Movie Review: “People Places Things”

Starring
Jemaine Clement, Stephanie Allynne, Regina Hall, Jessica Williams
Director
James C. Strouse

Writer/director James C. Strouse has become somewhat of a regular at the Sundance Film Festival; all four of his movies have premiered in Park City, which makes you wonder whether he has an open invitation to screen each new project there. (Not that his previous appearances weren’t fully deserved.) Though it’s been six years since his last film, the Sam Rockwell-led high school basketball drama, “The Winning Season,” Strouse is back with his most personal movie to date. The generically titled “People Places Things” explores pretty familiar territory without bringing anything new to the table, but it’s a nonetheless sweet and honest little indie that’s held together by a great performance from leading man Jemaine Clement.

The New Zealand-born actor stars as Will Henry, a graphic novelist and professor at the School of Visual Arts who lives with his longtime girlfriend Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) and their twin daughters, Clio and Colette (Aundrea and Gia Gadsby), in Brooklyn. While entertaining guests at the girls’ fifth birthday party, Will accidentally walks in on Charlie having sex with another man in their bedroom. Charlie insists that she’s not happy anymore and wants a change in her life, so Will is forced to move into a small apartment in Astoria, only getting to see his daughters on the weekends. One year later, Will is still recovering from the break-up when one of his students (Jessica Williams) sets him up on a date with her mother, Diane (Regina Hall), a literature professor at Columbia University who could be just what Will needs to get him out of his funk. But after he expresses an interest in spending more time with his daughters, and that wish is granted when their nanny suddenly quits, Will’s life becomes chaotic as he must learn to juggle work with raising his kids and pursuing a casual fling with Diane.

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Movie Review: “What We Do in the Shadows”

Starring
Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stuart Rutherford, Ben Fransham
Directors
Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement

“What We Do in the Shadows” sounds like a bad comedy sketch – a “Real World”-esque reality show with vampires in place of horny millennials – but it’s actually a really funny satire of the vampire subgenre that’s done in the deadpan style of a Christopher Guest mockumentary. Because of the loose, improvisational nature of the film, not every joke lands, but the ones that do are laugh-out-loud hilarious. As a result, the movie feels a little uneven at times, especially when it begins to lose steam in the latter half, although that’s partially due to the fact that many of the best gags occur early on. While that inconsistency prevents it from being the comedy masterpiece that some have suggested, the funny bits (including the ones you’ll likely miss the first time around) are what make “What We Do in the Shadows” such an entertaining import worthy of repeat viewings.

Filmed in the months leading up to the annual Unholy Masquerade Ball, a documentary crew granted protection from its subjects follows a group of vampires – including Victorian dandy Viago (Taika Waititi), medieval torturer Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), resident bad boy Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and 8,000-year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham) – living together in Wellington, New Zealand as they deal with the dull minutiae of everyday life as an ancient bloodsucker. But the vampire lifestyle isn’t as glamorous as it’s hyped up to be, which unwitting victim Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) soon learns when he’s invited to one of their dinner parties, only to be served as the main course. After being sucked dry and granted the mixed blessing of eternal life, Nick attempts to make the most of his newfound abilities while ushering his fellow housemates into the 21st century, much to the chagrin of the jealous Deacon.

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