Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2012, Jay and Mark Duplass) – It makes sense that the directing siblings Jay and Mark Duplass would be the first filmmakers from the unfortunately titled mumblecore empire to make their way into Hollywood. After all, that they knocked out easily the funniest movies of that no-budget movement. It also makes sense that their transition into Hollywood would be difficult given at their best, the Duplass brothers find a deeply uncomfortable balance between laughs and stomach-clenching awkward realism. General audiences generally like to know when to laugh during comedies while the Duplasses don’t like to make that clear. Their first stab a medium budget productions Cyrus was a Hollywood movie only because of the studio backing and Jonah Hill/John C. Reilly central pairing. It was a surprisingly dark and even disturbing look at a screwed up mother/son relationship that was intriguing but about as commercially appealing as a Batman movie directed by Lars Von Trier without Batman. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a more consciously mainstream endeavor that proves maybe the Duplass brothers shouldn’t really be doing that sort of thing.
The movie peaks early in a hilarious opening scene with Jason Segel’s Jeff sitting on the toilet talking about the masterful magic moment at the end of M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs as only a sad stoner could. As the title suggests Jeff still lives at home and has soft drugs to thank for that. His older brother Pat (Ed Helms) left the nest, but remains a bit of a manchild himself. He’s a big man in the paint game and is married (to the dependably fantastic Judy Greer) while still remaining immature enough to hold business meetings at Hooters and buy a Porsche without warning his wife. Then there’s the boys’ mother (Susan Sarandon), who coddled them too much growing up and now plays the role of a single working mother to Jeff in his 30s. All she wants is for her man/boy to fix a broken wooden shutter for her birthday, but Jeff has other plans. He wanders around looking for signs that will lead to his own magic moment while the Duplass brothers weave their competing plots in and out of each other while building towards one of their own.
It’s right there during that “magic moment” when the movie falls apart. The Duplass’ are best when ignoring plot and focusing on bizarre character dynamics for queasy laughs. There’s plenty of that here with Segel and Helmes improv-ing up a storm trying to out “pathetic weirdo” each other (it’s a draw). Unfortunately, Sarandon’s plot goes nowhere and the concept demands that it all conclude with a narrative contrivance. It would be easy to blame producer Ivan Reitman for ramping up the ending, so I will. However, the Duplasses still share the blame for writing what is not their first misfire. It’s definitely still worth seeing for fans of the cast or the Duplass Brothers, even if the comedy has already slid into obscurity for a reason. The Blu-ray looks about as nice as a low budget indie with jittery handheld photography can. Sadly, there are no special features. I guess Mark was too busy with the countless movies and TV shows he’s cranked out since this thing sunk at the box office. (Phil Brown)
Project X (2012, Nima Nourizadeh) – The latest entry into the “found footage movie of the month sweepstakes,” Project X (not to be confused with that film where Matthew Broderick watches in horror as a bunch of chimps get eviscerated), has the potential to be a dorm room classic because of its content, but that won’t stop it from being thoroughly misunderstood. While many in their late teens and early twenties will see this as adolescent fantasy on a grand scale (and most viewers over the age of 40 will slink back in abject terror), it’s really a paean to epic adolescent folly. It dares to make getting completely shitfaced look as vainglorious as it really is, and it feels a lot more comfortable in a home viewing environment than it did on the big screen.
On the day of his 17th birthday, North Pasadena teenager Thomas (Thomas Mann) finds himself entrusted with taking care of the family house, car, and dog while his parents go away for the weekend for an anniversary getaway. His father knows that Thomas has plans to have friends over, but he’s clueless to the kind of party Thomas’ alpha male Queens born friend Costa (Oliver Cooper) has planned. Together with their nerdy friend J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) they conspire to throw the biggest bash in their school’s history. They succeed, but things constantly escalate out of control until they’re all implicate in a lot of very nasty things.
The characters are complete archetypes, but purposefully so. Music video veteran Nima Nourizadeh takes the first person camera perspective and applies it in much the same way as Chronicle. In that film, the teens are filming jackass style stunts. Here, in what’s ostensibly a sex comedy for at least a third of the film’s running time, the teenagers are hopelessly horny and the camerawork is built to match. It looks like it was filmed by drunken 17 year olds, but unlike most Michael Bay films, that’s entirely the point here. The cast settles into these roles well, but it’s the script (co-written by Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World co-writer Michael Bacall) that lends the movie its smarts and the sense of escalation needed for the film to work. While the film has to descend into sleaze in order for it to work, Bacall and co-writer Matt Drake show that there are actual consequences that lead from their actions. As the evening goes on, the kids start looking worse and worse and are seriously facing legal ramifications for their stupidity. The script simultaneously feels more debauched than producer Todd Phillips’ Hangover films, and surprisingly less offensive. In those films, everyone gets off scott-free for bad behviour. Here, not everyone is that lucky.
Project X captures the vibe of an all night rager with energy and wit to spare, but it also has the guts to get darker and darker with its material as the film goes on. The darker it gets, the more the film breaks away from its frat boy trappings. It’s the most fun someone could have watching dumb people doing stupid things without getting arrested themselves. Conversely, if you’re a frat boy or a home owner, this could end up feeling more like a horror film.
As with most found footage films, the video quality on this Blu-ray is pretty spotty, but the sound design is nice and loud. The Blu-ray extended edition adds some length, but it’s indistinguishable from the theatrical cut. There’s also a trio of featurettes that feel pretty useless save for the one that totals up the staggering amount of damage that would have been caused had it been a real party.
Wanderlust (2012, David Wain) – Who doesn’t love a little hippie-bashing? Wanderlust serves up big heaping portions of it to qualify as one of funniest movies of 2012. The movie comes from co-writer/director David Wain, a man who cut his teeth on cult comedy like Stella or Wet Hot American Summer before making an unexpected transition into mainstream comedy success with Role Models. Like that film, Wanderlust is on the surface a very mainstream comedy with just a hint of Wain’s anti-comedy anarchy to keep things interesting.
It’s about a well-to-do Manhattan couple (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) whose lives fall apart and forcing them to leave the city. They move in with Rudd’s suburban jackass brother played by co-writer Ken Marino. However, along the way they stumble upon a hippie commune and decide to join after a week of awkward abuse from Marino and his alcoholic wife (the delightfully depressed Michaela Watkins). The plot is conventional, but the ensemble premise allows Wain to stack his cast with longtime comedy collaborators who improvise up a storm and give the film a slightly surreal comedic bite that’s a cut above what we’ve come to expect from studio comedies.
Wain’s cast is populated with absurdly talented scene stealers. Whether it be Joe Lo Truglio and his constantly displayed penis as a nudist/novelist/winemaker or the ever-underrated Justin Theroux as the batshit insane hippie leader with an endless supply of pseudo-spiritual ramblings, not a scene passes without a side character popping their head in to make the audience wet themselves. Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston work well as the leads, constantly flip-flopping over who is converted by the community’s free love ‘n’ drug-fueled ways and who remains a skeptic. Aniston is a bit out of her depth as a comedian compared to her co-stars, so she wisely plays things straight, while Rudd is has plenty of opportunities to strut his awkward n’ sarcastic stuff (one scene in which he practices his seduction technique in front of a mirror is the film’s funniest moment and probably the actor’s finest single improv session).
As with any comedy that relies on a large ensemble and liberal doses of improvisation, Wanderlust can feel a little scatter-shot and episodic at times, but it’s never enough to derail the movie. Ultimately this is a fluffy piece of giddy entertainment, so as long as the laughs come fast and furiously, narrative inconsistencies are kind of irrelevant. Between this and Role Models, Wain has found a way of hijacking crowd-pleasing comedies with his distinctly oddball sense of humor and even though Wanderlust didn’t exactly light up the box office, hopefully he can continue to play with a Hollywood’s train set.
Medium budget ensemble comedies don’t really lend themselves to fancy HD presentations, but fortunately Universal stacked the deck with special features to make it all worthwhile. First up is a commentary from Wain, Rudd, and Marino along with Kevin Pollak who had nothing to do with the movie, so instead throws out impressions of Albert Brooks, Al Pacino, Woody Allen and others whenever things get dry (which works, for the most part). There are also the standard array of features, deleted scenes, outtakes, and alternate improv lines along with a vaguely disturbing documentary about Joe Lo Truglio’s prosthetic penis. However, easily the best bonus feature is The Bizarro Cut, which is a second complete version of the film comprised of alternate takes with gags and takes that would have been too strange to include in the final cut. It doesn’t work quite as well as the actual version, but it’s a fascinating curiosity that showcases the comedic talent involved, who whipped up 80 minutes worth of discarded material funnier than most studio comedies. Overall, it’s a fantastic set for fans of the film. Hopefully I’m not the only one of those, because this flick should have been a crowd pleaser, but wasn’t and now might be too mainstream to be a cult hit. (Phil Brown)
Dawn Rider (2012, Terry Miles) – Unabashedly cheeseball in its approach, the stylish made for TV oater Dawn Rider combines old school bad ass posturing with a modern foul mouthed sensibility. It’s a bit slow moving and overlong, but for Saturday or Sunday afternoon watching it’s deeply satisfying.
Recently returning home following a brush with the law in 1883 Missouri, John Mason (Christian Slater) seeks revenge on a group of masked bandits (very unfortunately known as Dos Equis) who robbed and killed his postmaster father. He doesn’t realize, however, that the leader of the gang is an old friend (Lochlyn Munroe) that’s already pissed at how the botched robbery went down and is about to lose his ranch. On top of that, Mason is falling in love with his friend’s sister (Jill Hennessy), who has caught the eye of Mason’s OTHER best friend and his father’s former co-worker. Then there’s the matter of Donald Sutherland’s bounty hunter who just so happens to be looking into bringing Mason to justice.
A remake of a lesser John Wayne film from 1935, director Terry Miles crafts a great looking and well acted B-movie that lacks somewhat in terms of character development and it suffers from a preponderance of plot, but there’s something delightfully retro in the film’s approach. Slater and Hennessy are great, but the show gets stolen by Munroe and Sutherland who bring some fun to their roles. It does drag on a bit too long, but as the film’s plot cedes to some great action set pieces, the film picks up quite a bit. It’s corny as a bag of Orville Redenbacher, but it’s a decent enough mindless snack.
The DVD comes with a pretty standard 15 minute making-of documentary that isn’t all that insightful, but it makes the production look like it was a decent amount of fun to make.
Exit Humanity (2011, John Geddes) – In a completely different kind of duster releasing this week, the post-Civil War Southern United States sets the stage for a new breed of zombie film in the conceptually interesting, but ultimately plodding and overlong Exit Humanity.
Told from the unpublished journal of Edward Young (played by Mark Gibson, narrated by Brian Cox), the film follows a former soldier as he makes his way across the new American wasteland as one of the last remaining survivors of a zombie apocalypse six years after the war and just after the death of his wife and the disappearance of his son. Along the way, he meets a small number of people still alive, but mostly the film serves as his own internal monologue as he searches for a last bit of humanity.
And that’s a huge part of the problem. At an unconscionable 114 minutes, one wishes writer/director John Geddes would just go somewhere with his story. In fact, the main plot of the film gets settled quite simply after only 20 minutes. There’s some great historical period detail and supporting appearances from genre veterans Dee Wallace and Stephen McHattie liven things up, but there’s very little here. Add to that some wholly unnecessary stylistic flourishes (near seizure inducing shutter flickers to simulate candlelight, good looking animation that serves no narrative purpose, pained looking slow motion) and it all becomes a real chore to sit through. Maybe if told from a more straightforward perspective and not tied to the narrative structure of a journal, this would have worked a lot better than it does.
The Blu-ray comes with a ten minute behind the scenes look that offer a pretty decent look into creating such a period detailed, set-based film on a budget, and two commentary tracks, one with Geddes and actors Adam Seybold and Gibsion and another with the producers.
Being Erica – Season 4 (2011, Various) – It was kind of a blow to both fans and Canadian television writers alike last year when it was announced that Being Erica wasn’t going to be returning for a fifth season. While the soap opera elements of this dramedy were starting to creep in more and more in later seasons, there weren’t many other Canadian produced shows that were as well thought out or ambitious as this time travelling “what if” styled narrative.
As the show struggles to wrap up its labrythine plot structure of therapy across many different alternate timelines, the final season of the show kind of feels a bit more relaxed than in previous years, with less time spent with Erica (the always lovely Erin Karpluk) and her therapist Dr. Tom (Michael Riley) and even more time spinning its wheels on stand alone episodes involving peripheral characters. The first three episodes and the admittedly touching series finale approach the highs of previous years, but it’s a bit too apparent that as Erica reaches the end of her journey, the writing staff probably had a lot more ideas than they could possibly cram into a series this short. At least they didn’t become a show like Lost that just asked a bunch of questions that never get answered. This are rushed, but they still wrap up adequately enough.
With American and British reboots of the series currently in the works, it would have been nice to send Erica out with a nicer package. There’s only some table reading and recaps of the previous three seasons to bring people up to speed. I’m sure fans would have liked the series to be given a bit of a nicer release for its swan song.
My Reincarnation (2011, Jennifer Fox) – In this much liked documentary from the 2011 Hot Docs festival, we spend time with Yeshi, the Italian born son of a famous Buddhist master who, despite never having a close relationship with his father, is slowly accepting his responsibility as a reincarnation of another former Buddhist master of the rarely taught Dzoghen teachings.
Jennifer Fox’s film is an insightful look into Tibetan and Buddhist culture, but is an every better exploration about the relationship between fathers and sons. Yeshi is hardly ambivalent towards his father; he flat out says that he feels neglected by him no matter how hard he tries to win his approval. The film is also of note for portraying Buddhism in an even handed light for Western audiences who might expect something magical and mystical from Buddhist teachings. It really isn’t that way and it’s a job fraught with responsibility and an astounding lack of answers. My Reincarnation is a great film about familial bonds that can resonate with nearly everyone who watches it.
The DVD doesn’t have too much in the way of special features aside from 18 minutes of archival footage that had to be cut for pacing reasons, but are still interesting after watching the film. There’s also five brief minutes of footage from the film’s New York City premiere where people quite intriguingly ask Yeshi about that very lack of answers. It’s an interesting little document in it’s own right.