When I saw The Automatic Hate, I knew absolutely nothing about it. I knew that it was a film that was showing. I didn’t read a thing about it, and went in completely blind. Sometimes this can be good, but other times the results are spotty. Rarely have I ever had an experience like this, and I highly recommend skipping this review and skimming down to the next item.
If you insist on wondering what it is, I’ll be giving a not-too-spoilery review in the next paragraph.
Davis Green is living with his traumatized girlfriend, who demands that he give her space while inconveniently crying in the bedroom after he gets out of the shower. One night, he spots another woman stalking him. After a foiled meeting, the stalker confronts Davis outside of his apartment at night saying that she is his long-lost cousin and had to find him. The big catch: Davis’ father, Ronald, and now-senile grandfather insist that Ronald is an only child. After a worrying discovery of a painting and confrontation with his grandfather, Davis goes to upstate New York to find his cousin, Alexis.
What he finds upstate is a realm of mystery and comedy. To get to Alexis’ town, Davis drives along long curving two-lane roads surrounded by forests. The town is tiny beyond reality, with Alexis’ shop having the quaint address of 4 Main Street. When he discovers Alexis’ farm, the first person he sees is a naked older woman in a sunhat gardening. Could Alexis be telling the truth? Could this be the trick of a coven? Maybe a Lovecraftian monstrosity is involved? The Automatic Hate is constantly playing with expectations, and jostling what its subject actually is. In fact, when it finally gets down to business, it’s almost an inevitable let down because of the running your imagination goes with.
Director Justin Lerner is clearly having a lot of fun with the movie, and it shines through the film. It’s a frequently hilarious and frequently unnerving journey through the psyche of family and history. Lerner’s insight into dynamics is interesting and perverse, with some founding in modern phenomena. It’s definitely worth a look if you want something unusual for awhile.
While waiting in lines, I had heard that Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America was the least Baumbachian film he’s ever done, and was a must see. I hate Noah Baumbach. I think both Frances Ha and Greenberg are insufferable pieces of snobbery that refuse to properly judge their characters for their foibles. The Squid and the Whale is similarly insufferable. But, they said even if you hate Baumbach, you’ll love Mistress America.
So, I got in line. Begrudgingly. The movie opens with Carey (Charlie Gillette) having a rough start at a New York City college. She moves in in the middle of the night. She doesn’t get invited to the right parties. She submits a story to the Moebius publishing group, and gets rejected. Her one friend is kind of a geek who starts dating a different girl. Carey is stuck. Finally, she decides to explore NYC, and reaches out to her new older step-sister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), their connection the result of their parents getting engaged.
Brooke is a broke social butterfly who is trying to make it in the city, getting into a new restaurant scheme, without a dime to her name. Carey attaches herself to Brooke with a tempered absorbing kind of awe. Carey uses Brooke as the subject matter for a new scathing story, Mistress America, even as she continues to hang out for additional material.
Baumbach’s control of the pacing in Mistress America is stunning, starting at a nice clip and accelerating to a staccato hyperactive speed reminiscent of old screwball comedies. The third act is Baumbach’s His Girl Friday. And, the use of Carey seems like an appropriate way to create a flawed character of Brooke and treat her with both love and hate. But, Baumbach’s use of Carey is also a poison pen, with a finale that is cheap, petty, and disingenuous. Baumbach is being a bitchy and ugly person, seeming like he might be making Deconstructing Harry but is actually making Stardust Memories. The final twist almost ruins the greatness that came before it.
Following Mistress America, I tried my luck again with the world premiere of a locally-made movie starring Billy Zane, West of Redemption. Zane stars as Hank Keller, a small-town farmer married to Becky (Mariana Klaveno), a waitress in a small town diner. When Rick Youngblood (Kevin Alejandro) has a breakdown in front of Hank’s farm, he is taken hostage for reasons to be developed through the film.
What follows is a mystery unveiled through two different timelines both concerning Becky. To reveal more in such an early review would be an insult to what Cornelia Moore and Meagan Daine. But, the developments don’t hold the emotional impact that is required for keeping the mystery. The twisty narrative actually cheapens the film, which might have been more emotionally resonant if it had been told in a straight-forward fashion, fleshing out some of the past plot points that were neutered to give more time to the twist.
West of Redemption goes to some dark places, not necessarily earned or deserved. The central climax seemingly comes out of nowhere and comes with a trigger warning. At least they develop Becky as a character before we get there, and it is to Klaveno’s credit what she actually does with the strange screenplay. Alejandro also is relatively fine as Rick. But, Zane is almost sleepwalking through his role. I don’t want to bury the film before it has even gone anywhere, but this is a problematic film in many many ways.
Tuesday screenings were archival because special guest Kevin Bacon was in town, and he unexpectedly appeared at both movies. Tuesday brought the revival screenings of Diner with a Q&A conversation following, and Footloose with an introduction by Bacon. I actually hadn’t seen Diner before Tuesday night, though everybody and their brother is in love with it. I’m not, though it isn’t the movie’s fault.
The thing about Diner is that I felt the same feeling that I have towards American Graffiti. The characters are too late 50’s/early 60s for me to fully get where they’re coming from. They are too far removed from my experiences to understand, but not enough for me to see them as a different culture entirely. This is not the film’s fault, but it makes my experience of the film insufferable.
Instead of dwelling on Diner because, why dwell on an old movie, Kevin Bacon gave a fascinating Q&A about the beginnings of his career. Diner was his third movie (following Animal House and Friday the 13th [which, incidentally, went unmentioned. BOOOO!!!]), and brought him new recognition as the awkward best friend character. However, Diner was relatively improvised. Sure, there was a script, but the leads were encouraged to riff on the characters during shooting. But, Bacon confessed he wasn’t great at improvising, and ended up mainly laughing at everybody else being funny.
Bacon’s introduction to Footloose was hilarious. He stated that Dawn Steel (a woman!) was VP of Production at Paramount, and that she told director Herbert Ross that he couldn’t cast Bacon in the lead because Kevin wasn’t fuckable. In order to prove Bacon’s fuckability, they had to put together a sizzle reel of Kevin dancing in a clip show and some acting. Steel only sat through the clip show, and walked out, saying he could be hired.
Really, there are two good scenes in Footloose. The opening credits sequence of dancing feet in a variety of footwear would have been a perfectly amazing music video for Kenny Loggin’s high energy title track, and makes for a great introduction to a movie that should have been better. And, Bacon’s Dance and Gymnastics Routine of Pain and Reprise through a flour mill is perfectly amazing and cheesily 80s. If Herbert Ross had ended up as a director of music videos, I think he would have churned out some of the best videos of the 80s. Instead, we’re left with this movie full of incongruous scenes, like the 5-mph tractor chicken scene set to Bonnie Tyler’s Ultra-High-Energy 150-bpm “Holding Out For A Hero.” Or, a terrible DeBarge song that pumps through a tape player on a truck so loudly that even the line chefs jam out to it. *sigh* Seeing this on the big screen, I fully expected my tempered reaction from seeing it on home video to be replaced with awe on the big screen. But, I just don’t get the love for this one.
Next Entry: Russian Strangeness, Gay Narcissism, and the World Premiere of Something Amazing