With more original movies being streamed, downloaded and made available on demand, The Post’s critics will try to help readers navigate the new offerings with weekly reviews. Watch this space every Tuesday for tips on what’s good, what may be worth a try and what to avoid.
"Trash Dance," Andrew Garrison's sublime documentary about a choreographer, two dozen sanitation workers, their trucks and one enchanting evening of unlikely poetry and humanism, won the audience award at last year's Silverdocs Documentary Film Festival in Silver Spring.
Happily, local audiences will get the chance to see it again when it screens at AFI Silver Theatre today, tomorrow and Thursday. "Trash Dance" also is streaming from the film's Web site, trashdancemovie.com.
The film chronicles the work of Austin choreographer Allison Orr, who specializes in creating dances with non-professional performers. In 2009, she arrived at the city's Solid Waste Services Department to talk with its staff members about their work, their aspirations, their relationships with the people they serve and whether all of that might lend itself to moving in a balletic, coordinated fashion in front of an audience.
That last part elicited its share of skepticism, if not outright hostility, a reaction Garrison captures with the same alert sense of humor that courses through "Trash Dance." If viewers first consider Orr a well-meaning but misguided dilettante, they quickly see that she's actually a deep, compassionate listener whose full attention and respect begin to empower the men and women she interrogates to see themselves as worthy of artistic self-expression. When she goes out on the road with various teams (at one point squeamishly helping dispose of dead animals), she starts to conceive of a performance that will integrate workers and their machines in a logistically complicated but visually elegant performance.
That recital forms the thrilling, exuberant climax of "Trash Dance," which may start out as a quixotic bagatelle but ultimately becomes a powerful ode to resilience, humor, professionalism and human dignity. That Garrison has created such a vibrant, moving document of such an evanescent state of grace is a small miracle in itself. -- A.H.
Unrated. Contains nothing objectionable. 68 minutes. "Trash Dance" will be shown at AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center June 25-27. It also is streaming directly from its Web site at www.trashdancemovie.com. It will become available on iTunes this fall.
Scat, Six and Sneaky Pete are the main players of "Syrup," the screen adaptation of Max Barry's 2000 cult novel. In other words, the characters are more personae than human in this advertising industry satire that skewers our collective desire for shiny, meaningless objects.
Scat (Shiloh Fernandez), like many recent college grads, wants fame and fortune, and it looks like he might get both when he develops an energy drink with a name that can't be printed here. Six (Amber Heard) is the perfectly manicured, steely-gazed ad exec and alleged lesbian (nothing is as it seems, of course) that is cajoled into helping him. But when Scat's friend and roommate Sneaky Pete (Kellan Lutz) swoops in to secure trademark rights on the product name, Scat has to go back to the drawing board, and Six might be game to help him.
Director Aram Rappaport, who wrote the screen adaptation with Barry, presents a fitfully funny mockery of marketing that feels like "Gossip Girl" meets "Wall Street." The actors are young and beautiful, the soundtrack kicks and the camera zips around with precision. But the script never seems to match the carefully orchestrated mood. Some exchanges are sublime, as when a businessman asks what Scat's new drink tastes like and receives a pained look. Silly question, as if what's inside the can matters. Other lines land with a thud.
When it comes to acting, Heard does the best job of pulling off the not-quite-human burlesque. Her Six is seductive and stone-cold, and she nails the delivery of her lines more successfully than Fernandez. (For what it's worth, Lutz doesn't have to work too hard at vocalizing, as being mute is part of his shtick.)
Sometimes the script feels too insistent on delivering its message with a punch when a light touch would do. It sometimes feels like Rappaport spent more time thinking about style than substance. But maybe that's the point. -- S.M.
R. Contains language, sexual situations and drug use. 90 minutes. “Syrup” is available through iTunes, Amazon Instant and OnDemand.
THE HAPPY POET
The subtly oxymoronic joke encapsulated by the title of "The Happy Poet" is emblematic of the film's sly humor. What poet was ever other than miserable?
Like the one bit of verse that appears in the movie, which contains the line "bruised buttocks bouncing on my bed," the film's humor doesn't quite jump out at you, to borrow the self-appraisal of the poem's author, a sad sack with an MA in creative writing and big dreams of operating an organic sandwich stand. Instead, it slowly seduces you, earning smiles rather than outright guffaws.
The 2010 comedy was written, directed and edited by Paul Gordon, who makes an auspicious debut in those capacities, even as he delivers a charmingly deadpan performance as Bill, the aforementioned struggling poet and entrepreneur. The film's title refers to the name of Bill's sandwich stand, whose location in a downtown Austin park allows the film's hero to interact with a cross-section of that city's plentiful supply of weirdos. They include a pot dealer (Jonny Mars) who becomes Bill's business partner and deliveryman, and a seemingly homeless aging hippie (Chris Doubek), whose dependence on food handouts belies his actual financial circumstance.
The sandwich-stand setting also facilitates Bill's encounter with a pretty woman (Liz Fisher), who becomes not only a regular customer but the protagonist's sweet love interest. Their excruciatingly slow-developing relationship eventually leads to Bill's recital of the poem quoted above, in a scene that provides the movie's only laugh-out-loud moment. It is, however, one of many small pleasures.
In its laid-back tone, "The Happy Poet" is reminiscent of Richard Linklater's 1991 debut, "Slacker," another Austin-set indie comedy. Gordon's first post-film-school feature, however, is more assured, polished and ready for prime time.
It's hardly slick, but that's the selling point. "The Happy Poet" approaches the ups and downs of friendship, love, work and life with a disposition that is both sardonic and sunny. -- M.O.
Unrated. Contains obscenity, drug and sex references. 85 minutes. "The Happy Poet" is available through Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Instant, as well as on DVD (Cinema Libre, $24.95).