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Formulaic, extremely predictable and stereotyped
This is not only a budget production but a bad, bland and extremely predictable movie.
Deadly virus that comes out of some exotic corner of the World? Check.
Doctor who struggles between familiar drama and her call to save the World? Check.
Young enthusiastic but socially awkward doctor/scientist assistant? Check.
All of this comes with uni-dimensional characters, cliché attitudes you can predict after first 5 minutes, lousy soundtrack and just zero novelty or creativity. It is just a reshuffle of countless bio-hazard movies with nothing new and noteworthy.
It Happened Here (2014)
An (imperfect) look into the issue of campus sexual harassment and violence
There have been many stories in the media about sexual harassment, rape and the subsequent mishandling of these situations by colleges and universities.
This documentary follows the journey of three young women that were victims of sexual violence in campus, and then mistreated by the institutions that should protect them as students, as they eventually coalesce around a federal lawsuit against the college where the events happened.
Rape is and will always be a crime difficult to prosecute, for it often leaves no conclusive evidence that third parties can assess. Perpetrators are very often known to the victim and part of their social/working circle, and the crimes often happen without any witness. Nonetheless, this shouldn't be an excuse for universities and colleges to sandbag victims, and to not help them go through the ordeal even if criminal prosecution of perpetrators is not possible.
In that context, the documentary does a good job of giving, as accounted by the victims, the circumstances in which they were raped: all by known people, some by perpetrators they thought to be their friends, some by colleagues from varsity athletic department. It then moves to its main focus: the aftermath, and how schools, the police and other institutions reacted to the events.
The last part of the documentary is a bit clumsy, however. It should have provided a bit more context to the lawsuits, and at least tried to hear the universities involved. It also seems the producers tried to fit too much into too little remaining time.
Race to Nowhere (2010)
Imporante issue, weak documentary
Overscheduled kids and teens, teach-to-the-test, erosion of free play time, stressful school environments are all real and serious problems that affect youth of America today.
"Race to Nowhere" is an attempt to cast a light and raise awareness to these problems, which are part of a larger tend where adult-led structured activities came to dominate virtually all non-sleeping time of students, in school, at home, or in the countless places they are chauffeured to and from. It follows the difficult-to- execute model of bringing several people who will tell their stories in parallel narratives while the director inserts other pieces to bring "familiar faces" of the issues the documentary portrays.
Excessive homework was the thread line chosen to guide the filmmaker throughout her project (which was born out of a situation she witnessed in her own family). It does a good job bringing and naming the issues and enumerating there.
However, there are 'execution flaws'. The parallel narratives of teens, parents, kids, teachers don't really add up depth and multiple viewpoints on the issue as much as they add length to the featured documentary.
More worrying, at some point the director starts shooting almost randomly at a variety of social issues: teen suicide (with a counterproductive and hard-to-believe direct blaming of a suicide case on a single event, which is something professional seriously advise against), income inequality, consumerism, social media hyperconectivity of teens, school district politics, teacher social standards etc. They could all be directly or indirectly tied to the hypercharged, hypercompetitive, test-driven school culture the films wants to take aim at, but they appear juggled around without much coherence or connection.
"Race to Nowhere" wasted an excellent opportunity to really look into misguided education practices and their effects on teens, but as it was unveiled, it certainly fails to rally up the audience to support the reforms the director seems to support right before the final credits.
The Living (2014)
A good dark indie movie, with major editing flaws
'The Living' is about unintended consequences arising from difficult decisions clouted by complicated personalities and troubled minds. It is a nice indie dark movie, with several highlights but some compromising flaws.
Acting is surprisingly good, with actors punching way above their weight. This his the highlight of the movie. The slow scenes with agonizing seconds of silences give them a dark and deep vibe, and the actors nail it, looking natural and very comfortable on screen.
The context of the story plot is very cliché, however, as it revolves about the struggles of a battered woman and her alcoholic husband who loves-her-even-though-he-hit-her.
Strangely, the lack of character development isn't that much detrimental on 'The Living' as it would be in many other movies, as the focus quickly shifts to the mental state and how the characters process the situation they got themselves involved with, instead of just re-telling a worn-out and over-used simple story line.
Finally, editing seems to be hurried up, as it is the case of so many otherwise promising indie productions, unfortunately. As I mentioned, many individual scenes are harrowing, deep and engaging, but the transitions don't work that well, which is frustrating.
I give 'The Living' a 6/10 score, realizing I'm averaging some very good marks with poor ones. Having so much quality disparity is what, in my opinion, makes the difference between some other reviews here that swing from critical 3s to glowing 9s and 10s.
A surprisingly good low-budget production
'Common' is a low-budget drama centered around the prosecution of four young men that got involved on a stupid crime by different ways and degrees.
It will then explore difficult choices made by all those involved, who also comprise families and other people, exploring angles around the prosecution of the crime and its wranglings.
The major difference for other typical courtroom dramas is that 'Common' is more concerned on the tensions that arise between co- conspirators.
Acting is decent, and sometimes even good. Editing is also well-done considering the profile of the movie. The end result is pleasant and it does give food for thought regarding a specific controversial feature of the law that is obviously conveyed as negative in the movie.
The major flaw is the absence of any context of how the characters ended up tangled with each other on the dramatic events that trigger the story, beforehand or in flashbacks.
Middle of Nowhere (2012)
It could work, but it didn't. The script is too slow.
It is always refreshing to see good indie movies exploring dark themes in a sensitive and almost lyric way. These are, incidentally, the two major strong points of this movie.
There are many titles, some rather good ones, exploring incarceration an its effects on the person behind bars. Multiple angles and story lines are explored, almost always from the incarcerated point of view.
'Middle of Nowhere', instead, puts the focus on an accomplished young woman whose life hangs still when her young husband is incarcerated for a long term, and makes the movie about the effects of incarceration on people who are on the outside, supposedly free, but actually suffering by proxy a set of restrictions and struggles that derive from the fact that a loved one or in-law is not present. That is an interesting take on the subject.
Nonetheless, the script is just too slow. There are several cogent reasons for a script to be slow, such as character development, parallel narratives - but none of them could possible justify it here. Thus, it becomes very difficult to keep paying attention on what the director had in mind as dozens of minutes are just fillers that, in turn, are juxtaposed with some pivotal scenes that are paradoxically too hurried up.
Interesting story, bad writing and lackluster editing
Carlina White abduction and subsequent events were all over mainstream media in 2011-12. It was and is an amazing story on its own. Alas, a docudrama was bound to be put out soon, and sure it did.
The major critique I have on this movie is that its writing is outright bad. Clichés, discontinued story lines, simplistic and stereotyping portrayals of people who were accessory to the story all contribute to make this feature lame, simple in a bad way, adding nothing to the main narrative, exploring no additional angles. Nothing.
Editing is also limited and hurried, especially on the later third of the movie.
I give it therefore a 5/10 score for its limited quality. Yes, the real-life story is amazing and compelling, that is no excuse for bad production, though.
An overall good documentary that sadly left one issue our of the table
"Stop at Nothing" follows the history of Lance Armstrong as he made extensive use of performance-enhancing drugs and hormones on his long sportive career. It managed to get great testimonials from people who worked very close with Armstrong for years, such as cycling teammates, assistants, his foundation's former manager, sport reporters and more, and this is a very positive aspect of this documentary compared to other features made about the fallen athlete. The personal on-screen first-hand accounts are very interesting and personal.
Throughout the movie, Armstrong is portrayed as a ruthless person who'd stop at nothing to conceal his own cheating and his own fraud, stomping and kicking everybody around him if necessary. First-hand accounts of those on the receiving end of his wrath give a picture many had never seen from following his media appearances over the years and how he was portrayed as an inspirational leader after overcoming cancer and returning to win several times more the Tour de France.
The only critical issue missing is any discussion about the behaviors of sponsors and others whose made huge money out of Armstrong's career, and the indirect or sometimes direct role they play in cycling doping culture. They were treated almost as an afterthought, and considering how many people related to the sport the producers had access to, they should have been able to explore it better, so I give it an overall 8/10 score.
Boy Wonder (2010)
Underrated dark psychological thriller
This is a very interesting lower-budget production portraying the life a late teenage boy, Sean, as he struggles to deal with things we cannot understand about his past.
Sean is a deep character that doesn't fit until usual off-the-shelf vigilante narratives. He is not a person who lost all moral bearings and became entirely detached, as it is often the case of many vigilante characters. He is also not a ruthless hardened criminal justifying his acts on basis of his past.
Permeating the story line are Sean attempts to reconcile a disjoint world of his own, as it throws conflicting signs triggering irreconcilable emotions at him.
A most pleasant surprise of this small-production movie is that the supporting cast performs a surprisingly good job. Very basic and plain stock characters are avoided, which is refreshing to the a more attuned viewer.
'Boy Wonder' is definitively a recommended movie: complex, imaginative and requiring viewer engagement to be understood and fully enjoyed.
She Made Them Do It (2013)
Totally predictable, shallow, dull
'She Made Them Do It' is a bland, uninspiring and entirely predictable movie.
I'm usually open-minded towards lower budget productions, and I can get past some consequences of a tight production resource list and a less experienced cast, as long as the story is compelling and the final cut interesting.
This is no such case, though. Characters are incredibly shallow, editing is off-the-mark, and the whole movie looks just a random collage of lines and scenes I'm sure I've been before, elsewhere. Actors feel like they are not comfortable with cameras at all.