×

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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • Joker

    Why 'Joker' Is About All of Us (Column)

    Take a look at the photo above. It’s the most poetic image to have emerged from Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” and the reason I say “poetic” isn’t just because the shot has that caught-in-action indelible vibe of a quintessential movie poster: graphic, hauntingly composed, a bit shocking (at least, the first time you see it). It’s [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Rules International Box Office With $117 Million

    Though Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” stumbled at the domestic box office, the Angelina Jolie-led sequel enjoyed a far stronger start overseas. The follow-up to 2014’s fantasy adventure inspired by the “Sleeping Beauty” villain took off with $117 million from 56 international markets. In North America, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted with a meager $36 [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Dominates With Soft $36 Million

    Five years after Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficent” cast a spell over the box office, the villainous enchantress has returned to the top of domestic charts. Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” a sequel to 2014’s fantasy adventure based on the “Sleeping Beauty” sorceress, flew lower than the original and debuted to a disappointing $36 million from 2,790 [...]

  • MIA Wrap

    Rome MIA Market Wraps With Stronger U.S. Presence, Boosts Italy's Industry Standing

    Rome’s MIA market for TV series, feature films and documentaries wrapped positively Sunday with organizers boasting a bump in attendance just as some 2,500 executives departed in an upbeat mood after four days of dealmaking and presentations of mostly European fresh product, which elevated Italy’s global standing in the industry, especially within the TV sector. [...]

  • Film Republic Adds Further Sales for

    Film Republic Inks Further Deals for 'God of the Piano' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sales agent Film Republic has closed further territory sales on “God of the Piano.” Film Movement previously picked up North American rights to the film, as reported exclusively by Variety. Mont Blanc Cinema has taken the rights for Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay. Limelight Distribution is looking after the Australian and New Zealand releases, Hualu [...]

  • ‘Bears Famous Invasion’s Lorenzo Mattotti Brings

    Lorenzo Mattotti on MIA Title ‘Bears Famous Invasion of Sicily’

    Illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti is no stranger to film festivals. The artist – a long-time New Yorker cover artist and onetime Lou Reed and Michelangelo Antonioni collaborator – has designed posters for past editions of Venice and Cannes, and has contributed to films that played in Toronto and Rome. This year, however, he experienced the festival [...]

  • Dreamworks Abominable

    'Abominable' Release in Malaysia Abandoned

    Plans to release the increasingly controversial Chinese-U.S. co-produced animation film “Abominable” in Malaysia have been dropped after the distributor said that it would not be cut to cater to political sensitivities. The film includes a scene which depicts a map showing the South China Sea and the so called “nine-dash line” that China uses to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content