Movie Review: “Pan”

pan1“Pan” is Baz Luhrmann’s idea of what a Terry Gilliam fantasy might look like. Directed by Joe Wright.
And there, alas, is the rub. The guys who gave us “Brazil” and “Time Bandits,” of “The Great Gatsby” and “Moulin Rouge” might have been able to pull off a Peter Pan prequel with re-purposed pop hits, shot on sets and locations left over from “Mad Max.”
But Wright? Based on his solid, earthbound filmography (“Atonement”,”Hanna,” “The Soloist”), he was a good choice for a “Pan” with adult emotions and darkness. But this film is all about the eye candy, all razzle dazzle. At some point, he lost his nerve.
This Peter (Levi Miller) is a World War II orphan, unhappily under the thumb of cruel nuns until that night when pirates swoop in from a flying galleon and kidnap him and many of his mates. Once they’ve escaped Battle of Britain air defenses, they arrive in Neverland, on the island where Blackbeard, their pal, presides.

Hugh Jackman makes this preening, bewigged villain his own, storming into the movie leading a chorus of kid pixie dust miners as they sing “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Wow.
“I have sprung you from life’s cruel dungeon,” Blackbeard insists. To put them to work, with legions of others, in those mines, where the pixie dust that keeps Blackbeard young (ish) dwells.
Garrett Hedlund is a veteran miner, reluctant to befriend the new kid. But his name, “Hook,” tells us they’re connected for life. Or soon to be. Peter, dropped off at the orphanage by a nimble gymnast (Amanda Seyfried), can fly. Just a bit.
Might he be the boy of prophecy, the one who will show up and shake things up?
An expressionless Rooney Mara is Tiger Lily, warrior princess among the natives who fight the pirates, and capture and test the boy and his mentor, Hook.
The CGI sets dazzle, the pre-historic “Never-birds” (skeletal dinosaurs) are kid-friendly, in a scary sort of way. The makeup and costumes point to a lighter romp than this manages to be. There are mermaids and fairies, and even death (characters poof in a cloud of colorful smoke) is dazzling.
This might have made a decent eye-candy musical for kids. But aside from Nirvana and a choral “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the miner kids, there is no music. And the filmmakers quickly run out of jaw-dropping things to show us or sing to us, allowing “Pan” to settle into a dull, generic “chosen one” tale, that staple of “Let’s all feel special” kiddie literature and film.


MPAA Rating: PG for fantasy action violence, language and some thematic material
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Rooney Mara, Garrett Hedlund, Amanda Seyfried
Credits: Directed by Joe Wright, script by Jason Fuchs. A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 1:51

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Movie Review: “He Named Me Malala”

malalaOf all the crimes against civilization committed by those Islamic barbarians, the Taliban, none is more telling than their attempted assassination of a teenage girl. And the reason they wanted and still want her dead? Because she dares to stand up for education for her gender, dares to point out how backward, cruel and tiny in number they are.

Malala Yousafzai is short, young and female, from a part of the world where people of that description have the fewest rights, and the least power and influence in all of society.

Just 18 years of age, she is supremely articulate and bi-lingual, does pretty good in her new British school, though not in physics, among other subjects.

But she’s won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Sakharov prize, a regular on Time Magazine’s “Most Influential People in the World” list, and is regarded as an international icon of human rights and education. And that’s simply because she’s unfathomably brave. 

The documentary “He Named Me Malala” humanizes the icon, showing her picking on (and being picked on) by her younger brothers (“She is the naughtiest girl on Earth!”), blushing over the bad grades on school tests. She smiles a crooked smile, because one side of her face has so much nerve damage from the shooting that it doesn’t quite work. She will talk about the attack, but not about the suffering it caused her.

And then she takes the stage, or the printed page, and these words pour out — passionate, logical, beautifully constructed arguments and thoughts.

She would rather “live like a lion for one day than live 100 years a slave.”

Director Davis Guggenheim (“Waiting for Superman”) is still focusing on education, but here, on a student willing to die for her father’s right to teach and run schools and her and her Pakistani sisters’ rights to attend them.

Using animation, interviews with Malala and her equally passionate father, Ziauddin, Guggenheim tells of the girl named for a famous female Afghan poetess/warrior, raised in the Swat Valley, where the Pakistani government let the Taliban find safe have after they were run out of Afghanistan.

Recordings of the radio sermons of the fanatic who took over the region, Mullah Fazlullah, and Malala’s narration tell of the velvet gloves he and his cohort used at first, followed by mass murders of police, assassinations and interpretations of Sharia Law that had him shaming “sinners” at the end of his sermon-broadcasts. Those sinners inevitably wound up dead.

Malala volunteered, when asked, to do an anonymous blog about life under the Taliban in Swat Valley for the BBC. When she saw schools demolished, town by town, and was forbidden to be taught, she mate the fateful decision to go public — appear on the BBC, speak in public, and invite the wrath of those she threatened.

Attempting to kill her almost paid off. But in the end, it made her more famous. We see her visiting schools in Africa and South America, chastising the president of Nigeria for not tracking down the hundreds of kidnapped schoolgirls there and President Obama for drone strikes that she says are creating more terrorists.

Guggenheim has her describe, in detail, that fateful bus ride. He shows the blood-spattered seats. He asks her father about who tried to kill her.

“It’s not a person. It’s an ideology.”

If you doubt that, watch the interview clips with ordinary English-speaking Pakistani men at the end of the film, or visit the page for “He Named Me Malala” on the Internet Movie Database ( Comments and “opinion” for this film reveals how she is hated for speaking out, for defying reactionary Islamic clerics. The Pakistani government caught and tried those it says were responsible for that school bus attack. Then they secretly acquitted them and let them go.

Perhaps Malala should point out that 73% of those fleeing combat zones and begging for asylum in Western countries are young men “of fighting age.” Their failed states are failing because so few of them have the courage she does, to stand up for their rights and resist the minority of armed thugs and their sympathizers.  Her every living breath shames them all. This superficial but entertaining and inspiring movie just compounds that.

3stars2MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements involving disturbing images and threats

Cast: Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai,
Credits: Directed by Davis Guggenheim. A Fox Searchlight release.

Running time: 1:27

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Movie Review: “Experimenter”


Stanley Milgram explored why so many underlings and ordinary citizens of the Nazi regime might have willingly, or reluctantly, “just followed orders” in carrying out the Holocaust. His “Obedience Experiment” became one of the most influential psychological trials in history. His later “Lost Letter” experiment was almost as famous.

He’s the guy who decided that “it’s a small world, after all,” and came up the idea of “Six Degrees of Separation,” years before anybody’d ever heard of Kevin Bacon.

And in his time, he was dismissed as “cruel” and unethical and heartless for his studies, denied tenure at Harvard — misunderstood.

“Experimenter” is a brisk, narrowly-focused but playful account of his life and work, mainly built around that early ’60s test of “How far do you think they’ll go?”

Peter Sarsgaard is Milgram, a methodical man driven to wonder about institutionalized evil and human deference to authority.

“How was genocide administered so purposefully and efficiently?” he wanted to know. A whole nation or race cannot have forgotten the basic Western version of right and wrong. Milgram, as “Experimenter” shows, was greatly influenced by the early 1960s war crime trial of Nazi mastermind Adolf Eichmann, a self-described “ordinary man” whom historian Hannah Arendt would paint as the personification of “the banality of evil.”

Milgram carefully set up his test, cast about for subjects and sent an assistant, dressed in a lab coat, to administer it. One person (Jim Gaffigan) would be the one “tested,” or so the real subjects thought, in a “teaching experiment,” or so they were told. He was wired up to electrodes that would give him a shock every time he gave the incorrect answer in a series of memory tests.

The other person, the real subject (John Leguizamo, Anthony Edwards, Anton Yelchin) would administer the test — and the shocks, which they had no way of knowing were not real.

The voltage would rise, the subjects would twitch and protest, laugh nervously or, on occasion, refuse to continue. How “far” into this test would they go?

“Human nature can be studied, but not escaped.”

“Experimenter” reveals the blowback this experiment — where only one third of those participating defied authority (in a lab coat) and refused to hurt a fellow human being — and the impact it had on Milgram’s career. Plainly, there are worse fates than not being given tenure at Harvard, as Milgram soldiered on, breaking new ground and influencing generations of sociologists and psychologists who followed.

Sarsgaard plays this guy close to the vest, not giving away much other than a certain academic bravado and charm when he’s courting his wife (Winona Ryder) or living it up as his work becomes a William Shatner TV movie in the ’70s.

The “playful” comes into Michael Almereyda’s film in its old fashioned cheapness — Hitchcock-era rear projection scenes in cars, Sarsgaard narrating directly to the camera, wearing the worst fake beard this side of “Gettysburg.”

As troubling as the main experiment is, in recreation, this is nothing like the more cruel “Stanford Prison Experiment,” which made it to theaters last summer.

It’s not a dazzler, and it’s hard to make this subject whimsical. Almereyda (he did the Ethan Hawke “Hamlet” some years back) lets things turn soapy as he watches the impact this work and its consequences — fame and infamy — have on a marriage.

But “Experimenter” is a capital example of that prophet-ahead-of-his-time narrative, a movie about a scientist who lived (just) long enough to revel in the fact that he was onto something before everybody else. And that he was right.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material and brief strong language

Cast: Peter Sarsgaard, Winona Ryder, John Leguizamo, Lori Singer, Anton Yelchin, Dennis Haysbert, Anthony Edwards.
Credits: Written and directed by Michael Almereyda.  A Magnolia release.

Running time: 1:42

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Movie Review: “Tokyo Tribe”

tok1tribe2On Tokyo’s “Streets of Fire,” competing gangs brawl, sword-fight and shoot it out as they narrate their own stories and proclaim their own fame, through rap.

“Tokyo Tribe” is a hip hop “West Side Story,” set in a “Blade Runner” world. It’s a gang war alternate universe, anime come to lurid life — with nubile, naked (or at least scantily clad) young women fighting with and fought over by hotheaded young men and their DJs, at least one of whom is old enough to be somebody’s great grandma.

No, this isn’t the real Tokyo. But knowing about Japan’s economic, cultural and birth-rate declines, the parallels are intriguing. It’s not all due to earthquakes, meltdowns and eating mercury-tainted whale and dolphin meat. They’re absorbed gangsta rap and taken its settings, violence, fashion, and sexist ethos and Japanized it.

That’s something to see, man.

Efforts to explain exactly what is happening and why, with inter-titles and rap songs, fail and flail as the movie piles on the characters, scenes and confrontations. A hoodie-wearing Japanese Greek chorus character named Sho ( Shota Sometani) tries to walk us through it, but fails.The defiant hooker-who-fights (Tomoko Karina) defends her person, if not her lost honor.

The long, long set-up, with scenes that offer visual nods to “A Clockwork Orange” and the like, doesn’t help. They have to justify these over-dressed sets, the teaming masses of teen-ish extras. They have to acknowledge and catch up with the various bosses of Bukaru, Shinjuko, Shibuya and the many other gangs.

It’s a garish mess, more interesting as a concept and production design exercise than as a movie. But you’ve never seen anything quite like it.

MPAA Rating: unrated, with violence, nudity, subtitled profanity

Cast: Shota Sometani, Tomoko Karina and many, many others.

Credits: Directed by Shion Sono, script by Santa Inoue and  Shion Sono.  An XLrator Media release.

Running time: 1:56

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Documentary Review — “Keith Richards: Under the Influence”

keithClosing in on his 72nd birthday, with decades of Rolling Stones documentaries and interviews behind him, Keith Richards can be excused for repeating himself. Just like your dad, or granddad, he’ll trot out the old stories with a little prodding.

Tell us about the time you recorded your acoustic guitar, distorted, through a cheap cassette recorder and created “Street Fighting Man.” Wait, you played bass on “Sympathy for the Devil”, which started out as a Bob Dylan-esque lament?

But the new documentary on Keith by Morgan “2o Feet From Stardom” Neville still manages to surprise and delight. This Netflix original, uploaded to coincide with the release of the new solo album “Cross-eyed Heart,” takes Richards to Chicago and Nashville, the twin roots of his sound — blues and country.

It hangs out with him in the studio with Steve Jordan and Waddy Wachtel, and sits at home in Weston, Connecticut as he croons-growls his way through originals and classic blues numbers, and gives us a taste of the new material.

Mostly, though, it’s to be relished for being unadulterated Keith — laughing, grinning and smoking, thoroughly enjoying the life he’s led and the image he’s created.

That image? “Walking down the road, smokin’ a joint, a bottle of Jack Daniels in my hand, cursing the fact that the liquor store’s closed.”

Neville shows us some terrific vintage recording studio stuff — the Stones at Chess in Chicago, and elsewhere, working things out, performing with the blues legends they  worshipped and popularized when they first came to America — Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy.

And Keith plays a little pool with Buddy at Buddy’s Chicago blues bar, walks the stage of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and talks up, more extensively than we’ve heard before, his early love of country music, the Nudie suits he got as hand-me-d0wns from Gram Parsons, how he met his non-Stones bandmates Jordan and Wachtel when he did that trying and terrific Chuck Berry documentary and concert, “Hail, Hail Rock and Roll” in the ’80s.

He records, with the oldest microphones he can get his hands on, sings sweeter than we remember him ever singing, and owns it — ALL of it, with a few pithy profundities.

“You can’t BUY a persona. You can either make it up, or live it.”

If you know anything about him at all (his autobiography “Life” is just part of the answer), you don’t have to guess which path he took.


MPAA Rating: unrated, with profanity and endless smoking

Cast: Keith Richards, Steve Jordan,  Tom Waits, Waddy Wachtel
Credits: Directed by Morgan Neville. A Netflix Original.

Running time: 1:21

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Weekend Box Office: “Martian” devours “Sicario,” “The Walk”

boxofficeRidley Scott could hang up his directing spurs on “The Martian.” His fun, science-centric sci-fi thriller blew up Thursday night and Friday and seems headed towards $53 million plus by Sunday midnight.

That’s a huge opening for a non-franchise picture, and since word of mouth on it is sure to be as good as the reviews, well, $53 may be the bottom end of expectations.

“Sicario” opened wide and is headed for a solid $11-12 million weekend. No box office stars in this drug war tale, just good character actors and a riveting story, well-told. Good reviews buoyed that one, too.

“The Walk” is opening in such limited release that it isn’t cracking the top ten. The fact that it’s an IMAX/3D picture should have made a difference, but “Everest” has most of those theaters and much of that audience. “The Walk” may never blow up, and it’s a worthy film. Poor scheduling could hurt it.

Eli Roth’s “Green Inferno” suggests Eli Roth should be putting his name on other people’s films, as this one opened poorly and has fallen off the table in its second week.

“Hotel Transylvania 2” is having a very healthy second weekend, and having nothing programmed for the kid audience opposite it is paying off. “Pan” is coming. Will that suck away all the Sandler Animation fans next weekend? We’ll see.

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Movie Review: “Freeheld”

free1Critics often talk of “courageous” performances, historically those actors who play commit to giving their all to difficult characters — emotionally, by playing someone far beyond their experience, or physically — gaining weight, going bald, uglying up.

Oscar winner Julianne Moore goes the full Charlize “Monster” Theron in “Freeheld,” playing a haggard, high-mileage chain-smoking lesbian cop whose cancer and death benefits case became a major milepost in America’s shift toward legalizing gay marriage.

But there are other guys with guts, here. They play the villains, and not lip-smacking, charismatic evil geniuses or colorfully demented wackos. Dennis Boutsikaris, Kevin O’Rourke, Tom McGowan and  William Sadler are county commissioners with homophobic, or at least unsympathetic tendencies, and Anthony DeSando is a fellow police detective ready to toss his longtime colleague under the legislative bus because she’s in love with and lives with a woman. They’re on the wrong side of history, more backward than hateful, cowardly than charismatic. That’s tricky to play.

“Freeheld” is a moving and inspiring account of that detective’s dying wish, a test case of almost a decade ago that made this reluctant, closeted cop an activist and an icon. It’s a film that flirts with stereotypes, and is somewhat derailed, or at least sidetracked, by one over-the-top performance that borders on caricature. But it works.

Freeholder is the name New Jersey gives its county commissioners. They’re the ones who would decide Lauren Hester’s case, and they had that choice because the state had already decreed that legally recognized domestic partnerships qualified for survivor benefits of state employees.

Laurel has been a loner, dedicated to the job, aloof enough to avoid the trap of sex with her fellow cops. When she sets out to “meet someone,” she crosses state lines. She plays volleyball. Badly. That’s where Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) meets her.

Moore is utterly believable as this weary, wary woman whose name and photo might be in the papers, but who keeps the rest of her life on lock down. She is full of “rules.” “Don’t ever answer my phone.” Closeted.

Page is the one who sells this May-October relationship, lets us feel the attraction and the much younger woman’s confidence in approaching the shy older one.

Michael Shannon gives a caring integrity to Dane, Laruel’s bluff, no-nonsense divorced partner, but just another guy she won’t share her secret with.

Director Peter Sollett — the wonderful “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” was his) and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner paint the relationships in broad, stereotypical strokes. Stacie wears a lot of flannel — a LOT. She’s a mechanic and owns a motorcycle. Anybody who knows what rhymes with “bike” will remember that gay cliche.

But “Freeheld” finds surer footing once the lovers have domestically partnered through  the state, moved in together and Laurel gets sick. Up until then, they’ve only endured the odd grimace of tactlessness from strangers and officials, most of whom quickly regroup and adjust to this new legal reality. Gay bashing is harder to pull off with a woman armed trained by the state to pull a pistol.

Laurel’s simple request, that her partner collect her pension benefits in the event of her death, is dismissed by those villains mentioned before. Her fellow cops, save for Dane, don’t rally around her. But a local newspaper reporter (Adam LeFevre) sees the controversy and the hypocrisy.

free2And that’s when the activist arrives. Steve Carell lays on the “faaaabulous!” as this gay Jewish firebrand, and whatever somber sobriety “Freeheld” could claim flies out the window. He’s a risible stereotype, and to be fair, Carell was probably doing the production a huge favor, diving in after Zach Galifianakis had to drop out. That helped the film get made.

But he almost breaks the movie. Read any bad review attacking the film, and he’s the big sticking point. The earlier stereotypes fall by the wayside in the face of Carell’s onslaught.

Earnestness and good intentions wouldn’t have been enough to rescue the picture from Carell’s comic instincts. But the story, told in an Oscar winning documentary of the same name, carries us along and the other performances — Moore, Page and Shannon — move us.

And don’t forget the villains. In those character players mentioned above, America can see where we used to be, get a whiff of how unfair we might have been. Those guys let us see our mirror image ten years ago, even if a certain Pope and Kentucky county clerk cannot.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic elements, language and sexuality

Cast: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon, Steve Carell
Credits: Directed by Peter Sollett, script by Ron Nyswaner, based on Cynthia Wade’s Oscar winning documentary short of the same title.  A Summit release.

Running time: 1:43

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Weekend Movies: “Sicario,””The Walk” and “The Martian” are winners


This may be the best opening weekend for movies in 2015…thus far. Winners are everywhere, must-see pictures litter the cineplex. Heavens.

“The Martian” is Ridley Scott’s best-reviewed film in this millennium, his best sci-fi film since “Blade Runner.” And it’s funny, thanks to Matt Damon’s jokey to-the-camera narration, and Team Nerd back on Earth, scrambling to help him rescue himself from the Red Planet. Good popcorny fun. Go. Enjoy.

“Sicario” is an outstanding drug wars thriller that’s been opening in a platform release. Much of the country gets to see it this weekend. And it should. See it. It’s practically a Donald Trump campaign ad, with its depiction of Mexican drug murders, illegal immigration and the “war” underway on our southern border. Aside from that, it’s got breathless suspense, brutal violence and that favorite of Hollywood DEA/military thrillers, “surgical strikes.” Brutal picture, terrific reviews for that one.

“The Walk” is being hyped as one of those movies that will cause some people to get dizzy and leave the theater, thanks to the CG wire walking scenes in the finale. Hogwash. It’s well-done and tautly played, a bit nerve wracking. The 3D intensity isn’t anything anybody who goes to the movies more than rarely should be impressed, but not overwhelmed. Terrific reviews for this one, too.

In some markets (including Orlando), “Finders Keepers” opens, an amusing and engaging doc about a couple of Carolina hicks who fight over a sawed-off human foot. Seriously. Enzian has it in Orlando. Very good reviews for this one.

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Movie Review: “Sicario”



“Sicario” is a conventionally unconventional drug wars thriller, a well-cast, breathlessly executed peek into the heart of a Trumpian nightmare of Mexican cartels which kill at will on either side of an embattled border.

This Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies,””Enemy”) film has a standard list of ingredients and component scenes. But it’s what he does with them that makes it exceptional. It’s the “Syriana” of drug war movies.

Emily Blunt is Kate Macer, the idealistic F.B.I. agent talked into volunteering for a dangerous, almost off-the-books operation to hunt down a cartel chief. Having just raided a booby-trapped house filled with the bodies of cartel victims, she’s a prime candidate.

“What’s our objective?” she asks Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), the man-in-charge, sketchily described as a “Department of Defense” adviser on the case.

“To dramatically over-react.”

But Kate is wary. Graver and his crew seem to have unlimited resources. They’re super-secretive. And then there’s the guy he describes as his “bird dog.” Alejandro. Benicio del Toro, in his best performance (least mumbled) in years, gives this guy a weary menace, hiding his eyes behind sunglasses. Kate looks for answers from him, the scope of what they’re doing.

“You’re asking me how a watch works,” Alejandro sighs. “For now, let’s just keep an eye on the time.”

Kate will be the viewers’ eyes in this trip, even though there’s much we see that she doesn’t. Like the Mexican cop (Maximiliano Hernández) we keep checking in with, a husband, provider and father to a soccer-mad tweenage son. His story will intersect with Kate’s, we figure.

Her journey down this rabbit-hole takes her into a covert world of torture, border crossings and un-Constitutional acts, large and small. The least believable ingredient in this Taylor Sheridan script is Kate’s lingering refusal to buy in. The hazing rituals (disrespected), the threats to her life if she isn’t all-in, the end goal, the impressive surgical precision of the operations and the groupthink of this operation should shake her loose from core beliefs.

Because we certainly do. From the moment Villeneuve stages the standard-issue bumper-to-bumper convoy of black Chevy Tahoes, escorting a prisoner across the U.S. border, he has us.  That scene is so tense you will forget to breathe.

“Sicario” — Mexican slang for “hitman” — reveals its secrets slowly. There’s little wasted time and even the cliches — talky confrontations with the bad guys, “I need a drink” bar visits — are integral to the plot and make this deliberate, chilling and cautionary thriller all the more impressive.

Scariest of all, as Kate is shown tracer bullets and explosions dotting the skyline of an infamous cross-border city, is the message about what the cost of America’s lust for cocaine and heroin could truly be.

“Juarez is the future.”


Rating:R for strong violence, grisly images, and language

Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin
Credits: Directed by Denis Villeneuve, script by Taylor Sheridan. A Lionsgate/Summit release.

Running time: 2:01

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Movie Review: “Finders Keepers,” y’all.

find1find2Sometimes it seems that rural white southern males are the last permissibly mockable group in these United States. Good’ol boys living all along the NASCAR belt drawl some bit of rural rube ridiculousness, and America giggles. And tunes in, when they hit “reality” TV.

I was prepared to grit my teeth over “Finders Keepers,”  a documentary about two Carolina rednecks fighting over custody of an amputated foot. And  filmmakers Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel never hesitate to let these two put their, um, feet in it. The laugh-out-loud moments come mainly their bumpkins’ lack of self-awareness.

Such as when pot-bellied “entrepreneur” Shannon Whisnant scratches his goatee and declares, “Ah’m purty smart. I’m sure y’all figured that out by now.”

But Carberry and Tweel take this story, which made national “news of the odd” waves when it happened, and go deeper. And “Finders Keepers” makes that nearly impossible journey from mockery to understanding. Not all the way to sympathy, mind you, just “Maybe this is how they got to BE this way.”

John Wood lost his foot in an airplane accident near his hometown of Maiden, N.C. He told the doctors he wanted to keep his foot. He did, in all its gruesome, gory glory. He wanted the “meat” stripped off it, but couldn’t find anybody to do it. Thought about “mummifying it.” That didn’t really work.

But then he got evicted and packed everything he owned into a storage unit — the foot stuffed into a barbecue grill. And that’s how Shannon Whisnant got his hands on it, at auction, the kind you see on TV’s “Storage Wars.”

Whisnant did the right thing. He called the cops, and they took it to a mortuary and figured out who it belonged to. Then Whisnant did the wrong thing. He demanded the foot back. He made T-shirts. He pushed himself into the media and made a spectacle as “the Foot Man,” telling his story and promising to sell peeks at the foot when it was returned.

And Wood? He was dismayed, then irked at this fellow who thought “he was gonna be the next Billy Bob Thornton!”

Let the Foot Fight begin.

“It’s a funny story,” Wood’s tough, sage mother Peg says, but one “borne of tragedy.”

The filmmakers then tell us each man’s back story, and “Finders Keepers” transcends its “Look at the silly hillbillies” opening.

Wood’s father died in that plane crash. Wood has drug problems. And Whisnant? He resents Wood’s relatively privileged upbringing. And more than anything on Earth, Whisnant wants to be famous. He seizes this foot as his main chance.

“Finders Keepers” manipulates the stories like reality TV, pushing the viewers’ allegiance away from this man and towards that one, back and forth. Layers peel away. Each man seems to get the absurdity of their situation, but never how absurd they seem in it.

Naturally, it all comes down to TV’s “Judge Mathis” to resolve this, and the robed entertainer never seemed more Solomonic than with this case.

But that’s not the end, just the beginning of the end. Each man’s motives suggest that each will get pretty much exactly what he deserves. And along the way, we get to sit back and laugh in judgement, because as clever as it is, “Finders Keepers” never can quite turn the mirror away from the pride of Maiden, N.C., and back on us, the rubes sucked into this story in all its many incarnations.

MPAA Rating: R for language

Cast: John Wood, Shannon Whisnant, Peg Wood,
Credits: Directed by Bryan Carberry and J. Clay e. An Orchard release.

Running time: 1:22

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