Saturday, January 21, 2017

VODepths: 'Coin Heist,' 'Counter Clockwise,' 'Fanny Pey'

Coin Heist (Sasha Pieterse, Alex Saxon, Alexis G. Zall, Jay Walker, dir. Emily Hagins) I have an affection for Hagins after watching the utterly charming 2009 documentary Zombie Girl: The Movie, about her efforts to make her first feature film starting when she was just 12 years old, and I've even watched that movie (Pathogen), which is of course endearingly terrible. Hagins could have become a footnote or a novelty, but instead she's pursued a serious filmmaking career, and Coin Heist is her fifth feature (she's now 24). It's not great, but it's professional and competent, and it shows how much Hagins has developed as a filmmaker. The main actors here are two TV veterans (from Freeform teen dramas Pretty Little Liars and The Fosters) and two social-media stars, and they mix together pretty well as a group of teens who plan an unlikely heist in order to save their private school after its endowment is embezzled away. The plan is to break into the U.S. Mint and deliberately print error coins which can then be sold for high prices to collectors. It's kind of a silly concept, and there are plenty of holes in the plan, but the characters are likable, and writer-director Hagins (working from a novel by Elisa Ludwig) has a nice feel for teenage relationships. There's a meta element to the story, with the group's leader getting his ideas from heist movies, that could have been explored further, especially given Hagins' obvious geek-culture background. But like a lot of the aspects of the story, it's a bit underdeveloped, and ultimately the movie feels hollow and inconsequential, with a pretty bare-bones climactic heist. Still, it's a step in the right direction for Hagins, who will probably make her first really good feature by the time most filmmakers are just getting started. Available on Netflix.

Counter Clockwise (Michael Kopelow, Alice Rietveld, Devon Ogden, dir. George Moïse) This low-budget time-travel thriller clearly has aspirations to be the next Primer, but it gets some of that movie's opaqueness without any of the intriguing artistry. Which is to say that the plot is often confusing and difficult to follow, and yet there's no emotional or even aesthetic payoff to putting the pieces together. Kopelow (who also co-wrote the screenplay, co-produced and worked on the production design) plays a supposedly brilliant scientist (who looks like Brian Posehn and dresses like a member of a garage-rock band) who accidentally invents a time machine in his lab (basically just a storage space, perhaps an explicit nod to Primer) and impulsively tests it on himself without any idea of how it works, really. He ends up six months in the future (although even this basic detail isn't clarified until late in the movie), discovering that his wife and sister were murdered just hours after he left. In trying to prevent this tragedy, he of course just makes things worse, but not in an ironic or tragic or meaningful way. The guy is just a dumbass, really, and he could have avoided the whole problem if he'd just made some basic tests on the time machine first. The corporate villains are ridiculous, the pseudo-science is laughable, and the filmmaking is full of distractingly flashy camera moves that add nothing. As in a lot of low-budget movies, the world of the story feels very constrained and empty, which is a problem when your narrative encompasses the entire time-space continuum. Available on Amazon and elsewhere.

Fanny Pey (Ivan Pavletic, Alex Amadei, John Strelec, dir. Alex Amadei) I discovered this movie thanks to, of all things, comment spam; various people associated with the production kept plugging the movie in comments on the AV Club and other pop-culture sites, and I Googled it because I am now on the hunt for extremely obscure movies to cover for this feature. It's the work of a Colorado-based filmmaking collective called Film Wants You Back, who've posted five full feature films for free to YouTube over the last two years. Fanny Pey is their most recent, although they're already raising funds for another movie on Indiegogo. It's awesome that these guys are going out and pursuing their artistic ambitions and then sharing them with the world for free, but Fanny Pey is a terrible, terrible movie, which tried every ounce of my patience even at barely 70 minutes. I'm not sure what tone Amadei's other films take, but Fanny Pey, ostensibly about an evil doll stalking four people who invoke its spirit, is painfully self-conscious about being "bad," which means lots of belabored, groan-worthy jokes, deliberately crappy special effects, nonsensical story developments and performances so broadly over the top it seems like the actors may pull a muscle. (That's not to mention the amateurish camera work and uneven pacing.) Clearly everyone involved had a great time, but watching movies like this is the equivalent of looking at someone's house party video on their smartphone. Just because things can be shared with the world doesn't always mean that they should be. Available on YouTube.

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