BILLY BATES

billy1Review of Billy Bates by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

A tortured artist makes for a tortured audience in Jennifer DeLia’s psychological drama Billy Bates. The film explores the world of the titular character “Billy Bates” (James Wirt) and his destructive ways of creating artwork. Dealing with parental issues and inner demons, 33-year-old Billy finds that his only creative outlet is through art.

Through interviews and documentary-like footage, Billy delves into his psyche as he reflects on his past at the opening of his art gallery. The audience learns about his deep, dark past and present to piece together what made him a successful contemporary artist. He recalls memories of an insane asylum, underground parties, his love life (including cringe-worthy scenes of sex and masturbation), and all the different layers/dimensions of his hyperactive mind. Brooding artist Billy meets his match, beautiful singer “Kaia,” (Savannah Welch) at a “Do-Drop-In” and invites her back to his art studio apartment where they hit it off immediately. As the film progresses, however, Billy’s anguish deepens (along with the viewer) so much that it pushes Kaia to the edge.

Wirt gives a convincing performance as Billy (who endures freak outs, meltdowns, and outbursts) as does actress (and the film’s composer) Savannah Welch – a successful singer/songwriter for “The Trishas.” But like many female characters in film, Kaia is simply there to “fix” Billy and connect with him in mysterious ways. Neither character is interesting enough to make you care.

Although the story about self-loathing is mediocre, it’s visually interesting with the production team having built Billy Bates’ studio mural on a 360-degree set. His studio apartment, filled with splashes of color and strung lights, gives the audience something to focus on as the narrative drags. The cinematography and camerawork (albeit shaky) are prominent and somewhat artistic, from the establishing shots of Billy on a rooftop surrounded by gloomy skies to the easing in on his apartment through a fish eye lens. Visually, the film is impressive, but the psychological troubles of a struggling artist are mindless, uninteresting, and difficult to watch. DeLia unfortunately chooses style over substance, neither of which is particularly fascinating.

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Review © Brigid K. Presecky (12/15/14)

Top Photo and Bottom Photo: James Wirt as struggling artist “Billy Bates

Photo Cred: Poverty Row Entertainment

Q: Does Billy Bates pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

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THE COLOR OF TIME

Color1Review of The Color of Time by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

James Franco and 11 of his NYU graduate students attempt to bring C.K. Williams’ poetry to life in The Color of Time. With a stellar cast including Mila Kunis, Zach Braff, and Jessica Chastain, the film sacrifices narrative structure for the sake of being artistic. Through a Polaroid-type lens, the story flashes back to poignant moments of the life of “C.K. Williams” (Jordan March, Henry Hopper, and James Franco) from youth to old age.

In the midst of trying to be unique, the film is a full-fledged cliché, filled with moments of fuzzy nostalgia of C.K.’s perfect, sun-kissed mother (Chastain), fights and reconciliations with his girlfriend (Kunis), and wide shots of a pondering man in nature. We see Williams’ life story through a series of film reels and hear his poetry through voiceovers as he prepares for a speech. The moments of his life aren’t necessarily attention-grabbing – he’s driving, he’s thinking, it’s quiet, it’s noisy, it’s quiet again – fine for real life (or a documentary), but dull for a full-length feature film.

Although the story itself is a sleeper, the performances, as expected, are spot-on. Jessica Chastain, in a limited role similar to her character in The Tree of Life, delivers a strong performance as Williams’ mother, enjoying the outdoors with her son and letting the glowing sunlight bask on her perfect hair and flawless skin. The relationship between Williams and his girlfriend/wife is convincing, with Franco and Kunis believable as a couple evolving over time – an effortless mix of their acting and real-life history having filmed three movies together. The versatility of the two is a highlight of the otherwise painfully boring The Color of Time. Franco and Kunis play a quiet, somewhat normal in comparison to their magical, supernatural roles in the 2013 fantasy Oz: The Great and Powerful and uproariously funny thugs in the 2010 comedy Date Night. With Franco, Kunis, and Braff famously known for their comedic roots (Freaks and Geeks, That 70s Show, Scrubs) their seemingly perfect transitions in and out of drama and overall ranges are still impressive. Unfortunately, their talents are mostly wasted on a dull script written by too many voices.

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Review © Brigid K. Presecky (12/14/14)

Top Photo: Jessica Chastain as “Mrs. Williams”

Bottom Photo: James Franco as “C.K. Williams”

Photo Cred: Starz

Q: Does The Color of Time pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

If there was any resemblance of a scene passing the Bechdel Test, I must have missed it as my eyes were struggling to stay open.

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DO YOU KNOW WHAT MY NAME IS?

Opens today in NYC. Review coming soon.

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FREE THE NIPPLE

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.29.36 PMReview of Free the Nipple by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Actress and first-time director Lina Esco tackles women’s rights in her new, appropriately titled film Free the Nipple. At only 79 minutes long, the well-intentioned flick is drawn-out, predictable, and uninspiring.

Esco’s political statement begins when her character “With,” interviews feminist activist “Liv” (Lola Kirke, sister of Girls star Jemima Kirke) whose life mission is to publicly take her shirt off without getting arrested. Oh, the injustice of it all. The nipple-showing, girl-power group takes to the streets of New York (where it is legal for a woman to be shirtless in public) donned in capes, pants, and not much else. Although the first instinct of the NYPD is to arrest them for inappropriate behavior, there isn’t much they can do on paper – and the girls are free to go.

Throughout the course of the film, clips of Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl nipple exposure are intertwined with news footage of the Colorado theater shooting where 12 people were killed while watching The Dark Knight Rises. Esco’s point is reiterated over and over – something is wrong with America’s reaction to national tragedies and pop culture events considered “newsworthy.” Using clips of Jackson’s nipslip is understandable but using news footage of the Colorado shooting seems cheap and classless. If it was a political film about gun violence or mental illness it would be a different issue, but using tragic footage to build a political case on public nudity is not necessary and somewhat offensive.

When With’s suit-and-tie boss throws away her controversial story, her army of girlfriends hire filmmakers to make a viral video and make their cause known. (Side note: If this film is supposed to take place only a couple of years ago, why would With turn her story in on paper? Would her article really be sold to the highest bidder? What year is this?) Nonetheless, all of the young actresses and activists (plus Janeane Garofalo in a small role) give strong performances and are believably behind the cause.

The film feels like an After School Special about the unfairness of censorship and shaming of women and their sexuality. The entire third act is one close-up shot after the other of breasts bouncing up and down Times Square – not shocking, since its what the film was building up to. But who will watch this besides feminist activists? Will this reach a mainstream audience and make people think twice about shirtless women in public? Not likely. Again, it’s well intentioned and Esco’s passion about the issue shines through, but it leaves you shrugging your shoulders and asking, “Don’t these girls having anything better to do?”

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Review © Brigid K. Presecky (12/17/14)

Top Photo: Girls of NYC go topless for equality

Bottom Photo: Lola Kirke as “Liv” freely posing for Lina Esco as “With”

Q: Does Free the Nipple pass the Bechdel Test?RedA

Most definitely.

If this doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, I don’t know what does – With and Liv’s friendship is at the center of the film. Although they have friendships with other men, girls are the central focal point of Free the Nipple.

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ISN’T IT DELICIOUS?

Opens today in NYC. Review coming soon.

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DELUSIONS OF GUINEVERE

Guin1Ariana Bernstein stars as “Guin,” a former child star now grown into a pump & narcissistic adult who still hopes to be a successful actress even though she has neither good looks nor great talent. Desperation drives Guin inevitably to reality TV, where she & the film dangle inconclusively until the final credits mercifully begin to roll.

The only bright spot in this train wreck is a supporting performance by Andrew Ruth as a guy (named, d’uh, “Guy”) who had a crush on Guin all through their teen years, when she wouldn’t give him–or his pimples–a second glance. But now the shoe is on the other foot… Ruth is charming and charismatic, and I hope someone sees him in this part and casts him soon in something better. Otherwise “fugetaboutit.” (JLH: 2/5)

Directed by Joanna Bowzer with a “screenplay by committee” team including Bowzer and Bernstein, plus Niccolo Aeed Moretti and Marina Tempelsman. Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NEVER TO BE SEEN BY RICH.

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Review of Delusions of Guinevere by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Joanna Bowzer’s debut feature follows a former child star and her bizarre attempt to reclaim her glory days. Struggling actress “Guinevere” (Ariana Bernstein) hit stardom at a young age, acting in a commercial and famed “The Gelee Girl” before reaching puberty. No longer a thin and cute child, Guinevere (bordering age 30), can’t seem to nail an audition for anything more than a small theater role and goes to great lengths to be “famous” once again.

Act One of Bowzer’s screenplay is humorous, intelligent, and undeniably relatable. Guin acts like a typical 20-something, palling around with her “artsy” friends, babysitting her niece, and flirtting with boys at a coffee shop. (When the barista turns around and doesn’t notice Guin putting a chunk of change in the tip jar, she reaches into the money pile and it results in the painfully awkward, hilarious situation of Guin looking like a thief.) But much like Guin’s fame-seeking downward spiral, the script completely unravels by the third act. It goes from a funny, unique story about a girl finding her way into a faking-her-own-death disaster.

Guin succumbs to her jealousy after seeing former friend and Gelee-Girl co-star “Cadence Stone” (Annalaina Marks) and her beautiful body and successful career plastered over social media. In the hopes of rekindling her career, Guin attends a Gelee commercial reunion/fan event only to encounter pathetic former co-stars too delusional or drugged out to care. Unhappy Guin turns to Gelee-Jell-O shots at her surprise birthday party and, instead of being grateful for her supportive friends, spouts off hateful things about Cadence Stone in a drunken stupor. The puke-filled evening and realization that she can’t live off of residual checks prompts Guin to call up her elderly agent – a balding man, slumped in a chair, staring at 20-year-old lollipops. Bizarre. With no help from him, she decides to vent her problems to her webcam (while ungracefully chomping on cereal) and uploads the video to YouTube. And just like that – a star is reborn. But in the process of becoming an Internet sensation, oblivious Guin slowly morphs into a friendless, classless, monster of a starlet.

The story and mediocre performances aren’t strong enough to sustain the entire film. The way Bowzer stereotypes roles is extreme, particularly Guin’s cookie-cutter friends (one gay, one prim-and-proper, another opening an art gallery) and seems forced as the film drags on. Although many people now see fame and social media likes as more important than actual friends, Delusions of Guinevere goes one step too far. Not every vlogger on YouTube (not even a majority of vloggers) gain fame by chewing food and talking to the camera about nonsense. From a technical standpoint, there would have had to be some sort of redeeming quality or incident that would make Guin’s series “Breakfast with Guin” an immediate success. It may be a little harsh, but people finding Guin’s cereal chomping pleasing to watch is unrealistic.

The film had such a strong start with Guinevere, like so many people today, uncertain about her life choices. She’s lost, overweight, and acts awkwardly around boys. It’s a story people know all too well. But Bowzer takes those relatable qualities that make Guin endearing to the audience and shatters them. Although there are moments and lines of dialogue that are pure genius, funny, and spot-on, the unraveled plot makes Delusions of Guinevere miss the mark.

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Review © Brigid K. Presecky (12/6/14)

Top Photo: Ariana Bernstein as new YouTube star “Guinevere”

Bottom Photo: Ariana Bernstein as “Guinevere” with her friends, racking up her YouTube hits

Photo Cred: Buddha Belly Productions

Q: Does The Delusions of Guinevere pass the Bechdel Test?

Yes. RedA

Guinevere has a close relationship with her sister “Heather” (Sandra Elizabeth Rodriguez) whose marriage is falling apart. Guin looks after her niece by picking her up from school and distracting her while yelling and screaming echoes from the other room.

Guinevere also has two female friends, artist “Lillia” (Graci Carli) and lawyer “Brianna” (Amy Halldin), who help break her out of her funk. When Guin decides to fake her own death in order to gain more publicity, her isolation and manic behavior drives Lillia, Brianna, and company to have an intervention.

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THE FOXY MERKINS

Opens Friday 12/5 in NYC. Review coming soon…

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LIFE PARTNERS

Opens Friday 12/5 in NYC. Review coming soon…

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MISS JULIE (2014)

BeforeJessica Chastain plays “Miss Julie,” a highborn lady of the Anglo-Irish gentry on a downward trajectory. Colin Farrell plays “Jean,” a lowly manservant reaching up for the stars. He is charming; she is unhinged.

Liv Ullmann is one of the great actresses of her era, but has never found her footing as a director. So why would she even want to do yet another version of this misogynistic nightmare? I am baffled. (JLH: 3/5)

Written & directed by Liv Ullmann based on an 1888 play by August Strindberg. Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.

Top Photo: “Miss Julie” (Jessica Chastain) starts out flirting with “Jean” (Colin Farrell).

Bottom Photo: But in the end, he completely humiliates her :-(

Photo Credits: Helen Sloan

Q: Does Miss Julie (2014) pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes.

In Strindberg’s original, there is a small role for Christine, the cook who hopes to marry Jean. To her credit, Ullmann has cast wonderful Samantha Morton in the role, and beefed it up considerably.

Early on, Christine and Miss Julie discuss Miss Julie’s pet dog. The dog is pregnant and Miss Julie wants Christine to poison her. Christine does as she is told–what choice does she have?–but the dose she uses is too small to actually kill the dog, and while Miss Julie and Jean do their endless dance downstairs, Christine nurses the suffering dog upstairs.

In Strindberg’s original, we never know what happens to the dog. In Ullman’s adaptation, we are made to feel somewhat confident that she lives, albeit after a long painful night. As Christine comforts the dog, her whimpering is also used to express Christine’s suffering, especially once Christine realizes what Miss Julie and Jean are really up to…

In the morning, Christine gets as much revenge as her position allows in a brutal speech aimed directed at Miss Julie. Then she leaves for church.

There is no actual dog placed on the stage in Strindberg’s original text, so adding her is Ullmann’s best move as writer/director.

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MURDER OF A CAT

Cat1Review of Murder of a Cat by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Gillian Greene’s bizarre, unfunny Murder of a Cat has a pretty straightforward plot: the murder of a cat. In an attempt to be a spoof on who-dun-its with a splash of 90s sitcom nostalgia, the wacky plot fails completely and wastes significant talent along the way.

 

With (really) offbeat humor, the story centers on man-child “Clinton” (Fran Kranz) who still lives with his mother “Edie” (Blythe Danner) at age thirty-something, lazily watches television in a dirty robe, and fights with neighborhood kids over action figures at his own makeshift yard sale. One night, Clinton wakes up to find his cat, Mouser, shot dead in the street by an arrow – and the nightmarish adventure begins. When he’s not berating cop-turned-mom’s-boyfriend “Sheriff Hoyle” and other innocent neighborhood locals, Clinton makes time for a rooftop vigil in honor of cat Mouser – complete with the tune of “Amazing Grace.” It turns out that Mouser had two owners, including tattooed hipster, “Greta” (Nikki Reed). She and Clinton discover where the murder weapon was sold – at the town’s sporting goods store owned by “Ford” (Greg Kinnear) – and make it their mission to find the killer.

Cat2The single highlight of the entire film is a scene where Greta gives Clinton a much-needed makeover. She cuts his mop of hair and trades in his bathrobe for a form-fitting suit. In a single moment, Kranz transforms from gross to gorgeous and the two start to fall for each other. Both actors give convincing performances, particularly Fran Kanz as the incessant, annoying Clinton – so irritating to the point of wishing the film would end abruptly. Hopefully, this is a part of Kranz’ talented acting skills (and not his shrill voice in general). But once Clinton receives his makeover, he is seemingly cleaner and therefore, more tolerable.

Besides the slightest romantic silver lining, the film is a complete waste of talent. Having a roster with Kinnear, Simmons, and Danner should indicate a somewhat relevant, interesting script but none are given anything to work with besides caricatures of colorful townsfolk. The awards buzz surrounding J.K. Simmons for his role in Whiplash should easily cover the disaster that is Murder of a Cat, but the same can’t be said for Blythe Danner or the usually-reliable Greg Kinnear. Director Green and screenwriters Christian Magalhaes and Robert Snow miss the mark on the aspects of comedy, drama, action, and romance they were aiming for. Instead of wondering, “Who killed Clinton’s cat?” it unfortunately leaves you wondering, “Who invested money in this?”

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Review © Brigid K. Presecky (12/15/14)

Top Photo: Fran Kranz as “Clinton”

Middle Photo: Nikki Reed as “Greta” and Fran Kranz as “Clinton”

Bottom Photo: J.K. Simmons as “Sheriff Hoyle” and Fran Kranz as “Clinton”

Photo Cred: Gravitas Ventures

Q: Does The Murder of a Cat pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

 

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