Bored in the U.S.A.


Just sittin’ and talkin’ ’bout things.

(2018) Drama (Old Academy) Kelly Lloyd, Chris Milner, Bryan Preston. Directed by Mike Finazzo

 

Sometimes what we need is to just talk. Not just talk, but also listen – an actual adult conversation about things that are important. You know, life things. Relationships, dreams, disappointments – the things that keep us going and the things that keep us crying.

Kelly (Lloyd) is married. She stays at home and takes care of the house; she and her husband Bryan (Preston) don’t have kids and there doesn’t seem to be a horizon where that is likely. Their sex is desultory and passionless. Kelly is filling her days as best she can but her friends are busy with their own lives, lives that make hers seem empty and small.

Chris (Milner) is a Londoner living in Baltimore but he’s preparing to return to the UK. He’s engaged to be married and is joining his fiancée back at home. He is in the process of selling his things in preparation for his departure. Despite this, he feels some uncertainty that he is making the right decision.

Kelly and Chris had met years earlier at a party. When they bump into each other, they remember their initial meeting. They get to talking and a cup of coffee turns into spending the day together. Their reflections on how their lives turned out force them to evaluate their past and the decisions they’ve made – as well as their futures.

This is a quiet film that mostly relies on the chemistry and conversational skills of the two leads. For the most part, it works. These are discussions that most of us have had at one time or another, or at least on the subject matter. Of course, your wording may vary. As someone who is interested in words, I enjoyed the ones that Kelly and Chris were uttering in general, and well-written dialogue is always a plus especially in indie films that rely on it. The exception is that Kelly is constantly making reference to the fact that this is set in Baltimore. I get the love Finazzo has for the place – Baltimore ain’t called Charm City for nothin’ – but it’s unnecessary and distracting.

There is a little bit of pretentiousness here; the decision to film the movie in black and white really doesn’t add anything to the film but it doesn’t take anything away. At one point, one of the characters says that “life is simpler in black and white” and that may be, but simpler isn’t necessarily better. Also the soundtrack is littered with French pop songs, bringing to mind film students arguing the merits of Jacques Tati while smoking clove cigarettes and drinking overpriced coffee.

That pretension will likely turn some people off but if you can get past that, this is actually a delightful little film. I wouldn’t say it’s terribly insightful; what you’re getting here are more experiential observations and they may not match your interpretation of them but that’s fine. It’s a healthy thing once in awhile to hear some differing opinions of the things you are going through, have been through or might someday go through.

REASONS TO SEE: The conversational aspect works.
REASONS TO AVOID: The film is on the pretentious side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, sex, drug use and crude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In addition to being a filmmaker, Finazzo is also a standup comedian.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Vimeo
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/2/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Before Sunrise
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Reinventing Rosalee

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Blue Jay


What could be more romantic than slow dancing with your high school sweetheart?

What could be more romantic than slow dancing with your high school sweetheart?

(2016) Romance (The Orchard/Netflix) Mark Duplass, Sarah Paulson, Clu Gulager, James Andrews, Harris Benbury, Daniel Brooks, Mary Brooks, Bill Greer, Cindy Greer, Ana Iovine, Leo Munoz, Loretta Munoz, Brady Rice, Karen Rice. Directed by Alexandre Lehmann

 

The romances of our youth are often the ones that burn the brightest in our memories. Who among us hasn’t wondered “what if” in regards to what might have  been if the relationship had survived past adolescence?

Jim Henderson (Duplass) is back in the small California town in the Sierra Nevada range where he grew up. He’s there because his mom recently passed away and he’s getting her home ready to go on the market, emptying it of her things….his things too. His mom was something of a pack rat. There’s a melancholy to Jim that isn’t all grief; his eyes have the disappointed look of a man whose life has gotten away from him.

At the grocery store to pick up some condiments for his meager dinner, he runs into Amanda, his old high school sweetheart. At first they don’t recognize each other – it was 20 years ago, after all – but then the memories begin flooding back. They agree to meet for coffee in the Blue Jay Café where they hung out as teens. Although the coffee is terrible, they begin to bond and agree to spend the rest of the day together.

They end up at Jim’s house – well, his mom’s – and while going through her things they find old photos, audio cassettes of them rapping and of play-acting their 20th anniversary (do teens really do that?) and she finds his journal, reading poems he wrote about his feelings for her ages past. The two dance to songs long forgotten but now freshly remembered. They watch the stars…and the married Amanda, in town to visit her pregnant sister, is now not so sure. She is a mother and a wife and has a satisfactory life…or does she really?

Jim is a drywall installer in Tucson now and unmarried. Never married, in fact. But he is finding that his life is changing; there’s an opportunity for a fresh start. But there was a reason the two broke up in the first place. The secret of that break-up and what has been hanging over the both of them all those years is just below the surface, ready to get out at a moment’s notice.

This little indie took me by surprise. I’m a fan of both Duplass (who wrote the script) and Paulson, so I thought it would be pretty good but considering the simple concept I found this to be one of the best-written scripts so far this year. This is a movie that is built in layers; as layers are added, they simultaneously reveal what’s inside. It’s a breathtaking job of script construction and every bit of it feels note-perfect.

Some might find the black and white cinematography off-putting and in fact early on I thought it was a bit pretentious. It looks like a beautiful little mountain town and surrounding areas that they filmed in; it’s a shame they didn’t use the colors of the mountain to their advantage but I also get the sense that they were going for a kind of retro feel, It is no accident that the longer Jim and Amanda spend together, the more they revert to adolescent behavior, dancing wildly and re-enacting their 20th anniversary dinner from the tape they heard.

I was reminded of Thomas Hardy a little bit here. He famously wrote “You can’t go home again,” but he wasn’t just referring to a place. What I believe he meant was that you cannot return to a life and time already lived, as much as you would like to. It is a melancholy truth, one few of us admit to ourselves. Deep down we always believe that we can recreate the magic of our youth but it really amounts to catching lightning in a bottle. The best we can do is make new magic instead.

The ending is bittersweet but absolutely appropriate and the big reveal is a secret so organic you just feel everything that went before it fall into place like dominoes. Again, a sign of masterful writing. This is a gem of a movie that is likely to bring back memories of your own – assuming you’re not making some new ones with the person you’re seeing this with.

REASONS TO GO: Possibly the best-written film of the year so far. The performances Duplass and Paulson are epic. A wonderfully insightful and bittersweet film without an ounce of contrivance to it.
REASONS TO STAY: The black and white cinematography is a bit pretentious.
FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a bit of profanity and some sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The film was shot in just seven days.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/17/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Before Sunset
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: The White Helmets

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World


Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Keira Knightley and Steve Carell are not impressed with the dailies.

(2012) Dark Comedy (Focus) Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Melanie Lynskey, William Petersen, Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Derek Luke, Gillian Jacobs, T.J. Miller, Patton Oswalt, Rob Corddry, Mark Moses, Bob Stephenson, Martin Sheen, Melinda Dillon, Tonita Castro, Jim O’Heir. Directed by Lorene Scafaria

 

What would you do if you knew that you were going to die? Not just you, but everyone and everything? All that we have made, all that we have done – all gone. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you want to be with when the end comes?

That’s the question that confronts Dodge Peterson (Carell). Actually, it confronts everybody. An asteroid named Mathilda (and how sad that the instrument of our destruction is called Mathilda) is on its way on a collision course with Earth. Attempts to divert the 80-mile wide rock have failed miserably and in 21 days, it will crash into our world, killing all living things and, in all likelihood, a few dead things as well.

His wife, upon hearing the news, makes a run for it with someone she actually loves as opposed to her husband whom she has been cheating on for quite awhile anyway. Dodge, an insurance salesman, makes a few desultory attempts to go to work but as it becomes clear that society will be soon breaking down completely, he gives up on that.

His maid (Castro) comes in as always, preferring to keep herself occupied and gently reminds Dodge to pick up some window cleaner. Returning home from the store through the park, he notices some young people embracing. Despondent, he ingests the entire bottle of cleaning product and lies down.

He wakes up the next morning, feeling a bit ill but having the cleanest esophagus in town. He also has a dog whose leash is tied up to his ankle with a note reading only “Sorry” on Dodge’s chest. He takes the dog home. He also runs into Penny (Knightley), a neighbor who has lived in the same complex for three months but whom he hasn’t gotten to know although she is well aware of his wife’s indiscretions – and those of her boyfriend as well which is how Dodge comes to learn of his wife’s infidelity.

Angry, he throws out all of her stuff and in the process finds a box of his mementos including some pictures. As he takes a trip down memory lane while taking sips from a bottle of prescription cough syrup that his wife left behind, he notices Penny sitting on his balcony, crying. He invites her in after agreeing not to rape her; in exchange, she promises not to steal anything. She is distraught not just because the world is ending but because she broke up with the loser boyfriend (Brody) that she left England for and now will never see her family again because all air travel has stopped (and cell phones and land lines are useless since nobody is sticking around to keep those systems running).

It also turns out that Penny has been getting some of his mail mistakenly and has just now remembered to give it to him. Among the letters is one from his first love Olivia, who he’d broken up with long ago and who had gone on to marry someone else. But, the letter says, she’s divorced now and is looking to reconnect with the true love of her life – Dodge.

He realizes that he needs to go find her because this might – okay, will be – his last chance at true love. However, there is rioting going on, increasing in violence and as it becomes apparent the apartment complex will be overrun, Dodge finds Penny and begs her to drive him to his home town where he can find Olivia (his own car got taken out by a suicide jumper). He promises in return that he knows a guy with a plane who can fly her to England.

On that note, they set off. On the way they run into a variety of people, including a trucker (Petersen) who doesn’t want to wait for the asteroid to incinerate him and an ex of Penny’s named Speck (Luke) who is planning on riding out the asteroid in an underground bunker with a six month supply of potato chips and who is eager to have Penny stay as breeding stock. What Penny and Dodge find on their journey to be with the ones they love is not what they expect.

From the initial sound of it you might think this is a movie about death but it’s not. It’s a movie about life. It’s a movie about how precious life is and a reminder that we are all under a death sentence – we just don’t have the date marked down on our calendars just yet.

Carell plays the subdued, somewhat wallflower-ish guy better than anybody; he’s done it well in such movies as Crazy, Stupid, Love and Dan in Real Life. This is his best performance to date. Dodge is a man who hasn’t lived life; life has just happened to him, and he feels a certain sense that he’s missing something. He comes to live for the first time in those final days, and not just because he shows up at parties that become orgies, or stopping in restaurants where everybody is determined to party the rest of their lives away. For the first time, he is doing something instead of being done to and it empowers him in ways you might not imagine.

Knightley is an Oscar nominee who has proved in other movies that she’s not just a pretty face. She is continuing to grow as an actress. Penny is a free-spirited sort who has made a mess of her romantic life, putting her in a position that she is far from the places and people she loves when it is too late to get back to them. Penny is a bit kooky, but Knightley subdues that aspect of her personality, making her more of a person who marches to her own beat rather than someone who has to wear her quirkiness on her sleeve, which is a refreshing change given how many offbeat indie heroines I’ve seen lately.

The underlying theme here is that life is meant to be lived and none of us know how much time we really have. There’s no sense in living a life of regret because there will come a time when it is time to pay the piper and when we justify our lives to whatever higher power you believe in, it is the regret we must justify with the least amount of ammunition to do it with. I found this movie uplifting, despite the subject matter. When we left our screening, Da Queen and I overheard a teenage girl complaining to her boyfriend that the movie was too depressing. Perhaps she lacks the life experience to see past the end of the world aspect – it is in the title after all, so it shouldn’t be a surprise – but there is a rich subtext going on here that is very much worth exploring. The worst aspect of this movie is that I think the studio made a mistake in when they released this. Despite the apocalyptic element of the movie, it really doesn’t fit in as a summer film. It might have been better served as a fall or holiday release. I think people are more in tune with this kind of movie at that time of year.

REASONS TO GO: Gives much pause for thought. Strangely uplifting even though the subject is a bit depressing.
REASONS TO STAY: Inconsistent. Lacks a sense of social anarchy that would surely occur.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of drug use, a little bit of violence and quite a bit of foul language, some of it sexual.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The wife of Dodge Peterson is played by Steve Carell’s real-life wife, Nancy. Presumably, she isn’t cheating on him in real life either.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/30/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 51% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100. The reviews are pretty polarized.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Miracle Mile
VINYL LOVERS: Penny has an extensive collection of vinyl records from the 60s, 70s and 80s as well as a pretty sweet audio set-up.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Source Code


Source Code

The sparks between Michelle Monaghan and Jake Gyllenhaal are nothing compared to the flames behind them.

(2011) Science Fiction (Summit) Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Arden, Cas Anvar, Russell Peters, Brent Skagford, Craig Thomas, Gordon Masten, Scott Bakula (voice), Frederick de Grandpre. Directed by Duncan Jones

If you knew you only had eight minutes to live, what would you do with them? Would you make every second count? What if you had to re-live them over and over and over again?

Captain Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a train. There is a beautiful woman, whose name he later finds out is Caroline (Monaghan), sitting across from him, making small talk. All very simple. All very ordinary.

Except Captain Stevens shouldn’t be there. The last memory he has is of flying helicopter sorties in Afghanistan. He doesn’t know how he got there or why this beautiful woman keeps calling him “Sean.” He doesn’t understand why when he looks in the bathroom mirror, he sees another face – the face of Sean Fentress (de Grandpre), the teacher he’s supposed to be. He’s disoriented and doesn’t understand what’s happening. Then the train blows up.

He finds himself in what appears to be a flight simulator leaking hydraulic fluid, being paged by a woman in a military uniform who he later finds out is named Goodwin (Farmiga), trying to find out from Captain Stevens who blew up the train. Captain Stevens has no idea. Finally someone in charge, Dr. Rutledge (Wright) lets him know; he’s in Source Code, an experimental technology that allows him to be projected into a human host during the last eight minutes of their life and be able to relive it. There’s an explanation as to why eight minutes and why him, but it would only make your brain hurt.

The reason Captain Stevens is being sent back over and over again is that this train bombing is the precursor to a much larger, much more deadly terrorist attack. Time is running out and Captain Stevens must get past his own deepening feelings for Caroline and his desire to save the people on the train who are already dead to find out who the bomber is so millions of lives can be saved.

This is the intriguing premise to Source Code, the latest science fiction opus from director Duncan Jones, the auteur behind Moon. Like that film, it is best that only the barest plot points be revealed as to not spoil the twists and turns that the movie takes you through. Unlike many time travel pictures of late, this one isn’t strictly about time travel since nobody actually travels so much as inhabits. Still, there are plenty of paradoxes involving alternate dimensions.

Like most time travel movies, there are lots of big old plot holes that kind of make you think “oh no that doesn’t work.” For example, every time Captain Stevens goes back into the memories of Sean Fentress, the situation changes. He is able to see people, places and things Fentress didn’t actually see. If he’s inhabiting someone else’s consciousness, wouldn’t he be limited to experiencing what his host experienced? That issue is never addressed, but then again, logical people like myself may not be the best audience for this movie.

Then again, I thought this was extraordinarily well-plotted and well-written, once you just sit back and let your suspension of disbelief take over. The characters are realistic and human rather than being iconic heroic sorts who save the day while admiring their reflections in the mirror. Nope; Captain Stevens has baggage and even though he is a heroic sort, he is far from blindly obedient.

Gyllenhaal has developed into one of the better actors working today. With his sister Maggie, they make the best sibling actors since the Cusacks. While Gyllenhaal’s line delivery tends to be laconic, he makes up for it for his facial emotions, which give him much more animation than other actors who use their voice nearly exclusively to let us see how they’re feeling. He also has great chemistry with Monaghan, which is at the center of the movie.

Monaghan is undeniably beautiful; she also is a pretty decent actress in her own right. She plays Caroline with a mixture of warmth and incredulity. She plays along although she doesn’t always understand what’s going on and Monaghan manages to give the character a sense of continuity from encounter to encounter. Her lines may vary slightly but her emotions don’t.

While there are some spectacular explosions and action sequences, by and large this isn’t a big budget spectacular sci-fi epic. This is an examination of a man trying to figure out what is real, what can be changed, who he is and where he fits in. That’s some pretty intense kind of questions to answer and of course they are to the extent that Colter Stevens wants them to be. However, it is the very questioning nature of Stevens that makes the movie more worthwhile than most of the other stuff that’s out there.

Some may find this a bit too cerebral for their tastes but quite frankly, there is an audience of people who love smart sci-fi who aren’t being serviced by Hollywood too often in favor of the big budget Tranformers and their clones. I’m all for space opera and big epic science fiction action movies, but there’s room for these kinds of films as well and this one is done particularly well. Jones, who once by the name as Zowie Bowie (he is David’s son), has a knack for these sorts of movies and it appears, from the rumors of what movies he’s considering for his next project, that there are more of them to come from him and to my mind, they couldn’t be more welcome!

REASONS TO GO: An intriguing premise that doesn’t fall prey to the same problems most time travel films fall to. Nice performances (and real chemistry between) Gyllenhaal and Monaghan.

REASONS TO STAY: Seeing the same eight minute-period over and over again can get tedious.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some pretty disturbing images of things and people blowing up or having been blown up. There is a little bit of bad language as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Topher Grace was considered for the part of Captain Colter Stevens.

HOME OR THEATER: Very much a big screen affair.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Death at a Funeral (2010)