It can only help that the movie stars a number of small-screen actors from shows with big-time fans, including Glenn Howerton (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), Steve Little (“Eastbound and Down”), Ben Schwartz (“Parks and Recreation”) and Adrianne Palicki (“Friday Night Lights”). Writer-director Brad Copeland, meanwhile, wrote for “Arrested Development.”
Howerton plays Will, a man who uses a neighborhood coffee shop as his personal office. He doesn’t seem to be getting much work done, however, between frequent visits from his best friends, the moronic Chad (Little) and comically corrupt police officer Gino (Schwartz), not to mention an ongoing power struggle with too-cool Coffee Town employee Sam (an overacting Josh Groban). He also takes frequent breaks to ogle and pine over a perpetually spandex-clad regular, Becca (Palicki).
But trouble is on the horizon, and that’s clear from more than just the opening shot: a black background with white text that reads “8 days until the robbery.” Upper management wants to turn Coffee Town into a lounge, which means Will would lose his makeshift cubicle. Something must be done.
Things start quite promisingly, with a fast-paced script and lots of amusing riffs on the tribulations of working in a public space. But as the film moves along, the jokes get less inspired, including some casual misogyny and an ill-advised running gag involving a man with Down syndrome. What starts out as genuinely bright veers into cringe-inducing territory — at least for someone that isn’t a man, ages 18 to 24. -- S.M.
It’s not impossible to imagine that one of the earnest, slightly gawky teens and pre-teens who are profiled in “Magic Camp,” a documentary about an intensive, week-long summer camp for aspiring David Copperfields, might one day grow up to become a working magician. After all, as Judd Ehrlich’s charming portrait of Tannen’s Magic Camp notes, previous attendees of the acclaimed suburban Philadelphia program have included David Blaine and Copperfield himself. Beneath their skill and polish, both of those adult artists still exude the same geekily singular focus that we see in Ehrlich’s unformed subjects.
They include Jonah Conlin, a dyslexic though hyperverbal 12-year-old; 19-year-old Brian Woodbridge, who has Tourette syndrome; 18-year-old high-school dropout Reed Spool; 15-year-old magician Zach Ivins, who calls himself a “dedicated Christian”; and Zoe Reiches, a 16-year-old wearing a Wonder Woman costume who is one of only seven girls in a class with 96 boys. If the film’s subjects seem a mite odd in one way or another, they’re really no different than any other adolescent trying to figure out who he or she is.
And that is the film’s true theme, even more than the mastery of magic technique. Though Ehrlich spends a lot of time watching these young magicians hone their art in preparation for the camp’s big competition, he also shows this group of young people to be just that: people. Sure, it’s unusual to see this many kids who are this good at one thing at this young an age. The temptation is there to snicker at the monomaniacal nature of their hobby and leave it at that. The film is, at times, very funny.
At the same time, Ehrlich tries to show us not just the budding magician, but the budding person, offering interviews with his young subjects on the topics of homesickness, sexism and other feelings of not fitting in that will seem familiar to anyone.
“Magic Camp” is a wonderful companion piece to “Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay,” in which the famous prestidigitator reminisces about his magical education. But “Magic Camp” carries an even more valuable lesson. As one of the Tannen counselors tells his students: “Revel in your quirkiness.”
That’s pretty good advice for anyone, whether they’re a magic nerd or not. -- M.O.
Unrated. Contains some mildly risque, cornball humor. 86 minutes. "Magic Camp" is available through Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU, Xbox and cable VOD, with additional platforms to be added in the near future.
MY NEIGHBORHOOD and INOCENTE
For viewers bogged down by the bloat and meaninglessness of this summer’s blockbuster fare, the perfect palate cleanser is available by way of two extraordinarily moving short documentaries available on demand. Both “My Neighbourhood” and “Inocente” feature adolescent protagonists who give compelling human expression to experiences too often shorthanded as “issues.” And in focusing so piercingly on one character’s story in a concentrated period of time, each film opens a wide, largely hidden world.
“My Neighbourhood,” by Julia Bacha and Rebekah Wingert-Jabi, tells the story of Mohammed, an 11-year-old Palestinian boy living in East Jerusalem, who is shocked to return home one day to find that it’s been annexed by Jewish settlers. He’s even more surprised when a group of Jewish activists arrive to protest the settlements, their appearance upending Mohammed’s fear and anger and propelling him and his family to take part in non-violent civil action that, while not uncommon in the occupied territories of the West Bank, is often ignored by mainstream media.
“Inocente,” Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine’s 40-minute film that won an Academy Award this year for best documentary short, follows its 15-year-old title character as she navigates homelessness, poverty and a fractured family life while pursuing her passion for painting — in this case, psychedelic, neon-bright canvases and murals that burst forth as bold rebukes to her otherwise hopeless circumstances.
Both the Peabody award-winning “My Neighbourhood” and “Inocente” are buoyed by charismatic central characters — especially Inocente, who, with her fabulously painted face and indomitable spirit, qualifies as pure joy in human form. But more profoundly, they’re about community and the myriad ways people honor and support each other simply by paying attention. It’s interesting that both “My Neighbourhood” and “Inocente” have D.C. roots: The former was produced by the non-profit Just Vision (“Budrus,” “Encounter Point”), and the Fines live in Washington. In looking beyond the conventional politics of the stories they document, both films redefine the notion of what real power looks like. -- A.H.
“My Neighbourhood”: Unrated. Contains nothing objectionable. 25 minutes. Streaming directly from the Web site www.justvision.org.
“Inocente”: Unrated. Contains nothing objectionable. 40 minutes. Available through iTunes.