Live Culture | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Seven Days needs your financial support!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Movies You Missed 81: The Comedy

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Mar 29, 2013 at 5:26 PM

This week in movies you missed: Oh, hipsters, what have ye wrought? The most divisive art-house movie of 2012, that’s what.

What You Missed

In this film that is not a comedy, comedian Tim Heidecker (of “Tim and Eric” fame) plays a 35-year-old in Williamsburg living off the wealth of his dying father. He sleeps on his boat and spends his days riding his bike, drinking PBR and messing with people — sometimes with the assistance of a crew of friends, who include Eric Wareheim and James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem.

Our hero riles up the unsuspecting folk around him — cab drivers, male nurses, girls at parties, churchgoers — with a blunt-instrument teasing method that middle-school boys would recognize as their own. Basically, anyone remotely earnest is fair game for his deliberately outrageous improv comedy. If they don’t find him as amusing as he finds himself, that’s their problem.

Why You Missed It

Director Rick Alverson’s movie dares the audience to hate it. Most apparently obliged, as it only reached four theaters beyond the festival circuit.

Should You Keep Missing It?

So, I’m a misanthrope. I like many films about unlikable people — Greenberg, for instance. The Comedy tested even my patience — it’s alternately boring and actively irritating — but I stuck with it, and I’m perversely glad I did.

Talk about a rousing endorsement. But really, here’s all you need to do. Skim the comments on this review. If you’re interested in a movie that is this polarizing and provokes this much self-reflection in a certain kind of already painfully self-aware audience, The Comedy is for you.

If you overuse irony, you may relate to the Heidecker character, whether you want to or not. This is a man for whom irony has gone beyond a habit and become a reflex, and the result is grotesque.

Think of the “stray businessman” in the classic “Kids in the Hall” sketch, checking his pager and handing out his card the way a pig might snuffle for truffles. This movie portrays hipsters in a similar manner, making them seem instinct driven and absurd. They’re wearing those Ray Bans not because they choose to, but because it’s how their herd behaves.

If you like “Girls,” The Comedy may also be for you, because Heidecker wields his paunch and reveals his ugly side as boldly as Lena Dunham. It’s a brave performance. Just don’t expect to take refuge from the ugliness in lighter sitcom moments, because there aren’t any.

I watched Punch Drunk Love for the first time just a week ago, and can’t help noticing the similarities. Both are movies in which a well-known comedian does his standard shtik in a real-world setting, and almost nobody laughs. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, everyone around Adam Sandler’s character is mildly appalled by his childish fits of rage, his funny voice, his obsessive-compulsiveness. In The Comedy, Heidecker steps into a bar in an African American neighborhood and asks, “Where are the bitches?” No one is amused.

But while Sandler’s character does prove lovable to somebody, Heidecker’s tests the patience of everyone, on screen and off. Is there anything to him but provocation? Does he have a soul? A few of the movie’s more lyrical scenes suggest that yes, he probably does. But we’ll never know for sure, and that’s exactly how he likes it.

Verdict: You may or may not like this — I can’t quite say I did — but it nails something real. If, because of The Comedy, there is one less girl who giggles at a bearded guy at a party because he’s oh-so-ironically praising Hitler, this movie will have done some good.

More New Off-the-Beaten Track DVDs

A Royal Affair (Denmark’s queen gets naughty in this period film)

“The Borgias,” season 2

“Veep,” season 1

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

Tags: , , , ,

Friday, March 22, 2013

Movies You Missed 80: Smashed

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2013 at 6:06 PM

This week in movies you missed: drinking: an indie-film love story.

What You Missed

Kate and Charlie (Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul) are a young married couple who like getting drunk together. Pass-out-and-wet-the-bed drunk. Charlie, who appears to be a part-time music journalist, doesn’t think they have a problem, but Kate is starting to think she needs help. Perhaps the time she vomited while teaching a roomful of first graders and then had to cover for her condition by pretending to be pregnant was a clue.

After a particularly nasty episode of drinking-while-biking, Kate starts attending AA meetings, where she finds an earthy sponsor (Octavia Spencer) and fends off the advances of a fellow teacher (Nick Offerman).

With Charlie still spending most of his evenings soused, the couple is finding they have less and less in common. Can their marriage survive her sobriety?

Why You Missed It

After earning some buzz at Sundance 2012, Smashed was released in 50 theaters and failed to set the box office on fire.

Should You Keep Missing It?

I hate to say it, but this second feature from writer-director James Ponsoldt is kind of like an ABC Afterschool Special. Not one of the lurid ones (Helen Hunt on PCP!), but one of the more earnest, low-key ones, enhanced with pictorial, indie-film cinematography.

There’s not much to the plot beyond the classic addiction-drama arc: Protagonist hits bottom and realizes she needs to get sober; she does; she suffers a setback; she reaffirms her commitment to getting well. In the featurette, Ponsoldt says he wanted to make a love story, not a “message movie.” He fails, mainly because the relationship between Kate and Charlie isn’t fleshed out. We see that they enable each other’s drinking, and that without the drinking, there’s little keeping them together. But we don’t learn much else about them as a couple, or even about Charlie, whom we see mostly through Kate’s eyes. (It doesn’t help that Paul’s character is superficially a little too close to Jesse Pinkman on “Breaking Bad”; I kept waiting to see his Roomba.)

The movie belongs to Winstead (best known for The Thing, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and wearing a cheerleader outfit in Death Proof). The camera is on her most of the time, and she delivers a star-making performance — raw and natural, with no Oscar-bait theatrics. Kate is a woman struggling to keep her life together, but realizing she may need to let it fall apart before she can address her real problems. (We see where some of those problems originate in a scene with Mary Kay Place as her mom.) She’s also a likable person, frank and funny, which makes her bottoming out less horrendously depressing to watch.

The message about the price of breaking an addiction feels hard won and true. I can imagine Smashed striking a strong chord with anyone working on a 12-step program. But as a drama, it feels unfinished, lacking notes that haven’t been struck hundreds of times before.

Verdict: a memorable performance in search of a better script.

More New Off-the-Beaten Track DVDs

Bachelorette

Straight A’s (Anna Paquin and Ryan Philippe in a family drama)

Rust and Bone

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

Tags: , , , ,

Friday, March 15, 2013

Movies You Missed 79: 5 Broken Cameras

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2013 at 7:17 PM

This week in movies you missed: an Oscar-nominated documentary shows us life as a Palestinian in the West Bank.

What You Missed

Emad Burnat bought his first camera in 2005 to film his just-born fourth son. That same year, his village of Bil’in was divided by the Israeli West Bank Barrier, which cut off the townspeople from some of their ancestral agricultural lands.

Over the ensuing four years, the Palestinian farmer would have four more cameras. Each was shot, smashed or otherwise damaged in the clashes between Israeli soldiers and protestors at the barrier. Burnat filmed arrests and shootings of his good friends. He also recorded the effects of growing up in this turmoil on his son, Gibreel.

Finally, he brought his footage to Guy Davidi, a fellow protestor, Israeli citizen and filmmaker. Davidi edited the film and wrote a voiceover (with Burnat’s input) that ties the events together, using the five cameras to represent five years of violence.

Why You Missed It

You can still see 5 Broken Cameras on the big screen later this month at the Green Mountain Film Festival: click here for info.

Should You Keep Missing It?

5 Broken Cameras has evoked strong reactions from those on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An organization called Consensus has asked the Israeli Attorney General to charge the filmmakers with slander, based on complaints from Israeli soldiers who appear in the film and say its editing creates a false impression. Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat suggested that filmmakers should practice “self-censorship” when depicting the West Bank conflict, prompting this counterpoint in Haaretz. And here’s Davidi reacting to the slander claims on HuffPost Live.

As viewers without direct experience, it’s hard for us to say how accurate or fair a given documentary is. We can only judge what’s on the screen. As a film, 5 Broken Cameras is powerful: first, because it’s visceral, not preachy; and second, because it conveys the Palestinian perspective on a grass-roots, common-man level.

Rather than talking politics and ideology, Burnat simply asks us to imagine how we would feel if someone plunked a big fence down in our town and started building houses on the other side. And how it would feel to watch our kid grow up seeing soldiers aim guns at the adults he respected, or carry them off in handcuffs. That's the kind of situation that makes even apolitical types into protestors.

The film is clearly a subjective document: one man’s view through five cameras. It doesn’t represent the soldiers’ perspectives, which might be interesting. (They don’t look especially happy about what they have to do.) It doesn’t represent the settlers’ perspectives. But it does paint vivid portraits of the protestors; they come across as people with their own motivations, not saints or symbols.

More than any news report or editorial, 5 Broken Cameras made the Palestinian conflict feel concrete and immediate to me, and made me want to know more about it — yes, including the other perspectives. That’s what a documentary should do.

Verdict: See it.

More New Off-the-Beaten Track DVDs

Smashed (Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul struggle with alcoholism in this well-reviewed drama.)

This Is Not a Film (This portrait of an Iranian director banned from filmmaking was made on an iPhone and smuggled out of the country in a cake.)

This Must Be the Place (Sean Penn dons Robert Smith makeup to play a fictional former rock star.)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

Tags: , , , ,

Friday, March 8, 2013

Movies You Missed 78: The Bay

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Mar 8, 2013 at 8:07 PM

This week in movies you missed: Barry (Rain Man) Levinson gives found-footage horror an ecological twist.

What You Missed

On the Fourth of July, 2009, something bad happened in tiny Claridge, Md., on the Chesapeake Bay. So bad that the government covered up the story, we’re told. It took an intrepid, Wikileaks-like organization to bring us this collection of rescued footage documenting that day.

Our narrator is Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue), who was the only media presence in Claridge on the Fourth — a college intern posting video to a local TV station’s blog. When a mutilated corpse appeared, and then another, she thought she was documenting Claridge’s first serial killer.

As Fourth revelers flocked to the hospital with ugly boils, it became apparent the town was actually dealing with a smaller and more prolific murderer, originating in the polluted waters of the Bay.

Why You Missed It

Despite solid reviews and an Oscar-winning director, The Bay only reached 23 U.S. theaters.

Should You Keep Missing It?

If you like found-footage films, The Bay is a find — one of the stronger examples of the genre.

It manages to combine gross-out horror right out of Piranha with topical and thought-provoking aspects, and it uses its format creatively. While it’s far from perfect, that’s still way more than you can say for Paranormal Activity 4.

In a featurette, Levinson explains why he decided to work in a genre not frequented by established directors. He’d been asked to make a documentary about pollution from agricultural and industrial run-off in the Chesapeake Bay. But after he watched a “Frontline” episode on the subject, Levinson says, he realized it had already been thoroughly documented, and “nobody cares.”

A fictional narrative, he decided, was the way to get people’s attention. A story with blood and guts and screaming and pretty teenagers thrashing in the water.

The Bay often plays like a B-movie, more laughable than scary, and its science talk feels far from 100 percent authentic. (Here's what some real Bay ecologists thought of the film.) But Levinson manipulates the format to get genuinely chilling moments. The creepy music and coercive editing don’t kill the vérité illusion, as they do in some found-footage flicks, because he’s already framed The Bay as an activist, alarmist “documentary.” Its unseen makers have assembled footage from camcorders, iPhones, surveillance cams and police dashboard cams in a conscious effort to scare the hell out of you.

The Bay also returns to the Blair Witch tradition of reflecting on what it means for people to document events with cameras, and how they help shape events in the process. I liked the sections where the tormented journalist-narrator considers everything she did wrong that day, or where an oceanographer coaches another on how to talk to the camera about the deadly parasite they’ve discovered.

These scenes aren’t just there to pad the run-time; they explore the issue of what it means to live in a world where everybody can be a filmmaker. As Levinson puts it in the featurette, everybody now has “visual aptitude.”

In my mind, that factor makes the film’s premise, that the events in Claridge could ever be concealed, highly implausible. But suspend your disbelief, and it works.

Verdict: A pleasant surprise in the tradition of ’70s eco-horror. Just try not to think too hard about those toxic algae outbreaks in Lake Champlain.

More New Off-the-Beaten Track DVDs

The Intouchables

Lay the Favorite (Stephen Frears directs Rebecca Hall in gambling drama)

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (coming-of-age indie)

Thorne (British detective hunts psychos)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

Tags: , , , ,

Friday, March 1, 2013

Movies You Missed 77: How to Survive a Plague

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Mar 1, 2013 at 5:38 PM

This week in movies you missed: how ACT UP gave AIDS patients a future.

What You Missed

This documentary from journalist David France takes us through crucial stages in the early history of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), from its formation in 1987 (“six years into the epidemic”) to the first demonstration of an effective retroviral therapy in 1996.

The thesis is that, as founder and playwright Larry Kramer puts it, “Every single drug that's out there is because of ACT UP.” The case is convincing.

In the early years of AIDS, we’re shown, the public saw it as a disease confined to the gay community. Conservative pundits and lawmakers suggested it would vanish if homosexuals simply “changed their behavior” (i.e., embraced celibacy). With widespread uncertainty about how the infection spread, some hospitals turned patients away. Treatment was virtually nonexistent, and the pace of scientific research was glacial.

By confronting the FDA, the National Institutes of Health and other institutions with the consequences of that inaction, ACT UP changed that. At the same time, a subcommittee teamed up with a chemist-turned-housewife, Iris Long, to do its own research and outline a treatment plan. For activists living with HIV or full-blown AIDS, it was a matter of life and death.

Why You Missed It

Despite an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, How to Survive a Plague only reached 15 U.S. theaters.

Should You Keep Missing It?

What amazed me about How to Survive a Plague was how little I remember the events documented here, despite being a young adult at the time. What I do remember is that the media depicted ACT UP as an extremist organization that took in-your-face approaches. (Plenty of straight people were totally freaked out by tactics such as “kiss-ins” back then.)

France’s film showed me the other side: why those shock tactics were necessary, and what they accomplished.

For an ignorant viewer like me, the film’s most powerful moment is when we learn which of the young activists we’ve been following are still alive in middle age to give interviews, thanks to the treatment that might not have existed without their efforts. It’s a reveal reminiscent of the reality show “I Shouldn’t Be Alive,” but it works.

Long before digital video, ACT UP was a sophisticated, self-documenting movement, so France lets the activists tell the story in their own words. We see film and video footage from interviews, strategy meetings and demonstrations, including some inspired acts of outrage: disrupting services at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, tenting Jesse Helms’ house in a giant condom. We also see how dissension and debate within ACT UP led to the formation of new groups, such as TAG (Treatment Action Group).

Overall, it’s a powerful testament to the value of not lying down and going quietly. By getting “in your face,” ACT UP did more than fight AIDS: It helped pave the way for a society where marriage equality was conceivable and same-sex couples could star in silly network sitcoms.

Verdict: Essential viewing for anyone too young to remember when HIV/AIDS was a rapid death sentence — and for those who have only a vague notion of how and why that changed in the U.S.

More New Off-the-Beaten Track DVDs

Chicken With Plums (feature drama from comic artist Marjane Satrapi)

Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare (doc about one of our biggest problems)

Fast Girls (Not that kind. It’s a drama about a competitive sprinter.)

Holy Motors (My Best Picture of 2012. More info here.)

The Loneliest Planet

The Master

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

Tags: , , , ,

Keep up with us Seven Days a week!

Sign up for our fun and informative
newsletters:

All content © 2022 Da Capo Publishing, Inc. 255 So. Champlain St. Ste. 5, Burlington, VT 05401

Advertising Policy  |  Privacy Policy  |  Contact Us  |  About Us  |  Help
Website powered by Foundation