The Post’s critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week’s picks.
THE GIANT MECHANICAL MAN
“I think Chris Messina may be my Paul Rudd,” said the friend who turned me on to “The Giant Mechanical Man.” This winsome, winning romantic comedy hit just a few theaters last year before showing up on demand. And it’s perfectly suited for a lean-in viewing experience, which rewards modest pleasures that would otherwise be swallowed by big-screen expectations.
And it’s true about Messina. Usually cast as a supporting brother-of in other films, here he proves a nimble, soulful romantic lead, who also happens to have one of the most idiosyncratic opening scenes in recent memory.
As Tim (Messina) gets ready for work, he slathers on silver pancake makeup, dons an enormous metallic suit and puts on a pair of vertiginous stilts, after which he stalks out of his Detroit loft that now looks like a tiny doll house. It’s a surreal visual sequence, and exemplifies writer-director Lee Kirk’s sensitive filming style.
Kirk may have intended “The Giant Mechanical Man” as a vehicle for his wife (and “Office” star) Jenna Fischer, but she too delivers a charmingly understated performance, in this case as Janice, a lost young woman whom fate buffets from failed temp career to first-date bummers with random, listlessly cruel indifference.
Once Janice catches sight of Tim — who pursues his art as a street busker, complete with derby hat, umbrella and open briefcase for tips — “The Giant Mechanical Man” assumes the lyrical contours of “The Shop Around the Corner.” But its vibe is very present-day, from a choice soundtrack dominated by Dios Malos and others, to a hilarious cameo from Topher Grace as a self-absorbed self-help author. (Others in this strong ensemble include Malin Akerman, Lucy Punch and Rich Sommer.)
Filmed in and around Detroit, “The Giant Mechanical Man” doesn’t indulge in the ruin porn the city often invites, but it possesses a wistful, melancholy beauty nonetheless. The moments of humor arrive like welcome, cheering jolts. Its title to the contrary, “The Giant Mechanical Man” is never anything other than life-size. -- A.H.
PG-13. Contains some sexual content and brief, strong language. 94 minutes. Available via Amazon Instant, iTunes and Netflix.
While it doesn’t approach the canon of John Hughes, “Geography Club” fills a gap in the realm of coming-of-age cinema. The thoughtful and generally entertaining story focuses on a group of gay teens to illustrate the torture of feeling like an outsider in high school.
The movie, based on the 2004 novel by Brent Hartinger, follows likable everyman Russell (Cameron Deane Stewart). He’s not quite ready to commit to a sexual identity, although he has an inkling he’s gay. While he entertains the idea of online dating, he’s much more interested in keeping his secret safe than meeting the man of his dreams.
But when Min (Ally Maki) sees Russell kissing the star of the football team, Kevin (Justin Deeley), she invites the two to join her after-school geography club, which has nothing to do with maps. It’s her code for the school’s gay support group. Russell tentatively joins, while Kevin steers clear.
The movie’s greatest success is its portrayal of feeling like an outcast. As Russell bikes to school to the soothing strains of classical music, he takes in his surroundings — a man kissing his wife goodbye, a mother pushing a stroller — and seems to long for that simplicity. And the movie doesn’t shy away from the brutality of bullying, showing the school pariah, who is routinely demoralized. It’s an effective reminder of why the geography club members aim to keep their sexual orientations hidden.
At times the script feels a bit inadequate; certain moments come across as awkwardly unscripted. The first few scenes are also marked by some maddening quick cutting. Luckily, that doesn’t throughout the film and, for the most part, the movie looks quite sleek.
“Geography Club” may not turn into a classic, but it conveys an important message about being true to oneself, and it deserves some credit for being among the trailblazers. -- S.M.
PG-13. Contains thematic material involving sexuality and bullying, sexual content including references, strong language and teen drinking. 80 minutes. Available on Amazon Instant and on-demand cable.
“What do you feel like watching?”
“I dunno. What do you feel like watching?”
Jinni, an entertainment discovery engine that debuted online this month (also available as a free iPad app), aims to eliminate that conversation once and for all, offering personalized recommendations for streaming content, based on your mood and tastes. I took it for a test drive.
Selecting “thought-provoking Netflix movies” from a broad, user-friendly menu of customizable content options that also included “sexy Hulu TV shows” and “disturbing short films on iTunes,” I was led to a page featuring four sliding story tuners that invited me to further refine my preferences by popularity, seriousness, realism and pace. After indicating that I was interested in something relatively unknown, but only slightly more fantastic than realistic, Jinni spit out a list of 400-plus recommendations, including two choices — the documentary “Blackfish” and the drama “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” — both of which would have been excellent, had I not seen them before.
I picked “The Comedy,” a 2012 indie that never opened here, starring Tim Heidecker of the alt-comedy duo Tim and Eric. Having reviewed the pair’s bizarre 2012 “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie,” I settled in for what I expected would be a bumpy ride.
True to Jinni’s mood rating — yet belying the film’s title — “The Comedy” is a serious film, directed by Rick Alverson from a script he wrote with Robert Donne and Colm O’Leary.
It centers on a 35-year old Brooklyn hipster named Swanson (Heidecker), who drifts through life in the borough’s Williamsburg neighborhood — accessible by his expensive boat — while waiting for his wealthy father to die, and, presumably, to leave him some money. Swanson and his small circle of friends (who include characters played by Heidecker’s comedic partner Eric Wareheim and musician James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem) are pretty repellent people. They’re shiftless, entitled, racist and misogynistic to a man, not to mention seemingly allergic to anything resembling sincere feeling, against which they inoculate themselves with a steady diet of irony.
Alverson probably means to indict Swanson and his friends for their inability to connect with others in any meaningful way. One scene featured the hero staring blankly as a young woman suffers a seizure, in the middle of a date with him. But if “The Comedy” is a critique of generational anomie, its point is blunted by the same tone of emotional detachment that its characters betray. It’s mumblecore, with a garbled message.
Thought-provoking? To be sure. With “The Comedy,” Jinni opened a Pandora’s box of ills. -- M.O.
Unrated. Contains obscenity, crude sexual dialogue, drug use and nudity. 95 minutes. Available via Amazon Instant, iTunes, Netflix, Vudu and YouTube Rentals.
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