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80s Cool with a Message to Men
This was so reminiscent of the coolest aspects of 80's romantic angst, set in L.A. The music was intoxicating and addictive if you like a sort of Tangerine Dream soundtrack, which I do.
The classic moped, the street scenes with no people or traffic. It created that mythical quality of early 80's L.A. when it was still white and neon, and still the portal to young men's dreams. They even have a young white couple living in central Los Angeles, like they used to in real life.
I've never heard of or seen the lead actor, but he was perfectly cast. He reminds me of a young Beau Bridges in Your Three Minutes are Up. The musical moments when he's on his moped last just the right amount of time and leave you craving more.
But there's a deeper theme here for those thinkers who wonder what it was all about. They drew a clear picture, but you may have gotten lost in the dreamlike qualities.
This young man had been smothered. First by his mother, then by his girlfriend's mother, and finally by a slightly psychotic "cougar." He had no confidence, and no fight in him. He had been fully emasculated and barely able to function in the world.
Often those types lose themselves in dreams they can't fulfill, because they don't have the strength or courage to do so.
The scenes with the older woman will make you squirm. This guy may be 30 in real life, but he looked very innocent, as he was supposed to. Call it a double standard, but that kind of thing when the woman is older creeps me out. It almost ruined it for me.
In My Tutor in 1983, the woman was relatively young, and could not be the character's mother.
The hotel manager character was also perfectly cast. Even his gay glance at our protagonist was done with perfect subtlety. I will search for the soundtrack, but will not give it another watch, due to the creepy sex thing. But nice job by the Schwartzmans nevertheless.
Remember Me (2010)
Complex and Gritty
This Twilight guy is really compelling. I think he has superstar potential in adult roles. I believed all of these characters, and I appreciated the complex plot. The lead reminded me of a Brando or Mickey Rourke.
Wounded people find each other by the strangest circumstances. Or maybe not so strange, since people with similar issues make similar decisions. There was something "old school" about having a story revolve around white non-Italian people in modern working class New York. Although originally the guy was not working class.
It seems that both the main guy and his brother could not find a reason to live and thrive. The annoying roommate accurately tells him to stop with the brooding rebel thing. That was great. Sometimes people are tortured beyond repair. I think that was the message.
Meanwhile the actress playing the young girlfriend was totally believable and Pierce Brosnan pulled off an emotionally absent American with skill.
There is occasional use of voice overs while the protagonist is writing to his brother. I usually don't like that, but it wasn't overdone. The feel of the city through the photography was not overly glamorized, nor over the top gritty. But New York is not a subtle place and that feeling was conveyed.
I found most of the emotional baggage boring and depressing however. But the main actor's performance kept me with it all the way through.
It Follows (2014)
Ambiguous Time Period
I like it, but I do understand why others did not. My favorite thing about it was how they made it seems like it was in the 80s, even though they don't make a statement about it as such.
There are no computers, no cell phones, an old station wagon, old phones, old t.v.s, black and white movies, and casual sex. This is in the tradition of classic horror flicks of that era. But they don't actually claim it is in the 80s. Because for example, you will see some modern cars too.
I also loved the photography of suburban Michigan. That includes the shots of perfect cul-de-sacs, woodsy roads, and lake beaches. Of course for men there is the main character to ogle. She's just old enough so that it's not too creepy, and she's truly as appealing as her character is meant to be.
The creatures walk at zombie pace. You can't help but laugh. The plot is probably meant to be fun and different, and it is. Having sex makes zombies stalk you, and having sex again makes zombies stalk your new partner.
Yes the ending was disappointing, both for lack of action and lack of explanation. But sometimes the journey there is worth watching.
Les cowboys (2015)
More Background Please
I loved the picture. Especially the idea of French people having American Country Western cookouts in the French countryside. Does that really happen? Or was the western thing supposed to be consistent with The Searchers, the movie people here say this movie took after? Anyways, since the movie is about people's 15 year search for a daughter/sister, I would have liked to see some scenes showing what she was like at home, or why they cherished her, beyond blood. Instead we never hear a single word from her.
We do see the dad dancing with her, and apparently adoring her by the way he looks at her. But then the search isn't necessarily about love. When something or someone of yours goes missing or is taken, you want it back. There is pride involved.
In the case of the brother, it may have involved his need to carry on his dad's search. Maybe he was honoring his dad, more than trying to find a sister that didn't even want to be found.
Either way, it all wound up pointless, without spoiling anything. Perhaps that was what was so French about it. The existential conclusion.
I think they threw in the American actor to attract American viewers. It probably worked, although I don't think this thing made money. The photography is beautiful, the performances are right on target, and the political aspect is barely touched upon.
Perhaps the girl did what she did out of love, or the need for an identity. We will never know, because we didn't see enough about her home life. Although clearly her parents were loving and responsible people.
The performances of the dad and brother kept me in this. I felt their anxiety and was rooting for them. The grittiness was just enough without going over the top.
The Spectacular Now (2013)
I had to stop watching before the last quarter of the film. The girl looked about 14 to me, so it made me squeamish to see her going through such things. I later found out that the actress was about 22.
Miles Teller brought some genuine sensitivity and original charisma to his character. The girl character was easier to play. Just niceness basically.
I liked the portrayal of the conflict between living for the moment and doing things that will help you in the future. That key scene on the ex-girlfriend's bed was effective. They explain their two philosophies.
It was depressing to think of how many teens are flying on auto-pilot. There's no effective guidance from anyone beyond their peer group. The geometry teacher tries.
The girl gives up her virginity as if it's all part of some comic strip. She even giggles through it. Meanwhile she will never be able to offer that to another man. I didn't watch the whole thing. Did she confess that she was not a virgin anyways? Good direction in terms of positioning the guy passed out on a lawn, the girl looking over him, and the two ultimately tossing newspapers. There were touches of Say Anything of course, but also Vision Quest. The optimistic guy who takes life as it comes, but also thinks a lot.
There was not much musical manipulation from what I remember. I actually appreciated that. Although granted Say Anything had the Peter Gabriel song moment. Music can add something memorable, but it also manipulates us.
I also liked the way the lead explains to the clueless girl that guys at the outdoor party were in fact thinking of her in a romantic sense. A girl like that wouldn't recognize that.
Having said all that, I never met any guy like him or any girl like her in high school. Our loud mouth wise guys were good students, and there were no cute nerdy girls with wholesome intentions.
My understanding is that there was not a definitive happy ending. That's good, because our lead must do remedial work both academically and socially to catch up to his peers. I wouldn't want to see the message that you can skate by on humor alone.
My favorite line came from the guy who was dating her ex, when he says that the lead is not as big a joke as people think he is. It seemed like the first time he realized that people view him that way.
So, good dialog, an appealing performance by Teller, attractive physical settings, while perhaps clichéd conflicts.
The Wicker Man (2006)
If you saw the original, you know how pathetic this is in comparison. But even if you didn't, you would think this is putrid. I know nothing about film making, yet I could do better than this. Some may say that it's not fair to compare a remake to an original, but how can you not? Let's get the comparisons under way. The original had a soundtrack so memorable, that I still think of it decades after hearing it. The religious juxtaposition of a devout Christian virgin opposite a bunch of island pagans, made for dynamic drama. Also, there was the song of the temptress and the May Pole dance, etc. This version had none of that.
But what really ruins this film is the inability to create an eerie atmosphere, and the lack of urgency in Cage, although I love him as a personality in other films. Shouting and cursing cannot convey alone, the true shock and horror a person feels in a given situation. It requires good acting. Cage is a personality, not an actor. This was the wrong role for him. You could feel the intensity and outrage of the lead actor in the original version. That's what made the film.
Let's not forget the larger than life persona of Christopher Lee, Lord Summerisle in the original. Ellen Burstyn looked like she was doing this while waiting for her laundry to dry. In the original you could see that Lord Summerisle and the locals loved their culture. Beyond the sacrifice aspect, they just genuinely enjoyed being Celtic pagans. In this one they looked bored and cynical.
But even without comparing the old and new, this one falls flat, and most of the fault lies with Cage's performance. Of course the whole movie hinges on the last scene. He was so awkward and struggling so hard to portray a sense of desperation, but I wasn't buying it.
Back to comparisons. The song of the swaying villagers while the Wicker Man burned in the original put the icing on the cake of that masterpiece. A bunch of weirdoes chanting that something must die didn't do if for me here.
Your Sister's Sister (2011)
Naturalism is a Mixed Bag
There is always the question of whether a naturalistic indie film is essentially a documentary or reality show, or an actual movie meant to entertain.
I give credit to the performers for improvising their lines and looking disheveled, as we do in real life, when staying at a cabin and not expecting company.
But do we tune in to a movie to escape realism or embrace it? I guess I like it, as long as there is a sufficient amount of drama and/or there is exceptionally interesting dialog. But of course there is a problem with that too. Because most of us don't speak in interesting dialog, so a natural Indie almost needs to portray humans as ordinary and flawed.
Well, let's put it this way. I like a natural film portraying interesting people. But the people in this one were not interesting. They all seem unemployed, self-absorbed, and immature for their ages.
They also seem quite Godless. Sex requires very little thought beforehand, but plenty afterwards. I guess that's better than little thought at both times.
I do like the idea that they go to a place with no T.V. or internet, and must entertain themselves with books, cooking, and conversation. Also, the scenery was attractive, during the few scenes shot outdoors.
Why the hell is one sister British and the other is not? They tried to explain that by saying that the dad went through some period of drifting in England. Are they half sisters?
Emily Blunt doesn't wear much makeup here. But there is something appealing about her at the grass roots level.
I liked the guy. He was quirky without appearing self-conscious. Consequently, he was genuinely funny.
It's a simple dialog-based film. I like writer-driven projects. So I will recommend this one to those with patience. But be aware that nothing interesting or profound is spoken.
This Must Be the Place (2011)
Boring but Reasonably Meaningful
If you come up with a complicated and quirky plot, there is almost no way to avoid people accusing you of trying too hard to be "indie." The core of this plot is a good one, although it's hampered by throwing too many ingredients in the soup. Hence, like other reviewers, I too will accuse the makers of trying a bit too hard. But I appreciate the originality of the plot.
I've noticed that most small films tend to focus on depressed or outsider type people. I'm guessing that's because the people who make them are that way. But it would be nice once in a while to see a small film about essentially happy people growing in some way, or overcoming an obstacle.
If you took a bunch of drugs, you haven't worked in 20 years, you live in a dreary place, and you're going through a midlife crisis, you would move and talk slowly and perhaps softly. Also, if you were a cross dresser, you might speak with an effeminate voice. So i get all that. But the mumbling aspect was a bit much. Unless you want to interpret that a guy who made millions from his voice, is now crippled in the voice. The mumbling was my biggest complaint. Even if he had cranked it up a tiny notch, I would have been satisfied.
I think the sex scene was put in there specifically to justify why a woman would stay with such a loser for so long. Make no mistake about it. This guy is a loser. His awareness of that fact is the main source of his depression.
What I liked about the plot was the idea of needing a purpose or mission to get yourself out of a funk or grow up. But having his dad be American and orthodox Jewish is a shock to the system. There were no previous references to his even being American, and none about growing up as an orthodox Jew. Wouldn't you see some vestiges of Jewishness at his house, or in his mannerisms or conversation?
As other reviewers mentioned, it was clear that he had no real interest in the Holocaust or his dad's history. He just felt remorse at not giving his father a chance. Couple that with needing a purpose and you have his mission.
Most of the people he interacted with in small town America were not random. They were family members of the Nazi he was hunting or knew something about him. But we did get a little slice of American life in the process. Although here's a tip to non-American indie film enthusiasts. Not all Americans are quirky. Many just work, live, love, pray, volunteer, serve, and laugh.
This guy was always about depression and regrets, but never about rage. So it's no surprise that he had no rage for the Nazi. Another person might have, because although the humiliation he caused his father was relatively mild, he was still involved with slaughter.
I'm OK with the subplots about the woman with a missing son and the Gothic teen. It makes sense. The girl was the type he would have hung out with in his own teens and he was basically stuck at that stage of life. Meanwhile the woman's son apparently skipped town the way our main character had years ago.
I love the Talking Heads song. So I certainly appreciate the idea of building a story around it. "Home, this must be the place." You could say that our protagonist was searching for a home in this world his whole life.
Last Chance U (2016)
Freakishly Fateful Ending was Riveting
The director made sure there was never too long without some game action, or at least some conflict. That was key to keeping our attention.
This film of course did not reflect well on football players in general. They come across as lazy, self-absorbed, irresponsible, and feeling entitled. Football is not supposed to simply produce or nurture great athletes. It is supposed to build solid men.
The counselor woman had a tough choice. Because the guys were already getting the tough cop routine from their coaches. So she probably didn't want to be too tough on them. She either chose the mom/buddy approach, or it just came naturally, or perhaps we didn't see the tougher side of her off camera. At times I felt frustrated that she wasn't tougher on the players.
One thing this show made me realize, is that pro football should have a minor league. Why should guys who have no interest in school, be forced to attend, just so they can continue playing? It's absurd. Just create a minor league, like baseball has.
A person could have a career in the minor league, or play in the Arena League, or Canada, etc. There are plenty of options. Why do you need college?
Needless to say, this piece of work does not reflect well on African Americans, rednecks, or the South. The coach is a beast, the players seem almost lobotomized, and the culture looks bland and hopeless. The physical geography looked very inviting however.
Lesson to be learned: You can't just swear, fight, lie, and screw, and then say an "Our Father," and wash it all away. You have to try not to do those things in the first place.
But what made the whole thing worth it, and what I never came close to predicting, was how a bizarre chain of events redeemed and jettisoned the career of one player, who seemed to be almost out of the picture.
The Confirmation (2016)
Lack of Tension is Seductive
The film makers chose not to feature the intense desperation of the Italian film The Bicycle Thief, used zero profanity, and a deadpan kid. Those may actually be reasons why some would dislike this film, but I found it all oddly seductive.
Like another reviewer mentioned, nobody was vicious or truly mean here. Almost everyone, despite their poverty, had soul. Imagine a world where even in a gray desperate setting, people restrain themselves from the savagery that such places evoke in the real world.
Some may ask why you need to cast a British guy in a film set in Washington and filmed in Canada. But I found Owen endearing and the dialogue he was given sublime. Someone decided that his face and demeanor fit the character, and I believe they did. Good call.
Most of the "stars" are not really stars, and I appreciated seeing them get some work. Robert Forster is perfect for these roles, and Maria Bello totally looked the part.
I don't know why they needed to make the boy be eight years old. The actor was way older than that. Clearly an eight year old would not be able to think or act as this one did. They should have made him 10, although the actor was 12. The unbelievable age thing was an awkward glitch for me.
I'm glad they didn't use a soundtrack. The silence helped illustrate the depressed nature of the town. I've been to a depressed town in Washington. It's real.
For whatever reasons, these film makers made the choice to present this story in a sort of Jim Jarmusch existentially absurd way. I liked that approach and did not judge it by other potential ways of doing it. I accepted it for what it was.