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Did I Really See That, Too?

June 21, 2011

It’s time now for another edition of Did I Really See That?, the beloved blog feature in which I dip into the vast archive of reviews I wrote about movies I can no longer remember seeing. Not only do I have no memory of seeing these three movies, I’m not even convinced they actually exist. But surely no one paid me to write reviews of nonexistent movies, although that would be a great gig if I could get it. I’ll just have to assume these are real.

WHAT ALICE FOUND

96 min., R (strong sexuality, nudity and language)
Grade: C-

Alice (Emily Grace) is an 18-year-old girl feeling stifled in her small town life in New Hampshire. Swiping money from the cash register, she flees her minimum wage supermarket job and hits the highway, heading for Florida where her best friend now attends the University of Miami.

When her car breaks down on the first night, Alice is rescued by a kindly older couple in a mobile home _ Sandra (Judith Ivey) and Bill (Bill Raymond). They volunteer to take her to Florida, although they’re in no hurry to get there. Alice learns why one night in a rest area when she catches a trucker coming out of the back bedroom with Sandra. As the road trip continues, Alice finds herself pulled deeper into Sandra’s seedy world.

It’s always tempting to cut a low-budget labor of love some slack, but What Alice Found makes that temptation easy to resist. Filmmakers who shoot on digital video often justify it as a raw and gritty stylistic choice, but while that sometimes pays off, the result here is simply a cruddy-looking movie. Strong writing and acting can overcome flat visuals, but Alice is lacking in those areas as well. Judith Ivey has a few moments in which she manages to humanize a caricatured role, but newcomer Grace, while likable, is out of her depth as the title character. The script by writer/director A. Dean Bell traffics in class stereotypes and lacks credibility – it plays like a walk on the wild side dreamed up in a Starbuck’s.

WORLD TRAVELER

103 min., R (language and some sexuality)
** (out of ****)

Forget Billy Bob Thornton – actor Billy Crudup is the real man who wasn’t there. Despite being hyped as the next big thing on countless magazine covers, Crudup remains a vacant, forgettable presence in movie after movie. That hasn’t changed with the release of World Traveler, a pseudo-profound “sins of the father” parable that’s as silly as it is pointless.

Crudup stars as Cal, a successful New York architect with a wife and young son. One day Cal packs up his station wagon and hits the road without a word. He takes up lodging in a motel and gets a construction job where he meets Carl, a married recovering alcoholic. (The fact that the names “Cal” and “Carl” are separated by only one letter is but one of the banal observations the film presents as mystical revelation.) Cal proceeds to get Carl drunk and attempts to seduce his wife before hitting the road again.

As Cal’s travels continue, he encounters more characters who are dispatched almost before they’re introduced, including an old high school buddy and a sexy young hitchhiker. The only one who makes much of an impression is Dulcie (Julianne Moore), a troubled woman with a secret most viewers will figure out long before Cal does. At the end of the journey, a soggy encounter with the father who abandoned Cal as a child awaits.

Writer/director Bart Freundlich peppers the proceedings with frequent hallucinations and dream sequences in hopes of keeping things interesting, but this is one road movie that goes nowhere fast.

ZERO DAY

92 min., Unrated (violence and language)
Grade: A-

Inspired by the shootings at Columbine High School, Zero Day is now reaching theaters in the wake of Gus Van Sant’s similarly-themed Elephant. It would be a shame if this low-budget take on those events got lost in the shadow of Van Sant’s acclaimed film, because it deserves to find an audience as well.

Director Ben Coccio’s directorial debut is an extremely well-made mockumentary, believable in every respect and all the more chilling because of it. Andre Kriegman (Andre Keuck) and Calvin Gabriel (Calvin Robertson) are high school students who have dubbed themselves the Army of Two. They plan a series of “missions” _ pranks like egging the campus jock’s SUV _ leading up to Zero Day: the day they will carry out an armed assault on the school they hate.

Andre and Calvin document virtually every waking moment with a video camera, storing the tapes in a safe deposit box for the media to find after Zero Day. The conceit of Coccio’s film (like The Blair Witch Project before it) is that we are watching those tapes, edited together for maximum impact. It works beautifully, thanks to impressive naturalistic performances by the two leads (and their real-life family members, who co-star as the Kriegmans and the Gabriels).

Those looking for easy answers won’t find them here, as Andre and Calvin are quick to point out. They even burn their videogames, CDs and books so that people won’t be able to blame their actions on the culture they grew up in. As intimate a portrait as Zero Day is, by the end we still can’t begin to fathom Andre and Gabriel. In this case, that’s not a flaw; it’s just reality.

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