Tag Archives: Jemaine Clement

People Places Things (2015)

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Will Henry (Jemaine Clement) is a socially awkward graphic novelist and a native New Zealander living in New York whose world caves in the day of his twin daughters (Audria and Gia Gadsby)’s fifth birthday parties, when he heads upstairs during the festivities and catches his longtime girlfriend Charlie (Stephanie Allyne) banging her pudgy, affable lover Gary (Michael Chernus)

One year to the day, and Will is still feeling majorly bluesey in the wake of his big break-up. Reluctantly allowed to see his girls on weekends, Will is teaching graphic art at a local college but really doesn’t have his heart in it, preferring instead to immaturely lecture his students on why life, and people in general, totally sucks. Kat (Jessica Williams,) a blunt but good-natured student introduces the lonely Will to her attractive divorcee mother Diane (Regina Hall,) and after a rocky start sparks begin to fly.

However, Will still has feelings for his moody, fickle, and completely exasperating ex, who’s having doubts about her marriage to the girlfriend-stealing Gary, and Will must choose to get over his bitterness and self-doubt and find out how to best serve the interests of not only him, but also his daughters, and ultimately move on.

“People Places Things” is one of those little movies that has completely flown under the radar, and unless, of course, you have a soft spot for the Kiwi funnyman Jemaine Clement, you’re likely to go your whole life without hearing about it. This is a shame, because “People Places Things” is good and true in a way that few American films aspire to be. Will is a very believable character, sometimes delightful, sometimes infuriating, I found myself dubbing him a ‘loser’ over his immaturity and unprofessionalism and at the same time admiring his undeniable love for his kids and his creative spark.

This movie should be called ‘When Nerdy College Professors With Too Much Knowledge and Not Enough People Skills Fall in Love.’ The humor in “People Places Things” is not as much of the ‘laugh-til-you-cry’ variety and more wry, subtle, and oddly relatable, there are no huge happenings in this film and we don’t hold that against it in the least. There is a refreshing lack grand comic misunderstandings in the arguments between Will and his love interest, Diane, they are all messy disagreements that not only very often happen in the real world, they do, every day.

When Will and Diane first have dinner together, Diane callously dismisses graphic novels as an art form. This understandably miffs Will, it is important in a developing relationship for someone to care about the things we’re passionate about, or at least try to understand why we like them. They part on less-than-friendly terms, and the viewer patiently waits for their lives  to converge again, because, hey, maybe these two could have something here. After all, the majority of movie lovers start out on relatively shaky grounds.

The actors do an outstanding job with the material they’re given, and that includes the two child actresses, whose performances are smooth and unforced. They share a genuine comfortableness with Clement, a naturalism that makes us believe they are kin. Jemaine Clement plays a man for whom social skills do not come naturally without the over-the-top ‘geek’ theatrics of popular television programs like The Big Bang Theory and Chuck. He played a similarly awkward protagonist in Eagle Vs. Shark, but his Will is infinitely more relatable and more sympathetic than Eagle…‘s creepy, maladjusted Jarrod.

People Places Things is one of the relatively ‘small’ films that get ignored yearly in favor of bigger, more robust productions. For a bit of wry real-life observational humor, don’t let this charming little comedy pass you by.’

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Eagle vs. Shark (2007)

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Was I the only one who hoped this movie’s sweetly awkward heroine would unceremoniously dump Jemaine Clement by the end credits? Jarrod, Clement’s character, was by far one of the most infuriating, self-absorbed, callous romantic leads I’ve had the (displeasure) of encountering. I know he was supposed to be socially retarded as all fuck or have severe Asperger’s or something (probably the latter) but seriously, he was a jerk.

The heroine in question is cute girl nerd Lily (Loren Horsley,) who fools around on her guitar crooning Kimya Dawson-esque melodies in the privacy of her room and is laid off from her menial job at the local burger joint shortly into the movie. She lives with her supportive movie fanatic brother Damien (Joel Tobeck) and seems to have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

The object of Lily’s awkward affections is Jarrod (yes, the jerk,) who works at the video game store and remains bafflingly self-obsessed throughout the movie. Lily pursues him, and the pursuit continues for a while, until finally they get together at a ‘dress as your favorite animal party’ (Jarrod as the eagle, and Lily as the shark, hence the title,) have singularly unerotic sex and start tentatively dating.

The problem is, Lily has an all-consuming desire to hold on to Jarrod, a real catch (or so she thinks,) and Jarrod’s barely able to put in an effort. He continually treats Lily like crap and has the two excuses handy that either (a he’s frustratingly complex or (b he’s got clinical depression and therefore it’s his right to be dick. This would be unconscionable if it weren’t abundantly clear that Jarrod was even more severely impaired at dealing with the real world than Lily.

Lily goes on a roadtrip with Jarrod to his hometown where he hopes to get revenge on a guy that bullied him in high school. They stop by Jarrod’s home and Lily meets his bizarre family, including Jarrod’s loser sister (Rachel House)  and brother-in-law (Craig Hall) who shamelessly peddle shit merchandise to anyone and everyone they encounter and his wheelchair-bound father Jarrod (Brian Sargent,) who idolizes Jarrod’s dead older brother but won’t give Jarrod the time of day.

“Eagle vs. Shark” is actor-director Taika Waititi (“Boy,” “What We Do In the Shadows”)’s weakest film, but that doesn’t mean it’s a completely tepid affair. The stop-motion animated sequences are whimsical and charming. And Loren Horsley is sweet as pie as Lily in a performance that makes you want hug her and knit her a warm sweater. Jemaine Clement is markedly less appealing as an offbeat weirdo who does nothing but take, take, take from Lily’s fragile confidence and self esteem but still manages to win her over for good in a finale that’s probably more depressing than it ought to be.

It’s not laugh-til-you-cry funny, but it’s chuckle-worthy and cute, though it seems an odd directorial choice to make the majority of the characters not only almost Autistic in their social ineptitude, but also act quite literally like they’re on the spectrum. It’s a movie where quirky people do quirky things at the exact right moment, but it’s hard to believe such a plethora of oddballs could even exist in the same story.

In other words, “Eagle Vs. Shark” is okay and worth watching once for its myriad moments of mild humor, but it doesn’t measure up to Waititi’s other features (“Boy,” which was quite charming and dramatically effective if formulaic, and “What We Do in the Shadows,” which was outstanding and one of the funniest horror-comedies of the 21st Century.)

To say it is better than the thematically similar “Napoleon Dynamite” is not saying much, but this sometimes overly quirky dramedy has it’s undeniably sweet moments.

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What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

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Living among the undead can be an uproarious experience, as this side-splitting found-footage comedy proves. Okay, there’s a small margin for error while filming a documentary of a group of vampire roommates (in other words, don’t piss them off you you just might be dinner) but what are vampires really, if not just a couple of the guys? They yearn for the same things everyone else does- closeness, companionship, a scrap of normalcy, and just because their continued existence has a body count doesn’t mean they aren’t sympathetic or possessors of nearly human hearts- right?

In the main trio of bloodsuckers, Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) is the Lothario, Deacon (Jonny Brugh) is a bit of a ‘bad boy,’ and  Viago (Taika Waititi) is the sweetly pedantic glue that holds the odd little family together. They cohabitate in a stereotypically old Gothic house where their maker, Petyr (Ben Fransham, who looks more than a little like the antagonist in F.W. Murneau’s silent classic “Nosferatu,”) resides in the basement, and they allow a small group of filmmakers into the house to observe their way of life. That’s when the hilarity starts, and it doesn’t let up until the end credits. Who knew vampires could be so persnickety, moody, and altogether human in their foibles?

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Vampire cohabitation, it turns out, has the same pitfalls as human cohabitation, plus tricky issues like bloody plates and saucers and troublesome ribcages tossed haphazardly upon the floor. It is not what makes the vampires different, but what makes them similar to the humans they prey on (in a bloody and hilarious fashion) that makes up the film’s humor. They are not above heckling each other and their werewolf rivals, bitching about housework and division of labor in terms of chores, and even the occasional gloomy day (the difference is, Vladislav deals with his depression by abducting and torturing unfortunate humans, a sure sign that he is in ‘a bad place’ mentally and emotionally.)

My favorite vampire is Viago. I don’t think the movie would have been half as good without him. He’s more than a little camp (I would have pegged him for homosexual,) but he came to this country for love (with a woman) who passed him by and has aged well into her twilight years. He’s the supportive backbone for his friends and he seems oddly empathetic and likable despite his bloodlust. All three of the leads do a great job though, and the laughs arrive in a machine gun fire of hilarious lines.

Light-hearted and simultaneously bloody and raucous, “What We Do in the Shadows” never causes us in shrink back in revulsion from our heroes (despite their ne’er do well nighttime activities) but makes us laugh with them and regard them with mirth and good humor as well as genuine admiration. They do what they have to do, and they make us laugh like Hell in the process. The jokes are deadpan and brilliant in their execution, making the viewer all but fall of the chair giggling at the filmmakers’ wit and creativity.

The plot isn’t epic or anything, it’s a vehicle for the jokes. It makes you feel light and happy leaving it, refusing to get too serious despite some dark implications lingering within the script. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, gifted directors as well as actors, have created a wonderful movie that will be enjoyed through the ages (unlike most found footage films, which lay flaccidly on the market as soon as they are distributed and add nothing new, thereby being rendered obsolete and forgotten within a couple of years.) I sense a cult following for this one, guys, I really do. You don’t have to be a horror fan to recognize the comedic genius at work here, and I recommend this to anybody with a sense of humor (you know who you are) and an hour to kill.

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