Friday, November 2, 2012


(US - 2012)

An occasionally amusing, very low-key comedy that exists somewhere in that space between mumblecore and quirky (one character has a fake ear and plays the zither!), SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is the first starring vehicle for deadpan hipster heroine Aubrey Plaza (PARKS AND RECREATION).  She's a sarcastic, loner intern at a Seattle magazine, and tags along with another intern (Karan Soni) and a writer in an early midlife crisis (Jake Johnson) to track down the Ocean City resident behind an ad for a time travel partner, with the caveat "Bring your own weapons...safety not guaranteed."  They find the guy (mumblecore auteur Mark Duplass), a paranoid, part-time supermarket clerk, and Plaza ends up falling for him, despite not really being sold on the idea that he's constructed a time machine (and there are indeed government agents following him).  While Plaza does all of his work for him, Johnson decides to look up an old flame (Jenica Bergere), the real reason he wanted to go to Ocean City.  Likable if rarely laugh-out-loud funny, SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED gets a little too "cute" the more it goes on, but the cast is engaging (it's Plaza's film, but Johnson gets the biggest laughs), plus Jeff Garlin, Kristen Bell, and Mary Lynn Rajskub put in brief appearances.  Perhaps the film's most memorable scene occurs when director Colin Trevorrow and screenwriter Derek Connolly give Duplass a very heartfelt, moving bit where asks Plaza her favorite song and articulates his need to travel back to an earlier point in his life.  He says it's to find a lost love who died, but adds "It's not about the girl.  It's about a time and a place. You remember that time and that place and that song and you remember what it was like when you were in that place, and you listen to that song, and you know you're not in that place anymore and it makes you feel hollow.  You can't just go find that stuff again." (R, 86 mins)

(US -2012)

This perplexing thriller with possible sci-fi undertones is another impressive project by promising indie darling Brit Marling, who wrote and starred in last year's ANOTHER EARTH.  Scripted by Marling and director Zal Batmanglij, SOUND OF MY VOICE has a pair of amateur documentary filmmakers--substitute teacher Peter (Christopher Denham) and his aspiring writer girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius)--infiltrating a cult quietly operating in a house in a non-descript L.A. neighborhood in order to expose its charismatic leader Maggie (Marling) as a fraud.  Maggie claims she's from the year 2054, and is gathering a small group of people to accompany her back to her future world.  There's plenty of evidence to support the fraud theory:  the fragments of her backstory indicate that Maggie might be mentally ill or might be a recovering addict, and when she's asked to sing a song that's popular in the future, she offers an a cappella rendition of The Cranberries' "Dreams" and banishes the lone cult member who dares to question her about it.  Lorna is disturbed by Maggie's psychological hold on the members and that Peter seems to abandon the documentary project and might actually be buying into it.  Things get complicated when Maggie asks Peter to bring her an emotionally-troubled eight-year-old girl from his class named Abigail (Avery Pohl), who lives with her mysterious single dad (James Urbaniak).  For every clear indication that Maggie is lying, there's something to back up her claims.  Such is the puzzle of SOUND OF MY VOICE, right down to its unanswered questions (Peter is very evasive of his own past; is the Department of Justice agent really who she says she is? And who exactly is Maggie's mysterious guardian Klaus?) and its conclusion straight out of the 12 MONKEYS and PRIMER school of ambiguity, the likes of which you can discuss from now until the end of time and never find a definite answer.  Marling was recently seen as Richard Gere's daughter in ARBITRAGE, but between SOUND OF MY VOICE and ANOTHER EARTH (both were shown at Sundance in 2011, but it took SOUND OF MY VOICE another year to get released), she's established herself as both a solid actress and one of today's smartest and most imaginative screenwriters.  This is a major new talent to watch.  (R, 85 mins)

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