Editor’s Note: The following capsule reviews are part of our coverage of the 2015 3 Rivers Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit http://3rff.com/ and follow 3 Rivers Film Festival on Twitter @3rffest.
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of The National Lampoon
This is a unique documentary. Not because it’s innovatively put together or conceived, but because it’s really funny. Douglas Tirola has made a film that is almost as reverently irreverent as The National Lampoon magazine he’s documenting. Tirola interviews many of the people involved with the various arms of the National Lampoon organization from its height in the late 1960’s and 1970s and all of those interviews are valuable, but the real gets were Henry Beard, one of the co-founders of the magazine who gives his first real interview about the magazine for this film and Chevy Chase, who opened up and got very emotional during his interview, almost making you forget his reputation.
This doc is a must for people who were fans of the magazine, which is the primary focus of the film, and also for people like myself who were more familiar with the film arm of the enterprise and only aware of the magazine without ever having read it. it is an invaluable document that cements the legacy of this once great institution of satire and parody and gives an intimate portrait of what went on behind the scenes of the magazine, letting viewers in on the turmoil of Doug Kenney and his volatile genius as well as the steady but put-upon Beard who when it was time for the structured buy-out that was worked into the initial contract, he stood up on a desk (after receiving a check for $7 million) “I’ve hated every minute of this. Fuck you. I’m done” and walked out the door, never to return or talk about the magazine publically until this film.
The film is raunchy, funny and explicit, as well as informative, insightful and tragic. Tirola deftly blends all of these touches into an entertaining and endearing film.
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s fourth feature is a tricky one. While it features wonderful and charismatic performances from Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds (who is shaping up to be a much better actor than many expected he could be recently), it also has a feeling of dread that dogged the picture all the way through. Mendelsohn plays Gerry, a compulsive gambler who is good but not great and is in debt up to his eyeballs with potentially shady characters (excellently played, as per usual, by Alfre Woodard) when he chances to meet Reynold’s Curtis, a drifter who isn’t without resources and certainly not a bum. The two get to be friendly and Gerry thinks Curtis is his good luck charm. When Curtis decides to leave town, Gerry convinces him to go to New Orleans as his stake, gambling all the way from Iowa to get into a big buy-in poker game.
While Curtis is supposed to be trusted as a sort of guardian angel from the start, I had trouble getting over my cynicism for about a third of the film, constantly thinking Curtis was playing Gerry for something. When it is revealed that Curtis does this sort of thing all the time, that cynicism relaxed. There is always a feeling that the bottom is going to drop out, because it is a gambling movie, but that helps keep the proceedings interesting beyond the great performances by the leads. When it’s over, there is a feeling of satisfaction, but it’s an empty satisfaction. This is by design, because the film is more or less from Gerry’s perspective so even a good ending could have been better to a compulsive gambler and you leave thinking that the payout could have been higher.