Reviews by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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Gimme The Loot

Director: Adam Leon
Stars: Tashiana Washington, Ty Hickson, Meeko, Zoe Lescaze, Sam Soghor

There’s a moment nearly halfway into writer-director Adam Leon’s feature film debut Gimme The Loot (which won SXSW’s Grand Jury prize for narrative movies) where its two leads, teenage NYC graffiti bombers Sophia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson), debate the efficiency of full-member-sized condoms. Malcolm thinks that rubbers should just cover the “head,” like a “fitted cap” or yarmulke; Sophia, as in most of their chats, thinks he’s full of shit. It’s a very funny exchange that doesn’t feel scripted, mainly because of the actors’ naturalistic performances, and that’s what lifts Gimme The Loot above the threshold of excellence as a whole: The film always feels in-the-moment and real.

Living in the Bronx, and, as a result, pledging allegiance to the New York Yankees’ pinstripes, Sophia and Malcolm hatch a plan to “tag” the Mets Home Run Ball at the Queens-located Citi Field, an incredibly ambitious scheme that’s halted when Sophia gets robbed by members of a rival spray-can-toting gang. The theft inspires Malcolm to hatch a heist of his own, one that involves jacking a case of expensive jewelry from an upper-class floozy (Zoe Lescaze) to whom he recently brought drugs.

In Leon’s vibrant, warm, and consistently amusing film, the characters’ sticky-fingered, urban adventure itself ranks secondary to Gimme The Loot fluid direction and breathlessly witty dialogue, spoken by a squad of first-time performers who uniformly come off as real-deal people, not fictional creations. It’s every bit as authentic in spirit as Larry Clark’s similarly presented Kids (1995), only, with its amiability, it’s much more accessible.
Grade: A-

John Dies At The End

Director: Don Coscarelli
Stars: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones, Daniel Roebuck, Fabianne Therese, Jonny Weston, Allison Weissman

John Dies At The End, genre favorite Don Coscarelli’s (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep) adaptation of David Wong’s bug-nuts 2007 novel of the same name, immediately draws its line in the invisible sand: You’re either onboard for the goofy insanity or you’re not. Fortunately, we’re all for uncontrollable lunacy in film, not to mention we’re also high on Wong’s source material. Coscarelli, who’s no stranger to B-movie ridiculousness, is the perfect director to tackle such a wacky book, and his take on John Dies At The End, while not a flawless victory, is ludicrous fun.

The plot revolves around a mysterious new drug called “Soy Sauce,” which, as even-keeled Dave (Chase Williamson) and his fun-loving buddy John (Rob Mayes) learn the hard way, makes its users susceptible to harmful oddities from another dimension, including a beast made of frozen meats, a moustache bat, and penis doorknob (don’t ask).

Never once played for anything other than laughs, John Dies At The Endrevels in its absurdities, and, crucially, Coscarelli and his team have managed to execute some rather convincing special effects on an indie budget; Wong’s novel reads as something that’s damn near un-filmable, but Coscarelli defies that notion—the aforementioned meat monster looks especially wicked. Holding the film back slightly, though, is the performance from leading man Williamson, who’s on screen a good 90-percent of the time and oversells his facial reactions a bit much. Yet, being that he’s in one of the craziest flicks you’ll likely to see all year, his problematic acting somehow makes sense in John’s context.
Grade: B+

Sleepwalk With Me

Director: Mike Birbiglia
Stars: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, James Rebhorn, Carol Kane, Cristin Milioti, Aya Cash, Marc Maron, David Wain, Kristen Schaal, Henry Phillips

Having just (barely) endured the mostly unfunny stupidity of The Babymakers, we needed a comedy that, you know, actually provided genuine humor and didn’t make us want to venture to the nearest exit. Even under more positive circumstances, though, stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia’s directorial debut—the personal, fictionalized pseudo-memoir Sleepwalk With Me—would still be a rousing success, though Birbiglia deserves some inadvertent credit post-Babymakers.

Closely based on his own battles with romantic commitment and sleepwalking, all of which has been covered in his on-stage jokes, Birbiglia’s film centers on Matt, a struggling comedian (played by Birbiglia himself) who tends the bar at a local comedy club while dodging marriage to his loving and extremely patient eight-year girlfriend (Lauren Ambrose).

As his career slowly picks up, Matt questions both his relationship and his life even more, and it’s all told with the Birbiglia’s usual dry, unassuming sensibilities—his pleasantness and warmth give Birbiglia a sympathetic edge from the first scene onward. With its subtle humor and likeable sweetness, Sleepwalk With Me is the kind of comedy that easily wins you over by simply appreciating its own characters and simplicities, right down to the film’s honest, bittersweet, yet happy ending.
Grade: B+

Reviews by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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