Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Jason watches a full day of Joe Swanberg films

Well, I only made it to one day of the big Joe Swanberg weekend at the Roxie. Friday I was simply too tired, I couldn't drag myself up to the Roxie again. And Sunday, I was drinking way too much champagne at the Roxie's Oscar party and then snoring through most of ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER at Bad Movie Night. But Saturday I went all out for a Swanberg-fest (although I skipped out on the last movie because I had to catch BART home.)

First up was LOL, which I had actually seen at Indiefest back in 2007. Let's see what I said then...
Then it was back to the Victoria for "LOL", by Joe Swanberg ("Kissing on the Mouth" from last year's Indiefest). Joe's out in front of a new wave of filmmakers based on real, contemporary, naturalistic acting (often improvised by non-actors). It's more slice-of-life than slice-of-cake, to use the old Hitchcock line, and it has taken me a bit of effort to warm up to it, but now I totally dig it and "LOL" is a great use of the technique for humor. It follows three couples, specifically from the male perspective. One is in a traditional relationship (Swanberg himself) but he cares (or pretends to care) more about his computer than his girlfriend. One is in a long-distance relationship, but treats his girlfriend like crap-even complaining when she sends him sexy photos of herself that they're not dirty enough to turn him on. And the third is in an imaginary relationship with an internet porn star, and takes his imaginary band (he actually makes some pretty cool music from footage of people making random noises with their faces) on an imaginary tour just to try and visit her in St. Louis. Basically, it's about communication technology and how stupid, selfish guys are using it to destroy rather than further their own communication skills. One of the most brilliant scenes is with Joe and his friend (the one in the long-distance relationship) sitting on the couch next to each other IM'ing each other about Joe's girlfriend, who's sitting right in front of them. Brilliant and hilarious, it had me LOLing (that's Laughing Out Loud for those of you not up on the lingo)
Wow, I hope my writing has improved since then. But really, that does sum up the film pretty well. And feeling obligated to explain that LOL means Laughing Out Loud...that's kind of a time warp. And that's really the interesting thing about watching this movie now. Back in 2007, it was pretty extreme satire about how technology that is supposed to keep us connected actually separates us. Now...that satire is real life (well, except that all cell phones connect to the Internet now. Calling someone on your cell phone and asking them to check your e-mail for you is pretty much obsolete now.)

Next up was ALEXANDER THE LAST. Jess Weixler stars as Alex, a young, newly-married actress. While her musician husband is on tour she is in rehearsals for a new play (directed by Jane Adams from ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY, who was there to talk about the film alongside Swanberg.) It's a pretty steamy, sexual play and she clearly has...chemistry with her co-star (Barlow Jacobs.) And since he's from out of town, she offers to let him stay at her place. Where he eventually starts having an affair with her sister. Awkward feelings of attraction, guilt, and even jealousy ensue, in an exploration of the complicated love lives of creative people and their responsibility to the audience. In the Q&A afterwards, Swanberg talked about how, having made several films dealing frankly and awkwardly with sexuality, he worries about whether he has any responsibility to his actors--i.e., to not ruin their personal lives--or if his only responsibility is to the audience--i.e., to create the best movie possible. Jane Adams, for her part, was adamant that the only responsibility is to the audience. And, as the audience, (and someone who considers himself very self-centered) I really, really want to agree with that. But...(and this is hard for me to say) my 72 minutes of entertainment is not worth destroying other people's lives (I guess I'd actually be pretty bad at being a megalomaniacal despot.) So I would say that the responsibility to the audience extends to a responsibility to let the audience believe that no actors were actually harmed in the making of your movie--preferably by not actually harming your actors.

By the way, I just remembered that ALEXANDER THE LAST was dedicated to Joe's wife, Kris Swanberg. Kris is more commonly a male name...same with Alex. I only now picked up on this, because sometimes I'm really slow.

Next was a double feature of the thematically paired UNCLE KENT and ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY, which I saw and wrote about just a week ago at Indiefest, so I won't bother writing much more about that, but will instead focus on UNCLE KENT. The movie stars Kent Osborne as a children's show writer. And a quick look at his IMDb page shows that this is kinda autobiographical (it also revealed that he starred in HOW TO CHEAT, which I saw at Cinequest last year. I knew he looked familiar for more than his part in ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY.) He is unmarried, smokes pot, and goes on Chat Roulette frequently (I don't know--and don't exactly want to know--how autobiographical that is. Although I can confirm from the Q&A that the "dick tricks" scene is based on real life.) He invites his online friend Kate to stay with him while she's in town for a conference. Clearly there's quite a bit of attraction there, although she has a boyfriend back home. But they're adventurous, fun-loving people so they go online and find a girl who's up for a three-way. Or really, she's up for a lesbian experience, in typical Swanbergian awkwardness, Kent ends up being kind of left out. But it's probably for the best, as he has his life path and settling into a committed relationship (at least with her) probably wouldn't fit into that. And that's one of the biggest thematic links between this movie and ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY--the idea of a protagonist who has reached a point in his/her life that is well past the age when most of your friends have settled down and started families but that's just not your life. There's a bit of melancholy (the scenes of Kent looking at pictures of himself playing with friends' children gets to me, particularly as someone with a lot of beautiful nieces whom I adore) but also the realization that any potential mate has to be someone amazing enough that you'd be willing to alter the pretty-good life you've built for yourself.

And then I ended the night with some bawdy comedy with AUTOEROTIC, co-directed by Adam Wingard (POP SKULL, A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE.) Four loosely connected vignettes in the sex lives of Chicagoans. First there's the typical guy who is obsessed with his penis being too small. So he takes way too many enlargement pills and they actually work--with frightening and hilarious results. Then there's the frustrated woman who can't stop masturbating (Kate Lynn Shell) and tries some experiments with asphyxiation. If only she had communicated better with her boyfriend (Joe Swanberg), he'd be happy to choke her. Then there's the pregnant wife (Kris Swanberg) who can't orgasm with her husband, but does with her best (female) friend (while he surreptitiously watches and records it on his cell phone.) And finally, Adam Wingard stars as a guy who obsesses over his ex, frequently masturbating to the videos they made together. She has moved no, and wants him to delete those videos. He agrees to, but only in exchange for making a mold of her pussy, resulting in the best hilariously awful fake vagina ever.

And that was how I ended my night. Sick and hilarious. I didn't stick around for THE ZONE or a special unannounced screening of Joe's latest, PRIVACY SETTINGS. Not that I didn't want to, I just had to catch the BART home.

Total Running Time: 369 minutes
My Total Minutes: 317,281

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