It would have been enough for Rob Spera’s The Sweet Life to be a boring, unoriginal, self-consciously “dark” comedy for mopey drama club teenagers. But then it had to go and be offensively reductive about depression and mental health.
From nearly the beginning of Amber Tamblyn’s Paint It Black, I had my guard up. Shots of the Echo Park Blvd. street sign and the cult famous happy foot/sad foot spinning podiatrist sign made me worry that I was in for a try-hard catalog of cool kid L.A. signifiers. Things nearly came to a peak when the protagonist, Josie (Alia Shawkat) answered the phone in her apartment and it was a hot pink, decorated, chunky plastic artifact of a landline. Shortly after this, though, it occurred to me that I may have been too harsh, at the very least, the phone thing was forgiven as I gained the realization that this was a period piece (probably sometime in the 1980s). That doesn’t explain why characters are seen drinking cocktails out of mason jars at a hip bar but the subtlety of the era is commendable. Once I’d relaxed, I eventually found myself under the sway of this messy but unique movie.
Early on, Chris Sparling’s home invasion horror movie Mercy is going to try to trick you into thinking that it’s about family or faith or the sticky subject of euthanasia. But those are just some of the first red herrings in a movie that’s full of them. As the bodies pile up, the lenses flare and the twists build to a final, preposterous reveal, it becomes clear that this is pure pulp. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun, though.
Lloyd Stanton and Paul Toogood’s Dying Laughing gets off to a dubious start, with its panoply of stand-up comedian interviewees gushing in awestruck, hushed tones about their art and its craft. It sets up an expectation of a bald hagiography of the form without analysis or criticism. Eventually, it settles into some more fertile grounds and ultimately satisfies. Still, it leaves you wondering what its worth is, exactly, in a time when we have so many good and in-depth podcasts on the subject.
An indie comedy about a young, female Olympian who’s the star of her home town? Don’t worry. Those of you still scarred by The Bronze can breathe easy. Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher’s Tracktown may possess some of the quirks of that other movie along with its loose overlap in premise but it’s a far better and more emotionally honest work.
When you think of a documentary, you don’t necessarily think of a movie as being driven by its lead. Owen Suskind, however, the subject of Roger Ross Williams’ Life, Animated, is so charming and funny a central figure that he keeps the movie afloat even when it’s trafficking in superficiality
One of the reasons film genres and subgenres endure is their adaptiveness. Maria Govan’s Play the Devil, for instance, is in many ways a recognizable, off the shelf psychosexual thriller. Yet, by setting it where she does and tweaking the sexual orientations of the characters from the norm, she is able to add in an exploration of class, religion and homosexuality in Trinidad and Tobago. The end result never quite quickens the pulse like it’s meant to but the ambition on display is noble.
Isaac Rentz’ Opening Night begins promisingly enough as we follow Nick (Topher Grace) out of his apartment and down Broadway into the back of a theater where a new show of which he is the stage manager is about to premiere. It’s a lively and funny sequence in which we learn Nick’s basic backstory and we meet every major character we’ll see over the next 90 minutes, all with a low-fi, handheld graininess that screams “indie.” Soon, though, we’ll see that the energy established by this intro is doomed to fizzle out, borrowed as it is from so many other, better movies that have come before. Sadly, other than a healthy number of quite good jokes, there’s little about Opening Night that is original at all.
Remy Auberjonois’ gripping and somber Blood Stripe announces a number of talents from whom we can hope to expect more great things in the future. The first is Auberjonois himself, a well-established character actor making his debut as both director and screenwriter. Even more impressive, though, is his co-writer and star, Kate Nowlin whose intense and empathetic screen presence gives us what may be the best physical and emotional performance of the year so far.