Marriage, marijuana and manhood mesh in 2014 SF Indie Fest’s films

How-to-Be-a-Man
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“How to Be a Man”

What it means to be a man is a tough thing to define, no matter how many issues of GQ you have read. Tackling the brawny brainteaser is director Chadd Harbold’s “How to Be a Man.”
The irreverent comedy follows the quickly ending life of once-comic Mark (Gavin McInnes), a tattooed 30-something who is dying of cancer. His biggest unfinished business lies with his pregnant wife and their unborn son. Mark enlists the help of gawky film student Bryan (Liam Aiken) to record him giving all of the life lessons that he will be unable to personally deliver to his son. Mark’s main focus? How to be a man.

Mark’s on-the-spot life musings involve everything from how to dress to which drugs are OK to try: “Marijuana is fun. It’s for sex, horror movies and laughing with your friends. Heroin will kill you.”
Much of the humor stems from the way Mark obliviously discounts his own party-hard past in his effort to impart upon his soon-to-come son all of the wisdom he can fabricate.

What carries the film is McInnes’ charisma. A comedian in real life, McInnes knows how to make any laugh genuine, no matter how crude, and to keep even the darkest subjects light.
The relationship between Mark and his postadolescent accomplice Bryan is a nice parallel to Mark’s touching desire for fatherhood. The duo’s on-camera adventures bring them to every bar, gutter and alley in New York, with plenty to learn in between.

— Ryan Koehn

Loveless-Zoritsa

“Loveless Zoritsa”

“Loveless Zoritsa” is the offbeat fable of a beautiful woman exiled from her small village because of a curse that has plagued her since childhood: Any man who falls in love with her is doomed to die immediately. Determined to lift the curse and find true love, Zoritsa (a dynamic Ljuma Penov) has resorted to burning the graves of her past lovers as per the advice of a more-than-questionable local fortune teller. The curse isn’t lifting, however, and the bodies keep stacking up.

Enter village policeman and supernatural skeptic Mane (Branislav Trifunovic), who is sent to investigate the charbroiled remains of Zoritsa’s latest victim. He soon finds himself along for the ride in order to protect her from a ruthless mob of vengeful villagers.

This macabre romantic comedy plays off of a whole trove of superstitions along the way, providing lighthearted musings on the power of destiny. Mane quickly learns that he has gotten more than he bargained for, as flashbacks give us a sometimes humorous, sometimes grotesque death tour through Zoritsa’s ex-boyfriends.

For the most part, the film succeeds in telling its dark tale with a big grin. At times, the attempts at humor come off awkwardly, but the deadpan acting of Penov and Trifunovic pulls it off. Despite being entirely in Serbian, the film will please audiences (and the superstitious) in any country. Its biggest curse, however, is its plot holes, which are plenty and large enough to bury all of those who have fallen for Zorista’s drop-dead gorgeous charms.

— Ryan Koehn

Aldo

“Aldo”

“Aldo” is a confusing film to watch, mostly because it’s billed as a thriller about an independent hair stylist who gets into trouble with a sinister underground loan shark. It’s true that the titular character Aldo (Dane Mazzei, who is either playing himself or doing his best narcissistic LA philistine impression) cuts hair and capitalizes on his reputation as the only straight man in his profession. He makes a casual, unmotivated, all-or-nothing bet on a Celtics basketball series and quickly gets in way over his perfectly tapered head. What does he do in response to his predicament? He flirts with his fashion-model clients, drinks and buys T-shirts at the local outlet. Hairstylist? Check. Loan shark? Check. Thriller? Not even close.

There appears to be a very loose script that the story follows. We are treated to long-winded, improvised small talk between Aldo and his clients that goes virtually nowhere and has no business in a film with only a 66-minute runtime. Most of the time, “Aldo” feels less like a narrative and more like a jittery travelogue of Los Angeles, as the camera roves around him walking through his daily routines. Everything is captured in pallid black and white, which fails to lend credibility to the seriousness of Aldo’s situation. For the most part, the real violence happens off-screen, the possible effect of filmmaking laziness rather than a thematic choice.

In the end, the film is much like its hipster anti-hero: all style, no substance.

— Ryan Koehn

Lets-Ruin-It

“Let’s Ruin It With Babies”

After marrying and settling down together, why does having children seem like the next logical step for many couples? In the full-length directorial debut by Kestrin Pantera (also the film’s writer and star), this is the focus. Sort of. Truthfully, “Let’s Ruin It With Babies” seems a bit scattered in terms of plot, pacing and themes. As far as debuts go, though, it shows potential for Pantera, and it should hold interest for its duration, however short.

Everything starts with a simple premise: After announcing their intent to get pregnant, Channing (Pantera) and her husband Chaz decide to embark on a Kickstarter-funded venture, in which they will drive a karaoke-party RV across the country. While Chaz is responsible for the more complex technology, he soon lands a nondescript dream job, prompting him to ditch Channing for a bit and let her sort out the RVIP Lounge alone. Confident in her own leadership, she heads down the coast with her fun-loving crew in search of potential partiers. But the good times soon become marred with tension and failure, and Channing comes to question her relationship and her preparedness for motherhood.

“Babies” is somewhat unique in its portrayal of party culture, particularly in the current climate of films such as “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Instead of fixating on decadence and debauchery, Pantera’s film shines a more innocently (if drunkenly) fun-loving light on the topic. It won’t change your life, but it’s a decently fun way to spend 80 minutes.

— Erik Weiner

“Doomsdays”

“Doomsdays” takes “adventure in the woods” to a whole new level. Friends Dirty Fred (Justin Rice) and Bruho (Leo Fitzpatrick) trespass through vacation homes in the Catskills, breaking into gorgeous cabins and living off of leftovers and liquor from strangers’ kitchens. Believing that the world will soon end from diminishing sources of oil, the scruffy pair house-hops from one property to the next, breaking glass windows, strewing unwanted mail in the street and vandalizing almost everything in sight.

While Dirty Fred — clad in a blazer, tie and hipster glasses — exudes an air of condescending nonchalance, Bruho plays the quiet companion, though one with a sense of lurking rage and frustration. Bruho’s aversion to fossil fuels has caused him to not only condemn cars but also use a tire iron to beat the shit out of any and every automobile he runs into.

But Bruho and Dirty Fred’s routine changes when the two befriend a goofy high schooler (Brian Charles Johnson) and a beautiful woman named Reyna (Laura Campbell). The four form an unusual family, ransacking houses, sharing bottles of whiskey and eventually growing as individuals.

Writer and director Eddie Mullins uses the anti-social comedy to tell a pre-apocalyptic story, a slacker narrative that is equal parts funny, frustrating and endearing. Despite the subpar character development, “Doomsdays” is an atypical film about liberation and redemption, though one with a bitter and grim tone lying underneath the charmingly witty facade.

— Addy Bhasin

I-Hate-Myself

“i hate myself:)”

“i hate myself :)” tracks the relationship between an incessantly self-deprecating, pseudo-masochistic Brooklynite (Joanna Arnow) and her potentially sociopathic asshole boyfriend Max, who treats her like absolute shit as they break up, cry, have sex and get back together, all on camera (footage that she later forces her parents to watch, also on camera). In one scene, Max pulls out a dead tooth from the back of his mouth with his dirty fingernails, looks at it, smells it, then shows it to the audience at a Harlem open-mic night. Moments like this make it clear that Arnow’s take on real-life raw candor goes way beyond anything Lena Dunham or anybody else has done thus far in attempts to portray the complex discomforts of 21st century twenty-somethings.

Arnow is fearless in her honesty, not just about her personal life but also about the complexities of creating a self-narrative through documentary. She weaves in filmed discussions with her editor (naked in every shot) about what type of story she wants the movie to tell, and in effect, what kind of person she wants to appear as. “i hate myself :)” is not for everybody, especially those who don’t enjoy amateur porn scenes scattered throughout their movies (spoiler alert) or scenes where everything happening on camera is so frighteningly abject that you want to tear out your insides and run out screaming. But for others, it might be a breath of fresh air — 55 minutes of cringe-worthy hilarity.

— Alec Smyth