Tuesday, September 13, 2016

White Girl, Kicks, Other People, Author: The JT LeRoy Story, Transpecos

White Girl

Other People
Author: The JT Leroy Story


Capsules on the rest of a mediocre-at-best week at the movies:

Elizabeth Wood's "White Girl" zoomed out of Sundance trailing controversy and hype, but I don't think it's going to make much of an impression. You can smell Wood's desperation to be the next Larry Clark in a movie that might be called "(College) Kids." Morgan Saylor, in a performance that seems quite conscious of the presence of the camera, plays party girl Leah, whose drug-dealer boyfriend Blue (Brian Marc) is arrested, leaving her with a huge bag of cocaine. To pay the lawyer (Chris Noth) who says he can help Blue avoid his third strike, Leah decides to bring the coke to her boss's (Justin Bartha) party and sell it to his friends. High on blow herself, she wakes up to find the twenty-four grand gone in a puff. This also puts both her and Blue in the crosshairs of his supplier (Adrian Martinez), their debts payable (if at all) only in blood and (in her case) degrading sexual favors. I was neither convinced of nor invested in Leah's and Blue's romance, though Marc shows potential, particularly in a prison visitation scene… Boy gets sneakers, boy loses sneakers, boy risks his life (and his friends') to get sneakers back in Justin Tipping's "Kicks," an unconvincing slice of East Bay life. Uniquely coiffed Jahking Guillory plays young Brandon, whose dream of owning "Bred 1's" (black and red Air Jordan 1 originals) comes true in the back of a van full of stolen shoes but comes crashing down when top-dog thug Flaco (Kofi Siriboe) beats him and takes his shoes while Flaco's cohorts video his emasculation and upload it to YouTube. After his uncle Marlon (a strong Mahershala Ali, lately of "Free State of Jones") tells him to TCB, Brandon enlists his pals Rico (cute Christopher Meyer, a little heavy on the bug-out eyes) and incongruously polite "Fat" Albert (Christopher Jordan Wallace) on an only mildly compelling mission to reclaim his kicks. The sweet, boastful back-and-forth among Brandon, Rico and Albert is clearly the movie's strong suit. Why oh why, then, did Tipping film almost every other scene in slow motion, and so badly overuse the metaphor of Brandon as an astronaut, free in outer space to ignore the bullying he endures at school and in the streets? Trust the material, man… Writer-director Chris Kelly's "Other People" is another false dramedy barely able to contain its contempt for middle America or anyone who practices organized religion. Jesse Plemons plays David, a failed comedy writer who returns home to Sacramento to see his cancer-stricken mother Joanne (Molly Shannon, the sole saving grace) through her last year of life. This is a movie in which a woman buys a "healing wand" from a televangelist and is disappointed to learn it doesn't actually cure cancer - a joke repeated several times. What a gallingly smug expression of how liberals view people of faith. A significant amount of time is devoted to David's relationship with his father Norman (Bradley Whitford), who has never acknowledged his son's longtime (though recently broken-up) boyfriend Paul (Zach Woods). Whitford can't play this dumb, and the conflict feels at least ten years out of date. Shannon fully commits to Joanne, her voice so low at times I had to turn the volume to rock-concert levels to hear her. It's a shame her work is in service of such a phony, contemptuous and deeply unfunny script… A marginal discommendation for Jeff Feuerzeig's incomplete documentary "Author: The JT LeRoy Story," which devotes its entire (overlong) 110-minute runtime to Laura Albert's version of how she initiated and kept alive the myth of "Jeremiah 'Terminator' LeRoy," the credited author of the celebrated memoir The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things who turned out to be not the tomboyish young thing Albert trotted out at media events (that was her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop) but Albert herself, a self-loathing pathological liar who faked a British accent and posed as "JT's" handler, Speedie. The ruse, as presented without much oomph here, takes forever to unravel, and the lack of other voices prevents context and meaning from seeping into the story… The pick of the week is Greg Kwedar's promising directorial debut "Transpecos," available On Demand contemporaneously with its weeklong run at Laemmle. The script - co-written by Kwedar and Clint Bentley - opens at the remotest of Border Patrol desert checkpoints, where racist veteran agent Hobbs (Clifton Collins, Jr.), head-down good guy Flores (Gabriel Luna), and rookie Davis (Johnny Simmons) try to stay awake by flipping traffic cones and messing with the occasional driver who comes through. As shift change approaches, Davis waves a car through, but Hobbs smells a rat, and in a hot second this sleepy checkpoint explodes with action. The fallout that occupies the second forty minutes of "Transpecos" has some of the feeling of an extended denouement - it's not as compelling as the first half - but Kwedar announces himself here as a director capable of significant set pieces and alive to the power of quietude.

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