Hidden Netflix Gems – Humpday

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

This is undoubtedly one of the most insightful films ever made about friendship between straight males. Though it has a rather high concept hook, Humpday is far from gimmicky, instead opting to explore its characters’ relationships in a loose, naturalistic way. Director Lynn Shelton – whose latest film, Your Sister’s Sister, also explores unusual dynamics of friendship and sex – crafts a coherent, thoughtful and very funny film out of directed improvisations centering around a doozy of a “will they or won’t they” proposition.

Humpday is endearingly honest right from the start, as it opens with a scene that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever been in a long-term relationship, especially one that involves living with a partner. Ben (Mark Duplass) and his wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore), lie in bed together, each half-heartedly trying to initiate sex before they both admit, with a sense of relief, that they’re too tired. They are awakened a few hours later by the late-night arrival of Ben’s old college buddy, Andrew (Joshua Leonard, best known as “Joshua Leonard” in The Blair Witch Project), who has continued to live the freewheeling life he and Ben shared in their college days. As the two rekindle their friendship, they discover that each has a certain degree of envy for the other’s life, despite the fact that they wouldn’t actually want to trade places.

Things get more complicated on the second night of Andrew’s stay, when he hooks up with an artist named Monica (Shelton) and invites Ben to have dinner and drinks at her anarchistic, communal home, known as “Dionysus.” It is here that Ben learns of the HUMP! festival, a real-life amateur porn fest that takes place annually in Seattle. As explained by the bohemian artists at Dionysus, it’s more about artistic expression than pornography, and Ben and Andrew joke about the idea of shooting a scene together, despite the fact that they are both straight. In their eyes, this would somehow be a truly unique artistic statement, while also providing an intense and unusual bonding experience for them as friends. When they discuss the idea again in the sober light of day, it becomes a challenge from which neither of them wants to back down; Ben wants to prove he’s not as domesticated as he seems, and Andrew wants to live up to the free spirit Ben believes him to be.

It is fitting that this misbegotten plan begins as a somewhat testosterone-fueled dare, the modern adult male equivalent of sorority sisters being encouraged to make out despite having no real attraction to one another. The eventual porn shoot attempt is brilliantly conceived and executed, a realistic and hilariously awkward sequence that perfectly encapsulates not only the truth of platonic male friendship pushed to its limits, but also the bittersweet revelation that the golden age of that friendship has passed, leaving only fond and funny memories.

  

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Friday trailer #2: “Atrocious,” the found footage horror subgenre beat goes on

With a title like “Atrocious,” you’ve got to admire the filmmakers’ confidence in regards to us nasty critic types. In any case, this muy creepy trailer from Mexican first-timer Fernando Barreda Luna promises a more violent experience than “The Blair Witch Project,” or “Paranormal Activity.” This time, those meddling kids get in way too deep with a serial killer, or something. Via Cinematical, which has a NSFW warning for language (the word “shit” is used once, not too shocking these days). I guess it’s apposite  if your boss doesn’t like you wasting your time watching scary trailers at work, though.

  

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A chat with Joshua Leonard of “Humpday”

Joshua LeonardWhen you’re dealing with the press, what topic could possibly overshadow your new, Indie Spirit award-nominated and generally very well received comedy about two more or less ordinary straight dudes who decide to make a porno of themselves having sex…with each other? Well, “Humpday” star Joshua Leonard has had to deal with one of those “be careful what you wish you” show business situations in that the second film he was in about ten years back was an enormously profitable, zero-budget worldwide hit and horror pop-culture phenomenon – one that happens to be referenced in nearly every review of a certain recent zero-budget DIY horror hit.

Still, as one of the three actors/cum camera people/cum screenwriters who endured a deliberately scary and uncomfortable shoot in “The Blair Witch Project,” Leonard has leveraged his decade old flavor-of-the-month status into a solid career as a working actor with scores of credits ranging from the HBO movie “Live from Baghdad” to recent episodes of the new TV series, “Hung,” also on HBO. He’s also become a director. “Beautiful Losers,” a documentary he co-directed, is just hitting home video after a run on the festival circuit, and he recently completed shooting his dramatic feature debut as a writer-director, “The Lie.”

Still, he’s clearly very proud of his involvement in writer-director Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday” alongside costar and previously interviewed fellow film-maker Mark Duplass – now a very close real-life buddy — and happy to have contributed to a new tightly-plotted but improvised movie where there was absolutely no attempt made to convince the world he was dead. His portrayal of Andrew – puppyish Peter Pan, would-be artiste and compulsive traveler/bohemian – remains the extremely funny heart of the film. He’s also, I was happy to find, a really fun guy to talk to. He’s obviously a lot more smarter and 10,000 times more mature than his movie alter-ego, but he’s every bit as easy to hang out with – even on a twenty-minute phone call set up by a publicist.

PH: I don’t always say this, but I really did like “Humpday.” I thought you guys were great.

JL: Thanks, man. What have you hated recently?

PH: [Laughs] I’m a critic, we could blow out entire time talking about that.

JL: [Laughs] That’s what I want to know.

PH: Fortunately, nothing of yours. Okay, so I’m going to ask everyone I talk to on the movie this question….

Just before I saw the movie at the L.A. Film Festival, I had reviewed the DVD for “The Odd Couple.” It was kind of interesting because it was sort of two of the poles of the male bonding thing and of course the whole idea of “bromance” has been  out now. I was just wondering how you thought “Humpday” fit in with all these movies that have been out there on this general topic.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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Apparently, this is it

In something of a box office anticlimax to one of the most astonishing careers in entertainment history, despite surprisingly strong reviews, “This is It” with Michael Jackson has fallen somewhat short of expectations. The documentary about the preparations for Jackson’s never-to-be final tour won was, in fact, the #1 movie with an estimate of roughly $20.4-7 million for the weekend and $31.9-$32.5 for the “cume” since it’s Tuesday opening — that’s depending on whether you prefer the numbers offered by the breathlessly negative Nikki Finke or Variety’s more glass-half-full Pamela McClintock. The film was originally pegged for closer to $50 million or more.

Now, to be fair, I’ve never been a fan of this whole box office expectations game. In my book, a movie is a commercial success if it makes a profit; the bigger the profit, the bigger the success. That’s it. Still, considering who we’re talking about, it’s obvious why those expectations were sky high.

this-is-it-jackson

Given that Jackson was substantially more admired and less controversial/mocked abroad, it makes sense that the worldwide numbers for “This Is It” look a lot better, with a take so far of $101 million. MJ remains, of course, huge in Japan and lots and lots of other places. Supposedly in response to this response, Sony has made the deeply unsurprising move of extending the film’s putative two-week run through Thanksgiving. Nikki Finke’s cry of “Con Artists” might seem a bit over-dramatic in a business that has long been under the spell of P.T. Barnum, but I’m not going to deny that this was a pretty naked and unconvincing ploy to try to create artificial excitement that, at least in the U.S., didn’t much take. If anyone tries to use it again any time soon, if I may indulge in the subjunctive tense, they be putzes. Still, fair is fair and it appears as if the King of Pop did beat the Hannah Montana concert film internationally, so there’s that.

While “This Is It” was the only new major release this week, and the weekend’s numbers were low overall, at least partially because of an inevitably somewhat low-key Halloween Saturday, there were other movies in play. Not at all surprisingly, the holiday was kind to “Paranormal Activity” which declined a miniscule 22% while adding theaters for an estimated weekend total of about $16.5 million and a “cume” of about $84.8 million.

Considering that it’s still playing in roughly a thousand fewer theaters than “This Is It,” this is a genuinely outstanding box office performance for a film which had an original budget that was actually less than half of the budget of the “zero budget” “The Blair Witch Project.” Perhaps wisely, Paramount appears to be keeping Israeli-born video game designer and now film director Oren Peli under wraps for the time being – no need to turn him into Quentin Spielberg just yet – but I trust he enjoyed the happiest of Halloweens.

Other than that, there were few surprises this weekend with all the current films pretty much staying static. However, I’m sure some of our young male readership will be interested to note that, as per Box Office Mojo, the best per-screen average this Halloween was just under $6,800 and it was enjoyed by Apparition’s “The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day” on 68 screens. Given the poor performance of my personal great black hope, “Black Dynamite,” which was released in seventy theaters by the same arm of Sony and did not even register this week, or last, at the Mojo, this kind of sets my teeth on edge. It ain’t fair but the most cinematically accurate spoof film since “Young Frankenstein” will be back for another try on DVD. That, as they say, is show biz, suckas.

boondocksaints_Aug

  

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Bullz-Eye’s 15 Best Horror Movies Revisited

With Halloween just around the corner, TV networks will be airing a non-stop selection of horror movies throughout the week. So which ones should you watch? Well, you can always revisit Bullz-Eye’s list of the 15 Best Horror Movies to help you decide. It not only includes scary classics like “The Exorcist” and “Halloween,” but more nontraditional picks like “The Shining,” “Alien” and “Jaws.” After all, it doesn’t have to include bogeymen in October to scare the living daylights out of you.

Curiously, although horror movies are cranked out faster than a burger and fries at McDonalds these days, there haven’t been too many new entries in the genre that would truly deserve a place on the list. There are certainly a few that would be up for consideration, including the original “Saw,” Neil Marshall’s cave-diving thriller “The Descent,” and the Spanish horror film “[REC],” but it would be difficult to knock anything off. Less likely suggestions might include the horror comedy “Slither,” Eli Roth’s hate-it-or-love-it “Hostel,” and the Swedish vampire film “Let the Right One In.” Of course, you could always get out of the house and see “Paranormal Activity” instead, because if our own horror-shy Bob Westal loved it (not to mention millions of other moviegoers), then chances are you will too.

  

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