Art for art’s sake.

(2020) Comedy (GravitasJosh Caras, Olivia Luccardi, Paul Cooper, Comfort Clinton, Amy Hargreaves, François Arnaud, Vince Nappo, Kaliswa Brewster, Daniel Bellomy, Lizzy DeClement, Phil Burke, Austin Pendleton, Kate Stone, Victor Verhaeghe, Emrhys Cooper, Stella Kammel, John Wolfman, Roger Netzer, Nick Neon, Anthony Edward Curry, Jon Valde. Directed by Michael Walker


I don’t know if any of you have ever met an art school graduate. My sister went to Cal Arts so I knew quite a few. Most of them were people just like thee and me, with a particular talent for creativity and artistic technique. A handful of them were pretentious blowhards who thought they could take a crap on a piece of canvas and it would be amazingly insightful.

The latter is the sort that inhabits the latest from New York indie filmmaker Michael Walker. Three mostly-affluent graduates from art school – frustrated Dan (Caras), his best friend Quinn (Cooper), a photographer who lives in his own studio; and lovely Kelsey (Luccardi) who works menial jobs while trying to find herself as an artist.

Dan is frustrated at the hoops he has to jump through to break through the high-falutin’ New York arts scene. His distracted father (Verhaeghe) encourages his son’s chosen career, introducing him to gallery owners and scene makers who tell Dan that his art “isn’t dark enough.” So, he does what any self-respecting art student in the same situation would do – he asks his mom (Hargreaves) to pose nude for him.

She is understandably reluctant, but Dan sidesteps the obviously creepy Oedipal overtones by suggesting that Quinn take nude pictures of mommy dearest and Dan will paint based on these. Mom consents to this, but as it turns out, the session gets out of hand and one thing leads to another….

Speaking of inappropriate relationships, Kelsey has sex with an important painter three times her age who is currently homeless, who promptly takes one of her paintings that is heavily influenced by his own work and sells it as his own. So she does what any self-respecting art student in the same situation would do – she blackmails the art gallery owner (Arnaud) to take on her career as a manager.

In the meantime, Dan finds out about what happened with Quinn and his mom, which doesn’t sit well with him at all, although he himself is having an affair with a married woman (Clinton). The three friends are forced to re-evaluate their values and their preconceptions about who they really are.

Walker, who also wrote the film, has a good ear for dialogue and that might just be the most distinctive thing about the film. It’s a shame that the characters speaking those lines are for the most part, pretentious self-absorbed twats. I get the sense that Parker was poking a hole in the façade of the New York art scene, which elevates the above-mentioned traits to god-like heights, but the humor here is more in the deranged nature of the situations. At one point, you wonder if actual human beings would do the things that the characters are doing in the movie. I would like to say they wouldn’t, although given that this is 2020, I may be overly generous with my assessment of human beings.

After a year in which it has become readily apparent that Americans have a self-serving streak wider than any river and a tribal identification taller than any mountain, I suppose my tolerance for spending time with characters I find no common morality with is pretty low. If you are in the same boat that I’m in, you might have the same reaction. But if your threshold for arseholes is relatively high, you might find this entertaining particularly if you enjoy the skewering of pretentious art snobs.

REASONS TO SEE: The dialogue is pretty good.
REASONS TO AVOID: Pretentious and preposterous.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, nudity, sexuality and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is based on a 2018 short of the same name  featuring the same characters.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/29/2020: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.


Film Geek

Film Geek

When you're Scottie Pelk, the whole world is awesome. Not.

(First Run) Melik Malkasian, Tyler Gannon, John Breen, Tara Walker, Taylor Nida, Michelle Garner, Matt Morris. Directed by James Westby

We all have our obsessions. They are the things that interest most, that we devote the most time to. For the most part, these things are harmless diversions but for some those obsessions take over their lives. They become geeks.

Scottie Pelk (Malkasian) is a film geek. He knows the minutiae about nearly every major film ever made. He can discourse on the facts and figures about nearly every director of note. He has a fierce love for foreign and independent filmmakers, and won’t hesitate to recommend films that, for the average person, are obscure or unwelcome but are the meat and potatoes for the cinema intelligentsia.

As bright and informed as he is about all things cinematic, he is as awkward socially. His voice is an effeminate nasal whine that is guaranteed to grate on anyone’s nerves. His conversations are concerned with only one subject and one alone. There are few people in his hometown of Portland who can keep up on the subject with him – hell, there are few people anywhere.

He is so annoying that he gets fired from his beloved job at the video store. The two other clerks Taylor (Nida) and Kaitlin (Walker) can’t stand him, and his boss Mr. Johnson (Breen) despises him. And now, he has nowhere to go. He lives at his apartment, masturbating at the thought of his pretty but shallow neighbor Cindi (Garner). With no jobs open at any neighborhood video store, he reluctantly accepts a job as a shipping clerk at an auto parts facility.

While taking a bus he meets Nico (Gannon), a hip artist who is reading a book about David Cronenberg, one of Scottie’s heroes. He is moved to actually speak to her and ask her out. At first, she sees him as something of a curiosity, essentially harmless but not really much more than that, but as she gets to know him she realizes that despite his one-track mind he is an essentially sweet boy with no social graces. Still, why would anyone want to wind up with a film geek?

Director Westby shot this in and around downtown Portland with essentially a local cast. The budget is probably roughly the same that most studio films spend on office supplies but Westby gets some surprising performances out of his cast.

Malkasian creates a character that is repulsive to a lot of people. They see him as terminally annoying, impossible to love and for sure, it takes a great leap of faith to see something in Scottie the way Nico does. Still, one has to admire Scottie. He has a fierce loyalty to his muse that withstands every challenge. He never wavers, never doubts. He is like the perfect lover, one who will never stray from the woman he loves. There’s something beautiful in that.

Some critics have complained the Scottie is too annoying, too nerdy but I’ve known some Scottie Pelks in my time and you simply have to learn to deal with them on their own level. Not all of them have been film geeks – some have been music geeks, sports geeks and videogame geeks. Relating to them is a matter of relating to their obsession and once you can do that, you have a friend for life.

The problem with Scottie is that while he can recite filmographies like a walking, talking IMDB, he takes nothing from the films he sees other than that they are awesome. It is his one-word review for movies that he uses regularly. He can’t or doesn’t articulate much more than that. Movies to him are a matter of spreadsheets and statistics.

Movies are of course much more than that. They can move you, transport you and inspire you; they can give you insight into your world and into your self. I think that Westby understands that much more than Scottie does, because he gives us a movie that has a great deal of insight. Scottie Pelk isn’t the easiest to like character ever written; he isn’t easy to understand either. However, those who take time to look beyond the annoying mannerisms, the nasal voice and the robotic, monotonic delivery of statistics will find someone there who can give one insight into the life of a geek, and in some small way, into our own obsessions.

WHY RENT THIS: A quirky but endearing film about the sort of person we all know.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A very lo-fi production with an unbelievable romance at its center.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of male rearview nudity and sexuality as well as some foul language make this unsuitable for younger audiences, who this was never intended for anyway.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is loosely based on Westby’s experiences working in a video store.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a short film shot by Westby starring Malkasian called The Auteur regarding the attempt of a director to record a DVD commentary track. It’s reasonably funny.


TOMORROW: The Bounty Hunter