Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 09, 2016 1:48 pm 
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Location: California/NYC

Brooklyn no fun anymore

Benjamin Dickinson's 2015 sophomore effort is glitzy and hip, a hit at the SxSW festival with handsome b&w Alexa camera lensing and strong use of classical music. It's a futuristic treatment of successful New Yorkers' urban malaise; but underneath it's mainly just a portrait of confused young people struggling with jobs and relationships. It's set in a near future where everybody's i-devices are transparent and keyboards are virtual, and sex with holograms is becoming possible, at least for a man who takes enough drugs. Protag David (Dickinson himself) is an ad man whose current big project is a campaign for a product/concept called Augmenta, a cutting edge personal virtual-reality program involving Oliver Peoples-ish clear plastic glasses and all the dialed-in life-size girlie holograms you want. If it's anything other than fancy new pornography, I'm not sure how.

The film winkingly casts real-world media figures -- Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, Vimeo inventor Jake Lodwick and rapper Heems among David's hard-to-please colleagues, using comic-musician Reggie Watts as the jovial, furry idea-man for Augmenta. David's presentation can be called a success, given the dyspeptic nature of his updated Brooklyn-transplanted Mad Men colleagues. But after it, he's a nervous vomiting wreck, which constant pill-popping and a colleague's urgent reassurances cannot help.

David seems to be in need of escape. So we may not be surprised that his playing with the Augmenta glasses, alcohol, and drugs leads him to get involved with ad agency co-worker Sophie (Alexia Rasmussen), shagging, or virtual-shagging, her at the Brooklyn boutique hotel he favors, the Whyte (a stand-in, perhaps, for the High Line-bordering Standard that has figured repeatedly in such sequences). His action is fraught, since Sophie is the girlfriend of David's best friend and colleague, the glamorous photographer Wim (mustachioed, curly-haired Dan Gill). He neglects his yoga instructor gf-roommate Jennifer (Nora Zehetner of Brick), who, in an upstate effort to get more work, is forced to team-teach with a show-offy yogi with copious beard and hair who's changed his name from Brett to Govindas (Paul Manza, who played a similar role In Dickinson's debut feature, First Winter). Eventually David and Jennifer have a change of heart, though it's undercut by a sardonic final twist.

Creative Control revels in the alienated world of slightly-beyond-now technology and publicity and its cold, glittering look, openly alluding to the Antonioni of Blowup and the Kubrick of Clockwork Orange. He captures his main characters' unease with a few strokes. But that's the trouble: they're remain on the superficial and jejune side. Nonetheless Dickinson evinces "creative control" enough of his own to seem a director still worth watching. I didn't see his low budget debut, about a hippie commune in the country whose harmonious atmosphere is shattered when there's a blackout. But this new film also has a NY State sequence and Govindas, the shaggy yogi from the first film, with obvious guru-cult leader potential. All ll that for some reason reminded me of Sean Durkin's spooky 2011 film Martha Marcy May Marlene. Despite Dickinson's skill with slick music and commercial videos, a bread-and-butter role that fed into the current outing in various ways, and contributed to its no doubt higher production values, maybe he should get back to the country. But the expensive look he achieves this time on a shoestring (including many sharp Kickstarter-funded holographic effects) suggests he has the talent and moxie to move forward.

Creative Control, 97 mins, debuted at SXSW, where it won a best feature nomination and the prize for visual excellence, and got favorable notices in Variety and Hollywood Reporter. The latter tells us that in his last minute decision to play the lead role he binge-watched Don Draper in "Mad Men" to develop a persona. It works. The film has been shown at several other festivals, and Magnolia releases it in theaters 11 March 2016.

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