Gary Winick created the production company InDigEnt to foster a place where
filmmakers could create relatively low-budget feature films shot on digital video. The project
has allowed some actors to turn director (Campbell Scott with FINAL, Ethan Hawke with
CHELSEA WALLS) as well as producing a handful of fairly well-received movies like
Winick’s TADPOLE, Rebecca Miller’s triptych PERSONAL VELOCITY and Peter Hedges’
PIECES OF APRIL, which brought an Oscar nomination to co-star Patricia Clarkson.
InDigEnt has now partnered with IFC Films and a handful of these movies are finally
making their theatrical debut after making the festival rounds. One such is KILL THE POOR,
directed by Alan Taylor, with Daniel Handler adapted his script from Joel Rose’s comic novel.
Handler (who is perhaps better known for his Lemony Snicket books) has taken great liberties
with the original source material to fashion a sort of whodunit. The film opens with an act of
arson – gasoline is being poured through a hole in the ceiling of an apartment and then the
requisite lit match is tossed with a confined inferno. We’re told via voice-over that the apartment
belongs to Carlos De Jesus (well played by Paul Calderon), the building’s enforcer/squatter.
As the movie progresses, the audience gets to meet the residents of this “co-op” building on
Manhattan’s Lower East Side. We also learn that each one has a motive for setting the blaze.
The narrator is Joe Peltz (David Krumholtz), a nebbishy news vendor who works with his
uncle (the late Cliff Gorman) in the theater district. When Joe receives a very surprising marriage
proposal from French stripper Annabelle (Clara Beller) – clearly in need of a greed card – he
acquiesces. The pair seemingly fall in love (off-camera) and when Annabelle announces that
she’s pregnant, Joe decides to find a bigger place to live. His search takes him to the fictional
Avenue E on Manhattan’s Lower East Side – the same neighborhood where his Jewish
forebearers settled at the turn of the century. Despite the objections of his uncle, Joe buys into
an apartment building on the block and soon finds himself elected as president of the building’s
The rest of the residents are an eclectic bunch, even by the standards of 1980s NYC.
There’s the sluttish Scarlett (Heather Burns) who always seems to be drunk and/or high, the
politically-minded grad student Butch (Zak Orth), the aspiring visual artist Spike (Larry Gilliard, Jr.),
the cross-dressing know-it-all Delilah (Damian Young), the local neighborhood guy Negrito (Otto
Sanchez), and the aforementioned Carlos who shares his apartment with his teenage son
Segundo (Jon Budinoff).
Although Carlos has lived in the place for eight years, he’s never paid rent. Instead, he’s
kept the place relatively safe by driving away the local junkies. Now that sounds like the other
residents should be indebted to him, but the antics of his son – kicking in the front door to the
building, using them for target practice, setting fires in the hallways – have made them uneasy,
to say the least.
The actors try gamely, but some have been handed richer characters than others.
Because the tale unfolds in a nonlinear fashion, it can sometimes be confusing. There also
doesn’t seem to be a real rhyme or reason to why certain scenes appear when they do, even
though eventually the story does come together.
Because the story is framed as a mystery, I was hoping that the characters would be a bit
more intriguing. Instead, some are better developed than others but the actors’ playing styles
don’t always mesh together. For instance, Krumholtz seems to be mining the comic elements
while others, like Calderon, are going for the dramatic.
KILL THE POOR, whose title comes from a Dead Kennedys song, premiered at the
2003 Tribeca Film Festival and was shot in the fall of 2001. (In fact, according to the press notes,
September 11, 2001 was to be the first day of production.) The movie ranks somewhere in the
middle of InDigEnt’s productions. It’s not on par with the best, but it isn’t one of the worst either.
MPAA Rating: None
Running time: 85 mins
Viewed at the IFC Center
|Kill the Poor
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.