BLOGS

I Want My VOD: Save the Date

by Ethan Alter November 30, 2012 2:02 pm
I Want My VOD: <i>Save the Date</i>

You don't have to go to the theater this weekend to see Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie in the same movie.

Save the Date
Much like Riverdale's own Archie Andrews, Hollywood is always on the lookout for the next Betty and Veronica. Right now, the two rising stars competing for the saucy, sassy and sarcastic brunette role seem to be Krysten Ritter and Lizzy Caplan, who play this type so well, you can't help but wonder if they're secretly the same person. (Come to think of it, has anyone ever seen them in the same room together?) With Ritter busy torturing a potential new Betty (Dreama Walker) on the ABC series Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23, Caplan has gotten a firm foothold in the world of indie film, nabbing big roles in the wedding-themed comedies Bachelorette and Save the Date, both of which premiered at Sundance back in January. Bachelorette appeared on VOD and in limited theatrical release back in September and now it's Save the Date's turn. This time around, Caplan plays Sarah, a commitment-phobic artist whose two-year relationship with rocker Kevin (Geoffrey Arend a.k.a. Mr. Christina Hendricks) explodes after he makes the mistake of proposing too soon. In the wake of their break-up, Sarah rushes into a relationship with scruffy hipster Jonathan (Mark Webber), who hopes to be more than just the Rebound Guy. Meanwhile, her sister Beth (Alison Brie) is preparing for her upcoming nuptials to her boyfriend (and Kevin's drummer) Andrew (Martin Starr) and her early on-set Bridezilla behavior is pissing Sarah off big time.

Since this is an indie romantic dramedy -- as opposed to a glossy studio production -- the requisite falling-in-love and heartbreak montages are scored to indie rock songs rather than pop hits and the big race-to-the-airport/bus station/prom night finale is swapped out for a more low-key reconciliation. But otherwise, Save the Date, which was co-written and directed by mumblecore refugee Michael Mohan, is a relatively straightforward example of its genre, one that's distinguished from the pack primarily by the appeal of its two female stars. While Brie isn't quite the scene-stealer here that she was in The Five Year Engagement back in April (then again, it was a lot easier to steal scenes from the slumming leads in that movie), it's still a pleasure to be reminded that her range extends beyond the bubbly naïf she plays to the hilt on Community. (It doesn't hurt that she's paired off with Starr, one of the most reliable supporting comic actors around.) Caplan's performance is a little tentative at times -- she still seems more at ease when surrounded by a large ensemble as in Bachelorette and Party Down than occupying center stage solo -- but she nails her comic moments and holds her own in the more emotional scenes as well. There will hopefully be better movies in Caplan's future (not to mention Brie's), but Save the Date does at least provide her with a solid showcase to pursue those projects.
(Save the Date is currently available on IFC on Demand and will open in limited release on December 14.)

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
There's long been a negative stigma attached to the world of direct-to-video movies and not without good reason -- most of these B, C and D-grade movies are terrible. But, in the right circumstances, the DTV market can also offer filmmakers a surprising amount of creative freedom. As long as they can make a movie within a certain amount of time, on a certain budget and with certain elements (most notably T&A and lots of kicking and punching) they can get away with some pretty daring formal and narrative stunts. (Just ask all those '70s auteurs who got their start churning out quickie genre movies for Roger Corman.) Case in point: this fourth installment in the Universal Soldier franchise, which sets out to be nothing less than the Apocalypse Now of the DTV market. The movie opens with family man John (real-life martial artist Scott Adkins) watching in horror as his wife and daughter are slaughtered by a masked home invader who turns out to be Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), one of the original Universal Soldiers -- corpses revived by the government to serve as super-human killing machines -- who has since become a bald, monastic revolutionary figure in the vein of Colonel Kurtz. John sets out to find Deveraux and avenge his dead family, but in the process comes to question the nature of his own identity after learning that he too might owe his existence to the same agency that birthed the undead soldiers.

It's hard not to admire director John Hyams for having the stones to model his low-budget franchise sequel after Francis Ford Coppola's epic war movie and while Day of Reckoning obviously doesn't scale the heights of Apocalypse Now, it's a fairly inventive and enjoyable riff on that film, especially when John's upriver adventure finally brings him face to face with Deveraux-as-Kurtz. (Much like Brando before him, Van Damme hams it up gloriously in this role, although he doesn't get a line as iconic as, "The horror, the horror.) Hyams also delivers on the bone-crunching, blood-spewing action that DTV fans expect, particularly in the big climactic set-piece, with Adkins taking out solider after soldier en route to the final battle. (The opening sequence, filmed from a first-person POV, is pretty striking as well.) But if Day of Reckoning shows off some of the freedom that comes with working in the DTV market, it also highlights its limitations, starting with the flat line readings of its cast, most of whom are more skilled at kicking ass than emoting. (Although, to be fair, the script ain't exactly Shakespeare.) The film's budgetary limitations are also noticeably apparent in the interchangeable sets and iffy special effects. A shorter runtime would have improved the proceedings as well; at almost two hours, the film has a flabby middle section that could easily have been slimmed down. And finally there's the overarching fact that, at the end of the day, this is still just a Universal Soldier movie, one that dares to be different, but ultimately not too different.
(Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is available via Magnolia on Demand and is currently playing in limited theatrical release.)

Addicted to Fame
The title of this documentary about the making of the 2007 direct-to-video stinker Illegal Aliens seems intended to reference that movie's doomed star, Anna Nicole Smith, who would die of a drug overdose before it saw the life of day. But as you watch the film, it becomes clear that director David Giancola -- who made both Aliens and this self-serving non-fiction chronicle about the movie's turbulent production -- is actually positing himself as the real fame addict. That's not to say that Smith didn't play the diva during production; as we see in behind-the-scenes footage, she rarely went anywhere without her entourage (including her lawyer/enabler Howard K. Stern), regularly suggested script "improvements" (most of them bad) and frequently showed up late and in a chemically altered state of mind, which naturally meant that she couldn't remember her lines. But as Giancola acknowledges in his voiceover that runs throughout the movie, he essentially invited that drama onto the set of his sci-fi spoof by casting Smith in the first place. As he tells it, he made that decision as a way to bring some publicity to his Vermont-based production company, Edgewood Studios, which had been churning out low-budget direct-to-video schlock since the early '90s. Little did her realize the media circus that would ensue, particularly after Smith's life took a number of soap opera-ready turns during and after production on Illegal Aliens, starting with her trip to the Supreme Court to continue her estate battle with the son of her deceased nonagenarian husband, to the birth of her daughter and sudden death of her son and, finally, her own passing in 2007. As the director of what was suddenly Smith's final film, Giancola became regular fixture on the talk show circuit, finally achieving the media attention that he thought he had always wanted.

If Addicted to Fame is meant to function as Giancola's apology for temporarily being blinded by Smith's media glare, it's a half-hearted one at best. Although the director expresses some regret for being so quick to discuss his dead star in front of any TV camera that had its red light on, he saves much of his scorn for the media, depicted here as a monolithic force who manipulated him -- an ordinary small-town filmmaker who just wanted to get his movie made -- into being a player in the tawdry tale of Smith's final year on Earth. It's a familiar sob story, but it doesn't ring true in this case, especially when you see the discrepancy with which he talks about Smith in public (where he speaks largely in glowing terms) versus the footage from the set where he frequently complains about her bad behavior. He didn't have to serve as one of Smith's main defenders (and later, mourners) in the press, but he willingly assumed that role, even hiring a publicist for the first time to figure out how to best direct the Smith's spotlight towards Illegal Aliens. In the film's final moments, Giancola makes a full-on bid for man of the people status, suggesting that his only intention with Aliens (which, quite honestly, is terrible and not even in a so-bad-it's-good way a la The Room) was to make ordinary audiences laugh, but the media-industrial complex managed to spoil even that. Addicted to Fame is like a feature-length whine disguised as a documentary.
(Addicted to Fameis available On Demand and is currently playing in limited theatrical release.)
Click here to see our recaps of the trainwreck that was The Anna Nicole Show

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