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The Peanut Butter Falcon is one of this year’s better directorial debuts. Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz deliver a real winner with a terrific cast. It’s a strange and funny Southern odyssey with a whole lot of peanut butter, moonshine, epiphanies and—last but not least—wrestling.

Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome, is basically a prisoner in a retirement home, abandoned by his family. Zak has aspirations to be a wrestler—and he breaks out one night on his quest, wearing nothing but underwear. He comes across Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a troubled but goodhearted fisherman who creates a situation for himself after which he must hit the road. The two form a bond and start heading south toward Florida, where Zak’s wrestling school awaits.

LaBeouf, who continues to shine after his career hit a bump, is at his best here opposite Gottsagen, an actor who actually has Down syndrome—and mighty good comic timing. They make a great pair before becoming a great trio when Eleanor (Dakota Johnson, doing a lot to make us forgive the whole Fifty Shades thing), Zak’s caretaker, hunts them down. She takes pity (well, Zak throws her keys in the ocean) and eventually boards the raft toward the wrestling school. It all comes to a wonderfully weird conclusion in what amounts to a great adventure.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is now available via online sources.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

There’s no denying that writer-director Lars von Trier is a true talent. Melancholia, Antichrist and Dancer in the Dark represent some of the best bizarre cinema this side of David Lynch. His other offerings, Dogville and Breaking the Waves, are not favorites of mine, but they are still respectable.

Alas, now comes Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1, a despicably bad attempt at shock cinema that represents the very worst in sensationalistic, lazy filmmaking. Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is a confessed nymphomaniac who is found bleeding in the gutter by a kind soul (Stellan Skarsgård); he takes her back to his apartment. After a cup of tea, Joe starts telling her sad story (a boring framing device that rips off, among others,The Princess Bride). In flashback, we see Joe’s sad, humiliating story as she (played in her younger days by Stacy Martin) recounts her outrageous sexual escapades and supposed emotional problems.

This movie is hard to watch and features nothing that stands out as original or genuinely provocative. Instead, it comes off as desperate, with von Trier laboring to shock his audience—something that was never evident in his prior films.

Only Uma Thurman shines as a jilted wife; she blisters the screen in what feels like an improvised moment. The rest of the movie is just stuff like Christian Slater crapping himself and Shia LaBeouf getting naked.

This is a total piece of garbage—and it is only Part One of the saga: Part Two is coming out right on its heels, so God help us all.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 is now playing at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews