Three 6th grade boys ditch school and embark on an epic journey while carrying accidentally stolen drugs, being hunted by teenage girls, and trying to make their way home in time for a long-awaited party.
Keith L. Williams,
Set in 1825, Clare, a young Irish convict woman, chases a British officer through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy, who is also marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past.
A married couple is forced to reckon with their idealized image of their son, adopted from war-torn Eritrea, after an alarming discovery by a devoted high school teacher threatens his status as an all-star student.
After he's attacked on the street at night by a roving motorcycle gang, timid bookkeeper Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) joins a neighborhood karate studio to learn how to protect himself. Under the watchful eye of a charismatic instructor, Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), and hardcore brown belt Anna (Imogen Poots), Casey gains a newfound sense of confidence for the first time in his life. But when he attends Sensei's mysterious night classes, he discovers a sinister world of fraternity, brutality and hyper-masculinity, presenting a journey that places him squarely in the sights of his enigmatic new mentor.Written by
Writer/director Riley Stearns' The Art of Self Defense has been called a "dark comedy." Maybe it is, but with so much dark and so little comedy, it would be better thought of as a psycho study of male impotence. That it doesn't have the light Jim Jarmusch touch as in The Dead Don't Die, where dry comic "Bill-Murray" reactions rule the raged zombie terrain, highlights the art of understated humor absent from Stearns' satire.
In today's world of women's ascendency into the macho sphere previously owned by men, Stearns has a serio-comic thriller in an indeterminate time with echoes of Fight Club and any men's magazine that features gun ownership and boobs in the same issue. The Art of Self Defense is anything but about art; it is a dense, dark, melancholic cautionary tale of a 30-something milquetoast, Casey (Jesse Eisenberg), who becomes a menace through the "art" of karate.
Besides the overly-long set up, this film has a challenge to strike the right balance between the dreary life of an introvert and the dangerous world of violence and misogyny, not dull but disquieting. The film is effective showing the almost exclusive male training in artful macho that discriminates against a woman (Anna, played by Imogen Poots) by stifling her ambition and relegating her to a boiler room for a locker room.
Casey embodies the wrong-headed notion that courage can come from a punch and a kick. As for an equalizing gun, it is not for the weak as the dojo's rules claim. Casey will have his own take. His sensei (Alessandro Nivola) must face his pupil as avenging angel.
The Art of Self Defense is not for most regular film goers: It's slow and unsure of its tone. For the discriminating audience, however, it offers a skewered perspective on the hobbling of timid spirits by substituting violence for sympathy and force for understanding.
In the hands of rank amateurs, the defense should be for themselves against themselves. Fight Club or Karate Kid this is not. Like them it is in its minimal humor. Dark comedy? not so much.
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