In what is probably my favourite performance for the year, Kaley Wheless plays the titular character in this dry-as-a-bone satire on small-town prejudice and disaffection. Frans is a very attractive, and entirely dissatisfied young woman with a young daughter, Parfait, in a loveless marriage to a useless husband, Nick (Keith Poulson). She takes a substitute position at a high school and finds herself distracted by a handsome student. Next thing you know, she’s involved in a sex scandal and finds herself going through the lengthy US judicial and penal process.
Narrated by Nick Offerman, adding a mockumentary element, the narrative traces Frans journey through her home life, the school, court, prison, community service, group therapy sessions, and the immediate beyond. All the while Frans rolls with the punches, seemingly unperturbed by the gravity of her situation, now she’s become a registered sex offender. It seems her estranged relationship with her stepmom (Jennifer Prediger) has played its own part. Frances Ferguson oozes ennui.
Indie director Bob Byington has fashioned a fascinating and very funny narrative, developed with Wheless, and penned by Scott King. The cast are uniformly excellent, but it’s Wheless and her subtle, almost deadpan reactions to everything that cements this film into something special. I didn’t want it to end, I loved peering into this quirky window, and I was so keen to keep following Frans’ curious journey. With a quirky soundtrack - including repeated use of a wee nu-disco gem titled “Vanilla Friase” by L’impératrice - it’s a definite fave for the year.
Writer/director Richard Bates Jr returns with his fourth feature, and it’s another doozy. The dark comedic elements are firmly in place, as is the deliberately over-the-top use of sound design and some truly jarring imagery. This is one hell of a satire on generational dissatisfaction; the wry cynicism of youth vs. the sour spit of (s)age. This is another demented, compelling, and exceptional hybrid from the talented maverick filmmaker.
Olive (Amanda Crew) bites the bullet and gets the hell out of the city for a weekend on her own, having been fired from work, and another bs relationship gone pear-shaped. She rents a country house from an ageing widower, Harvey (Robert Patrick), but it isn’t long before his psychopathic agenda erupts. Can her neo-hippie mother (Kim Delany) come to the rescue, or is she too wrapped up with one of her trailer park fuck-buddies? And, what about all those missing local girls? And will anyone tell Olive the truth about her piano skills??
With his striking visual flair - a big nod to the cinematographer and production designer - rebel attitude to conventions, a gift for witty dialogue, and penchant for shock imagery Bates keeps things in check for awhile, allowing his two leading actors to really work their magic: Crew and Patrick are in top form here, but nice to see AnnaLyne McCord making a return (albeit small), also Ray Wise in great Ray Wise mode, and keep an eye out for Keisha Castle-Hughes in one short scene as a gas station drug dealer. If only Bates had finished the movie on Olive’s last line - delivered to camera - instead of the last scene, which felt tagged on and unnecessary … but it’s a small quibble on an otherwise terrific, black and brutal comedy.
KNIVES AND SKIN
Writer/director Jennifer Reeder has created a most curious amalgam of elements to tell her strange story about the disappearance of a high school girl, Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) in a small American town, and the effects of her vanishing on the people who knew her, including several of her school mates, but especially her mother, Lisa (Marika Englehardt), all of whom are pushed into dealing with their own insecurities and desires, as the search for sweet Carolyn continues.
Like a fusion of the incestuous fragility of Twin Peaks and the mystical vibe of Donnie Darko, Knives and Skin is n study of identity and curiosity, bathed in a delicious palette - great cinematography from Christopher Rejano - and is provided with a superb ambient score from Nick Zinner. The cast of unknowns are all ones to watch, especially the young women portraying the school students.
The moody, dreamy tone of Knives and Skin is lifted to another level with the inspired use of several early 80s pop tunes, which are sung acapella by the students in the guise of the school choir, as lead by a distraught Ms. Harper, in particular “Our Lips Are Sealed”, “Blue Monday”, and “Promises, Promises”. But the film isn’t strictly a teenage musical, nor is it a simply a noir-thriller, or a troubled romance, or a magic realism-infused fantasy … It’s all of those, and yet it’s another elusive, exotic creature entirely.
THE BEACH BUM
I’m not the biggest fan of Harmony Korine’s films. I disliked Gummo, and I loathed Trash Humpers. But I enjoyed Spring Breakers. His latest indulgence feels like it dated Spring Breakers. It has a similarly lush and charismatic feel. The cinema verité stylistic he’s employed on all his films is in firm position here. There’s no plot, and it’s all fabricated, but much of it feels like a documentary. Well, when I say it’s all fabricated, I don’t think that’s entirely true, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that much of the random, hedonistic activity on-screen was done in the Method approach. Haha!
Moondog (Matthew McConaughy) is a full-time stoner, part-time poet, living on a cruiser in the Florida Keys, and sponging off cash injections from his uber-wealthy wife Minnie (Isla Fisher). He drifts around with a perpetual joint in his mouth, mouthing pseudo-poetic diatribes, downing cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and when the opportunity presents itself, screwing randoms in burger joints, generally having a whale of a time. But the time comes - abruptly - to face the music. There’s money and recognition at stake. Not to mention the approval of his grown daughter, Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen), can Moondog rise to the challenge?
Featuring a huge cast of support players in small roles, featuring hilarious performances from Zac Ephron, Jonah Hill, and Martin Lawrence, also Snoop Dogg as Minnie’s lover Lingerie (yup, that’s right). This is the kind of movie you either love or hate. There’s really no sitting on the fence. I was totally disarmed and completely immersed. French cinematographer extraordinaire Benoît Debire has captured Moondog and company’s antics in stunning light and colour, while editor Douglas Crise would’ve had his work cut out for him, and he does a fabulous job. I was thoroughly entertained. I’ve earmarked it to watch again, armed with a blunt, four fingers of bourbon, and several beer chasers. I feel inspired!