Kensho at the Bedfellow (Brad Raider, 2016)


Kensho at the Bedfellow, the feature debut film, starring, and written and directed by, Brad Raider, opens with a bang. A literal bang. And a cat. A towering, talking puppet cat, who, when the man we will come to know as our main character, Dan (Raider), staggering, asks, “Is this a dream?”, answers, “It’s an opportunity – to know thyself.”  It seems preposterous, of course: what can an over-sized puppet with whiskers have to say about the ontological questions of the self? And on another, more meta, level, a cinema-goer, in the age of slickly immersive computer graphics and special effects, might ask, why am I sitting here looking at a stuffed animal, creakily moving its pretend mouth? Something like Falkor, the Luckdragon, from The Neverending Story, certainly has its place in a children’s movie, in fondly nostalgic memory, or in the evolution of visual effects, but now? This kind of thing in 2016 in a film for adults?

The very audaciousness and seeming ridiculousness of such an opening prepares us for the journey and tone of the film, winding as it does down unexpected paths and embracing both playfulness and seriousness. Even further, the opening gets at the heart the film’s central questions: who am I and why am I here, and how can art – which might not look like life but like only a crude, perhaps silly, representation of life – have anything to say to those fundamental questions of self?

The film explores these questions as it follows a few days in the New York City life of Dan, a one-hit wonder playwright turned Bedfellow hotel doorman, an appropriate career for a man who cannot decide where he belongs and who does not really have a home but co-opts the bed  and apartment of a long-suffering friend who gets only promises, not rent-money.   Dan’s habit of taking freely from his friends extends into other parts of his life as well: borrowing from his own body’s health, he consumes diet pills and gorges on desserts; carelessly using the women around him – a woman staying at the Bedfellow, a troubled ex-girlfriend – he takes sex and the women’s emotional investment as his right, leaving them behind when convenient. Continue reading Kensho at the Bedfellow (Brad Raider, 2016)”

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, 2015)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

I am suspicious of my enjoyment of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl in spite of the fact that the film, premiering at Sundance in 2015, received the U.S. Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for U.S. Drama, and I am not alone in such enjoyment. Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, a director until now primarily known for his TV work (Glee, American Horror Story) and based on a YA novel by Jesse Andrews, the film follows Greg (Thomas Mann), the titular “Me,” who, under non-negotiable orders from his mother, befriends a high school classmate, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who is diagnosed with leukemia; Greg is to be a companion to her through the ordeals of her illness and treatment. And so Greg, with his childhood friend and fellow film-buff, Earl (RJ Cyler), entertain Rachel in large part with the films the two boys make together, short films that cleverly pun around with titles of classic and foreign cinema: The 400 Blows becomes a film about “The 400 Bros”; 8 ½ becomes “Ate ½ (of my Lunch)”; A Clockwork Orange becomes “A Sockwork Orange.”

Continue reading Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, 2015)”