Velvet Buzzsaw and Happy!

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When I saw the trailer for Velvet Buzzsaw, I was intrigued. It looked dark, weird, violent, and creepy — all of which I find appealing. I watched it last night, and well…it’s different. But different isn’t necessarily good, and subverting expectations isn’t always in a creator’s best interest, least of all when it interferes with an audience’s ability to connect with the characters and story.

That’s not to say the movie is all bad. It’s not. The acting is good. Many of the concepts are interesting, if underdeveloped. And there are a couple of memorable scenes that made sitting through one and a half grueling hours of convoluted storytelling almost worth it. Almost.

I’m burned out on big budget blockbusters and paint-by-number action movies that seem to have dominated the theaters for the last couple years, so it’s refreshing to find a well-crafted, niche film on Netflix or some other streaming platform that dares to tread into uncharted creative territory. Velvet Buzzsaw appeared to do just that, at least in the advertisements.

Unfortunately, the horror aspects in this seeming “horror” movie are way downplayed in favor of far too many characters, meandering subplots, and dry satire that felt too on-the-nose to be interesting. I found myself bored by eighty percent of the movie and probably would have outright hated it had it not course corrected in the last half hour.

I’m lukewarm on this movie. I do like the idea behind it – a biting satire of the pretentious art critic world wrapped in a classic mad artist’s haunted paintings horror story – but there were simply too many sophomoric ideas crammed into it and too little focus is placed on the elements that are interesting or actually work. This feels like an amateur filmmaker’s first feature, so I was surprised to discover this was made by the creator of Nightcrawler, which is in many respects, a much better movie.

In the end, though it did have a couple of redeeming moments, Velvet Buzzsaw leaves much to be desired. Skip this one and watch Hereditary or The Witch if you’re looking for a solid but original horror movie.

 

Happy!

 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I recently finished a show called Happy!, which I also discovered on Netflix. This is a Syfy show, which surprised me given the quality of its acting, cinematography, writing, and overall style. It feels like a Netflix original, replete with swearing, nudity, bucketloads of gore, and an all-around feel bad tone that makes you want to take a shower after watching it.

If you haven’t heard of this one, check it out. Happy! follows Nick Sax, an alcoholic ex-cop turned hit man who inherits his daughter’s imaginary friend, a talking unicorn voiced by Patton Oswalt, and must negotiate an ultra-violent criminal underworld to take out a meth head Santa Claus wannabe and save her from her kidnappers. This is a weird show, but it strikes a decent balance between its bizarro ideas and serious character drama.

I thought the first twenty minutes or so of the first episode were a bit try-hard, but it gets its voice soon enough, and I found myself rooting for Sax as he stumbled drunkenly from one nightmarish situation to another. It’s a short series, only nine episodes, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Unlike Velvet Buzzsaw, it sticks close to its premise, takes time to think through its storylines and tie them all up neatly (with the exception of one, which I’m assuming will pick up in the second season).

Happy! is a fun, engaging, and exciting show, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes tough-as-nails heroes, off-the-cuff dialogue, breakneck action, and tons of gritty violence. If you enjoyed the Crank movies, this is right up your alley. In fact, Brian Taylor, one of the co-creators of Crank directed Happy!, which clearly shows in its stylish, frenetic cinematography. This is one of the most enjoyable series I’ve watched in awhile, and I’ll definitely be tuning in when it returns in March.

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