Saturday, November 13, 2010

Casual Friday

After yesterday started off with so many dark and disturbing shorts, it was nice to see today's shorts program primarily composed of funny shorts. There was even some star power in Jordan Vogt-Roberts' Successful Alcoholics, which stars T.J. Miller and Lizzy Caplan as, um, successful alcoholics. (They were both in Cloverfield. He's been in She's Out of My League and Unstoppable. She's been in Hot Tub Time Machine and True Blood.) They're high-functioning salespeople who are engaged to each other and are so far gone that they're reduced to drinking mouthwash at 4 a.m. at one point. The material was pretty good in this one, and the presentation was slick. I also liked Landon Zakheim's Delmer Builds a Machine, which can be seen in its entirety here. It's only two and a half minutes, it tells only one joke, and it builds up to that skilfully. The only shortcoming was that I didn't immediately get the identity of the old man at the end. The end credits gave me that information. Then there was The Legend of El Limbo, which was co-written by Kevin Brennan, a local guy who also worked on last year's festival opener The Scenesters. (We profiled him earlier.) El Limbo is a Western spoof that tweaks Sergio Leone, tells a good joke, and doesn't overstay its welcome. Well done.

A slight change of tone came from the documentary short at the end. Ken Ochiai's Frog in the Well shows the filmmaker traveling all across his native Japan because his late mother wanted him to scatter her ashes all over her homeland. Very little footage is actually filmed; most of it is still photos taken in quick succession and strung together in sequence. The tone is frenetic and yet wistful and nostalgic.

The feature event was Mike Leigh's Another Year. Leigh's coming off his marvelous but atypically sunny film Happy-Go-Lucky; this feels more like the Leigh we know. There's a lot of misery here, and it might be difficult to take if the main characters weren't basically happy people. They're a married geologist and psychiatric counselor (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), and we see them receiving their grown son Joe (Oliver Maltman) and various friends at their London flat at different times over the course of a year. Joe is pretty much okay, but everybody else is a train wreck. There's a sad turn by Peter Wight as a fat guy who seems hellbent on eating and drinking his way to an early grave; he guzzles wine and beer at the same time during a meal. Even that is outstripped by this amazing supporting performance by Lesley Manville as their friend Mary, who also drinks way too much and keeps up a pathetically positive outlook. It's pathetic because she never stops feeling sorry for herself for being alone and past 50, even though she's quite beautiful. I wish there'd been more of a crowd for this, but I heard more than one audience member say they knew somebody like Mary. Manville's highly strung performance is horribly real. You feel like you're the one cooped up with her and her boozy self-pity. When I make my list of great acting performances of 2010, I'll remember this one.

I went straight from Another Year into the far different Miss Nobody, a Heathers-like satire about a pharmaceutical company secretary (Leslie Bibb) who accidentally kills her boss (Brandon Routh) while he's sexually harassing/trying to rape her and then discovers that murdering her horrible, corrupt, sexually deviant bosses and colleagues is a great way to climb the corporate ladder. The main character serves as a narrator, and sometimes turns to the camera in the middle of a scene to continue her narration. This is a difficult role to play, and Bibb does it perfectly. (I always thought Bibb was underappreciated. Remember her in Talladega Nights? "I'm a driver's wife! I don't work!") Director Tim Cox put a lot of talent around her, too (Adam Goldberg, Kathy Baker, Missi Pyle, Paula Marshall, Barry Bostwick), and directs this in a candy-coated style that's exactly what's needed. So why isn't this movie awesome? I think it's because the material just isn't there. That's too bad. You can tell a lot of talent went into this thing. I hope the artists involved get a chance to do better stuff.

The evening ended with a midnight screening of Dawning, a horror film that makes an admirable stab at psychological complexity but doesn't do much right. It's about a family of four trapped in a log cabin by a deranged intruder who claims that some malign supernatural force killed his girlfriend. Writer-director Greg Holtgrewe does some innovative things with the sound mix, but he needed to do more to make us wonder whether something really was out there or whether the demons are all in everyone's heads.

The film was preceded by yet another humorous segment about applying movie logic to the real world. (These things are co-written by Andrew Disney, I've learned since yesterday.) This one was about a couple who hit a mysterious creature with their car. Disney and director Sam Parnell were parodying a horror-movie cliche, so it was dismaying right off the bat to see Dawning do that same cliche straight-up.

It's 4 a.m. and I'm off to bed. There's a screening of a mystery film tomorrow evening. In the afternoon I'll air my speculation over what that might be. — Kristian Lin

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