The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Nipples & Palm Trees (2012)
Here is another director submission, this one coming from director Dylan Reynolds for his film Nipples & Palm Trees, which was written by and stars Matthew James, who had a reoccurring role on Angel as Merl. I checked out the trailer (which I embedded on the image page, because it wasn't on their imdb), and it looked like a lot of fun. Let's see how it turned out.
Nipples & Palm Trees follows Jackson, a struggling artist with a bad job who is in love with a woman named Harmony. Unfortunately, Harmony can't commit to him, so in the periods of time when she's absent, he searches for love and sex in LA with varying degrees of success-- or really no success. Will Harmony come back to him? And if she does, will she finally stay with him?
I really enjoyed this. The info packet that Dylan e-mailed to me included some notes on what the director and writer were going for, and Dylan said he was trying for a French New Wave/70s New Hollywood combined with 80s/90s sex romp vibe. I'd take it a step further. For me it felt like those great 90s indie flicks that were like an echo effect of the French New Wave and 70s New Hollywood from new directors who grew up in the 60s and 70s with those as their influences. Being born in the late 70s and really coming of age as a moviegoer in the 90s, I loved that time, when it felt like every flick at the local indie theater or every Neo-Noir or character-driven comedy I picked up off the video store shelves was a gem. This leaned on the strengths of its two leads, who felt natural and nuanced; plus a script that was funny without overdoing the irony, yet had the ability to move me too; and direction, cinematography, and editing that, while it could've been heavy-handed and too much for this film, instead really did it's job in bringing out the things that made this enjoyable, whether it was off-the wall comedy or some serious dramatic moments.
On the DVD, one of the reviews (LA Weekly), described this as aspiring "to Bukowski-like heights". The thing is, how many movies have we seen try to do that, and fail miserably? As I was watching this, I realized what made this one work was the lack of irony. We see too much irony in these kinds of episodic sex romp type deals, where we just can't make these women and these situations and conversations crazy and zany enough. And then when the craziness does happen, there's this wink-wink nudge-nudge factor that makes it even worse. Nipples & Palm Trees never makes that mistake. Even when the situations seem like they could go in that direction, the film maintains its humanity, which was refreshing.
As I mentioned above, Matthew James wrote and played the lead, Jackson. He really typified that New York or Northeast I-95 Corridor transplant in LA vibe, which is why I think the title, Nipples & Palm Trees was so apt, because that's really all we in the Northeast think of LA. Even though according to Wikipedia I live in the Greater Metro Boston Area, I'm a little north of Boston to fully have that mindset, but really there's a sense that people from about Boston to Philadelphia have, this angry, uptight, ready to argue mindset, that when they go out to LA and encounter the laid-backness, it's like a utopia. And then there's the weather. And then the women. I've only been to LA a couple times, but I've had this feeling too, like the world is my oyster. But from people I've talked to who are transplants out there, a shift occurs after a certain time, when you realize that the LA you thought you knew no longer makes any sense, and while you hated the Northeast, there's a part of you that longs for it because at least you understood it. Jackson is in this liminal space, and his Northeast sensibilities are under attack throughout this film-- one of my favorites scenes came when a girl he wanted to bed has a surprise for him, and he tells her "this is wrawng," as opposed to "wrong". Lawng Island trapped in the absurdity of the City of Angels.
Then we had Sadie Katz as Harmony, who has lived a tough life, doesn't know if she can trust Jackson, and is afraid of what it would mean for her if she finally does. Jackson has no ability to communicate with her, all he knows in coming from the Northeast is to fight and make up, and Harmony doesn't do that, she runs away and comes back. Even when she's with Jackson she doesn't know what she wants-- does she want to talk, does she want to fuck; does she like the way Jackson makes her feel, does it make her uncomfortable. And the thing for Katz is, unlike James who is on-screen the entire film, she doesn't have as many moments for us to get a sense of who her character is, and she makes the most of that limited time to give us as complete and well-rounded a character as Jackson. Part of that is the writing and the directing, but there's also a lot in her performance, those subtle touches, that really make it work, and as a result, make Jackson's character work better too.
One of the problems with doing a smaller-budget indie film is that a lot of the actors are just starting out, and as a result, when I go to the imdb page, they often don't have a picture up, which makes it harder for me to attribute credit to the right people. I know we had Dallas Malloy, who was great as Jackson's philosophical landlord; The Human Centipede's Akihiro Kitamura as Jackson's co-worker (and don't ask, I'm not planning on reviewing that one any time soon) and co-sufferer in heartbreak; Vanessa Rose Parker plays a woman Jackson picks up at the grocery store, and Cary Thompson (who was in the Albert Pyun flick Invasion) plays another woman he tries to get involved with to get his mind off of Harmony. All of these characters do their job in both being uniquely memorable, but also giving us more perspective on Jackson, which just made the film that much better.
The one area where this film had the most potential to seem over the top or overly ironic was in the sexual interactions with the other women, and I got a sense from some of the other reviews that they felt like that was the case with them. I don't know, they didn't seem that unbelievable though (maybe because I've had some interesting interactions with women as well-- and no, I won't be getting into them here). And the thing about them too is that, while they were out there, they weren't so out there that a guy like Jackson who's looking to get over a woman he's in love with, and also assuage his sexual frustrations, wouldn't be faced with a dilemma as to whether or not he'd just go with it. In that sense it made it easier to relate to, made me feel like "hmm, if I were Jackson, would that be a deal breaker, or would I stick around"-- and having had to make that decision myself, it's all the more relatable-- again, I'm not getting into my own experiences.
For this last paragraph I want to get on my soapbox a bit here and rant about something that I really dislike in the American movie industry. While Nipples & Palm Trees has a lot of sexual situations, and it is definitely for adults, there's really nothing that bad in it. No one gets killed, raped, has his or her life threatened, and other than some boobs, there isn't much nudity; yet this would easily be an R rating, and maybe an NC-17. At the same time, The Dark Knight, where people are given bloody smiles, have their faces half-burnt off, sit tied to a chair helplessly while a timer counts down a bomb that blows them up, and are murdered left and right, is PG-13. Am I the only one who thinks that's ridiculous?
All right, I'll come down from my soapbox and wrap this up. Nipples & Palm Trees is fantastic. A throwback (I can't believe I'm saying throwback in talking about the 90s) to the character-driven indie comedies of the 90s, well-written, well-acted, well-shot, and well-directed. I want to thank Dylan for sending me a copy, I really enjoyed it, and think everyone should check it out. You can pick it up on Amazon.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1630052/