PFF24: Entertainment (Rick Alverson, USA)

In consecutively subverting convention, Rick Alverson has tacked his absurdist singularity onto his latest feature for better but mostly for worse. Entertainment follows bitter middle-aged comedian’s (Gregg Turkington) tour through the desolate American Southwest. Performing for almost no one in between failed attempts at reconciling with his estranged daughter, the man’s dwindling sense of purpose as loneliness silently crushes him becomes more oppressive on an increasingly bizarre journey from venue to venue.

Alverson’s follow up to 2012’s rather excellent The Comedy forgoes offbeat humor and incisiveness for something decidedly plodding and self-indulgent. In following The Comedian throughout a fruitless journey across abyssal landscapes, Entertainment struggles to combat the simplicity of its themes with increasingly surreal set pieces. It’s hard to imagine things going anywhere but up from the film’s opening prison sequence, yet this assumption is quickly squashed as Turkington’s squirm-inducing onscreen persona traipses to and fro, much to our mounting discomfort.

Entertainment isn’t entirely without merit as The Comedian’s live act remains unfailingly hilarious. These performances are an almost too-sharp departure from the film’s more startlingly abstract moments – of which disturbingly culminate in a rest stop restroom – but do enough to elevate what’s ostensibly a self-aggrandizing character study devoid of imitators to its own detriment. Whether this reads as either misguided or reductive, there’s no arguing that the film’s singularity is decidedly black-and-white in terms of accessibility and broad appeal.

Entertainment is worthy of note thanks to its acutely subversive personality and not much else. Its darkly comedic sensibilities remain effective as the dissection of The Comedian’s crumbling offstage existence remains more disconcerting than sympathetic in scope. Many may argue in favor of Alverson’s vision and the end result it’s yielded, yet Entertainment remains too hard to recommend to those not enamored with The Comedy or the divisive manner in which he fleshes out his films’ core subjective through lines.

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An Odyssey Double Dose: Wim Wenders

Paris, Texas (1984)

Paris, Texas is a rarity in the world of cinema. It’s not only abnormally impressive on a technical level; it manages to transcend the boundaries a film of its type would normally conform to in an attempt to make a name for itself. This in mind, Wenders’ singular creative touches take an ordinary tale of self-realization and eventual reconciliation in an attempt to better oneself to a level I’ve never before seen, regardless of how simplistic the protagonist’s circumstances are.

Granted, Harry Dean Stanton’s excellent portrayal of central character Travis’ plight as an individual struggling to come to terms with the poor life choices he’s made isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but to disavow the film’s genuineness in this regard would be unfair to say the least. The interaction between him and every other character, his son included, almost always serves as a proverbial key to discovering the truth behind Travis and the reasoning behind his behavior, but the film’s latter act can appear to some as a tad rushed despite how satisfying it is as a means of giving both Travis and his estranged wife a much-needed sense of closure. All in all, Paris, Texas is an extraordinarily well-acted, thoughtfully paced and beautifully shot piece of cinema that provides valuable insight behind the ideas of love lost and an individual’s attempt to essentially fix what’s been broken.

Rating: 10/10

Wings of Desire (1987)

Being the furthest thing from an authority figure on Wenders, I’m just going to assume his deliberate emphasis on aesthetic beauty is merely an added treat to an already above average piece of filmmaking. Wings of Desire is quite possibly the epitome of this trait, having been shot primarily in black-and-white until the film enters its latter act. This approach is nearly flawless in drawing to our attention the sometimes bleak, often saddening atmosphere central protagonist Damiel and his comrade Cassiel are constantly a part of. Granted, one may naturally think being an angel could possess virtually no drawbacks, but such an assumption is part of the reason why Damiel’s growing feelings of inadequacy and longing for a “normal” existence become so appealing as Wings trudges somewhat solemnly along.

An overt sense of spirituality exists throughout the film as well, bringing forth several individuals’ searches for meaning and answers behind questions that simply can’t be answered; questions we often ponder ourselves. Naturally, Damiel and Cassiel listen in on these thoughts, helping those in need to the best of their abilities whenever they see fit, even if the outcomes of each situation may end up being less than desirable. This in mind, Wings as a whole possesses a truly insightful and creative premise, but after a while, I felt that the central themes presented began to resonate a little too much thanks to a flimsy narrative. Such an observation on my part isn’t meant to brand the film as bland, I just didn’t find myself as engrossed as I expected to be as its mildly predictable conclusion drew closer and closer. As a whole though, Wings of Desire is an aesthetically beautiful cinematic achievement aided by above average performances and direction, but in my always humble opinion, it just doesn’t quite match up to the sheer genius of Paris, Texas.

Rating: 7/10