In Your Queue: The Amy Seimetz Triple Threat (“Upstream Color”, “Sun Don’t Shine”, “Silver Bullets”)

upstream-color-image03

http://orlandoweekly.com/film/in-your-queue-1.1485489

It’s going to be a big year for Amy Seimetz. The multi-hyphenate St. Pete native will spend the summer trying to stay alive on season three of AMC’s crime drama The Killing, and later this year can be found as a recurring character on the Christopher Guest-created Family Tree on HBO. It’s a big break for someone who has toiled in indie films for so long without a breakout, but it’s those indie films that kick off her big year, and three new releases she has a role in can be found on VOD this month.

In Upstream Color (Amazon, OnDemand), Shane Carruth’s long overdue follow-up to the time travel mindbender Primer, Seimetz plays Kris, a young film producer whose life is upended when she is victimized by a highly sophisticated type of fraud, sort of a walking biological hypnosis that her brain has no defense against. She signs away her life to a thief, but doesn’t remember it upon awaking. Carruth plays Jeff, a man with his own mysterious past who is drawn to her, though he doesn’t quite know why.

In a film that will leave you guessing and then constantly changing your guesses with each new piece of information, that curious magnetism stands out as the central question. It’s the easiest to answer, and maybe that solidity makes it the most satisfying part.

Films like Upstream Color can frustrate more than they entertain if the mystery isn’t perfectly drawn out and conceived, but Carruth uses his experience as an engineer to his advantage to craft a puzzle of exceeding quality that will have you going back to watch it over again and pick apart everything you missed.

Written and directed by Seimetz, Sun Don’t Shine (Amazon, OnDemand) is a frantic and paranoid road movie that finds a pair of lovers, Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Leo (Kentucker Audley), trekking from Tampa to the Everglades. It was IndieWire’s pick for Best Undistributed Film after a big debut at SXSW 2012.

Crystal and Leo, though, barely seem be lovers at all through their constant sniping and fighting. Most of the tension is because there’s actually a third passenger along for the ride: Crystal’s husband, who is in the trunk, dead after a vicious fight didn’t go the way he planned. Dead husband aside, the film is an engrossing examination of Crystal’s mental state, which runs up and down the entire spectrum throughout the film. Sheil is electric to watch in a performance that’s powerful and nuanced as she struggles to control her anger, flitting back and forth between a madwoman and graceful child.

It was actually on the set of Joe Swanberg’s Silver Bullets (Amazon, iTunes) that Seimetz and Sheil met before teaming up for Sun Don’t Shine. They play best friends, both actors, in this ultra-low-budget short feature about Claire (Sheil), a budding starlet, and the jealousy that slowly builds up when her boyfriend Ethan (Swanberg) casts Charlie (Seimetz) to replace her in one of his films, eventually drawing a dark revenge fantasy out of Claire.

Though Seimetz ends up mostly wasted here, stuck playing more of a catalyst for Claire and Ethan to have it out than a living, breathing character of her own, Sheil is exciting to watch once again as she turns the struggle with sanity into an essay.

In Your Queue: “To the Wonder”, “Gimme the Loot”

gimme-the-loot-01

http://orlandoweekly.com/film/in-your-queue-1.1481867

To The Wonder – Terrence Malick (2013)

It’s usually unfair to hold directors up to their past work, especially when that work is particularly great or terrible. Terrence Malick has almost always lived up to that kind of scrutiny, and when he hasn’t, he hasn’t missed by much. But with To the Wonder, Malick has delivered the first film that you might call routine.

The signature floating visual poem is here once again, and it guides us through the coming together and falling apart of Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko), an American-French couple who leave the daydream beauty of Paris to settle in rural Oklahoma for his oil-field job. To the Wonder lacks the grand central ideas that have marked Malick’s films in the past – there is no war, no murder, no running from the law, no creation of life; it’s simply a love story with overtones of loneliness, alienation and emptiness. It works on that level, but with less natural efficiency than we’re used to. It’s a beautiful film, of course it is, but there is some assembly required to get to its aloof center.

Gimme the Loot – Adam Leon (2013)

Bomb the apple. A phrase like that sounds so sinister now, but 20 years ago, it’s all any tagger in New York wanted to do. They hoped to catch fame by getting their name on the Mets’ home-run apple. It’s been impossible ever since the idea was posed, but it seems like cake for Malcolm and Sophia (Ty Hickson and Tashiana Washington), two kids from the Bronx who want to be the biggest writers in the city but can’t get past a couple of white kids from Queens who keep wrecking their pieces. Twenty years of failure isn’t going to stop them, but the $500 they need to bribe a guard to get in might.

The apple exists as both a legend and a joke in New York, encapsulating the Mets’ position as lovable losers, and that team reputation runs as a direct parallel to that of Malcolm and Sophia, lovable losers who seem like they’ll never make it when their schemes to get the money turn toward ripping off Ginnie (Zoë Lescaze), a rich white girl Malcolm has a crush on. The charm of Hickson and Washington makes the film a success, though. There is an amiable Charlie Brown-and-Peppermint Patty quality to them as they run around the city fighting and bickering. They’re so close that the worst insults they hurl at one another roll off their backs, and their likability keeps you squarely on their side throughout the film.

In Your Queue: Baseball Docs

Ballplayer-Pelotero_web

http://orlandoweekly.com/film/in-your-queue-1.1474073

In baseball, it’s often said that “you just can’t write this stuff.” Sometimes the real-life drama of the game is so unbelievable that you’d roll your eyes if it were a movie. That makes it all the more difficult to make a good baseball film. Give it a think: You probably don’t need both of your hands to count them all, so susceptible are they to insufferable schmaltz, rank sentimentality and invalid team loyalties.

It’s documentary where baseball films really take off. Bull Durham and Bang the Drum Slowly aside, it’s hard to take most baseball films seriously. Even the classic ones, like Mr. Baseball or Major League, need a qualifier when talking about them. You don’t often need that when talking about documentaries, and no documentary captures the spirit of the game so thoroughly as Ken Burns’ recently updated Baseball (streaming on Netflix and Hulu+), an 11-part, 22-hour history of the sport, from its invention in the 1850s through the current steroid era and every up and down that the game – and the country – face in between. Even if Burns himself suffers from an invalid team loyalty (to the Red Sox), it doesn’t show in this immense, lovingly crafted PBS production.

Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball (Hulu+) is the surprisingly emotional story of two high-school teams from Japan – the reigning champions and a public school that has never gotten beyond regionals – trying to reach Koshien, the hotly contested summer baseball tournament where players like Hideki Matsui and Daisuke Matsuzaka made their names before the MLB. It means everything to these kids – the players and their classmates alike – and they show it in this short, relatable doc through their hard work and through their tears and their observance of the traditions of those who went before them.

In Ballplayer: Pelotero (Netflix, Amazon and Hulu+) the dark side of baseball comes out as young Dominican players (Minnesota top prospect Miguel Sano and Houston prospect Jean Carlos Batista) go through the struggles of poverty and humiliation of an MLB investigation into their ages (a huge problem with Dominican prospects) as they try for a better life through baseball.

There is a rough American parallel in Harvard Park (Netflix, Amazon and Hulu+), the story of Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis, premier players of the 1980s, who went through similar struggles in South Central but ended up back every summer to train at the park. For them, like a lot of the early ball players, baseball is a way out more than a pastime. They do it for love of their family as much as for the love of the game, though the love of the game is never in question.

In Your Queue: Old Men and Thieves (“I’m Not Rappaport”, “The Good Thief”)

goodthief

http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/2013/04/in-your-queue-old-men-and-thieves/

I’m Not Rappaport – Herb Gardner (1996)

It’s a damn shame that we’ve lost both Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis in the years since I’m Not Rappaport came out. They were true titans, actors with depth and range honed on the stage in the 40s before making it to Hollywood. They star here as Nat Moyer and Midge Carter, two old Joes who while away the days in Central Park, each fleeing pasts full of regret as well as the limited future offered to them by a daughter who wants to send Nat off on “the Siberian Express” to a home, and a tenant board president that wants to oust Midge from his superintendent job and his apartment. A common enemy, the young bully JC (Guillermo Díaz) and the old bully (Craig T. Nelson), and a common friend, the young artist Laurie (Martha Plimpton) unite these two men to common goals, even though Midge can’t stand Nat, who never met a moment of silence he liked. Davis and Matthau are a perfect couple, bounding back and forth between spasms of hilarity and pulses of heartbreak with a fine ease. They are charming to the extreme in every second of the picture. Charm is something of a dead artform these days, where everyone is so busy brooding or being a badass to flash that smile and break into any heart like a crowbar. (Available to stream on Netflix)

The Good Thief – Neil Jordan (2003)

Neil Jordan’s The Good Thief — a remake of Jean-Pierre Melville French new wave classic Bob le Flambeur — was the first film Nick Nolte starred in after his notorious arrest (and mugshot) for driving under the influence of GHB. He wasn’t in rehab that long, but a string of bombs between The Good Thief in 2003 and The Thin Red Line in 1998 make it a fair deal to call this a comeback film. And what a comeback it was for the gravelly leading man. He plays Bob, a lowlife gambler and junkie with a colorful background in big money heists and art forgery who is wasting his life away in beautiful Monte Carlo. Or at least Monte Carlo has beautiful parts, but Jordan takes us to the back alleys and dive bars that the tourists don’t usually get to see. That’s where Bob assembles his crew to pick off a vault full of priceless paintings once he realizes the ones hanging in a new casino are forgeries. Like any other heist film, only a tenacious cop (the maniacal genius, Tchéky Karyo) and one of the most sophisticated vaults ever designed stand in the way of the biggest score of their lives.

As a film, I prefer The Good Thief to Bob le Flambeur, maybe only for the fact that I saw the remake first. Bob le Flambeur is also excellent, but there is an existential malaise that permeates the original that the remake doesn’t have. It’s livelier, which feels like an important thing in a heist movie. Both are more than heist films, though that’s the main thrust of each. They are both about a crooked sort of redemption. Neither of the Bobs is an underdog, they are both unrealized heroes who have lost their path in life in a dramatic way. In The Good Thief, Anne (Nutsa Kukhianidze), a young girl with a broken wing making all of the wrong choices that Bob has already made, is his path to redemption. She may not need all of the help he offers, indeed she may actually help him more than he helps her, but redemption isn’t a solid state, it’s whatever gets you by. The odds are against it working, but it’s Monte Carlo, so its worth the bet.

(Available on Netflix — and just for good measure, you can stream the original on Hulu)

In Your Queue: Juno Temple Edition (“Killer Joe”, “Jack and Diane”, “Little Birds”)

Jack_Diane-700x370

http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/2013/04/in-your-queue-juno-temple-edition/

It happened just sort of by accident, but there has been a single prominent theme recurring in a lot of the films I’ve been watching over the last few weeks: the wild flaxen mop of doll hair and bright, mischievous punim of Juno Temple. I didn’t set out to watch any Juno Temple films — until now she was just Julian Temple’s daughter who wants to be an actress — but there she was, film after film, with her wild hair and faint voice. The films are of varying quality, which is obviously frustrating. I’m honestly not even sure if I like her as an actress yet, but it’s hard to take your eyes off of this strange English pixie, who is just as likely to be playing American white trash as anything else.

Killer Joe – William Friedkin (2012)

It’s been a long time since Billy Friedkin had anything resembling a hit film (Blue Chips by my count), but he actually dips in and out of his 70s heyday excellence with this story of a broken trailer trash family who are out to hire a someone to kill the estranged matriarch and collect on an insurance policy. Rote stuff, but the way its played by everyone involved elevates its to the heavens. In one of a string of maniacally great characters he’s played of late, Matthew McConaughey plays the titular Killer Joe, the Texas Ranger/hitman that Chris (Emile Hirsh) hires. He’s an exacting guy, one who is as tough (and Texan) as they come, but who can barely keep the thing together in the face of  this family of hicks who are in way over their heads. The in-fighting and pettiness of Chris and his parents (Thomas Hayden Church and Gina Gershon) borders on genius, but makes Killer Joe reconsider the offer until he falls in love with Chris’s little sister, Dottie (Juno Temple), the angelic waif who may not be as simple as she seems. I can’t figure out why this film never caught on when it was released last year. It’s an injustice. The film is absurdly hilarious, the darkest of dark comedy, and, if nothing else, you’ll never think of fried chicken the same way again. (Available on Amazon and YouTube)

Jack and Diane – Bradley Rust Gray (2012)

Jack and Diane is another film I’m surprised didn’t catch on, but somewhat less surprised thanKiller Joe. It’s a fairly straight-forward story of the awkwardness and, sometimes, stupidity of an all consuming young love. Riley Keough is unrecognizable as Jack, a tough New York girl who is lost in an emotional fog since her older brother died. The randomness of life puts Diane (Juno Temple) before her path and the two bond tightly, in a way neither of them were entirely prepared for. Like most people who put on a tough exterior, Jack is a naive puddle of  goo under that hard shell. Diane is the first person she’s let wade into that goo, but secret gooeyness, especially of the love-sick teenage variety, is a shockingly complicated thing — surely you all remember your own gooeyness, and how embarrassing it was. But it might be Diane with the bigger demon inside of her — a burgeoning secret warewolf threatening to burst free (done in gorgeous but not entirely enmeshed stop motion sequences put together by the Brothers Quay) and hurt everything Diane cares about. In that act, it’s a surprisingly intimate film that plays the emotion with the right balance, never turning it into something to squirm away from, with a real throwback 90s New York indie film feel to it. (Available on Netflix)

Little Birds – Eldgin James (2012)

In Little Birds, Juno Temple and Kay Panabaker star as Lily and Alison, mismatched best friends stuck in a boring, economically dead small town along the Salton Sea. As a coming-of-age drama,Little Birds is something of a wasted attempt. I say that with frustration, not because the film is a bad one, but because it’s a good one, but should have been a much better one. Writer-director Eldgin James doesn’t know what he has here with his story or his characters and blows it by setting off on the most predictable adventure, taking the girls out of their element and landing them in LA with a bunch of skateboarding streetkids who turn out to be — surprise — bad news. Lily loves the feeling of being bad — really bad — for the first time, but Alison is stuck in the adventure as the stick in the mud naysayer. Of course ends up being right about everything, she just isn’t any fun. It’s small town friendship syndrome — as Lily says, who else was she supposed to hang out with? But in LA, the pond is much bigger, and the girls much further apart, both emotionally and physically — Lily and Alison spend much of the time apart during their adventure, leaving the growing tear largely unmined. It becomes a plot-driven mess once they arrive in LA instead of the character drama it starts off as in the Salton Sea, and leaves Leslie Mann, Kate Bosworth and Neal McDonagh — and Reed Morano’s camerawork — behind as little more than high-priced extras. (Available on Netflix)

In Your Queue: Gimme the Loot, Fat Kid Rules the World

gimme-the-loot-lead

http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/2013/03/in-your-queue-delinquents-fat-kids-and-weirdos/

Holy Motors – Leos Carax 

Nothing makes a bit of sense in Carax’s surrealist-absurdist masterpiece, but if it did, it would almost be a crime against cinema, so brilliant is its outcome. Set almost as a fluid series of short films that all feature the same morphing lead, played by Denis Levant, his French film works better the less you know going into it, but rest assured: You’ll either love it for its left-field inventiveness, or hate it for its strange, reckless meandering. For those of you who have seen Tokyo!, keep an eye out for the return of Mr. Merde, as well as a little number by Kylie Miogue. Available to stream on Netflix.

Gimme the Loot – Adam Leon

This recommendation unfortunately comes sight unseen, which I do feel very uncomfortable about, but as of this writing the film hadn’t filtered through to the various streaming platforms that it’s supposed to be available on (Amazon, YouTube, Playstation, Xbox). It’s an exciting film prospect nonetheless, or maybe it just seems that way to me because it’s a story so close to my wayward youth when I would have liked nothing better than to be the biggest writer in New York, as the films stars, Malcolm and Sofia (Ty Hickson and Tashiana Washington), aim to accomplish by tagging the Mets’ homerun apple at Citifield. In a time when subway cars have all become graffiti resistant and derelict buildings all inhabited by young white people in fedoras, it’s a daring and novel — and kind of charming — way to go about it. The apple is both a mythic legend and a joke in New York, and perfectly encapsulates the Mets’ lovable losers syndrome, which appears to parallel Malcolm and Sofia extremely well, even though they’re from enemy territory — the Bronx. I hope the film succeeds, but it seems worth a few bucks to stream even if it doesn’t.

Fat Kid Rules the World – Matthew Lillard

It’s strange to be recommending something — anything — that Matthew Lillard is involved in, but he’s got a strange winner of a film here in his adaptation of a YA novel about a fat kid who tries to step in front of a bus to end his daily dose of torment but is saved just as the bus is screeching to a halt by a ragamuffin street kid, who shakes the fat kid down for a few bucks immediately after. It’s Lillard’s first film as director and it shows a little bit in the structure and execution of the film, especially in the first act, but it’s not hard to get past when you look straight at the Angus-like story that ends up avoiding most of the pitfalls of the awkward coming-of-age story. Jacob Wysocki and Matt O’Leary work well enough in tandem as the nervous, overweight Troy and the druggie friend you hope your kid doesn’t make, Marcus, and the story fits so well in its Seattle backdrop, that it lands firmly outside of the realm of first time film. It’s not an Earth shattering film by any means, and stories about weight are hard to look at sometimes, but it’s a fitting and endearing movie for the times, that’s for sure. The film is available to stream on Netflix.

In Your Queue 3/12: “We Have a Pope”, “For Ellen”

WE_HAVE_A_POPE_2-1024x682

http://orlandoweekly.com/film/in-your-queue-39-we-have-a-pope-39-and-39-for-ellen-39-1.1457404

We Have a Pope (streaming on Netflix, Amazon) When it comes to picking a new pope, the Vatican plays it pretty close to the chest. Rumor and speculation aside, no one really knows what happens except the cardinals. Since we have no evidence of what happens when they pick the pontiff, Palme d’Or-winning director Nanni Moretti fills the knowledge gap in the most Catholic way possible: through absurdity.

Michel Piccoli plays an obscure cardinal named Melville who, after many deadlocked ballots, is unexpectedly named pope. As he is being announced to the masses in Saint Peter’s Square he is struck by the mother of all existential crises, and the anxiety-stricken Pope runs away from the Vatican, leaving the College of Cardinals and Catholic bureaucrats sequestered with the Pope’s unwilling shrink (Moretti) as the pope traipses around Rome anonymously, trying to figure out what to do.

Moretti’s intense focus on the absurdity of the situation is a grace stroke, making it specific without being an in-joke for Catholics-only. Piccolo is wonderful as the pope, but Gianluca Gobbi, as the Vatican guard who is charged with ruffling the pope’s curtains every now and then so no one figures out what’s going on, really steals the show.

For Ellen (streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime) Seeing the trailer for it, I thought it was somewhat surprising that For Ellen couldn’t gain a real foothold once it came to market. It stars Paul Dano in an intense performance as an almost-famous musician named Joby who’s returned home to sign divorce papers. His wife, Claire (Margarita Levieva), is about to get remarried and wants him out of her life. She wants him out of their daughter Ellen’s life too, which is something he wasn’t expecting. Joby goes to devious means to spend some time with Ellen in this almost one-man show.

Dano, who played a mute for much of Little Miss Sunshine, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, though he puts in a strong performance here. It’s an interesting portrait of an uninteresting man – a character we’ve seen many variations on in the past – made palatable by his surroundings.

In Your Queue 02/27/13: Famous Oscar Snubs

In-the-mood-for-love

http://orlandoweekly.com/film/in-your-queue-famous-oscar-snubs-1.1450524

We all know that the Academy often gets it wrong. Sometimes they get it right, but it’s fun to look back on some of the most egregious slights and wonder: What were they thinking? Relive some classic Oscar snubs and flubs by watching the following films now streaming online. Though it was nominated for a best director award, Orson Welles’ first film, Citizen Kane (available to stream on Amazon Instant Video), is widely regarded as the biggest Oscar snub of all time. Though some consider it the best movie ever made, Welles was deeply unpopular in Hollywood, mostly for his tangle with W.R. Hurst, his unheard-of contractual autonomy and the way he stepped on screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz and actress Marion Davies. The film was nominated for nine Oscars, but only received one, for best writing. Mankiewicz, in accepting the Oscar, quipped to cheers: “I am very happy to accept this award in Mr. Welles’ absence, because the script was written in Mr. Welles’ absence.”

Thirty-five years later, when Welles released the controversial but brilliant faux documentary F for Fake (available now on Hulu Plus), it was shut out completely. The challenging film about forgery and deception was not met with the general acclaim it enjoys now, but with hatred and confusion. The film submerges us in a world that is out to get us, full of liars, thieves and con men. A masterclass in the form of film and how it can be used, the film is essentially a prank on the viewer – but what a prank.

Ten years before Kane, it was Charlie Chaplin and his Little Tramp who were both shut out, even if they did make the blind see again in City Lights (available on Hulu Plus). Talkies had taken over by then, and Chaplin had his scandals around town to contend with. Both Welles and Chaplin received honorary Oscars in 1971 and 1972 respectively, but isn’t that just the Academy admitting that they got it wrong in the first place?

Best Foreign Language Film is a different thing altogether. It contains a defect in the rules, which allow each country to submit just one film. Certainly, one country can make more than one great film in a year. It’s a flaw that leaves films like Francois Truffaut’s tragically sumptuous Jules and Jim (available on Hulu Plus) and Wong Kar Wai’s subtle, gorgeous In the Mood for Love (available on Netflix) out in the cold, but sometimes that only raises a film’s profile in world.