BAMcinemaFEST (June 17th - July 2nd, 2009)
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Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.
Based on a true story. In 1974, 19-year-old Michael Petersen (Tom Hardy) brought a shot-gun into a post office and robbed it without killing anyone. He was immediately sentenced to 7 years in prison, but that turned into 34 years instead, 30 of which he served in solitary confinement. In prison, he became even more deranged and innately angry, while renaming himself as Charles Bronson, yet he projects himself as oddly gleeful and oblivious to the severity of his tragic situations. When he briefly gets out of prison, he meets up with his Uncle Jack (Hugh Ross), who runs a brothel, and attends a very bizarre transvestite party there that’ll make you feel as though you’re watching a David Lynch film. Uncle Jack has one of the funniest and memorable lines in the film when he starts a speech by saying, “Attention ladies and gentlemen in ladies attire.” In another scene outside of jail, Peterson, now as Bronson, has sex with a woman, Allison (Juliet Oldfield), and fleetingly shows his softer side. Director/co-writer Nicolas Winding Refn, who wrote/directed The Pusher Trilogy, combines action, thrills, drama and dark, offbeat comedy with plenty of verve. On the surface, Bronson isn’t a likable character, especially given how insane and aggressive he comes across. However, throughout the thin plot, he grows on you in a strange way and becomes irresistibly entertaining to watch as well as unpredictable. The violence onscreen never becomes too gratuitous—it’s to some degree stylized in a way that diminishes its shock value. Refn chooses not to delve into a psychological analysis of Bronson. Instead, he merely shows you with a unrelenting focus what Bronson was like back then and tries to capture the bizarreness and intensity of being inside his mind. Tom Hardy portrays him in a truly powerful, raw performance that resonates with not only energy, but with lots of charisma as well. It’s also worth mentioning how Refn uses the musical score along with brilliant, stylish cinematography to create a somewhat surreal atmosphere. At a running time of 1 hour and 32 minutes, Bronson is ultimately an invigorating, refreshingly stylish biopic brimming with dark humor, surrealism and an unforgettable, brave performance by Tom Hardy. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens October 9th, 2009 at the Angelika Film Center.
Directed by Andrew Bujalski.
Lauren (Maggie Hatcher), an unemployed young woman, lives with her paraplegic twin sister, Jeannie (Tilly Hatcher), in the suburbs of Austin, Texas. She has yet to decide whether or not to accept a job teaching English overseas. Jeannie co-owns a vintage clothing store with her business partner, Amanda (Anne Dodge). Jeannie and Amanda don’t quite get along with each other anymore professionally, which threatens their partnership and business. Soon enough, Amanda sends her an email threatening her with a lawsuit, so Jeannie summons the legal help of her ex-boyfriend, Merrill (Alex Karpovsky), who’s studying for the bar exam. Merrill and Jeannie, in turn, rekindle their romance as he helps her avoid legal troubles with Amanda. Writer/director Andrew Bujalski, known for writing/director “Mumblecore” films such as Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation, includes a plot that’s slightly meatier than that of a Mumblecore film, but there’s still not really that much going on that creates palpable tension or intrigue. Since there’s not enough plot tension, there should be at least something to compensate for that, such as lively characters or provocative insights. However, none of the characters really stand out or feel memorable, so it’s difficult to care about what happens to them. Had Bujalski included more insight into what they’re thinking and feeling, it would have been helpful to keep you more engrossed in the story. On a positive note, the dialogue does sound very true-to-life while the understated, naturalistic performances seem believable. Jeannie and Merrill have some chemistry together and it’s interesting to watch their relationship gradually unfold as well as how Jeannie and Lauren interact with one another as twin sisters. Unfortunately, the third act falls apart because it feels too rushed, contrived and forgettable. Beeswax manages to be a mildly engaging, low-key drama that’s somewhat lazy, bland and ultimately underwhelming. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Cinema Guild. Opens August 7th, 2009 at the Film Forum.
Directed by Robert Siegel.
Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt), a 35-year-old single man, lives with his mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz) in Staten Island and works a dull job as an attendant at a parking garage. Essentially, he leads an aimless life where his only passion is the New York Giants and calling into a radio station late at night to show his support his favorite team. His only friend, Sal (Kevin Corrigan), watches the games with him together from a parking lot. When he and Sal happen to spot Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm), a New York Giants linebacker, at a gas station, he decides to follow his car all the way into Manhattan, where Quantrell enters a strip club. Not surprisingly, Paul and Sal follow him into the club and desperately try to communicate with him, but when Quantrell learns that they stalked him all the way from Staten Island, he physically assaults Paul to the extent that he needs to be hospitalized. It’s at that point that Paul’s life goes into a new direction. His more successful brother, brother, Jeff (Gino Cafarelli), who happens to be a lawyer, insists on pressing charges against Quantrell and suing him for $77 million. Meanwhile, a detective (Matt Servitto) won’t get off his back about the details of the night of the assault. Will Paul follow through with pressing charges? What might happen if the detective learns that Paul and Sal stalked Quantrell? The real question, though, is what it would take for Paul to finally grow up and realize that his life isn’t really going anywhere purposeful. Although, he’s 35-years-old, you’d think he were still a teenager given his behavior and stupidity. Patton Oswalt’s decent, lively performance as Paul keeps you mildly engaged at least. It’s alright that writer/director Robert Siegel makes Paul seem so unappealing, charmless, juvenile and bird-brained, but it would have been interesting had he further explored the roots of Paul’s immaturity and allowed for his transformations or realizations, regardless of how small, to be more organic. Moreover, the screenplay could have used a heavier dose of clever humor because most of the comedic attempts fall flat. Too many scenes feel awkward and dull, as especially as the plot progresses into the inane third act that leaves you with a bad aftertaste. At a running time of 86 minutes, Big Fan suffers from a lazy, bland screenplay deficient in sharpness, insight and imagination which can’t be saved by Patton Oswalt’s oddly engaging performance. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by First Independent Films. Opens August 28th, 2009 at the Angelika Film Center.
The Exploding Girl
Directed by Bradley Rust Gray.
Ivy (Zoe Kazan) returns to Brooklyn for the summer where she spends time with her laidback, platonic friend, Al (Mark Rendall). She has a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend, Greg, but their romantic chemistry gradually wanes as they try to communicate with one another by phone. Meanwhile, her relationship with Al might actually be something more than just platonic. The thin plot feels quitely absorbing thanks to the tender screenplay by writer/director Bradley Rust Gray and well-nuanced, very natural performances by Zoe Kazan and Mark Rendall. Gray acheives a sense of realism through the organic dialogue, exquisite cinematography and leisurely pacing. These are the kind of characters who gradually grow on you and, given how true-to-life they seem, you'll find them hard to forget. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. No distributor, yet.
Directed by Lynn Shelton.
Ben lives in a suburban home with his wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore). One night, his college friend, Andrew (Joshua Leonard), whom he hasn’t seen for a while, shows up out of the blue up at his doorstep and invites him to a small house party the following night. At the party, Andrew informs him that there’s an amateur porn film festival contest called Humpfest. He would like Ben to participate in the homemade porn film in hopes of turning it into a work of art that will make it a winner. The only catch is that by “participating,” Ben would be having gay sex with Andrew on camera. They both agree that two straight friends having sex with one another would be not only artistic somehow but funny. Just how might Ben be able to explain this to Anna without her freaking out? Or will he even be able to follow through with his commitment to have sex with Andrew once they arrive at the hotel room to start filming? Writer/director Lynn Shelton does a great job of creating awkwardly funny or just plain awkward scenes as Ben and Andrew discuss their special film project with one another. Neither of them goes into great detail about their fundamental motivations, especially because both of them seem rather dim-witted. Anna, though, is the only character who’s relatively intelligent, sane and rational enough to admire. Many of the earlier scenes right after Ben and Andrew agree to make a porno generate some humor and feel refreshing. There’s plenty of organic dialogue and emphasis on character development rather than plot, just like you would expect from a “Mumblecore” film. At times you feel like a voyeur into the lives of these characters. However, Shelton simply doesn’t take the material far enough and stretches it out so thinly that, by the time Ben and Andrew reach the hotel room, you just want them to get their sex act over with while caring less about the final outcome. Humpday manages to be initially refreshing, witty and awkwardly funny, but it morphs into a shallow, tedious, lazy and ultimately forgettable comedy. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens July 10th, 2009 at the Angelika Film Center.
In the Loop
Directed by Armando Iannucci.
When Britain's Minister of International Development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), announces that "war is unforeseeable" on live British radio, his boss, Malcolm (Peter Capaldi) pressures him to find away to fix his slip-of-the-tongue so as to avoid a war between the UK and the US. Once he arrives in the US, he meets Assistant Secretary of Diplomacy, Karen (Mimi Kennedy), and her intern, Liza (Anna Chlumsky), who try getting him involved in their anti-war movement along with General George Miller, played in a hilarious performance by James Gandolfini. It's very rare to find such an adult comedy that's concurrently intelligent, biting, satirical and brutally funny. British humor tends to be more irreverent than American humor and, in this case, director/co-writer Armando Iannucci takes the humor to new, unpredictable of crassness. Every member of the cast has a great time with their role and you'll have just as much fun watching them onscreen. Their comedic energy and enthusiasm radiates from start to finish and will leave you in stitches. The many one-liners zip on by very fast, so please be sure to pay close attention to the dialogue.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by IFC Films. Opens July 24th, 2009.