Thursday, December 24, 2015

On DVD/Blu-ray: TIME OUT OF MIND (2015); NASTY BABY (2015); and GUNS FOR HIRE (2015)

(US - 2015)

A long-planned pet project for Richard Gere, TIME OUT OF MIND is anchored by one of the veteran actor's most committed performances. Gere is the focal point and is in every scene as George Hammond, a homeless man on the streets of NYC. Introduced squatting in a vacant tenement and kicked out by the landlord (Steve Buscemi), George makes his way around the city, asking for spare change and trying to find a place to sleep. He has his rituals, like sitting in the park and selling his coat for beer money only to stop by a donation center at a church to grab a new one. He wants to reconnect with his estranged bartender daughter Maggie (Jena Malone), who wants nothing to do with him. The film is largely plotless and seems to go where George's day takes him, though we learn bits and pieces as it goes on: George's life started to collapse over a decade earlier when he lost his job and his insurance, then his wife got sick and he was unable to get her proper medical care. After she died, he handed Maggie over to be raised by his mother-in-law, and he's been surviving on the streets since, unable to pull his life together and admittedly living in a ten-year-long blur. Gere and writer/director Oren Moverman (THE MESSENGER, RAMPART) aren't really interested in telling a linear story as much as they are getting inside George's head. Moverman often plants the camera on Gere as we hear all the sounds that surround him, going in one ear and out the other: fragments of chatter and phone conversations, passing cars, horns, sirens, construction, and the general sounds of NYC. Moverman often goes for old-school guerrilla filmmaking, keeping the camera stationary and from a distance--perhaps from inside a business establishment--to observe Gere-as-George asking passersby for change, rummaging through trash cans, or sleeping on the sidewalk as actual NYC pedestrians are unaware that the homeless man they're passing is a famous Hollywood actor. It feels a little gimmicky at times, and at 121 minutes, it's an extremely slow-moving exercise in verite minimalism that's a good 30 minutes longer than it really needs to be (there were walkouts when it was shown at the Toronto Film Festival in 2014), but it's an ambitious experiment on Gere's part, and he gets some solid support from friends who appear in cameos, like Kyra Sedgwick as a homeless woman, Michael Kenneth Williams as a guard at the shelter, and, in his best role in years, Ben Vereen as a homeless former jazz pianist (or so he claims) and nonstop chatterbox befriended by George at the shelter. With no concern for mainstream appeal (IFC had this on 18 screens at its widest release) and no real drive to the story, it's most certainly not for everyone. It's absolutely the kind of film you need to be in the mood for, but it's a must-see for Gere fans and if you brew a pot of strong coffee ahead of time, it has its rewards, particularly in its powerful final shot. (R, 121 mins)

(Chile/France - 2015)

Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Silva (the 2012 Michael Cera stoner oddity CRYSTAL FAIRY & THE MAGICAL CACTUS) wrote, directed, and stars in this largely improvised--at least for its first 2/3--comedy-drama that remains effective despite never really settling on what it wants to accomplish. In a gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood, gay couple Freddy (Silva) and Mo (RACHEL GETTING MARRIED's Tunde Adebimpe, also the frontman for the band TV on the Radio) are trying to become parents with the help of Freddy's friend Polly (Kristen Wiig), who desperately wants to be a mom, with the trio planning to raise the child in an unconventional but loving home. Freddy's low sperm count prompts Polly to plead with Mo to be the donor, which he initially declines but eventually agrees to do. As they go about their daily lives, with performance artist Freddy planning an absurdly awful multimedia exhibition called "Nasty Baby," where he sucks on a pacifier and rolls around on the floor like a helpless infant while video of Mo, Polly, and Freddy's assistant Wendy (Alia Shawkat) doing the same plays on video monitors around him, Silva establishes an occasionally rambling improvisational feel in the relationship and interaction between Freddy, Mo, and Polly and how their lifestyle choice affects those in their lives. They get support from fatherly neighbor Richard (a rare nice-guy performance by veteran character actor Mark Margolis), who's also gay, and there's some static from Mo's opinionated sister about their "disregard" of tradition.

But their biggest obstacle is "The Bishop" (Reg E. Cathey), a homophobic and mentally unstable neighborhood nutjob who fires up his leaf blower at 7:00 am, hurls anti-gay slurs at the couple whenever they pass him on the sidewalk, and also repeatedly gets in Polly's personal space and physically grabs her from behind, but the cops won't arrest him because his mother is a prominent judge. Throughout the film, the Bishop's increasingly aggressive and antagonizing presence provokes a discomforting sense of unease to what otherwise feels like any number of self-indulgent mumblecore indie rom-coms, Indeed, the final third offers one of the most abrupt, jarring, and audacious plot shifts in recent memory, sort-of like how Robert Rodriguez's FROM DUSK TILL DAWN went from a kidnapping thriller to a vampire movie at its midpoint. Even with the Bishop's irrational behavior, you still won't be prepared for what Silva does--for better or for worse--with the character in the late stages. There's certainly an argument that NASTY BABY is an uneven, unfocused mess (and despite what some thinkpiece-type reviews might say, I don't see it saying one thing or another about gentrification), but after getting to know these characters for an hour and change, and suffering through Freddy's cringe-worthy demonstrations of his idiotic presentation (surely, Silva is satirizing pretentious, hipster performance artists with the ludicrous "Nasty Baby" project), the shocking development that dominates the last third and sends it into blood-splattered, SHALLOW GRAVE territory prompts you to question what you really think of them and what they think of themselves (you can see the self-doubt on Freddy's face in the final shot). Silva and Adebimpe make a likable couple, a wild-eyed Cathey is intimidating and terrifying, and Wiig continues to surprise in her post-SNL/BRIDESMAIDS career choices that include the blockbuster THE MARTIAN and the upcoming GHOSTBUSTERS remake, but also have her spending a lot of time in small, under-the-radar indies like this, HATESHIP LOVESHIP, and WELCOME TO ME. NASTY BABY is a weird and ultimately unsettling little movie that sneaks up on you and veers wildly down roads you never see coming. It's hard to tell if it's some kind of slyly brilliant head game or a last-ditch, desperation Hail Mary to keep the story going, but regardless, it sticks with you. (R, 101 mins)

(US - 2015)

You really have to sit back and admire the astonishing straight-to-DVD hosejob that is GUNS FOR HIRE. It's practically a throwback to the days of old when people were duped into seeing movies that were nothing like the misleading posters. One can't entirely blame the writing/directing team of Donna Robinson and Katherine Brooks. After all, GUNS FOR HIRE was a last-minute title change for a film shot as the more docile-sounding THE ADVENTURES OF BEATLE. It's a quirky character piece that was obviously never meant to be thought of as the gun-toting action thriller that the GUNS FOR HIRE artwork is selling, with the recognizable faces of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Ben Mendelsohn, Tony Shalhoub, and Orlando Jones on display (all have supporting roles that range from minor to, in Shalhoub's case, a brief cameo). It almost looks like some kind of SMOKIN' ACES knockoff or something along those lines. But as you watch the movie, it doesn't take long to figure out that something doesn't seem right and something is very off, particularly with the appearance of Mendelsohn, whose craggy, sad-sack visage has been seen in several noteworthy films of late and the Netflix series BLOODLINE, but he looks distractingly young here. Then Morgan turns up, and he looks both younger and a little heavier in the face than he's been in recent films. Though it completed post-production in 2013 and has some 2013 and 2014 copyrighted songs by unknown bands in the credits, principal photography on what was called THE ADVENTURES OF BEATLE was done all the way back in 2006. In other words, the film now being released as GUNS FOR HIRE has spent nearly a decade on the shelf before being given a justifiably silent DVD burial.

Well, I've got news for Robinson and Brooks: this thing still doesn't seem to be ready for public consumption. The credits are video-burned; the opening credit roll lists Robinson and Brooks as co-directors but the closing credits only give Robinson director credit; prominently-billed Brooke Adams (the 1978 version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, THE DEAD ZONE) has a nanosecond of screen time as a secretary, another character whizzing by her as she gets up from her desk and has a door slammed in her face with her back to the camera, only allowing you to ascertain that it's Adams if you hit the pause button; and even better than that, Ivana Milicevic (RUNNING SCARED, CASINO ROYALE) is credited with playing someone named "Friday Green" and isn't even in it. GUNS FOR HIRE follows lesbian tow-truck driver and part-time assassin Beatle (Michele Hicks, who was on THE SHIELD at the time), and the story is told in flashbacks as she's being interrogated by angry cop Holt (Raffaello Degruttola) over her association with sleazy crime kingpin Kyle Sullivan (Mendelsohn). Athena (Ever Carradine) is a suicide case being pursued by Sullivan's psychotic hitman Bruce (Morgan), but instead hires Beatle to kill her first. Of course, they fall in love but not before endless psychoanalyzing and Cassavetesian discussions that turn the film into a talky remake of BOUND that plays like it's being staged by the world's worst acting workshop. That's bad enough, but then Robinson and Brooks pull two laughable whoppers of plot twists out of their asses that take a merely boring, pointless film and turn it into an inexcusable, infuriating one. Even factoring out the retitling and the marketing and looking at it as simply THE ADVENTURES OF BEATLE, this is an amateurishly-made, badly-acted, and thoroughly unwatchable collection of scenes that might make a lot of noise, but goes nowhere and says nothing. GUNS FOR HIRE wasn't so much completed as it was abandoned. It obviously ran into some huge problems on the long--but not long enough--road to release to be kept on the shelf for so many years (a 2014 BEATLE trailer got a polite but vague response from Morgan on Twitter), but this is such a hopelessly lost cause that not even a vigorous and sweaty Hicks/Sarah Shahi sex scene in the early-going can keep it from being the worst 2015 film I've seen so far. You're off the hook, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT, and THE VATICAN TAPES(Unrated, 82 mins)

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