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Arts & Entertainment blogs the upcoming film festival!

Not That Funny

In my third review of Virginia Film Festival screenings, I’m faced with a reprise of sorts: Not That Funny is what I Am Not a Hipster is titularly: sort of a misnomer. Well, yes, it tends to be what Thursday’s delightfully-indie film could not accomplish and carries a plot that does hold close to the promise its title strings up in lights. But, it has its chuckle-catalyzing moments. Although, Not That Funny seems to have a cast cursed with an ironic case of arrested development. It neither breaks new ground nor induces vomit, and those wishing that Tony Hale would return to his typecasted role as the awkward, coddled kid brother will leave NTF with a bitter taste of disappointment.

But let’s remember: the movie isn’t advertised as Arrested Development: Solo Round, Hale’s glorious return-to-form as Fox’s poster child for the results of terrible parenting. It’s presented as an pensive and unique dramedy, which ironically never strays from the stale formula that Hollywood keeps slopping onto movie screens. Despite its (current) 3.7 on IMDB, the flick does have some merits, even if it’s as predictable as your standard Nicholas Sparks blah-a-thon.

Stefan (Hale) cares for the elderly Toogie (K Callan) and doubles as her astute financial adviser. His best friend, Kevork (John Kapelos) pesters Stefan about his apparent loneliness, to which he simply replies: “I’m alone, I’m not lonely.” However, in true dramedy fashion, a girl flips his ideology like lackluster McDonald’s hotcakes: the standard troubled granddaughter Hayley (Brigid Brannagh). She begrudgingly toils under pretentious sleazebag Finneas Patrick O’Neill (Timothy V. Murphy), who prides himself on being the most unpleasant humanitarian in the history of humanitarianism.

Let’s set the record straight: Stefan is indeed not that funny, so he flocks to the Internet to fuel his comedic fire. What he sets his sights on is the emulation of female fan favorite Norm Getz (Nick Thune), whose claim to fame is being ruder and cruder than your average ExxonMobil gas. After priming his humor, the unfunny man test-drives it and misfires. Seeking Getz out after trailing the comedian back to his humble abode, Stefan discovers that he’s more himself as a serious man than a hilarious one. Cue the Full House episodic score and let’s call it a night.

But wait! There’s more! Not that much more, though. The action moves at such a glacial pace that most of the quips are hidden behind quizzical music choices (I recall hearing an industrial-dance tune immediately followed by a Sarah McLachlan clone…) and Hale’s signature facial expressions. The performances are hit-and-miss, and the emotive conclusion that tries its best to remain unequivocally original is your standard 100-minute Lifetime special closer.

However, it’d be a crime to discount the fact that Not That Funny does bring to mind this important reminder: this movie delivers, for the most part, what it intends to. Phrases are sometimes followed by smatterings of chuckles, others welcomed by embarrassing silence. But isn’t that the point?
-James Cassar. 2/5 stars.


Fat Kid Rules the World

Matthew Lillard (The Descendants, Scooby Doo) and Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer, Dracula) came along to the Newcomb Theatre to present Lillard’s directorial debut and Campbell’s role in Fat Kid Rules the World. Lillard’s energy and high spirits bring this story to life. After a rough life, obese high school teenager Troy (Jacob Wysocki) finds himself dragged along the mishaps of expelled band junkie Marcus (Matt O’Leary) after Marcus saves Troy from his suicide attempt. By the end, Troy is saving Marcus from his downward spiral. This film has a ton of heart, from the amazing performances of the actors to the truthful environment that Matthew Lillard created. Fat Kid Rules the World came from a lot of hard work and dedication on the part of Lillard to make and is one that everyone should see. From the first shot, you can tell that this film is a character in itself. Lillard and Campbell stayed long after the film ended to talk to basically every fan in the theatre, and his emanating energy made everyone feel like he truly loved the experience. I highly, highly recommend checking this film out when it comes to iTunes next week and on VOD. 5/5 stars. – Annie Wilmer


Silver Linings Playbook

Bradley Cooper is no stranger to the finer things in life: he’s fluent in French, has an honors degree in English from Georgetown under his belt, and has been relishing in the fact that he’s everyone’s favorite brand of eye candy. Then again, he’s been in accolade-accruing comedy films like The Hangover and Wedding Crashers, which exhibit his fun-loving side. When Silver Lining Playbook showcases him chucking a library copy of an Ernest Hemingway novel out his parents’ attic window, it could be concluded that this film combines both aspects of the A-lister’s multifaceted acting repertoire.

Sure, the Virginia Film Festival has had its share of superstars grace Charlottesville’s gigantic screens, but this film is this weekend’s Valentine’s Day: a romantic comedy with an ensemble cast that unlike that god-awful comparison, isn’t formulaic and doesn’t star Taylor Swift in a fittingly-lovelorn role. Set for wide release in almost three weeks, SLP was described by Festival Director Jody Kielbasa as one of VFF’s pinnacle showings; the Paramount Theater was home to a sellout crowd for the second night in a row (Friday’s All the President’s Men also gathered a sizable, albeit older viewer base) – and luckily, for a good reason.

Pat Solitano (Cooper) has just been released from an eight-month stay at a Baltimore mental health facility in the aftermath of a troubling incident. Summary of said incident: the standard wife-cheating drama gets beefed up when Pat gains the upper hand in a shower-soaked brawl. Diagnosed late with bipolar disorder, he’s at the careful mercy of his parents, the also-mercurial father (Robert De Niro) and the 90s-sitcom compassionate mother (Jacki Weaver). Pat, although traumatized by his actions, remains optimistic that his illness will retreat and that his silver lining will come in the form of a reconstructed marriage.

When Tiffany (The Hunger Games’ Jennifer Lawrence), a young woman with a similar checkered past, bolts into his life, Pat sees a silver-lining. They compare medications, they publicly strain their voices in heated arguments, they waltz? It’s (500) Days of Summer meets Harold & Maude – featuring music by the White Stripes and a substantial subplot involving the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s the same story that’s been retold countless times – some worse trainwrecks than others – but the psychological undertones and the two talented leads deliver something not completely overdone in the rom-com playbook. Oui oui! – James Cassar. 5/5 stars.


Rust and Bone

In what was apparently the US premiere of French film Rust and Bone, the Virginia Film Festival brought in a strong crowd. In a role that has a good shot to lead to an Oscar nomination for Marion Cotillard (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Contagion), Stephanie suffers a major accident working with killer whales that leaves her without her legs and without much will to live. At the same time, Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is fighting to support himself and his five-year-old son Sam after he and Sam’s mother break up. Both in very difficult moments in their lives, Stephanie and Ali work symbiotically off of each other to move along and find purpose. Jacques Audiard made an amazing film that truly takes the time to study the characters, their environment, and their lives. He allows his leads to pull through not just for the sake of the audience but because they actually find a way. He takes Stephanie from having control to being naked on the ground, and he portrays Ali as the continually faulty father, brother, and friend. I would highly recommend this movie, as it takes this gray and depressing world of the characters and works their stories into hope. 5/5 stars. – Annie Wilmer


Hello I Must Be Going

The performances of lead actors Melanie Lynskey and Christopher Abbott pull together the very tragically subtle story of Amy’s recent divorce and how she finds understanding through her relationship with nineteen-year-old Jeremy. The story in itself, while definitely offering a distinct look at both love and knowledge of the self, would not hold the strength that it does without the two leads, who bring humor in the most uncomfortably realistic of places. The film focuses especially on Amy, who had basically moved back in with her parents after her ex-husband cheated on her and then asked for a divorce. Her parents, however, were trying to find success in the rough economy by gaining the business of Jeremy’s stepfather, so when the two start to fall for each other, Amy finally finds herself in her mid-thirties and forced to learn to actually grow up. The story has strong, witty moments that contrast to the sad reality that is Amy’s life. I would recommend Hello, I Must Be Going because it has a voice of its own. 4/5 stars. – Annie Wilmer


All The Presidents Men

Everyone knew the movie was going to be good. Two of the greatest actors of the century, four Academy awards and a multitude of other accolades; All the Presidents Men has already been deemed a bonafide classic. I could sense, however, that the most anticipated segment of the show was the discussion afterward with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the very men who inspired the film, broke the Watergate scandal and cemented their status as genuine journalistic royalty.

Even as the film progressed it only served to heighten the anticipation. Through the very beginning, the initial attraction of the two reporters to the case, through to the connections being made, the dots connected and we begin to realize just what a feat of journalistic genius these two men accomplished. The fact is, we know how the story ends, we know how the whole thing blows up, yet the process, the dogged investigative tenacity of the duo is astounding all the same.

Bernstein commented on this aspect of the film in following discussion. He said that the film “shows the process of reporting” as not just sitting in an office, calling numbers. It was “knocking on doors” and analyzing facts intensively. It was intriguing to see the duo comparing their real life experiences on the trail with the portrayal of the events in the film. Bernstein claimed that many components of the story were given more “weight” than real life, but this could easily be attributed to the format of film, and the tradition of Hollywood. A final segment of the discussion focused on the generational gap displayed in the film. ATPM is really a period piece, ripe with phone book rifling and cross country travel to conduct interview. Nowadays, journalists, many assume, can merely use one of the many technological advancements at our fingertips to set on the story. Woodward commented on this facet and claimed that “the methodology still works,” that hard investigative journalism is still warranted in todays society. He offered one final story to illustrate his point: A journalism professor at Yale, he said, asked his students to write one page on how they think the Watergate scandal would have broken nowadays. The responses, he claimed, could be summarized as follows: Go to Google and put in “Nixon secret fund.” Woodward sighed and said “I almost had an aneurism.” 5/5 Stars. -Will Mullany


About Cherry

About Cherry is mostly sex and drugs, with a little bit of heartache thrown in, too. The tale of a teenager with a terrible home life, this film is not your average “inspirational, rise from the ashes” story. With the potential to be a riveting story of struggle, it just misses the mark for me.

The plot is extremely unique, and one that would definitely draw the teen audience- sex, sex, and more sex!- but there were too many aspects of the complex plot that were introduced, and then cut off so quickly that the viewer does not even know where they left off. Cherry, who starts out as a hard-working older sister/replacement for her absentee mother, transforms from struggling teenager to porn star so quickly that if you blinked you would have missed it. This seemed to be a theme throughout the entire movie, however: quickly introducing characters and relationships, then letting them trail off without mention- very frustrating.

Despite the seemingly incomplete and shuffled method of storytelling, it does boast some sexy scenes, and some big names like James Franco, Heather Graham, and Dev Patel- who will melt your heart in this film! Ashley Hinshaw, the lead, gives an amazing and riveting performance that somehow manages to portray a pornstar while maintaining the innocence of a teenage girl. Though the plot was a bit lacking, the acting was top-notch and it makes a film that could be trashy and cheap into a respectable piece of work.

As the debut film for author Stephen Elliott, it was definitely not bad- but could it have been better? The story line had SO much potential to truly convey the heart ache associated with a broken childhood and the struggle to make ends meet, but it seemed to just skim over a lot of these points. Yes, it could have been better, but I truly enjoyed the majority of this bold and risky film.

As for the ending…One word: Disappointment. 3/5 stars.
-Kristen Hardy


The Man with the Iron Fist

The Man With The Iron Fists seems to unite a great deal of prominent cultural forces with large and furiously devout masses of fans: RZA (of the rap posse Wu-Tang Clan) writing, directing and starring. The Kung-Fu aesthetic (in itself a force to be reckoned with) comprising the setting and plot. Even Tarantino (whose presence can be felt strongly here) puts his stamp on the production. Instead of trying to describe this indescribably weird film in any typical fashion, I will instead construct this review in the form of two easy to understand categories

Things to look forward to:
Blood. Cutthroat Prostitutes. Lots of Blood. Absurdly cliched dialogue. Blood. Russel Crowe slicing a large man open from midriff to chin, and the ensuing jet of blood. Seriously folks, there is an absurd amount of blood in this film. Hilarious amounts. Sprinkles and streams and rivers of blood coming from all sorts of unexpected places. If you are one of those people who gets nauseous at a bloody nose, let me state quite clearly what should by now be obvious: Do. Not. Watch. This. Movie.

Other things to look forward to:
Both thinly veiled innuendo and completely blatant and unnecessary sexuality (Oh Russel, you dog). Overly ambitious and poorly shot fight scenes (The best kind). RZA’s hysterically blasé narration (“Those mother******s had Gatling guns”).

Things to not look forward to:
Plot. An earnest Kung-Fu movie. I made the mistake of expecting the latter, but was quickly alerted to its sardonic tone by a young lady sitting behind me who giggled gleefully “This is so ridiculous.” Ah. Yes it was ridiculous. Let’s hope so anyway. Because as I left the theatre tonight, the sickening thought entered my mind that part of the film could have been straight-faced, that it really could have just been that bad. The remorselessly abysmal acting, the straight-outta-soapbox dialogue, the overblown fight scenes. It all seemed to congeal before me as the quintessential bad movie!

No, No. It couldn’t be. It was a satire. A genius satire of the martial-arts film genre, of course. I laughed the whole way through. Fantastic. Just heed this advice: Sit back and enjoy the streams of gore, hackneyed writing and the downright ungodly levels of absurdity without thinking too much about it. It wasn’t intended for anything like that. 3/5 Stars. -Will Mullany


Tchoupitoulas

Bill and Turner Ross are the type of filmmaking duo that emerged from a childhood obsession with the power of the camera to capture a singular worldview, to put an audience into ones shoes and show them the things you see just as you see them. Though the brothers have grown significantly since their boyhood, their film Tchoupitoulas possesses that distinct touch of naiveté, seeking not to recount a narrative or voice some socio-political commentary, but to impress upon the audience a vision of New Orleans from the perspective of the overlooked many that make the city run.

Over the opening shot, the voice of the young boy, whose escapades through the city provide the framing device for the piece, admits “I don’t usually dream, but last night I did.” This short remark serves as a sort of prologue for the pseudo-documentary, warning those audience members expecting a more traditional movie-going experience that they are in for a strange show. For all the other folks, the ensuing 88 minutes are trance inducing, utterly devoid of substance, yet mystically carnivalesque. As the boy explores the many murky alleys and two-bit dive-bars of the town, descending deeper and deeper into the dream, the scenes becomes more surreal; We meet lonesome show girls, carousing transvestites and a clown dancing to an accordion in the wee hours of the morning, all captured beautifully by the delightfully saturated footage that comprises the film.

Unsurprisingly, the Ross brothers claimed that they sought to create a film that “immerses itself into New Orleans” a feat oft attempted and rarely accomplished. While they do at times fall prey to many of the trappings common to the Art-House canon (abstract interludes of poorly focused camera shots, for example), their unconventional technique characterizes an important essence of the city: unpredictability. And while Tchoupitoulas may not be suited to the full-length, big-screen, wide-release that so aptly suits other films, it is certainly worth the time for anyone with an open mind. 3/5 Stars. -Will Mullany


I Am Not A Hipster

I have been dressed for this occasion for two days straight: ironic muted flannel, jeans skinnier than Nicole Richie, blister-inducing Chuck Taylor kicks, a trapper hat straight out of Northern Michigan, and of course, imitation Ray Bans. But don’t worry, unlike like most people afraid to be stamped a “hipster,” they have lenses to accommodate my 20-80 excuse for vision.

Kicking off the first night of the VFF, I Am Not a Hipster is one part Control (a grainy, bleak take on a Joy Division biopic), two parts High Fidelity (where admittedly-archaic cassette culture takes a backseat to grade-A drama), dotted off with a dollop of self-referential sarcasm. If anyone truly believes this film lives under its title, they’d obviously be overlooking the obvious nods to the much-parodied subculture: Pabst Blue Ribbon, cheap cigarettes, and a penchant for obscure indie-rock serves as the spectacle’s driving force.

Set against a soundtrack predominantly crooned by acoustic slow jam upstarts Canines, IANAH depicts San Diego’s “starving artist” indie scene, with forlorn folk-rocker Brook Hyde (Dominic Bogart) serving as the movement’s poster child. Coping with the death of his mother, his life is plagued by loneliness and isolation, and despite his art being praised as revolutionary, he deems his efforts empty and passionless. Among his ragtag clan of artistic cohorts is the iPhone touting, bike-racing modernist Clarke (played in a truly non-mainstream fashion by Alvaro Orlando), the laughably-realistic Spaceface, a blatant farce of computer-driven dance music (Adam Shapiro) and Hyde’s three supportive, sympathetic sisters (Tammy Minoff, Lauren Coleman, Kandis Erickson).

Music films tend to reach the common conclusion that the tunes transform tragedy into togetherness, but IANAH sidesteps the trite conclusion for something more encompassing and deep.
Chalk one up for these hipsters. They didn’t escape their label. -James Cassar. 4/5 stars.


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