Mr. Movie

‘The Art of Self Defense’ is good weird

Alessandro Nivola, right, and Jesse Eisenberg in “The Art of Self-Defense.”
Alessandro Nivola, right, and Jesse Eisenberg in “The Art of Self-Defense.” TNS

Jesse Eisenberg loves doing odd, quirky movies. He’s not super buff or Hollywood handsome so it makes sense. Plus, if he’s in one, even if it doesn’t quite work, the chances are it’ll be a very interesting project.

His movie picks line up with my movie tastes. I love an odd, quirky movie that does double-duty and — plot-wise — heads toward down-and-dirty dark. That pretty much sums up “The Art of Self Defense.”

Eisenberg is Casey. He’s a man with no life. Casey is an auditor who lives alone with an adoring dachshund. The dog is out of food so Casey walks to the store and on the way home he’s mugged by a gang riding motorcycles. He recovers from his injuries but not from the vicious attack.

So Casey decides to buy a gun.

Before the waiting period for the purchase is up, Casey stumbles onto a karate class. He’s impressed with Alessandro Nivola’s Sensei and signs up. For some reason Sensei is fascinated with Casey. That relationship and Casey’s insecurity, and a lot of weirdness, and off-beat people at the karate school drive this story to some bizarre and unexpected places. Add butt-kicking climax to the mix and you have the year’s weirdest — but oddly satisfying — movie.

Two things drive the movie. The first is the performances. Eisenberg, Nivola and Imogen Poots play the three main characters. Eisenberg (“The Social Network” and the “Now You See Me” movies) specializes in awkward. Casey is a man struggling to connect with the world in even minor ways. Eisenberg — and this exceptional script — have him wanting to be macho, but macho is as foreign to Casey as the French language he’s attempting to learn. To compensate for absolutely no personality at all, Casey walks robotically through huge parts of the film.

No one waxes robotic better than Eisenberg.

Nivola (“Junebug,” “Laurel Canyon”) is one of those rare you’ve-never-heard-of actors that makes every movie better. His Sensei has similar problems. He takes alpha male to a whole new level and everything has to be as masculine as possible. Sensei’s rules have rules.

He is obviously quite able to take care of himself and is Casey’s idea of a man’s man. But like Casey, Sensei is a twisted man missing those critical personality parts that make a person whole.

Poots — who has alpha male tendencies of her own — adds understandable anger to the plot and a different kind of machismo to a movie packed with testosterone.

Each of the three characters intrigues the other and — in turn — we are intrigued and wonder throughout the film where writer/director Riley Sterns is going to take this obviously original film.

Every scene has tension that lies just beneath the surface. You expect things to happen and they don’t. In turn that pushes you to the next scene where you also think something bad is going to happen. Eventually, bad things do, and they drive “The Art of Self Defense” toward a climax packed with surprises that aren’t really surprises.

His film is also forgivably flawed.

Sterns’ movie has lots of “oh-come-on-now” sequences, and scenes and places where reality is slid aside. No. Let’s make that shoved radically aside. Several plot points catch you off guard and lead to the need for the suspension of disbelief. Or put another way, your own art of movie self defense.

Those same surprises also — by the point of climax — more than make up for the wonder hows and whys you’ll be scratching your head about as you leave the theater.

“The Art of Self Defense” — put plainly and simply — is a really weird movie. Good weird but weird nonetheless. It’s also not for everyone. But if dark quirky is your thing, it is one I highly recommend.

Rated R for violence, language and mature themes. It’s playing at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12.

Rating: 4 out of 5

‘The Lion King’

I’m not reviewing a live-action version of “The Lion King” that is being released today. The studio did not screen it for critics in my area. My review of the film will be posted online later today. Here’s what I know. The original movie ran 1:28. This one lands at 1:54 and runs 26-minutes longer.

It is possible that more minutes will make the movie better, but to me an extension of that length screams padding. As for padding, the live version has one screenwriter. The original movie had 29.

That could be good news.

The bad news is — like the rest of Disney’s grand experiment to turn all of its classic animated movies into live action flicks — I’m left to wonder why. Only “The Beauty and the Beast” translated into something palatable. Earlier this year “Aladdin” failed. Before that “The Jungle Book” got all tangled up in a wilderness of foliage, failed to impress and is now getting an undeserved sequel.

Others? “Dumbo” was a dud, and other than Angelina Jolie’s exceptional work, “Maleficent” was less than magnificent. There’s also the less than wonderful two “Alice in Wonderland” movies, too.

And you can soon expect an expanded and not watered down, “The Little Mermaid” and “Mulan,” which — if done as badly as the rest — won’t cut it either. Time — as they say — will tell.

Look for my review online later today.

Rated PG for mature themes. You’ll find it playing at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s, the AMC Classic Kennewick 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

Rating: No rating yet. Go to the tricityherald.com on Friday afternoon for my review.

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