Movie Reviews: 'Red Flag' and 'Rubberneck' -- 3 stars
Movies directed by Alex Karpovsky
Unless you're a "Girls" fan, you're probably not familiar with Alex Karpovsky, the actor who has carved out a niche as a dependable presence on that HBO show and in micro-budget independent movies such as the recent "Supporting Characters."
At best, his face might trigger an "oh, he's that guy" moment of recognition.
Now, there's a great chance to gain a full appreciation for this unusual, gifted artist. "Red Flag" and "Rubberneck" -- two very different films directed, starring and written by the up-and-coming multi-hyphenate -- are available on demand and opening at Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center today.
In the self-lacerating "Red Flag," Karpovsky plays himself, touring the South to promote his real-life 2008 film "Woodpecker." As a last resort, the lonely movie Alex cajoles old pal Clay (Onur Tukel) into joining him on the journey. When fan River (Jennifer Prediger) tags along and an uncomfortable triangular relationship takes hold, things are set on an inextricable path toward combustion.
The movie is an incisive satire crafted in the vein of Mike Birbiglia's "Sleepwalk with Me," in which Karpovsky appeared, and other past examples of artists lampooning their own image. In this case, the writer-director-star sends up the desperation that's inherent in low-profile filmmaking, the glaring conflict between the main character's outsized ego and the fact that, ultimately, no one really cares about his life or his work.
"Red Flag" plays like a sardonic documentary, with a cheap, grainy look and slapdash construction. The three characters offer a combustible mix of personalities, while the journey through Georgia, Memphis and other southern hotspots is rife with amiable charm.
If "Red Flag" shows off Karpovsky's dark sense of humor, "Rubberneck" demonstrates his strong grasp of cinematic craftsmanship and genre basics. The actor plays Paul, a researcher in an antiseptic science lab outside Boston. He's one of those classic loner types, a quiet bundle of twisted emotions who fixates on fellow researcher Danielle (Jaime Ray Newman) and obsesses over her long after the end of a fleeting weekend they spent together.
In this polished flick, Karpovsky makes full use of what was clearly a bigger budget than "Red Flag's," or at least a higher-quality camera. "Rubberneck" is an immersive thriller, in which languid long shots, patient close-ups and other voyeuristic touches create a sense of mounting unease.
The screenplay, which Karpovsky co-wrote with Garth Donovan, subtly reveals the extent of Paul's obsessive madness. And Karpovsky's performance digs out the character's menacing, damaged and sympathetic qualities in equal measure.
Few filmmakers could pull off movies with such different tones and styles. When it comes to Karpovsky, then, it's clearly time to start paying attention.