The latest entrant in an emerging subgenre of character-driven comedies about neurotic young New Yorkers (epitomized by the success of HBO’s “Girls”), Desiree Akhavan’s “Appropriate Behavior” provides an enjoyably shrewd update to a potentially grating formula. The first-timer writes, directs and stars this blatantly autobiographical tale of a bisexual Brooklynite still in the closet to her strict Persian parents. That lingering dilemma forms only one piece of the equation in this sophisticated and persistently witty look at urban youth culture and arrested development. While hardly groundbreaking, Akhavan’s blend of cultural insights and sweetly relatable, self-deprecating humor provide a charming showcase for a new filmmaker worthy of discovery. Read more here.
"The Foxy Merkins"
In 2011, Madeleine Olnek’s debut feature, "Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same," premiered at Sundance to positive (if ultimately limited) reception. Made on a shoestring budget, (think space ships made out of tin foil), the warm and witty spoof on sci-fi B-movies firmly established the writer-director’s singular comedic sensibility. In her follow-up, “The Foxy Merkins,” Olnek turns the male hustler genre on its head to imagine what a lesbian prostitution ring in might look like. Re-casting the previous movie's charmingly deadpan duo Lisa Haas and Jackie Monahan, on paper, "The Foxy Merkins" has all the right ingredients to please Olnek's niche audience. Unfortunately, after a truly hilarious and fresh first act, the film can no longer sustain its premise as superfluous subplots and extraneous episodes slow the overall momentum almost to a halt. Read more here.
"A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night"
For centuries, vampires have provided handy metaphors for social and physical dilemma, but in the stylishly muted deadpan romance "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night," the threat is personal. Writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour's stunning debut, produced by Elijah Wood, follows the experiences of a small Iranian town haunted by a vampiric presence who's just as lonely as the other locals. Shot in gorgeously expressionistic black-and-white and fusing multiple genres into a thoroughly original whole, Amirpour has crafted a beguiling, cryptic and often surprisingly funny look at personal desire that creeps up on you with the nimble powers of its supernatural focus. The director combines elements of film noir and the restraint of Iranian New Wave cinema with the subdued depictions of a bored youth culture found in early Jim Jarmusch…the comparisons go on and on, but the result is wholly original. Read more here.
Indie road trip comedies are perhaps the worst cliché of low budget American filmmaking, but "Land Ho!," the story of two aging men on a meandering vacation in Iceland, provides a notable exception. This unassuming, elegantly shot collaboration by directors Aaron Katz ("Cold Weather," "Quiet City") and Martha Stephens ("Pilgrim Song," "Passenger Pigeons") actively avoids any melodramatic confrontations or cheesy subplots. A gentle meditation on growing old and bored, "Land Ho!" never rises to the level of narrative engagement found in the filmmakers' previous efforts, but it doesn't take much to make it sufficiently insightful, carried along by a pair of actors so inherently likable from the outset that "Land Ho!" hardly requires a lot of story to set their adventure in motion. Read more here.
"Listen Up Philip"
“Hopefully by the end of this you’ll feel like you’ve just read a novel,” director Alex Ross Perry said before the premiere of his film, “Listen Up Philip.” Employing voice-over narration and an episodic structure that recalls the chapters of a book, Perry’s third directorial effort marries the best of showing and telling. Its titular character is a cantankerous novelist played by a hirsute and well-styled Jason Schwartzman. Petty, self-obsessed, and fixated on a very recognizable form of success, Philip’s increasing solipsism is defined by his relationships with those around him. Importantly, the protagonist disappears for a sizeable chunk of the film’s mid section (a device Perry borrowed from William Gaddis’ novel, “Recognitions”) and we learn as much about him in absentia as we do from being in his overwhelming presence. A languorous yet methodical comedy, “Listen Up Phillip” unfolds like a sociological proof of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Read more here.
"Ping Pong Summer"
With “Ping Pong Summer,” director Michael Tully (“Cocaine Angel,” “Septien”) gives us a film about the childhood he remembers: summers in Ocean City, Maryland (where the film was shot), cheesy arcade games, pastels, Nike, and hip hop. Caught up in it all, Radford Miracle (Marcello Conte) searches for the confidence that promises adulthood. It’s the 1980s: These are harsh times in bland, touristy coast towns. With an exuberant eye for period details, Tully presents an ode to a time many recall fondly or its flare and schlock alike. Read more here.