I Am Not a Serial Killer
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Theater: Mall of America
Movies that give us surprising plot twists are, when the unexpected development adds a neat new layer to the story, pretty cool. Films that deliver genre twists are almost unheard of. Which is one of the reasons that Billy O’Brien’s “I Am Not a Serial Killer” is a blow-your-socks–off hoot. Just when we think we get what’s going on and coming next, it lifts us to a whole new level. Is it a sort of private detective movie? A dark, “Fargo”-style comedy? A weird psychological homage to “Donny Darko”? Whatever. Shot in northern Minnesota on a not-too-spendy budget, it’s a twisted treasure.
Max Records, who hit the screen in 2009 as the young lead of Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” plays the teen protagonist, John Wayne Cleaver. These Cleavers aren’t like the “Leave It to Beaver” clan. They own the only funeral home in the backwater Midwestern town of Clayton, and John rather enjoys helping out in the mortuary, pumping blood out of the dearly departed. He has a lot of predictors for serial killer behavior, but he can keep his inner demons down with a regimen of self-control disciplines such as tossing a bouquet of compliments at an annoying person, instead of a knife. But as the story moves from Halloween to Christmas, there are sinister forces outside, as well.
Records comes across like an amazingly hypersensitive young actor, balancing gallows humor, rage, charm, tortured youth and curiosity about corpses. The top performing prize goes to veteran actor Christopher Lloyd. He’s far less jokey than he was as “Back to the Future’s” Doc Brown, full of his own woes as an elderly neighbor of the Cleavers who crosses paths with a number of the town’s unexplained homicide victims.
It’s remarkable how skillfully O’Brien shifts gears from on-target jokes about Minnesotans living on hot chocolate to eerie shocks. Despite an ending that seems over the top even for a story this strange, it’s a handsomely crafted calling card to America from Irish director O’Brien, one that bodes well for the next installment of his work.
Author: The JT LeRoy Story
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for language throughout, sexual content, some drug material and violent images.
The title could just as easily be “Faker.” This stranger-than-fiction documentary offers an X-ray examination of one of the greatest hoaxes of modern-day literature.
An elaborate ruse invented JT LeRoy, the “it” boy novelist whose national bestsellers were represented as the memoirs of a Southern HIV-positive transsexual who was pushed into prostitution at truck stops by his dominating mother. In fact, he was a bogus creation dreamed up by Laura Albert, an imaginative fiction writer.
With the help of her sister-in-law impersonating JT, she convinced Bono, Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, Courtney Love, Tom Waits, Winona Ryder and others to believe in the literary wunderkind, becoming his fans, phone friends and advocates. A wide variety of professionals swallowed the fraud, and many celebrities choked when reporters began digging into the story. Sharply filmed, “Author” explores the appeal of even the most contrived myths, reminding us that even when Pinocchio hides his lengthening nose, he’s telling lies.
Our Little Sister
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG for thematic elements and brief language. In subtitled Japanese.
Here’s a film that’s like a lovely minimal painting. You look at it for a bit before the imagery connects, then the perspective comes into play. Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda has made a fascinating family drama about the feelings of well-observed everyday life. What a touching canvas those simple, small scenes build.
Three adult sisters who have lived together since birth learn of the death of their father, divorced from their late mother and long absent from their lives. He has left behind a 13-year-old daughter. The trio invite their half-sister to move to their city and join them as a student at the local school. The connections that grow among them are the focus of the story, a master class in subtle, understated storytelling.
The tenor of the performance is excellent, most of all from Suzu Hirose, who plays the newcomer, a delightful tomboy athlete. Kore-eda has made a career of family stories focused on youth, some of them heartbreakingly bleak. Here he uses a much lighter brush, creating a picture that is simpler than most, and all the more beautiful for it.