Thursday, August 17, 2017

'Brigsby Bear' and 'Dave Made A Maze'

It's unusual that two movies, both of which risk silliness and both of which achieve some success, open during the same week. But that's the case with Brigsby Bear and Dave Made A Maze, both of which arrive in Denver and presumably around the country this week.
Brigsby Bear, the more engaging of the two movies, tells the story of a young man who was kidnapped as an infant. Kyle Mooney plays James, a man who's freed from captivity after 25 years.

James wasn't physically abused by his kidnappers; instead, he was isolated from everyone else by two people (Mark Hammil and Jane Adams) who claimed to be his parents and who evidently told him that the world was too contaminated for him to venture beyond their well-sealed home.

During his years of captivity, James became totally absorbed in the world of Brigsby Bear, a TV show that he watches on videotapes which his faux father, who dons a gas mask when he leaves the family compound, brings home.

Clunky looking and amusingly amateurish, Brigsby Bear introduces James to a complex fantasy universe that encompasses a variety of different worlds and villains.

There's no reason why the now-grown James should continue his interest in something as child-centered as Brigsby Bear, a series that wouldn't cut it even during the less sophisticated 1970s.

But the totally isolated James no longer makes any distinction between Brigsby's world and his own.

The movie shifts gears when the local police -- led by an amiable detective (Greg Kinnear) -- liberate James. He's returned to his biological parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins. They try to bring James up to speed about a world that has passed him by.

When James's interest in Brigsby doesn't subside, his parents decide that he ought to see a therapist (Claire Danes). She tries -- without much success -- to convince James to abandon Brigsby and drop in on the "real" world once in a while.

But James persists, so much so that he and a new pal (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) decide to continue making Brigsby Bear videos. James wants to fulfill the only destiny he can imagine, bringing the series to its conclusion.

James becomes author, filmmaker, and star (in a bear suit) of the Brigsby Bear show.

Look, all of this sounds a bit ridiculous, but director Dave McCary, working from a screenplay by Mooney and Kevin Costello, displays a light, sensitive touch that eschews ridicule, even as it examines the role fantasy plays in keeping James going.

McCary could have put a sneer on the movie's face, turning it into a kind of hip satire about the danger of losing oneself in pop-cultural fantasies. Instead, he has made a captivating charmer of a movie about a young man trying to negotiate a world he may never fully understand.

Dave Made A Maze takes a different tack with its silliness, introducing mild elements of horror and danger along with a healthy dose of 20something dislocation.

Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) arrives home from a weekend trip to discover that her boyfriend Dave (Nick Thune) has erected a cardboard maze in their small living room.

The structure looks entirely wobbly and unsophisticated, a warren of boxes and smoking chimneys that might not withstand a strong wind.

From inside the maze, we hear Dave telling Annie that he's lost. He also makes the preposterous claim that the maze is much bigger on the inside than it appears when viewed from the outside.

Not knowing what to do, Annie asks for help from Dave's pal Gordon (Adam Busch). Others turn up, including a guy (James Urbaniak) who wants to make a documentary about the maze.

Eventually, Annie and company enter the maze, where they discover that Dave was right about the scale of the structure -- and also about its dangers. Booby traps lurk everywhere and a lethal Minotaur roams the premises.

Like Dave's maze, the movie adds creative, low-rent effects, some quite clever and most making inspired use of cardboard.

Dave Made A Maze ultimately wears out a thin premise. But at a swift 80-minutes, it proves more engaging than you'd think for a movie with a substantial number of cardboard sets.

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