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Talk It Out

Vibrant dialog and complex characters make Your Sister’s Sister a winner




YOUR SISTER'S SISTER. I was introduced to the work of writer/director Lynn Shelton via Humpday (2009). In that film, Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard play heterosexual old friends with a mildly antagonistic relationship. Over the course of a drunken evening, they goad each other into making an ultra-indie gay porno for the local amateur smut film festival. I won't spoil it for you, but I'll say that the movie mines this scenario for all it's worth; it's a clever, unassuming study in the comedy of awkwardness. Your Sister's Sister, again starring Duplass, is Shelton's follow-up. Like Humpday, it explores the intermittently dark and funny territory of sexual relationships, but to entirely different effect.

The earlier movie was competently made and self-assured, but it had a distinctly D.I.Y. aesthetic and a talky, improvisational structure. Whether it indicates growth as a filmmaker or simply a change in approach I can't say, but Your Sister's Sister retains some of that lo-fi charm while incorporating polished camera-work and editing, and an air of authenticity that skirts but avoids preciousness.

Duplass plays Jack, a man who has been rudderless and broken since the death of his brother a year ago. Having watched him slowly implode, his best friend Iris (Emily Blunt) suggests he take some time to himself at her family's remote cabin. Jack takes her up on the offer, if only because he can't think of anything else to do. Upon arriving, he discovers Iris' sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) already settled in. He needs a friend; she's riding out the end of a failed long-term relationship. A bottle of tequila comes into play, and things get complicated. Iris shows up out of the blue, and the next several days are spent revealing previously unacknowledged feelings and confronting painful realities.

This is hardly the first movie to deal with this sort of thematic material, but Shelton has a knack for succinctly addressing the vagaries of sexual relationships. Here, as in Humpday, she finds the truth of big issues in little interactions and momentary lapses of judgment. In cinema, the pivotal conversations we've all had are usually presented like awards acceptance speeches or locker-room pep talks. But Shelton films them warts and all, full of uncomfortable pauses and imperfect diction.

Credit is also due to the actors. Duplass, whose profile keeps rising, is proving himself to be a versatile, brave actor. Having recently watched him in Safety Not Guaranteed, I halfway expected his Jack to be a version of Kenneth from that movie. But he plays Jack as an entirely different sort of sad. He's remarkably honest, quick-witted, and frequently very funny. But the undercurrent of hurt and loneliness is always present just below the surface.

Blunt, who is rapidly moving to the top of my list of Most Adorable Humans, has perhaps never been better. Her Iris is sweet, clever and lovelorn. As her relationships with Jack and Hannah are damaged and, eventually, tentatively repaired, the emotional toll is writ large in Blunt's window-like eyes and perfectly controlled body language. Like Duplass, she makes her character live on screen as a real person: Her performance is so naturalistic, it's easy to forget she's acting.

Sister is talky and emotional, which I expected. But I was surprised by Shelton's calm, expansive camerawork. She makes ample use of the scenic beauty of Orcas Island, Wash., frequently slowing down and pulling back to take in the scenery, which allows the movie to open up and breathe, freeing it from the relentless, almost claustrophobic closeness of Humpday. It feels composed and intentional, with its wide angles and smooth editing. This may be "another indie movie about relationships," but it is smarter, better made and more individual than any I've seen in quite a while. R. 90m.

TOTAL RECALL. A very good friend of mine refuses to see this remake. She maintains that Paul Verhoeven's original version is perfect, so what's the point? My feelings about the 1990 Total Recall aren't nearly that strong, but now I've seen Len Wiseman's take on it. My friend was right to stay away.

My ambivalence about the original aside, it remains a well-made, uniquely 1990s sci-fi action landmark. It has a look and feel that may be impossible to capture in a modern movie. Wiseman must agree, because there's nothing of that aesthetic in his vision. Instead, he blatantly steals from Star Wars and Bladerunner, evidently hoping that few flashy camera moves and tens of millions of dollars of computer-generated backdrops will carry the day.

In brief, Total Recall, which is based on a Philip K. Dick short story, concerns the trials and tribulations of Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), a factory worker with recurring nightmares that hint at repressed memories. One day he visits Rekall Corp. to buy a chemically engineered mental vacation. Things go sideways: He kills a bunch of cops using combat skills he didn't know he had, and his wife (Kate Beckinsale) tries to murder him. Turns out he's the lynchpin in a vast global takeover gambit that goes all the way to the top.

The story rambles on and on, and I could barely keep my eyes open through the whole thing. Farrell and Bryan Cranston are both favorites of mine. I'm not sure what convinced them to participate in this thing. Some of the action sequences are rousing, but Wiseman's grasp of the narrative is so tenuous that they hardly matter. PG13. 118m.

--John J. Bennett


THE BOURNE LEGACY. Can the Bourne action franchise survive without star Matt Damon? Well, the death of author and creator Robert Ludlum in 2001 hasn't slowed down the book sequels. This Bourne guy's unstoppable! For the fourth film installment, Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) takes center stage and Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) directs. PG13. 135m.

THE CAMPAIGN. There not much in life that's as tragically low-brow and absurd as the American political process, which makes it perfect fodder for a broad comedy starring professional doofuses Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. R. 97m.

HOPE SPRINGS. Here's the official synopsis: "After 30 years of marriage, a middle-aged couple attends an intense, week-long counseling session to work on their relationship." Sounds awful, right? What could possibly save this movie? Well, if stars Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones can't do it, no one can. PG13. 100m.

A busy stretch at the Arcata Theatre Lounge starts with Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night this Thursday, featuring alien encounters. Hyper Sapien (1986) involves a man named Dirt and a three-eyed alien baby who feeds on gasoline and hot coals. That'll be followed by The Day Time Ended (1980), in which exploding stars conjure dinosaurs, aliens and robots (oh my!). Friday night, the touring short-film festival Future Shorts arrives with a new assortment of experimental, animated, scripted and documentary films. On Sunday, if you're so inclined, you could go back to the first year at Hogwarts with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001). And next Wednesday, believe it or not, there's another Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night, this one featuring the 1985 British comedy Morons From Outer Space and the 1978 Italian sci-fi thriller The Eyes Behind the Stars.


THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. Director Mark Webb manages to give Spidey new dimension in this satisfying, if extraneous, reboot. PG13. 136m.

BRAVE. Pixar's stunning animation doesn't disappoint, even if this tale of a precocious Scottish princess lacks the studio's usual depth. PG. 93m.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Christopher Nolan completes his Batman trilogy with this mournful, contemplative blockbuster that still brings the exhilarating action. PG13. 164m.

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS. Slapstick kid comedy in which the titular "wimpy kid" has a mishap at a public pool, among other misadventures. PG. 94m.

ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT. More prehistoric hijinks from Manny the mammoth, Diego the saber-tooth and Sid, the lisping sloth. PG. 94m.

MAGIC MIKE. Channing Tatum stars as a male stripper/aspiring entrepreneur in director Steven Soderbergh's gritty-yet-fleshy drama. R. 110m.

PROMETHEUS. Ridley Scott's prequel to Alien features breathtaking visuals and strong performances. R. 124m.

STEP UP REVOLUTION. Go for the dancing; stay for the ... well, the dancing is pretty much the only draw here. PG13. 97m.

TED. This feature film debut from Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane, about a pothead Bostonian (Mark Wahlberg) and his sentient teddy bear, is crass, uproarious and surprisingly touching. R. 106m.

THE WATCH. A sci-fi comedy starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade that wastes a fine cast on crass, formulaic material. R. 101m.

--Ryan Burns


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