Monday, November 17, 2014

Movie Review: Hellaware

Directed by: Michael M. Bilandic.
Written by: Michael M. Bilandic.
Starring: Keith Poulson (Nate), Sophia Takal (Bernadette), Brent Butler (Rusty), Duane C. Wallace (Gauguin), Kate Lyn Sheil (Lexie), Gilles Decamps (Olivier LaFleur), Clarke Bliss (Nino), Zohren Weiss (Dr. Consequence), Benvolio Tomaiuolo (MC Syke-O-Babble), Sarah O'Sullivan (Val), Chuck McCarthy (Jordan Pierce).

At just 72 minutes, Hellaware isn’t around long enough that it becomes annoying, but also doesn’t quite have the time to full flesh out its premise. It is a satire of hipster Brooklyn artists, the more high powered New York art world, and suburban white kids doing horror rap in an attempt to be edgy. Writer-director Michael M. Bilandic skewers all of them, but really only sees his main character – Nate (Keith Poulson) very clearly. He is the Brooklyn hipster, an art school grad who wants to be a great photographer, and hangs out with people who approach everything with a degree of ironic detachment (including one friend who dresses like a member of Boyz II Men circa 1994). Like all of his friends, Nate is jaded beyond belief – he sees the entire world around him as phony and pretentious – and given some of the crap art we see near the beginning of the movie, he’s not exactly wrong. He lives in a world where a real severed penis floating in formaldehyde is viewed as art. It’s while watching a news report on that severed penis, that he comes across a Youtube video called “I’ll Cut Your Dick Off”, by what a group calling themselves Young Torture Killaz – a group of lower middle class white kids from Delaware, in insane clown makeup, whose song is about as good as a song called “I’ll Cut Your Dick Off” to be. But Nate sees something “authentic” in these kids and their video – and soon convinces a friend to come with him to Delaware to see one of their shows – which turns out to be just the teenagers in one of their parent’s basements, drinking, getting high and singing their horrible, horrible music. Nate loves it – and documents it all with his camera, careful to get release signatures from them.

Nate is at the center of nearly every scene in the movie, and it’s through him we are introduced to two radically different worlds – the New York high art world, represented by gallery owner Olivier LaFleur (Gilles Decamps), dressed in classic, clich├ęd pretentious art world garb, with an accent and attitude to match. He loves Nate’s pictures of the kids – and dismisses Nate’s concerns about exploiting the teenagers – concerns Nate doesn’t seem to take too seriously anyway. We all also introduced to the world of the teenagers in Delaware, who at first just look like love level hoodlums – another group of suburban white kids appropriating African American culture. But on Nate’s second trip – where he crosses the line from passive observer to active participant, by supplying them with more powerful drugs, which allows him to get even more debauched photos, a little bit of humanity comes through. Not much, but a little.

If Hellaware saw the New York Art World and the Delaware teenagers, and their worlds, as clearly as it sees Nate, Hellaware could have become something special. Unfortunately, it just skims the surface – taking the easiest shots imaginable at people like LA Fleur, and never really allowing the teens to become three dimensional characters. There are a few moments that suggest a depth – like the fact that perhaps the kids hold as many negative stereotypes about New York artists, as Nate does about Delaware teenagers, but leaves it short of anything approaching real meaning.

The storyline is rather blunt and predictable. Nate gets to know the kids, takes their pictures – some of which embarrass the kids, who request them not to be shown, but Nate – finally seeing his non-existent career being jumpstarted – refuses. The kids aren’t happy – and want revenge. The end of the movie is probably something most audience members will see coming from the opening scenes – including the final joke – and the lack of anything new is somewhat disappointing.

I will say that Hellaware is refreshingly low-key in terms of its comedy. There are quips and jokes scattered throughout the film, most of which are tossed off casually – so you may well miss them. Hellaware doesn’t really get off the ground – doesn’t really have much of anything new to say about the world it explores. But it’s an interesting little film – one that makes me wonder what Bilandic is going to do next.

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