Adventures of Power

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

Adventures of Power It’s such a fine line between clever and stupid, and this Spinal Tap-caliber cult item maintains a perfect balance. Writer-director Ari Gold stars as Power, a gangling spaz whose compulsive air-drumming to classic rock makes him village idiot of a New Mexico copper town beset by labor strife. Fired from the mine and estranged from his union-leader father (Michael McKean), he sets out to conquer big-league air-drumming in New Jersey. Bizarrely imaginative sight gags and laugh lines are timed like a Neal Peart solo, but the film also inexplicably succeeds as melodrama and heartfelt pro-labor statement. The wonderful cast includes the sublime Jane Lynch (Best in Show) and a raft of people we should have heard of already. 90 min. —Cliff Doerksen  Mon 12/7, 7:45 PM

Anywhere USA This 2008 feature was shot in Asheville, North Carolina, but writer-director Chusy Haney-Jardine digitally blurs any specific place-names, and his three loosely linked stories cast a peculiar spell precisely because their settings seem generic even as their barbed satire feels homegrown. The first story is a wicked trailer-trash comedy in which a woman steps out on her hick boyfriend with a Middle Eastern man she’s met online and the boyfriend, counseled by his obnoxious dwarf pal, tries to save her from what he’s convinced must be a jihadist plot. The last story is a heavy-handed spoof of WASP provincialism in which a complacent family man resolves to recruit some black friends for himself. Most impressive is the middle story, about a girl whose gnawing questions about the tooth fairy are inextricably linked to her doubts about the heaven where her dead parents supposedly reside. Geunine in its emotion but still quite funny, it marks Haney-Jardine as a writer with more on his mind than simple mockery. 124 min. —J.R. Jones  Haney-Jardine will attend the screening. Tue 12/8, 7:45 PM

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  Simon and Jakubowski will attend the screening. Fri 12/4, 8 PM

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  Karpovsky, Pasquesi, and Jagodowski will attend the screening. Thu 12/10, 9 PM

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  Karpovsky will attend the screening. Wed 12/9, 7:45 PM