Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Venus and Serena, Leviathan, Sightseers, Peeples

Venus and Serena


Quick capsules on the other new pix that arrived this week: Maiken Baird and Michelle Major obtained insider access to the Williams Sisters for their new biodoc "Venus and Serena," which runs to 100 minutes but would have been better as an hourlong special on Tennis Channel. The family guards its privacy jealously, but as Baird and Major filmed in 2011, when both sisters were dealing with serious physical issues, we're privy to some moments of philosophical reflection occasioned by unaccustomed setbacks. What's best about the movie, though, is their sense of humor, especially Serena's; even we tennis nuts who know most of this material are in for a handful of big laughs.

It won't be scrod for dinner after the tacking, heaving, yawing New England fishing-boat documentary "Leviathan." Directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel shot "Leviathan" at oblique angels by tethering a dozen cameras to stationary objects and allowing their seamen subjects to share in the filming duties. Together, they've crafted a trained-lens movie experience we call "immersive" when we get into it (one of Frederick Wiseman's, say) and boring as shit when we don't. I didn't. To me, it felt like an avant-garde video installation that plays in the background at a party for an opening art show. All you'll want to do is get up, mingle, sip a little bubbly and find some hors d'oeuvres to nosh on - but not caviar.

The British import "Sightseers" reminds us again how hard it is to pull off a pitch-black murder-spree comedy. Even one as beloved as "Heathers" went to bits in the end, unable to escape its own vortex of violence and find a way out worthy of its instant-classic high school social satire. This new picture stars Steve Oram and Alice Lowe as Chris and Tina, a couple of social misfits who discover on an RV vacation through the British Isles that both are amenable to - and capable of - doing away with those fellow human beings who disgust, annoy or merely inconvenience them. There are some very big laughs, but the film falls flat in the lulls between homicides, which director Ben Wheatley has unwisely set to downbeat music when incongruously sunny uptempo pop is required. And mere misanthropy isn't funny in itself, as when Tina apologizes for the death of her mother's beloved dog by sewing shears. "It was an accident," she says, to which her mother responds, "So were you." Still, Wheatley manages to extricate his plot from its out-of-control skid with a perfectly clever ending that preserves an extra half-star.

Tyler Perry "presents" the dead-on-arrival new comedy "Peeples," which bombed with less than $5M in box office. What's truly amazing is that the L.A. Times gave an almost glowing review to this completely artificial, thoroughly unpleasant and virtually laugh-free movie. Who would take a comedian as gifted - and with as much accumulated audience goodwill - as David Alan Grier and cast him as Virgil Peeples, an asshole judge who runs his family with an iron fist and looks down on everyone in their lives? That certainly includes Wade (zaftig Craig Robinson), the current boyfriend of his lawyer daughter Grace (totally wasted Kerry Washington), who makes his living singing children's songs at parties (including one about urination that director Tina Gordon Chism chose to use THREE times). The family of one-note characters also includes klepto son Simon and daughter Gloria, a reporter for CNN whose constant companion Meg may be more than just her "camerawoman." Nothing anyone says or does in this movie takes place on Planet Earth, with the exception of veteran S. Epatha Merkerson, who finds a few grace notes as Virgil's "herbaceous" wife Daphne. It's not right for this garbage to be served up to audiences of any color as entertainment, and I'm pleased to see them stay away in droves despite the presence of Perry's name on the poster.

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