Mark’s heart into an exploding bag of microwave popcorn. They are both geeky, but as Margaret so rightly points out, Mark is a flagrant exception to the rule: he’s a nerd who sucks at math. Still, she takes special interest in Mark’s drawing, the one that gives the film its title. It’s a compendium of all those privileged moments that make up his day, where they took place, and when. Margaret brings her own brand of magic to the proceedings: her tiny perfect moment du jour is that split second the eagle swoops down on the pond and flies off with that night’s dinner wriggling in its talons. She confesses to feeling more of an affinity for the fish than the bird of prey, a moment that’s brilliantly highlighted later on by the meticulously-timed arrival, in frame, of a moving van that traps her between outstretched wings. When Mark does at last summon the courage to move in for a kiss, Margaret responds with a flinch. Poor schmuck. The one day he’s doomed to repeat and still he can’t find a girl who wants to be more than friends.
Mark familiarizes himself with every inch of the map — Margaret is convinced that one more perfect thing is all that’s needed to get unstuck in time — but there’s one moment so spectacular it warrants a few rewinds (and raised the question, “How many takes?”). Looking to gain after hours access to the school, Mark waits for the last person to leave for the day. I Googled “temporal anomaly definition” to find: “a disruption in the spacetime continuum which can take many forms and have many different effects.” Kudos to Samuels and company for finding the perfect visual corollary: Mark looks on from behind a pole some 20 feet away from the door. Before it has a chance to slam shut, a well-rehearsed Mark lobs a water bottle that lands in the door jamb at the precise moment to prevent the automatic closer from doing its job. I wouldn’t exactly call it movie magic, but it did take a certain persistence of vision on the part of the patient filmmakers to pull it off.
The ground covered is not exactly fresh, but what’s a genre film if not new characters inhabiting familiar surroundings? The leads lend warmth and credibility to their quest to find a pattern to Mark’s map. What they do eventually find may have less to do with being stalled and more to do with an unwillingness to confront change. And that’s just one of the perfect things on display that make this film worth a look. ★★★
Video on Demand New Release Roundup
Barb & Starr Go To Vista Del Mar — In their heyday, studios employed dozens of comics, screenwriters, and animators, whose job it was to take an active interest in cranking out absurdist comedy. Most of them did so without overstepping the characters they worked so hard to create. Television had long ago reached the point where crazy comedy existed only in the time it took for one commercial break to end and another to begin. In this case, all that’s missing is a laugh track. Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Mumolo’s co-Bridesmaids scribe, Kristen Wiig) deserve an entire wing in the Hall of Guff named in their honor. There hasn’t been a less mirthsome comic duo since Ferrell and Kattan tricked viewers into spending A Night at the Roxbury. Imagine Chip ‘n Dale (or is it the Goofy Gophers?) being scooped into a blender filled with rainbow sherbet and set on low, and you’ll have some idea what you’re about to be dragged through. Even in the most absurdist terms, their whimsy makes no sense. The choreographed exchanges in which the stars carefully avoid stepping on each other might be tolerable if what they were saying made the remotest bit of sense. The majority of their dialogue flows up river like a non-sequitur stream of consciousness, fallacies of logic where replies bear no relevance whatsoever to the remarks that precede them. A negligible sci-fi subplot can be traced back to Austin Powers, with Wiig, as if proving to the world that she can stretch, taking on the second role of Dr. Evil replica Sharon Gordon Fisherman a mad scientist whose plan is to release a swarm of killer mosquitoes on the titular resort town where Barb and Star vacation. The ending couldn’t have come any sooner. Josh Greenbaum receives credit, when in truth, this thing directed itself. 2021 — S.M. ●
Palmer — It would be one thing if Palmer (Justin Timberlake) were the type to drop Sam (Lance Nichols) at the nearest precinct house and let the police sort things out until wayward mother Shelly (Juno Temple) turned up. (Her Jean Kasem braid pulled tighter than a ship’s anchor, Shelly conveniently disappears on a drug-fueled bender for the first half of the picture.) But even the 12-year stretch in the pen that he just finished serving couldn’t harden Palmer’s heart to that degree. Sam is non-binary. For those not up to speed on current terms of respectfulness, one of the locals sums him up with, “There’s something seriously wrong with that kid.” Palmer goes directly from his cell to grandma Vivian’s (June Squibb) house, where Sam and his mother live in the trailer out back. He spends his first night of freedom in Shelly’s bed, which may contribute to his willingness to look after Sam when Vivian dies in her sleep. Director Fisher Stevens (Stand Up Guys) and novice screenwriter Cheryl Guerriero put their creative talents to best use when pointing out the finer details of an ex-con returning to life’s daily rigor — like the moment when a con realizes he may once again leave his towel and toothbrush in the bathroom. Sam becomes so loyal to Palmer that he eagerly starts the day by bringing his new friend a morning beer. And it will be some time before I forget Sam’s scornful reply of “Football?” when asked if he’s ever attended a game. (Alas, Cuteness began to set in around the time Sam was forced to accompany Palmer on a visit to the parole officer.) All hell breaks loose when Shelly returns to find Palmer petitioning for custody of her child. Shelly moves like a rusty weathervane. You really can’t blame the generally dependable Temple for the quality of her performance. She’s only as awful as the script allows her to be. Palmer kidnaps Sam and the penny serenade he sings to the judge is effective, but nothing short of an overhaul could salvage the film’s unrepentantly hackneyed final third. 2021 — S.M. ★
The Queen of Black Magic —
Rather than a wedding, the departure point for this remake of Liliek Sudjio’s same-named 1981 Indonesian cult horror item is a reunion of sorts at an orphanage. Mr. Bandi (Yayu A.W. Unru) will any day now breathe his last, and a trio of acquiescent repatriates are coming to pay their respects to the man who raised them. Haqi (Muzakki Ramdhan), the young son of former orphan Hanif (Ario Bayu) and wife Nadya (Hannah Al Rashid), bears the brunt of much of the film’s introductory exposition: as a current resident tells him, 20 years ago Ms. Mirah (Ruth Marini) returned alone after an outing with orphan Murni (Putri Ayudya) and alleged that the young girl was abducted by a demon. Her rantings led to banishment behind the mysterious green door, currently situated just down the hall from the children’s wing. Some say her ghost spent the ensuing decades locked in the room. As for Murni, she was never seen again. Not only does Haqi discover the door, the inquisitive tyke also finds, buried beneath a safe, a photo album containing a faded photo of — you guessed it — Mirah and Murni! In the original, Murni’s main concern was to work her hoodoo only on those who participated in chucking her over a cliff. The 2019 transmogrification allowed nothing to get in the way of Murni’s supernatural spree killing. That includes an anorexic guest who, after slitting her throat and abdomen, lives to feast on fuzzy caterpillars, and a busload of foundlings sent to their death. In each case, the resultant black magic instills within its victims a propensity for smashing their heads into any flat surfaces they near: doors, walls, windshields, etc. One question became a matter of extreme importance: our three sons knew of the horrors that went on behind these walls. Why bring their families to the reunion? There was an innocence to the Ed Wood-ish awfulness that flavored the original. What goes on here is calculated repugnance. 2019. — S.M. ●