Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review: 'Ass Backwards' at Sundance Film Festival

 By Matt Patches , Hollywood.com Staff | Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ass Backwards

People in the media continue to argue over whether "woman are funny" (OK, mostly Adam Carolla). But sift through the past decade of comedy and it's painfully obvious that when it comes to making us laugh, ladies can bring it. Hollywood is slowly latching onto this, pipelining more and more female-led projects with cross-gender appeal. The only problem is that most of them sideline what makes the actresses spark. A woman is either handed a generic romantic comedy in hopes they will elevate the material, or a high-concept vehicle with a meaty ensemble (Bridesmaids and 2013's Identity Thief fit in here). Can't a lady just be silly, stupid, and funny like their male counterparts?

Yes. Yes, they can. And yes, they should.

Sundance's midnight premiere slate is annually curated with the weirdest and wildest in independent film, and 2013 proved itself worthy with the Monday night premiere of Ass Backwards. Written by and starringHappy Endings star Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael (NTSF:SD:SUV), Ass Backwards tracks two happily delusional, life long friends in New York City — Chloe (Wilson) is a "rising star" dancing in a glass box at a club, while Kate (Raphael) is the CEO of her own egg donor company — as they hit the road to participate in a 50th anniversary beauty pageant. In their early days, Chloe and Kate were pageant losers, tying for last place after one particularly disastrous competition. Now they aim to redeem themselves — as long as they can actually drive themselves back home.

Ass Backwards is straightforward like a female-driven comedy is rarely allowed to be in big studio movies. The two friends are morons, and Wilson and Raphael never back down from acting like idiots in the name of landing a laugh. Like Dumb and Dumber, or even more appropriate, the last female-pairing to be this fearless in his desire for stupidity, Romy and Michele's High School ReunionAss Backwards pushes buttons and presents ridiculousness that's also familiar. These are the type of girls who sing along to a skipping CD recording of "Take on Me," swoon over the voice of their British GPS system, pay back the hospitality of a lesbian commune by handing out sexual favors, and get star struck when they meet a meth junkie from their favorite rehab reality show. Unbalanced, but relatable.

What makes Romy and Michele forever watchable, and why Ass Backwards could be a breakout hit when it eventually arrives in theaters, is that both sets of space case characters love their lives and love each other. Chloe and Kate face off in a sultry dancing competition at a local strip club and are routinely found squatting on the side of the road, but they're journey bubbles over with friendship. Everyone hates them — minus Chloe's Dad (Vincent D'Onofrio), who hands over every dime from his "backwards hat" store to his daughter — except for themselves. Making it impossible for us not to love them.

Wilson and Raphael have unique comedic voices, as crass as any male counterpart with strong female identity. They go big and physical with Ass Backwards, dressing their alter egos in over the top costumes (or "high fashion," as it's known in New York) and letting loose in a way that recalls the early days of Jim Carrey. It helps that Wilson and Raphael both come from sketch comedy (SNL and a handful of Adult Swim shows, respectively). They're well-versed in hyper-specific characters — and ones we want to spend more time with, just to see what trouble they weasel their ways into. Romy and Michele only returned for a subpar direct-to-DVD sequel. Let's hope Ass Backwards finds a big enough audience that we get a few more rounds with the lovable disasters Chloe and Kate.

[Photo Credit: Prominent Pictures]

Review: 'The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman'

{Vincent has a small role at the beginning of the film as the boyfriend of Charlie's mother}

By Justin Lowe

PARK CITY – Commercials director Fredrik Bond makes a promising feature debut with this fanciful crime-drama romance that gratifyingly eschews strict genre classification. The film’s frequent violence and occasional nudity will clearly assure an “R” rating, but within that limited audience there’s plenty here to appeal to both the date crowd and crime-movie adherents, as well as fans of the two appealing leads.
Introduced in voiceover by an unseen Narrator (John Hurt), Charlie Countryman (Shia LaBeouf) is a bit of a lost soul and the death of his mother Katie (Melissa Leo) leaves him completely adrift. After she passes, he sees her in a vision and asks her for guidance – she tells him to go visit Bucharest. Lacking any other direction in his life, Charlie boards a Chicago flight headed for Romania and meets Victor (Ion Caramitru), a Romanian taxi driver on his way home to visit his daughter.
Casual conversation reveals a shared love for the hapless Chicago Cubs baseball team, but their newfound friendship is cut short when Victor peacefully passes away on the flight and Charlie experiences another vision: Victor telling him to deliver a gift that he was carrying to his daughter Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood). Charlie agrees, tracking her down at the airport when he arrives and consoling her as best he can before offering to assist with the disposition of her father’s body.
Later at the opera house where he watches her play cello in the orchestra, Charlie meets Gabi’s menacing ex-husband Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen), who has unfinished business with Victor over a missing videocassette that he now plans to settle with Gabi, but she turns him away. Later that night on a circuitous wander around the city, Charlie’s convinced he’s falling in love with Gabi, but she remains aloof and mysterious about her relationship with Nigel.
By coincidence, Charlie learns more about Nigel and Gabi from Darko (Til Schweiger), another gangster and associate of Nigel’s who runs customer shakedowns at a local nightclub. Darko’s looking for the same videotape that Nigel is seeking, plunging Charlie into a standoff between Gabi and the two heavies, even as the young couple is discovering the first glimmers of romance. Charlie will clearly need to elevate his game if he’s going to help extract Gabi from her perilous situation – if in fact she even wants to be rescued.
Screenwriter Matt Drake reportedly based the script on his personal experiences in Romania, but introduces some fanciful elements to the gritty narrative, such as Charlie’s ability to converse with the recently deceased, as well as the somewhat problematic device of the Narrator’s voiceover. Many of the omniscient observations made by the unidentified character can be directly deduced from the film’s plot and theme, making his rather ponderous pronouncements about love and fate seem almost ridiculously grandiose. Overall, however, Drake manages a taut balance between action and romance that’s consistently engaging.
With a scruffy demeanor and wide-eyed enthusiasm, LaBeouf projects a degree of emotional recklessness that’s both disarming and disconcerting to watch. Woods blends so capably into the role, with her distinctly European bearing and Romanian-accented speech, that she easily conceals her American origins. As her violent and unpredictable ex, Mikkelsen is chillingly proficient and although she appears only briefly, Leo registers strongly.
Supported by a dream team of producers, including Bona Fide Productions’ Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, as well as Voltage Pictures’ Nicolas Chartier, Bond effectively incorporates the script’s more eccentric elements while keeping them grounded in the principal narrative. Production values are top-shelf overall, supported by a propulsive score and  strategically incorporated special effects.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Premieres
Production companies: Voltage Pictures, Bona Fide Productions
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Evan Rachel Wood, Mads Mikkelsen, Til Schweiger, Rupert Grint, James Buckley, Vincent D’Onofrio, Melissa Leo, Ion Caramitru, John Hurt
Director: Fredrik Bond
Screenwriter: Matt Drake
Producers: Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, Craig J. Flores, William Horberg
Executive Producers: Nicolas Chartier, Patrick Newall, Dean Parisot
Director of photography: Roman Vasyanov
Production designer: Joel Collins
Costume designer: Jennifer Johnson
Music: Christophe Beck, Deadmono
Editor: Hughes Winborne
Sales: CAA
No rating, 107 minutes

'Clive' Review by Blanca Acevedo

Clive-First Saturday Matinee 1-19-2013

Photo by Blanca Acevedo Be warned-this review contains some major spoilers!
Photo by Blanca Acevedo I saw the first matinee of Clive today at the Acorn Theater on West 42nd Street, just blocks from Times Square. In this fast-moving and most unusual play, Vincent dominates the stage, overshadowing the other actors, including Ethan Hawke, who plays the lead role of Clive. The play begins with Vincent's character, Doc, appearing from behind a red door, centerstage, then reaching from behind the door to tap out notes on a xylophone built into the door as he announces "Satan is real." All the seven doors onstage were designed as unique sound sculptures by Gaines with musical instruments and song lyrics built into the design. These scuptures will produce sounds unique to each performance of Clive, thereby creating an original musical score each night. The guitars used by Clive and Doc and the piano onstage all have various lines written on the surfaces. The set is beautifully designed with walls made of silvery beer cases with brand names like Durst and beer cans framed by a curtain made of the tops of beer cans. It's quite a feast for the eyes!
Lobby of the Acorn Theater-photo by Blanca Acevedo Ethan soon appears and announces the beginning of the play, and also reveals that he will play the role of Clive because "I'm dead." Indeed, we are led through various outrageous and sometimes tawdry vignettes in the life of Clive and his buddies, bimbos and best friend Doc, leading up to Clive's tragic end in a rather strange circumstance. Let's just say it involves ice fishing. "A rat lies in the gutter dying...so what?" Ethan brings the rock star swagger to his role of Clive, brandishing his guitar for several musical numbers and even reciting lines written on the guitar, admonishing Joanne, his friend's teenaged girlfriend, to "clean up and go home" after a night of debauchery, punctuating his insult with the boast "I fucked you well." In the first of several tragedies that haunt Clive, Joanne drowns herself after losing her virginity to him and suffering his rejection. But Clive just can't help himself, and soon impregnates and abandons Sophia, who's adored by a devoted Doc, but loves Clive.
Photo by Blanca Acevedo Doc is a striking figure onstage, dressed in country western garb and howling at the audience at times, even barking like a bulldog at Clive's behest, but Doc is no court jester. Vincent brings his own larger than life swagger to the role of Doc, who's boisterous and charming with a pronounced southern drawl and thirst for booze, babes and blow to match his towering frame. Doc and Clive share an unexpectedly homoerotic moment as both are seated on the stage and Clive jumps onto Doc's lap. As they embrace, I could swear they were about to kiss, but they do not. Hot damn! Zoe Kazan, who was hilarious in "A Behanding in Spokane" with Christopher Walken, Anthony Mackie and Sam Rockwell in 2010, plays Joanne the blond, Sophia the brunette and the nameless redhead who falls for Doc, only to be ravished by Clive in the bushes after Doc's boast that she "fucked me like a squirrel fucks another squirrel." ??? Imagine how funny that line sounds when spoken by George Geronimo Gerkie, sans the wig and hat, and you'll get a sense of the strange humor that permeates Clive. Speaking of the little red-haired girl, she gets a few playful spanks on the butt from Doc, who's all hands with her in their brief time together onstage. Charlie Brown never had it so good! As for nudity, Doc's bald head and Clive's shirtless staggering about the stage will have to suffice. Sorry, Vixens.:(
Photo by Blanca Acevedo Aside from Vincent and Ethan, the rest of the cast play multiple roles throughout the 1 1/2 hour production, from pals of Clive to junkies, prostitutes to priests, and a group of fishermen who taunt a dying Clive while snorting drugs from his prone body. Music is performed by the actors in fragmented segments throughout the play, so I wouldn't call this a concert or musical. Vincent and Ethan perform a country-flavored duet with their twin guitars, but they chant the words rather than actually sing them. Clive also performs by a piano decorated with lines such as "First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes...." and "Mama tried." Shades of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat here and on the guitars, as well. Clive's guitar sports various lines of dialogue and the legend "Be Nice To Me Sweetheart This is My Room" and the name "Elephant." Doc's guitar is named "Elephant My Ass" and bears a legend around the body of his guitar similar to Clive's.
Photo by Blanca Acevedo Major Spoiler!!!! Don't read this if you don't want to know what happens to Doc near the end of the play. Otherwise, read on..... As we know by now, Vincent has played many villains and anti-heroes on screen and on TV, and they usually die onscreen. Well, sorry to say that Doc meets his end after a bitterly drunken fight with Clive, sparked by jealousy and resentment over past wrongs (remember Doc's redheaded girlfriend?) Doc, who once snorted dope with Clive off their guitars, explodes with rage, demanding to know "Are you the only girlfriend I'm allowed to have?" A barroom brawl turns deadly as Clive, switchblade in hand, turns Doc into a ghost bathed in red light. Doc later appears with angel's wings, one wing bearing the words "Doc is dead" and the other "RIP." Clive's downfall is a foregone conclusion-"A rat lies in the gutter dying...so what?" Sex, drugs, rock and roll, larceny, rape, murder, etc........Are people nothing but hedonistic animals? Is love even possible in such a godless world? Who cares? I think Doc would have, definitely.