Kevin Smith’s Tusk has the dubious honor – as far as I can tell – of being the only film based on a podcast. At their best, podcasts can be illuminating, an excellent entry point into topics or personalities that we did not know (or thought we did). At their worst, podcasts are the low-brow circle jerks, a shallow opportunity to come up with an hour’s worth of material on little more than a meandering conversation. I have not listened to the podcast on which Tusk is based, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a low-point for the form. Tusk is a feature-length Shaggy Dog story masquerading as a horror film; it abandons suspense and shock in favor of one overlong monologue after another. These characters – and Smith by extension – love to tell stories, yet they could not tell a succinct one to save their life.
Any stage adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is going to be brazen. While it takes place mostly within the confines of a single apartment, the premise hinges upon an ordinary man who inexplicably becomes a horrific giant insect. Adapters could go the route of War Horse or The Lion King, using large puppets to depict the giant bug. Another riskier option is what happens in Susan Galbraith’s Metamorphosis, which eschews body horror altogether in favor of something more psychological. As head of Alliance for New Music-Theater, her high-concept production is markedly not musical-theater, and it’s no surprise that some flourishes are more powerful than others. Still, Galbraith and her actors explore Kafka’s ideas in an intriguing way, with a mix of dread and bitter irony.
Everyone must have some secret ritual with their bodies that they secretly cherish. Seinfeld once devoted an entire episode to nose-picking, for one thing, and Molly Shannon’s Mary Katherine Gallagher would shove her hands into her armpits. I know I have my own weird quirks, and I’m not going to share them for you (for your sake and mine). This strange comfort with our bodies is what fuels Wetlands, a bizarre German sex comedy. Director David Wnendt’s adaptation of Charlotte Roche’s controversial novel is gleefully disgusting – the hero’s butthole is literally the catalyst of the plot – and while a plucky performance elevates the scatological humor, the film misfires in its attempt for an emotional arc.
Charlie McDowell’s The One I Love is a cross between a romantic comedy and an episode of The Twilight Zone. It combines a heady premise with effortless realism, to the point where anyone in a relationship will see themselves in the two main characters. McDowell and screenwriter Justin Lader take the material seriously, accepting its insanity at face value, which means their premise takes them to dark, Neil Labute-style territory (I mean that as a complement). Despite bland characterizations, this is a scathing examination at how all relationships experience atrophy.
From Vincent Van Gogh onward to Robin Williams, there is a fallacy in culture that all geniuses must suffer. Whether through addiction or mental illness, legions of fans think their favorite artist is great specifically because of the problems that befall him or her. Frank, the new comedy about a brilliant eccentric musician, is an angry retort to this misguided idea. It starts as a pleasant screwball comedy, only to view its subject with pity and sadness. Working from a screenplay by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan, director Lenny Abrahamson successfully disabuses the audience from this cruel notion.