6 Obscure Films Of 2013: The Call, Copperhead, It’s A Disaster, See Girl Run, UnHung Hero, Would You Rather

Well, it’s that time of year when I look at the list of the films that I’ve seen over the past 12 months and I realize that there’s quite a few that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet.  Here are my thoughts on six of them.

The Call (dir by Brad Anderson)

Abigail Breslin is kidnapped by a serial killer.  While trapped in the trunk of the killer’s car, Breslin manages to call 911.  Breslin’s call is answered by Halle Berry, a veteran operator who is recovering from a trauma that — by an amazing and totally implausible coincidence — was caused by the same guy who has just kidnapped Breslin.

Before it became a feature film, The Call was originally developed as a weekly TV series and, as I watched, it was easy to imagine weekly episodes that would all feature a different guest star calling 911 and needing help.  For the first hour or so, The Call is well-made and acted but undistinguished.  However, during the final 30 minutes, the entire film suddenly goes crazy with Breslin running around in her bra, Berry turning into a blood thirsty vigilante, and the killer suddenly getting very verbose.  However, those 30 minutes of pure insanity were just what The Call needed to be memorable.  There are some films that definitely benefit from going over-the-top and The Call is one of them.

Copperhead (dir by Ronald Maxwell)

Copperhead is a historical drama that takes place during the Civil War.  In upstate New York, farmer Abner Breech (Billy Campbell) is ardently opposed to both the Civil War and the union cause.  In most movies, this would make Abner the villain but, in Copperhead, he’s portrayed as being a man of principle who, by refusing to compromise on his views, is ostracized and ultimately persecuted by the rest of his village.  Abner’s views also bring him into conflict with his own son, who is pro-Union.

Copperhead is a slow-moving film that features some rather good performances along with some fairly bad ones.  However, I’m a history nerd so I enjoyed it.  It certainly tells a different story from what we’ve come to expect from American films about the Civil War.

It’s A Disaster (dir by Todd Berger)

Of the six films reviewed in this post, It’s A Disaster is the one to see.  In this darker than dark comedy, Julia Stiles brings her new boyfriend (David Cross) to Sunday brunch with 6 of her closest friends.  During the brunch, terrorists explode a dirty bomb in the city.  With everyone trapped inside the house and waiting for the world to either end or somehow revert back to normal, long-simmering resentments come to the forefront.

To say anything else about It’s a Disaster would be unfair so I’ll just say that it’s a very funny film, featuring excellent work from both Stiles and Cross.  If Jean-Paul Sartre was alive and writing today, he would probably end up writing something very similar to It’s a Disaster.

See Girl Run (dir by Nate Meyer)

Bleh!  That’s probably the best description I can give you of this film.  It’s just a whole lot of bleh.

Emmie (Robin Tunney) is unhappy with her boring marriage so she runs back to her Maine hometown, stops wearing makeup and washing her hair, and pines for her high school boyfriend, Jason (Adam Scott), who works at a sea food restaurant.  Jason also happens to be friends with Emmie’s depressed brother, Brandon (Jeremy Strong).  It’s the same basic plot as Young Adult, just with no humor and a lot more talking.  In Young Adult, it was hard not to admire Charlize Theron’s wonderfully misguided character.  In See Girl Run, you just want to tell Robin Tunny to take a shower, put on some clothes that don’t look like they were stolen from a hospital storage closet, and stop whining all the time.

It’s difficult to put into words just how much I hated this movie.  This is one of those films that critics tend to describe as being “a film for adults.”  I have to agree — this is a movie for really boring, depressing adults who like to talk and talk about how their lives haven’t worked out.  If See Girl Run is what being an adult is like, I’ll just continue to be an immature brat, thank you very much.

UnHung Hero (dir by Brian Spitz)

So, this is not only the worst documentary of 2013 but it’s also quite probably one of the worst documentaries ever made.  The film opens with footage of Patrick Moote (who claims to be a comedian) asking his girlfriend to marry him.  As Moote goes on (and on) to tell us, she turns down his proposal and then dumps him because, according to her, his penis is too small.  Moote spends the rest of the film talking to various people and asking them whether size really matters.

Well, he could have just asked me and saved a lot of time.  I’m sorry if this endangers any fragile male egos but yes, size does matter.  If Moote’s penis really is as tiny as he claims it is, I probably would have turned down his proposal as well.  Then again, Moote could be hung like Jamie Foxx and I’d probably still refuse to marry him because, quite frankly, he’s the whiniest and most annoying person that I’ve ever seen.  He’s like an even less charming version of Morgan Spurlock.  What Patrick Moote never seems to understand is that size matters but personality matters even more.

Would You Rather (dir by David Guy Levy)

Would you rather have a root canal or sit through this piece of crap?  Having seen Would You Rather, I can tell you that it’s not an easy question to answer.

Jeffrey Combs plays a sadistic millionaire who invited a bunch of strangers (including Brittany Snow, John Heard, June Squibb, and Sasha Grey) to his mansion and forces them to play an elaborate and deadly game of Would You Rather.  Unfortunately, none of the characters are interesting, the film’s sadism is more boring than shocking, and talented actor Combs is totally wasted as the one-note villain.

The Daily Grindhouse: Le Raisins de la Mort (dir. by Jean Rollin)

The latest pick for the Daily Grindhouse should delight fellow site contributor Lisa Marie. I say this because I know of no one else who loves all things Jean Rollin as much as she does. I also picked this particular grindhouse flick because it has the lovely Brigitte Lahaie in it. Those who know need no explanation as to why that coulnts a lot in my pick and for those not in the know will just have to figure it out themselves.

I picked Jean Rollin’s Le Raisins de la Mort (also known as The Grapes of Death) because the title just spoke to me. A zombie (or at least zombie-like) flick with the word “raisins” in the title. What’s not to love and, not to continue repeating myself, it has the lovely Brigitte Lahaie in it even if for just a supporting role. A role that definitely shows her best front, sides and back (I’m a guy so sue me).

If there was ever a reason Jean Rollin has my undying props it’s for always finding a reason to cast Brigitte Lahaie in his films. Now, if Steven Soderbergh can just follow his lead and just keep casting Sasha Grey in all his future films then he’ll have my undying support as well.

This particular grindhouse pick definitely doesn’t make for a good way to promote France’s great wine traditions and their fabulous vintages. What it does promote is France’s own particular take on the zombie genre of the 70’s. Where zombie flicks were always seen as American and Italian provinces of the horror scene other countries had their hand in pushing the genre, but France (with some help from Rollin himself) added their own spin on it by shamelessly (one I applaud and am thankful for) keeping the lovely female performers in them in differing modes of undress.

For that I just have to say one thing: Vive la France!

Review: The Girlfriend Experience (dir. by Steven Soderbergh)

In-between his big epic projects (Che biopic) and studio projects (Ocean’s 11 thru to 13) Steven Soderbergh has been quite busy with very low-budgeted, experimental film projects like Bubble and Full Frontal. His latest in this series of HD-shot, low-budget fare is The Girlfriend Experience. When it was first announced in 2008 the buzz on this little film was due to the fact that Soderbergh decided to cast the lead of the film with real-life porn star Sasha Grey. Much of the talk of the film since that announcement up to its film festival circuit release always end up dealing with his bold choice to cast Grey in the role of Chelsea. The Girlfriend Experience is an intriguing film which tries to show parallels between the high-end sex industry Chelsea deals in to the powerbrokers of capitalism.

First off, Sasha Grey is not the weak link of the film despite her reputation as being a major porn star. While her performance was spotty throughout there was several instances when there’s definite talent and energy in her scenes. Ms. Grey’s seemingly vacuous and imperceptible on-screen persona was seen as her lack of talent and a performer way over her head, but looking at her performance from the stand point of her character it’s actually very spot on. Chelsea is a $10,000-dollar a night call-girl whose client base are the rich and powerful. Individuals who can buy anything and anyone they want and in Chelsea they pay a lot of money to have the so-called “girlfriend experience.” One of the very first scenes we see her in shows her with a client as they go through events of their day. At first, it seems like they’re a normal couple of a powerful man dating a younger, well-mannered and educated woman, but it is this artifice which permeates through the entirety of the whole film.

Chelsea’s life is one of not just selling her body for money, but also creating the illusion of what makes for a perfect relationship. On the surface, everyone who sees them only see what she and the client want them to see but the truth of it is much seedier and perpetuates the idea that everything is going well. Ms. Grey sells this aspect of Chelsea’s life quite well. Where some may see a Barbie-doll playing as a serious actress I see a performer who seem to be channeling her own personal and intimate experiences into the role. It’s very difficult to determine where Ms. Grey ends and Chelsea begins. Does this mean she has a future as a mainstream performer? I think it does if given the right projects and director to work with. It is quite easy for her to be typecast in sexually-charged roles, but as this film shows she can handle herself ably enough in a role that doesn’t rely on her reputation as a porn star.

The Girlfriend Experience may have its story around a high-end call-girl but the film itself has less to do with the selling of sex and more to do with the selling of illusions and fantasies. Even Chelsea’s boyfriend Chris (played by Chris Santos) who works as a personal trainer sells a fantasy to his clients in a fashion. There’s very little sentimentality in this film and when it tries to is when the film trudges over to the weak-side of the spectrum. The very nature of the themes presented in the film eschews sentimentality and shows just how brutal the truth can be when the layers of illusions and fantasies have been peeled away. Chelsea knows this but still clings to a certain naivete about life in general. While she shows a head for the business she is in and how she could conitnue to use it to open up her own business her decisions once new blood start encroaching on her clients shows just how vulnerable she still is to those in power and influence who have decades of experience over her.

The film was shot in such a quick manner during the latter end of 2008 and into 2009 that it one could sense Soderbergh’s attempt to link Chelsea’s experiences in the film as a parallel to the sudden collapse of the banking and housing industry. Two industries which peddled and sold the macro-version of the “girlfriend experience.” People who wanted a piece of the American Dream despite not being able to afford it were sold an illusion that they could. In time such illusions were bound to fall and for reality to set in as it had for Ms. Grey’s Chelsea and her attempt to realize her dream. In the end, everything and everyone bought into the “girlfriend experience” and couldn’t see the reality of things until it was too little and, definitely, too late.

Soderbergh’s direction is a bit difficult to comprehend at times as the film unfolds in his typical non-linear fashion. Those who have followed his work won’t be put-off by this fractured narrative but those who come into The Girlfriend Experience who only know Soderbergh through his studio work may end up being confused. All that aside, he does show the ability to try new things in this film and his continued experimentation of HD-cameras. The look of the film is very crisp and at times too much so that it looks artificial as HD can sometimes look on the big-screen. But then again this just adds to the themes running throughout the film. While the film may look too clean and artificial at first glance that is just the surface. It’s beneath that things dirty and real are perceived.

Of his three works so far in this HD-medium I will say that The Girlfriend Experience is his best work work, so far. While it is not a perfect film by any means — at times looking and sounding quite average for a director of his talent — there’s a certain French New Wave quality which evokes Jean-Luc Godard in the direction. This film will not win Soderbergh any awards and may be a one-time mainstream fluke of one Sasha Grey, but the fact that it has gotten made and people are actually interested in it (even if its due to the voyeuristic and tittilating aspect of watching a porn star trying to act mainstream) shows that both director and star are not willing to settle for what they consider safe. That’s quite a refreshing thing to see in the industry and whether the film succeeds in how Hollywood gauges such things it won’t matter since the film has gone beyond an idea and into something anyone can see and decide for themselves its merits.