Indie spotlight: ‘Concussion,’ ‘A Touch of Sin,’ ‘I Used to Be Darker’ and ‘Bad Milo!’
3 (out of 5) Globes
Speaking about gay marriage a decade ago, Chris Rock said homosexuals “have the right to be as miserable as everybody else.” So it goes with “Concussion,” whose semi-hero, 40-something Abby (Robin Weigert, Calamity Jane on “Deadwood”), is in a stilted, sexless suburban gay marriage, with kids. A baseball to the head becomes the catalyst that gets Abby to make a curious decision: By day she retires to the Manhattan apartment she’s rehabbing and offers her services as a high-end prostitute. Homosexuality is treated casually (when Abby refers to “my wife,” no one bats an eye), but that’s part of the sly commentary; as a lesbian, she’s still treated as a mysterious outsider, as when a bi-curious neighbor (Maggie Siff, “Sons of Anarchy”) becomes a client. It’s Luis Bunuel’s surrealist “Belle de Jour” in a realistic bent — but not too realistic. First-time director Stacie Passon establishes a quasi-comic tone that’s at once assured and uneasy, while Weigert is thrillingly anxious, coming into her own only when tending to clients.
‘A Touch of Sin’
4 (out of 5) Globes
Much has been made of filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke — who tends to make deadpan, minimalist quasi-documentaries about China’s mistreatment of the working and lower classes — releasing “A Touch of Sin,” a somewhat more traditionally shot narrative with fits of unspeakably grisly violence. But it’s not that different. Here, he tells four tales of people driven to the brink: a miner appalled at the selling of his place of employment to a greedy company; a migrant worker who can’t connect with his wife and family; a sauna worker bullied into doing more than her job description; and a youth drained by multiple jobs, including at a FoxConn-esque warehouse. Though cleanly, accessibly filmed (at least compared to previous Jias, like the long take-heavy “The World” and “Still Life”), the director’s savage commentary is in full force. A dedicated critic of China’s economic development, which has progressed while leaving many flailing in its wake, Jia uses the bigger canvas of “A Touch of Sin” to lodge even more complaints. His statements on violence itself aren’t as deep as his political commentary; there’s of course a tut-tutting scene of travelers blankly staring at violent movies. But Jia’s temperature-taking is as vital and clear-eyed as ever, making this a transformation that could still only be ID’d as the work of its maker.
‘I Used to Be Darker’
4 (out of 5) Globes
With his third feature, Baltimore filmmaker Matthew Porterfield continues the experiments blending documentary and fiction he played with in the excellent “Putty Hill.” Deragh Campbell plays an Irish teen who runs away from home and winds up in Maryland, shacking up with her aunt and uncle (Kim Taylor and Ned Oldham, Will’s brother). Unknown to her, Gross and Oldham, both musicians, are in the midst of a messy break-up. “Putty Hill” did its best to avoid direct emotions, even taking place in the aftermath of a death in the community to stress how reluctant people are to mourn. Here, he deals more directly with a small-scale kind of tragedy. Porterfield is not yet great with actors, though because he keeps casting non-thespians that’s at least partly intentional. (One exception is Adele Exarchopoulos, star of “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” but she, pointedly, only logs a brief walk-on.) “Darker” continues his interest in how normal people process grief and loss while trying, and sometimes failing, to keep going.
2 (out of 5) Globes
Though they’re rarely made with any kind of precision or chops, there’s a delicate balance to the best of the sleazy, sometimes comic horror films of the ‘80s and ‘90s, such as Frank Henenlotter’s “Basket Case” and “Frankenhooker.” Try too hard to make them funny, and the spell is broken. Such is the case with “Bad Milo!”: a self-aware, broadly comic homage to this era, starring Ken Marino as an uptight pushover whose anxieties manifest themselves in the form of a murderous ass demon. Milo, who’s made of rubber, begins as massive bowel problems for his owner, then escapes to gorily dispatch the people annoying or hurting our hero. A who’s-who of modern improv comedy do their best to squeeze in tossed-off jokes, and Marino is, as usual, at his best when beset-upon. (See also: his epically weak Ron Donald on “Party Down.”) But it lacks the invention, the unexpected insight and even the great gags of the real deal.