INDIE FLICKS: WIENER-DOG
Todd Solondz returns to spiky form with Wiener-Dog (R), a quartet of character studies linked by a dachshund and mordant dramedy. It's the filmmaker's most divisive work since Happiness two decades ago, after its finale ignited jeers at the Sundance premiere. No spoilers, but if a romantic camera pan along a trail of doggie diarrhea didn't set them off earlier, you can imagine what occurs.
This furry Candide is a rescue, adopted as a gift for young Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke) by his ramrod father (Tracy Letts) and a mother (Julie Delpy) who can't resist spinning disturbing tales of dog ownership. Traumatized by such stories, Remi's curiosity slashes to the heart of adult hypocrisy; Solondz at his caustic best.
Circumstances lead Wiener-Dog to a vet's office where Dawn Wiener works, grown up and prettier since Solondz's Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), yet still socially awkward. Greta Gerwig takes over the role from Heather Matarazzo and is delightful, as usual. This episode is a sharp turn in tone, bittersweet and hopeful, completing a girl's clumsy journey to womanhood.
After a bizarre intermission spoof, Solondz inexplicably connects the dachshund to a screenwriting professor (Danny DeVito) on the brink of dismissal. Much of this segment feels like Solondz working out an insider's indie grudge against Hollywood types that DeVito delivers with understated grace.
The dog takes another leap into the lap of an aged, angry woman (Ellen Burstyn, superb), visited by a long-gone granddaughter (Zosia Mamet) with lots of baggage. Solondz doesn't do sentimental well, and that's where this episode clumsily treads, until that unfortunate finale that, honestly, I'd also jeer.
It's good to know Solondz hasn't lost his ability to shock, or his indifference to anyone thinking he goes too far. Wiener-Dog is gentler material than usual for him, sweet, even goofy at times, yet no comfier than a sandpaper hug. B+
Former NFL player Steve Gleason refused to stop living when fate handed down his death sentence. His inspirational story is straightforwardly told in Gleason (R), a documentary by Clay Tweel that would benefit from another run through the editing room.
Gleason was diagnosed in 2011 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's disease. He's still alive, near the end of the best chance scenario for survival. The former New Orleans Saints sparkplug, a hang-loose dude with a newly pregnant wife, Michel, didn't know if he'd meet his son. He started recording messages, lessons from a father, to leave his best behind.
These recordings and similarly intimate home movies are heartwarming, and Gleason's later turn to advocacy for ALS patients — including taking them on bucket list trips — is remarkable. The man's goodness and his support team's devotion are quickly obvious; Gleason is nearly two hours long. Tweel could get to every uplifting turn his movie makes a bit sooner. B
ALSO OPENING: PETE'S DRAGON
Disney scrapes the bottom of its barrel in remaking Pete's Dragon (PG), part of the studio's long animation slump that The Little Mermaid ended. Nowhere to go but up.
The new version has a feral orphan named Pete (Oakes Fegley) but we'll call him Mowgli for short. He trains his dragon by the forest book, until he's saved by Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard, demoted from dinosaurs). Her father (Robert Redford) has been telling folks about that dragon for years, consarn it. Maybe they'll believe him now.
For much more mature audiences comes Indignation (R), based on Philip Roth's novel about a Jewish student (Logan Lerman) growing up awkwardly at a Midwest college. A grade B+ review will be published at tampabay.com/movies and on Etc, Page 2B.
Anthropoid (R) isn't the horror flick is sounds like, but the true story of an assassin (Cillian Murphy) trying to kill Adolf Hitler's No. 3 man. Wake me when the movie about chasing No. 2 comes out.
in theaters: our Top 5
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 Captain Fantastic: An unorthodox father (Viggo Mortensen) raises his children in the wild.
2 Absolutely Fabulous: The fashion world satire Zoolander wishes it could be.
3 Life, Animated: Parents connect with an autistic son through Disney 'toons.
4 The Secret Life of Pets: Toy Story with animals, and nearly as much magic.
5 The Infiltrator: Bryan Cranston and Tampa Bay co-star in a true crime drama.
(Dates subject to change)
Aug. 19: Ben-Hur; War Dogs; Collide; Kubo and the Two Strings; Hell and High Water
Aug. 26: Mechanic: Resurrection; Don't Breathe
Sept. 2: The Light Between Oceans; Morgan; Solace
Sept. 9: Sully; Before I Wake; When the Bough Breaks; The Wild Life
Sept. 16: Bridget Jones's Baby