Sunday, June 2, 2013

Slaughter in high school: Michelle Danner's and John Buffalo Mailer's HELLO HERMAN

Well-intentioned but coming a bit late to the table (after better films such as Elephant, Beautiful Boy and We Need to Talk About Kevin, to name but three), the new movie about yet another high-school massacre -- HELLO HERMAN, written by John Buffalo Mailer (from his play of the same name) and directed by Michelle Danner -- has its moments and, to the credit of the filmmakers, has been opened up enough to not seem stage-bound. Beyond this however, it never quite finds its footing in order to take off far enough to make us understand and/or care about its characters. Or, for that matter, to believe in them much.

Parceling out blame for why the film doesn't work is difficult when you weren't at the shoot itself, but because Mailer's dialog and plot points are interesting enough to command some respect, it may be the manner in which Ms Danner (shown at left) -- a well-known acting teacher here directing her second film (her first was the 2006 rom-com How to Go Out on a Date in Queens) -- has put all this together that seems wanting. There is often a kind of disconnect between dialog, acting, visuals and editing that makes for a result that seems almost constantly just a little "off."

This is particularly true in the scene in which Herman's mom (played by the director) unburdens herself to the protagonist/reporter named Lax (essayed by Norman Reedusbelow, right). Solid, genuine points are made here and yet the whole thing comes up a tad phony due to that above-mentioned combo of disconnect. Mailer offers the reporter as a kind of mirror image of the high school assassin (Garrett Backstrom, above, and below, left). Both are severely troubled and have the death of a human being on their hands -- though the kid has 42 to the reporter's one.

Speaking of, how in hell does that kid even know about the reporter's baseball-bat clubbing of an innocent black boy? This is not something this very cagey character Lax would be likely to bandy about. Love interest (unnecessary, considering how little is done with this) is provided by another reporter, played by Martha Higareda (below, right), who was Lax's girfriend back in the day and reconnects with him now. ("He's her ex-lax!" my companion noted with glee, providing the best line of the evening -- even if it wasn't part of the movie.)

Hello Herman wants to spreads its indictments around, and so the media takes its shares of hits via interviews with an crass 'n nasty Republican senator (Christine Dunford) and an asshole TV host who loves to turn up the volume on hate and violence (Rob Estes, below). Bullying gets its share of time, too, taking its place as one of the reasons for the murderous kid's killing spree. So does a fractured family, with Dad missing in action, mom working herself silly and -- in the one truly dumb segment, our anti-hero as a baby-sitter too interested in playing video games (the violence of which is also heavily indicted) to take proper care of his little sister. Oh, yes -- the kid's desire for fame-at-any-price comes into play, as well.

All the ingredients (except maybe a specific plea for gun control) are here to provide the usual recipe for mass-murder. But so what? They don't mix well or truly compel. Set slightly in the future, where our poor, miserable, fame-hungry fellow is to be executed via electric chair on TV in front of the entire nation (sort of a modern-day Keir Dullea in an updated Hoodlum Priest), the movie doesn't go far enough for either sci-fi or satire. It is definitely well-meaning, and just as definitely so-so. For those expecting a lot of blood and gore, be warned: The carnage is suggested then replaced by freeze frames gone to sepia mode. (That's OK: Beautiful Boy left the killings out entirely and still proved a riveting, deeply-felt movie.)

Hello Herman -- from Warner Bros, Gravitas & Freestyle and said to be running 100 minutes (although the version I saw ran only 89) -- opens Friday, June 7, in New York City at the Cinema Village, in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Noho 7, in Atlanta at the Plaza Theatre, in Miami at the Palace 18, in Tempe/Phoenix at the Harkins Valley Art, in Cleveland/Mentor at the Great Lakes, in Modesto/
Sacramento area at the Brenden 18, in El Paso at the Premiere 18, in St. Louis at the Jamestown 14, in Florida (in Lake Park at the Mos' Art, in Lake Worth at the Stonzek Theater, in Philadelphia at the Montgomeryville Stadium 12, in Albuquerque at The Guild, in New Jersey (Boonton) at the Darress Theatre and in Louisiana (at Shreveport's The Robinson). Simultaneously, it will be available via Time Warner On-Demand in some 100 million US homes.

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