Tag Archives: Florida

Zola

2 Jul

‘Zola’: Stripper showdown in the Sunshine state, increasing in tension with every raunchy tweet

By Tom Meek Thursday, July 1, 2021

Well, here we are, people, the first movie adapted from a tweetstorm. Not an incoherent, three-in-the-morning political shaming from @realdonaldtrump (account suspended) but one from a 19-year-old Detroit server and exotic dancer named A’Ziah “Zola” King, who chronicled her 2015 shitshow of a road trip to Florida after being enticed along by a fellow dancer under false premises. The 148-tweet thread that plays out like “Hustlers” (2019) on steroids, even garnered King an exchange with “Selma” (2014) director Ava DuVernay: “There’s so much untapped talent in the hood,” DuVernay said. Zola’s response: “I’m not from the hood tho Ava. Ima suburban bitch. Still love you tho.”

The real-life King worked at a Hooters. In this stylish, day-glo rendering by Janicza Bravo (episodes of “Dear White People” and “Them”), Zola, played by Taylour Paige, works in a diner and pole dances at night. One day when waiting on an interracial couple, the trashy girlfriend (known as “the white bitch” in the tweet blasts, tagged here as Stefani and animated effusively by Riley Keough) chums up to Zola. “Wanna dance?” she asks casually. Even though we’re in Zola’s head, with her tweets and thoughts coming to us in voice-over, we don’t get much of an inkling as to what the conversation is really about until we land at a male entertainment club.

There’s an immediate bond between the two, as well as a distinct unease that hangs in the air and helps drive the film. For a bigger payday, the two pile into a luxe van with Stefani’s hapless boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun) and roommate X (Colman Domingo, finding his niche) to go dancing in the Sunshine State. Turns out that doesn’t pay so much either, and X is really Stefani’s pimp; this all unbeknownst to Zola and Derrek, who’s left in a raunchy motel to stew.

Zola’s got a beau back home and has boundaries, and even though X menacingly forces her into a call, the film lets Zola steer her way to just helping garner Stefani better johns on certain blacklisted social media sites, upping the dollar value. Stefani’s all too happy to please and seemingly has no boundaries and limitless energy. Her justification, when pushed, is that she has to support a child back home. She also has masterful control over Derrek, who spends the night frantically calling and texting.

Things get increasingly dicey as another pimp circles, X seems ready to explode into violence and Derrek declines emotionally as he wakes to the harsh reality about Stefani he’s buried through denial, puppy dog love and doofus gullibility. Stefani knows just when to throw the dog a bone, though, and Zola is always there to reluctantly watch the carnal play. It’s also here in the middle of the film that the arc really has nowhere else to go. Guns and group sex don’t raise the stakes; the action has crested, and it feels like the filmmaker and writer Jeremy O. Harris (“Slave Play”) – working off King’s tweets – are happy enough to hang it all on the frenemy chemistry of their two leads. I get the why, but it’s not a very satisfying choice in the end.

That said, the two actresses do play off each other brilliantly. Paige (“White Boy Rick”) is the anchor and holds it all well, but the film is really Keough’s. It’s not a big surprise, as the granddaughter of Elvis has landed in similar roles before in Andrea Arnold’s envelope-pushing “American Honey” (2016) and the streaming series “The Girlfriend Experience,” with those notable turns feeling akin to research for this culmination. Looking like one of the robotic beauties from the “Neon Demon” (2016), Keough nails the white-wannabe-from-the-hood vernacular (think a subtler form of Gary Oldman in “True Romance”) and the race differential between the women only adds to the tension.

The important thing to bear in mind is that this is all this based on King’s tweets; in follow-up stories, the “white bitch” known as Jess has said she turned no tricks, and it was Zola who was down for it. Ostensibly trying to give a nod to that, Bravo and Harris switch perspectives to let Stefani share some thoughts with us, but in the end what happened in those bedrooms happened. Since it doesn’t rescript the facts, this comes off as awkward and distracting, though the leads and Bravo’s stylish eye push the film above its narrative deficiencies with 16mm camera work by Ari Wegner – remember the name – that is vibrant and mood setting. “Zola” begins with all the dark, captivating allure of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Neon Demon” and Harmony Korine’s wicked descent into Floridian fun-time hell, “Spring Breakers” (2013). It just doesn’t know how to finish, and simply ends when you think the big turn is just around the next bend. 

The Beach Bum

29 Mar

‘The Beach Bum’: McConaughey is Moondog, the weed is strong and life is all right, all right

 

Image result for the beach bum movie

Harmony Korine, the wunderkind (as screenwriter) behind Larry Clark’s dark and disturbing 1995 chronicle of bad adolescent behavior, “Kids,” has been a dicey go when working the camera. An experimental filmmaker who’s pushed the boundaries of sex, sexual violence and despair, his work is often critically hailed but financially anemic. His first film, “Gummo” (1997), about white trash eccentrics in a depressed Ohio township, cost more than $1 million to make and grossed about $20,000. “Mr. Lonely” (2007) about celebrity impersonators in Paris, ran $9 million to put together and grossed less than $250,000. Not great math, but “Spring Breakers” – his 2013 Day-Glo crossover starring Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens as coeds turned boat-running perps – crushed it both at the box office and with the critics. So what could go wrong with a return to sun-soaked Florida, a big-name cast and some gonzo high times? Well, sharks for one, and a muddled vape waft of a plot for two.

If you’re a fan of Matthew McConaughey’s eternal high school hound-dog in Richard Linklater’s brilliant 1993 teen comedy, “Dazed and Confused,” “The Beach Bum” will be something of a treat; he plays the maturation of that delusional soul, a party-every-day stoner named Moondog, a once-was poet famous enough to take the mic from Jimmy Buffett at a gig. Moondog hangs in the Keys, lounging on a houseboat named “Well Hung,” drinking PBRs and banging on bongo drums accompanied by buxom, naked females. It’s something of a cross between “Waterworld” and a Goya painting. But Moondog, it turns out, is a family man with a wife and daughter up in Miami. Baby girl is getting married to a guy Moondog refers to, even at the ceremony, as “Limp Dick.” 

Moondog’s wife Minnie (Isla Fisher) is loaded and lives in a seaside manse replete with infinity pools and more house staff than Tony Montana. She’s also got her own side distraction with longtime family friend and rap mogul (or maybe more of a drug dealer?) named Lingerie (Snoop Dogg, who owns every scene with aplomb). When Moondog shows up drunk in a skiff at the dock, he and Minnie immediately down a few cocktails; as she receives a poolside pedicure from an away-glancing pedicurist, Moondog performs oral sex on her. For such eccentric hedonists, their daughter Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen, who ever seems on the verge of cracking up at McConaughey‘s goofy Moondog hijinks) is exceptionally well adjusted, aside from her choice of spouse – he’s simple a generic 9-to-5 wonk, not suited for this family by any means.

Not to give too much away, but the film could be subtitled, “A Wedding, a Funeral and a Book.” The big win to the film besides McConaughey, who has to power it along and does so with lecherous, avuncular charm, is the utterly inspired casting. I mean, there’s a duet between Jimmy Buffett and Snoop Dogg; Zac Efron shows up and smashes a wheelchair-bound elder over the head with a whiskey bottle – Korine must have some kind of vendetta against “High School Musical” – and Jonah Hill emulates the accentuated Southern twang of Strother Martin as Moondog’s money-grubbing agent. Then there’s Martin Lawrence as Captain Wack, who likes to wake and bake (his parrot needs a few lines of toot to get up and going as well) and take unwary tourists out on dolphin tours. That’s where the film jumps the shark, or I should say a shark jumps unnecessarily into the film. It’s a near fatal stroke, but nothing McConaughey‘s Moondog can’t fix with a giant blunt, a bottle of booze and some bad prose. Any decent prose that flows from Moondog is borrowed from the greats, though. The one poem we get that’s heralded by mucky-mucks is about appreciating the prowess of one’s penis to do it twice a day. 

It might be too harsh to call “Beach Bum” a spectacle of excess, the way that maybe “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (1998) or “Candy” (1968) were, but it’s listing in that direction. Overall the film doesn’t have the biting edge of “Spring Breakers,” but if you have a taste for Korine’s raucous rambling skids through the highs and lows of society (think “Gummo” or “Trash Humpers”) this is the grade-A Wagyu, James Beard-approved course for you. And of course there’s McConaughey. The film does’t work without him. This is a sheer shambles of cinematic poetry that’s all McConaughey.