Sheltering at home, there’s time to sort through the surprisingly deep and confusing world of video-on-demand to find four new movies worth viewing. Check out this drama, comedy documentary and experimental film.
In her feature writing and directing debut, Lara Gallagher’s drifting, moody, poem-like “Clementine” is about women trying to recover from painful emotional wallops.
Frequently occupying the film frame alone, Otmara Marrero (Crackle’s “Startup”) stars as Karen, who suffered a breakup from an older, established artist (Sonya Walger).
Distraught, Karen goes to the artist’s lush, woodsy, lakeside vacation house. She breaks in and makes herself at home, taking down a painting that holds painful memories, and finding a stash of pot and a gun in a desk drawer.
It’s not long before Karen spots Lana (Sydney Sweeney), lying Lolita-like near the lake. Pouty and mysterious, she seems older than she looks; she says she’s 19.
The two begin spending time together, though Karen remains on her guard. When she confesses that “I’m not really supposed to be here,” Lana replies, “Neither am I.”
Things become complicated when Beau (Will Brittain) shows up, reportedly to trim branches. He begins to squeeze his way between the twosome, to Lana’s apparent delight, and to Karen’s definite distaste.
“Clementine” is not entirely dynamic or pulsing. But the fact that Karen has technically broken the law and could at any minute be caught — and that the phone keeps ringing — underlines the drama and adds a nervous tension.
Certainly Lana is keeping dark secrets, and the gun comes back into the picture. Still, “Clementine” is more about trying to define feelings than it is about what happens next. The title refers not to a person, but to the fruit, which is plucked away or tossed, rather than consumed.
Karen’s struggle between trying to contain her pain and allowing new feelings to come out, set against the quiet, dreamy backdrop, keeps “Clementine” interesting.
Starring: Otmara Marrero, Sydney Sweeney, Will Brittain, Sonya Walger
Written and directed by: Lara Gallagher
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Available at clementine.oscilloscope.net
Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by journalist Caitlin Moran, “How to Build a Girl,” set in the early 1990s, shows how a young, hopeful writer is changed by the power of rock ‘n’ roll, not unlike last year’s “Blinded by the Light.”
Despite a time period that yielded a wealth of musical riches, “How to Build a Girl” is less about the music (in “Blinded by the Light,” the hero was obsessed with Bruce Springsteen), and more about the crazy lifestyle.
And, for the record, according to this movie, rock critics have infinitely more fun than movie critics.
Beanie Feldstein (“Booksmart”) plays teen Johanna Morrigan, living with her huge family in Wolverhampton, England. Her father (Paddy Considine) is an unemployed drummer, and her mother is being run ragged with too many kids, and a new set of twins.
She shares half a room with her brother Krissi (Laurie Kynaston) and has papered her wall with her heroes, fictional and historic; as in the wizarding world of “Harry Potter,” the pictures move and speak and offer advice (and are played by many notable actors in can-you-spot-them cameos).
Johanna applies for a job at a rock magazine, but, the chubby schoolgirl in glasses and an awkward backpack is laughed out the door. So she re-invents herself, via red hair, top hat and fishnets, as “Dolly Wilde,” and wins the job.
Her first interview, with pop star John Kite (Alfie Allen) is a whirlwind, and she writes a breathless story, but her editors scorn her. So she decides, henceforth, to be as nasty as possible, and becomes enormously popular. She begins to enjoy sex, alcohol and exclusive parties.
“How to Build a Girl” flatlines with these sequences; they’re neither as funny nor as intoxicating as they could be, and the story then turns on a preposterously clueless idea when the father tries to re-ignite his own career.
The movie doesn’t seem to have distance from its real-life events, and there isn’t much of an arc, yet Feldstein still carries it. She’s delightfully honest, and her antics come from a place of genuine release. She’s kind of a rock star.
How to Build a Girl
Starring: Beanie Feldstein, Paddy Considine, Alfie Allen, Laurie Kynaston
Written by: Caitlin Moran
Directed by: Coky Giedroyc
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Available on Tunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, YouTube, Vudu, PlayStation, Xbox
Sasha Joseph Neulinger’s “Rewind” is a documentary about sexual abuse, but it’s far from a depressing “issue”-driven movie. It’s brave and daring.
Neulinger, a victim-survivor, has delved into a huge archive of footage from his own childhood to piece the story together.
Neulinger’s father was late to his son’s birth because he was out buying a video camera. From that moment on, he documented just about everything the family did.
We see young Sasha changing from a smart, engaged little boy to a withdrawn, angry one. Eventually it’s revealed that not one, not two, but three male relatives, who were frequent guests at the house, each molested young Sasha.
It’s flatly disturbing to see images of these individuals being comfortable guests, clowning around, enjoying meals, and kissing the boy on the cheek.
“Rewind” goes even further to explore just how Sasha’s father, who was not guilty, but who nonetheless knew about his family’s history, withdrew into denial.
It also looks into the punishments doled out to the three men. Bitterly, and perhaps not surprisingly, the most successful of the three, and the one whose abuse was the most severe, wound up with the lightest sentence.
Yet it’s inspiring to see Neulinger proudly appearing on camera, facing down his demons and proving himself undefeated by them.
The film will premieres on PBS’s “Independent Lens” on May 11.
Directed by: Sasha Joseph Neulinger
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Available on iTunes
Although “The Plagiarists” looks like a purposely precocious indie comedy from the 1990s, it’s actually an experimental film, slyly ridiculing the thing it’s imitating.
Yet it also aims high in prompting viewers to think about art, perception and privilege, and it’s giddily intriguing.
Shot on a 1980s Betacam SP, complete with smeary image and square aspect ratio, the movie begins with two millennials, commercial cinematographer Tyler (Eamon Monaghan) and aspiring novelist Anna (Lucy Kaminsky), stuck in the snow with a broken-down car after a weekend getaway.
An older man, Clip (Michael “Clip” Payne, once a member of the bands Funkadelic and Parliament, making his acting debut with a wonderfully charismatic performance) offers to call a cheap, local mechanic. They end up having dinner and drinks and staying over at his place.
Tyler, an obnoxious, self-centered, intellectual contrarian (the most trying aspect of the movie), discovers a roomful of old video equipment, and Clip offers to give him the same camera on which this movie is shot. Tyler practices with it, shooting randomly, while Clip tells Anna a remarkable story.
Months later, on another weekend getaway to see their friend Allison (Emily Davis), the couple makes a strange discovery. They argue, tossing around its possible meanings and connotations.
“The Plagiarists” ends with a sequence mirroring Clip’s story, including more wobbling camerawork, and accompanied by a voice reading a letter.
The 76-minute film, written by James N. Kienitz Wilkins and Robin Schavoir, leaves viewers with no answers, but plenty of buzzing, ticklish questions to be unraveled.
Perhaps most enthralling is the idea of ownership — of things and ideas. Does anyone really own anything? Do people deserve things, or are they entitled to them?
Yet a sense of curiosity and wonder is absent from the two characters, especially given that they are writers and filmmakers. They don’t ask questions. Anything that comes their way is met as if it were a challenge to their established worldview.
It’s a dead end way to be, the movie suggests. In a perfect world, this act of “plagiarism” might be seen as something shared.
Three and 1/2 stars
Starring: Lucy Kaminsky, Eamon Monaghan, Michael “Clip” Payne, Emily Davis
Written by: James N. Kienitz Wilkins, Robin Schavoir
Directed by: Peter Parlow
Running time: 1 hour, 16 minutes
Available on Amazon Prime, YouTube