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I heard so much good things about these but then I saw it and I must say i was not impressed. I thought it was very formulaic and jarring. The characters were indie film cardboard cutouts. None of the performances stood out despite a strong cast but you couldn't blame them as the dialogue was trite and uneventful. This was a standard crash-esquire drama with a decent message that was told more vividly at the Q & A by the director Mark Webber than was portrayed in the film. Sorry, wanted to like it but it just didn't mesh or flow. But I must say a good chunk of the audience members enjoyed it, as it seemed to move them. But as an avid film lover, i was not engrossed in any of the characters(I just wanted the movie to end) It felt like a hallmark special movie albeit with good, urban score that was frankly the best part of the film. The film is way over saturated but I know that's what the director intended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After reading a lot of the other reviews, I realized that the context in which this film was reviewed was rather skewed. This film is not like your normal Hollywood film, and yes, I must admit that the plot leads up to a not very exciting climactic ending... but this depends on how you view the film. Growing up in working class resident of Northeast, Minneapolis, I see the struggle and lives of these people daily. I see poverty on the cities north side and I see the dramatic effects of the cities North side. This film was very inspiring to me because it documented these lives in a very emotional way. The film was scattered, unorganized and confused... but the film is beautifully shot and the raw emotions and life stories of the characters mirror the typical members of my community as well as many communities like mine. If you understand that this film is not your typical Hollywood flick and if you just open yourself up for 80 minutes to celebrate the lives of these characters and their story then this film will enrich your life. Watch this film and analyze the lives introduced, set aside your film 101 ego and just learn something. It is a film which documents how these characters come together in a struggle. You cannot critique the beauty of knowledge being documented in this film. So relax, watch, then walk around your community and reflect.
Crumbling, hollowed-out buildings, trash-strewn alleyways and
weed-infested empty lots provide the backdrop for "Explicit Ills," a
low-keyed, understated account of a group of largely unrelated people
struggling to make a go of things amidst poverty and urban decay in
Philadelphia. Yet, despite the grimness of the setting, the movie
offers a basis for renewal and hope through a cast of characters who
don't exactly fit into the stereotypical slum-drama mold - and in the
film's commitment to social justice through unity and action.
In terms of form, Mark Webber's film is more a series of vignettes than a conventionally structured narrative, an approach that actually works quite well given the slightly amateurish, rough-around-the-edges nature of the piece. Yet, despite limited financial resources, Webber has fashioned a stylish, sometimes even quite visionary work that clearly cares about its characters and the community to which they belong.
Those characters include a young couple caught up in the web of drug addiction; an aspiring actor who's struggling with depression; a seven-year-old chess player who gets picked on at school; a sweet-natured teenager who's trying hard to impress his girl; a pot-smoking mother who's having to counsel her son to stay away from the drug till he's older; and another mother (played by Rosario Dawson) who's desperate to get some much-needed medicine for her asthmatic child. The characters have little in common with one another except that they happen to live in the same geographical locale and they're all trying to do the best they can with what fate and, in some cases, their own choices and actions have led them to. The movie ends on a powerful note of optimism and reconciliation after a heartbreaking and gut-wrenching event befalls two of the main characters.
When all is said and done, Webber's first directorial effort is more a work of "promise" than a fully realized work of art in its own right. But if your taste runs more towards the experimental and the "hip" and less towards the stale conventions of commercial movie-making, then "Explicit Ills" might well be the movie for you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you are watching this movie and thinking that perhaps these disparate, banal, meaningless , ordinary threads of interaction are going to lead somewhere into a plot or storyline of some kind, they do so only slightly in the end. About two-thirds of the way through the movie, all I had to do was check the year this movie came out (2009) to confirm my suspicion of what this movie is about: a foil for universal health-care. This script of this movie could have been written in a day. It is utterly blasé, predictable, and uninciteful, unless you think that social network message that infected the mind-numb robots of this summer "No one should die because they cannot afford health care" is genius.
I attended the World Premiere of "Explicit Ills" at the 2008 SXSW Film
Festival. This film is the stunning directorial debut of Mark Webber
and was shot in his hometown of Philadelphia. It boasts an incredible
ensemble cast including Paul Dano ("L.I.E.," "Little Miss Sunshine,"
"There Will Be Blood") and Lou Taylor Pucci ("Thumbsucker,"
Although Webber has had great success as an actor ("Snow Day," "Dear Wendy," "The Hottest State") he produced, wrote, and directed this project because it was a story which he was compelled to tell. He did it from the heart, and it shows. "Explicit Ills" is simply a masterpiece.
The film weaves in and out of the lives of "ordinary" Philadelphians -- kids, couples, and families of all races and classes. From the opening shots of tidy middle class rowhomes transitioning to once-neat houses now fallen into disrepair Webber already appears to be making a bold statement about how our society treats its citizens and how their lives are affected by the state of our economy and attitudes.
Separate story lines essentially proceed independently. Given the latest fare out of Hollywood, where one anticipates a "Crash"-like blending of the characters' lives, we wait for these characters to cross paths. But Webber holds back. For how long will it be left to the viewer to discern how they (and we) are connected? The message is not force-fed. Will there be great reveals? There is a message, to be sure, but it's not heavy-handed and only comes about with a bit of thought and an open mind. Such care and trust in the audience's own intelligence shows a true sensibility rarely seen in any filmmaker, let alone one this young.
It's always hard to single out individual performances in an ensemble cast. Lou Taylor Pucci's films have held prominent places in the world of independent film, largely on the basis of his intense believability. Paul Dano, who has worked with Mark Webber before ("Weapons"), has recently achieved worldwide fame, garnering a slew of awards and critical acclaim for his performances in "Little Miss Sunshine" and "There Will Be Blood." Other standouts include Rosario Dawson ("Alexander," "Sin City," "Rent") whose performance, along with Francisco Burgos as her young son Babo, stays with you long after the end credits. Naomie Harris, Tariq Trotter, Martin Cepeda Jr., Rebecca Comerford, and Destini Edwards also stand out. Even Webber and his mother Cheri Honkala, a well-known civil rights activist in Philadelphia, make cameo appearances.
One of the great strengths of "Explicit Ills" is in its visual style (and there are many). Each storyline has its own. Lighting and cinematography each takes on a different tone for each one. For example, hand-held camera predominates in the story of Jacob and Michelle (Lou Taylor Pucci and Frankie Shaw), who spend their days in bed and on drugs. The look emphasizes their frenetic lifestyle. Similarly, another set of characters are showcased with the use of steadicam and long tracking shots. Another features long takes and the use of stationary camera. Each has its own unique color processing -- intense, bright, subdued, or washed out. The soundtrack has special significance to each storyline as well.
I sat with stunned silence as the film ended, both in wonderment at what Webber has been able to achieve as well as in deep thought about what my own role has been in the betterment of society. "Explicit Ills" will definitely make you think. Whether or not it will lead you to act on your thoughts is up to you.
Beautiful and thought provoking film. Me and my boyfriend loved it. The director/writer did a wonderful job. Not sure what he's done before. I guess I can check him out on IMDb. We highly recommend it. Great mosaic of characters and colors. Performances are lovely and powerful. It was nice to see Rosario Dawson play something completely different. And she is so beautiful. Paul Dano blew us away with his performance of a young man who is at the bottom and who's only dream will never happened . We are sad to hear the movie is leaving the theaters this week already and that we won't be able to recommend it to our friends until it comes out on DVD. Great find.
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