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It's at Jon Dondon's funeral when Morf Vandewalt begins to wonder what's the deal with Ventril Dease. That last sentence may sound like I've just had a stroke, but the whacko names in Dan Gilroy's satirical poke at the Los Angeles art world, Velvet Buzzsaw (now streaming on Netflix), are indicative of the playfulness in this unusual film. That and the part when a woman's arm gets sawed off by a stainless steel sphere, spewing blood all over a museum.
Velvet Buzzsaw, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a make-or-break art critic, Rene Russo as a former punk queen turned dealer, Toni Collette as a buyer and John Malkovich as a painter, is weird. It wants to be weird. Its kill scenes (and, yes, this is a movie about cursed artwork; think The Ring but with paintings) are more goofy than gory, and its comedy is more droll than scathing. But this is a movie with a very specific tone, a readymade cult film that anyone who took more than a two-credit art history class will enjoy quoting. Importantly, the horror elements actually work, and the characters (while silly) are richly drawn. It may seem a piffle from afar, but it's still a real movie.
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Gyllenhaal's flamboyant performance as a bisexual art critic and Collette's as a shrewd buyer nail the low-key comedy best. Since they are funny, it may seem, at first, like the movie is heaping scorn on these shallow cultural leeches. But once you get past the haircuts, everything they say about art is actually . . .legit? Gyllenhaal's Morf Vandewalt...
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Measuring his life out one teaspoon at a time.