IFC's November '09 Releases
How To Be (November 17/09)
An astonishingly irrelevant piece of work, How To Be follows struggling musician Arthur (Robert Pattinson) as he enlists the services of a Canadian self-help guru (Powell Jones' Dr. Ellington) to help him overcome an almost crippling case of depression. Filmmaker Oliver Irving has infused How To Be with an oppressively deadpan vibe that cements its downfall right from the outset, as there's never a point at which the central character becomes a three-dimensional, fully fleshed-out figure worthy of the viewer's sympathy (ie despite Pattinson's best efforts, Arthur remains an aggressively synthetic figure from start to finish). The pervasive atmosphere of artificiality ensures that one's attempts at embracing the wafer-thin storyline fall consistently flat, with the less-than-enthralling vibe perpetuated by the uniformly (and mind-numbingly) quirky figures peppered within the supporting cast. And though billed as a comedy, How To Be suffers from a total absence of laughs that's made all-the-more noticeable by Irving's infuriatingly affected modus operandi (ie Napoleon Dynamite comes off as naturalistic and understated by comparison). It's a shame, really, as the film's subject matter could've been employed as a launching pad for an honest portrait of the central character's efforts at overcoming a quarter-life crisis; instead, How To Be ultimately boasts the feel of an ill-advised three-minute SNL sketch that's been ungainly expanded to feature length.
Prisoner (November 17/09)
Despite the seemingly can't-miss nature of its premise - a cocky director (Julian McMahon's Derek Plato), while scouting for locations within an abandoned prison, is kidnapped by a nameless psycho (Elias Koteas) and forced to atone for his cinematic crimes - Prisoner remains an uninvolving, downright oppressive piece of work for the bulk of its running time (which, given that the movie runs a scant 75 minutes, is really saying something). Filmmakers David Alford and Robert Archer Lynn have infused Prisoner with a painfully deliberate pace that's exacerbated by needlessly avant-garde visuals, with their tendency to bog the proceedings down with endless instances of flashy camerawork and editing tricks effectively resulting in an atmosphere of almost oppressive artiness. Of course, it would be easy enough to overlook such directorial incompetence were the film not otherwise entirely lacking elements designed to hold the viewer's interest - with the ongoing emphasis on hopelessly banal and mundane conversations compounding the film's various problems. It's also worth noting that McMahon and Koteas, despite their best efforts, are simply unable to transform their respective characters into figures worth following or sympathizing with, which ensures that it does become awfully difficult to work up any enthusiasm for their tiresome battle of wits. The final straw comes with the increasingly sententious nature of Alford and Lynn's pointless screenplay, which - when coupled with a twist ending that's nothing short of laughable - cements Prisoner's place as an entirely misguided endeavor.