All posts by Irwin

Blame

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

I love a good teenager movie, especially when the characters break out of the stereotype clichés. Blame was written, produced, directed, and acted in by Quinn Shephard, a 22 year old New Jersey native, who conceived it while in high school, and subsequently filmed it in that same high school (Metuchen, by the way). This film is so well filmed, edited, scored and produced with certainly no indication of what I assume is a low budget. Quinn plays Abigail, an emotionally scarred senior who is a target of the cool, nasty clique, led by mean girl Melissa (excellent Nadia Alexander). The girls are quickly enamored by hunky substitute drama teacher (“call me Jeremy”, played perfectly by Chris Messina) and the complications ensue. No spoilers here, but I can say that Abigail finds a way to push through the incessant bullying and get her groove back, so to say, sparked by Jeremy’s “mentoring”. As usual in these movies, there’s no parents in sight, at least admirable parents, but the kids manage to grow up a little nevertheless. Not a fun ending, but appropriate and very well done.

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Band Aid

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

Another reviewer called this a “low-key charmer”, which is my opinion as well. Anna (the captivating Zoe Lister-Jones, who also wrote and directed) and Ben (Adam Pally) are married, in a rut sex-wise and a depressing routine of arguing over every little thing. They discover that only by putting their beefs in songs (is this how rap started, DJ Kook Herc and Afrika Bombatta?) can they find joy and energize their marriage. They need a drummer, and weird neighbor (perfect Fred Armison) fits the bill. The songs that result are good, and thank god this is not a traditional musical. Very funny in parts, raw and emotional in the middle, with a (mild spoiler alert) nice, happy ending, this is the perfect movie to bring your life partner/arguer. By the way, seeing Susie Essman as Ben’s insightful, slightly over bearing Jewish mother, was fun and great to see that she is much more wide ranging than being typecast as Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm foul mouthed nemesis.

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Take Me

Bill I’s Rating – 3 out of 5

I’ve seen funnier films about kidnapping, the one I can think of is Ruthless People where Bette Midler played an unforgettable, and unpleasant, kidnap victim who ends up being much more painful for the hapless kidnapper than for her thrilled husband. Take Me is an offshoot on that premise, focused on Ray (played well by director Pat Healy), a down at the heals entrepreneur who runs a 1 man kidnap for hire business, where people can experience the thrill of being kidnapped to help them achieve either self actualization or to kick an overeating problem (don’t ask). Ray has more than he can handle with Anna (terrific Taylor Schilling, but no Bette Midler). The fun becomes desperation, routine assignment becomes borderline criminal, and the audience has to guess what’s real. Cool ending, but I wasn’t laughing too much during most of the film.

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The Clapper

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

What a fun film, at times bizarre, which turns sad and touching, then sweet and nice at the end. The titular clapper, Eddie Krumble, is played terrifically by Ed Helms, who gets paid to sit in Hollywood audiences for infomercials and be filmed clapping wildly, laughing, and asking scripted questions. There’s a bunch of clappers who get $50 per show, and while you wonder what’s his long term plan he seems to be satisfied just eking out a living and ignoring his mom’s incessant calls from NY pleading with him to make something of his life. But then Eddie develops a sweet relationship  with the local gas station cashier, Judy, (captivating Amanda Seyfried) who sits behind bullet proof glass communicating with Eddie through her speaker, while Eddie is thrilled just to talk with her. Eddie’s world explodes when the national late night talk show host finds out about this paid clapper, and makes an ongoing bit to “Find the Clapper”. Now Eddie’s cover is blown, he’s famous, and he can’t be pretending to be a regular audience member at infomercials. So no more income, no money to take Judy out, no interest in being a national laughing stock and appearing on the talk show, and then losing Judy, what can he do? Good thing his best friend, and fellow clapper, Chris (Tracy Morgan killing the role!) is there to keep him company and help figure out a plan, as unwitting as both of them are. I won’t tell the rest of the plot, but the fun is in the characters, including Brenda Vaccaro as Eddie’s no holds barred mom. Cool film, and I guarantee you haven’t seen anything like it! Kudos to writer/director Dito Montiel.

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Saturday Church

Bill I’s Rating – 3.5 out of 5

This film’s plot has nothing we haven’t seen. The drag queens and transgender women of color competing in glamorous runway and dance contests, facing horrible discrimination (Paris is Burning), the bullying of teenagers questioning their gender (Boys Don’t Cry, others I can’t recall), the treatment of gay and transgender people in the inner city. But this film, based on a real life center for homeless and poor trans and gay people of color in NYC, (held at a church on Saturdays), filled with inexperienced actors including several with zero acting experience (the writer/director was intent on being as true to life as possible by casting transgender women in key roles), is as emotionally genuine as possible. The lead character, Ulysses, played amazingly well by Luka Kain, is 14 years old, clearly not fitting in with his basketball teammates, trying on his single mother’s stockings in secret, is just trying to get by while figuring out just who he is. But after his dad dies and his Aunt Rose (a terrifying Regina Taylor) moves in to help watch Ulysses and his younger brother while his mom (beautiful Margot Bingham) works two jobs, he faces a daily threat from his aunt’s brutal method of religious strictness. Ulysses finds support and mentoring from a disparate group of older trans women (and one cute young man) down by the Christopher Street Piers and the welcoming haven of the Saturday Church. Ulysses is able to come into his own, while navigating some horrific experiences. A heartwarming Hollywood ending for this low budget independent film.

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Literally, Right Before Aaron

Bill I’s Review – 2.5 out of 5

The first couple of scenes are terrific. Adam (funny Justin Long) hears from his long-time ex, Allison, (Cobie Smulders) that’s she’s gotten engaged and wants him to attend her wedding. They were together for 8 years, and only parted a year and a half ago. Adam is clearly still hung up on her but he agrees to come to the wedding, indicating that he’s moved on with his life, which clearly is not true. Next scene Adam takes his current girlfriend to a fancy dinner, and in a moment of clarity and zest for life tells her they should get married. She’s stunned but thrilled, then after gulping a glass of wine Adam does an about face and says they need to break up, as he realizes he can’t wake up every day of his life looking at her face. This super funny scene sets the stage for decreasingly humorous follow-on scenes, ending with him making a fool of himself at her wedding. I was bored for most of the second half, and won’t describe the routine, unsurprising plot elements that follow. Thinking of how Cobie Smulders is utilized here, I realize that an average episode of How I Married Your Mother is far better, funnier, more touching, more witty, than this film.

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Permission

Bill I’s Rating – 3.5 out of 5

Lovely Anna (great Rebecca Hall) and Will (Dan Stevens) are live-in lovers, having known each other all their lives, clearly on a path to marriage. In fact, in the opening scene Dan fingers an engagement ring box, clearly planning how to ask Anna to marry him. They demonstrate (to us and to each other) all the stereotypical signs of a loving couple. The only apparent kink is their love making which seems a little, well, abrupt and mechanical. At a dinner with her brother and his best friend, (Hale and Reece, who are also a committed couple, and who are portrayed making love in one of the most explicit scenes I have seen in a mainstream movie), Will loses his resolve to pull out the ring and instead, thanks to drunken prompting Reece, they float the idea of having sex with other people to confirm that they are truly ready for a life-time of monogamy (seems like monotony with these two). Seems like Will’s male fantasy, but is he ready for Anna to also have a fling? She clearly is, and surprise surprise, she quickly is able to find a guy ready to take her to bed. And he seems pretty much ideal, both in bed, in the kitchen (he makes her breakfast in bed; actually she eats off a plate on his chest). And after sex he lays naked with his substantial genitals in full view. While we never see Will doing that, we are left to surmise that this new dude beats Will in that department. Things progress, including Will getting his own mind blown by an uninhibited wealthy widow (perfect, funny Gina Gershon). And there’s a secondary plot involving drama with the gay couple and a small role from Jason Sudeikis as a stay at home exhausted dad.  I was afraid there was going to be a boring predictable Hollywood ending, but I was happily wrong. In summary, an interesting take on an attractive couple and the danger of falling into predictability. oh, and there are some good laughs amongst the loving and arguing. Fun fact: the writer/director, Brian Crano, is married in real life to David Craig who plays Hale, and Rebecca Hall is married to Morgan Spector who plays Reece.

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One Percent More Humid

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

This is the anti-cliché movie. Simple plot: two college girls (great Juno Temple and Julia Garner) spend a hot summer together with nothing in particular to do.  Not so simple plot twists: their best friend recently died tragically and they feel guilty because of the part they played. How do they get over it? How does it affect their friendship? How do their friends and family help them get over their grief. This is what makes it interesting, and I won’t tell much of the plot because following them go through their experiences is the fun part. One striking aspect is the summer love affair Juno’s character has with her college thesis advisor (Alessandro Nivola, playing the Bradley Cooper role). He’s a straight arrow English professor trying to write his novel while his wife (again the non-cliché, as she is not the typical cold bitch) is stuck in NY City for much of the summer with her work issues (the college town is in upstate New York). The mutual attraction and sexy chemistry is as believable as any I’ve seen in recent films. Is he the therapy she needs to get over her grief? Is he going to screw her over at the end while she gets devastated? (remember, anti-cliché) The relationship between the girls, as well as with their remote parents, clueless friends, and just about everyone else is as realistic as possible, and such a refreshing thing to see. So see it you must!

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Aardvark

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

You gotta like a writer/director (Brian Shoaf in this case) who names his movie in part because it will be listed first alphabetically in Netflix.  (so no, “aardvark” has no relationship to the plot, although there are clips from the zoo of an aardvark at various points) This film transcends genres.

Is it a creepy horror? The lead character, Josh, (wonderfully played by Zachary Quinto) shows up for his first psychotherapy session with a weird haircut (think punk rock star wannabe), a blank stare, and an obsession with his “genius” TV star brother. Is he psychotic, schizo, a serial killer with a super depressing apartment to fit? He “sees” his brother everywhere, in the homeless lady in the alley (“he’s a master of disguise”), in the neighborhood cop who entices him to joy ride on some stolen bikes, in the local teenage bullies. Flashbacks reveal he may have been bullied by his brother as an 8 year old.

Is it a comedy? The young, fragile, therapist, Emily (another great portrayal, by Jenny Slate), might be seeing her first client, and she gives bad advice, becomes emotional (not because of excessive empathy but because of self pity), begins an unethical relationship with said TV star brother (Jon Hamm playing a version of himself), who at one point calls in her client, Josh, for an emergency session basically to find out more about the handsome stud brother.

Is it a love story? Josh meets a “normal” pretty girl on the street who for some reason seems attracted to him, even after being invited in to watch TV in the serial killer-like apartment. They go on walking dates, starting with meeting at the local gas station. Too bad Josh doesn’t ask for her cell number or address, meaning he needs to walk around town hoping to run into her for his next date, haha.

The movie has a cool ending, tying up loose emotional ends and (spoiler alert) no one has been tied up, slashed, raped, or married. Perfect film festival entry and I recommend it for those of you who don’t need to see the typical Hollywood blockbuster.

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Abundant Acreage Available

Bill I’s Rating – 3 out of 5

An independent movie with a budget of maybe $1-2 million, with literally only 5 actors and 2 sets (a farm house, and the tobacco farm itself), this very well acted, well written, artfully  filmed piece may earn close to what it cost but not much more because I can’t imagine who is its target audience other than art film aficionados with time on their hands. It’s not an upbeat 80 minutes, starting from the first scene of a brother and sister (terrific as always Amy Adams, who must be the first choice of every director who needs his leading lady to look like she either worked on a farm all her life or is a working class bartender type with a Boston accent, and Terry Kinney) burying their recently deceased dad’s ashes in the middle of the farm. The brother is a super Jesus lover who argues the ashes need to be placed in “consecrated grounds”, aka a cemetery, while Amy’s character is insistent that they belongs right where he plowed all his life. So their relationship looks rocky but they revert to typical brother sister routine, which apparently they have been doing for 50 years, no spouses in sight. Then all of a sudden 3 old dudes show up with their tent planted on the farm, and it is either a sinister or harmless situation, so Amy brings her rifle to the confrontation. They are 3 brothers who (I was going to say spoiler alert but I’m confident anyone reading this other than Bill C. will not be going to the theater to see the film) grew up on the farm till their parents sold it (actually the mom sold it while the dad was in jail for a short while) to Amy’s dad. What do the brothers want? They won’t say directly, we can only guess, but they are alternately goofy, foul mouthed (well, only the one who had a stroke, who used to be nice but the stroke destroyed only the nice part of his brain leaving the nasty untouched or even enhanced), naïve, deceptive, and directionless. I’d describe more but the plot is not that interesting. The focus of the film according to the writer/director, Angus MacLachlan, in his comments after the film, is the land, and the North Carolina place itself, where he is from. Martin Scorcese is executive producer, and it is definitely well done, but I am hoping to be more interested and excited about the next 7 Tribeca Film Fest selections I will see.