REVIEW: The Intervention

5 12 2016

the-interventionI watched most of Clea DuVall’s “The Intervention” while working out recently – it met my qualifications for entertainment that was breezy enough without any nudity – and found myself committing a major gym foul. I had figured out exactly how the movie was working to the point where I could predict the next line of dialogue. And then, it happened. I caught myself involuntarily reciting the next line out loud. (I was right, for the record.)

This wannabe Gen X version of “The Big Chill” features indie stalwarts like Melanie Lynskey, Jason Ritter and Cobie Smulders on a weekend retreat in Savannah (likely for the tax credits) to stage an intervention in a failing marriage. But, of course, in a grouping of four couples, that one relationship is not the only one in need of some axle grease. Be it a fissure between siblings, lovers or friends, no one can escape the squabbling – including us.

Not every relationship drama needs to be an Edward Albee play, but a little bit of subtlety could have gone a long way in “The Intervention.” No fraying connection can be discovered naturally; instead, it must be laid out a scene of two characters discussing it first in whispered, vague terms. The conversation topics around the dinner table or porch seats could not be more provocative if they tried. If everyone in the film were truly as miserable as DuVall would have us believe, no one would brooch these subjects.

Naturally, the band-aid gets ripped off, opening the floodgates for the closeted resentments to spill out into open conflict. Yet once the truth comes to light, the result is neither cathartic nor enlightening. With every chance, DuVall would rather end a scene with an explosion instead of concluding it honestly or dwelling in the messy irresolution that often defines the sparring between friends and lovers. In “The Intervention,” the easy way is apparently the only way. C2stars

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REVIEW: Green Room

18 01 2016

This review originally appeared on Movie Mezzanine, for whom I covered Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX.

Jeremy Saulnier’s breakout film Blue Ruin depicted violence as an elemental force; a practically innate disposition of the human condition. In that spin on a classic revenge tale, Saulnier metes out precious little information on the characters hell-bent on destruction to highlight how shockingly natural these primal acts are.

His follow-up, Green Room, also takes violence as one of its major subjects – but here, the filmmaker shifts gears, depicting the savagery of human conflict as something aberrant to our very nature. As a punk rock band, barred off in a green room, wars against the group of neo-Nazis that hosted their show, acts of brutality take on an almost cartoonish tenor. For instance, someone’s mangled arm looks like a candy cane of flesh and blood, a sight Saulnier milks for all it’s worth to the tune of disgusted groans.

Green Room

This unnatural, unsettling violence provides heightened stakes for what otherwise might play like a simple hodgepodge of tropes from final girl” captivity or siege-style thrillers. Throwing in a group of white supremacists helps to add weight (especially when these groups are currently coming out of the woodwork to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential run). But while their violence may be exaggerated, Saulnier never strips them – or their trained attack dogs – of basic dignity. He even includes a sequence, beautifully shot by director of photography Sean Porter, which manages to find a bit of impressionistic poetry in the writhing bodies of their mosh pit.

To be clear, Green Room never condones the group’s ideology. The skinheads are still clearly the villains, but Saulnier’s choice to withhold immediate and unflinching condemnation allows some insight into what holds the group together. Their leader, Patrick Stewart’s Darcy, hardly matches the model of the charismatic authority figure. Instead, along with his tactical right hand man Gabe (Blue Ruin star Macon Blair), he evinces a magnetism of the calm and collected variety.

Green Room 2

That disposition stands in stark contrast to the manic array of rockers that constitute “The Ain’t Rights,” led by Anton Yelchin’s Pat and Alia Shawkat’s Sam. Even though their music pushes them to the fringes of performance venues, the group still lacks common sense and self-defense mechanisms. Still, Saulnier clearly feels a good deal of kinship with the punks and gives them dynamic personalities that prove oddly compelling. These vibrant characters ensure more colors are at play than just the red that dominates Green RoomB2halfstars





REVIEW: Nasty Baby

25 07 2015

QFest Houston

Sebastian Silva’s “Nasty Baby” departs from a fairly simple premise: a gay couple Freddy and Mo (Silva himself and Tunde Adebimpe) tries to conceive a child with their best friend Polly (Kristen Wiig) but faces difficulty with the sperm.  This well-trod territory might feel rather boring or rote were it not for Silva’s knack in capturing the banter between the tight-knit group.  The wit flows effortlessly and ceaselessly, establishing an amusing crew as entirely believable.

Alongside the trio’s baby-making struggles, which arise mostly from Adebimpe’s Mo as he somewhat inextricably bristles to take on the responsibility of providing the necessary fluids, runs a very different kind of story.  It starts off as a subplot with the residents of their gentrifying neighborhood finding themselves annoyed by a lingering loony from the old days, The Bishop (Reg E. Cathey, best known as Freddy from Netflix’s “House Of Cards”).  Bishop’s prevalence in the film grows and grows as the movie continues on its merry way, threatening to subsume the narrative altogether.

Nasty Baby

And then he does.

Oddly enough, Silva pulls off a fairly complete reversal within “Nasty Baby,” making us think the film is about one thing and then pulling out the rug from under us.  The conception storyline provides an enjoyable diversion while he sets up a vicious dramatic ending that knows how to draw blood.  Impressively, Silva finds a way to make the shift into an entirely different genre feel natural and earned, as if one should just flow naturally from the other.  If nothing else, “Nasty Baby” provides one hell of a full night out at the movies.  B+ / 3stars