All the Light in the Sky


As any good surfer will tell you, the surf's up even when you're down.

As any good surfer will tell you, the surf’s up even when you’re down.

(2012) Drama (Swanberry) Jane Adams, Sophia Takal, Kent Osborne, Larry Fessenden, David Siskind, Lawrence Michael Levine, Ti West, Susan Traylor, Lindsay Burge, Simon Barrett, Allison Baar. Directed by Joe Swanberg

 Florida Film Festival 2013

I’ve heard mumblecore defined as “a bunch of dialogue in search of a plot.” That’s not entirely accurate but it isn’t without some merit. The mumblecore movement, whose adherents include directors like the Duplass Brothers, Andrew Bujalsky and Lynn Shelton,  have had a champion in Joe Swanberg as well.

Swanberg, based in the Chicago area (he attended film school at Southern Illinois University) has been as prolific a director as anyone in the business. He’s not quantity over quality either – some of his films have included Hannah Takes the Stairs, Silver Bullets, Autoerotic and Kissing on the Mouth, all very fine films. Actress Jane Adams, who also starred in Autoerotic and made a name for herself in Todd Solondz’ film Happiness, co-wrote this new film with Swanberg which would seem to have at least some autobiographical elements.

Marie (Adams) is a respected film actress who at 45 is hitting the brick wall that actresses get as roles for middle aged women dry up. She lives in a beach house with a gorgeous view of the Pacific into which she paddleboards every morning. She lives a healthy lifestyle, making herself smoothies for nearly every occasion, and has no romantic entanglements.

Her niece Faye (Takal), who intends to follow in her footsteps as an actress but has been working mostly on the East Coast, comes for a visit. This delights Marie, who one suspects is a little bit lonely but also adores her niece to begin with. Marie shows her around town and gives her some advice on navigating the treacherous waters of Hollywood.

Marie knows those waters well. After losing a desirable role to Kristen Wiig, she accepts a part in a micro-budgeted indie as a solar scientist and does extensive research with one to prepare for the role. She also begins a relationship with Dan (Swanberg regular Osborne) who does a lot of pot and is handy around the house, but as Marie looks past the sex doesn’t really see a lot more there- and that may well be just fine by her.

Faye for her part has a boyfriend (Levine) at home with whom she Skypes almost nightly with. Some innocent flirtations trouble her; she seems tempted at times with some of the boys she hangs out with at parties and such but quickly learns that their interest in her mainly ends when her clothes stay on. That’s not uncommon in L.A. or anywhere else for that matter.

Marie’s friend Rusty (Fessenden) paddleboards with her every morning. He’s a bit of a player although he prefers partners who are younger. They have a fairly comfortable relationship but after having a few drinks with dinner, things get a bit awkward.

The story really revolves around Faye’s visit and a few days on each side of it. This isn’t a movie in which things happen, which some viewers might find infuriating. Rather, things get discussed – everything from women’s breasts to the need for solar energy to the advantages of marriage and the price for independence. Some of these conversations are interesting indeed.

For my part, I have this issue with movies that are essentially people talking about life – it’s a very passive endeavor. I need a little more interaction. When I see an interesting conversation onscreen, I want very much to be part of it and it can be quite frustrating to be a mute onlooker. Sure, you can carry on some of the conversations afterward (and Da Queen and I did) but it isn’t the same – you’re never as brilliant afterwards are you are in the moment and the value of your insights can get lost.

I like Swanberg as a filmmaker and Adams as an actress. They both respect their audiences and don’t talk down to them. Simply put, I just didn’t connect with this movie the way I would have liked to. Perhaps I wasn’t in the frame of mind to enjoy it properly and needed a bit more space on either side of the film than you can typically get in a busy film festival schedule. That said, do take my final rating with a grain of salt – it isn’t meant to judge the quality of the movie, which is significant, only my recommendation on seeing it. It’s a very acquired taste, but those willing to put some effort and focus into it should find ample rewards. Unfortunately, I honestly didn’t but the fault may well have been mine rather than the filmmakers.

REASONS TO GO: Smart and topical. The dialogue sounds like real people talking. Very slice of life, L.A.-style.

REASONS TO STAY: Very talky. Lacks action and a traditional story.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some rough language, adult situations and graphic nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Swanberg directed six films that were filmed in 2010 (and co-directed a seventh), one of the busiest years for a single director since the silent era.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/17/13: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Baghead

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: SOMM and further coverage of the films of the 2013 Florida Film Festival!

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All in all, you might have been better off using Match.com

(2012) Horror (Magnet) Calvin Reeder, Adam Wingard, Lane Hughes, Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan, Joe Sykes, Drew Sawyer, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Norma C. Quinones, Drew Moerlein, Chad Villella, Matt Bertinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Paul Natonek. Directed by David Bruckner, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Radio Silence, Glenn McQuaid and Adam Wingard

 

While technology improves, some things stay the same. We can upgrade our recording systems but the images don’t change much. One vacation video is pretty much the same as another, whether it was taken in 1982 or 2012.

But these are anything but vacation videos unless you have a peculiar idea of relaxation, but let’s start from the beginning. An unknown party hires four small-time criminals who are known for making videos of women that they catch in parking garages and brutally show off their naked breasts. These make tons of money on the Internet, but their mysterious employer isn’t interested in boobs. He wants the gang of four to enter a house that’s more or less deserted (and it turns out to be less), and steal a videotape.

Break in they do and they enter the house to find a dead body and a pile of videotapes. As one of the group checks out the tapes to figure out which one is the right one, the rest of the group goes to investigate a series of mysterious noises – and you know that is going to end badly.

The first tape concerns a trio of frat boy-sorts who attach a spy-cam to one of the lad’s glasses and they go out hoping to get him laid. After some trial and error and enough alcohol to prove that these boys (save the one with the camera) are pretty much assholes when drunk, they manage to pick up a couple of girls. One of them passes out quickly but the other, named Lily, takes a shine to the cameraman (“I like you” she says repeatedly) but apparently one of the frat boys likes her a lot and decides to horn in on the action. Lily doesn’t seem to mind at first but, well, she’s a very special girl.

In the second, a newly married couple visit a southwestern tourist attraction – a wild west ghost town and do some hiking in the mountains. They are followed by a young woman who seems a little creepy, particularly to the husband. He really doesn’t know the half of it as some of the minor annoyances on their trip are her doing. But what are her intentions and why is she doing this?

In the third, a quartet of friends visit the home town of one of them who once they enter the woods around the town begins to act strangely. It turns out that there were some inexplicable murders there a few years earlier and that their friend knows more about the subject than she’s let on. As her creepy pronouncement that they’re all going to die there looks more and more likely, they’ll discover that the killer is still around and a creature like him they’ve never seen – say hello to Glitch Man.

The fourth is mainly the Skype conversation between a doctor and his girlfriend, who is convinced that the house she is in is haunted. He, being a rational sort is skeptical but he begins to see things too. Soon he’s more concerned about her situation than she is – she’s convinced that she can reason with the spirits and send them on their merry merry. But she may have miscalculated their intentions, particularly in relation to the mysterious bump on her arm.

The final tape shows a group of four friends who are invited to a Halloween party at an isolated house on the edge of town. Sounds like fun so the high-spirited boys and off they went to a very nice house in the middle of nowhere. When they get there, nobody’s there even though the house is unlocked and all the lights are on. While they speculate that this might be a Halloween attraction of some sort, however, it’s not the sort of attraction you’d want to spend money on and when the boys make it into the attic, all hell is going to break loose.

Anthologies are a horror film mainstay. It’s an effort to tell shorter stories that might deserve a telling without devoting an entire movie  In this case, each vignette is directed by a young up-and-coming filmmaker in the underground and mainstream horror genres. West is the best known, having directed the sequel to Cabin Fever which actually wasn’t all that bad for a direct-to-video effort and a really fine horror movie from last year called The Innkeepers. The rest are not as familiar to me so I didn’t really know what to expect. And pretty much as you might expect, the efforts here run from really good (the first tape) to not so much (the fourth).

The acting is as you also would expect rather uneven as well, although there are some finds. Hannah Fierman as Lily in the first movie is genuinely creepy. Her transformation from meek party girl to…well, I don’t want to spoil it but trust me it’s pretty spectacular and Hannah has a lot to do with it. If you see her in a bar near you walk on my friend, walk on.

The glitch man in the third vignette is also pretty nifty although the constant noise and jumpiness in the film gets really old really fast. In fact, one of the conceits of the movie is that they are all from videotapes so the quality of the images is pretty weak but that doesn’t mean the cinematography is bad, if that makes sense.

There is a gratuitous amount of gore and bare breasts, so if those things offend you my guess is you wouldn’t be interested in seeing a movie like this anyway. Everyone else, this is a solid and spectacular in places horror anthology that won’t completely win you over (the weak portions can be pretty boring and the movie at a little over two hours is about 20 minutes too long for my taste – a whole vignette could have been eliminated and they would have been much better off. Short of that, it’s available on VOD right now so if it isn’t playing near you, you can still check it out.

REASONS TO GO: Lots of gore and lots of boobs – mainstays for an excellent horror film.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the vignettes are more successful than others.

FAMILY VALUES:  A load of strong and often gruesome violence, lots of nudity, a fair amount of bad language, some horrific images and a bit of drug use. Oh, and some sex

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Ti West grew up in Delaware and went to the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/27/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 52% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100. The reviews are as mixed as you can get.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Videodrome

HORROR FILM ANTHOLOGY LOVERS: This comes from a tradition of horror film anthologies, several tales (often with different directors) linked together by a single story; among the more recognized anthologies include Twilight Zone: The Movie, Creepshow, Tales of Terror, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Trilogy of Terror, Cat’s Eye and The House That Dripped Blood.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Day 3 in the Six Days of Darkness 2012