Black Rock

Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth and Katie Aselton in Black Rock

 

 

Three young women are chased around an island by three crazed ex-soldier guys in Katie Aselton’s boo-goes-there horror story which would slot nicely into the big book of feminist films if it weren’t for the gratuitous (oh come on) nudity.

Not that there’s anything wrong with god-given nakedness. But back to the film. Directed by Aselton and co-written with her partner, Mark Duplass, Black Rock takes three old schoolfriends, Aselton, Lake Bell and Katie Bosworth, sends them off to a remote island they used to visit as kids, but not before pointing out that one of the three did something bad with another of the trio’s boyfriend some years back, and that the wound is still suppurating.

Out on the island, the girls (“women” doesn’t seem quite right; “ladies” definitely not) bump into three ex-army guys, one of whom is a vague friend of a friend. But things go from uneasily friendly to extremely nasty in a short time after a bit of booze, some unwise campfire flirting with one of the soldiers, a rape attempt and retaliation in the form of a big lethal rock to the skull.

The other two guys – we have just learnt that they got dishonourable discharges for some seriously nasty shit out in Afghanistan – decides for justice in the form of death.

But I’m telling you the plot when what all you want to know about is the nudity. Well, you could say that it is justified by the story Aselton is telling, since two of the girls have swum out to a boat, failed to get into it and are now back on dry land in wet clothes and the quickest way to get warm is… take your clothes off?

Does it last long? No. Does it matter? Maybe, because though Aselton is a good actress (though her showing in The Puffy Chair is all I’m going on) I’m not sure about her as a director.

But she’s competent enough for a cat-and-mouse thriller that flirts with themes of sex, power and violence – Should women be able to cocktease for ever and get away with it? Is sex a form of power that women use over women too? – only to abandon them as the film slides into its final third.

Director Aselton moves things along briskly, gets decent “girls together” performances from her cast and knows how to squeeze atmosphere from a restless camera, minimal rig and a soundtrack of strings and washy synths.

But I’m not sure it’ll be remembered for any of those things, so much as being the film in which a female director asked her cast to get naked because the script strictly demanded it.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

Black Rock – at Amazon

 

 

The Puffy Chair

Mark Duplass and Kathryn Aselton in The Puffy Chair

 

 

Here’s a simple story about Josh (Mark Duplass), his needy girlfriend (Kathryn Aselton), Josh’s hippie-dip brother (Rhett Wilkins) and their cross-country journey to take collection of an overstuffed couch-potato chair they just bought on ebay, and take it to the guys’ dad (played by Duplass’s dad, Larry Duplass).

 

Shot for $10,000 by first-timers, this is one of the handful of films first to be called “mumblecore” – Wikipedia tells me that the term was first applied at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 2005 to a trio of films – this one, Joe Swanberg’s Kissing on the Mouth, and Mutual Appreciation by Andrew Bujalski (often called “the father of mumblecore”) But how many other mumblecore films earned their writer/directors a bungalow on the Universal lot, as The Puffy Chair has done?

 

The reasons for that are clear – in spite of its superficial commitment to a shoe-gazey, indie style of naturalism, this is a Hollywood movie, albeit one shot for buttons on a single handheld camera, a road movie in which most of the dialogue is improvised by Duplass and Aselton, who go into who knows what dark personal places (they’re affianced in real life) to paint a portrait of a relationship on the skids.

 

Why Hollywood wants the Duplasses is not because of their way with a tiny budget – that way madness lies – but their ability to deliver freshness, believability, a genuine emotional connection, and, more cynically, a new age demographic. The rank amateur looks of The Puffy Chair perfectly suit its theme – the general rubbishness of humans, particularly the male of the species, especially when it comes to the relationship thing.

 

Though it’s made by, and seems mostly to be about men, given its subject matter it’s quite likely that women might appreciate it more. Any boyfriends watching with them will most likely deny that they were finding any entertainment value in the fine features of Kathryn Aselton, a former Miss Maine Teen 1995.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2005

 

 

The Puffy Chair – at Amazon