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Almost Sweet/Scary Enough 

Somebody I Used to Know and Skinamarink

click to enlarge Me, always ready for people to pop off.

Somebody I Used to Know

Me, always ready for people to pop off.

SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW. Yeah, I'll watch a romantic comedy. As much as I may long for the unobtainable approval of the critical studies elite — simultaneously reveling in violent cinematic catharsis, celebrating genre trash and semi-privately thinking I really should watch more Akerman and Bergman — I'm a product of my environment. And growing up when I did (back in the age of steam-powered VCRs) rom-coms were inescapable, maybe the dominant force, both in terms of influence and revenue, in contemporary popular American culture. At their best, they did and still can echo the sharp, compact cleverness of their forebears, offering elevated examinations of the culture of the day and the ongoing struggle to navigate interpersonal dynamics; more often they amount to a half-full bucket of over-sweetened nonsense. Still, there is something innately comforting in the familiar scenarios and beats of genre that does not over-demand or seek to challenge anything fundamental about our taste or sensibilities.

Co-written by star Alison Brie and her husband Dave Franco, for whom this is a second directorial effort (The Rental, 2020), Somebody I Used to Know falls somewhere between clever social dissection and total glop; on balance, not so bad.

Ally (Brie), finds herself, in the opening moments of the movie, released from her position as host and showrunner of a reality dating/cooking show. Nursing humiliation but unwilling to reveal her new joblessness, she retreats to her hometown — a too-whimsically chosen Leavenworth, Washington — ostensibly to visit her mother and re-group. Re-entering her childhood home, she finds Mom (Julie Hagerty, delightful) in flagrante delicto with one of Ally's former teachers. Fleeing to a bar, she subsequently encounters a former paramour, Sean (Jay Ellis), with whom she proceeds to spend the afternoon drinking and engaging in suspiciously cutesy Leavenworth-specific local attractions. Afternoon becomes night becomes morning and Ally heads home, thinking this relationship from the past may have a future.

Soon enough, Sean's parents are welcoming Ally back with open arms; his fiancée Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons), not so much. As Ally decides to undertake a sabotage mission, we learn it was her ambition (as an aspiring documentarian) that led to the dissolution of their relationship, some 10 years ago. Despite old friend Benny's (Danny Pudi) efforts to dissuade Ally from her cynical undertaking, the seams in Sean and Cassidy's union begin to fray. A reckoning would seem to be in the offing.

Although Somebody suffers from a little, perhaps inevitable, movie-people tourism (would anybody who grew up in Leavenworth spend any time with an oompah band?), despite the narrative not necessarily revealing anything new about relationships or the burden of disparate dreams, it is elevated by the acting of a formidable cast and by Franco's deceptively light directorial touch. So, while it may not rise to the level of the best of the genre (precious few do), it stands decidedly above the uninspired bulk. R. 106M. PRIME.

SKINAMARINK. The editor, in a chilling admission, intoned that she is scared of Skinamarink. By obvious logical extension, I then should be, as well. And going in, I ... guess I was?

One of those new, old-fashioned festival discoveries, the movie promises a claustrophobic nightmare experience: Two young children wake up to discover the doors and windows of their house gone, along with, for all intents and purposes, their parents. At least that's the working synopsis; I suppose it's accurate enough. But it doesn't convey that the movie's real currency is ostensible dread, created by its single location, beyond-grainy — 16 milimeter? — film photography and off-putting post-production sound.

I will always celebrate the ascendance of homemade, micro-budget entertainment. Who doesn't root for the underdog? And I have long thought limitations to a production (self-imposed or otherwise) to be the crucible of creativity and storytelling ingenuity. To an extent, Skinamarink is a fine example. Shot inside writer-director Kyle Edward Ball's parents' house in such a way as to require little-to-no acting of the cast, this is, in some ways, an excellent example of much being done with little. In other ways it feels, at 100 minutes, like it has been stretched to maybe double its effective running time.

The possibility exists that, in a dark — crowded, maybe, depending on one's proclivities — theater, this would play differently. My daylight viewing experience was certainly sub-optimal. I hate to dismiss the effort, even as I set out to praise it, but the decade-hopping anachronism ('50s sounds, '70s camera moves, '90s setting) and the static-frame pastiche of the compositions, light by old cartoons emanating from a constantly playing television set, eventually work against their own created atmosphere.

Contextually, I still like it. Movies like Skinamarink are the antithesis and possible antidote to crappy-blockbuster malaise. But inside the individual experience of this, the intelligence and minimalism wore off sometime around an hour in; I wish I could say it scared and scarred me. NR. 100M. PRIME.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.


2023 OSCAR-NOMINATED SHORTS. Be the only one in your Oscar pool to have seen any of the animated, live action and documentary contenders. NR. MINOR.

80 FOR BRADY. Pound a shot of Donkey Sauce when you see Guy Fieri in this NFL ad starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, Sally Field and Gisele's ex. PG13. 98M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. Getting small with Paul Rudd. PG13. 125M. BROADWAY (3D), MILL CREEK (3D), MINOR.

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER. Catching up with the blue cat aliens 10 years later in James Cameron's sequel starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver and Kate Winslet. PG13. 192M. BROADWAY (3D).

KNOCK AT THE CABIN. Hostage situation with a twist on doomsday preppers from director M. Night Shyamalan. Starring Dave Bautista and Jonathan Groff. R. 200M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

M3GAN. Yes, she's a child's baby-influencer, uncanny-valley robot who turns on her family but she looks amazing and who among us? PG13. 102M. BROADWAY.

MAGIC MIKE'S LAST DANCE. Salma Hayek joins Channing Tatum to grind out one last movie. R. 112M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

A MAN CALLED OTTO. A grumpy widower (Tom Hanks) who's lost the will to live bonds with a cat and the new family next door. Also starring Mariana Treviño. PG13. 126M. BROADWAY.

MARLOWE. Liam Neeson goes vintage tough guy in this Raymond Chandler adaptation with Diane Kruger and Jessica Lange. R. 110M. BROADWAY.

PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH. Sequel spinoff starring the swashbuckling cat voiced by Antonio Banderas. With Salma Hayek. PG. 100M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

TITANIC 3D. Go down with the ship all over again. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE WHALE. Brendan Fraser stars as a grieving, homebound writing professor in a drama by director Darren Aronofsky. R. 117M. MINOR.

WOMEN TALKING. Women in an isolated religious community grapple with the discovery that their husbands have been drugging and raping them. Starring Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Frances McDormand. PG13. 104M. MINOR.

Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed due to earthquake damage. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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