New Cops

'New Cops' movie poster

Release: Monday, February 15, 2016 (online)

[YouTube]

Directed by: Timothy Morton

Timothy Morton’s New Cops has a cozy home-made feel to it and while the low overhead is certainly noticeable it doesn’t stop us from having a little bit of fun with these guys.

Morton’s latest, a project six years in the making, premiered on February 15 on NoBudge.com, a screening venue for independent film where a new short or feature film is added every Tuesday. The brainchild of independent actor and filmmaker Kentucker Audley, who has been running the show since 2011, NoBudge has become testament to what can be accomplished on practically zero-dollar budgets (hence the site title).

New Cops finds Morton playing a man in a funk, someone sleepwalking through his every day existence while experiencing bizarre yet fulfilling dreams every time he goes to sleep, where he enjoys the power and prestige that comes with being the President (of what exactly, I was never sure. Of the nation? Of a company? Does it matter?) One afternoon his friend Chet (Jimmy Kustes) shows up asking for a couch to crash on for a couple of days while a storm blows over at his house.

Soon enough Chet proves to be quite the nuisance as he tries to rope Tim into various schemes such as passing off neighborhood junk as usable on Craig’s List, and scamming fast food joints with expired coupons. If that wasn’t enough, it’s been several days since Tim has seen his girlfriend and he has not a clue as to her whereabouts, though he suspects she’s with another man. As his real world problems start to seep into his idealized existence, Tim is forced to take action in the only way he knows how: hire a private detective (David Maloney) to do the President’s dirty work.

New Cops, a title derived from a TV show Tim likes to watch, struggles to make a lot of sense. Given that its protagonist seems to spend more time in a dreamlike trance than out of one, I can let the lapses in logic and unexplained (or poorly conceived) developments slide. There is a lot of charm to the awkwardness and dialogue is largely improvised, giving conversations a natural flow, even if that flow is interrupted regularly by some jumpy editing.

Morton’s latest is a fun, creative slice of mumblecore cinema that explores the frustration of a man desperate to overcome self-esteem issues and it often does so to comic effect. It’s a strange adventure that interrogates the very nature and significance of our dreams.

Recommendation: While there are many issues I have with the film on a technical level, overall I think this is a fairly successful experiment that I have no trouble recommending to others who appreciate and actively support micro-budget independent cinema. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 52 mins.

[No trailer available; sorry everyone.]

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Prince Avalanche

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Release: Friday, August 9, 2013 (limited)

[Netflix]

Mumblecore may not be a lost artform, but it’s pretty clear it’s on the fringes, particularly when the recent entries are as minor as this.

David Gordon Green, after directing more mainstream, sillier things like Pineapple Express, The Sitter and Your Highness, switches gears by creating a story dependent on actual, fine-tuned performances and not upon ridiculous set pieces and poop/fart jokes. He manages to avoid being pretentious with his shoestring budget, though it’s not much of a surprise to see such a divided audience opinion of Prince Avalanche

One of the main reasons the film carries great potential to be off-putting is the extremely slow pace. Seriously. Snails probably would learn a thing or two about slowing down if they could watch this movie. (That’s not to write snails off as being snobbish, by the way; I just think A) their weird little eyes are too small and B) even if they could comprehend this, they would get bored.)

But for us humans, because the film also zeros in on an obscure, isolated job like highway maintenance — Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are responsible for applying all the road markings to a recently repaved section of road in the wake of a destructive wildfire that wiped out a good portion of forest land — there is not a lot to grab a hold of in terms of dramatic material. Plus the fact that extended moments of dialogue-free, panoramic shots of the nondescript environs dominate the narrative early on doesn’t help those who are seeking something to identify with.

When you factor in how Rudd’s character is first presented, this film seems to be making every effort to avoid becoming a crowd-pleaser. (Whoops, did I mention earlier that this film wasn’t pretentious? That might have been a bit of a lie.) Green, though, is able to find a modicum of success in his experimentation. There is a quirkiness to this weird little romp, a very natural humor that makes this story absolutely believable, even if inaccessible (or pointless) to some.

Relying on some nuanced performances, his small-time Avalanche attempts to differentiate between the concepts of ‘being alone’ versus ‘being lonely.’ He goes about this by presenting two starkly different personalities in Alvin and Lance, who show that while both concepts don’t sound favorable, one is definitely worse than the other.

A mustached Paul Rudd truly enjoys the solitude; he claims to be able to focus his downtime into gaining what he considers valuable skills, like learning foreign languages, and that being away from people — like his girlfriend, Madison who is also, by way of holy-shit-it’s-a-small-world, Lance’s sister — actually helps him better himself. Compare that to Hirsch’s whiny, materialistic Lance, who has slightly less ambitious stupider . . .we’ll just go with different goals and desires, like going into town on his days off and looking for some girls to take home with him. He’s clearly less satisfied with his employment and, hence, the lonely one.

Yet, there’s a monotonous amount of road-paintin’, and silence-havin’ — I think at some point, a bee gets to chew some scenery — all of this to get through as this simple albeit earnest story slowly gains traction. This is a movie filmed through cameras virtually ingrained into the trees and the mud and thickets through which we see this movie unfold. You have to give credit to Green and his right-hand man, D.O.P. Tim Orr for literally absorbing the environment in which they are in. At the same time, I cannot blame those who end up feeling a little insulted by watching a movie that literally takes place on the shoulder of a road.

Ultimately, Prince Avalanche is a decent film that perhaps treads the line between immateriality and art-house a bit too closely at times. The performances are too good to ignore though, and there is a warm conviction with which these two loners eventually come to embrace their statuses in life. The low-key affair is also dressed in a gorgeous soundtrack by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo, which, it can also be legitimately argued, the film relies on a bit too much at times.

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3-5Recommendation: Experimental at best and inconsequential at worst, Prince Avalanche is not a film for everyone yet those who do crack its hard outer shell shall reap the rewards of its heartfelt message and will appreciate the quality of the two oddball performances. It’s also a good one to check out for yet another different Paul Rudd experience.

Rated: R

Running Time: 94 mins.

Quoted: “So when you say something negative and insult the other person… You’re really just showing that other person what an unsure-of-yourself-type person that you really feel like you are.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Safety Not Guaranteed

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Release: Friday, June 8, 2012 (limited)

[Redbox]

‘Send her out into the world. You know that she’s bound to get hurt. God softly moved the young girl, when she was digging in the dirt. You’re hurt, so bring it back.’

And as I continue to repeat the lyrics of one particularly nice tune featured in Safety Not Guaranteed — to the point where the song might wear out its welcome much sooner than it should — I can’t help but link the longing in the voice and the sense of displacement in the words to the experience of watching this for the first time. Safety may not be a guarantee director Colin Trevorrow can make, but he damn well can ensure that his first full-length feature will be a good one. Like the song, there is a simple finesse about this newest member of mumblecore cinema, an appeal that materializes as naturally as the roles of leads Aubrey Plaza (as Darius) and Mark Duplass (as ‘crazy’ Kenneth).

Three Seattle Magazine writers become entangled with an eccentric loner’s ambitious time-traveling experiment when he suddenly finds himself the target of their story. He has posted an ad in the classified section of the local paper asking for someone to go back in time with him. They attempt to interview him to get some information first but the source, as luck would have it, is something of a hermit and not the type of guy you could easily get on the phone. And so develops a fascinating and hilarious espionage.

Their first opportunity to speak with Kenneth, naturally, goes about as well as banana-and-tuna on burnt rye.

Thanks to an impressively irritating performance by Jake M. Johnson, the interns’ slacker-of-an-editor Jeff, he comes across far too aggressively for Kenneth to want to divulge any information whatsoever. In fact, he’s immediately taken aback by the act of Jeff even appearing on his property. He leaves and the team needs to figure out a new way to get something from this guy.

It’s a good thing the trio of journalists have Darius to call upon. In one of my favorite new break-out roles, Plaza delivers an extremely charming performance that is all at once warming, cold, distant and intimate. This girl is a very curious sort, but as it turns out, she could very well be their best chance at interviewing this guy. And that is of course to say, she’d be the ideal candidate to travel back in time with Kenneth. They are, after all, responding to this ad they found and for sometime they seem serious about pursuing it, no matter how unlikely it may seem to the rest of us.

Where Safety Not Guaranteed really becomes fun and lets its quirky charm fill the screen follows Darius’s meeting with this time traveler/hermit fella. Kenneth operates incognito as a grocery store clerk when not messing with technology or sending out ads seeking a traveling partner. It’s funny, though. That “are you kidding me” look you get so accustomed to seeing in Darius’ eyes is notably absent when she approaches him in the store. It’s maybe the first time we see her open up to anyone. (It’s become pretty obvious at this juncture that she’s not too interested in her colleagues.)

And so what if it has taken this long to get to her?

As one might expect, the film is going to, at one time or another, surrender itself to building an unusual relationship, between that of a curious journalist and a borderline sociopathic genius. However, the film hardly takes the front door into the house.

One of the main tenets of Trevorrow’s feature debut is patience; this film is about finding love at just the right moment. It has no intention of feeding you another hokie story of love at first sight. Following the grocery store meeting there is plenty of suspense and character building generated between Darius and the increasingly paranoid Kenneth. His fears, as far as Darius can tell, are unusual and may include government agents following him, but she’s game to follow along. As are we. Where there’s little room for corniness, there’s opportunity aplenty to identify with these characters, quirky as they are. They are full flesh-and-blood, both still reeling from pains felt earlier in their life. It is easy to see that these two have something, but spare us the Valentine’s Day colors.

And Trevorrow, in all his genius, does!

On top of that, his genius shall also include an ability to cap off a great film with its most gratifying element yet: the conclusion. There are several legitimate arguments you could make against it, though. Perhaps we didn’t need to see the time machine itself, and only have clues and inferences to his successful time warp (remember, he’s only done this once before). Perhaps we could have done without the literal translation of Kenneth’s obsession with becoming the next Dr. Emmett Brown. When we see the john boat rigged up with all kinds of signals, radio antennae and other mind-blowing devices, we think “uh-oh.” Has the film become a little too indulgent in making the weird seem normal?

But the physical presence of the boat kind of brings everything into perspective all at once. For one thing, this guy is not quite as insane as we’ve been building him up to be in our minds (since the film really puts the character into situations where we’re unable to think anything differently. . . he steals lasers from a government building, for example). Secondly, nobody else has been close enough to him to know what his true intentions have been and now that we know them, he seems to be a more legitimate scientist, not to mention, something of a romantic.

And third, who can forget the final line spoken by Kenneth as he disappears as quickly as he popped into the picture:

“To go it alone, or to go with a partner. When you choose a partner, you have to make compromises and sacrifices, but it is the price you pay. Do I want to follow my every whim as I make my way through time and space? Absolutely. But, at the end of the day, do I need someone when I’m doubting myself and I’m insecure and MY heart’s failing me. Do I need someone who, when the heat gets hot, has my back?”

It’s one hell of a parting gift.

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4-0Recommendation: If you’re a fan of the Duplass brothers’ work, you’ve likely already sought this one out. It was released in June of 2012 so I have no real good reason why it’s taken me this long to seeing it. Now that I have, I absolutely will take it one step further and suggest this film to any who are a fan of the mumblecore movement, and even beyond, to those who enjoy a good romantic flick. It’s not overt in that manner, but that’s its strongest quality: remaining understated.

Rated: R

Running Time: 86 mins.

Quoted: “There’s no sense in nonsense, especially when the heat is hot.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Jeff, Who Lives At Home

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Release: September 14, 2011 (limited)

[Redbox]

Jeff, Who Lives At Home may be as skimpy on the scenes/shots as a filmmaker may ever want to go without having to possibly reconsider his career in full-length features. With this new Duplass story, we meet, greet and then leave in under 80 minutes — if you don’t include end credits.

In that way, Jeff really is paced like a semi-tragic short story, a novella of true novelty. Its the story of a strange 30-year-old man-child who lives in his mother’s basement and has an (endearing) obsession with things being universally connected. One day his mom calls requesting that he do her a solid and run to the local Home Depot to pick up some wood glue for a broken kitchen item. In the course of trying to accomplish the one task, Jeff gets distracted.

Segel’s character is a man of depth, to say the least. The movie is constructed so that it catches him at all the coincidental (or not) moments which enable him to think that things are all happening for a reason. An angry caller with the wrong number (or, again, is it?) keeps asking for someone named Kevin. Confused, he hangs up but Jeff’s left wondering.

Along the way we bump into Jeff’s older brother Pat (Ed Helms) who looks like this the entire time:

A strung-out paint store employee, Pat’s a night-and-day difference from our main man. His marital woes are obvious: he’s impulse-bought a Porsche — as one does to enhance their love life. Jeff and his brother become entangled en route to finding the ever-illusive ‘Kevin’ and in the process, Pat wrecks his idea of marriage into a tree.

An act of the cosmos? More hilarious than anything, really. This movie is like watching a game of catch. Perspective seems to keep shifting back and forth between Jeff and Pat, one an idealist the other a realist. The idea of the movie is actually somewhat profound but in my view the underlying ideas aren’t as fully realized as they maybe could have been. There’s great acting, however, that should not go unnoticed. Susan Sarandon as the boys’ mother, her own emotions fragile after the passing of her husband, is wrapped up in an affair all her own, adding another twist that was downright weird.

Still, just to watch Jason Segel manage to hold back most of his goofy, school-of-Seth-Rogen chuckles is more rewarding than you might expect, even if How I Met Your Mother and Freaks & Geeks are Segel’s stomping grounds.

bruhh. . .

Recommendation: Worth watching for the young and the awkward. This was a neat little addition to the so-called “mumblecore movement” and a welcome distraction from megalithic/awesome/phenomenally huge wide-release superhero action franchises. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 83 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com