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The Beach Bum and King Cohen: Two flicks that touch on the more important facts of our mortality

High on Life




From the moment he penned the script for Larry Clark's audacious Kids, Harmony Korine has stayed in the public consciousness whether the mainstream liked it or not.

His latest film, The Beach Bum, is, if memory serves correctly, his most accessible film yet — next to 2012's Spring Breakers.

The plot is a relatively simple one. I could expound but I'd rather give a relatively bare description so as not to spoil it for those who want to see it: Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) is a former poet turned popular beach bum who just can't seem to get his darn life together. He puts in very little effort in getting it together, preferring to seek Fear and Loathing-esque adventure and avert cold reality as much as possible. That's pretty much what the plot is. The performances from McConaughey to Isla Fisher to Snoop Dogg to Martin Lawrence to Zac Efron are fine.

The 35mm cinematography by Benoît Debie of the Florida Keys locations, from the bars to the beaches, are very beautiful. The music accompanying the film is fun. Moondog lives a consequence-free life full of sexual misadventures with people he'll never see again and blissful drug-fueled interactions that will likely be forgotten by sunrise. He's an unintentional asshole that has no epiphanies or life-altering moments Some audience members will find Moondog charming in a Lebowski way while others will find him loathsome in a "this guy reminds me of that one lazy, lucky roommate" way. Of the two, I think I came away with the latter. I think that may have been the intent of this.

My typical response to Korine's feature films — from the whitetrashploitation art film Gummo to the shot-on-VHS nightmare Trash Humpers — has always begun with a bewildered silence that evolves into an appreciation of his cinematic testicular fortitude. As theaters become more akin to amusement parks filled solely with movies meant to bring out the nostalgic kid in you, I'll never bemoan a film of this nature because its release on a grand scale like this is becoming more rare with each year.

While the fear of losing art film fare to special effects laden nostalgia machines is not enough reason to recommend a movie, it never hurts. Since I started following his career in the late late '90s I knew I'd likely walk out of Korine's films a little confounded but ultimately satisfied. This was no different. Even now, weeks after seeing the movie at the Charleston Film Festival, I still think about the film's hedonistic but still innocent/cynical joy — immersing us in Moondog's worldview where a car wreck, financial strife, and a dead loved one are merely momentary bummers in this high life we're all meant to live.

In fact, it seems almost like an answer to Spring Breakers' mock morality tale. In that film we had four college girls visiting Florida intentionally causing chaos and feeling the consequences. Moondog, however unintentional, leaves a lot of chaos in his wake. The visual of a blithely smiling Moondog smiling and resting in a float while holding a kitten as one of many worldly belongings descends into a blaze is truly a sight to behold. Some will find it hilarious while others will wonder where the humor is.

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The cult movie world lost two of its greats the past week. Joe Pilato, best known for his villainous turn as Rhodes in George Romero's Day of the Dead, passed away at the age of 70.

Larry Cohen, director of such low budget gems as Q: The Winged Serpent, The Stuff, Black Caesar, and Bone, passed away recently at the age of 82. Since making a splash in the early '70s, Cohen became known as a one-man movie studio that could write, produce, and direct his movies. Since his passing was recent, I wanted to briefly mention a documentary about the underrated genius that gave us killer yogurt and killer ambulances among other killer things.

Released two years ago, Steve Mitchell's documentary King Cohen is a fun recounting of the life of the maverick filmmaker. He was known for, like many independent filmmakers at the time, shooting big ass action scenes without permits or permission. When he wasn't busy "stealing his shots, he was writing spec scripts on a daily basis. While cult film fans may already know his work, mainstream audiences may know him best for a 2005 film he wrote, Phone Booth — the film where a man (Colin Farrell) is stuck in a phone booth with an anonymous caller promising to kill him if he leaves.

The fast-paced doc gives you a glimpse into the mind of a creative genius, a man Joe Dante (Gremlins) calls "an idea machine." A man who Traci Lords (Blade, Cry-Baby) cites as having a sort of childish naughtiness about him, "that's pretty delicious." A man, Eric Bogosian (Talk Radio), who applauds Cohen's " working in a meat and potatoes style."

While I'll maintain that it's a very fun film, I must say that, due to the film's subject, I'm extremely biased.

If you'd like to check out this documentary, it's available on Shudder, Amazon Prime, Vudu, and YouTube.

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