The Post’s critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week’s picks.
THE HISTORY OF FUTURE FOLK
Are your local “Gravity” screenings all sold out? Then this is the perfect time to indulge in some light, sweet-natured counterprogramming with “The History of Future Folk,” a delightful sci-fi adventure that simultaneously strips the genre down to its low-tech basics and infuses it with audacious new verve.
Future Folk is real-life bluegrassy musical duo Nils d’Aulaire and Jay Klaitz, who have been gigging around New York for the past 10 years. But “The History of Future Folk” isn’t a documentary; rather it’s a playful, fancy-filled origin story in which they play interplanetary travelers sent from a distant orb called Hondo in order to save it from an oncoming comet.
Outfitted in puffy red suits and matching plastic buckets that pass for futuristic headwear, d’Aulaire and Klaitz cut amusing figures as they cut a swath through Brooklyn, unwittingly creating a cult following when they play regular shows at the Trash Bar. Those interludes are when “The History of Future Folk” literally sings, with d’Aulaire showing off his virtuosity on the banjo and Klaitz — the more natural screen performer of the two — harmonizing with a soaring, Orbisonian tenor.
The rest of the movie follows the men as they try desperately to save the Earth they’ve come to love, as well as the people on it — in d’Aulaire’s character’s case, his wife and daughter Wren, played by Onata Aprile, the remarkable young star of “What Maisie Knew.” Directors John Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker keep the plot simple, playing up its naivete and showing just the right cheesy touch with the visual effects. (And yes, that’s Dee Snider in a cameo.) Like a zero-g version of the dBs — or They Might Be Giants without the hyper-intellectual irony — Future Folk wends its way into viewers’ hearts and ears, singing old-timey tunes about farmin’ space worms and, at one point, Klaitz singing a lyrical, sincere love ballad in Spanish to a New York cop his character has fallen for.
There are moments when the B-movie riffs and live performances in “The History of Future Folk” recall “The American Astronaut,” Cory McAbee’s 2001 genre mashup and musical extravaganza. But Mitchell and Walker go for a tone that’s less knowing, more modestly goofy and endearing — and more wholesome, for parents looking for something to watch with their kids ’round Ye Olde Laptoppe. “The History of Future Folk” may not swing for the fences, but it possesses a sneaking, altogether admirable ambition all its own. -- A.H.
Unrated. Contains nothing offensive. 86 minutes. Available via Amazon Instant, iTunes and on-demand cable.
One of the biggest problems with “Magic Magic,” a troubling glimpse of one woman’s paranoid spiral, is marketing. The critic’s blurb on the DVD cover reads, “Stomach-churning psychological horror” and the trailer is a creepy preview of terrifying things that never come. So be warned: Those who expect horror, or even a lot of scares, will likely be disappointed.
The movie may be best known as the 2013 collaboration between writer-director Sebastián Silva and Michael Cera that didn’t get a lot of hype. The other, “Crystal Fairy,” wowed crowds at Sundance and took home a directing award. “Magic Magic,” which also premiered at the festival, didn’t get as much love. It didn’t even get a theatrical release. And yet “Magic Magic,” no doubt a flawed movie, is better than plenty of other films that land on the big screen.
The movie follows Alicia (Juno Temple), a California girl who has never left the United States but finds herself in Chile visiting her cousin, Sara (Emily Browning). After Alicia arrives, Sara unexpectedly has to take care of something, foisting the newcomer on her boyfriend, Agustin (the director’s brother, Agustín Silva), his sister (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and their oddball friend, Brink, played by Cera.
The group heads to the beachside home of Agustin’s parents, and things start to get strange. Agustin’s sister is standoffish and Brink is a loose cannon who takes every joke too far, but none of that warrants the fear and anger that Alicia begins to experience. By the time Sara reappears, her cousin is in desperate need of psychiatric help that no one is in any rush to get her.
With its lack of action, the film stalls out at times, and the characters can be difficult to relate to. The ending will probably be polarizing for viewers, as well. But “Magic Magic” is nevertheless an intriguing study of a character who’s difficult to pin down. Likewise, it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what this strange and ominous film is; it’s clearly not what it purports to be. -- S.M.
R. Contains language, troubling imagery, nudity and sexual situations. In English and Spanish with English subtitles. 97 minutes. Available at Redbox, iTunes, Amazon Instant and on-demand cable.
BUTCH WALKER: OUT OF FOCUS
There’s an unattributed quote that often pops up in Internet searches on Butch Walker, a singer, songwriter and producer who is less well known for his own music than for the many hits he has written for others (among them, the 2003 Grammy-nominated “Girl All the Bad Guys Want,” by Bowling for Soup.) “There are two types of people in this world,” the saying goes. “People who love Butch Walker and those who merely haven’t heard of him.”
Guess which category I fall into? Hint: I had to Google him, which is how I found that quip. Like many of you, I’d never heard of the guy before I got an e-mail from a publicist alerting me to the fact that a new film about him, “Butch Walker: Out of Focus,” was the number two documentary rental on the iTunes charts. As of press time, it’s dropped a bit, but it remains in the top 20.
As it turns out, Walker is pretty darn likable, if not lovable. The film focuses on his music, made mostly with his band the Black Widows, but also dipping into his 15-year career as the guitarist for the hair-metal band SouthGang. (Walker is from Georgia, and has a genial, aw-shucks demeanor on camera. Also, much shorter tresses than he used to.)
His music is appealing poppy, lyrically literate stuff, with a dark, sometimes cynical edge. But if you want to know more about his work cranking out hits for other stars — including Weezer, Train, Pink, Fall Out Boy, Katy Perry, Lindsay Lohan and myriad others — you’ll just have to look that up yourself.
Although the film takes an unorthodox approach, scrupulously avoiding discussion of Walker’s work as a gifted song doctor, there’s plenty of good listening, including extended portions of “Day Drunk” and “Synthesizers,” from Walker’s 2011 album “The Spade.” The latter song, which is one of the most toe-tapping in the film, is ironically credited to two of Walker’s band members. The hilarious video for it, directed by “Out of Focus” co-director Shane Valdes, is a must-see, starring Matthew McConaughey in his “Dazed and Confused” persona.
“Day Drunk,” on the other hand, was written by Walker in a single sitting after coming out of a bar, where he had gone to nurse his grief about his father slowly dying. (The elder Walker, also named Butch, passed away this summer, although that is not mentioned in the film.) It’s a more somber tune.
It is these glimpses into how Walker’s music and celebrity connections intersect with his personal life and background — enriched by interviews with his bandmates, parents and wife, and by scenes showing him interacting with his young son — that make the movie. They show that pop hits aren’t born in the sterility of the studio, but in the messy joys and pain of real life. -- M.O.