The Art House Beat: “To My Great Chagrin,” “Mine,” and “A Town Called Panic”
To My Great Chagrin (Grand Illusion, Jan. 22-28)
Brother Theodore Gottlieb is a common lunatic and a crashing bore. A performer of sorts, he conceals his mediocrity behind the facade of shock, But what might have seemed shocking forty years ago is today quaintly anachronistic. Gottlieb’s history, if any of it be true, is more interesting than the performer or the remnants of the man. Hundreds of dime store nutcases haunt the donut shops with similar stories. Among his boasts are the claim that he would now be the richest man in the world were it not for World War Two, and that Albert Einstein was one of his mother’s dearest friends, if not his outright lover. This Gottlieb is expansive with dumb aphorisms such as “we are puppets in the hands of an insane puppeteer” and “one shouldn’t try to sell roses in a fish market.” More wisdom is to be found on bathroom walls than on the stages where this Brother Theodore has been struggling for success this last half century.
Like Jessica Yu’s “In the Reams of the Unreal,” which gave a showcase to the primitive artist Henry Darger that was more glowing than his work deserved, writer/director Jeff Sumerel has done an excellent job of crafting a look for his movie that suits its subject matter. Maggie Whalen’s grotesque ‘Brother Theodore’ puppet gives some of the scenes a Brothers Quay quality that, had it been maintained throughout the film, might have given this dense blowhard more of the mystique necessary to make him seem worthy of notice. One of the few intelligent statements made by the plethora of celebrities who were interviewed off-camera is the assertion there is room for the mad in American show business, although success for any of them is doubtful. Gottlieb had more chances at success than most, but his lack of professionalism prevented his accomplishing anything of note. He was fired from Woody Allen’s “Don’t Drink the Water” because his performances were inconsistent. Scenes from the film “Nocturna,” with his eyes bulging out of that monstrous face as he declaims his lines like a Germanic Ogre, suggest that his real calling might have been as a horror movie actor. After appearing in trash such as “Massage Parlor Hookers” and “Gums,” a pornographic take-off on “Jaws,” he got a legitimate break in the 1981 comedy “The Burbs,” but failed to make anything of it.
This then, is likely to be all that remains of Brother Theodore Gottleib, who died in 2001 at the age of 94. Truth be told, it is more than he deserves.
Mine (SIFF Cinema, Jan. 22-27)
What begins as another angle on the Katrina disaster, the rescue of pets that could not be evacuated, develops into an examination of the legal and ethical issues regarding the return of rescued animals to their owners after they have found new adoptive families. While director Geralyn Pezanoski is partial to the plight of the original owners, she is careful to bring out all sides of the complicated situation. Following a handful of evacuees from the disaster through subsequent years of struggle to find and recover their pets, the film touches on the economic, social, and racial divides that sometimes put the owners at a disadvantage when facing a legal system that favors the rich over the disenfranchised. One particular situation was reminiscent of Ben Affleck’s film, “Gone Baby Gone, “ in which a cop steals the child of a drug addict because he believes he can provide a better life. Pezanoski does not shy away from the reality that these dogs would have been killed had they not found new owners, and that these owners would never have adopted if they were told the animals must be returned in the even the original owners ever came forth. Most of those profiled end up doing the right thing, but the process uncovers the heartache of everyone involved. Beyond the immediate cases, “Mine” is a study of the relationships between man and dog, and the rights of ownership that any one creature is given over another.
A Town Called Panic (Varsity, Jan. 22-28)
A horse, a cowboy, and an Indian live together in a farmhouse, fighting over the shower and doing all those other things that housemates do. After the Indian mistakenly orders 50 million bricks from the internet for the horse’s birthday present, the housemates spin into a voyage that takes them from the center of the Earth to the top of the world and down to the bottom of the sea. How to get home? In a projectile snowball, of course. Fans of stop-motion animation are liable to go wild over this Belgian import, which offers such sights as parachuting cows, dancing horses , and the ambiguous intentions of an octopus toward a pig. Even those who might balk at a feature length film starring animated toys with helium voices might get swept up in the absolute insanity of this incredible, if improbable, journey.
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