New York Stories – The East / VHS 2 / The Kings of Summer

The East

By Glenn Dunks
June 6, 2013

There’s a wide world of cinema out there, and Quickflix’s Glenn Dunks is on the ground in New York City bringing you the titles that will soon be seen in Australian cinemas, and eventually available on home entertainment.

The Manhattan Report: In the two and a half months since moving to America, I have watched nearly 100 films. That’s what most people would describe as “a lot,” and (as evidenced in this column) there has been a fair share of good and bad. However, the highlight of those 100 or so films wasn’t found in a Manhattan arthouse, nor at a film festival, but rather a boutique cinema in Brooklyn called the Nitehawk with a rare screening of Robert Altman’s 1982 adaptation of Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. Never released on home entertainment, this one-set drama starring Cher and Karen Black has been beautifully restored with the help of Martin Scorsese to 35mm glory. It was a genuine revelation and such a New York moment to cherish. I hope it makes its way to Australia sooner rather than later.

The East

The East: A prickly character study wrapped up in the disguise of an eco-political thriller is The East’s modus operandi. Directed with efficient tension by Zal Batmanglij – his second feature following the superb Sound of My Voice – he flirts with the mainstream with this tale of an environmental activist/terrorist (depends who you ask) organisation known as “The East” and the undercover intelligence operative in their midst. That would be Brit Marling, who solidifies her status as one of the most magnetic rising actors.

This creative duet between Batmanglij and Marling feels like it’s headed towards a truly special crescendo. It’s a true partnership of directing, acting, writing, and producing, and they have crafted a film full of rich, unexpected detail and powerful themes. It’s a shame they appear to lose confidence in the third act, saddling the characters with wavering loyalties and ambiguous motivations that feel more contrived than complex. Co-stars Alexander Skarsgard and Ellen Page make for gripping foils in this film that thrills more often than not. (Playing the Sydney Film Festival in June.)

3.5/5

VHS 2

V/H/S/2: The original V/H/S was one of the most venomously reviewed films of last year’s Melbourne International Film Festival, but a sequel was inevitable. The simple formula of hiring a roster of up-and-coming or noteworthy genre directors – this time including Gareth Evans (The Raid), Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun), and Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project) – to make short films supposedly found in the house of a VHS-collecting weirdo is once again utilised, although thankfully the number of pics has been reduced and they are of a higher quality, too.

Still, ‘better than the original’ shouldn’t be mistaken for good. While there’s much to enjoy in Evans’ Indonesian-set cult mockumentary, it’s way too long and ends illogically. Zombies attacking a child’s birthday party in the park should be more fun, and the wrap around story is increasingly dumb. My favourite segment was Eisener’s, which sneaks several great, scary moments into its tale of alien slumber party shenanigans. A marked improvement – it’s not constantly misogynistic for one – but still an overall disappointment. (No local release slated at this time.)

2/5

The Kings of Summer

The Kings of Summer: American indie filmmakers would have us believe that teenage boys are in a hurried desperation to “come of age” and become men. In Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ debut feature this means celebrating stereotypical macho behaviour like hunting, vaguely homoerotic bonding exercises, and treating women like objects. It’s not that The Kings of Summer is a badly made film, but we need another film like this like I need a hole in the head. Too heavily reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and other cherry-picked titles (like Stand by Me), it is strongest when not adhering to basic storytelling tropes.

As the three boys who move into the woods to escape their mundane lives, the relative unknowns are all quite good, although I cringe at the screenplay’s representation of the quirky, sexually ambivalent sidekick. The supporting cast of high profile comedians – Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, and Alison Brie amongst them – are fun, even if writer Chris Galletta doesn’t quite know how to integrate them into the story more organically. I feel like a grump being so down on The Kings of Summer since it’s so eager to be loved, but unfortunately it never rises above easy, middle-of-the-road indie cliché. (No local release slated at this time.)

2/5

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