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Damsels in Distress

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Violet, the robotlike alpha female in Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress, wears sweater sets and A-line skirts to her classes at a snooty college. She speaks formally all the time, quickly spitting out well-turned-over opinions such as, “The intelligence line is not an immutable barrier.” She prefers boyfriends who are kinda dumb and not all that good-looking, and wishes to better the world by inventing a new dance craze. In the meantime, she takes new students under her wing and goes to frat parties in the interest of “youth outreach,” believing that the guys are “crying out for help and guidance.”

In short, Violet is unlike you or anybody you know, and it’s a problem.

Stillman’s return to the screen after 14 years qualifies as a disappointment because its characters are unrecognizable and, despite mounds and mounds of dialogue, it ultimately doesn’t have a sticking thought in its pretty head. What Damsels in Distress is even about is a mystery, as it flits from Violet (Greta Gerwig, excellent if elusive) and her two equally stiff roommates (Carrie MacLemore and Megalyn Echikunwoke) taking in a new student, Lily (Analeigh Tipton), to Violet’s heart — who knew she even had one? — getting broken, to Lily’s dalliances, to, fleetingly, an attempt to pull a suicidal student out of her darkness. (Violet does try to help others with doughnuts and tap-dancing classes, but those depressives are even further in the background.)

The film is, admittedly, a farce. You’re not supposed to entirely believe that, for instance, one of the oh-so-dim frat boys has to study his colors because his parents made him skip kindergarten, and everything ends with a song-and-dance number. And, true to form, it is often funny, with Stillman veering from dry (regarding party attendees: “There’s enough material here for a lifetime of social work”) to silly (when Violet skips town for a while, she stays at a Motel 4, cheaper than a Motel 6).

But too much of Damsels is inscrutable. (Violet, for example, is a fervent fan of cliches, “a treasure trove of human insight and knowledge.” She tells Lily, “During these formative college years, we should try to learn as many cliched and hackneyed expressions as possible. Furthermore, I think we will!” Er, OK.) It bops along too randomly to really compel. (A subplot involving Charlie/Fred — don’t ask — played by The O.C’s Adam Brody, trips over itself before going nowhere.) Worse, Stillman seems to want to deify his main characters, twice backlighting them with the sun as they speak of helping others.

But they don’t really help others; in fact, most normal human beings would find the girls’ insistence on inserting themselves into people’s lives downright irritating — even the film’s absurdist angle doesn’t quite warrant grading on a curve. Perhaps the characters’ oh-so-mannered bullying would be forgivable if you could relate to them in any way. But if you do, perhaps you could use an intervention yourself.

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Back in 1970, the first San Diego Comic-Con catered to, duh, comic-book fans, and its organizers hoped to attract a few hundred people. Forty-two years later, thousands attend the annual event, and, according to a commentator in Morgan Spurlock’s Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, the audience comprises “people who’ve never read a comic book and [people who’ve] never left their mom’s basement, like, mixed together.”

Now more a haven for nerds of pop culture than nerds of the printed word, the convention is often treated as a launching pad/church for movies and television shows, and being at the Con is cool. As frequent attendee and star geek attraction Joss Whedon says in the doc, “Are we not dope? Are we not amazing for being so obsessed with something?”

If you even have a passing interest in the ‘Con — regardless of whether you feel dope about it or not — you likely will watch much of Episode IV with a smile on your face. It’s hard not to grin when, for instance, you watch a montage of Spurlock’s famous interview subjects (Kevin Smith, Whedon, Eli Roth) talk about their star-struck moments or whom they’d most like to meet, or see The Man himself — Marvel’s Stan Lee, of course — high-fiving fans or making an already excited kid’s day with an autograph and some conversation. You see people in costumes and bigger-than-God stars interacting with them. The film (shot at 2010’s convention) is one big valentine.

Spurlock, who mercifully stays out of the picture (we’re all a bit Spurlock’d out, aren’t we?), does impress some sort of organization onto the multiday chaos, mainly by focusing on a handful of attendees. There are a couple of guys, one middle-aged, who are trying to break into comics (and get cringe-inducingly honest feedback). There’s an aspiring costume designer whose team is getting to put on a skit based on the video game Mass Effect. And there’s a young couple in love who started dating when they met at 2009’s ‘Con and may deepen their relationship at 2010’s, during a Kevin Smith Q&A in the massive Hall H.

Episode IV isn’t all fairy dust and fan fidelity, though. A writer for DC Comics calls Comic-Con “the world’s largest focus group.” Whedon even gets cynical, speaking from the organizers’ point of view: “We must mine this extraordinary love, because inside of it, there might be money. So let’s dig into this love and get the money out!” One of the other commoners Spurlock highlights is a gray-ponytailed comic-book purveyor who’s betting his financial welfare on selling a $500,000 Red Raven No. 1 — or at least bucketloads of his regular collection. The stress as his sales go up and down over the convention’s four days is palpable, particularly when he has to check in with his more glass-is-half-empty wife.

Mostly, though, the vibe is a cheery one. If you’ve never been to Comic-Con, this doc will make you want to go. If you’re a veteran, it will remind you why. As Ain’t It Cool’s Harry Knowles (one of the film’s producers) says, “This is mecca.”

Thin Ice

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Thin Ice is about an asshole who gets into deep trouble with another asshole because of their collective assholery. Sound fun? It’s torture. In addition to the oily, cheap, thoroughly unlikable main character, an insurance salesman named Mickey (Greg Kinnear), there’s the nagging fact that the film, directed by Jill Sprecher (Thirteen Conversations About One Thing) and co-written by her and her sister Karen, is a blatant Fargo rip-off, set during a Wisconsin winter and centered on a desperate man with money problems. The only things differentiating Thin Ice from the Coen brothers’ gem are 1) a lack of Midwestern accents and 2) a lack of entertainment value.

Mickey is illogically drawn as an award-winning salesman and convention speaker who nevertheless can barely keep a staff and has to siphon funds from his business for personal use. When a new hire tells him about a prospective customer, Mickey steals the sale, talking a senile retiree named Gorvy (Alan Arkin) into buying more insurance than he needs. He also discovers that Gorvy owns a rare violin that’s worth quite a chunk of change. Let the conniving ensue.

The first half of the film progresses almost episodically, with scenes such as Mickey getting robbed by a seductive drunk or trying to win back his ex-wife (Lea Thompson) really having little to do with each other. It’s not until he meets a shady locksmith (Billy Crudup) at Gorvy’s place that an actual plot kicks in. Theft is on each of their minds, but when they’re almost caught, things grow much more dire fast.

Kinnear is admittedly good at playing an unethical jerk, but that’s actually a problem: It’s difficult to root for a guy to wriggle his way out of a bad situation when he’s intolerable. Crudup’s Randy, meanwhile, is too much of a loose cannon to be taken seriously, and Arkin’s Gorvy is more demanding-old-man irritating than pitiable. The film’s worst sin, though, is its resolution, which is needlessly complicated and relies on way too many coincidences to be believed. It’s also probably nonsensical upon closer inspection, but it’s doubtful that any viewer will want to inspect Thin Ice more closely.

Declaration of War

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Declaration of War is the hippest kid-with-cancer movie you’ll ever see. The parents of young Adam go to clubs and parties. They dance. They ride a motorcycle. They smoke. (Um, not that smoking’s hip.) They embraced this lifestyle before their son was born, but throughout the film they don’t quit it, so that they have a means to funnel the stress of having a 2-year-old with a brain tumor.

The film, directed and co-written by star Valeri Donzelli, is a weepie and it isn’t. It’s devastating to see a tiny toddler being wheeled off to surgery, confused by the bright white and strangers around him. And Romeo (co-scripter Jeremie Elkaim) and Juliette (Donzelli) — yes, those are their names — receive as much bad news as good. But the tone of the film, aided greatly by an ever-present soundtrack that ranges from classical to house, is relentlessly normal, verging perhaps a little too precariously on the upbeat. It’s more about survival than death — the survival of a handsome couple’s love-at-first-sight, their devotion to each other through sickness and health even though they never exchange wedding vows.

What’s most remarkable about the eminently watchable film is that the stars had a seriously ill child together themselves, so Declaration of War is essentially autobiography — how difficult must it have been to live through their ordeal twice? It opens with a near giveaway of the end, then flashes back to the charged moment Romeo and Juliette met. They soon had Adam, but his constant crying, vomiting, and other issues made them miserable — and then terrified — fast. “The kid is tyrannizing us,” Romeo barks, though eventually he’s the one who turns a bad mood into concern.

Declaration of War unfolds like a thriller, its early scenes intercut with shots of cells and a beating heart. At other times, it’s more like a terrible fairy tale, with random people — not even characters in the movie — narrating the story. Whatever it’s doing, the film keeps your sensibility just slightly off-kilter, particularly when Romeo and Juliette, separated for a day but on their way to reuniting, break out into song. (Forgive them that — it doesn’t happen again.) In addition to the music and the couple’s partying, there’s lots of movement here — Juliette runs through hospital hallways after she hears Adam’s diagnosis, the couple run and play for sport, the family runs on the beach. Taken overall, the effect is a strong life-goes-on vibe. And life, ironically, is one thing this film’s full of.


Friday, April 6th, 2012

As witnessed in Delicacy, Audrey Tautou is adorable (insufferable?) even while she’s grieving. Still, as also witnessed in Delicacy, she deserves more than critics’ and moviedom’s neverending categorization of her as a man-entrancing pixie — say, as an actress, maybe? In directors David Foenkinos and Stephane Foenkinos’ film, adapted by David from his novel, Tautou plays Nathalie, a woman who’s crazy in love with Francois (Pio Marmai). They regularly re-create the day they met at a coffeehouse and eventually they marry, getting along spookily well with their in-laws and talking about kids, though they decide to put that off. It seems like they have all the time in the world.

But they don’t. Francois dies unexpectedly, leaving a huge void in Nathalie’s life that she at first fills with solitude and then with work. And Tautou is terrific portraying the grieving widow,
doleful despite her constant, perky ponytail and occasionally angry about everyone’s attempt to help a process that can’t be helped. It’s a subtle performance that could have been chewed, and it cries for its performer to be taken more seriously.

If only the rest of Delicacy were so deserving. Counterintuitively, the film’s perfect-love first half is more interesting than its after-the-tragedy second, which is dull, illogical, and offensive to all men who don’t look like models. For three years, Nathalie engages in nothing but her job at a even though dudes apparently fall in her wake, particularly her boss (Bruno Todeschini), who straightforwardly hits on her. She’s at first flustered but is eventually just as direct in return, saying that although she may start dating again one day, she’s quite sure it won’t be him because she doesn’t find him attractive. It’s harsh, but you admire Nathalie for her honesty.

And then Delicacy goes off the rails. One day, a colleague of the work group of which she is head, Markus (Francois Damiens), enters her office to take about a problem with a case. Her resolution? To get up and kiss him, never saying a word. He leaves with a spring in his step and an unwipeable smile on his face, attracting the attention of every gorgeous woman who passes him by, even though he’s balding and kinda odd-looking. Markus stays in his reverie until he confronts Nathalie about it. She doesn’t remember kissing him, she says. Let’s forget about it and get back to work, she insists. Of course, Markus can’t, and he sorta-pursues her, himself giving her a kiss out of nowhere one day and asking her out to dinner. And suddenly they’re a couple.

Except when they’re not — each pulls away at least once in the relationship for various reasons. Much is made of the fact that Markus isn’t handsome, particularly in one scene in which Nathalie’s friend invites him to her party and then reacts to him as if he’s a troll: When she opens the door, she doesn’t even think that he may be Nathalie’s date but assume it’s a neighbor complaining about the noise. And then she almost angrily rebukes Nathalie in front of her guests, not-so-disguisedly telling her she could do better. It’s absurd.

However. You never for a minute buy the relationship; why on Earth Nathalie falls for Markus is anybody’s guess. (Much is made of the fact that he’s funny, but he ain’t that funny.) Tautou can beam and giggle all she wants, but even an Oscar-winning actress couldn’t make this alleged love spark. And thus Delicacy’s long slog begins — a dull musing on a relationship that has its ups and downs, but only because the script says so. (There’s a single entertaining moment throughout all this, and that’s when Markus puts on cologne when Nathalie IMs him.) When Markus tries to back off at one point, he says, “I’m going to fall in love…it’s ridiculous!” and runs away. Yes, it is ridiculous, and so is most of this movie.

21 Jump Street

Friday, March 16th, 2012

21 Jump Street is self-aware. It knows that, for instance, co-star Channing Tatum looks like he’s “40 fucking years old” despite having to pass off as a high-school student. And it knows that it’s just another rehash in an avalanche of rehashes, as a police chief admits to his freshly minted underlings when he’s talking about resurrecting an undercover program from the ‘80s. “We’re completely out of ideas,” he says. “All we do is recycle shit from the past.”

Co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) and scripter Michael Bacall (sharing a story credit with co-star Jonah Hill) are the puppet masters behind the R-rated comedy’s self-awareness. (Yes, it’s a comedy. Forget what you saw in the decade of neon and big hair!) Hill and Tatum, former geek and cool kid, respectively, play the undercover cops assigned to “Jump Street,” a sorta-precinct run out of a dilapidated church by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) for young-looking (or, in their case, -acting) officers tasked with infiltrating schools to suss out drug dealers. Considering that there are about a dozen dick jokes in the film’s first five minutes, it’s likely that the name of Ice Cube’s character is supposed to be a pretty weak gag, too.

In fact, the entire movie seems to be based on dick jokes and cursing, both prevalent enough to rival Superbad (Hill’s filthily hilarious star-maker). For equal opportunity, there’s a “vagina” punch line, too. (Sigh, aren’t we tired of those yet? Somehow, “My mother is such a dick” is just funnier.) But this time, it’s too piled on (particularly Dickson’s unsoaped mouth) to be a genuine, albeit facile, source of comedy. Better lines come from supporting cast members such as SNL’s Chris Parnell, whose drama-coach character starts off an anecdote with, “I remember doing cocaine with Willie Nelson’s horse….” And Tatum’s frequent outbursts of “Fuck you, [RANDOM THING]!” only get a real laugh when his character spits out, “Fuck you, Glee!”, blaming the show for the “backward and unnatural” hierarchy of “cool” he and his partner find in modern-day high school, i.e. the environmentalists, theater nerds, and A-students ruling the hallways.

Overall, 21 Jump Street proceeds as you expect it to. Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are teenage enemies who become best buds at the police academy and are designated brothers to carry out their mission of finding the person supplying synthetic drugs to high-school students. They both live at Schmidt’s house (cue overbearing mommy jokes) and mix up their identities and hence class schedules in front of the principal (cue fish-out-of-water jokes). While there, they make friends, grow crushes, and generally get in too deep. And it wouldn’t be an opposites-attract bromance if one of them didn’t get his feelings hurt by the other!

Because this is, after all, a story about cops, the film morphs into that weird action/comedy hybrid that goes all Pineapple Express at the end, i.e. a little too explicit on the violence. (Though one of the funnier jokes involves things that don’t blow up.) Unlike Pineapple Express, you feel a little weary by the time the credits roll after watching the stars try a lot too hard to win laughs, only a fraction of which really deliver. It’s likely that Hill’s shout-out on the story idea spurred him to put a little extra into his shtick — once more, with mugging! — but when you’re fucking with a classic, it takes more than a parade of penises to get it just right.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Friday, March 16th, 2012

The title character of Jeff, Who Lives at Home doesn’t seem to mind much that he lives at home. Thirty years old and jobless, Jeff wakes up in the morning and dictates notes to himself into a recorder while he’s in the john. They are notes about the movie Signs; they are notes about cosmic signs. Jeff, you see, believes not in happenstance but in destiny. And he’s sure, sitting around his mother’s basement in sweats he probably hasn’t changed out of in days, that his is going to be great.

Jason Segel is perfectly rumpled as Jeff, an oversize adolescent somehow both huge and gangly who gets annoyed when Mom (Susan Sarandon) calls to remind him to fix the blinds because God Mom, I’ll get to it all right?! but at the moment he’s busy trying to rearrange the letters in “Kevin,” whom a wrong caller asked for this morning. (“Knive” is one possible anagram, but Jeff wisely dismisses it.) So, out of possibilities, Jeff takes the bus money his mother left him to go to Home Depot, only he doesn’t quite make it. There’s a kid on the bus with “Kevin” on his jersey, so he follows him. Later, a candy-delivery truck is emblazoned with “Kevin,” so he follows that, too. And so on, until he gets he finally accepts where he’s meant to be and what he’s meant to be doing — and that’s not fixing the blinds.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is writers-directors Jay and Mark Duplass’s furthest venture away from their beloved mumblecore genre — but don’t call it mumblecore! — with co-stars such as Ed Helms and Judy Greer amping up the wattage and likely contributing improvisation skills so finely honed the results don’t feel like the genre’s usual bumbling improvisation. (One irritating tick the Duplasses hung on to: the abrupt in-and-out zoom on actors’ faces. It’s so real, man.) But overall this feels like — gasp — a regular ol’ Hollywood movie. Besides Jeff’s wanderings, subplots involve the tension between his uptight brother, Pat (Helms), and Pat’s wife, Linda (Greer), as well as a secret admirer Mom has at her office. The latter is the weakest of the storylines, as it goes off the rails the moment the twist — which is telegraphed — is revealed, leading to first an upset admiree and then, seemingly an instant later, an ecstatic admiree.

Pat and Linda give the film its real emotional oomph as a struggling couple dealing with possible infidelity. (Even before you even get to know them, you want to strangle Pat when he “surprises” Linda with a Porsche they can’t afford.) Their scenes, as Jeff helps one trail the other, may be semiwacky, but the gist ends up breaking your heart. As far as Jeff, just when you think he’s fulfilled his “Kevin” cosmos for the day, the Duplasses add on a dramatic but-of-course-this-happens climax that isn’t really necessary. Jeff, Who Lives at Home may wrap up a little too neatly, but — despite the downers I’ve mentioned — it’s a fun time throughout, with Segel and Helms playing off each other well and delivering more laughs than letdowns. If this is mumblecore, it’s an example you can shout about.

John Carter

Friday, March 9th, 2012

John Carter is a fucking mess. Let me rephrase that: With all due respect to Andrew Stanton, writer and director of Pixar gems such as Finding Nemo and WALL*E, John Carter is a fucking mess.

Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) flatlines as the title character, a military captain in 1881 who somehow gets transported to Mars to battle aliens. (You’d think there couldn’t be anything worse in the comedy/action genre than last summer’s Cowboys & Aliens. You’d be wrong.) But Mars is known as Barsoom, and its territories and its aliens are known by a whole bunch of hard-to-grasp names, and the only thing that’s clear is that Carter can leap like Superman and the aliens look like green, four-armed Jar Jar Binkses. And their leader thinks Carter’s name is Virginia, which is actually where he’s from! It’s not hilarious.

There are also weird, pudgy alien babies whose purpose is unclear, and an alien dog for further comic nonrelief. And a princess — there’s gotta be a princess — named Dejah (Lynn Collins), who wants out of her arranged marriage to…some evil guy. So John fights everyone, with no obvious indication of who’s bad, who’s good, if there’s a civil war going on, or what. Too many unfamiliar names and a murky deluge of a plot will do that to a movie. While watching it, you long for clarity and excitement of The Phantom Menace. (Star Wars was clearly influenced by the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel on which the film is based.)

And audiences willing to shell out extra bucks get the privilege of seeing this all in murky and completely unimpressive 3D! John Carter was converted, not shot in 3D, and it shows. Try taking off those damn glasses. Only a handful of scenes actually have more than two dimensions; the rest are blissfully bright and clear. So: especial waste of money.

Throughout the who-knows-what’s-going-on story is an intrusive score that telegraphs every mood you’re supposed to feel. Wonder! Adventure! Menace! Romance! The music is by Michael Giacchino, who magnificently scored Up, so this overkill is a puzzler. Also head-scratching: That this script was co-written by Stanton and Michael Chabon. (And Mark Andrews, but his track record is unproven.) The clearest dialogue that’s spoken is a line by Kitsch, who at one point mumbles, “Good God, I’m on Mars.” Yes, you are. You don’t know what you’re doing there, neither do we, and chances are sleep will grip us before the movie will.

Friends With Kids

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Jennifer Westfeldt wrote about a sexually experimental neurotic woman in 2001’s Kissing Jessica Stein. She scripted a quickly married and quickly harried neurotic couple in 2006’s Ira & Abby. And now she’s juggling three neurotic Manhattan twosomes in Friends With Kids, her directorial debut. It’s fair to say that Westfeldt is shaping up to be the female Woody Allen. Only most Woody Allen movies would be slightly more tolerable if, instead of saying “I love you,” its characters whispered, “Fuck the shit out of me.”

It’s that kind of cutting that helps the saccharine of Friends With Kids go down — though it doesn’t knife through quite often enough to keep things from becoming an “Aww!” fest that traditional chick-flickers will lap up. The story centers on Julie (Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott), best friends who are close enough to wake each other up with the little how-would-you-rather-die game they play but have never been tempted to sleep together. At the beginning of the film, they’re cabbing it out to Brooklyn (Brooklyn!) for a birthday celebration at the kind of restaurant where they and their friends look with horror at people who bring their kids.

At least, two-thirds of them still do: Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Bridesmaids’ Chris O’Dowd) announce that they’re having a baby, and everyone coos on cue, including still-hot-for-each-other couple Missy (Kristen Wiig) and Ben (Jon Hamm, Westfeldt’s real-life paramore). Jump ahead four years, and they have a kid, too. Julie and Jason watch as everyone else’s life turns to chaos, their homes a mess, their romance fizzled, and their brats forever screaming their lungs out. You wouldn’t think that this kind of scenario would lead Julie and Jason to want a bundle of joy themselves. But they’re going to be smart about it, keeping love-love out of the equation and co-parenting as best buds only (with a convenient story for potential partners about a one-night stand).

Now, while watching Friends With Kids you become aware (or more aware) that you’re either pro-baby or, well, not exactly anti-baby, but not the kind of person who makes goo-goo noises whenever she sees a cute tyke onscreen. Because soon enough, there’s a LOT of cute-tykeness going on: Julie and Jason naturally have the most adorable and  perfectly behaved baby ever, and it’s the reason Friends With Kids goes off the rails for a while. But it’s not all touchy-feely. Westfeldt does have a gift for navel-gazing gab (when she calls Jason early on and admits she has a guy sleeping next to her, she says, “He’s, like, 11, he’s a bartender. What’s wrong with me?”) and scenes of their friends and their offspring are as funny as they are horrific (“It’s like I raped her to have a kid,” Ben mutters).

Westfeldt also goes deep for a while, with an excruciating group-vacation dinner scene during which everyone gets too drunk, too hostile, and too honest. The discussion mostly revolves around Julie and Jason’s child and how confusing it’s going to be for him once he gets older. And the film’s general premise, about how relationships change once kids are involved, is spot-on. Before they have their own baby and after one nightmare of a visit with their friends, Jason says, “We don’t know those people. Those people are mean.”

Yes, they’re the product of little sleep, constant disorder, and never enough time. They’re people you do know, or maybe you belong to the club yourself. Either way, Friends With Kids offers a fair dose of reality with its cute- and cleverness, a world in which fucking is as meaningful as making love.

The Forgiveness of Blood

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Should a son pay for his father’s sins? The answer is an unequivocal “yes” in The Forgiveness of Blood, Joshua Marston’s follow-up to 2004’s Maria Full of Grace. Though born in California, Marston made an Albanian film, which he co-wrote with freshman scripter Andamion Murataj. Not much goes on in the story; if the script were any more drawn out, the cast would be moving in slow motion. But the kernel of the central conflict is unique enough to keep the film compelling.

When the film opens, Mark (Refet Abazi) and his eldest son, Nik (Tristan Halilaj), are taking a shortcut on the way home after a day of delivering bread, the family’s only source of income. They need to move stones to get through; the path has been blocked by the landowner, Sokol (Veton Osmani), even though in past generations the neighbors were friendly. One day a fight breaks out, Sokol ends up dead, and Mark needs to go on the run. According to Albanian tradition, however, the murder warrants a blood feud, meaning that Sokol’s family has every right to kill, if not Mark, a male in his family. Now Nik’s the one in hiding.

Nik is pulled out of school to essentially become a recluse, playing video games, sending video messages to his crush, and increasingly becoming moody as his isolation drags on. Meanwhile, his sister, Rudina (Sindi Lacej), needs to forget school as well so she can continue delivering bread to maintain the family income. She’s also miserable about it and is occasionally shunned out in the merchant world, but Rudina becomes quite industrious when she sees an opportunity to make more money.

And that’s about it. Throughout, there’s a chance of a ceasefire, but it seems a perilous thing that must be negotiated just right and therefore an action the family is hesitant to take. Mostly the film comprises the danger that Nik feels every time he passes a window or, stupidly, slips out to go see his friends. Because of the small house, Nik’s danger is everyone else’s, too; there’s distressing scene in which shots are fired and Nik’s toddler brother nearly gets hit.

Marston makes the household all too real — you would never know this film wasn’t directed by an Albanian — with mostly rural trappings and concerns outside of the feud such as how many minutes they have left on the family cell phone, on which they occasionally get messages from Dad. Watching and waiting, however, is the crux of the story. And though it’s often fraught with tension, the film’s slow pace may leave you as stir-crazy as Nik.