Moby-Dick – 5 out of 5
I’ve been doing stand up comedy for 14 years…let me repeat that—14 fucking years! In all that time, I’ve met a lot—A LOT—of stand up comics. I’ve met a ventriloquist, a man who uses the same punchline for every joke and, in that time, I’ve met dozens upon dozens of people trying to impersonate Dane Cook on stage—thankfully, they aren’t as numerous as they were 5 years ago. Of all the places I’ve performed around the Midwest, there are two places I hold higher than anywhere else: Chicago and Milwaukee. Some of the most talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing the stage with were from these two cities.
One of those talented people I’ve worked with is Ryan Lowe from Milwaukee. Lowe really is one of those original voices in a world that still has people making jokes about having a four hour erection and airline food. Over the course of almost two years, Lowe has been painstakingly trying to capture a vision he had on film and, as of last night (I’m typing this on August 2nd 2013, for my future readers who uncover this in the year 5555…is man still alive?) Lowe was able to showcase this vision to a captive audience (he held us at gunpoint). What is this vision? Motherfuckin’ Moby-Dick with puppets.
|I don't remember Pinocchio in the book but it's been some time since I've read it.|
How many of you have read (or have been FORCED to read) Moby-Dick in high school? You don’t need to raise your hands; I can’t actually see you. Your computer screen is not a magic box where I’m able to peak in on you (or hear you, if you answered the question out loud like a weirdo). I wish it was and have often stayed up late at the crossroads waiting to strike a deal with a demon for this power but always to no avail.
|Is it possible for a puppet to be a better actor than a human being?|
Have you seen Sam Worthington act?
The point I’m making is the book has been around for a long, long time. Herman Melville’s tale about a whale named Dick was first published in 1851 so, even if you’ve never actually read the book, you probably already know the story because it’s being passed down genetically. It’s one of those timeless stories that will outlast the planet itself like Oliver Twist, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Iliad and the Odyssey and Ernest Goes to Jail.
|Do puppets have timbers that are capable of shivering?|
|Call him Ishmael...seriously...call him Ishmael.|
RIGHT FUCKING NOW!!!
I’ve been following Lowe’s production of this film thanks to updates on Facebook for some time and was pretty excited to arrive at the Rosebud Theater in Wauwatosa and just see it as a spectator but a few days before his premiere Lowe asked me if I would be interested in reviewing the film for my blog. I immediately agreed to this without thinking about the consequences. Only once before have I ever been asked by someone to review a project they’ve worked on and that one worked out well…but there was a fear—not just from me but Ryan as well—that, what if I didn’t enjoy the movie and had to give it a bad review.
|Meet Ryan Lowe...hmm...he looks slightly evil due to the |
glow in his eyes from the flash of my camera. Thankfully,
the tentacles growing out of his side negate that look and
makes him seem approachable.
Lowe is a fellow comedian and a pal. We’re friends on Facebook and we’ve shared the stage together a few times. Networking is the name of the game in comedy because you wanna book other comics for your shows and you want them to book you for their shows—and since we’re comedians, we have fragile egos that can shatter easily. If I gave this movie a bad review, Lowe would have deleted me from his friends list, snubbed me at shows we end up working together, poison any drink I may be enjoying at said shows and then, when the poison fails (I’m immune to all poisons, after giving The Hunger Games a bad review, I felt building up this immunity was required), I would have to deal with my brakes being cut by the man…and that doesn’t even include the rabid badger he threw in my backseat. Thankfully, Ryan made something majestic and incredibly entertaining…so I live to see another day where I can make penis jokes in my movie reviews (You guys do realize “dick” is literally in the title of this one, right?).
|See look...it says "dick."|
It’s going to sound like my camaraderie with Lowe has clouded my judgment of the film and the fact that he paid me to write a good review by sending me a bouquet of chocolate, flowers, cocaine and hookers may seem like a breach of ethics but these factors are moot because Moby-Dick really is that good (besides, only an idiot would let the narcotics and prostitutes go to waste). For the sake of honesty, the film has its hiccups. Some sound and editing aspects are rough but they aren’t deal-breakers. This isn’t a big budget film with a studio providing millions of dollars to a crew (and a lot more cocaine and hookers than Lowe can afford) to make something polished and refined. This was a labor of love that consumed a man’s life and all those involved…and it flippin’ shows on the screen. This wasn’t some smoke that was being blown up the audience’s asses where the director claims he’s worked on the project for the better part of nearly two decades only to come out with a film that is nothing beyond Dances with Wolves in space starring blue cat people as the Native Americans.
|I'm trying to say this movie is infinitely better than Avatar.|
Instead, Lowe and his crew of talented comedians, musicians and performers from Milwaukee brought forth a hilarious vision of the timeless tale of Moby-Dick…but with fucking awesome puppets and great comedy. I can’t say that enough because this movie was really, REALLY funny. Had this film been a big-budget studio release, it would have been two hours of dick jokes, probably a Kanye/Kardashian baby reference and possibly a character shitting their pants. This film was real and creative. The jokes were witty, silly, and smart—the film constantly changes up the gags so no two moments contain the same style of comedy and it made the film funny to the point of exhaustion—seriously, I was laughing so hard that I was spent by the end of the movie and was physically tired.
|Look at the bags under his eyes. He looks tired. He must have watched Moby-Dick.|
The film was very successful in hitting all the right comedy marks to make the film entertaining but there’s so much going on here. On paper, you can’t really understand the level of ambition that those behind this film had. Working on a medium that involves puppets can’t be easy but Lowe really showed that he was aiming for something higher than just a Punch & Judy show you’d see at your local renaissance fair. One of the things that kept blowing me out of my chair (and I’m not talking about the hookers Lowe gave me) was the camera work exhibited in the running length.
|I have no smartass joke caption to put here other than this scene was absolutely|
fucking hilarious and is an example of some of the best parts of the movie where
small, commercial-like skits were interjected into the story.
Lowe forgoes a lot of the simple, “straight-on” style of shots quite often in the film and ventures into some really dynamic camera work that one wouldn’t expect from a movie that involves people sticking their hands up puppets' asses. Close-ups, tracking shots, zoom-ins and panning shots are littered through the film and really made for a dynamic, flowing narrative that helped the movie run smoothly and often made me suddenly break out in a Keanu Reeves impression (I said, “Whoa,” is what I’m getting at).
The film also brings forth some of the best and talented from Milwaukee to bring life to these beings of cloth, stuffing and googlie-eyes. Tudor and Gull really are just an awesomely awesome (I'm running out of adjectives) sight to experience voicing Ishmael and Queequeg but the entire film is filled with hilarious funny-makers making the characters come to life. There’s so much talent working here that I can’t even begin to list them all and, if I were to forget any of them, I would have to commit seppuku because of the shame I've brought upon myself. And I haven’t even brought up the puppeteers…these individuals and the voice actors worked in concert to make these characters leap off the screen as they actually acted like flesh and blood beings and had heart and soul to them.
|The green one is photobombing isn't he? Dammit, can't we just take one|
I think my favorite aspect of the movie and the element that kept me in awe the entire film was the very designs of the puppets. There’s a distinct look to most puppets in the world and few have ever really pushed past these go-to establishments to venture into new areas of puppet design. Jim Henson will always be the pioneer of puppets but I think we should add Lowe to that list because each puppet that starred in this film was unique and unlike anything you would expect from a puppet. It may sound strange that puppet design would capture my attention the way it did but each and every puppet had characteristics that were truly their own. Whether it is the way some had moving eyes or the way their heads were shaped or the way their mouths move—each one had something working for it that made it a commanding presence on the screen. There wasn’t a generic sock puppet acting as a throw away character in the background. This level of detail and attention only speaks volumes on the dedication that was in this product and the labor of love it truly was.
|This puppet can't even walk Sesame Street without someone calling the cops.|
I’m hard pressed to think of a time when Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick was told in a truly original, one-of-a-kind way, so I’m just going to give credit to Ryan Lowe and his cast for bringing forth one of the greatest adaptations of the classic novel I’ve ever seen. The cast was fantastic, the comedy was pure gold, the technical aspects were solid and there’s even an added bonus of some outrageous original music from Milwaukee musicians that was so good that I want MP3 copies to put on my iPod.
When a person makes something that is truly 100% their vision and their dream, it shows in the final product. Audiences aren’t stupid. If a film is phoned in and done for nothing more than there was extra money sitting around, you can tell. On the flipside, if there’s a project where the players involved really care about the final product and put that effort in, you can feel it. It was clear Ryan Lowe put his blood, sweat and tears into film (it’s a new way to treat film negatives) and made something truly wonderful and hilarious. Lowe took a familiar tale, added some fresh, modern day humor and made it with a cast and crew of talented players, performers and people. After the credits rolled, I walked up to Lowe, hugged him and told him that he should be very proud of what he created…and I honestly mean it.