7/23/13: Starbuck, Wild Bill, Orphan Black S1, Welcome to the Punch, Twixt

Starbuck (R, 2011, Entertainment One)
“If you can live with his countless shortcomings, you’re in for plenty of beautiful surprises as well.” Those words, courtesy of the father (Igor Ovadis) of a man (Patrick Huard as David) who himself has fathered 533 children, pretty perfectly summarize every wonderful thing “Starbuck” ventures to say and do — which, given how many wonderful things this movie actually says and does, is no small feat. For years, David, whose incompetence touches everything from his delivery job to his relationships and attempts to resolve unpaid debts, deposited an ungodly number of donations (under the pseudonym of “Starbuck”) to the nearby fertility clinic. Because incompetence is apparently contagious, if not necessarily genetic, the clinic accidentally used Starbuck’s samples almost exclusively for a period of time, and a couple decades later, roughly one fifth of Starbuck’s children want to know who their biological father is. Were “Starbuck’s” heart in a different place, what follows next might have been a sloppy drama about the legal ramifications of a clueless donor’s right to anonymity being challenged. Or perhaps it would have just been a crazy comedy about a man having to raise 533 grown children even though he barely can take care of himself. But when a moment of weakness compels David to peek at a dossier of one of the children who want to meet him, his curiosity consumes him and elevates his story into something grander and more exciting than the humble opening act implied was ahead. What that actually entails is best left unspoiled. But what “Starbuck” finds when it launches skyward is a considerably funnier comedy than a typical comedy and an exponentially more wondrous story than any straight-faced drama could have ventured to tell. If you don’t mind the subtitles, this may be the most uplifting movie you see all year, and it may not even be close. In French with English subtitles.
Extras: Deleted scenes, interviews, bloopers, music video.

Wild Bill (NR, 2012, Flatiron Film Company)
Out on parole after eight years, Wild Bill (Charlie Creed-Miles) just wants to go home and sleep. But what’s home anymore? His 11-year-old son Jimmy (Sammy Williams) doesn’t even remember him in the first place, and his 15-year-old son Dean (Will Poulter) resents him so bitterly that he probably envies Jimmy’s ignorance. As for the mother of his children? She’s skipped town, leaving Dean to secretly care for Jimmy until Bill barrels back into society, inadvertently lets the authorities in on the secret, and is forced to assert his guardianship to keep the boys out of the foster care system. Meanwhile, the allure of profitable crime beckons, and not necessarily just for Bill. Wait until you see what the angel-faced Jimmy is up to — and yes, it’s sort of OK to laugh when you find out. “Wild Bill” is a coming-of-age movie for its adults as well as its children, and set amid a backdrop of abandonment, resentment and debts unpaid to dangerous people, it’s an unarguably grim one. But when your grim story features a man who clearly means well in spite of his multiple levels of incompetence, a teenager whose awkwardness and honor are as pronounced as his anger, and a kid whose sweetness so wildly belies his bad decisions, it’s hard not to see the dark humor in it all. “Bill” realizes it, its characters realize it, and while it’s hardly the stuff from which uproarious comedies are made, the genuinely sharp and sweet laughs that punctuate and puncture all that grimness are what ultimately endure as the most striking and likable aspect of a movie with very few flaws as is.
Extras: Deleted/extended scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.

Orphan Black: Season One (NR, 2013, BBC)
What would you do if you unexpectedly ran into someone who looked exactly like you? If she ever pondered it, Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) didn’t have any time to do anything about it, as the shock of meeting her exact double was almost immediately followed by the shock of watching that double throw herself in front of a moving train. So who was that, anyway? A bag left on the platform provides the only clue, and when Sarah finds out where that clue leads, it’s a coin toss as to whether this chance encounter was the blessing or curse of a lifetime. And that’s before Sarah discovers the double on the train platform isn’t the only one out there. Say this for “Orphan Black:” It wastes very little time getting going, and it has absolutely no qualms about getting increasingly entangled as Sarah goes from toe-deep to neck-deep in this mystery with similar dauntlessness. Not every one of those twists hits, not every supporting character gets utilized in a way that doesn’t pigeonhole him or her, and the tone of the presentation occasionally falls a bit on the overdramatic side. But these weaknesses amount mostly to nitpicks amid all — from Maslany’s multi-character acrobatics to the subplots that precede and occasionally color the story from the background — this first season does extremely well. Frankly, the mystery at the center of it all is crazily engrossing enough that “Black” could have squandered half of what it does right and still come away as a show worth seeing. Many sci-fi serials have come and gone in recent years, and most have gone quickly due to a lack of confidence in the mystery they’re building. “Black” has no such issue, it makes that clear from the start, and that confidence makes for a show that’s hard to stop watching once you start.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus five behind-the-scenes features and a Maslany interview.

Welcome to the Punch (R, 2013, IFC Films)
A cop (James McAvoy as Max) wants payback against the criminal (Mark Strong as Jacob) who put him on the shelf and nearly killed him before escaping and disappearing. When Jacob’s son becomes embroiled in a heist gone very wrong and forces him to return to London, a freshly-reactivated and long-angry Max gets his shot … until, as often seems to happen, both realize the situation that rebinds them is considerably murkier than it originally seemed. It’s a setup that’s both classically fun and completely stale, and like a movie that understands the fine line between those two fates and grows self-conscious instead of emboldened by the challenge of toeing it, “Welcome to the Punch” finds a murky way to avoid embracing either path. For all the pieces it puts on the table, “Punch” takes its perilously sweet time really leaning into its characters’ angst and the suddenly confusing terms under which they must work around each other. Some form of payoff eventually avails itself as the second act gives way to the third, and that provides enough time and space for an imperfect but reasonably entertaining finish. You get the feeling it could have been so much better than this, but “Punch” seems to operate under the premise that it also could have been so much worse, so competent but compromised entertainment will have to do this time.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, interviews.

Twixt (R, 2011, Fox)
When the local sheriff moseys up to fading horror writer Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) during a barren book signing and asks, “How does it feel to be the bargain basement Stephen King?” without a hint of irony, it’s good for a chuckle. But that was then, this is now, and once you’ve entered the heart of “Twixt,” you might find yourself wishing that accidental crack was way more self-aware than it probably actually was. “Twixt” follows an increasingly common premise — see “Castle” and “The Raven’s” twist on Edgar Allen Poe’s life for two examples — wherein Hall, with a nudge from the sheriff (Bruce Dern), investigates a local murder mystery in hopes of turning it into the story that sparks his next book (and, in this particular instance, revives his career), only to become dangerously embroiled in the mystery. Rather inconveniently, most of the insights into the mystery come to Hall via dreams while he sleeps. There, he meets a dead girl (Elle Fanning) who seeks to avenge her own death. And speaking of Poe, he’s here too for some reason. Lots of “Twixt,” in fact, falls under the “for some reason” justification. When balled together, it’s enough to turn a somewhat pedestrian murder mystery into a complete mess that, sadly, isn’t so messy and crazy as to morph into something entertaining in spite of itself. Despite some stabs at dark humor, “Twixt” ultimately feels like a straight-faced mystery that itself is a bargain basement attempt at a premise that’s received better treatment in recent years. If that’s the joke, the movie itself doesn’t demonstrate any notion that it’s in on it with us.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.