“Coming 2 America” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.
The Nowhere Inn
People aren’t always what they seem. This truth goes double for celebrities, with whom we enter into what psychologists call a parasocial relationship. That is, we think we know them based on what we see in the media, but the reality is we only have a perception of them and don’t truly, actually know them.
This concept is explored in “The Nowhere Inn,” an ambitious independent movie co-written by and starring Carrie Brownstein and Annie Clark, and directed by Bill Benz. Brownstein and Clark play versions of themselves and use their real names as the characters. Carrie, or CB for short, is a budding filmmaker who wants to make serious cinema. To this end, she turns to her friend Annie, who is a pop star on tour under the stage name St. Vincent. CB wants to make a documentary of the tour. Annie accepts, noting that it will be a good way for fans to get to know the real her.
The problem is that the real Annie is super boring. It’s one thing to be mundane and show fans how down to earth you are to make a connection. It’s yet another entirely to ask a film crew to waste time, money, and resources watching you play video games and do an ab workout. In one amusing scene, CB asks the other three members of Annie’s band what they find unique and interesting about her, and none of them can come up with anything.
This is in sharp contrast to Annie’s stage persona, St. Vincent. St. Vincent dresses in a flashy outfit not meant for the bashful, oozes sexuality, sings aggressively, and has a pretty dazzling stage show full of lights, smoke, and lasers. It looks like an honest to goodness great time.
Whereas St. Vincent comes across as wild and adventurous in the concert footage, the footage of Annie’s everyday life is a snooze. As an ambitious filmmaker who wants to make her mark, CB asks Annie to pump things up a bit—or a lot—for the real life, backstage parts of the documentary.
CB gets what she wants and then some, as Annie decides to adopt the St. Vincent personality around the clock. This causes strain on their friendship that plays out in a realistic way. Brownstein and Clark capture the dismembering of a friendship through passive-aggressiveness, as well as through slowly and subtly building walls and destroying bridges to each other.
Half of acting is reacting, and Brownstein in particular has some expressive reactive moments as she realizes her friend is pulling away from her. In one heartbreaking scene they’re playing music together and Annie/St. Vincent tells CB she’d rather work on the song on her own. Benz frames the ladies perfectly, with Clark in profile coldly looking at her piano, not caring about the heavy emotional blow she landed on her friend, and Brownstein in the far background with a devastated look on her face. She’s beyond shock and has gone into internal collapse.
Benz keeps the visuals interesting. He constantly changes up the aspect ratio throughout “The Nowhere Inn.” At first I tried to decipher if each aspect ratio told a different perspective to the story, but gave up after it took a turn down David Lynch territory and I wasn’t sure what all of the strange imagery and unexplained events meant. I have a sneaking suspicion that much like a Lynch movie, “The Nowhere Inn” is rewarding on repeat viewings, after the groundwork of the first viewing has been laid. Buy it.
Coming 2 America
I appreciate when a sequel doesn’t simply rehash the same story as the first movie, and even if the themes are similar, they’re tweaked in some way. “Coming 2 America” is half of that type of sequel.
The good half is what was done with the fish out of water story. Instead of sending Akeem (Eddie Murphy) to the U.S. again (though he does go back briefly so he can visit the barber shop), this story is about the son he never knew he had, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), traveling from Queens to Zumunda, Africa, to learn how to be a prince. There are some funny moments mined from the situation. Lavelle’s test to become a prince and how he accomplishes the task are pretty creative, and I liked the Africa-specific elements to it. After all, there aren’t many free-range lions roaming around Queens.
It’s the other half of “Coming 2 America” that’s a bit ho-hum. Akeem wants Lavelle to be his heir and marry the daughter of the bloodthirsty general (Wesley Snipes) of a neighboring country. Much like Akeem in the first movie, Lavelle doesn’t like being forced into marriage and wants to find love on his own. Now it’s Akeem who is in the father role, and after all the time and effort he spent finding his one true love in the first movie, it doesn’t seem right that he would change into his father, no matter how much the script insists that such a thing is inevitable.
It’s great to see Eddie Murphy again in the role of Akeem, and his chemistry with longtime friend Arsenio Hall, once again playing the loyal Semmi, is as strong as ever. It warmed my heart to see the familiar faces of James Earl Jones, John Amos, and Shari Headley all reprising their roles. But once the excitement of seeing them again wore off, ”Coming 2 America” had to stand on its own without reliance on the past. And it does, partially. Stream it.
“The Matrix Resurrections,” in which Neo’s life takes an unexpected turn when he finds himself back inside the Matrix, starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Neil Patrick Harris; and “Silent Night,” about a deadly Christmas gathering, starring Annabelle Wallis, Keira Knightley, and Lucy Punch.
Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover and author of the novel “Takedown,” which is available on Amazon, iTunes, and more. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.