Liberal Arts

(Josh Radnor, 2012)

with Mike Lavoie, James Fauvell, Chelsea Salyer, Meredith Holcomb, and Carlee Briglia, Broadway Cinemas (SLC), 1/28/12

3

Well, this was a bewildering experience.  The first half of the movie is terrible, really terrible – stilted, affected, and pretentious.  Because we know that movies almost never get better as they go along (usually, it’s the reverse), we can justifiably assume that this experience isn’t headed anywhere good.  And then – what do you know? – it gets better.  To the point of actually having one really good scene.  (For the record, it’s the scene where Allison Janney tells off the Josh Radnor character for being such a namby-pamby, in-touch-with-his-feelings wuss.  Maybe he should have listened.)

And this brings us to one of the movie’s larger problems: Josh Radnor is not a good actor.  The more he tries to be charming, the more his fundamental smugness shows through.  The more he tries to be serious, the flimsier his presence is.  The fact that he’s cast himself as a character every woman in the movie is compelled to throw herself at, despite his lack of any obvious good qualities, doesn’t help matters.  Neither does the aggressively self-conscious dialogue he’s written for himself and every actor in the movie – though, to be fair, there are some genuinely clever lines mixed in with the awful clunkers.  Radnor seems to actually have some talent as a writer.  He just needs to lose the cutesiness and find a better leading man.

Published in: on January 30, 2012 at 1:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Shorts Program 5

(various directors, 2012)

with Mike Lavoie, James Fauvell, Meredith Holcomb, Chelsea Salyer, and Carlee Briglia, Holiday Village Cinemas, 1/27/12

2 (overall rating)

Again, there's one good one. And this is it.

[Bobby Yeah, Famous Person Talent Agency: Pearls of Asia, Fourplay: Tampa, Juku, Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke, Moxie, Tumult]

These films are so aggressively weird that if I described them as offensive, revolting, or just plain horrible, their makers could probably take it as a compliment.  Instead, I’ll cut straight to their greatest sin: they’re boring.  The exception is “Tumult,” a high-concept black comedy from Scotland that’s not entirely satisfying, but certainly shines like a beacon among all this dull dreck.

Published in: on January 27, 2012 at 8:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ethel

(Rory Kennedy, 2012)

with Mike Lavoie, Chelsea Salyer, and Carlee Briglia, Temple Theater, 1/26/12

7

A sweeping, emotional portrait of a family, an era, and an extraordinary woman.  Sometimes it amazes me that the United States survived the 1960’s; what’s even more amazing is that Ethel Kennedy got through them with so much of her humor and passion intact.  Ethel makes no apologies for taking an insider’s view of its subject; director Rory Kennedy, Ethel’s 11th child, is also the film’s narrator, and appears on camera interviewing her mother and her surviving siblings.  How else do you make a movie about your mother, if not by allowing it to be personal?  Ethel gives us a rare chance to take in the scope of a truly remarkable life.

Published in: on January 27, 2012 at 8:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

For Ellen

(So Yong Kim, 2012)

with Mike Lavoie, Chelsea Salyer, and Carlee Briglia, Eccles Theater, 1/26/12

4

Basically the same movie as California Solo, but somewhat more artfully made.  The wintry landscapes are desolate and beautiful, and Paul Dano’s performance is excellent, but the movie’s pace is sluggish, and at times – no kidding – it stops completely.  Why the director thinks we need to spend a minute and a half staring at a static shot of two characters drifting through a toy store is beyond me.  I can justify it intellectually – and I’m sure the director can too – but on the level of audience experience, it’s painful and insulting.  Filmmakers should know better.

Published in: on January 27, 2012 at 12:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Shorts Program 3

(various directors, 2012)

with Mike Lavoie, Chelsea Salyer, and Carlee Briglia, Prospector Theater, 1/26/12

3 (overall rating)

This is the good one. Trust me.

[Rolling on the Floor Laughing, Surveillant, Dol (First Birthday), Fort, L Train, Frozen Stories]

It’s astonishing – and disturbing – how similar these films are in terms of style and narrative structure (or lack thereof).  They’re all slow, slow, artsy, slow, and fiercely committed to not having an ending.  This is, apparently, the Official Short Film Style of Independent Cinema.  The bright exception is the Polish film “Frozen Stories,” which rounded out the program and played almost like a parody of all the films that preceded it.  “Frozen Stories” is slow, too, but the slowness has a purpose; it’s part of the film’s hilariously deadpan aesthetic, and befits the exquisite melancholy of its two main characters.  If you ever get the chance, see “Frozen Stories.”  Avoid the others, and consider yourself lucky.

Published in: on January 27, 2012 at 11:31 am  Leave a Comment  

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

(Alison Klayman, 2012)

with Mike Lavoie, James Fauvell, Chelsea Salyer, and Carlee Briglia, Temple Theater, 1/26/12

7

Now here’s a guy worth making a documentary about!  Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei is a charismatic and bracingly rebellious figure – one part sage, one part hooligan, as mischievous as he is passionate, and 100% charming.  Because he lives and works in Communist China, Ai Weiwei isn’t just a merry prankster; he’s a merry prankster whose antics constitute a heartfelt plea for freedom and justice.  Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry celebrates art, humor, political resistance, and the wide-reaching power of electronic media.  Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Published in: on January 27, 2012 at 11:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Black Rock

(Katie Aselton, 2012)

with Mike Lavoie, Robb Stey, Chelsea Salyer, and Carlee Briglia, Egyptian Theater, 1/25/12

5

I’d like to coin the phrase “chamber thriller,” for a suspense movie that deliberately keeps its locations and characters to a minimum, for the sake of claustrophobic terror and/or budgetary concerns.  Black Rock is a capable entry in the genre, but it gets clumsier as it goes along, and the final violent confrontation is downright laughable.  Still, not a bad little film.

Published in: on January 27, 2012 at 10:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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California Solo

(Marshall Lewy, 2012)

with Robb Stey, James Fauvell, and Meredith Holcomb, 1/25/12

3

If you start to ask yourself why you should care what happens in a given movie, that movie is basically over.  California Solo isn’t terrible, but it suffers from the Who cares? affliction, and there’s really no recovering from that.  Robert Carlyle is plenty charming, but the supporting cast is weak, the visuals are murky, and the story feels awfully trivial.  All in all: meh.

Published in: on January 27, 2012 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Putin’s Kiss

(Lise Birk Pedersen, 2012)

with Mike Lavoie, Robb Stey, Chelsea Salyer, and Carlee Briglia, Prospector Theater, 1/25/12

4

This documentary about a member of Russia’s official “youth movement” who begins to question her devotion to the cause often feels more like a fiction film than a doc – and I don’t mean that as a compliment.  At times, we’re simply unsure what we’re watching: a staged conversation?  A recreation of a real conversation?  An actual conversation that seems fake only because the cameras are there?  The melodramatic music and freeze-frames aren’t helping matters; they make it seem like the filmmakers are forcing their story to be dramatic.  But the biggest problem is the movie’s main character, Masha Drokova, who’s just too much of a bland, affectless cipher to build a film around.

Published in: on January 27, 2012 at 10:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Indie Game: The Movie

(James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot, 2012)

with Mike Lavoie, Chelsea Salyer, and Carlee Briglia, Prospector Theater, 1/25/12

7

If you’re interested in video games, you should absolutely see this movie.  If you’re interested in art or people, that’s probably reason enough too.  Indie Game is an intimate portrait of four independent video-game creators – all of them fascinating oddball loners of the highest order.  Following these guys through their trials and triumphs is an experience that’s funny, poignant, and yes, actually inspiring.  There’s something beautiful about a human being’s drive to express himself – even if his self-expression takes the form of something called Super Meat Boy.

Published in: on January 27, 2012 at 12:21 am  Leave a Comment