×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Arbalest’

A toy magnate doggedly pursues a disinterested love object in this meticulous but impenetrable curio.

With:
Mike Brune, Tallie Medel, Jon Briddell, Robert Walker Branchaud, Felice Monteith, Matt Stanton, Marc Farley, Alex Orr.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4015996/

There’s off-kilter appeal but not much in the way of hilarity or point to “The Arbalest,” a droll curiosity about a fictive toy magnate that takes place in the late 1960s and ’70s. Located at the tipping point where idiosyncrasy borders on the merely arbitrary, this Atlanta-shot feature by writer-director Adam Pinney and producer Alex Orr — who were involved in an equally loopy but more satisfying 2007 horror-comedy, “Blood Car” — is meticulous in its small-scale period detail, but never feels like more than a vaguely prankish anecdote in story or thematic terms. It should pique the interest of select fest programmers looking for midnight-type fare outside the usual genre boxes, though commercial prospects look remote.

In 1968 New York, Foster Kalt (Mike Brune) is in a hotel room for a toy convention. He spends an idle evening there with two hitherto unknown attendees, a man (Jon Briddell, whose character is identified at the end only as Man in a Suit) and a woman, Sylvia (Tallie Medel). Amid copious alcohol and, eventually, unspecified recreational drugs, Foster is urged to reveal the product he’ll present at the convention the following day. The others are unimpressed by his discovery. But before the night is out, one character will unexpectedly expire, leaving behind a different new toy that will make the others fabulously rich. Also, Foster will decide he’s in love with Sylvia, which is another thing that will fail to impress her.

This single long scene is intercut with glimpses of 1976 and 1978. At the latter date, the reclusive Foster is hosting a TV crew (Felice Monteith, Matt Stanton, Marc Farley) eager to penetrate his long-standing vow of silence and discover what has been/will be in store for the inventor (so far as they know) of the world’s most popular toy.

Foster still isn’t talking. But as he wanders upstairs at his secluded chalet during this “interview,” he begins muttering to himself, and the sound guy catches this autobiographical monologue via microphone. Thus we learn what happened in ’76, when Foster’s undiluted obsession with the resistant Sylvia had led him to purchase a rural cabin next to the one where she lives with Army officer spouse John. A last-ditch attempt to win over his life love by having the couple over for dinner proves disastrous.

Brune’s impressively diverse performance runs a physical and emotional gamut, albeit all within the hapless-nerd-loser spectrum; the other performers are asked to hit single notes. But most of the time “The Arbalest” seems to be striking a deadpan posture without there actually being a joke behind it. There’s dry amusement in the vintage decor and fashions, as well as a certain mostly very low-key absurdism to the situations. But they add up to very little (despite some climactic violence — though even using the word “climactic” seems excessive in this context), and then suddenly the film is over. If it were a 20-minute short, one could savor this cryptic goof as just that; at feature length, however, the charm of such lower-case WTF-ery wears pretty thin. Most viewers will be left scratching their heads over a private jest that remains impenetrably insular after 76 minutes.

Considering the care expended on period detail, design-wise, it’s strange that Pinney’s dialogue isn’t particularly period-appropriate. Assembly is nicely turned in all departments, making “The Arbalest” one of those films — for better or worse — that seems to know exactly what it’s doing, even if the average viewer may have no idea just what that intention is.

Film Review: 'The Arbalest'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, March 9, 2016. (In SXSW Film Festival — competing.) Running time: 76 MIN.

Production: A Fake Wood Wallpaper production. Produced by Alex Orr.

Crew: Directed, written by Adam Pinney. Camera (color, HD), Hugh Braselton; editor, Pinney; music, Thomas Barnwell, Ian Deaton; production designer, Aimee Holmberg; costume designer, Karen Freed; sound, Nicole Powell; re-recording mixer, Gunnar Jebsen; casting, Rita Harrell, Jen Kelley.

With: Mike Brune, Tallie Medel, Jon Briddell, Robert Walker Branchaud, Felice Monteith, Matt Stanton, Marc Farley, Alex Orr.

More Film

  • Gwyneth Paltrow Variety Cover Story

    Gwyneth Paltrow Talks About Her Biggest Fights With Harvey Weinstein

    In this week’s Variety cover story, Gwyneth Paltrow looks back on the 20th anniversary of winning the best actress Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love.” The movie still holds up today, although there’s an ominous figure lurking in the credits. The romantic comedy was produced by Harvey Weinstein, and Paltrow spoke about working for the volcanic [...]

  • Jason Hoch to Lead Imperative Entertainment's

    Jason Hoch to Lead Imperative Entertainment's New Podcast Division (EXCLUSIVE)

    Entertainment studio Imperative Entertainment has hired producer Jason Hoch to lead its newly formed podcast division, Variety has learned. The new division will create and produce podcasts based on both original ideas and third-party IP, in addition to exploring opportunities within the company’s existing slate of feature and TV projects. More Reviews Film Review: Keira [...]

  • Gwyneth Paltrow 'Avengers: Infinity War' film

    Gwyneth Paltrow to Exit Marvel Cinematic Universe

    For the last decade, Gwyneth Paltrow has popped up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Pepper Potts, Iron Man’s secretary and eventual girlfriend. But in an interview with Variety, the actress said that she’s planning on retiring the character after this summer’s “Avengers: Endgame.” “I mean, I’m a bit old to be in a suit [...]

  • Oscars Predictions Final

    Oscar Predictions: Who Will Win and Who Should Win?

    At 5 p.m. Tuesday on the west coast it’ll be pencils down for Oscar voters, so to speak. Or maybe in an era of online voting, it’s more like laptops closed. Either way, polling for the 91st annual Academy Awards officially concludes in a few short hours. Five days from now, we’ll find out which [...]

  • Modern Films Picks Up Oscar-Nominated 'Never

    Modern Films Picks Up Oscar-Nominated 'Never Look Away' for U.K.

    Modern Films has snagged U.K. and Ireland rights to “Never Look Away,” the German-language Oscar entry from “The Lives of Others” helmer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. The multi-generational story follows a young art student (Tom Schilling), who falls in love with a fellow student (Paula Beer). Her father (Sebastian Koch), a renowned doctor, disapproves of [...]

  • Gwyneth Paltrow Variety Cover Story

    Gwyneth Paltrow on How 'Shakespeare in Love' Changed Her Life (and the Oscars) Forever

    Gwyneth Paltrow never felt the same after making “Shakespeare in Love.” The movie that earned her the best actress Oscar 20 years ago transformed her into a global star. “It just changed my life,” Paltrow says on a recent afternoon in Los Angeles, reflecting on the impact of the 1998 romantic comedy that grossed nearly [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content