Wednesday, October 9, 2013

An Alex Karpovsky mini-fest, as RUBBERNECK and RED FLAG appear on Netflix streaming

Maybe Alex Karpovsky (shown at right) is an acquired taste. If so, because he's been viewing the guy's acting work for quite some time now, TrustMovies suspects he has definitely acquired that taste. Just knowing Karpovsky will appear in a new film is an inducement to viewing it. And now that the actor has branched out into writing, producing and directing, there's even more reason to get to know his output. Since Cry Funny Happy in 2003, that memorably odd Karpovsky face -- on which, from just below the prominent nose on downward, nothing quite comes together and thus makes the face even more memorable -- has adorned a number of good to so-so movies that were almost always made more interesting by this fellow's appearance in them. Now, with two of his newest films -- written, directed and starring Karpovsky -- simultaneously appearing on Netflix streaming, here's an opportunity to sink your teeth and revel a bit in this guy's work as a filmmaker (which is every bit as odd but pleasurable as his acting).

If you had to place RUBBERNECK into a genre (it jumps a couple, actually), it would be that of the character study. And then the thriller. Yet the first thing you'll probably notice is that you're seeing Karpovsky -- whose acting roles have tended toward the dark and somewhat nasty -- playing a nice guy/schlub. What a surprise. Even better is how very well he handles this. He pulls you easily and a little sadly into his character of Paul Harris, a shy loner with only a sister and nephew for family, who works in a laboratory in the Boston area. One evening, at the company Christmas party, he finds himself engaged in conversation with a very pretty co-worker (lovely job by Jaime Ray Newman, below). Their conversation leads to, well, everything else that happens in this quietly jolting little movie.

According to what Karpovsky has said to the press, he had cast another actor in the leading role, but the guy dropped out suddenly and Karpovsky stepped in for reasons of time and practicality. I'm glad this happened, as the movie shows us more of the actor's versatility than we've heretofore experienced.

Karpovsky's storytelling skills are good (he co-wrote the film with Garth Donovan); he's able to convey a lot through a little. Where the movie goes -- how far and how fast -- is unexpected but well done. The filmmaker seems to have a fine visual sense, too, alternating consistently interesting shots in close-up, medium range and long distance (his cinematographer is Beecher Cotton and Karpovsky and Mr. Donovan collaborated on the film editing). Composition is excellent, too, as is the use of color. You really don't want to look away from the screen.

The filmmaker, shooting in the Boston area, used a cast made up of mostly local actors, each well-chosen and turning in a good performance. Despite all that happens here, and there is quite a lot of "event," Rubberneck ends up more of a character study than anything else -- a very good, and a very sad one, too.

With RED FLAG, Mr. Karpovsky is back to something closer to his "normal" screen self: a narcissistic, budding filmmaker up to his ears in road-trip personal-appearances and a problematic love life. Here he plays a filmmaker named Alex (I'm sure that's just a coincidence) who is doing a series of Q&As at one-time-only showings in some of our southern states for his documentary film Woodpecker (the title of a movie Mr. K. did indeed direct and co-write back in 2008), after just being given the boot by his girlfriend of several years (he says 4-1/2; she claims 7).

Red Flag is as light as Rubberneck is dark; both run well under 90 minutes and so do not outstay their welcome. Karpovsky has cast this film wonderfully well, too: with Jennifer Prediger (at left on poster, above, and below, right, much more fun here than she was in Swanberg's Uncle Kent) as an "amour" of our filmmaker,

and Onur Tukel (above, center, and below, right, of Septien), simply hilarious as the one friend who shows up to accompany our non-hero on his sojourn. (Tukel's riff on Shel Silverstein is classic.)

As Alex's ex-girlfriend, Caroline White (below, right) proves the most stable influence in the film, and also the most ill-used character. (Karpovsky's work will improve, I think, once he learns to better use and deepen his females characters.)

Also here in smaller roles are the likes of Keith Poulson, recently seen in Somebody Up There Likes Me, and filmmaker/actor Dustin Guy Defa (Bad Fever).  Karpovsky has stocked his movie with so much that the ideas and humor fall over each other tumbling out: back pain, reflexology, cliteridectomy, one-night-stands, stalkers, children's books They're all here. But, sorry: No late check-outs. Oh--and a splendid actress named Evonne Walton all but steals the movie with a single final scene that includes maybe two minutes of screen time but provides the best ending I've seen all year.

You can catch both these interesting films -- distributed by Tribeca Film -- via Netflix Streaming, as well as several others in which Mr. K acts but does not direct nor write. He and his work are worth knowing. (And now that I consider that photo just above, doesn't he also look a tad like a younger version of Italy's Roberto Benigni?)

Photo of Mr. Karpovsky, top, courtesy of 
which has an excellent interview  
with the actor/filmmaker.

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