Monday, August 29, 2016

Movie Review - Some Freaks (Portland Film Festival)


Portland-born actor Thomas Mann stars as Matt, a teenager in Rhode Island who has to wear a patch over his right eye because he lost his right eye when he was younger. He's awkward, lanky and has acne. He also gets bullied about his eye-patch. He does have a shorter and geeky, gay friend named Elmo, played by Ely Henry.

Lily Mae Harrington co-stars as Jill. She's in the same grade as Matt and Elmo, same age, but she's oddly Elmo's aunt. She's also a bit overweight. She's jokingly referred to as the fat girl. She meets Matt in biology class over an assignment to dissect a frog. She seems to take a liking to Matt, but it's not clear why. She's funny and smart. She likes to read Of Human Bondage. She's strong, confident, not afraid to stand up for herself or dissect a frog, and she can sing.

Matt is practically the opposite of those things. He initially shows no interest in her. He in fact makes a fat joke having just met her. He eventually apologizes and enjoys spending time with her, hanging out. It's obvious why he would grow feelings for her despite her looks, but the same can't be said of the reverse. Why does she like him?

Whether conscious or not, that's the question that's almost the premise. Writer-director Ian MacAllister McDonald does have a scene where the two are lying in bed after prom night and Matt asks what is it about him. Jill replies because he's handsome. Obviously, this is McDonald making some comment about beauty being in the eye of the beholder. There's a scene earlier where Jill bumps into Patrick, played by Lachlan Buchanan who certainly has sexy, male-model, good looks. He expresses interest in her and she totally dismisses him.

McDonald missteps when he forces Matt to act in a way that feels contrived and intentionally forced for an unneeded, explosive moment. Matt gets aggressive, physically aggressive against Jill and it makes no sense. It's supposed to push sympathy toward Jill or make Matt appear more desperate to prep for later plot developments, but it's unnecessary.

Matt's theory or way of thinking needn't have been so selfish as to rise to the level of physical aggression. Matt physically assaults Jill and she has to fight him off and run away. It undermines any hope for the two of them and certainly makes the ending ring a little hollow. I'm not even sure what should be gleaned from McDonald's ending.

Patrick seems to be a freak of a different kind, the traditionally attractive kind. If he's interested in Jill, it's never made clear why. He stops a hookup because he wants the hot girl to like him for his mind not his body, but, besides being familiar with Of Human Bondage, he's shown no presence of a mind, or any real personality. Jill rightfully calls him boring at one point and she's not wrong, which is fine, but McDonald does nothing to rectify this, as Patrick seems unmotivated to take active steps to change and show he's more than just a hot body.

Spoiler alert! This is to denote some criticisms of the third act and final minutes of this film.

Jill goes with Patrick to a party. She does so probably just to have sex with a hot guy, which at one point she looks at in either sadness or in oddity. Then, it ends with presumably Patrick unable to perform, or achieve an erection. With as much time as he spends ogling her, it's a moment of irony, but again what should be gleaned from it? Did Patrick waste his time, or was he delusional in his interest in Jill? Is Jill a fool for giving him a chance?

Matt gets a prosthetic eye, which looks absolutely real. A girl he meets basically calls him boring, as Jill did to Patrick, and to impress her he takes his prosthetic out and finally has a good time embracing who he is without hiding his deficiency or disability. Yet, at the end, he's rejected for it. What should be gleaned from this? Was this just one bad experience? How is he supposed to feel about it? What was he to learn?

The whole thing is capped with a gay panic, homophobic attack. McDonald gives us the oft-used stereotype of the gay boy going after the straight boy resulting in horrific violence. For some reason, McDonald makes the gay character the worst of all here. You almost don't feel sorry for him when he's nearly beaten to death. It doesn't excuse the attack against him and there doesn't need to be a perfect victim, but it seems to be a karma thing at play here.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but has sexual situations and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 37 mins.

Playing at the 2016 Portland Film Festival.
For a preview of more films at PDXFF16, go to The M Report on DelmarvaLife.
For more information, go to https://www.facebook.com/somefreaksfilm/

Movie Review - Hunter Gatherer (Portland Film Festival)

Writer-director Joshua Locy's film has a middle-age, African-American man, maybe in his mid to late forties who's been gone for a while, but now he's back and he's trying to get his life back. It's never said directly but the implication was that he was in prison. Now that he's released, he's staying with his mother but he wants his estranged girlfriend back, as well as some kind of business. With limited opportunities, he becomes a bit of a scavenger, rummaging through metallic junk. In the process, he encounters another kind of scavenger, another African-American, a bit younger, with whom he builds a bond that might be deeper than he expected or even wanted.

Andre Royo (The Wire and Empire) stars as Ashley Douglas, the possible parolee who is very talkative and charming. He comes across as a failed, con-man or a bit of a hustler who acts like he came-of-age in the late 70's. He might not be that old because he's in great shape with a nice, full head of hair that's slicked back. He's also vibrant and sexy.

George Sample III co-stars as Jeremy Pittman, a skinny, almost emaciated guy, probably in his thirties, maybe younger, also African-American. He lives with his grandfather in a nursing home. He doesn't seem to have a traditional job, or at least Locy doesn't show us one. Jeremy makes his money by being a test subject for medical products. He's essentially a lab rat, or guinea pig.

The relationship between Ashley and Jeremy is as central as any other relationship that Ashley has. Yet, he probably wouldn't agree because he's not conscious of it. Ashley is more focused on getting his ex-girlfriend back. Unfortunately, she has a new boyfriend and wants nothing more to do with Ashley. In the meantime, he spends time with Nat, played by Kellee Stewart. Nat is Jeremy's aunt and a beautiful woman in her own right.

Ashley makes no secret though about the fact that Nat is just a placeholder and that he's really just using her. He doesn't say it outright, but he's also using Jeremy. Every encounter that Ashley has with Jeremy is about how Jeremy can do something for him. Of course, the redemptive moment would be Ashley finally doing something for Jeremy, motivated by the climax of Ashley's delusion being shattered about his future with his ex-girlfriend.

However, Locy's film turns toward the surreal for that redemptive moment. It confuses as to the redemption being either real or imagined. Perhaps, this is Locy's point that redemptive moments for characters such as these, or black men in these positions can only happen in the surreal, which is a sad commentary indeed.

Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 28 mins.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Movie Review - Don't Breathe

The premise is interesting. A group of privileged, white kids break into the Detroit home of an Iraq War veteran who is blind because it was reported that he got a huge cash settlement after losing his daughter in a car accident. However, the Blind Man reverses things and traps them in his house and the kids have to try to escape. It's actually reminiscent of two recent thrillers. The first is 10 Cloverfield Lane. The other is Green Room. All three of these movies are about specific, confined spaces, the horror that can be mined from those spaces, and trusting or distrusting the so-called hostage takers.

This film has the gimmick of the hostage taker being unable to see. This allows the filmmaker to build tension in ways that are slightly different of most thrillers or horror films, by emphasizing the sense of sound. In most thrillers, the fear is based on not being seen or heard. Most people have to hide from sight and earshot. This movie eliminates the fear of being seen, which gives a slight advantage, but given the parameters of being trapped in the Blind Man's house, which he knows intimately well, it's not much of an advantage. Yet, it allows the director to toy with silence. Speaking of which, it also allows this movie to do a homage to a classic scene in Silence of the Lambs (1991).

First problem is that this movie wants us to feel sorry for these privileged, white kids. One of whom is not so privileged. She's named Rocky, played by Jane Levy (Evil Dead and Suburgatory). She could be arguably described as trailer trash. She has a dead dad and drunk mom, as well as a neglected little sister. She's struggling and wants out her situation. Yes, she's in Detroit and is feeling that city's economic hardships and outright depression, but it's still not enough to justify her turn toward robbery.

She's partnered with a skeevy, Eminem-type named Money, played by Daniel Zovatto (It Follows and Fear the Walking Dead), and a timid, Logan Lerman-type named Alex, played by Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps and Prisoners). Money is just an outright thug, lazy and greedy. Not much context is needed for him. Alex appears to have a crush on Rocky, so he follows her around like a puppy dog. The stumbling block is that Money is actually Rocky's boyfriend. One might guess that Money promised Rocky a better life through crime and she went along. Alex is there because his father works for a security company that allows him access to people's homes, but what linked them up?

Unlike Money, more context would have been preferred for Alex. He might be somewhat shy but he's not a bad-looking kid or stupid. His dad has a good job, so he's not as economically depressed as Rocky. He might be in love with her, but she has a boyfriend, so to go along with these robberies seems a bit much. Unless Money had something on him or Rocky promised him something else, I don't get Alex's involvement.

Putting that aside, the second problem I had with this movie was the Blind Man who becomes the villain. I compare him to the villain in 10 Cloverfield Lane, played by John Goodman, because it's revealed he's paranoid and desperate to keep some of them in the house at all costs. I compare him to the villain in Green Room, played by Patrick Stewart, because it's also revealed that he's become a cold-blooded killer who can cover up his crimes with equal precision as he can commit them. Yet, with Goodman and Stewart's characters, there was an ambiguity about whether you could trust them or not, but I prefer the filmmakers that don't immediately throw that ambiguity out the window.

With Stewart's character, that ambiguity is thrown out the window faster. Yes, Stewart's character is a white supremacist, but even still his film plays with the possibility of trusting him. That trust goes out the window ironically with a horrible encounter with a door. Goodman's character in 10 Cloverfield Lane has that ambiguity for a lot longer. Even after he goes all Breaking Bad with a barrel of acid, there's still external forces in his film that make you wonder if Goodman's character was maybe doing a good thing.

In this movie, the Blind Man, played by Stephen Lang (Avatar and Terra Nova), has his ambiguity tossed out the window pretty early, around the same time as in Green Room, when it's revealed something sinister is happening in the Blind Man's basement. It's telegraphed pretty early, which basically reduces the Blind Man to certain cliches found in countless other horror films, such as Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980) or I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). Those are slasher films that work for sure, but that's all they are, and this Blind Man is no better, no more interesting really, which is a shame.

It would have been more interesting if the home invasion had remained with a vision-less, war veteran defending his home and money who perhaps goes too far and who doesn't simply call the police because he doesn't want to feel dependent or incapable of protecting himself, or he's put off the government. Yet, this movie makes him a psychotic murderer and, despite his denials, a sick rapist. There's no ambiguity to it. The kids might be thieves, but they're not rapists or murderers, so it's clear the filmmaker wants us to be on the side of the pretty, white kids.

Given the movie takes place in Detroit, the filmmaker could have changed it up and played with race. He could have made the kids some minority. He could have made the Blind Man some minority, possibly African-American. Instead, it all becomes just standard, horror-movie fare with not much nuance. The opening shot is a bit of a spoiler for most of the remaining action beats.

There are a lot of scary thrills with the dog in this movie. It comes in the wake of scarier thrills in Green Room with the same breed of dog. Director Fede Alvarez does come up with a couple of clever things to do with the dog, even in the scene that's an obvious homage to Cujo (1983).

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for terror, violence, disturbing content, and language including sexual references.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 28 mins.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Movie Review - Little Men

Whatever director and co-writer Ira Sachs was trying to accomplish in his previous film Love is Strange, he accomplishes better here. Whatever Richard Linklater was trying to accomplish in Boyhood, in various aspects, Sachs accomplishes better here. This movie is very much Love is Strange meets Boyhood, but more powerful and efficient, not gimmicky, more nuanced and focused. Like Love is Strange, this movie is narratively about real estate and living spaces of people, shared or otherwise. Like Boyhood, this movie is about a prepubescent child's experiences and outlook, as he's pitted opposite adult dilemmas. It's by far one of the best coming-of-age stories of the year and possibly decade. The film's aesthetic remains as Sachs' previous directorial efforts, that of a realistic New York City.

How this movie is better than Boyhood mainly is in the performances of its young cast. The main child actor, Theo Taplitz, is extraordinarily better than the main child in that Linklater film, and even he is perhaps overshadowed by his teenage co-star, Michael Barbieri. Barbieri is like Al Pacino or Robert De Niro, or maybe even Marlon Brando but in child form. It might be hyperbole, but Barbieri is so outstanding. He literally steals every scene that he's in. This film is a must-see if for him alone.

A lot of critics have made a lot of bones about a scene in Hail, Caesar where the young actor there has an actor-training moment, resulting in him having to repeat a line over and over. It doesn't compare at all to a similar scene in this movie where Barbieri's character has to repeat lines thrown at him by his acting teacher. It had the opposite effect as Hail, Caesar in that it's meant to show how gifted this young person is at acting. It's funny and quite frankly a knockout.

In addition to these great young performers, Sachs crafts what is a quietly intense story, one rich with great drama, built from good conflict. One might think the conflict is simply an issue of gentrification, but it's not that simple. There is so much complication and nuance here. The shadings and layers but also the core and execution are so strong and fundamental that it instantly makes this film one for the ages, any age, past, present or future.

Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets and Little Miss Sunshine) stars as Brian Jardine, a middle-aged, struggling actor whose father dies and he inherits his father's Brooklyn apartment, as well as the landlord status of a small business being operated out of the connected shop space. Jennifer Ehle (The Ides of March and Zero Dark Thirty) co-stars as Kathy Jardine, the wife of Brian who has a good job and is a very sensible woman, but both of them decide it's best to move into Brian's father's apartment, due to financial concerns.

Paulina GarcĂ­a (Gloria and The 33) also stars as Leonor Calvelli, the woman who runs the aforementioned, small business. It's a clothing shop, a boutique shop where she stitches outfits herself or sells outfits from Hispanic or minority women. She drops not-so-subtle hints that she had a deeper relationship with Brian's father, a deeper one than Brian ever had. There's an implied, sexual connection, but obviously a deeper, emotional one, and she seems to delight in rubbing Brian's face in it.

The reason she rubs it in his face is because she's upset. Those financial concerns, whatever they are, compel Brian and Kathy to raise the rent that Leonor has to pay to keep her shop. Leonor is obstinate about not paying a penny more. I don't deny that she's incapable of the increased rent, but because Sachs never gets into the specifics of what the rent was or would be, there is a question if Leonor is being stubborn, just to be stubborn. There's also no accounting for what kind of discount Brian's father was already giving her.

The wrinkle is that while Brian and Leonor have a kind of tug-of-war over this rent issue, Brian's son, Jake, played by Taplitz, and Leonor's son, Tony, played by Barbieri, immediately begin to bond. Jake and Tony create a great friendship. They play video games or outside. They hang out and talk. Tony even defends Jake when he gets bullied in homophobic attacks. It's never stated, but the film slightly implies that Jake is gay, which more than likely he is.

However, tensions between Jake and Tony arise when tensions between their parents arise. This forces them to act out in minor ways. They're still kids, but this situation is obviously pushing them to grow up in certain regards. A lot of complex emotions come into play as a result and these teen boys have to face them, and Sachs doesn't let the audience off the hook so easily. His camera holds on emotional moments, allowing us to feel them. He also has a knack with slow fade-outs that are like deep breaths that let these emotions really sink in.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for thematic elements, smoking and some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 25 mins.

Movie Review - Front Cover

The same week that this film was released theatrically in New York, it was reported that Meng Fanyu, 27, was named the first-ever Mr. Gay China. The coordinators tried to hold the pageant and talent competition in 2010, but it was shut down by Chinese authorities, but this year, the event had no trouble because the LGBT community is gaining acceptance in China. However, in an article by Adam Salandra, some of the other competitors were still afraid to say they're gay to their friends and family. As of 2016, same-sex marriage is illegal in China. Same-sex couples can't adopt children and there are not anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT people. This past year, TV shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Master of None have addressed the issue of Asian representation, and film news has brought up the issue of Hollywood whitewashing, so this film, which deals with all of those issues, is very timely.

Jake Choi stars as Ryan, a fashion stylist from New York who works with models and actors for high-profile photography shoots in Manhattan that go to magazines, billboards and etc. Ryan is really good at problem-solving, as well as getting clashing personalities and creative egos to work together. As a stylist, he designs or sometimes chooses clothes for people. He constantly has to deal with bigotry in the gay dating world, constant rejection because of his Asian identity, an identity he ignores until his latest assignment.

James Chen co-stars as Ning, an actor born and raised in Beijing who has become really popular in China but is now trying to make a name for himself abroad like in the United States. When he comes to New York, he becomes Ryan's next assignment and he's supposed to let Ryan give him a makeover.

What first puts them at odds is language. Ryan only speaks English. Ning mainly speaks Mandarin. It's revealed later that Ryan's parents speak Cantonese, which he understands but can't speak. Even if he could, Ryan resists. He wants to be totally Americanized and rejects any culture from his parents who are later revealed to be immigrants. He refuses to be what could be considered a stereotype.

He wouldn't be caught dead at anything as stereotypical as an actual and authentic, Chinese restaurant. To him, it would be gauche. Yet, that's exactly where Ning wants his first meeting with Ryan to be. It's funny to see a Chinese person, so out of place in what should be a comfortable environment, an environment that is an expression of your main racial identity.

It's also interesting to see a tug-of-war develop. Ning wants to broaden his appeal, but he doesn't want to become Americanized in the process, which is what Ryan wants to do to him. Therefore, we see this back-and-forth, this push-and-pull between the two, as they stand with polar opposite positions.

Writer-director Ray Yeung comes up with some great, comedic bits in this back-and-forth. It's also an easygoing romance, one that doesn't feel as contrived or forced as so many romances do. We get scenes of two people getting to know each other, paced reasonably well. Whatever jumps or leaps it makes don't seem like overcoming chasms. We're given enough to believe that these two people fall in love.

Like all good narratives, it builds to a dilemma or difficult choice for the characters. The movie perhaps doesn't do a good enough job of establishing the homophobia in or from China. Yet, by the end, one feels the dilemma or difficult choice because it comes out of the genuine performances from Choi and Chen, both with initials JC.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains sexual situations and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 27 mins.

Playing in limited release, thanks to Strand Releasing.
Available on DVD on Oct. 18.

If you like this, check out Ray Yeung's previous film Cut Sleeve Boys (2007).
I also recommend White Frog by Quentin Lee and Eat With Me by David Au.
Also, seek out The Conrad Boys by Justin Lo.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Movie Review - She Sings to the Stars (Portland Film Festival)

There are quite a few pop culture references made here. The first of which is Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Yes, this movie opens with a man seeing a UFO. As the movie goes along, I'm surprised an obvious reference isn't made to The X-Files. The look of this movie is very much similar to that series, post Season 5 where the southwestern part of the United States could actually be utilized, and a real desert landscape could be captured. A lot of films set in New Mexico will achieve a similar look and feel. The X-Files though did have an episode in the second season titled, "Anasazi," which incorporated a story-line about the Navajo and Pueblo people. The opening scene of this film, written and directed by Jennifer Corcoran, is that of a Pueblo-like woman alone, sitting in a wooden chair in a desert-like field and staring up at the stars.

Fannie Loretto stars as Mabel, an elderly woman living in a small house, a stone shack really, in the middle of a rocky, barren flatland. She does have her loyal pet dog and a patch of farmland where she grows corn or other garden vegetables. However, it's said that the water table has been ruined due to a local coal company. Any water has to be shipped to her from miles away. Meantime, her corn and garden are dying, drying up. She's calm and easygoing. She's quiet at first, but when she does speak, the impression is conveyed that she's lived quite an interesting life and brings with her a wealth of experiences to weather anything. She also brings faith and a strong spirituality that's deeply-rooted.

Larry Cedar also stars as Lyle, a white, middle-aged magician who is a bit washed-up or looks as about as dried-up as Mabel's corn. He's desperate for gigs and money that he'll play at rinky-dink malls in Santa Fe, all while wishing he were headlining in Las Vegas. He's down on his luck. Yet, he wears the traditional black-suit with a red bow-tie and top hat from which he pulls his pet rabbit. He seems like he's a classically-trained showman who cracks jokes and is personable. However, to him magic is just tricks. He doesn't believe in the true magic of what could be faith or even UFOs.

Jesus Mayorga as 'Third'
Jesus Mayorga co-stars as Romero Martinez III or just "Third." He's a half-Mexican, gas station attendant. He never identifies as Mexican. He simply says he's American. He's had some issues in the past regarding the law and alcohol, but he loves to dance, even if it's by himself and at night. He aspires to be a dancer, hoping he'll be able to save up enough cash to head to Los Angeles.

Through a series of circumstances, Lyle and Third find themselves trapped at Mabel's house. The two men start at odds with each other. Both also start somewhat skeptical of Mabel's faith and her spiritual beliefs like Dana Scully from The X-Files. There isn't one who's naturally inclined to believe her like Fox Mulder, also from The X-Files. Neither Lyle or Third are FBI agents investigating a crime, such as a murder, but like Mulder and Scully, they encounter danger, the mysterious, the mystical and possibly the sci-fi before their attitudes change and come around to Mabel's way of thinking.

The second, or one of the other early references, is to The Twilight Zone, and for the longest time, Corcoran's film feels like it could have been ripped from the mind of Rod Serling. Lyle feels like a typical, Serling protagonist, a man well-suited for the late 50's and early 60's time-period, trying to reconcile the physical from the metaphysical through circumstance or interpersonal interaction. Third is a version of that or not that far from it.

Corcoran's script along the way subtly delivers issues plaguing the Native American and Mexican community whether it's poverty, assimilation, injustice, encroachment, unhealthy eating, etc., without being didactic or heavy-handed. This movie can also feel like spending the day with one's own grandmother being cared for and educated by her. Loretto is a warm and eventually comforting presence. She can be stern but never really has to be. Without even being touched, she's like a warm hug.

It may be a reach but there are slight, queer themes that one could pull from this. Both men express having women in their lives, but both also express disinterest in those women, mainly to pursue careers in the arts. Third asks Lyle about his wife, and he acts as if she doesn't exist because he's more intrigued by the man beside him. Lyle asks Third about some dolls he was going to sell, but Third says he's keeping them in an affirmative that he's not denying a part of himself anymore. At one point when one assumes the two might separate, there's an acknowledgment of their couple-hood moving forward.

Corcoran might simply intend a platonic relationship, or slight bromance as a future prognostication. Yet, assigning a queer label to them might also not be that far fetched. It was nice either way to immerse oneself in this world and with these people. Corcoran has crafted a nice slice of life here.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 43 mins.

Playing at the 2016 Portland Film Festival.
For a preview of more films at PDXFF16, go to The M Report on DelmarvaLife.
For more information on this film, go to: http://shesingstothestars.com/

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Movie Review - Middle Man (Portland Film Festival)

At last year's Outfest in Los Angeles, the film You're Killing Me premiered. Directed and co-written by Jim Hansen, and co-written by Jeffrey Self, the movie featured Matthew McKelligon who plays a serial killer who tells his boyfriend that he's committed murder and his boyfriend laughs because he assumes that it's a joke. McKelligon's character confesses but he also does somewhat of a good job covering up the physical evidence of his crimes. One has to suspend his or her disbelief very highly to accept the boyfriend's on-screen disbelief. For this film however, one also has to suspend his or her disbelief extremely high because a character who isn't so good at covering up his bloody crimes confesses, and literally everyone thinks he's joking. Writer-director Ned Crowley might be satirizing what people accept nowadays in terms of humor, but I can't tell if he thinks it's a good thing or bad thing.

There has always been black comedy, comedy for morbid or even horrific senses of humor. Few films have asked to find murder humorous, laughable or even to be a punchline. There are films like Man Bites Dog (1992), Serial Mom (1994) or American Psycho (2000) where the murders are comical or played for laughs. Crowley could be commenting on films such as these, or trying to contribute to that genre if it be one. Whether it's a black comedy in film or even book-form, the audience is always one step removed. It's words on a page or images on a screen. There is an unreality that people understand internally, which can allow for humor and laughter.

We can watch a murder happen in a movie and think it's funny, but would or should one laugh if a murder or the perpetrator of one was right in front of us boasting about it, even if some part of it were a tad comical? Crowley's film here raises this question, but I'm not sure he necessarily answers it. Comedian Anthony Jeselnik in his Netflix special Anthony Jeselnik: Thoughts and Prayers (2015) makes jokes about being a serial killer and murdering people, but even he provides meta-context or a proviso immediately after. He breaks character as it were. Crowley's film premises the idea of Jeselnik not breaking. What if he came on stage, fresh from an actual kill, with literal blood on his hands and clothes and talked about it? Would or should we laugh?

With Jeselnik, or any comic doing deadpan, there is always an affectation. Jim O'Heir (Parks and Recreation) stars as Lenny Freeman, an overweight and middle-age accountant who decides to become a stand-up comedian. Through a series of circumstances, he becomes the non-ironic Anthony Jeselnik talking about having committed murders, and the people in the audience laugh, just as Jeselnik's audience laughed. Yet, Jeselnik had that deadpan affectation. Even McKelligon had that affectation. O'Heir doesn't. He looks and sounds like a guy confessing to actual murders because in this movie, that's exactly what he's doing. He's even covered in fresh blood.

Yet, Crowley's film wants us to accept that this would raise no eyebrows. No one in the audience would question it. No one would be appalled. This is quite the leap to make, particularly because O'Heir's performance is so good. He seems so distraught and so remorseful that I was moved. Yet, the audience within the film and every subsequent person sees it as just an act, as the greatest performance art ever, and there's something incongruous or inauthentic about it.

Andrew J. West (The Walking Dead and Dead of Summer) co-stars as Hitch, a creepy agent of chaos, a kind of foil in the literary sense to Lenny. Hitch is a walking inciting incident. Ostensibly, he's the talent manager for Lenny's budding comedy career, but he's more or less Lenny's kick in the butt.

Anne Dudek (House and Mad Men) also co-stars as Grail, a waitress who becomes an object of desire for Lenny. She's the nice, white waitress as opposed to the mean or bitter, African-American waitress who Lenny also encounters. One assumes Grail is going to be an avenue of clear insight, but Crowley ultimately makes her just a damsel-in-distress.

Josh McDermitt (The Walking Dead) plays T-Bird, a rival comic who definitely antagonizes Lenny. He's perhaps the funniest person in the narrative. A condom and bottle of beer are used as a gag in T-Bird's routine and it's hilarious. T-Bird is arguably the most interesting too with a kind of failed comic back-story.

Chad Donella (Final Destination and Saw 3D) plays Flick, a police officer who might as well be blind or not in the narrative at all. He's completely inconsequential, which is a shame because if you've seen Donella in anything he's done, having worked steadily for 20 years, you'd know he's capable of so much more. His most recent AT&T commercial, "Longest Fumble," makes more use of his physical comedy and presence than this movie does. Donella at least gets to do pretty good impressions.

Another film though that tackles similar themes as this one or at least incorporates the same elements is Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths (2012). McDonagh's film engages in those themes and elements a little bit better, but what pushes this movie without that level of engagement would have to be O'Heir's performance. He's really the glue that holds this whole thing together.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains violence, sexual situations and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 44 mins.

Premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival.
Playing as the Opening Night Film at the 2016 Portland Film Festival.
For a preview of more films at PDXFF16, go to The M Report on DelmarvaLife.
For more information on this film, go to: http://www.middlemanmovie.com/