“People Places Things”
Try as he might, Jemaine Clement (“Flight of the Conchords”) just doesn’t come off as unlikable. It must be something about his soft, unassuming New Zealand accent that allows him to say anything in it. Here, he plays a graphic novelist/college professor, whose wife has just left him with twin daughters to take care for. He’s a mess. His ex-wife, played by Stephanie Allynne, is a mess. This plot is a mess, but here’s the charm. James C. Strouse directs, and he excels at the lonely guy’s redemption story – “Grace Is Gone” and “The Winning Season.” The stabilizing factors of the film are Jessica Williams and Regina Hall. Williams makes strides to become the next standout star from “The Daily Show,” and Hall does a nice job of filling in script holes with class. Plus, the Gadsby twins are super cute. This isn’t Clement’s breakout hit, but it is a smart little movie that shouldn’t go unnoticed – worth a watch.
“Digging for Fire”
Young parents (New Girl’s Jake Johnson and Rosemarie DeWitt) housesit in the Hollywood hills when they hit an existential impasse and decide to spend a weekend apart. Johnson also co-wrote the script with indie director Joe Swanberg (“Drinking Buddies”), who’s known for this mumblecore style of filmmaking. That style comes through here, as they question the rules of marriage and parenting and how you deal with age and sex. What is more – the film is brave enough to not try to answer everything. Instead, it offers symbolism and confusion, and attempts to answer through the movement of the scene. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of acting firepower to answer everything. Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson, Sam Rockwell, Mike Birbiglia, Sam Elliott, Judith Light and Anna Kendrick all drop by to fill in roles. Like life, a lot of small stuff builds into bigger stuff in this movie’s short running time, and it leaves a resonance rigging in your head like a catchy song – worth a watch.
Sometimes movies about gambling can be a grind to watch, typically dealing with loss and heartbreak. Like a lot of sports films, they boil down to a big game format where all the stakes rely on the one big hand or a last roll of the dice. But in the hands of writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, it comes down to characters. Just look at their past films, they elevated “Half Nelson” from ordinary school drama into an investigation of a drug-addled inner-city school teacher, and “It's Kind of a Funny Story” presents a very human and entertaining glimpse into a psychiatric ward. Here, we take off on a road trip with two very different gamblers. Ryan Reynolds is the charismatic one, and Ben Mendelsohn is the loser looking to turn around his luck. They both ante up for these performances, and through them, the story rises and falls like any good game of chance – worth a watch.