This week the Gene Siskel Film Center screens seven “energetic, irreverent independent comedies that have been turning heads and generating cult audiences at festivals including Sundance, Slamdance, SXSW, and CineVegas.” Following are revews of selected films; for a complete schedule see siskelfilmcenter.org.
Assassination of a High School President Not for nothing has this been on the shelf since 2008. Novice director Brett Simon revisits the notion of high school noir that worked so brilliantly in Rian Johnson’s Brick (2005) but switches genres from drama to comedy. Reece Thompson (Rocket Science) is a bullied nerd who’s investigating SAT-related malfeasance for the student paper; Bruce Willis plays a zany hard-ass principal who fought in Desert Storm. The noir pastiche is sitcomish, the characters vestigial, and the satire of high school so compromised I wondered if cowriters Tim Calpin and Kevin Jakubowski weren’t homeschooled. With Mischa Barton (The O.C.). R, 93 min. —Cliff Doerksen
Trust Us, This Is All Made Up One weekend a month, Second City alumni David Pasquesi and TJ Jagodowski headline at New York’s Barrow Street Theatre, where director Alex Karpovsky (Woodpecker) captured a performance for this behind-the-scenes documentary. Unlike players at their alma mater, who develop comic ideas in rehearsal and assemble skits into long-running revues, the quicksilver “TJ & Dave” improvise something new each night, without conferring beforehand on how to fill their roughly 55 minutes on stage. As seen here, their risky, cerebral approach can result in three-act comedy as dizzying as a high-wire act, but the movie’s first 18 minutes, in which the actors discuss their process, isn’t as revealing as their postperformance recap. 80 min. —Andrea Gronvall
Woodpecker The grail of American bird-watchers, the ivory-billed woodpecker was believed extinct until a recent spate of unverified sightings around the depressed bayou town of Brinkley, Arkansas, gave conservationists new hope. This moderately engaging feature by Alex Karpovsky (The Hole Story) blends real and fabricated documentary elements to explore both practical and poetic implications of the bird’s possible survival. An interpolated fiction about a wounded mope (Jon Hyrns) on an existential quest to find the bird plays like a low-key mash-up of Christopher Guest and Werner Herzog, but it’s simply not as interesting as the interviews with genuine townsfolk, who have variously benefited and suffered from the bird’s impact on the local economy. 87 min. —Cliff Doerksen