Every week, The Post’s critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week’s picks.
SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME
In “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” two longtime friends, both waiters, open a restaurant that sells only pizza and ice cream. That’s because, as one of them notes, everybody likes those two foods.
The movie itself is more of an acquired taste.
In fact, no plot synopsis — including the one above — can do justice to this ineffably oddball little comedy, which, although only 75 minutes long, covers a time span of 35 years, including multiple marriages, infidelities, divorces, births and deaths.
Several times, at seemingly random intervals, Austin filmmaker Bob Byington cuts from the action to announce, with large on-screen titles, that five years have elapsed, in a parody of conventional narrative cinema. The main character, however, never ages, although the people around him do.
That character is named, unsubtly enough, Max Youngman, and he’s played by Keith Poulson (“Harmony and Me”) with a deadpan affect that flattens everything he says, turning him into a postmodern-hipster version of Henny Youngman. “Do I look like I’m kidding?” he asks his son’s babysitter (soon to become his illicit lover), after offering her 25 cents an hour.
No, he does not.
It’s no wonder that Nick Offerman produced this film. The “Parks and Recreation” star is a connoisseur of deadpan comedy, and Byington gives the actor — who plays Max’s best friend and business partner, Sal — ample opportunity to showcase his bone-dry humor. Offerman’s wife, Megan Mullally, also appears in a small role, as Max’s therapist. They are both a treat to watch.
Poulson’s Max, on the other hand, is something else entirely. The possessor of a seemingly magical suitcase, whose mysterious contents preserves him at age 30 like a fountain of youth, Max floats through the film with a detachment so strenuous that he comes across as less alienated than alien. There’s little about him that’s warm-blooded, or even recognizably human.
A peculiar off-shoot of the mumblecore movie genre, which is known for shoestring budgets and cinema-verite plotlines, “Somebody” is just enough of an air of magical realism to make its unsentimental meditation on life’s little tragedies more poetic than prosaic. Still, one might wish for a hero who was somewhat less of a cold fish.
Max’s iciness doesn’t get in the way of liking the film, but it does get in the way of loving it. -- M.O.
Unrated. Contains nudity, sexual situations and dialogue, drug use and crude language. 75 minutes. Available on Amazon Instant. On Tuesday it will be released on iTunes, PlayStation, Xbox, Vudu, Google Play and Netflix.
ALMOST IN LOVE
Sam Neave’s “Almost in Love” sounds like a film school exercise. The romantic drama consists of just two takes, each 40 minutes long. But the movie is more than mechanics. It manages to beguile even as it displays straightforward scenarios: a rooftop party in Staten Island at sunset and, many months later, a post-wedding celebration that extends into the early morning in East Hampton.
Alex Karpovsky plays Sasha, a psychologist and sports fanatic, who hosts the evening soiree atop his apartment building. It becomes clear through various conversations that he is in love with longtime pal Mia (Marjan Neshat), who recently has dated one of Sasha’s best friends, Kyle (Gary Wilmes). It didn’t end well, and the result is strained relationships all around. The three friends, and many other characters, end up in one place during the first 40-minute segment.
To add another challenge to the long-take concept, the camera constantly moves across the rooftop landscape, panning from a group of people chatting about marriage to a couple discussing obituary writing to Sasha working at the barbecue.
The migration of shots and angles is a dance that’s perfectly choreographed, while the sound is expertly mixed. Sometimes the camera captures one pair in conversation, while the audience hears snippets from a discussion going on elsewhere on the roof, which is curiously fascinating.
Given the abuse of quick cuts in today’s movies, the lengthy takes seem like they might prove distractingly novel, but the extended shots mimic real life. That feeling is reinforced by the conversations, which seem improvised, and the easy nature of the actors.
As the second section begins, many of the main players are reunited, but the scenario and emotions are incredibly different. How we got from one place to the other is the great mystery that never explicitly reveals itself but partially works itself out amid gestures and bits of seemingly banal exchanges. These epiphanies make the movie constantly engaging; those long takes are just a bonus. -- S.M.
Unrated. 80 minutes. Contains profanity. Available on iTunes, Amazon Instant and cable on-demand.