POSTED ON AUGUST 29, 2012:
Serving Up Movie Tapas
Fear and loathing in the city, with a dash of romance
Tulsa-native Todd Lincoln has gone a long way up the Hollywood chain to be in a position to make The Apparition. It's an arc that he hopefully continues, despite The Apparition being an ill-conceived concept draped in all-too-familiar J-Horror visual tropes -- and a liberal dose of a certain Paranormal franchise. Influences are parcel to the horror genre, but they only work when they are being remade into something new. And horror only works when you actually care about the characters.
Eyeball Test. Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg play a couple trying to define their relationship in Celeste and Jessie Forever.
Kelly (Twilight's Ashley Greene) and Ben (Captain America's Sebastian Stan) are a happy couple, who are house sitting for her parents in a half-finished California suburb. Kelly is on track to become a veterinarian, while Ben has a job calibrating the home theaters of people that live in better neighborhoods.
Having just moved into a suburban desert, they fill their days making overly obvious comments about themselves, buying cacti, playing video games and having no chemistry. The cactus dies quickly of a mold infestation because it turns out that Ben had been a part of an experiment in college that summoned a malevolent entity through sheer force of will -- an entity that now haunts the vapid pair by opening doors at random, tying clothes into knots, moving furniture at inopportune times and killing the neighbor's dog. When Ben finally fesses up to Kelly about his possible involvement in the supernatural happenings -- and finally answers a call from the leader of the experiment, Patrick (Harry Potter's Tom Felton) -- they all wind up suffering the consequences of Ben and Patrick's hubristic curiosity.
Todd Lincoln is going for broke with what he thinks is scary, and admirably plays the film for subtleties that he unfortunately never fulfills on a narrative or stylistic level. His intention is to set the film in a contemporary reality to offset the strangeness of the manifestations, but it winds up being not scary at all because Kelly and Ben are parchment-thin characters and in the end the script makes little sense, even with its expository finale.
I can see the influences -- from Poltergeist to Prince of Darkness -- in Lincoln's script. It is dark, and has no happy ending, which is a good thing, but Lincoln could make a better film working from someone else's writing while trying to cull real performances. The actors here are dog paddling to find their relevance, with Tom Felton almost succeeding. Ashley Greene in her underwear only goes so far to offset boredom. Long, sunset shots of subdivided blight and power lines aren't inherently creepy without a good story.
It looks decent -- when not slathered in inexplicably faux-VHS found footage -- thanks to some fine production design and the cinematography of Daniel Pearl (Texas Chainsaw Massacre). The Apparition winds up being a somewhat attractive film that is a derivative ghost of its numerous, better, peers.
Celeste and Jesse Forever
It would be disingenuous to say Celeste and Jesse Forever didn't strike a little close to home. The concept, a couple who are divorcing but that can't let go of the chemistry that got them together, is like a familiar song telling a funny, doomed tale.
Celeste (Rashida Jones) is a successful writer who has been with her soul mate, Jesse (Andy Samberg), since high school. Opening on a dinner scene between them and their best friends, the engaged Beth and Tucker (Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen), Celeste and Jesse -- who have been separated for six months -- quickly find that they're still convivial, seemingly unchanged relationship is off-putting to their soon to be betrothed, best friends.
Celeste and Jesse see nothing wrong with their situation, still wanting to support each other, though the successful Celeste is doing the supporting of Jesse's lazily nascent dreams of being an artist. They still hang out all the time, their obvious co-dependency reduced to their sense of humor and simmering sexual compatibility. They faux-jerk off innocuously dick-shaped items like lip balm and baby corn because that shit is (weirdly) funny.
But Celeste and Jesse ultimately find that their ongoing lives and romantic mistakes may subvert their best, most loving intentions for each other.
Scripted by Rashida Jones and co-star Will McCormack -- in a hilarious co-starring turn as the couple's weed dealer -- Celeste and Jesse Forever is a pleasing, funny and fairly uncompromising story. Director Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind) crafts a pretty and well-acted film whose narrative loops -- which only tangentially follow your standard rom-com -- are a breath of fresh air for someone who hates the ubiquitous tropes of just wanting two people to get together.
Supported by fine performances from Samberg, Jones and co-stars McCormack, Elijah Wood and Chris Messina as Paul, Celeste and Jesse Forever is pleasingly familiar and well-made, without pandering to expectations.
Klown, a film based on a well-liked Danish TV comedy series, came out two years ago in Denmark. Last year's Fantastic Fest -- the Austin-based film festival for genre movie geeks looking for new juice -- brought Klown to a wider audience. Now, finally, the funniest, weirdest, probably most offensive Dutch comedy ever made will be opening at the Circle Cinema this weekend for an exclusive Midnight Movie exhibition.
Frank (Frank Hvam) learns that his girlfriend, Mia (Mia Lyhne), is pregnant. Already the mother of Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) from another father, Mia is unsure of Frank's fathering skills. She threatens an abortion.
Frank proves unworthy at babysitting when he decides to take (well, kidnap) Bo on a canoeing trip organized by his married, best friend Casper (Casper Christensen), who is pathologically bent on getting laid at a mansion brothel where the best, multi-cultural prostitutes on Earth will be -- for one night only.
The "Tour de Pussy" turns into a comedy of errors as Frank and Casper battle for control of the trip, in light of Bo, a doughy nerd collecting bottle caps for a toy car he wants and who pisses sitting down. Their arc to redemption follows sex with humiliation and ultimately extortion as the dimwitted Frank and Casper, besotted, hatch a blackmail scheme so lighthearted you will find yourself laughing at gags that really should otherwise be entirely stupid.
There's nothing American about Klown, but comedy is an international language. Parallels to Bad Santa are there -- Bo is essentially Thurman Merman, and Frank is a more well-meaning Billy Bob who even gets a chance to deliver a toy.
But Klown's inherently irreverent Scandinavian sensibilities beget a unique, character-driven comedy -- raunchy, sentimental and utterly crazy. It's the funniest film I've seen all year.
In other words, perfect for Midnight.
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