It arrives with something less than the heated expectations of, say, the Avengers sequel, but Ned Rifle is nevertheless the climax of a movie trilogy. You have to be a follower of the career of longtime indie hero Hal Hartley to really appreciate this closure, but apparently there are enough fans out there to have crowd-funded the budget for this typically modest finale. Hartley got on the map with The Unbelievable Truth and Trust, tiny-scaled films with dialogue written as 1930s screwball patter but underplayed by a hip, pokerfaced ensemble. The writer/director’s visibility waned after an epic-scaled character study, Henry Fool (1997), the movie that inspired the scattered sequel Fay Grim (2006) and now Ned Rifle.
It is reassuring to know that even after the zombie plague begins in earnest, a strong vein of Jewish humor will thrive. This is the best news to come out of the superbly titled Life After Beth, a comedy that kneads together the relationship movie with the zombie genre. After opening with a brief glimpse of the title character (Aubrey Plaza) jogging into the woods toward a fateful encounter with a poisonous snake, the movie turns to the grief of Beth’s loved ones. Beth has died, and boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan, from the most recent Spider-Man movie) can’t seem to let go. When she comes back undead—confused, but otherwise energetic enough—they resume their romance. Because Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon) insist on not telling her about her death, Zach has a difficult time explaining why Beth shouldn’t leave the house much or be seen by people.
Another waft of indie milkweed, Safety Not Guaranteed won’t stay with you much longer than it takes to walk out of the theater. Only audiences hooked on quirky romantic comedy unruffled by grown-up passion or personality will sink happily into the warm bathwater that is Safety. First-time feature director Colin Trevorrow’s fey tale features clueless Hansels and a Gretel abroad in the land of whimsy, deadpan and twee, hoping to stumble onto a way home.
Safety‘s disoriented 20-somethings are Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), Jake Johnson (New Girl) and Karan Soni (Touch) — each recognizable as a one-dimensional type currently swarming TV sitcoms, especially those that feature “girl” in their titles. The film’s certified as authentic oddball indie by the shambling presence of Mark Duplass (Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Your Sister’s Sister). Where skinny little Woody Allen once was king of the nebbishes, Duplass now rules. A soft, cuddly baby-man, his deadpan delivery suggests affectation and arrested development of the sweetest kind.
When he happens upon a personals ad seeking a sidekick for time travel (“Must bring your own weapon. Safety not guaranteed.”), a slick Seattle Magazine reporter jumps on the chance to scoop a juicy backstory — and enjoy a paid vacation. Shanghaiing two hapless interns, he heads for the Oregon Coast burg of Ocean View.