Dear Riley Stearns, Please Hire Me: The Art of Self-Defense

After listening to a Riley Stearns interview, the writer and director of “The Art of Self-Defense” talk about his favorite comedies, one obscure one that’s also on my list of greats (Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”), I skipped and frolicked to see his film last night at Hollywood 11. Dead pan humor is my cup of tea.

And the beginning held such promise with my laughing out-loud in the first five minutes. And then? And then? And then? (an allusion to another fun comedy “Dude Where’s My Car?”‘s drive thru scene)….Crash. Awkward Record Scratch. Extreme Violence.

Hence, Mr. Stearns with all due respect, you could have substituted three out of the seven graphically violent scenes with your equally smart dialogue by employing me as your script doctor:

1. Casey has a tryst with the grocery clerk who comes on to him after his ‘yellow’ shopping spree. She’s getting off work just as the pick up truck dude accosts him and takes him to her apartment where she seduces him. Casey thinks he’s found a warm genuine girl who comforts him ater the mean pick up car driver, but for comedic purposes, once back at her abode, she’s suddenly an s & m freak. He hides in her bathroom before the actual act, but then faces his fear in the mirror, has a mini recovery to go back out and have a great experience. When he wakes up the next day at her place, he’s alone, a note on the pillow giving him a 2 star lover rating, but that’s there’s potential. He notices now that her apartment’s filled with paintings she’s done. They could even be Klimt paintings to follow your German thread. Casey learns how to paint (poorly, like his karate skills) and tries to present a painting to Sensei who tells him his paintings need to be angrier. Sensei could say: “Casey, the belts were a masculine touch, but paintings, ugh, too feminine, unless of course your Rothko.”

2. In awe of Casey’s transition from Milquetoast to Iron Man, the three macho dudes from Casey’s work place break room try karate, and after one gets pummeled (gently for God’s sake) by Anna, they run home like babies.

3. Add a comic back story to Casey’s wimpiness, a domineering or overly religious mother who shamed him into introversion, who comes in at the end in admiration of Casey’s rise to child karate teacher.

The acting in this movie was perfection: no one but Jesse Eisenberg could have played Casey, Alessandro Nivola was perfection as Sensei and Imogen Poots was terrific as Anna. Again, that’s what makes the reliance on ignorant excessive violence such a shame.

The Act of Self-Defense is worth seeing, especially if you’re a lover of violence. But a better, smarter film could have been made if substantive comedy had been written, instead of gore.

Wes Anderson’s genius: “Isle of Dogs”, Eye’ll Grab Ya

I’m no artist, but a few times when I’ve attempted to draw or paint a person’s face, I’ve noticed, even in my lame limited effort how striking you create eyes to be. Wes Anderson surely knows and it’s the eyes of all the characters in Isle of Dogs that are so riveting.

In addition to not being an artist, I’m also not a dog person. HOWEVER, at my grandma’s 95th birthday party (Go Florence, Go Florence!), I fed a visiting dog a carrot (after being encouraged by its owner that he liked such food) and out of a circle of 8 folks, my lap was then chosen for the pup’s nap. Guess I should write a parody book, “If You Feed a Dog a Carrot” (rip off of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”). My point is, if a dog is sweet and calm, I could be convinced to own one.

My second point is, due to the eyes of the dogs in Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola‘s (yes, son of that Coppola), I could have teared up, that’s how good this movie was.

But as Wes Anderson (and perhaps Roman, too) is want to do, he often goes one step too far in making his plot so darn intricate, that I lose the wonder and awe of his creativity to say, ‘ok, enough’. It could be a gender thing, sorry men. Often men go one step too far, one too many text messages, one too many comments to impress, tickling a minute too long where I want to scream, “OK, enough!” I always think of the Billy Joel song, “Leave a Tender Moment Alone,” (aside: am listening to a live version on YouTube right now and damn, can I just say I love Billy Joel) or as a tried to tell someone recently, just stay on the boat, stay on the boat (aka don’t go overboard).

I can forgive Wes Anderson though, the guy (AND Roman) are true geniuses and while if you looked at the basic story structure of Moonrise Kingdom and Isle of Dogs and would find the same basic core story, because he dresses it in such a new funky outfit, it’s fantastically novel at the same time.

I should mention some of the stand out voices in this stop motion animation: Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Jeff Goldblum, and Bryan Cranston, all of whom I’ve had a crush on at one time or another. And for the gents, you have Scar Jo’s sultry voice as the show dog named Nutmeg. So how can you go wrong? Go See Isle of Dogs, it’ll warm your pet loving, or even loathing, heart.