Indie

Zero Charisma Trailer photo
Zero Charisma Trailer

Trailer for Zero Charisma has nerds and nerd accessories


NEEEEEEEEEEEERDDSSSSSSS
Sep 17
// Nick Valdez
This trailer for the crowdfunded independent comedy, Zero Charisma, is pretty damn great. It's a story of two nerds. There's the older, conventional nerd who's angry that his friends and Dungeons & Dragons game is slowly...
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Penn Jillette turns to crowd funding for a new film


The funding campaign will launch September 19th
Sep 13
// Hubert Vigilla
The staff at Flixist has a lot of opinions about celebrity Kickstarters/crowd funding. Good or bad, you can now add Penn Jillette to the list of crowd funding celebs. (Personally I think it's good, like a free Frogurt.) The f...

Review: Electric Man

Sep 10 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]216459:40646:0[/embed] Electric ManDirector: David BarrasRelease Date: 9/10/13 (DVD)Country: Scotland There's nothing really new about Electric Man's plot. Two down-on-their-luck comic book shop owners, Jason and Wolf, have to come up with £5000 in a week or else their store will be closed down. In a crazy mishap, they acquire an ultra-rare mint copy of Electric Man #1, one of the rarest comics on earth, and one that is worth £100,000. Problem solved, right? Not quite! Other people want the comic, people who are dangerous and will destroy the property of, taze, or possibly even kill the people in the way. (Worth noting: I kind of missed what was going on in the first minute or two because there were some pretty impressive accents on display, but either that first scene is an anomoly or my Babel fish started kicking in. If you tend to have difficulty understanding not-Americans speak English, your mileage may vary. But I did learn how to pronounce "Edinburgh" properly so that's something.) So you've heard this story before, even if not in exactly this configuration, but that's not necessarily a problem. In this case, though, it just means the story is uninteresting. You know exactly where it's going at any moment, and any attempt at a twist can be seen coming from the above description. And while we're at it, let's talk about borderline-offensively-stupid romantic subplot. Jason is attracted to a generally attractive female, fine, but beyond that exactly nothing makes sense. Lauren's entire character is based on falsehoods and fabrications, but somehow underneath it all we're supposed to believe that there's something genuine about her commitment(?!) to someone who she met yesterday and spent about thirty seconds talking to before kissing? Also, she followed up that kiss (the first of unnecessary and illogically many) with the semi-outraged exclamation "A hooker? Jesus Christ!" because I guess she didn't ask for money, so she's not a prostitute? Or something? I don't know. The issue with the story means that Electric Man relies on its technical aspects to wears its low-budget on its sleeve. Almost every single shot screams "indie film," and even though it's got some cinematic widescreen going on, it reeks of unprofessionalism. There's nothing wrong with not having a budget, but flaunting it is just silly. In a world where zero-budget YouTube videos can look really, really good, a low-budget look just doesn't cut it anymore. The couple of scenes where the film pulls from film history come off as tacky rather than clever, and really give the whole thing a student-film feel. The wooden acting makes it even worse. Basically everyone is incompetent at best, and some performances are actually cringe-inducing (specifically Fish (actual name), who plays the theoretically dangerous Uncle Jimmy) Toby Manley, who plays Jason, is competent and seems to be doing as well as he can with the shoddy writing, but he hardly saves the show and actually just highlights how bad everyone else is. I could go on, but I really don't feel like bashing the film anymore. It seems like it was made earnestly by people who were trying to make something silly and quirky, and it has its moments, but those moments are too few and far in between. And those credits held so much promise... Give Electric Man his own movie. A mid-30s period piece superhero movie. Now that could be something worth watching.
Electric Man Review photo
Can't hold a charge
In the animated title sequence for Electric Man, the audience is treated to a motion-comic showing the genesis of the titular character. A depression-era construction worker zapped by lightning, he becomes a super-powered crimefighter. It's a pretty cool scene. Unfortunately, it seems that all of the film's creativity was spent on making it pretty cool, at the expense of basically everything else.

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Flix for Short: "Reflektor" by Arcade Fire


Title track from the forthcoming Arcade Fire record
Sep 10
// Hubert Vigilla
Arcade Fire is back, and they've got themselves a mirrorball and some papier mache. Their new album Reflektor (produced by James Murphy of the late LCD Soundsystem) will be out on October 28th, and they've just released a mu...
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The Young and Prodigious Spivet lands images and trailer


Sep 04
// Matthew Razak
So you know how you like Amélie, but you sometimes think, "Man, I wish that movie could be even more adorable and heartwarming." Check out the trailer for Jean-Pierre Jeunet's (director of Amélie...

Review: Our Nixon

Aug 30 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216260:40623:0[/embed] Our NixonDirector: Penny LaneRating: NRRelease Date: August 30, 2013 (limited)  Most home movies are boring and fascinating simultaneously. If you were to look at some of the video footage that your parents shot when you were young, you'd likely find shaky Christmas pageants, interminable birthdays, or these banal moments with the rest of the family (e.g., a summer day by the pool, a dinner, a trip to the museum). Often times these moments aren't noteworthy, and yet they offer up these honest observations about daily life that come tinged with nostalgia. I think about the opening credits to early seasons of The Wonder Years, and that home movie footage is a perfect encapsulation of that time and that attitude. That sense of nostalgia is captured in the Super 8 footage of Our Nixon. Lane even opens her film like it's the opening credits to an old TV show. There are funny bits of Super 8 footage that pop up that are so cliched yet so real, like the inevitable moment where two people film each other filming each other, or those random shots of squirrels and flowerbeds. Those are the shots that you watch again (if you even re-watch what was shot) and you wonder why you shot it. Rather than rely solely on the Super 8 footage, Lane also goes to news reports, the audio recordings from the Oval Office, and other archival material. This is a parallax view-style assemblage documentary, which means a conversation is set up between the highs and lows of the Nixon administration as wells as the historical and personal. The Super 8 footage came from White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, domestic affairs adviser John Ehrlichman, and deputy assistant Dwight Chapin. During the Watergate investigation, the FBI seized 500 reels of footage. We get to see Halderman, Ehrlichman, and Chapin in the brightest days of the Nixon White House as well as in the years after Watergate. Their change in demeanor is more striking than the effects of age. Whereas the home movie footage showed an enthused group of young go-getters, the later interview footage shows troubled men looking back painfully at a moment and a person that had meant the world to them. This is the power of juxtaposition: the joyous banality of the moment where you can chat idly about All in the Family with your boss, and the unfortunate gravity of history where your boss (and you) will forever be yoked with scandal. The conversation of Our Nixon emerges from these collisions of large/historical scope and small/intimate focus. As a counterpoint, perhaps, to the lenses of Halderman, Ehrlichman, and Chapin, there's the intense scrutiny of the news and the critical voices of anti-war protesters. What fascinated me most from watching Our Nixon is the way that this combination of perspectives gave a strong feel for that moment in history that never quite gets communicated in recreations of the era or in restagings of these events. I guess both scope and the focus are necessary to understand the real complexities not just of Nixon but the tumult of the late 60s and early 70s. As for the many candid moments caught on Super 8, the ones that stuck out for me were the ones that were personal and actually a little banal. We see images of Nixon watching the Apollo landing and shedding tears, and we also see his daughter's wedding, and there he is doing business aboard the old Air Force One, and then he's out gladhanding on the campaign trail amid the God-fearing and flag-loving (and all of them know that McGovern is toast). Some of the archival footage Lane used in the film also has the feel of a home movie in that unexpected moments get caught like insects in amber. There's a White House music performance that goes from totally square to totally punk rock in the course of two or three sentences. I anticipate more and more archival docs to be made in the future, and I hope the ones to come take an approach like Our Nixon. I come back to that idea of scope and focus, and it seems like to be able to engage in a meaningful conversation about an event using existing footage, a combination of scope and focus is necessary to bring new and vital ideas into view, even about the past. And yet Nixon himself, even seen from different angles, will always be an enigma.
Our Nixon Review photo
A portrait of a period through the home movies of the Nixon administration
There have been a number of documentaries in recent years that have mostly been comprised of reassembled footage as an exploration of a topic. These are assemblage films in many respects, though I think the official term is "...

Review: I Declare War

Aug 30 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]216375:40618:0[/embed] I Declare WarDirector: Jason LapeyreRating: NRRelease Date: August 30 (Theatrical) | July 27 (Digital Download/VOD/iTunes) There are no adults in I Declare War, nor does the film ever leave the battleground. A few characters come and go from the woods, but never the camera. So this is the story of a game of War, not the characters participating (as much as the film might want you to believe otherwise). War is an awesome game, and I wish I had played it when I was a kid. Two teams make bases, have their "weapons" (sticks, mostly, that take the form of guns thanks to "imagination"), and shoot each other. A shot paralyzes someone; a direct hit by a blood grenade will remove them from the game. They have to go home. End of story. PK, who heads team Protagonist, has never lost a game of War, but according to a rather expository monologue, it turns out that this is the first real game he's ever played. Quinn, who heads team Antagonist, uses tactics. Then again, aside from one early display of potential, we never get to see those tactics. Quinn is killed off by one of his angry, mutinous soldiers almost immediately. So I Declare War is a game of P. K. the Champion vs. Skinner the Loser. Unfortunately for the audience, that game is far less interesting, because Skinner has no idea how to play War. He just knows how to yell a lot and torture little Asian boys, which he does, and that's cool, I guess, except for the fact that it's not. It's just disturbing and weird, because I mean like actual-could-possibly-kill-the-kid torture. But no one seems to think about the consequences when they all get home and the parents see bloody rope marks around the kid's wrists, and by the credits it actually seems like what he did was completely forgotten.  And that right there is the second biggest problem with I Declare War,  and the one I highlighted before the jump: it just doesn't make sense. There is no cohesive narrative. In fact, one of the main characters in the film isn't even real. He's a freaking hallucination by the one female character, whose entire motivation is to get the guy she likes to like her back. That's her entire character. She just wants love. Sure, stereotype dictates that that's the only thing characters care about (and sure, one of the male characters also has infatuation as a primary character trait, but that hardly balances it out). It's almost like the writers thought, "Hmm? What do 13 year old girls care about? I know, love! And boys!" Well, here's some truth: that's not all they think about. Maybe 40% at most. They've got too much girl drama  going on to only care about boys. Source: my 13 year old sister. ... Kind of lost the thread there, but it still goes back to the writing. It just doesn't hold up under any kind of scrutiny. In fact, the entire final big confrontation between Skinner and PK, where you find out why this whole thing is happening in the first place, shouldn't even happen. The things Skinner does leading immediately up to that moment completely negates everything that comes after. PK should know that, but instead he does something stupid in the name of strategy, when strategy is completely irrelevant. At so many points throughout the film. And what kind of teenager would walk through the woods and take rocks to the face for three bucks? I mean, come on. That wouldn't even buy you a bag of Watermelon Pull-N-Peel Twizzlers (not with tax anyhow).  It really is like the film was written by a 13 year old boy. The male characters, for the most part, are consistent (even if they're consistently stupid) and have enough variance to stay interesting, but anybody who isn't a thirteen year old boy (and sure, there are only two of them, but 0 for 2 is a pretty terrible record) is way off the mark.  This is exacerbated by the biggest problem with the film: the acting. Oh the acting... There are good child actors out there. I've worked with some of them. My sister's actually a pretty decent actress. But these kids? Terrible. Their inflections are wrong, their expressions don't match up with dialogue, and they just kill any kind of emotional weight that the film could have had. Aidan Gouveia, who plays Quinn, is the worst culprit, with a performance that wouldn't be out of place in something like Troll 2, but nobody rises above mediocre, or even bad for that matter. Flashes of acceptability are occasional but only serve to highlight just how bad everything else is. Even Alex Cardillo and Dyson Fyke's Frost and Sikorsky, who seem the most like real characters, just can't keep it together. I could go on and talk about what I Declare War should have been, but that's a pretty fundamental "Don't" for reviewing, and it wouldn't do any good. And it's not like it's the worst film I've ever seen. It's pretty good looking and has some not-bad action (even if it makes no sense that a not-grenade would cause someone to momentarily lose their hearing, but whatever). I imagine that there is an audience for I Declare War, but I haven't the faintest idea what it's comprised of. The film's excessive use of expletives means it's clearly not for kids, but its massive logical holes will bother pretty much anybody or the age of 15. The emotions at play, even if they had good performances behind them, are very specific to children ("Oh no, I'm 13 and my life is over! I'm going to die a loser. Wah wah wah.") and nobody's going to care. Still, it got picked up by Drafthouse films and it hasn't been uniformly panned by critics, so clearly it's resonating somewhere. Go figure. But it just didn't do anything for me. Minutes after finishing I Declare War, I picked up my sister from a friend's house. She proceeded to complain about another friend saying bad things about her because of a simple misunderstanding made worse by the fact that they're both girls in their early teens. They're young, dumb, and I really can't relate to their problems at all. And just for a moment, I felt like I Declare War's credits had never rolled.
I Declare War Review photo
All's fair, I guess
I wish that director Jason Lapeyre was a child. It would be great if a 13 year old kid had gotten together with some friends, stolen some nice camera equipment and a couple of "How to" books from their rich friend's parents, ...

Review: You're Next

Aug 23 // Matthew Razak
[embed]215074:40602:0[/embed] You're NextDirector: Adam WingardRated: RRelease Date: August 23, 2013 You're Next is a home invasion thriller/slasher. You know the ones where a group of people are holed up somewhere and they start getting picked off one by one by some psychotic killer. Those can be fun, but rarely does one come along with a story as clever as You're Next'. Erin (Sharni Vinson) arrives at her new boyfriend's rich parent's house for their 35th wedding anniversary. We're quickly introduced to the disjointed family which consists of mom and dad, three brothers, one sister and their significant others. In short, plenty of people to kill. And kill they do, as a group of men in creepy animal masks starts to slaughter them off. These killers, however, didn't count on Erin being a trained survivalist and all around ninja. It's this little point that turns the move from a slasher with some cool kills in it into something a whole lot smarter. By empowering the clichéd female lead into a total kick-ass (her first kill is something out of a kung-fu movie) they flip genre conventions on their heads to the point that you wonder who the real psychotic killer is. It makes for a great story and an even better horror movie since it's actually, you know, interesting. Vinson also lends the semi-ridiculous character of Erin a bit more believability by presenting a far more layered heroin than you'd expect from a film where machetes penetrate multiple skulls. Of course this is a slasher film, and all the genre analysis and clever story telling don't matter a lick if the kills aren't good. You're Next's kills are some of the best I've seen in a long while, which is even more impressive because most of them are so simple. Director Adam Wingard takes kills we've seen a thousand times (machetes, slit throats, arrows, etc) and either reinvents them or delivers them in such a great way that they seem utterly original. Plus, the penultimate kill at the end is easily one of my favorites in any film and had me applauding when it landed. One last note is the movie's soundtrack, which absolutely blew me away (a bit too literally as the theater's sound system was cranked to 11). It's a modern update on the driving scores of 80s slasher films and almost perfectly executed. Sound is such an important aspect of horror films and You're Next's score is what ties this film together and turns what could have simply been a lot of great blood and gore into something that is truly scary and thrilling. Now that Lionsgate has picked it up this is a movie you're going to need to track down and see once it hits theaters in August. Even if it doesn't get a wide release this will hit VOD and start spreading as a classic thanks to word of mouth. Smart, inventive and wickedly fun, You're Next is what should be next in your horror movie lineup. Alec Kubas-Meyer: You're Next gets something of a pass because, even though it's being released in 2013, it was made before Cabin in the Woods did its modern deconstruction of the horror genre. It's still unforgivable that the characters split up when in danger (and the survivalist protagonist lets them do it), but less so. In 2013, that stuff won't fly, but in 2011, it could tepidly get off the ground. But even though the movie's a few years old, it's still one heck of a good time. You're Next isn't really traditional horror, and it certainly isn't a traditional home invasion story. Once the motivation's out of the bag, it goes from a horror film to more of an ultra-violent thriller-comedy. The thrills are great, the comedy is freaking awesome, and the violence great too, even if some of the kills (especially at the end) are over-the-top in a bad way. If any of that sounds good to you, it's hard not to recommend this one to anybody who wants to see both rich people and their assailants get mercilessly slaughtered. Good times, mate. 83 - Great
You're Next Review photo
Up next: great horror
It's been a long road for You're Next. The indie horror film has been in development since the earlier 2000s and even once it was finished it took more than a year to find a distributor who would get it out there. Lionsgate e...

Review: Drinking Buddies

Aug 22 // Geoff Henao
[embed]215041:40597:0[/embed] Drinking BuddiesDirector: Joe SwanbergRating: RRelease Date: August 23, 2013 Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are really close co-workers working at a craft brewery in Chicago (Revolution Brewing, specifically). Besides making and selling the beer, their days and nights are spent drinking. Their tight-knit friendship, however, begins to inch towards uncharted territories when they inadvertently find themselves spending a lot of time together during a weekend outing with their significant others, Chris (Ron Livingston) and Jill (Anna Kendrick). Suddenly, the line begins to blur as their attraction to one another begins to blossom into something more. Further complicating matters are Kate's and Chris' problems, as well as Jill's pushiness for Luke to seriously consider marriage. With every beer downed, the tension rises between the two until a breaking point hits. Drinking Buddies focuses on those close, platonic friendships everybody has that always flirts with the notion of developing into something more. Swanberg hones in on the cautious flirtation and uncomfortable awkwardness that tends to result from such scenarios for the film's humor. Its appeal is broad, yet the jokes aren't ever fully thrown into the audience's face. Don't get me wrong: you'll be laughing out loud by some of the banter between Wilde and Johnson, but there are subtle cues that'll have you nudging the "close friend" sitting next to you. Kendrick shines in these scenes where the humor is low key as her facial expressions help sell the awkwardness between Jill and Livingstone's Chris. There's one scene in particular where a simple pause in her tracks sets the joke. The film is full of these little nuances accentuated by the actors' performances. The chemistry between Wilde and Johnson is spot-on and truly reflect the types of friendships I've had and seen in my life. Johnson just has this everyman appeal to him that perfectly fits his laid-back character, while Wilde is able to blend her sex appeal with a "one of the guys" disposition. Like I wrote in the review's subtitle, Drinking Buddies really is as refreshing as a cold beer on a hot summer day, whether it's a PBR or a local craft IPA.
Drinking Buddies Review photo
As refreshing as a cold beer on a hot summer day
Everybody always has that one platonic friendship where the line is constantly tiptoed upon that could lead to something more. As always, that move can never be made due to outside circumstances, such as a boyfriend or girlfr...

Interview: Drinking Buddies (Cast and Director)

Aug 21 // Geoff Henao
I had a video interview maybe half an hour ago. It was the first time I had makeup on. It’s weird. Anna Kendrick: Do you feel like you’re wearing a mask? No, not really. It’s very subtle, so I think she just touched up my natural beauty. I’m just kidding. AK: You’re glowing. Am I? Yeah. It’s beautiful. Jake Johnson: It’s probably a pregnancy. To be honest, I didn’t even know it was going to be set in Chicago. That’s my hometown, born and raised. How important was that to you [Joe Swanberg] to have it set in Chicago? And Revolution [Brewing], too, of all breweries. That’s actually a really amazing brewery. Joe Swanberg: It was really important, and [was] actually one of the things that Jake and I talked about at the very beginning. The possibility came up of maybe shooting it somewhere else. It was almost like if we don’t do it in Chicago, we might as well not make the movie. JJ: The financiers wanted us to go do it in Boston, and everything got very real. Joe and I had this talk where, “Okay, it works in Boston, and here’s how.” It just doesn’t. It’s a Chicago movie. JS: When I thought about the idea… It’s the first film I made where I was location-specific in that way, and I had ideas in mind. In the beginning, I wanted them drinking at the Empty Bottle; I wanted them playing pool in that specific pool room. How I pictured shooting it, and once I went in that direction, then it was fun to go all the way there and really make it a Chicago movie. But also, hopefully not in that kind of celebratory inside baseball way that I’ve seen in some films sometimes, where it’s like, “Alright, we get it! It’s Chicago!” But if you live in Chicago, it feels right to you. It’s the kinds of places these characters live. JJ: It doesn’t feel like it’s on a sound stage at CBS where they’re like, “We love Chicago!” JS: Let’s stick up [Chicago] Cubs stickers everywhere. That’s how I felt. It felt really natural to me, but still has that appeal to people who don’t live in the city, or aren’t aware of the city. They’ll understand, “Oh, a big brewery! A really nice bar/venue place, pool table, very distinct.” What was the… poop, I’m brain farting right now. AK: Did you just say poop instead of shit? Yeah. AK: Awesome. Sorry. What was the influence for the film? What inspired you to direct it? JS: A couple of things. Definitely craft beer. Just being, for about five years now, I’ve sort of been immersing myself in that world, and just really discovering it, just figuring out that there were such a thing as a craft brewery, and feeling like those companies were pushing the envelope. Also, there’s kind of a David and Goliath thing going on in craft beer right now anyway because the macro breweries control something like 92% of the market, and every craft brewery combined is the other 8%. It’s tough for them to get shelf space, it’s tough for them to convince people, especially in a bad economy, to spend extra money on a product that they could get for really cheap. All that stuff was interesting to me to think about, characters working in that world. I have friends that I went to high school with and friends that I’ve met since that work at breweries around Chicago, so I kind of starting to learn a little about that. I also wanted to make a movie… I just wanted the films to kind of grow up with me and sort of always reflect where I was at certain points in my life. As I look around at people that are going from their late-20s into their early-30s now, I’m seeing a lot of friends of mine really getting serious about the marriage question, and the idea of settling down. People have different responses to it: some people are really excited to make that commitment and do that, and other people really freak out and buck against it. I just wanted to throw a bunch of characters into that point in a relationship. The ending itself is kind of muted. That last scene is very silent, and it’s not the way more films like that would conclude. Did you have any other ideas? Did you shoot any other endings? JS: We thought about taking it a little… The additional ending wouldn’t have changed anything, but it was one of those instances where in the editing room, it became abundantly clear to me that that other scene wasn’t going to add anything to the movie. I’m really trying to think about that lately, making each scene important and valuable. And also, a lot of the influence from other movies I’m taking and thinking about lately have to do with having a somewhat satisfying ending, which is nice to finish a movie and walk out with a smile on your face. I think some part of me used to think that was really lame, and these days, I’m actually really excited about that. Ron Livingston: Well Joseph, you’re getting older. You got a son now. You got to think of the future. JS: I think you can get away with more. If you let the audience walk out with a smile on their face, they’ll forget that you rubbed their face in shit, maybe, for 90 minutes. I think it buys you a little bit with those people. That scene at the table, which was initially the second to last scene, as soon as I put it into the cut, I was like, “Okay, we’re done telling that story.” How do you guys feel about your characters? Jake, your character, I think, was probably the most innocent in that he never really crossed over that boundary, but was still tiptoeing that line a lot. How do you feel about your character’s guilt? JJ: I think that’s interesting. Olivia [Wilde] and I were talking about that, but I think that, and Anna and I had a discussion on this, but I think that Luke is pretty guilty. I think the lines are blurred. I don’t think there are necessarily good guys or bad guys in this movie, and it’s what I like about it. I think it’s a realistic look of people… I don’t think Luke is ready to get married. I think he’s very scared of that, but I don’t think he’s ready to lose Jill, so he’s in that tough spot that I think a lot of people get into. It’s like, “I’ve been in this long-term relationship. I don’t want to lose it, but I’m not ready to grow up and get married and take that last step.” This is his last kind of tango with this fantasy girl where everything falls into a perfect line of his fiancée, or soon-to-be fiancée is gone, here’s this other girl coming on hard, and then in the movie, he gets beaten up, cut up, and then he realizes he wants to go home. I feel that he’s guilty, and what he did, he shouldn’t be proud of, but in this movie, everybody’s got blood on their hands. Even Ron’s character, when I was re-watching, I’ve seen the movie three times… That’s a good segue, by the way. JJ: He’s a snake, too! They were on that hike, and I didn’t realize it in the first sitting, but he was planting these seeds of, “Oh, he’s making moves on her from the beginning!” There were a lot of laughs in the audience when you pulled out the wine. JS: I was so happy. When you say, “Had I met someone like her, you…” Obviously, when we were shooting it, [the reaction] was exactly what I was looking for. It’s so difficult to know whether that’s going to play. And it played so well. It hit well. It hit really well. JS: And everybody was instantly, “Ooooh!” JJ: Well, I missed it watching it. JS: Yeah, that’s what I mean. JJ: And when I saw it up there [at its premiere], I thought he was just like… I really like that thing of I missed it before. AK: I think I was worried, in that moment, it would feel just [controversial], and I could feel the audience going, “What’s her face doing?! What’s happening, what’s happening?! What is this moment?!” JS: I’m sorry to detour a little bit, but that’s why movies always still need to be shown in movie theaters. It’s great that people can order it and download it and watch it on their laptops, but you do not catch moments like that as well on your laptop. You just don’t. JJ: Well, I missed it until last night, because that whole thing you [Livingston] were saying about the whole, “15 years ago, if I would have…” I just thought Chris is just kind of thinking, and talking out loud, and getting into character. I didn’t realize he was making a play right then until the audience laughed, and I went like, “..what? Oh my god, this fucking snake’s at it!” When Anna did the move of, “I’m feeling nervous right now,” when I saw that, she’s taking the reins, so this is on Jill, but really from the beginning, when [Chris said], “Oh, you’re a teacher? That’s really impressive,” I was sitting there like, “Oh, he was making plays from the start!” Yeah, she was feeding off of his lines. And what you [Swanberg] were saying, too, about the crowd participation, you definitely miss that if you’re at home, in your dark room, on your laptop. AK: Also on your cell phone. JS: And checking your email occasionally. AK: Like just opening a window. I won’t miss anything important. JS: I can still hear it. Going off of what Jake said with your reactions. Your character is very awkward sometimes, and I really like that, because… I don’t know, you play that well. AK: Awkward? Thanks... yeah. I didn’t mean anything negative about that, sorry. Your character was very nervous, but she was innocent, too, except for that one moment. JJ: I get the feeling you were late with that part. AK: I mean, yeah. When we were making it, and then even, which surprised me, when I was watching it, I kept thinking like, “I should just say something. Just say something.” And I wasn’t sure what Joe was going to end up using, and I knew if he didn’t like it, he wouldn’t use it. But even so, I was like, “Oh Anna, you are fucking it up. Say something!” But I think that’s who she is. She’s comfortable with silence. I don’t think it’s as much that she’s nervous. I mean, there are certainly plenty of moments where she’s nervous, because she’s in uncharted territory a little bit sometimes, but I think for the most part, she knows who she is, and that’s based on a person I know whom I’m very impressed with. I just wanted her to be comfortable just listening because she’s cool and she knows who she is and she doesn’t have to constantly chatter, which I have a tendency to do. What I meant with the awkwardness thing, your facial expressions, that’s what I meant. You play them off, like especially in that scene where Ron’s character starts spitting game at you, laying down that line. AK: Yeah, I think she is a little unsure of what to do with that… RL: Spitting game? JJ: The subtitle of this is going to be, “Ron Livingston is spitting game.” Sorry, that’s my hometown vernacular coming out. JJ: It’s perfect. He was. I’m a professional, guys. I’m wearing a tie! JJ: I didn’t realize he was spitting fucking game. AK: This is a girl who has been in a relationship since she was 21 and has just been comfortable with that and hasn’t really noticed other guys that much. And then it’s like, “Something… what is happening?” I think she’s a little in uncharted territory, and then she does decide to go for it, it’s not like she’s a victim. But I think that’s exciting that she’s like, “Oh, is something… is something happening?” JS: I think she’s so brave, too, to tell him… It’s something that I’m taking from Kris [Williams Swanberg], my wife. She’s so good at just talking to me and telling me things, whereas for me, any kind of indiscretion or thing I’m embarrassed about or anything, I’m just like, “That’ll get bottled up and never see the light of day.” That stuff starts to eat at you a little bit. Over the course of your entire life, all of the things you should have told somebody, but didn’t… those aren’t necessarily good to just live inside of you. I think that’s such a hard, brave thing to do to look at somebody you love and acknowledge to them that you hurt them or did something wrong to them. But then that’s how people heal and get over things. If everybody in a relationship was just, “Well, I did that thing, but I’m big enough to live with it. I don’t need to bother them with it. I don’t want to hurt them.” You’re just collecting scars over time. I really wanted that character… I think it’s just so admirable. It’s really important to me that that confession happen. And that he [Johnson’s character, Luke] doesn’t confess. He’s just like, “Oh, it’s fine. You’re forgiven.” What he’s really saying is, “I did it, too, but I’m not big enough to acknowledge it to you. I can’t reciprocate right now.” RL: I think that character is the one who, of all of them, is the most able to… She lives and dies by naming the elephant in the room, whether it’s, “We have to talk. The marriage thing is the big elephant in the room.” This kiss thing is the elephant in the room. I feel like, in a way, she kind of teaches everybody else, like you guys, you [Johnson] and Olivia, spend the whole movie getting to that scene in the end where it just hits you in the stomach where Olivia is like, “I’m single,” and it’s like [Luke goes], “Don’t go there, don’t go there, don’t go there.” But you finally need to go there and name what is this thing. And I actually like the fact that, I think Chris kind of gets from interacting with Anna, he actually becomes able to name the thing in the room saying like, “I’m too old for you. This doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know what we’re doing.” I don’t think he’s going to do any better. I think he’s probably either go do the same shit until he’s just old and dead, or find somebody his own age, but I don’t think he’ll ever be able to manage that. But that elephant in the room thing is big in this movie. I agree. Just like a little sidebar back to what you [Kendrick] were saying, you kind of implied that there was some ad-libbing and improvising. Did you stay as close to the script as possible? Everyone: There was no script. Oh really? Oh wow. AK: There was no script. There was no paper. JJ: There was an outline, so we knew what was happening. We knew what the story was, we knew what the scene was, and everything was blocked out, but all of the dialogue was improvised. The story was in place, but the dialogue was improvised. So the chemistry amongst you guys was real then. AK: Things got really weird. RL: It’s funny, because that goes a long way. We get to that first apartment, and you look around and it’s like, “Well, I guess I’m playing a guy who lives here. I guess he’s persnickety because this place is persnickety.” And then he says, “You need to put a drink on a coaster,” and it’s like, “Who puts Olivia Wilde’s drink on a coaster?” And it’s like, “Well, he’s that guy.” It’s like more constricting than having a bunch of lines. That’s true. That’s also how Chicago is. Every neighborhood is segregated, it’s a different a lifestyle, there’s different people. The area fits. Okay, final question: Beers. Do you guys have favorite beers? Especially considering [the film]. JS: I could talk five hours about it. Yeah, right now, if I had to take one beer to an island, it would be Three Floyds Zombie Dust. It’s an IPA. But that changes all the time. That’s just my “right now” beer. What about you guys? Any particulars? AK: I just tried a beer from my hometown called Allagash Curieux. It’s really nice. Jake? JJ: I’ll take a Stoli on ice. Ron? RL: Yeah, I’m going to demure on this one. Alright, thanks guys. That was awesome. 
Drinking Buddies Inter. photo
Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Joe Swanberg, and Jake Johnson walk into a bar...
On an early afternoon in Austin, TX, I had a chance to sit down with the cast and director of Drinking Buddies, which consisted of Anna Kendrick (End of Watch), Jake Johnson (Safety Not Guaranteed), Ron Livingston (Office Spa...

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Flix for (Not So) Short: Clapping for the Wrong Reasons


Will this have you clapping for the wrong reasons, too?
Aug 19
// Geoff Henao
Last month, Donald Glover (Community) released a mysterious trailer without context for a project called Clapping for the Wrong Reasons. Last week, it was revealed that the project was a short film written by Glover and dire...
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First trailer for Spike Jonze's Her w/ Joaquin Phoenix


Aug 09
// Hubert Vigilla
UPDATED: Her will have its world premiere at this year's New York Film Festival. It has been selected as the closing night film.  Here's the first trailer for Her, the long-awaited new film from Spike Jonze. The movie s...

Interview: Paul Rudd (Prince Avalanche)

Aug 07 // Matthew Razak
What was it like being in that environment? It's a very shocking environment. Paul Rudd: It was really strange landscape. One I'd never been in before. The two things that I kept thinking about was just how far reaching that fire was. It was just endless the amount of charred trees and ground. And the smell in the air. Even though the fire had happened months before it was still there... and it was hot.  David Gordon Green: It rained a lot during production to, which we had to work into the narrative. If you were out there right now it would be bright and sun and that would contrast the darkness, but it was actually a mood that was very unique. To me it felt like you were in Eastern Europe somewhere, like a different civilization. The more time you spend in some place that feels so foreign and unfamiliar the more we created our own universe. It was very isolating, but it was only four miles away. Emile Hirsch: It was like an alien landscape. I enjoyed it, but it was an environment I'd never been in before. We were able to enjoy ourselves and marvel at everything. DGG: Everywhere you turned the camera it was interesting. It was like instant production value on the one hand, but it also brought a very valuable sense of a melancholy tone to the humor. I spoke about the rebirth and that was part of the beauty to me. On the one hand it's a very devastated community, but on the other hand you have these two guys creating a friendship. You see the little buds of trees popping up under these dead pines so the forest will be reinvented by mother nature just as these characters are being reinvented by their strange internal frustrations. What inspired you to create this film? DGG: To be honest it was the location, and it's the remake of this Icelandic film. To start it was the location. I've known Emile and Paul for a long time and I was look for that minimal vehicle that seems simple so that you can focus on performances with great actors. Sometimes you get caught up in the bigger movies. You've got 100 locations in 25 days and the money runs out and all those things. People talk about it as return to roots to indie movies, but it was simplified even more than that. Indie movies area pain in the but because you don't know where the money is going to come from. There's very little independent about making independent movies. That was the great thing about this movie because it was reliable so we could design the process from the get go to be very contained. It was all contained in this one area and it just had these two central characters. So, you know, assuming these guys showed up to work each day we were good to go. Did you notice a difference between reactions to the film at Sundance and at SXSW? DGG: The beauty of Sundance is nobody knew what the film was going to be. But I think the thing at Sundance is there's such an indie presence that everyone was going,  "Is this going to be some big hip broad comedy that we're going to make $100 dollars off of." That's what I think they were looking for. We went to Berlin, which I thought was amazing, because the German audiences aren't banging down the doors for comedy so they really saw the humanity of the movie and the little nods to the language tapes that Paul's character listens to. It felt like an American version of a European film to them so it was very interesting having that warmth there.  Yesterday, at SXSW, across the board this was the best reaction to the humor of the film. All the things that we wondered if it would work. You know, it's not a jokey movie, but the strange little reactions and things that are said. Paul referred to it as minor-key comedy, which is perfect. Seeing that comedy work yesterday was great. We made the movie kind of self indulgently so seeing people react to our self indulgence in a good way was very exciting. You mentioned this is a "minor-key" comedy, but you're known for bigger, more brash comedies. What attracted you to the restrained more dramatic role? PL: What drew me to the movie was David. I've been a fan of him for a long time and known him for a long time and thought this was going to be a great experience. I thought this was going to be truly artistic and get back to the root of storytelling.  In relation to the character I never saw it as being broad or being a guy who thought he was funny. In the way the opposite. I also never delineated between comedy and drama. I just played the truth of the situation and sometimes it was something strange and funny and others it was dramatic and sad. I was drawn to the idea of doing some kind of three dimensional character that doesn't fit into any kind of box.   Was it tough to play off of each other for almost an entire movie or did you really get into sync right away? PL: I met Emile on this, but I felt like we clicked together really quickly. EH: Once we started rehearsing and getting into it I felt like it was clear super early that we weren't going to have any problems getting it right. PR: We also had the real joy of having Lance LeGault come in and throw a monkey wrench into everything. That guy is a tsunami. He's so funny and so great. It's sad because he passed away after shooting. DGG: He did the greatest thing. He kissed the baby doll when he got out of the truck, which wasn't in the script. Like there was some other story there. I want to see that movie. Emile, what draws you to independent films more than bigger ones? EH: I didn't really think of this as an independent film when David called me. Even though budget wise it was small there's still very known quantities involved. As far as making the film I was super excited because David and I were going to make a film about 9 years ago that didn't happen and I was bummed so I've been waiting all this time. Why did you set the film in the 80s? DGG: The beauty of it was that you could really isolate these characters in that time period. Today you could just go out and get in touch with families easily. It was just a different time where your remote job would actually remove you. There's no one to call when you're tired of being with this jack ass. You have to look each other in the every day. That motherfucker may drive you crazy but you still need to sleep next to him in a tent while he's jerking off. To me the beauty of it is that they're in this cage in a weird way. The dynamic of the situation can really change. It was fun to be able to really just engage in those two characters rather than have all the up to date communication. I wanted it to be a interesting texture and not full of technology that was going to be out of date by the time it hit theaters. Can you talk about the older woman in the film who shows Paul's Character around her destroyed home (Joyce Payne)? DGG: That wasn't even in the script. It was just something that came up when were location scouting for the film we found her digging through the ashes of her home. One of my producers ended up striking up a conversation with Joyce and it come up organically. It was really amazing how open she was about her experience. It kind of became this strange documentary. We didn't give her lines. She just walked Paul through her home and Paul was basically directing that sequence. He followed her around and tried to keep her track. It just ended up taking on a real gravity and adding substance to the movie. It's real transition tonally in the movie.
Paul Rudd Interview photo
Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, and director David Gordon Green walk into a bar...
Prince Avalanche was one of my favorite films of SXSW and it was in large part thanks to the fantastic performances given by Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd. It was only after the screening that I remembered it was directed by Dav...

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty gets first tease


Odd adventure likes rad and bonkers.
Aug 01
// Nathan Hardisty
This looks rather brilliantly bonkers. Ben Stiller's directorial debut is a remake of the 1947 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which in turn is based upon the short story by James Thurber. The story blends the real wor...
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Trailer: The Pervert's Guide to Ideology w/ Slavoj Zizek


Noam Chomsky recently picked an oblique intellectual fight with this guy
Aug 01
// Hubert Vigilla
I really enjoyed the free-wheeling philosophical monologue that was The Pervert's Guide to Ideology with Slavoj Žižek. Directed by Sophie Fiennes's, the film was the sequel to her previous collaboration with Žižek, The Perve...

Fantasia Review: Ritual: A Psychomagic Story

Jul 31 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216161:40517:0[/embed] Ritual: A Psychomagic StoryDirectors: Giulia Brazzale and Luca ImmesiRating: TBDCountry: ItalyRelease Date: TBD Psychomagic as a practice is rooted in the power that people ascribe to symbols and symbolic actions. I seem to remember Jodorowsky talking about a psychomagic client who had issues with his father. The client was instructed to violently destroy a cantaloupe and then send his father the smashed fruit as an act of symbolic murder. The patient was cured, and the father was probably (and understandably) weirded out. I don't subscribe to psychomagic. To be frank, it seems like a lot of hokum as therapy, but if it works for some people, that's great. That's part of the power of symbols and the fetishization of objects, and it's probably helpful for people suffering from major mental blocks or psychosomatic disorders. If true, Gallagher must have some serious issues he's been working through on stage for decades. The psychomagic takes place mostly in the second half of Ritual. The first half of the film is spent introducing our two main characters and the root of one character's psychological problems. There's Lia played by Désirée Giorgetti and her boyfriend Viktor played by Ivan Franek. The couple lead chic yet empty lives in Rome. Viktor, like many boyfriends in movies about women dealing with issues, is abusive. Initially it seems like they're just a kinky couple and Lia's a willing submissive, but Viktor's cruel and gets off on it. He practically rapes Lia in one scene, but then they laugh after he's done like it's just rough sexual roleplay. Lia nervously laughs it off and thinks she's laughing with Viktor; Viktor laughs at Lia because he knows he can get away with treating her like a whore. After some troubling personal events and a mental breakdown, Lia goes to live with her Aunt Agata (Anna Bonasso) out in the countryside. It was there when Lia was just a girl that her psychological hang-ups began to take root, and it's the stuff of a Fruedian case studies: death, superstition, and sexual awakening are all bound together. And so we leave the hard shadows of sleek, bougie citylife and wind up in a place that's magical and hallucinatory. It's common with these sorts of stories since the places of our youth are places where magic or its potential are meant to thrive. Here, spectral singers appear in the distance at night, pixies frolic like friendly neighbors who tell rhymes, and comely witches creep in the shadows of some odd mental past. This is the landscape of childhood and fairy tales, and in a lot of ways the ripe ground for psychotherapy rituals, particularly psychomagic acts of performance art/sublimation, to be performed. Giulia Brazzale and Luca Immesi do a fine job of making the film look lush and differentiating the imagery. Though there's a stark difference between Lia's quotidian world in Rome and this rich rural life, it all feels of a piece. Away from the city is where Lia regresses into a kind of second childhood, and there's a promise here of a new coming-of-age for her. Yet the city material is good too in spots. Given, when Lia's with Viktor, the film looks like a middling erotic thriller, but there are moments early in Ritual where the imagery is elegantly composed. Unfortunately Lia's personal story of rediscovery and Agata's shamanistic gifts as a healer are thrown off course. For some reason the film succumbs to the cliches of jilted lovers and angry skepticism -- Viktor, who should have been abandoned in the first half of the film, becomes a painful presence in the second half. He's the problem in Lia's life, and ultimately he's the biggest problem for Ritual. He's too one-note and functions only as an artificial source of drama rather than having a sense of existence outside of that. From the first shot and his first glare, there's something cartoonishly evil about him. Some attempts are made to introduce psychological depth, but they feel empty. One such effort is particularly laughable. Not only do we lose sight of Lia's story because of Viktor, but he also gets in the way of Agata as a character. She's a well-respected psychomagic healer in town, which is such a kooky yet compelling idea. Agata is essentially a small town doctor, but instead of folksy charm while diagnosing a case of appendicitis, she'll have have someone ingest ashes for the transformative value of symbolic actions. That's a whole movie in itself, especially since they never really delve into the deeper artistic or spiritual ideas in the practice of psychomagic, which seems like the whole appeal of it. As with Jodorowsky's films, the beauty is the commitment to transformation; psychomagic is part alchemy and part transference. Ritual loses both of these crucial notions when it just becomes a traditional melodrama about a domineering man who overpowers a woman who feels helpless. There are hints of what could have been in the imaginative visuals and symbolic ideas throughout the film. Porn audio plays over images of industrial machines in an art gallery, which is Lia and Viktor's relationship in nutshell. Goldfish from who knows where appear in a bathtub recalling Dark City and more fundamental unconscious imagery. In one especially good scene (despite Viktor), a chanteuse gives a rendition of "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday, a haunting song whose lyrics are from a poem by Abel Meeropol about lynchings in the South. A song like "Strange Fruit" points again at the potency of metaphors to make things seem more real. Perhaps good metaphors are just the uncanny version of the truth, which is why so much stock gets put into the symbols in art and the symbolic actions of psychomagic. There in the strange fruit is the truth. I try to avoid "should haves" and "shouldn't haves" when it comes to reviewing films because that sometimes feels like saying "I would have done this" rather than evaluating the work itself on its own terms. And yet I think Ritual shouldn't have abandoned its commitment to the symbols and should have remained an exploration of the role that symbols play in Lia and Agata's lives. For Viktor, symbols hold no weight or possibility. While the contrast is compelling for a moment, it wind ups severely limiting the many possibilities of the film. Poof goes the magic.
Ritual Review photo
Premium cable melodrama and 25 seconds of Alejandro Jodorowsky
Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of my favorite filmmakers. A sure cult figure, there's an undeniable pull to El Topo, Santa Sangre, or even the excessively indulgent secret masterpiece The Holy Mountain. What really pulls me into...

Japan Cuts Review: I'M FLASH!

Jul 23 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216080:40482:0[/embed] I'M FLASH!Director: Toshiaki ToyodaRating: TBDCountry: JapanRelease Date: September 1, 2012 (Japan) Regardless your own feelings about religions and cults, it seems like their primary functions are building communities and making the fact of our own deaths less terrifying. To the first point, these kinds of groups bring people together under a common cause and common mindset, and the group offers surprising succor that only sympathetic company can provide. Related to that second point, it's easier to face the world and the mysteries of the hereafter (which remains an uncertainty no matter what true believers insist) as long as you know you're not alone. This is what makes the irony of I'M FLASH stick out so much. Rui (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is the young charismatic leader of a religious cult, and when we see him in the film, he seems entirely alone. We only see his small but adoring flock in the background of a shot on television, and they mostly do as he instructs. With the forceful gesturing of his hands and application of his charm, he causes people to move according to his will. As a scene later in I'M FLASH shows, it's might have little to do with spirituality -- one of Rui's bodyguards exercises the same influence when he startles hermit crabs with sudden movements as the creatures crawl along the sand. There's something strange, off-kilter, and funny in this film that runs parallel and counter to the deeper philosophical concerns. Rui is troubled after a car accident that opens I'M FLASH. While he's unscathed, the woman he was with (Kiko Mizuhara) is seriously injured and winds up in a coma. The accident shakes Rui so much that he wants to leave the cult and dissolve the entire organization. Most of his days are spent in a secluded island mansion. He prays in an altar full of bones and then snorkels and fishes with a harpoon gun. These sequences should be boring but are oddly hypnotic. As he deals with his present guilt and depression, we get flashbacks of what exactly happened that night of the accident. We go back and forth between Rui's listlessness and a gradual reveal of information, which eventually offers a portrait of a troubled soul coming to terms with what he's done. Throughout the film, Rui is constantly alone, or at least he seems so alone because he forges no deep emotional connections with others. This all could be a symptom of his post-accident spiritual malaise, but the accident reveals a greater emptiness that the movie hints at. On the night of the accident, he's surrounded by women interested in him as a media celebrity but don't actually talk to him. His family is full of eccentrics who are doing their own thing, and his sister and mother are more concerned with the cult as a money-generator. Three bodyguards (one played by Ryuhei Matsuda of 9 Souls) have been assigned to protect Rui, but they mostly hang back and wonder if the whole belief system is malarkey. They're less like a Greek chorus and more like polite hecklers. Maybe there's not much ironic isolation here in I'M FLASH, though. Leaders and elders in established religions tend to have great ties to their communities/congregations, and there's a sense of extended family or meaningful friendships. For cult leaders, they're lonely at the top of their own dung heap, and they may worry about believing their own BS. While we get few particulars about the cult's beliefs, the cult's trite, simplistic motto/mantra says it all: "Life is beautiful." And that is bunk. Yet Toyoda isn't so eager to call Rui's beliefs bunk and then let that be it. I sensed an impulse in I'M FLASH to subvert the simplicity of a phrase like "Life is beautiful" while also trying to affirm it. Rather than oversimplify life with a slogan, Toyoda wants to complicate the slogan. The dual impulses of the film might encapsulate Rui's larger existential and spiritual struggle, particularly as it relates to death and how we deal with it. I don't know if Dip, who did a few songs on the 9 Souls soundtrack, was responsible for the music in this film, but something about the soundtrack of I'M FLASH reminded of them. There's something both post-grunge and post-rock about the music of this film that was oddly fitting. It sounds cool, but there's maybe a subtle sense of impending and yearning in those tracks as well, except for the song that plays over the credits, which is all sneering bombast and oh so 90s. Of the Toyoda films I've seen, I think I'M FLASH ends on the flattest note. Both Monsters Club and 9 Souls had finales that seemed to enhance everything that had come before. The last images of Monsters Club were especially moving. With I'M FLASH, there's something more matter of fact about it's ending. It's plain, as if Toyoda's larger statement was made earlier and doesn't need to be underlined. Or maybe it's a way to rephrase the motto "Life is beautiful" that avoids both oversimplification and complication. Rather than restate or expand on the three words that Rui's struggling with during the film, Toyoda seems to only want to say two words at the end: "That's life."
I'M FLASH! Review photo
It's lonely at the the top of a creepy religious cult
At last year's New York Asian Film Festival and Japan Cuts, I saw two films by Japanese director Toshiaki Toyoda: Monsters Club and 9 Souls. I enjoyed both, and I actually wound up liking Monsters Club more after seeing 9 Sou...

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Spike Lee turns to Kickstarter to fund vague film thing


Jul 23
// Hubert Vigilla
Spike Lee's remake of Oldboy will be out later in the year, and he's already got his sights set on his next project. Rather than looking for traditional backing, Lee is the latest established filmmaker (and highest-profile fi...

Review: Coffee Town

Jul 09 // Geoff Henao
[embed]216039:40401:0[/embed] Coffee TownDirector: Brad CopelandRating: N/ARelease Date: July 9, 2013 (VOD) Affected by the economic downturn that took his comfortable office job, Will (Glenn Howerton) found himself employed as a website manager. However, with the freedom that the job brings comes a lack of human interaction, so Will takes residence at a local coffee shop, the titular Coffee Town. While stationing his workplace at the shop comes with its benefits, including free wi-fi, his friends Chad's (Steve Little) and Gino's (Ben Schwartz) ability to visit him daily, and getting a glimpse of his crush, Becca (Adrianne Palicki). However, all good things come with the bad, such as Will's arch-nemesis/barista Sam (Josh Groban). When a plan is proposed to turn Coffee Town into a bistro, threatening Will's comfortable working conditions, he decides to take drastic measures to prevent change from happening. Coffee Town is presented as a modern, Office Space-esque comedy that illustrates how our economy has affected business. It doesn't get preachy by any means, but it definitely touches on the human element of being displaced following the recession. Copeland and the cast buoy this with an outlandish, selfish scheme that helps characterize Will and his friends. However, I would have appreciated more of this emotional slant from Will. There are scenes where he opens up to Becca about why he feels so connected to Coffee Town, and that level of depth could have helped shape the film better. The problem I had with Coffee Town is that it doesn't really take risks. As I alluded to a bit when we posted the first trailer, I hoped the best jokes weren't already shown. Well, as it turns out, they were. CollegeHumor have a tendency to push the envelope, and that's something I wish was utilized more in Coffee Town. Sure, there are a few risque moments, like the hilarious "gay/straight" scene seen in the trailer and a ridiculous fight scene that missed its mark, but I would have liked to seen something more edgy. Maybe it's because of how talented and funny the cast is. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is one of my favorite shows and Ben Schwartz' Jean-Ralphio is a scene stealer whenever he's on Parks and Recreation, so pairing them together came with a lot of expectations that weren't met. It's understandable that CollegeHumor would want to play it safe for their debut film, but I was just expecting something more grandiose, both in scope and hilarity.
Coffee Town Review photo
This coffee's a little decaf.
CollegeHumor has been one of the premiere comedy websites since practically the internet got super popular. Before YouTube, before Twitter, before Facebook, before MySpace, there was CollegeHumor providing some of the best co...

Review: Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

Jul 03 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215822:40354:0[/embed] Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt MeDirectors: Drew DeNicola and Olivia MoriRating: PG-13Release Date: July 3, 2013 (limited theatrical, VOD, iTunes) Big Star was formed by Chris Bell, Alex Chilton, Andy Hummel, and Jody Stephens in 1971. This original lineup only recorded one album together, the ironically named #1 Record. While Chilton received much of attention given his personality and the work he did with The Box Tops, Big Star's sound was mostly Bell's influence, evidenced by his posthumously released solo album I Am the Cosmos. Bell left the band after the first album, though Big Star chugged along and recorded two more records, Radio City and the alienating Third/Sister Lovers. All three Big Star records were included on Rolling Stones's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. They're three of the best American albums to come out of the 1970s, and that's not hyperbole. "Thirteen" might be one of my favorite expressions of nervous young love in the form of a song -- it's shy, it's adorably naive, and it's so sincere. Give "The Ballad of El Goodo" a listen and it'll make you feel hopeful as the glimmer of the guitars produces that chilly, tingly feeling throughout your body. "September Gurls" is just a great damn song, and ditto "Thank You Friends" and the oddball "Kangaroo." Really, why weren't these guys huge? Nothing Can Hurt Me reveals that despite the great music, a combination of bad luck and worse distribution meant few people could actually get any of those albums at their local record stores. Yet Big Star was a critical darling. Critics praised them at the time and obsessed over them in years after the band dissolved. Obsession is what kept Big Star alive. The documentary recounts a rock critic convention in the 1970s where Big Star absolutely killed. The band turned a roomful of jaded music writers (Lester Bangs among them) into a pack of rabid, gamboling fanboys. [embed]215822:40355:0[/embed] The Big Star story doesn't have an easy shape. A few music docs I've seen in the last year or so have a kind of narrative structure built into the life of the band, particularly if they've made a remarkable comeback of some kind (e.g., A Band Called Death). Big Star's resurgence was a gradual one achieved through music stores, word of mouth, and music critics -- it's not as visually compelling or as striking as sudden rediscovery. There's also a shape that comes from following a compelling personality (e.g., Beware of Mr. Baker). Chris Bell passed away in 1978, and Alex Chilton, Big Star's most compelling personality, didn't want to be interviewed for the film. In Big Star's darker days, Chilton tells his bandmates that he could take or leave the music industry. (Chilton passed away in 2010, as did original bassist Andy Hummel.) Nothing Can Hurt Me darts into little alleys along the way while discussing the band, focusing a bit on the Memphis music scene, talking to rock critics about their memories of the band, shifting focus to producer Jim Dickinson, and so on. Yet the documentary holds interest because its divergences still hang alongside the band's chronology, and directors Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori interviewed the right people for insight and punctuation. The drops of Big Star songs and material also helps a lot, particularly footage of the band in its early days. I think what DeNicola and Mori have managed to do through their structure is examine the band's history while creating oblique portraits of Chris Bell and Alex Chilton. Bell's an especially interesting figure since he's off doing his own thing after leaving the band. Meanwhile, Big Star is morphing in order to reflect the new musical interests of Chilton. Bell comes across as this vulnerable, suffering artist whose life seems like a preface to tragedy, whereas Chilton has a cavalier attitude about what he does, whatever it is. [embed]215822:40353:0[/embed] One person interviewed in Nothing Can Hurt Me mentions how Chilton could just throw things away if he wanted, and suddenly the beauty of Big Star makes a strange sort of sense. Big Star joined the sensibilities of the hurting introvert (Bell) and the devil-may-care rock imp (Chilton); the kid who was anxious about wanting to hold a girl's hand and the boyking who was touring with The Box Tops at age 14 or 15. If power pop is built on making the bad times a bit more palatable, these two personalities at the center of Big Star might be the marriage of sad lyrics and crunchy guitars in a nutshell. My favorite observation about Big Star comes from a few of the music writers in the doc, and it gets at the heart of cult followings. Why did Big Star never get huge? Distribution, sure, but maybe Big Star was always going to be a niche band. Maybe they were not ahead of their time, and maybe they were not waiting for culture to catch up. Maybe Big Star was a band meant for the right people at the right time, and when Big Star did get to those people, those people wouldn't be able to shake it. The right people may be rock critics, music snobs, and people in the know, or it may be some music obsessives at the record store looking for chains of influence from artists they like today. Cult bands are for just a handful of people who get it. With Big Star, more and more people got it over time. If Big Star got big, they probably would have faded away, and they probably would've sounded awful like Kiss. Big Star's appeal was that they were like a great secret between friends -- a note handed under the table during geometry -- a small band that burned bright, but in a manner that only a few people could see clearly. Since Nothing Can Hurt Me is such a compelling portrait of the band, it might help convert some non-fans. Mostly, it'll make people who love Big Star love them more, and it'll make it easier to spread the word.
Big Star Review photo
I never travel far without a little Big Star
During junior high and high school, I was a big fan of Matthew Sweet, whose music I still dig today. When I hear songs from Girlfriend, Altered Beast, and 100% Fun, they bring me back to that age and those awkward adoles...

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Trailer: Willow Creek


Bobcat Goldthwait is all about bigfoot
Jun 26
// Hubert Vigilla
I've enjoyed the three films directed by Bobcat Goldthwait that I've seen -- World's Greatest Dad, God Bless America, and Shakes the Clown. One day I'll get to his movie about bestiality, Sleeping Dogs Lie, which will n...

Review: Bert and Arnie's Guide to Friendship

Jun 21 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215816:40275:0[/embed] Bert and Arnie's Guide to FriendshipDirector: Jeff KaplanRating: URRelease Date: June 18, 2013 (VOD); June 21, 2013 (NYC)  Bert (Matt Oberg) is an author of bad books. He specializes in mildly literary and mostly chauvinistic bodice rippers with names like The Good Shepard, The Last Conquistador, and The Virgin Monster. Arnie (Stephen Schneider) is an alpha male in finance who sleeps with everything in sight, including Bert's wife. Bert's marriage breaks up, which sets in motion a series of not-quite-parallel, semi-related events in the lives of these two characters. It's less friendship and more like a case of begrudging proximity. Eventually there's another woman named Sabrina (Anna Chlumsky), who tries to satisfy different kinds of needs with each man. Parts of Bert and Arnie seem like they were culled together from other works. There are obvious hints of The Office and Office Space in the Arnie scenes, and lot of the writer material in the Bert scenes feels familiar even though I can't exactly identify where it comes from. It's like running into someone at a party and forgetting their name, but you're pretty sure you've met before... pretty sure. This sense of familiarity blunted a lot of the jokes, which don't feel fresh, and sometimes feel like they're trying too hard. Arnie gets drunk at a karaoke bar and it plays like drunk overacting. A college student tries to seduce Bert, and her voice has the cartoony congestion of Droppy Dog or Edith Ann from Sesame Street (if you're old enough to remember her). The movie that came immediately to mind while watching Bert and Arnie was a crummy 2000 film called Whipped, which similarly focused on friendships and a woman who comes between various men. I liked Bert and Arnie better than Whipped, and yet I think Whipped offered a small and ugly nugget of truth about sex and friendship whereas Bert and Arnie doesn't go as far as it could. There's something in Bert and Arnie that gets obscured in those jokes that try a little too hard. Bert and Arnie are different aspects of desperate and clingy masculinity. Each of them grasps for an empty male identity defined by sex and power. These are older boys playing author and businessman. (Adolescent boys will be adolescent men.) You know these people. You work with them. You may go for drinks with them every weekend. In your worst moments, you are them. But rather than really get into the muck of these ideas and these people, Bert and Arnie goes for the obvious jokes and pauses for a laugh track that doesn't arrive. The jokes hit about half the time in Bert and Arnie, and I think that's a consequence of the sitcom tone that director/co-writer Jeff Kaplan brings to the film. Part of me wonders what would have happened if Bert and Arnie were dialed back a bit. Sometimes comedy works best when the actors are lampooning the character types they portray but the characters aren't in on the joke. In those cases, there's not an implied, "I just made a joke," after the joke; it's more like "I'm being totally serious," and (like Roger Ebert pointed out) it's usually funnier to see serious people fail at being serious. The lead performances of Bert and Arnie call attention to themselves like the writing calls attention to itself, and I wasn't able to get lost in the film or get too engaged by the comedy. Much like that incidental music, I noticed distracting stuff rather than the material meant to hold my attention.
Bert and Arnie's Review photo
Kind of like two sitcom pilots stitched together
Sometimes when watching a movie I inexplicably zero in on one aspect of production and it paints my perception of the entire film. With Bert and Arnie's Guide to Friendship, it was the score/incidental music. The music sounds...

BFF Review: Furever

Jun 07 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215733:40201:0[/embed] FureverDirector: Amy FinkelRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD Going into Furever, I almost expected the movie to be like an unofficial sequel to Errol Morris's debut feature, Gates of Heaven. Instead, Furver reminded me more of Chis Smith's Home Movie, which focused on the owners of eccentric homes and how they choose to live. Here in Finkel's film, it's about people's pets and how they die, but the commemoration of the death of the pet says just as much about the owner as home decor and design. One owner in grief, surrounded by paintings of her dead dog, even says that it's more about her than her pet. All at once, what she's saying is true and yet also a kind of facade. It's about the pet too, of course, but the pet is also a reflection of the owner. At one point during Furever, a few of the subjects wonder about the relationship we have with pets. A few think the love is unconditional, but as one person points out, a pet's love is entirely conditional. The allure of the pet is that the relationship is free from conversation and complication -- it's a baby, in a lot of ways. Maybe the pet has the sweet end of the deal. Furever does a lot of hopping around as it goes through its various topics. It starts with pet cemeteries and pet trinkets as memorabilia. There are glass keepsakes with pet ashes built into them, and there are diamonds made from dead pets as well. People get tattoos to commemorate their losses, or they commission portraits as a kind of substitution. (On the note of substitution, there's a segment on artificial testicles for neutered dogs that seems out of place on the topic of grief, but thematically it's a good fit given the larger idea of pampering and anthropomorphizing pets.) These more traditional methods of grieving give way to less common forms, like pet taxidermy or pet freeze drying. Both are similar, and both are pretty creepy. I'm trying to say this without judgment, but it really wigs me out. These pets are carefully posed to simulate something familiar from a lived life, but they are lifeless things. It's that uncanny slip from pet to stuffed animal. Even though many people who've it done find solace in the decision, there's something unnerving about a lifelike stuffed pet riding in a baby stroller outdoors. All the elements combined multiply the morbidity and the absurdity. Finkel's structure for Furever makes an interesting shift from the mere act of death and grieving to thoughts on the afterlife. Two of the segments that close the film involve a religion built around ritualistic pet mummification based on the ancient Egyptians. The founder of said religion was mummified himself, and his corpse is kept on the premises in a golden sarcophagus. The other segment is about pet cloning and focuses on a man who champions the cause of creating a new pet that's genetically identical to a dead one. In some ways those two last subjects of pet-life after death -- one spiritual/religious, the other scientific -- could have supported their own individual documentaries or a shared documentary. In particular, I wanted to learn more about the belief system of the mummification enthusiasts, or even just find out more about the ethics of cloning and the personalities of cloned animals. We're told that a cloned dog is just like the dead one in mannerisms and disposition, but how much of that is pet and how much of that is the owner? But that aside, there's an engaging survey of pet death and owner grief in Furever, and it never tries to deride its subjects even though it would be easy. It would also be cruel. Their grief, no matter what caused it to occur, is legitimate. Maybe the same can be said about the expressions of grief. Sometimes even with the death of humans, it's just as much about the griever as the grieved. Furever screens Saturday, June 8. For tickets and more information, click here.
Furever Review photo
On the various forms of grieving for a dead pet
The dog on the left is dead. The owner had the dog professionally stuffed in order to cope with the loss. The dog on the right (alive) shares in my initial reaction to this scene from the documentary Furever: detached yet rum...

Review: Violet & Daisy

Jun 07 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215729:40198:0[/embed] Violet & DaisyDirector: Geoffrey FletcherRating: RRelease Date: June 7, 2013 The key thing about all of the Tarantino rip-offs is that they were playing it safe. That's the comfort of being derivative: you don't have to risk anything because the person you're copying did all the innovation for you. With a rip-off, you're not just bowling with bumpers in the gutter, you're bowling with a tube slide for the ball that's the length of the lane. Each punctuation of violence, each choice on the soundtrack, each pop culture reference is already rendered accessible. Risk -- which is the key to any successful and innovative work -- would come from taking your own chances rather than taking the chances that someone else has already taken. (There's a difference between Donald Barthelme's postmodern genre pastiches and Boondock Saints, for instance.) Movies that don't risk can still be entertaining, but Violet & Daisy is not one of these movies, and a lot of it has to do with that awful smugness I mentioned above. Violet (Alexis Bledel) is a seasoned hired gun with a new partner named Daisy (Saoirse Ronan). They do hits for Russ, played by Danny Trejo, who shows up briefly and then hits the ejector seat on this movie. Their first on-screen hit together involves dressing up as nuns from a Catholic-themed pizza place (ooh, how drole) and then totally smoking guys with a gun in each hand like it's a John Woo movie (ooh, how edgy). Their next job together is to kill Michael played by James Gandolfini, a lonely middle-aged man with an estranged daughter (ooh, how sad). Violet & Daisy wants its audience to make those "ooh" comments because the film only exists as a collection of references, bits, and familiar pieces. There's a moment of fantasy and hallucination during the film in which Violet sees Daisy as some sort of spectral airline stewardess standing over the wreck of a plane. It looks good, it's stylish, but it's so incredibly empty because the movie made me feel nothing (other than contempt) the entire time. Same goes for the oversized moon that takes up most of the sky in certain night shots. It's style for style's sake and nothing more. And yet for some it's enough. When confronted with superficial things that are otherwise successful, "ooh" is the reaction. "Ooh" shouldn't be sufficient. Violet & Daisy seems to want to have things both ways: it wants the ironic, ultra-cool posturing of hip 90s movies, but it also wants an emotional weight that shines through the irony. Since the film lacks real emotional substance, it tries to use treacly sentimentality instead. Michael's loneliness and isolation is meant to engender "awws" of sympathy, but it's a manipulative ploy, one that's as transparent as the film's implication of a rape. And amid this fumbling manipulation, the movie gets cutesy. Michael serves his killers milk and cookies, Violet and Daisy get obsessed with some nebulous Barbie fashion thing, and there are games of pat-a-cake because... Well, I don't know. Probably to make the audience ooze more vowel sounds rather than think about what they're actually watching, which doesn't amount to much. And that's just the stuff off the top of my head, and much of it is tonal. I haven't even touched the flimsy story of the film. There are some gaping plot holes in Violet & Daisy, particularly when Daisy makes a series of confessions to Michael about her own life. What she reveals undoes lots of the movie. This all made me wonder about the machinery of the film's world and the clockwork in the hearts of its characters. Sometimes Violet & Daisy operates like it's a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and other times like it's a shaky melodrama. I think a sense of inconsistency that reveals a deeper consistency is the source of good drama and comedy in oddball storytelling, but here the inconsistency reveals a lack of care or a total lack of consideration. Things happen just because, and not because of something deeper. It's surprising that this film is written and directed by Geoffrey Fletcher, who won an Oscar for adapting Precious to the big screen. It's most surprising because the dialogue, though rapid fire, says nothing; words, words, words, but all verbal blanks. When characters in Tarantino movies make small talk, they do it to talk around something else that matters, and they do it with the stylishness of Elmore Leonard. In Violet & Daisy, people talk in clipped sentences and they don't talk about much of anything. Think of witty exchanges but bled of the wit. But it makes sense because maybe sheer velocity of language will distract from the sheer emptiness of the language. It's all of a piece. Violet & Daisy is a movie that wants to reduce audience reactions to a series of vowel sounds because in terms of style and substance, there's really nothing to talk about. Ooh, what a waste of time.
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Take off those glasses, you look ridiculous
There was a point in the mid-to-late 1990s when a bunch of lesser filmmakers tried to make movies like Quentin Tarantino. It was the style of Tarantino -- the pop-culture savvy, the soul music, the violence, the coolness, the...

Interview: Steve Schneider & Carpentieri (Hey Bartender)

Jun 06 // Hubert Vigilla
What was your inspiration for getting involved with this business? Steve Carpentieri: All through my developmental years, as far back as junior high -- I guess now it's called middle school... So I'm probably dating myself with that particular time... [laughs] SC: A lot of my friends worked in the the industry, and that's how we kind of-- I mean, we washed dishes, you know? And that's what we did. We went to school during the week and sometimes on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays we were washing dishes or doing prep work and making salads. It's an impressionable time in you life, because I mean you're looking at these people, the bartenders and the waiters. It's an incredible group of people that work in the industry. It does take a certain type of person to choose this and make it their lives. During those years, it's like, "Oh my god, they are so cool! She's kissing him, and he's doing this, and they're going out for drinks!" So, you kind of get interested in it. I just got bit with it and I enjoyed it, so even through college and high school and everything else like that, I kept myself in the industry. I probably worked in the restaurants for six years before I got my first bar shift. And then once I had that shift, even when I graduated and worked for GE and Citigroup and stuff like that, I kept that shift. Interesting. SC: I never wanted to give it up. And now, granted, there were times that business took me away and I'd have to miss some shifts here and there, but it was never a problem to get someone to cover the shift. Because, you know. There were some people who said, "Any time you want to give it up, I'll take it." And I'd be like, "Nah," or "Um, I'll let you know." Then I bought [Dunville's], so now I can have all the shifts, I guess. [laughs] [laughs] SC: But I still keep that shift. I've had the same shift now for 24 years. In the film, you went to Tales of the Cocktail. SC: That's right. Has that helped your situation? SC: It changed everything. It really did And you were hesitant about that at first. SC: Well, you know what it was? It was just like teaching an old dog new tricks, you know? I was just thinking, "I've been doing this for so long -- what don't I know?" That's not a cocky statement; it was just like, "I've done it," you know? But meeting with these people and stuff like that, they said, "You'd be surprised what you don't know." And I'd say, "Well name one thing!" Then they'd list off six, and I'd be like, "I said one." [laughs] SC: "We'll start with one! Baby steps." But I just remember shaking my head when I went online and booked it. It's like I'm eating my words. I just said there's no way I'm going to go, but it just showed me how little I knew. Not about the industry of the whole, but the progression of it and all the years that I wasted. But I guess we had to hit bottom first, and it's just a shame that it took that long. I mean, shoulds and coulds -- they don't mean anything. Just reflections. SC: Yeah. I wish I had just paid attention, because I saw it going on. I'm only 36 miles from the city. I mean, if I drive here, I can be in the West Village in 45 minutes -- no traffic, right time of night. But I never took anything out [lesson-wise] when I left: I came in, I had my good time, and went home. And all those years I was just thinking, "This other place is packed! I wish this was my place!" And instead of seeing what they were doing and why it was so busy, I just went away. That's the thing that makes me reflect. You can't always look back or anything, but it was a learning experience. I never realized how much stuff was out there that I overlooked. [Editor's note: At this point Steve Schneider stepped outside joined the conversation at the table.] SC: Hey, I recognize you. [laughs] Steve Schneider: You're the guy from Dunville's, right? [laughs] SC: [laughs] Weren't you just in Chicago? SS: Yes! I was in Chicago. A few hours ago. Beautiful day here, beautiful day there. Way better than the crap weather yesterday. SC: Yeah. Just awful. SS: I was at the NRA, National Restaurants Association. Oh, not the National Rifle-- SC: Right! SS: I thought that, too, and I was upset. [Being] a former marine, I thought I was going to see some stuff! [laughs] SS: Instead I saw, like, freezers, you know? SC: [laughs] That's excellent. SS: Anyhoo, just won a Star of the Bar competition. SC: Isn't that awesome? SS: Anthony Bourdain was my judge, and he liked what I did. How does the competition work? SS: I had to submit a video, and then they chose some semi-finalists and had us compete against each other. Then they chose the finalists. It was at a party with like 2,000 people or something like that. Anthony Bourdain hosted as part of this big festival. And yeah -- I killed it. Rocked the house. What were you making? SS: I made some cocktails with their product: vodka and campari and grapefruit. More or less, I put it in a bottle and capped the bottle. So I handed the judges this bottle that they had to open, and I presented them with a bottle opener that I made custom with Anthony Bourdain's face on it that said, "I met _______" (the judge next to him that nobody knows). Anthony Bourdain is like, "On May 19th, I met Todd Richman." [laughs] Anyway, it went well overall and it was fun. I am five grand richer. Five grand? SC: You're gonna spend it on something ridiculous? [laughs] SS: Yeah, I can't wait to waste the money on something stupid. [laughs] Like a Rascal Scooter or something. SS: Yeah, yeah, totally! Or buy a margarita machine or something. We spoke with Steve [Carpentieri] about this, but what got you inspired to be in this business? I know you're in there with Employees Only. SS: Yes. So what inspired you to get in there. SS: Well, I've been bartending for over 10 years now. I started when I was in the Marines. Once you're in the Marines, it's a 9 to 5 job. You just wear camouflage every day, and every now and then you get to blow stuff up, which is a pretty awesome job. So I had weekends off, so I picked up a shift in Georgetown, you know -- beating up Georgetown kids was always fun. But I really didn't take bartending seriously until I was discharged and after my injury. I had nothing left, you know? I didn't want to go to school, I was depressed. That's where I got my dog too, you see him in the movie. So I got him, and I took the job a little more seriously. I entered this speed bartending competition that I won a few times, and made a lot of money doing it. I took notice of a guy from Vegas who taught me proper pouring techniques and fresh ingredients and stuff like that. The thrill of competition just made it fun. I found something fun again, you know? Something fun and cool again. One thing led to another and I met the guys from Employees Only five years ago or so. And then as soon as I got there, it was like starting from the bottom. I presented my awesome resume -- that said I was in books for cocktails and had won speed competitions -- presented my resume to the boss and he opens it up, closes it right away. He goes, "Former Marine. I like that. You've got discipline. You're hired." He didn't-- SS: He didn't give a shit about anything. He didn't care about what I did, he cared about what I can do as a person. He said, "You're willing to start from the bottom?" I was like, "I will do anything, man." The first time I walked into that place, I saw the bartenders behind the bar in their white uniforms. They weren't even talking to each other, they were making drinks, and I was like, "I want to be these guys." I didn't say I wanted to be like them; I wanted to be that guy. But I was intimidated. Fuck. I didn't know what the hell I was doing. So I'm 24, a young punk; foul-mouthed former Marine coming from Jersey. SC: [laughs] SS: It was a very humbling experience. I was bartending already six years before I joined on with these guys. I had to just start from the bottom again and it just reminded me of my days in the military, and how much I gave to that, and how much of that was my life. They unlocked the potential in me, and I owe everything to these guys. I'm nothing without them. I'm not in this documentary if I'm Steve from Applebee's. If I'm Steve from Applebee's, I'm not here. The only reason I do a lot of these interviews for this and for that is because Employees Only is an institution. The team was there before I got there and it will be there long after I'm gone, and I know I'm a part of that team, and it's because of them that I'm in this position right now. SC: And you want to make them proud. SS: Yeah, I want to make them proud. I owe them everything. It's a family thing, a team matter. Much like any relationship, you know? The guy's gotta give, the girl's gotta give. Everybody's got to give something. Exactly. SS: Usually it doesn't work like that. Guys are bad. We're the worst. I'm sorry. [laughs] Sometimes. SS: Sometimes, yeah. SC: We have our moments. SS: [laughs] Is there a classic Marine Corps cocktail? SS: Yeah, I think there's a Leatherneck Cocktail, I just don't remember what's in it. I remember that I wasn't a fan of the ingredients -- it's a very old cocktail. Just because it's really old doesn't man it's any good. For someone who's just entering the business, what would you tell them? SC: Listen. Number one. Take everything that you thought you knew and-- I don't want to say throw it out, but put in on the shelf. That's one of the things about this industry: it wouldn't survive or thrive the way it is with the unspoken mentorship program. You're learning from the best. I mean like Dale DeGroff. At this point in time he's got so many "grand kids" because he's mentored, and these people have mentored, and so on and so forth, like Charlotte [Voisey]. They're all in support of the whole thing that if you really listen to what they have to say, you're gong to be leaps and bounds ahead of somebody who isn't paying attention. And then with your own style. Everyone has their own style, their own flair. If you build on what [the mentors] are teaching you and then you bring little pieces of your own self, I think you will be successful as long as you treat it with care. SS: Yeah. SC: Yeah. SS: I agree with everything Steve said, but also I'd say never give up. This ain't easy, you know, but never give up. You have to endure, you know? You're going to fail a lot more than you succeed when you're first getting started. Kind of like learning the stick shift on a car. You have the clutch down and you accelerate. [Puts up two hands to demonstrate.] Like here's where you're failing, here's where you're doing good. You want to sort of slowly... If you do it too quick, you're going to miss something along the way. Your car's going to freak out. And also, you just have to understand that in this business, no matter how good you think you are, you're still pedaling the bicycle while someone else is steering. Unless you own it. And then you may be doing both. But still. One day, if you work hard enough, you'll be steering the bike, and you can do whatever you want. But what the boss says goes. If you don't like it, do something else. Would you say that if someone likes to drink a lot that this is not the job for them? SC: As an employee? It depends on when. I mean, there's a time and place for everything. I'm guilty of crossing over every once in a while, because sometimes you just get caught up, it's so much fun. But you always have to remember that you're the host, not a guest. And so proper amounts, proper timing, proper everything. It's just like anything: when you're drinking and working or you're sitting here and working, your judgment or ability to perform will be impaired a touch. So there's a fine line. I encourage a little taste here and there throughout the shift, and if someone's having a really bad night or something, I'll pull them aside and be like, "You've got to get yourself right. Have a little Milagro. Have a little sip, go outside, breathe for a couple minutes, because I want you to smile and I want you to be happy." And then there's some times where someone will come in and say, "I just can't get it tonight." I'll say, "You know what? No problem. Go home. Get right." Because you don't want anybody not to have a good time. Plain and simple: [guests] don't want to know about your problems, they don't want to know if you're happy, if you're sad, if your dog died, if someone stole your bike. They don't want to know anything. They want to be entertained, and that's the thing. SS: Yeah, when it comes to drinking behind the bar, it's a fine line. I know a lot of bartenders that don't drink, and they're some of the best bartenders on this planet... Or any other planet, if there's any bartenders out there. [laughs] [laughs] SS: Yeah, but I'm all about if you can hang, hang; if you can't, don't. I don't like to preach about how anybody should do their business. Do whatever you want, do whatever you can to make yourself successful. SC: To do your job, yeah. SS: If some bartender doesn't want to drink, doesn't like alcohol or whatever, but is good at making drinks? Go for it. I encourage giving things a shot. SC: Yeah. You don't have to drink to be successful. As long as you're happy. You just always have to be ready to provide for whoever's there to see you that night. And if someone's not having a good time or something else like that, your job is to make sure that when they leave they smile, they remember you, and they remember your face. If they have such a good time and they came in and were down [that first time], if they're having another down moment a couple weeks later, they're going to be like, "Hey, I know where to go. This guy will get me right." Even if they don't have the same excitement that time as they did the first time, the second they walk, the perception is, "I'm going to be in a good mood when I leave, so let's get this party going." And that's important. SS: Or the thing about bartending in New York City is that it's the most diverse place in the world, you know? People from all over the country, all over the world, they live on the same block. They all have different tastes, different upbringings, different customs. So they all come to our doors. "How do we make all these people happy?" That's the one thing we've got to do: try to make all these guys happy. Because when you're laughing, when you're smiling, that's universal. It's intergalactic. [laughs] [laughs] This is sort of a layperson question, but how did you guys refine your palates over the years? Like how did you guys figure out what flavors go together and just do what you guys do? SS: For me it was information and trial and error. When you work with stuff, experience gets you everywhere. You work with stuff long enough, you'll know what goes together, this and that. When I think about drinks, I think about making my mentors proud, or making someone I care about happy. And then the ingredients kind of come together. I made this drink once for this Italian girl who was so beautiful. I made it with all-Italian ingredients, and it all worked together. You get inspiration in different ways, but usually it's through your heart or through your... [looks down] You know what I mean. [laughs] [laughs] Yeah. "The brain." SS: [laughs] Yeah, the brain! Both brains! SC: [laughs] Well that's the thing. When somebody looks at a cocktail list, they look at that drink and say, "I never thought that those ingredients would go together." It didn't just come to Steve when he's coming up with a new drink, or something like that. It's from the knowledge of the drinks and how they'll go together, and then probably over the course of a few weeks, three or four times a day. Sometimes you'll give a couple tastes and your palate will become a little flat or whatever, but if I try to come up with a drink, I'll make 60 or 70 of them, changing ingredients by a quarter of an ounce. Not using this, or using this in a certain way. An ounce and a half of the Hendrix when it should have been two ounces. After you taste it, they all start to taste the same, so it could take you a long time to get it that way. SS: It's good to have a good team around you as well. Like with us, I'm one of five principle bartenders [at Employees Only]. The meetings are fun, I'll tell you guys. We all have different views and different visions, but we all love getting stuff done. So I'll come up with a concept for an idea and throw it out, and somebody will be like, "Well why don't you try this instead?" Well, "Oh shit, let's do that!" We make it together, and it brings us together as a big family. Our meetings are fun, because we've all been there for the apprenticeship, so we all respect each other, we're all from different parts of the world. So, usually we just yell at each other and make fun of each other and something happens at the end. [laughs] SC: [laughs] I ask chefs too, because we're a late night bar. After all the restaurants in the area close, people know we're still open, and a lot of [restaurant] employees will sit down. If I'm stuck with a drink or whatever, a couple guys will come in from a restaurant and I'll go over and say, "Taste that and tell me what you're missing." And he'll say, let's just throw out an example, "Have you considered less of the simple syrup and adding a quarter ounce of pickle juice?" It's so simple. And he'll get up and he'll run back to his own restaurant where he brines his own pickles, and he'll bring me back a gallon of the juice and be like, "Try that." And then, "There it is! Thank you!" Input. Good palates. Good friends. And then time. SS: When it comes to actually making drinks, I've been all over the world at the best bars on the planet, I don't remember a damn thing I drank! [laughs] SS: I remember if they were good, if they were made well. But if I had a good time or not, that's the big thing. Drinks can get people into your place, but it's up to the bartender to keep people coming back. A kickass cocktail will get you in, but I've been in some bars where the drinks are awesome but the bartenders are such douchebags! [laughs] SC: Like forget about it! Get me out of here, please! SS: Yeah, you know? SC: Makes you want to phone in your drink order so it's ready when you get there. [laughs] SS: Just leave it on the bar! [laughs] And I've been in bars where I love the bartenders and have such a good time, but the drinks are so bad. I don't want to go there either, but I kind of love it. SC: So you'd rather a bad drink and a good bartender than a good drink and a bad bartender? SS: To be honest, man? Yeah! Yes, you know? SC: It'll shift your time. A good time will change your palate. SS: Hey, there's always bottles of beer! [laughs]
Hey Bartender Interview photo
Two of the principle subjects of Hey Bartender ask what it'll be tonight, pal
Douglas Tirola's documentary Hey Bartender looks at the rise of the craft cocktail and the role of the bartender in society. Two of the bartenders at the center of the film are Steve Schneider and Stephen Carpentieri. Even th...

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Steven Soderbergh to rework/recut his film Kafka


"It’s not a tweak: it’s triage."
May 31
// Hubert Vigilla
I haven't seen Steven Soderbergh's Kafka (1991) in at least 15 years. I was in high school at the time and had just started reading Franz Kafka (like any lit geek of that age), and was intrigued by that Kafka movie on VH...

BFF Review: Hank and Asha

May 31 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215731:40171:0[/embed] Hank and AshaDirector: James E. DuffRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD Asha sends the first video. She's an Indian film student studying in Prague who saw a documentary that Hank made at a film festival. She just wants to let him know how much she enjoyed it. Hank sends an awkward reply back. He's a New York transplant from North Carolina, and he's not the crusty old documentarian that Asha expected. From there, they strike up a rapport that becomes a friendship that could become something more. Kakkar and Pastides have a charming chemistry together even though their communication is technically done in monologue. Somehow screenwriters James E. Duff and Julia Morrison create a sense of conversation between these two characters, and it's not just that they're responding to each other's questions. Intimacy and familiarity gradually develops, and their back and forth feels like exchanges people might have in person. And yet days may intervene between responses rather than seconds. Sometimes the time between replies gets mentioned, and it reminded me that this isn't just Skyping. The performances and the screenplay understand the privacy of this correspondence. These videos, like love letters, are things that only Hank and Asha will see, and they get to be themselves in these private exchanges, not necessarily acting how they would in public. They'll sing songs, they'll do embarrassing skits, they'll make fools of themselves, but that's just the nature of friendships and romances in private places, whether on paper on in pixels -- when deeply felt, love letters have no room for irony, shame, or embarrassment. The idea of time in the movie brings me back to the idea of lives existing outside of the letters in epistolary stories. For Hank and Asha, their lives outside of their videos present certain complications to their relationship. While they might appreciate each other for who they are, I got the feeling that they also appreciated each other for what they represented. They are embodiments of escape, both from the real-life complications they face and the loneliness of big cities. Maybe the second issue is more important. What becomes clear early on is that both Hank and Asha are lonely. They don't seem to have many friends outside of work or school, and their living situations may only be temporary. I sensed that outside of these videos they're unable to meet or connect with people naturally. Whatever there is between Hank and Asha, it's a space of comfort, which may explain why they're so quick to connect. At the end of many of their videos is some unspoken, "Somewhere, finally, someone gets me." If they were in the same city, maybe they wouldn't have ever met, or if they did run into each other, they may not have even said hello. A few weeks ago our own Liz Rugg brought up the idea of meeting people you know online in real life. If you only know a person through online interactions, they may seem great (or awful, depending on who you know). So much of what appears on social media is an idealization of the self. We present our best aspects and censor our worst to a point where the persona presented is not necessarily the real person. I couldn't help but think of this as Asha and Hank's relationship began to grow given what winds up in the videos, and especially since they're presenting idealized versions of themselves to each other while viewing each other as ideas of personal connection. I wondered how many versions of one video Hank or Asha might have done before making the one they sent. Or with the videos they send and regret sending, I wondered what they would have done if they took a few minutes (hours, days) to cool down. Again, that weird play with time in the film -- even though epistles should give us a chance to smooth out jagged feelings, those emotions come through even if we regret them immediately after. Sometimes emotional truths cannot be contained by manners or by time. But these questions only come because the film is so lived-in, and because those intervening hours are undisclosed, only hinted at. I might never know exactly what Asha thought of Hank riding his bike across the Williamsburg Bridge and screaming with joy, but I get a sense of it and that's enough. (Hank probably felt the same way.) Similarly, I wondered about what happens to Hank and Asha after this film, but no one possibility presents itself. We know only what's given to us and that's enough because these characters feel so real even if they are, like online personas, just inventions. But maybe there's no shame in certain acts of invention. Like writing and filmmaking, living is based on revision. Through a little honest refinement, maybe we create a persona that feels natural. Even if the persona is better than the real thing, it's an aspirational figure that represents who we really are if only we were able to be ourselves completely. I'm reminded of something Roger Ebert wrote about John Cassvaetes's A Woman Under the Influence: "...in life we do not often improvise, but play a character rehearsed for a lifetime." Here in Hank and Asha, the lives are so well played that they slip through the run time and exist outside the film, away from our watching eyes. Hank and Asha screens Saturday, June 1st and Saturday, June 8th. For tickets and more information, click here.
Hank and Asha Review photo
Those unexpected reminders that we are not alone
The perfect love affair is one which is conducted entirely by post. -- George Bernard Shaw Epistolary stories are fascinating to me given what's in the collected correspondence and what's left out. As letters go back and fo...

Review: Missed Connections

May 30 // Geoff Henao
[embed]215755:40158:0[/embed] Missed ConnectionsDirector: Martin SnyderRating: N/ARelease Date: May 7, 2013 on VOD (More information here) Lucy (Mickey Sumner) is getting ready to leave the law firm she works for for a new start in London. In her own words, love isn't luck, it's strategy, and she's attempting to find a man that meets her criteria across the pond. That doesn't bode well for IT man Josh (Jon Abrahams), who's had a crush on Lucy for years. On her final day, Lucy runs into a mysterious Englishman (Jamie Belman) that seemingly fits her type, yet doesn't exchange contact info with him. Her friend turns to the internet to grant her wishes, which Josh and his IT friends intercept. The trio then think up a plan to write various missed connections to lure Lucy out for Josh to romance. If this sounds as creepy and ill-fated as it seems, that's because it is. But hey, we all do crazy things in the name of love, don't we? The general premise is a bit quirky, albeit extremely creepy; then again, aren't most comedies centered around outrageous scenarios? Missed Connections follows a safe rom-com formula of developing a relationship between the boy and girl, but does derive from it by letting the boy and girl "fall in love" before the film ends. However, it uses that to set up a new source of conflict to set up the third act. It's not super innovative, but a good touch. The problem with Missed Connections is that it's not very funny. There are really awkward scenes between Abrahams and Sumner where the film tries to force a laugh out, but it just doesn't work. Could it be a chemistry problem? Maybe. I liked Abrahams energy and would like to see him in more. Sumner was recently in Frances Ha and will be playing Patti Smith in the upcoming CBGB. Missed Connections missed the most important thing in a film: a connection with its audience. Despite some tender moments between Josh and his IT compatriots, Missed Connections felt empty and dead. This is one missed connection you won't mind letting pass.
Missed Connections Review photo
Missed more than just connections.
Missed connections serve as the chosen medium for lovelorn, hopeless romantics who believe in fleeting chance encounters in public. I can say this with confidence, because I used to regularly check missed connections on a dai...

Review: The History of Future Folk

May 30 // Liz Rugg
[embed]215722:40163:0[/embed] The History of Future FolkDirector: John Mitchell, Jeremy Kipp WalkerRating: NRRelease Date: May 31, 2013 The History of Future Folk begins with a father telling his daughter a story about how an alien from the planet Hondo was sent to earth to destroy humans so that the Hondonians could take over their planet for themselves, since an asteroid was barreling towards Hondo and they needed a new place to live. But the alien was stopped in his tracks when he heard music for the first time. There is no music on Hondo, and the alien was absolutely captivated and decided that he had to save both of the planets somehow instead. That back story is told in the first few minutes and then we realize that the father telling the story actually is the alien - the revered Hondonian -- General Trius. Gen. Trius, also known by his Earth name, Bill, appears to live a quiet, life in Earth's Brooklyn with his wife and young daughter. He works as a groundskeeper at a space research facility outside of New York and moonlights as a folk musician at a small bar where he preforms in his Hondonian soldier outfit and uses his real identity as an alien as a comedy act. Bill's seemingly quiet life is abruptly disrupted when another Hondonian soldier, named Kevin, crash lands on Earth. Kevin is sent to release the deadly weapon and destroy the human race in Bill's place, but Kevin is a bit bumbling, and with Bill's help he soon understands why music and humans are so special. General Trius and The Mighty Kevin then join forces to save both Earth and Hondo. The History of Future Folk is extremely charming for a number of reasons. Firstly, it plays its oddball premise with an entirely straight face. Even though there are a number of things in the movie which feel very low-production; costumes, the fact that you never see other planets, space travel, there is a sense of continuity in that. The movie never tires to get all Icarus on itself, it doesn't overstep its bounds. It feels cohesive in that way and actually uses its sort of low production value to its advantage in the juxtaposition of its wacky characters and ideas in a modern day, realistic Brooklyn setting. Secondly, and perhaps most adorably, Future Folk shows a clear love of music. A major part of the strength of this movie is its wonderful script and how many different themes it brings together. Future Folk could have been a simple story about aliens being sent to destroy Earth and then not wanting to, and that would've been alright. But it's when the movie underlines everything with a completely unabashed, joyous discovery of music that it really tugs at your heart. The History of Future Folk is not perfect, though. While it is undeniably cute and works well for what it does, it never really becomes totally outstanding. While it's a very enjoyable experience, ultimately I think it will be a bit forgettable. There just isn't quite enough polish or punch to really push Future Folk to the next level, but it's hard to exactly define what it's missing. The interactions between Bill and his wife's character, Holly, also felt forced and bland, especially when compared to the unlikely pair of Kevin and his love interest Carmen, who have the fiery passion of a thousand blazing suns. The awkwardness in Bill and Holly's relationship unfortunately held me back from believing in them as a couple. Holly is supposed to be one of the main reasons Bill stayed on Earth, I mean he married her and had a kid with her! There just wasn't enough development to drive it home that he loved her and needed to save his family as well as the rest of the world. All in all though, I really enjoyed watching The History of Future Folk. It's cute, fun, and never takes itself too seriously, which is really what the Alien Folk Duo Sci-Fi Action Romance Comedy Musical genre is all about. Hondo!
Future Folk Review photo
Acoustical Alien Music
The History of Future Folk is about the origins of the universe's only alien bluegrass folk duo, and how they discovered and fell in love with Earth's music. It's charming, adventurous, and a ton of fun. I mean when's the las...

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See Kings of Summer early and free


Washington DC screening
May 23
// Matthew Razak
Tired of big action blockbusters already? Have we got the cure for you. Free passes for two to The Kings of Summer on July 6, a coming of age story about three boys who decide to build a house and live off the land for a summ...

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