14 Sep 2014
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This Week at the Movies

Two new films - 'Project X' and 'This Is Not a Film' - make the worst and best, respectively, of the home movie format.

This Week at the Movies

Two new films released this weekend provide further proof of the possibilities and limitations of the feature-length home movie.

The first, “Project X,” is yet another in the ever-increasing found footage catalogue. Last month’s science fiction thriller “Chronicle” suggested new directions for the genre, while “X” hints that the style of film has reached creative bankruptcy.

In the picture, a trio of dorky high school students decided to throw the party to end all parties at the house of Thomas, whose parents are taking an anniversary trip.

“X” rips off every rowdy teen comedy of its type. Thomas (Thomas Mann - no, not that Thomas Mann) is obviously the “Superbad” stand-in for Michael Cera, while J.D. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) and Costa (Oliver Cooper), the party’s foul-mouthed, sexist, racist and homophobic planner, are both substitutes for Jonah Hill.

As can be expected, the party gets really out of hand and, by the end of the night, a car is driven into a swimming pool, copious amounts of drugs and alcohol are consumed, a midget ends up in an oven, a house is destroyed and a flame thrower is utilized.

But what makes the film especially onerous is its attitude toward the bacchanalia. Not only the movie’s characters, but also its filmmakers, display an obvious sense of entitlement to the havoc that is wreaked.

After nearly destroying a city block and possibly ruining their immediate futures, Costa reminds Thomas that no matter what happens down the road, they’ll always have their eve of destruction.

Nearly as disturbing is the characters’ completely serious assertion that becoming popular at all costs justifies their reckless behavior.

And I’m not going to even go into the film’s unsettling depiction of its female characters, most of whom are topless and eager to please.

Look, I’m no fuddy duddy. But “Project X” treats unsavory and depraved behavior as some sort of rite of passage. I can only hope I was never as boorish as the twerps depicted in this movie.

“This Is Not a Film” uses a home-movie format to significantly better effect, but it’s not as if its maker had much of a choice.

For those unaware of his plight, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was imprisoned after being accused of propaganda against his home country.

He was released from jail, but has been banned from making films for 20 years, writing screenplays or leaving Iran.

In “This Is Not a Film,” a documentary of sorts, the director is on house arrest. His friend, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, has agreed to film him as he describes scenes from the screenplay he was writing and discusses his body of work.

Technically, Panahi has not been banned by law from describing a screenplay. So, his latest “effort,” as he describes it, is not a film.

The picture is already the stuff of legend. Much of it was shot on an iPhone and smuggled out of Iran in a birthday cake. The movie was then taken to last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it screened to adoring critics.

It’s a brave and defiant document of a censored artist. If the picture has limitations, they are mostly imposed by the legal ramifications Panahi could face if he made an actual film.

This past weekend, I had the fortune to catch a second screening of Asghar Farhadi’s riveting “,” which recently took home the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Both Panahi’s documentary and Farhadi’s film paint a complex portrait of modern day Iran.

“Project X” is playing at Douglaston’s Movie World, while “This Is Not a Film” and “A Separation” are both screening at Manhattan’s Film Forum.

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