Saturday, January 22, 2011

Swanberg's return to m'core, UNCLE KENT, inaugurates this year's Sundance at home

They're back.  And if I am not mistaken, there are more of 'em this year than last. Yes, it's time once again for the Sundance Film Festival and--for those of us who can't get to Park City--Sundance Selects, the theatrical and on-demand film label that today begins it's second annual partnership with the not-for-profit Sundance Institute and the 2011 edition of the film festival. As part of the "Direct from the Sundance Film Festival" initiative, five films being screened at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival that will simultaneously be available nationwide, on-demand, through Sundance Selects. The films include four world premieres recently acquired by Sundance Selects -- Brendan Fletcher's MAD BASTARDS, Michael Tully's SEPTIEN, Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton's THESE AMAZING SHADOWS, and Joe Swanberg's UNCLE KENT -- and one U.S. premiere: Gregg Araki's KABOOM. (Last year, as I recall, Sundance Selects showed only three titles.) The films featured through the Sundance Institute and Sundance Selects partnership will begin screening on video-on-demand at the same time as their premieres at the Sundance Film Festival, and will be available to approximately 40 million homes on most major cable systems including Bright House, Comcast, Cablevision, Cox, and Time Warner Cable.

The first under consideration here is Swanberg's Uncle Kent, arriving On-Demand on Saturday, January 22, which pretty much coincides with its Sundance Fest debut. With last year's Alexander the Last, it seemed to TrustMovies that Mr. Swanberg (shown below) might finally be expanding beyond his mumblecore roots (along with Aaron Katz and Andrew Bujalski, he's considered one of the daddies of this mini-genre). In Alexander, he made good use of Jess Weixler, an actress whose energy and charisma can wipe the floor with most m'core leading ladies (Greta Gerwig may be an exception: time will tell), while the story he chose had more incident and variation than some of his earlier films.

With Uncle Kent, we're firmly back in the land of the mumble: wishy-washy characters who don't know what they want or need and in any case barely have the energy to go after it. This does not make them or their movie a failure exactly: Interest is maintained and decent performances given by the five main actors on view. But it is all so loose and unstructured and tentative and, well, mumblecore, that -- for every moment that perks there are another few that don't.

The situation here -- that of a firmly middle-aged guy (Kent Osborne, below) who's unattached and can't seem to change that status -- is probably not at all unusual in today's world.  That's he's a bit of doofus and somewhat socially inept doesn't help. (His best friend gets him to entertain party guests by doing "cock tricks": molding his scrotum and penis into various forms, only one of which -- a hamburger between two buns -- we get to see here.) When an online acquaintance (female) has business in the L.A. area and spends the weekend in his home, things might be looking up. If you buy that, you've seen far too few films of the m'core variety.

Characters shamble, physically and emotionally, until stasis is achieved. Along the way we get a few bits of what passes for wisdom dropped in our lap (women's biological clocks are ticking too hard and fast for Kent to handle: oooh, that's a new one!), along with a lot of explanation/exposition, mostly told but little seen or experienced. The characters here are not uninteresting. They could be explored for some depth and resonance, but Swanberg (shown below) seems content to just let them rub shoulders and words. Even the sex is piddling and unproductive. If the filmmaker's point is that modern life, relationships and sex found via the internet is unproductive, well, it would be, given characters like these. Yet characters like these seem to provide the raison d'être de mumble-core. You either love being with them. Or they put you to sleep.

Uncle Kent comes to VOD today. Check your local TV-reception provider or click here for further help.

I'll have a review of Septien up soon -- and one for Mr. Araki's delightfully loopy and invigorating Kaboom, when that film makes its theatrical debut on Friday, January 28.

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