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Lockdown thriller

Popeye the Sailor Man, Por Mi Hija , Help

Popeye and Lily?
Popeye and Lily?

Reviews of two absolutely dreadful home video releases this week; but first, a word from Popeye.

Popeye the Sailor Man

It’s been my privilege to introduce Reader-mate Matthew Lickona’s extended brood to the world of old-school animated wizardry — Tex, Bugs, Tashlin, etc. His youngest young’n Mira is about to turn three, and she is at last able to get a feel for visual storytelling, so the osmotic world of Max and Dave Fleischer seemed like a logical jumping-off point. Each short was followed by a round of call and response. What does Popeye eat to give him strength? SPINACH! What Is the name of the little sailor Popeye babysits? SWEET PEA! What is the name of Popeye’s girlfriend? LILY! Lily?! Bist meshuggah? When asked if she meant Olive Oyl, Mira stood pat on Lily. A minute later, we ran into Matthew. “Daddy,” I asked him, “what’s the name of Popeye’s girlfriend.” His smiling reply was immediate: “Lily.” I was flummoxed: what is with these Lickonas and Lily? Have I suddenly awakened in the Bizarro universe, or has my wholly rational fear of dementia at last consumed me? As my head began to spin faster than Linda Blair’s at 78 rpm, Matthew put a hand on my shoulder and my mind to rest: “I was walking past the window just now and heard the two of you.”

Por Mi Hija (For My Daughter) (2022)

As a pal so succinctly put it, border crossing films are the new found footage movies. That’s particularly true for a film critic living in San Diego, where well-meaning tales of this kind are so plentiful that, like surfing documentaries, they’ve become occupational hazards. Seamlessly weaving in and out of time frames while keeping an audience interested and clearheaded can be a tricky proposition. Exhibit A: the confusing manner in which Leo (Christopher Bustos) makes his way from Jalisco to Fresno. The family is within spitting distance of the border when the federales catch up with Leo, his wife Emma (Daniela Vidaurre), and their daughter Luciana (Luciana Elisa Quinonez). After being relieved of their money and sent packing, we flash forward (backward?) to a depot and a bus boarding for Jalisco, followed by a shot of Leo working the fields in Fresno. For a film that clocks in at barely under an hour, more time could have been spent ironing out the incidentals behind the juggling threads.

The opening passages — cooking breakfast, going to work, attending church — offer little insight. We’re told that his people are “humble and happy,” but Leo’s father knows best. He warns of Gringos in Fresno waiting to suck him dry and later imparts upon his son this heap of sound self-loathing advice: the enemy isn’t so much the Americans, it’s the Mexicans with papers. “Those are the bastards,” he growls. “They forgot what it’s like to cross the border.” That’s about as close as writer-director Fernando Rodriguez comes to mining the truth. The “Trump for President” campaign sign situated behind the ice cream store proprietor who refuses to sell to Mexicans (a tribute to Giant?) was about as subtle as a jackhammer root canal. Ditto repeated scenes of Emma complaining to a drunken Leo that Luciana never gets to see her daddy because he’s always coming home late from work.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s being sold as “a touching tale of a family who learn the American dream isn’t all it seems.” Don’t hand me any of this “streets are paved with gold” nonsense. It wasn’t the American dream, nor the Mexican government, nor Trump’s wall for that matter that caused Luciana to find herself flattened beneath the back wheels of Leo’s car. It was Leo’s alcoholism and writer-director Fernando Rodriguez’s reliance on maudlinity to bring meaning to an otherwise blank page. (Available on Digital and DVD.)

Help (2021)

A cast and crew of 20 on a 12-day shoot produce a thriller while under lockdown. Strike one: from the sound of it, Grace’s (Emily Redpath) boyfriend had good reason to abruptly Facetime an adieu to their pointless relationship. Strike two: distracted by her phone, Grace almost runs an oncoming jogger off the road while driving through the bucolic English countryside en route to pay a surprise visit to bestie Liv (Sarah Alexandra Marks) and her boyfriend Edward (Louis James). A lurking, intellectually challenged neighbor played by writer-director Blake Ridder greets her with a simple, “It’s bad,” but the couple brush it off. Sex is introduced almost from the get-go: the cigars Grace brought to celebrate Ed’s birthday are said to be “the exact same brand that was used during Bill Clinton’s presidency.”

Drizzled with shots of people deep in thought, the film edited in a manner that’s designed to drive one crazy. A rickety flashback structure soon reveals this isn’t Grace’s first visit. (The title is an acronym for Her Ever Loving Presence.) Signs of originality quickly vanish in the haze — while looking through Liv’s closet for something to wear on a walk, Grace just so happens to run across a bloody dress. What began as a slow-burning art house mystery ends up in slasher land. There is a strike three, but I’ve already issued my weekly allotment of spoiler alerts. On second thought, here’s a mini-alert. For all the times I’ve railed against films in which dogs are killed for cheap effect, the film’s brightest spot involves the death of Polly, the adorable family pooch. One happy note: the variation on the old Three Stooges “barbell falling off the shelf” gag is played to perfection. (Available on Digital.)

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Popeye and Lily?
Popeye and Lily?

Reviews of two absolutely dreadful home video releases this week; but first, a word from Popeye.

Popeye the Sailor Man

It’s been my privilege to introduce Reader-mate Matthew Lickona’s extended brood to the world of old-school animated wizardry — Tex, Bugs, Tashlin, etc. His youngest young’n Mira is about to turn three, and she is at last able to get a feel for visual storytelling, so the osmotic world of Max and Dave Fleischer seemed like a logical jumping-off point. Each short was followed by a round of call and response. What does Popeye eat to give him strength? SPINACH! What Is the name of the little sailor Popeye babysits? SWEET PEA! What is the name of Popeye’s girlfriend? LILY! Lily?! Bist meshuggah? When asked if she meant Olive Oyl, Mira stood pat on Lily. A minute later, we ran into Matthew. “Daddy,” I asked him, “what’s the name of Popeye’s girlfriend.” His smiling reply was immediate: “Lily.” I was flummoxed: what is with these Lickonas and Lily? Have I suddenly awakened in the Bizarro universe, or has my wholly rational fear of dementia at last consumed me? As my head began to spin faster than Linda Blair’s at 78 rpm, Matthew put a hand on my shoulder and my mind to rest: “I was walking past the window just now and heard the two of you.”

Por Mi Hija (For My Daughter) (2022)

As a pal so succinctly put it, border crossing films are the new found footage movies. That’s particularly true for a film critic living in San Diego, where well-meaning tales of this kind are so plentiful that, like surfing documentaries, they’ve become occupational hazards. Seamlessly weaving in and out of time frames while keeping an audience interested and clearheaded can be a tricky proposition. Exhibit A: the confusing manner in which Leo (Christopher Bustos) makes his way from Jalisco to Fresno. The family is within spitting distance of the border when the federales catch up with Leo, his wife Emma (Daniela Vidaurre), and their daughter Luciana (Luciana Elisa Quinonez). After being relieved of their money and sent packing, we flash forward (backward?) to a depot and a bus boarding for Jalisco, followed by a shot of Leo working the fields in Fresno. For a film that clocks in at barely under an hour, more time could have been spent ironing out the incidentals behind the juggling threads.

The opening passages — cooking breakfast, going to work, attending church — offer little insight. We’re told that his people are “humble and happy,” but Leo’s father knows best. He warns of Gringos in Fresno waiting to suck him dry and later imparts upon his son this heap of sound self-loathing advice: the enemy isn’t so much the Americans, it’s the Mexicans with papers. “Those are the bastards,” he growls. “They forgot what it’s like to cross the border.” That’s about as close as writer-director Fernando Rodriguez comes to mining the truth. The “Trump for President” campaign sign situated behind the ice cream store proprietor who refuses to sell to Mexicans (a tribute to Giant?) was about as subtle as a jackhammer root canal. Ditto repeated scenes of Emma complaining to a drunken Leo that Luciana never gets to see her daddy because he’s always coming home late from work.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s being sold as “a touching tale of a family who learn the American dream isn’t all it seems.” Don’t hand me any of this “streets are paved with gold” nonsense. It wasn’t the American dream, nor the Mexican government, nor Trump’s wall for that matter that caused Luciana to find herself flattened beneath the back wheels of Leo’s car. It was Leo’s alcoholism and writer-director Fernando Rodriguez’s reliance on maudlinity to bring meaning to an otherwise blank page. (Available on Digital and DVD.)

Help (2021)

A cast and crew of 20 on a 12-day shoot produce a thriller while under lockdown. Strike one: from the sound of it, Grace’s (Emily Redpath) boyfriend had good reason to abruptly Facetime an adieu to their pointless relationship. Strike two: distracted by her phone, Grace almost runs an oncoming jogger off the road while driving through the bucolic English countryside en route to pay a surprise visit to bestie Liv (Sarah Alexandra Marks) and her boyfriend Edward (Louis James). A lurking, intellectually challenged neighbor played by writer-director Blake Ridder greets her with a simple, “It’s bad,” but the couple brush it off. Sex is introduced almost from the get-go: the cigars Grace brought to celebrate Ed’s birthday are said to be “the exact same brand that was used during Bill Clinton’s presidency.”

Drizzled with shots of people deep in thought, the film edited in a manner that’s designed to drive one crazy. A rickety flashback structure soon reveals this isn’t Grace’s first visit. (The title is an acronym for Her Ever Loving Presence.) Signs of originality quickly vanish in the haze — while looking through Liv’s closet for something to wear on a walk, Grace just so happens to run across a bloody dress. What began as a slow-burning art house mystery ends up in slasher land. There is a strike three, but I’ve already issued my weekly allotment of spoiler alerts. On second thought, here’s a mini-alert. For all the times I’ve railed against films in which dogs are killed for cheap effect, the film’s brightest spot involves the death of Polly, the adorable family pooch. One happy note: the variation on the old Three Stooges “barbell falling off the shelf” gag is played to perfection. (Available on Digital.)

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Comments
6

Jack Mercer did a good job voicing Popeye for more than 4 decades. And I still like spinach (fresh only, not from a can).

March 7, 2022

What? No love for Billy "Red Pepper Sam" Costello?

None

March 8, 2022

I did see that he was the first Popeye voice. The voices of cartoons in the past didn't always get the acclaim and enough $ for their work. The greatest ever, who did get fame and fortune, was the amazing Mel Blanc.

March 12, 2022
This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.
March 9, 2022

In the early 70's, Mel was so big that he opened a voice school and rewarded many an old "boss" with a seat on the Talent Review Board. "Hollywood Studio Magazine," May 1972.

None

March 12, 2022

A few years back someone asked who did the voice for Pepé Le Pew. I just drew a blank! [rimshot!]

March 12, 2022

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