Category Archives: mumblecore

Review: ‘Unhung Hero’ Answers the Question: Does Size Matter?

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Patrick Moote is a talented young man who thought he had a big problem. He thought his penis was too small. So, he goes on a journey of self-discovery and we get to go along with him in the documentary, “Unhung Hero,” which releases on DVD and iTunes on December 10, 2013. Does size matter? On a logical level, of course not. But director Brian Spitz and actor/comedian Patrick Moote are on a quest to explore the deep insecurities we all face in a crass and overstimulated world glutted with porn and unrealistic expectations.

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Filed under Documentaries, Movie Reviews, movies, mumblecore, Sex, Sexual Studies, Sexuality

Interview: MATTHEW JOHNSON Director of THE DIRTIES

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Matthew Johnson is the director, co-writer, and starring actor in a film not without its controversy, “The Dirties.” It is a film about a school shooting which makes it vulnerable from the start. However, it navigates its subject with a level of self-awareness that gives it a sense of honesty. In other words, this is not a movie out to make a fast buck. What keeps it real is Matthew Johnson.

It is Columbine that springs to mind when Johnson is asked about what compelled the making of this movie. It is the issue that he had to confront when he was in high school. How do you address that horror, and all the others before and since, and avoid preaching in favor of making of art? What this movie does is use the dynamic of a documentary for all its worth.

Instead of the old traditional Hollywood route, and its hyperreality, “The Dirties” uses the found footage genre to tell a simple and direct story about bullying and school violence. A balance is struck between incorporating actual high school students and schools with the actors. The result is understated, down-to-earth, and very believable.

Matt (Matthew Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams) are two misfits struggling to survive high school. Maybe they will find satisfying revenge from their bullies through their film project. Early on, we peg Matt as the overzealous one and Owen as the passive follower. We already know that this will not end well and that it is most likely going to focus on Matt. What will be Matt’s breaking point? As Johnson points out, “The Dirties” begins where most stories like this end. We actually get to learn something about the Matt character.

The following interview took place October 11, 2013. Matthew talks about the complex issue of bullies, the sweet pursuit of obscure references, Lena Dunham, mumblecore, Quentin Tarantino, Sacha Baron Cohen, and a glimpse of what lies ahead. As for what lies ahead, that seems a quite proper place for a young talent in search of the truth.

Click below for the podcast interview:

Phase 4 and the Kevin Smith Movie Club are proud to present THE DIRTIES. Winner of the 2013 Slamdance Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Film.

Visit THE DIRTIES website here.

Synopsis: When two best friends team up to film a comedy about getting revenge on bullies, the exercise takes a devastating turn when one of them begins to think of it as more than a joke.

Director: Matt Johnson
Starring: Matt Johnson, Owen Williams
Screenplay: Matt Johnson, Evan Morgan

Available In Theaters and On Demand as of October 4, 2013

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Filed under Independent Film, Indie, Interviews, mumblecore

RED FLAG Movie Review

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“Red Flag” is a significant film for its writer/director, Alex Karpovsky (HBO’s “Girls”). It shows us a talent with a personality we gravitate to. It’s not his “Annie Hall” but it’s a step in the right direction. There’s a scene with him concluding that all his problems stem from his fear of death which his a nice tip of the hat to the master. Karpovsky might not be begging for comparisons to Woody Allen but they are there and he seems to be up to the challenge. He gives us an honest take on being a self-absorbed rising comic/filmmaker with no time for anyone else but himself.

We begin with a break-up scene. Karpovsky’s exit is fairly cut and dry. He is literally rushing out the door of the house he shared demonstrating all the emotion one would have at being late for work. He’s supposed to take the dog with him but, in his haste, he can’t motivate the dog to join him so he promises to come back for him later. His lover, Rachel (Caroline White), can only stare out into the distance and fight back her tears.

Karpovsky’s alter-ego, Alex, knows how to keep a chilly distance. But, even for his character, that drive away finally gets to him and he cries. That is what Karpovsky does very well. He gives us a guy who knows how to keep his cool a little too well but, when emotions rise to the surface, can be as vulnerable as a little lamb.

Every true artist desires most to follow through, to evolve, to fulfill their destiny. In the course of this film, Alex claims he has gone from seeing just a few little stars in the sky to seeing whole constellations. He gets it. He knows what he wants. Or is he just saying that to get back into the good graces of his beautiful and charming girlfriend that he mistreated? Could it be that he was a jerk afraid of commitment and now he’ll say anything? This is more borrowing from the master, the character dealing with his idea that marriage equals death.

In order to cope with his break-up, Alex decides he should throw himself into his work. In his case, that just means not reneging on his two week tour to promote his independent film. It will take him through the South which might help jolt his East Coast perspective. But even this minor tour seems too much for him as he does his best to enlist anyone to join him. His frantic search for any form of companionship leads him to someone at the bottom of his list. Henry (Onur Tukel) is likable enough but seems to be a complete mess. When Alex greets him at the airport, his first reaction is to take him to the men’s room and shear off the long hairstyle he was experimenting with.

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He listens to his half-baked concept for a children’s book and it’s enough to keep him amused. What we see of the film Alex is promoting is enough to keep us amused. Both stories within the bigger story help the characters in unexpected ways. This comes in handy once a third member is added to this madcap road trip. River (Jennifer Prediger) is delightful as the lonely groupie in search of love. And to put things over the top in complication, we have not heard the last from Rachel, the woman that Alex recently broke up with.

What will definitely add to the interest in this film is the fact that Karpovsky was actually committed to do a tour in the South to promote his film, “Woodpecker.” He didn’t like the prospect of being alone on the road, especially after his real life break-up, so he managed to turn what would have been a very depressing experience for him into this film. You would never have known there was a real “Woodpecker” tour simply from viewing this film as everything is very seamlessly put together to the credit of everyone involved.

Those little stars that Alex claims turn into whole constellations for him represent more than just figuring out a relationship. With any luck, Alex could figure it all out.

“Red Flag” is a laugh-out-loud road trip comedy worthy of your consideration. It becomes available on VOD starting Februrary 19 and goes into select theatrical release on February 22. You can also refer back to this previous post.

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Movies: ALEX KARPOVSKY in RED FLAG and RUBBERNECK

Red Flag Alex Karpovsky 2013

Rubberneck Alex Karpovsky 2013

If you’re in New York, you won’t want to miss a double feature of Alex Karpovsky films, “Red Flag,” and “Rubberneck.” One is funny; the other is not funny and a lot scary. The double feature will take place at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center starting February 22nd, complete with opening weekend Q & As with Mr. Karpovsky.

Mumblecore fans know and love Alex Karpovsky for a long list of films. His fan base continues to grow as part of the hit HBO series, “Girls.” He also just completed a role in the upcoming film by the Coen Brothers, “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

And, of course, “Red Flag” and “Rubberneck” will also be available on VOD starting February 19.

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To Catfish Or Not To Catfish: Manti Te’o and CATFISH, The Movie and TV Show

Catfish Movie 2010

There used to be two “Catfish” groups: those who had never heard of the 2010 movie, or the MTV show it inspired; and those hip to the whole thing. And now, there’s people getting up to speed since the Manti Te’o catfish caper. This review will assume little to no prior knowledge of the movie or even the term, “catfish,” although we’ve already reached the tipping point on this one. All you need to know is that a “catfish” is someone trolling the net pretending to be someone else and that this movie has the distinction of coining the term. With the success of the MTV show, more has been added to the core definition that sort of confuses the issue. Such is the life of a word.

The movie, and it’s TV version, seem to offer a new vantage point on the ills of virtual reality and, who knows, may spark some soul-searching. To catfish or not to catfish? That is the question many people have dealt with and some have chosen to partake in the twisted game of deception and self-delusion. That’s the serious theme to consider and not lose sight of in comparison to the controversy over whether “Catfish” is a documentary or a hoax itself. Nev Schulman is the star of this movie and plays the role of a naive guy (or plays himself) and gets caught up in an online romance until we get to the big twist. Just like our celebrated sports hero, Notre Dame’s star linebacker, Manti Te’o, this is supposed to be the story of a young man falling prey to an elaborate hoax. It’s interesting how Notre Dame’s athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, referenced this movie in trying to explain the current Manti Te’o story. Is Swarbrick some sort of mumblecore film buff? Not so much.

The movie, for what it is, is well done. It now feels like something that couldn’t possibly happen today. However, the MTV show would beg to differ. Here is where we start to enter spoiler territory so beware. The pitch during the original run of “Catfish” was that you were better off knowing as little as possible about it before viewing. At this point, the opposite may hold true. Should you bother to see it after the premise has now become common knowledge and we’ve moved on to a TV show? Yes, it is worth the ride. After viewing it, you may likely come away wondering if this was all set up. The good thing about that, is that it adds something if you go on to watch the MTV show, also featuring Nev Schulman, because on that show, it really does feel like we’re nabbing internet trolls.

Nev Schulman goes from catfish victim to host of his own show helping potential catfish victims. Same idea as the movie, we go on a journey to confront the alleged online lover. It does feel authentic even if it could just as easily be a new and improved version of “The Jerry Springer Show,” which dosen’t even try to hide being staged. In the case of MTV’s offering, Nev really appears to be into getting to the truth. And the victims appear to lack enough common sense to be the real deal. In one case, the red flag is that the girl in question does not own a cell phone. “How is that even possible?” asks Nev, “That’s like saying you don’t own a pair of pants!” When the troll is revealed, it is a nervous young man who looks so ashamed as to be cringeworthy. He admits to pretending to be as many as a hundred other persons. And he admits that he feels better hiding behind his sexy avatar. It rings true and it seems to elevate the show to serving a public service. Maybe it is.

In 2008, when the movie was made, Nev, his brother Rel, and a friend, Henry Joost, decided to document a year in the life of Nev Schulman. (Both Rel and Henry have directed for the “Paranormal Activity” franchise.) That is what we keep hearing, at first, that this is a movie about Nev, which already seems a little suspicious. Unless this is a dramatization, which it does not claim to be, the three of them were all at the right place at the right time when a very strange thing started to happen to Nev. It is stated in the film that Nev was getting his photographs published in “The New York Sun” and that it caught the eye of a little girl prodigy, in Michigan, who started mailing him paintings inspired by his work. Look here and you’ll get a sense that “The New York Sun” was a rather obscure newspaper. So, how does it come to the attention of an 8-year-old in Michigan let alone much of anyone else outside of a select New York demographic? This is something that Nev does not question. In fact, when interviewed recently by New York Magazine, Nev reveals that, at that time in his life, he had dropped out of Sarah Lawrence and was shooting videos of bar mitzvahs to make a living. This is a pretty important aspect of his life not even mentioned in what is supposed to be a detailed account of Nev’s activities.

Nev’s friendship with the little girl, Abby, leads him to talk to her mom, Angela, on the phone. And that ultimately leads to his getting to know Abby’s older, and sexy, half-sister, Megan. Finally, one fateful night, Nev gets to talk to Megan on the phone, all neatly documented for our viewing pleasure, and he finds himself smitten. An online romance, and cautionary tale, has begun, complete with endless texting. Nev, to his credit, is a very likable sort but his range of emotional expression leaves much to be desired. There is little variance between love-struck Nev, stressed-out Nev, angry Nev, or concerned Nev. It all seems to settle down to one prevailing version: stressed-out Nev. Either the guy prefers to be left alone or he’s not a very compelling actor. That aside, and that’s a lot to set aside, if you let yourself, this movie can hook you in. There is absolutely no level of suspense to match, or even compare, to Hitchcock but you still want to know what the devil is going on.

You get to the point that you know that it is very unlikely that Nev is speaking with the woman he thinks he’s speaking with. It’s not as scary a moment as it should be and where you will want to shift gears to speculation over whether the documentary is real or not. That’s what will make this more entertaining, especially when you reach the part where Nev confronts the person who is supposed to be Megan. Again, this is the ulimtate spoiler alert if you’re totally new. We discover, to no one’s surprise, that sexy Megan has actually been Angela, Abby’s mom, all along. And the real life Angela is not the exotic creature Nev was led to believe. The real Angela is not glamorous. And to make matters more complicated, she appears stuck in a loveless marriage caretaking two developmentally disabled stepsons. This is the trickiest part of all. You feel you must conclude that this documentary is legit or how could Nev stoop so low as to exploit two developmentally disabled men? Perhaps, Nev and Angela are legitimate up to a point. They found a way to make art out of their respective lives and don’t see it as having crossed a line.

Finally, here is the take away. Where the heck did the term “catfish” come from anyway? This is the grace note that also appears to tip the hand of the filmmakers. In one of the final scenes, Vince, Angela’s unsavory husband, demonstrates some near poetic eloquence. As if lost in lofty thought, Vince offers up to Nev a brief history of the fishing industry in order to put Angela’s actions into perspective. He describes how carp were a potentially profitable import to China except for the damage they suffered on the long trip. The solution was to pack a few catfish with the carp and this kept the carp moving, agile and fresh. “Sometimes,” Vince concluded, “that is what society needs, a catfish to keep it guessing.” Was this something that Nev and his crew just happend upon or was it staged? Perhaps the filmmakers were attempting to have Vince explain how the film’s means justified its end.

Visit the official CATFISH website.
Watch MTV’s CATFISH: THE TV SHOW.

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Filed under Documentaries, Movie Reviews, movies, MTV, mumblecore

DVD Review: Tiny Furniture

“Tiny Furniture” wins us over in the way that only the best movies manage to do. This is due to its writer/director/star, Lena Dunham, who seems to quite literally have been born to be in front of a camera. She is not a conventional Hollywood beauty but she is certainly an attractive young woman nonetheless. This is a dichotomy that Dunham embraces. She has no qualms about her curves. In fact, at every opportunity, she relishes displaying her body. This is about more than vanity or sexuality. This is about a passion to make oneself seen and to comment on what is seen. Manohla Dargis writes in The New York Times about Dunham’s goal to make the viewer see the real Dunham. Her character’s name, “Aura,” Dargis concludes, is a reference to a famous essay on art by Walter Benjamin discussing the disconnect between the original work of art’s aura and its reproduction. Only in cinema, by its very nature, he states, does the viewer have the opportunity to see a mass-produced work of art, the movie, on a deeper level. From viewing the bonus features on the DVD, however, Dunham makes it sound like she came up with her character’s name at random but that could be playing to the crowd.

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