‘Velvet Buzzsaw’s’ strength is in its cast

By Chic DiCiccio

Jake Gyllenhaal (right) and Zawe Ashton in “Velvet Buzzsaw.”
Photo courtesy of Netflix

Recently, Steven Spielberg made news with his push to make Netflix movies ineligible for Oscar consideration. Up until “Roma,” The Beard and other Academy Award voters didn’t have much to worry about as there weren’t any movies worth one vote. But with films due this year from previous Oscar winners like Martin Scorsese and Steven Soderbergh, Spielberg needs to get used to Netflix being at the party. 

Anti-Netflixers will be happy to know that the latest release to make some noise, “Velvet Buzzsaw,” will not challenge for next year’s Oscars. This zany, over the top horror-thriller will be off-putting to nearly the entire general public and far too gonzo for stuffy Academy voters. 

It’s all over the map, filled with despicable characters, but, oddly enough, fairly captivating. 

“Velvet Buzzsaw” is a reunion for Dan Gilroy, the writer and director of “Nightcrawler,” and its stars, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo. Once more, they are playing vapid, fame obsessed scumbags doing all they can to squeeze every dime out of the art world. Russo plays former punk rocker-turned art gallery owner Rhodora Haze, whose schmoozing of renown art critic Morf Vandewalt (Gyllenhaal) is truly gag worthy. Morf can make or break an artist and Rhodora milks him for all he’s worth. 

One of Rhodora’s assistants, Josephina (Zawe Ashton), happens upon a dead man in her apartment building and he turns out to be a prolific artist. She and Rhodora concoct a truly disgusting story to effectively steal the man’s art and they use Morf as a way to pump up the value of the paintings. Morf also pulls Gretchen (Toni Collette), an art curator, into the mix, and the four of them begin profiting with a dead guy’s work. 

Then “Velvet Buzzsaw” goes from art satire to horror and it’s uneven at best. It was cooking while it sliced up the gross world of art, but it gets extremely heavy handed when “art comes to life” and begins murdering people. If Gilroy wanted to be subtle with his critique of commercialism, well, he failed.

Of course, never mind that movies are made in order for people to see them thus making money for everyone involved. Oh, the woe of the tortured artist. 

Gyllenhaal may have been inspired by Nick Cage. He’s flamboyant and charming, but when he rages, it’s actually quite funny. In fact, he’s downright hilarious in spots in the most dark of dark comedic ways. 

It doesn’t help that Gilroy can’t set up a truly frightening scene in any way, shape or form. It’s all mood and tone followed up with some blood. There’s no sense of dread, and every terrible death is spotted from miles away. It’s also the most boring movie every shot by cinematographer Robert Elswit, who is a borderline genius. 

To say that “Velvet Buzzsaw” isn’t for everyone is an understatement. It’s as pretentious as a movie can get and even though that’s purposeful, it could still be irritating. The strength is in its cast, and its flaw is in the execution. Gilroy had something to say, but he just didn’t really know how to say it.