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Flag Day: proud papa Penn

It’s okay to hook family up with friends in the business, but don’t prod the progenies.

Flag Day: Penned in.
Flag Day: Penned in.

Sean Penn’s latest arrived at multiplexes armed with an edict from its star/director aimed at the unjabbed among us: unless you’re vaccinated, stay away from Flag Day. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment. Why should health-conscious liberal Democrats be the only ones to suffer? And if wellness were really the goal, why not keep it out of theatres altogether and release it on television where it rightfully belongs?

Penn’s activism of late has robbed audiences of his big screen essence, which might not be such a bad thing. I remain bored six years after enduring the existential folderol of The Gunman. It was followed by small screen cameos and cartoon voice overs, but there was nothing worthy of Penn’s self-aggrandizing zeal until the opportunity arose to star opposite Mel Gibson in 2019’s The Professor and the Madman. (In what had to be one of the boldest displays of purposeful miscasting since Hoffman played womanizer opposite Beatty’s shy observer in Ishtar, Gibson co-starred as the academic.) What was it about this new project in particular that demanded his attention both behind and in front of the camera? I’ll take “Furthering a Nepotistic Dynasty” for $1000, Mayim.

In the brief amount of screen time assigned to him, Hopper Penn masters the art of soft-focus background suffering. He’s even permitted to cry along in an adjoining room during a shaky-cam family screamfest. (Take it from Dad: suffering’s no fun for an actor unless they’re allowed to agonize in close up.) But at its core, this is a father/daughter melodrama. Junior Penn is going to have to wait his turn; it’s big sister Dylan Penn’s chance to shine.

Is it me, or has “Based on a True Story” become synonymous with “Made for T.V.”? A badly executed film based on a true story is just that. Truth can be a boring crutch. Why not spice up the storytelling with a little style and a lot of imagination? Penn’s character here has in him the makings of a top flight commercial artist, but instead puts his painter’s eye to work as a counterfeiter. Penn also opts for the easier way out. As a forger, Jack Vogel was a shit father. Of the $22 million in funny money he printed, only $50,000 of it was passed. Released on bail pending trial, Jack skips his hearing and faces a maximum sentence of 75 years. At first, Jennifer Vogel (Dylan Penn) is terribly in love with the image of what her father should be, not the man he is. He wanted to provide for his family, but never allotted time for much more than a cameo appearance, and only then when he sought Jennifer’s much-needed approbation. She pauses just long enough during her police interrogation to admire one of dad’s beautifully handcrafted bogus bills.

There’s a mother figure, but seeing as how Patty’s (Katheryn Winnick) torment could conceivably upstage Penn’s, little effort goes into layering her character. His absenteeism leaves Patty an emotional cripple. Paralyzed at the thought of not being able to pay the rent, she spends her mornings throwing back 8 oz. tumblers of whatever is on sale. What’s worse: a drunk, barely functioning mother or a criminal father? Did I mention that Patty looks the other way after opening the bedroom door to find Jennifer fending off the sexual advances of John’s replacement? I think we have a winner. (In Patty’s defense, she chalked it up to a case of mistaken rooms.) If Patty’s sole purpose in life is to protect her children, she missed her calling with room to spare.

We are soon privy to more confessionals than a priest with a revolving door. A forced exchange in a diner turns confrontational when Jennifer decides to prick herself and bleed for dear old Dad. (She cops to majoring in recreational drug abuse.) Rather than contribute to the film’s quest for realism, Penn’s ad-libbed dialogue sticks out like a laugh-track. And why the title? It was John’s natal day, and according to his inflated sense of self-importance, all of America celebrated his birth.

The real Jennifer Vogel collaborated on the script with Jez Butterworth, and it’s her character’s growth and Dylan Penn’s performance that hold the film’s only allure. Note to filmmakers with kids: relinquish control. It’s okay to hook family up with friends in the business, but don’t prod the progenies. When it comes to co-starring and/or directing, leave the driving to someone else.

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

The Alpinist — Big smile, bigger heart, and admired by all, Marc-André Leclerc is the kind of boychik one would be proud to call their own. Alright, so he experimented a little with drugs. Who hasn’t? When it comes to scaling faces on Alpine mountains, he is quite literally the master of all he surveys. Born to break records, Leclerc forever changed the face of rock climbing, pushing the limits of adventure with every new challenge. In addition to our hero’s masterful exploits, filmmakers Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen offer a brief but cogent history of the sport. The expeditioners’ approach to scaling changed in the 1950s when climbing in style offered mountaineers a unique form of philosophical freedom. It ain’t whatcha climb, but the way that you climb it. Solitude was all the rage, and the climber’s mantra became, “A rope, a rack, and the pack on your back.” The best climbs are the ones that pit man against mountains. With no parachutes or communication devices to assist in his journey, Leclerc begins at the foot of a mountain, his path uncharted. The director put in a call to a mutual friend when word arrives that Leclerc is arriving back in Canada. It’s at this glorious moment that the film-lover and the rock climber level off long enough to see eye to eye. No sooner did questioning the possibility of soloing alone cross my mind than Leclerc provided an answer: he never lets a camera near one of his solos because it wouldn’t be a solo if somebody was there to witness it. There is much more to be said, but I think it wise to let the film do the talking. 2021. — S.M. ★★★★

When I’m a Moth — A fluffy little “What if?” of a movie that greets the viewer with a snarky, disjointedly tone-setting false equivalence disclaimer: “What follows is a work of fiction. So is the United States political situation.” I’ll play along. What if Hillary had not shrugged off 45 as a rival unworthy of her time? The horrible situation America currently finds itself in might never have spiraled this far out of control. We open with fish being gutted to a pensive score. The year is 1969 B.C. (Before Clinton) and by her own admission, Hillary Rodham (Addison Timlin) is in the cocoon stage of her predetermined path to politics. She’s only working the summer gig at an Alaskan tuna cannery to get her hands dirty. Seated before a cracked mirror, she writes home to mom and dad. There’s enough heavy-handed symbolism in this thin parable to satisfy even the most enduring members of the Soviet Film School. Cinematographer Lyn Moncrief’s sun flares and prismic opalescence combine to burn out the top half of the frame while rendering the bottom half artistically out of focus. Timlin is superb, capturing the voice and tenor of that moment when one’s life is wide open to discovery. The highlight of the film comes from watching Hillary eat a hot dog while reading Proust. The rest is a long, slow blur that gets tripped up in its own ambivalence. 2019. — S.M.

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Flag Day: Penned in.
Flag Day: Penned in.

Sean Penn’s latest arrived at multiplexes armed with an edict from its star/director aimed at the unjabbed among us: unless you’re vaccinated, stay away from Flag Day. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment. Why should health-conscious liberal Democrats be the only ones to suffer? And if wellness were really the goal, why not keep it out of theatres altogether and release it on television where it rightfully belongs?

Penn’s activism of late has robbed audiences of his big screen essence, which might not be such a bad thing. I remain bored six years after enduring the existential folderol of The Gunman. It was followed by small screen cameos and cartoon voice overs, but there was nothing worthy of Penn’s self-aggrandizing zeal until the opportunity arose to star opposite Mel Gibson in 2019’s The Professor and the Madman. (In what had to be one of the boldest displays of purposeful miscasting since Hoffman played womanizer opposite Beatty’s shy observer in Ishtar, Gibson co-starred as the academic.) What was it about this new project in particular that demanded his attention both behind and in front of the camera? I’ll take “Furthering a Nepotistic Dynasty” for $1000, Mayim.

In the brief amount of screen time assigned to him, Hopper Penn masters the art of soft-focus background suffering. He’s even permitted to cry along in an adjoining room during a shaky-cam family screamfest. (Take it from Dad: suffering’s no fun for an actor unless they’re allowed to agonize in close up.) But at its core, this is a father/daughter melodrama. Junior Penn is going to have to wait his turn; it’s big sister Dylan Penn’s chance to shine.

Is it me, or has “Based on a True Story” become synonymous with “Made for T.V.”? A badly executed film based on a true story is just that. Truth can be a boring crutch. Why not spice up the storytelling with a little style and a lot of imagination? Penn’s character here has in him the makings of a top flight commercial artist, but instead puts his painter’s eye to work as a counterfeiter. Penn also opts for the easier way out. As a forger, Jack Vogel was a shit father. Of the $22 million in funny money he printed, only $50,000 of it was passed. Released on bail pending trial, Jack skips his hearing and faces a maximum sentence of 75 years. At first, Jennifer Vogel (Dylan Penn) is terribly in love with the image of what her father should be, not the man he is. He wanted to provide for his family, but never allotted time for much more than a cameo appearance, and only then when he sought Jennifer’s much-needed approbation. She pauses just long enough during her police interrogation to admire one of dad’s beautifully handcrafted bogus bills.

There’s a mother figure, but seeing as how Patty’s (Katheryn Winnick) torment could conceivably upstage Penn’s, little effort goes into layering her character. His absenteeism leaves Patty an emotional cripple. Paralyzed at the thought of not being able to pay the rent, she spends her mornings throwing back 8 oz. tumblers of whatever is on sale. What’s worse: a drunk, barely functioning mother or a criminal father? Did I mention that Patty looks the other way after opening the bedroom door to find Jennifer fending off the sexual advances of John’s replacement? I think we have a winner. (In Patty’s defense, she chalked it up to a case of mistaken rooms.) If Patty’s sole purpose in life is to protect her children, she missed her calling with room to spare.

We are soon privy to more confessionals than a priest with a revolving door. A forced exchange in a diner turns confrontational when Jennifer decides to prick herself and bleed for dear old Dad. (She cops to majoring in recreational drug abuse.) Rather than contribute to the film’s quest for realism, Penn’s ad-libbed dialogue sticks out like a laugh-track. And why the title? It was John’s natal day, and according to his inflated sense of self-importance, all of America celebrated his birth.

The real Jennifer Vogel collaborated on the script with Jez Butterworth, and it’s her character’s growth and Dylan Penn’s performance that hold the film’s only allure. Note to filmmakers with kids: relinquish control. It’s okay to hook family up with friends in the business, but don’t prod the progenies. When it comes to co-starring and/or directing, leave the driving to someone else.

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

The Alpinist — Big smile, bigger heart, and admired by all, Marc-André Leclerc is the kind of boychik one would be proud to call their own. Alright, so he experimented a little with drugs. Who hasn’t? When it comes to scaling faces on Alpine mountains, he is quite literally the master of all he surveys. Born to break records, Leclerc forever changed the face of rock climbing, pushing the limits of adventure with every new challenge. In addition to our hero’s masterful exploits, filmmakers Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen offer a brief but cogent history of the sport. The expeditioners’ approach to scaling changed in the 1950s when climbing in style offered mountaineers a unique form of philosophical freedom. It ain’t whatcha climb, but the way that you climb it. Solitude was all the rage, and the climber’s mantra became, “A rope, a rack, and the pack on your back.” The best climbs are the ones that pit man against mountains. With no parachutes or communication devices to assist in his journey, Leclerc begins at the foot of a mountain, his path uncharted. The director put in a call to a mutual friend when word arrives that Leclerc is arriving back in Canada. It’s at this glorious moment that the film-lover and the rock climber level off long enough to see eye to eye. No sooner did questioning the possibility of soloing alone cross my mind than Leclerc provided an answer: he never lets a camera near one of his solos because it wouldn’t be a solo if somebody was there to witness it. There is much more to be said, but I think it wise to let the film do the talking. 2021. — S.M. ★★★★

When I’m a Moth — A fluffy little “What if?” of a movie that greets the viewer with a snarky, disjointedly tone-setting false equivalence disclaimer: “What follows is a work of fiction. So is the United States political situation.” I’ll play along. What if Hillary had not shrugged off 45 as a rival unworthy of her time? The horrible situation America currently finds itself in might never have spiraled this far out of control. We open with fish being gutted to a pensive score. The year is 1969 B.C. (Before Clinton) and by her own admission, Hillary Rodham (Addison Timlin) is in the cocoon stage of her predetermined path to politics. She’s only working the summer gig at an Alaskan tuna cannery to get her hands dirty. Seated before a cracked mirror, she writes home to mom and dad. There’s enough heavy-handed symbolism in this thin parable to satisfy even the most enduring members of the Soviet Film School. Cinematographer Lyn Moncrief’s sun flares and prismic opalescence combine to burn out the top half of the frame while rendering the bottom half artistically out of focus. Timlin is superb, capturing the voice and tenor of that moment when one’s life is wide open to discovery. The highlight of the film comes from watching Hillary eat a hot dog while reading Proust. The rest is a long, slow blur that gets tripped up in its own ambivalence. 2019. — S.M.

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