Though my eyes are cinematically bloodshot film fans (in a good way of course!), I’m nevertheless determined to give the WhySoBlu.com readers their movie money’s worth. So once again I’m taking on a gigantic eight new indie flicks this week alone that range from distressing docs to somber features to even a teen tale that doesn’t suck – all dissected for your reading pleasure. Check out the Encapsulated Movie Reviews of Newtown, The Thinning, Do Not Resist, Certain Women, The Hollow, Friends Effing Friends Effing Friends, The Handmaiden and Desierto all below!
A raw and revealing doc all about the aftermath of the terrible tragedy that befell children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown told from the perspective of those affected most – families who lost loved ones in the senseless shooting. Hearing the stories of those left behind (seeing the awkward chats between parents who lost a child and those that didn’t are especially painful) and the effect it had on a small and seemingly happy community as a whole is emotionally charged for sure. Though equally as heartbreaking is the crusade taken by angered parents seeking to make gun purchasing more difficult that is ultimately shut down by tainted politicians with deep pockets. It’s a sad circle of violence and non-reaction that continues to plague a gun-ridden America – hopefully this small town doc opens a few new eyes previously closed.
The Purge for the teenage adult novel crowd, The Thinning is a surprisingly decent addition to an already watered-down genre. Pitting kids against each other via a written test that determines intelligence to thin out the herd is interesting enough, but with all the ruckus rebellion, dark social overtones and scenes of kids about to be euthanized by dripping needles this teen tale is actually one memorable morbid mother. (Or as much as it can be for this type of film!) Down side is that the eventual romance between good-looking leads Peyton List and Logan Paul inspires zero chemistry, but even that is only a small on the scale of what works here. (Plus the ending redeems it and seriously satisfies!) Far from a youth flick fluff fest, The Thinning offers macabre movie meat.
DO NOT RESIST
Yet another great example of a doc that examines without bias and in doing so allows the more culpable subjects to hang themselves. In the case of Do Not Resist we get to see first-hand coverage of overly eager militarized police forces using unneeded high-end equipment to make simple arrests and it’s definitely disturbing. Meaning a simple warrant sweep is turned into a full SWAT tactical operation for no other reason than they have the weapons on hand. Of course there’s also video from the opposite end where frustrated citizens are having to face daily police atrocities (Director Craig Atkinson starts with on-scene footage from Ferguson, Missouri) and the sadness it creates (the scene of a sincere African American policeman trying to calm fellow angry friends protesting is heartbreaking), as well as a fully scary training seminar taught by a gent with piercing eyes who proclaims the importance of “righteous violence” to hit the message home. But this one is all about the sad state of law enforcement now where resistance is far from futile – it’s a requirement to stay alive.
Certain Women is actually broken down into three semi-connecting stories of small town ladies having to deal with life’s unpredictable events. Two of the tales are average with the first involving Laura Dern’s legal lawyer being plagued by victimized local laborer client Jared Harris and the second sees Michelle Williams and James Le Gros as a married couple looking to take sandstone from an elderly family friend who is fading into senility. Neither story has quite the impact – even on a small scale – that they should, falling flat in their desire to dissect human moral ramifications. The third yarn however is a real winner featuring the captivatingly quiet Lily Gladstone as an isolated ranch hand who takes a strange shine to a legal workshop teacher played with equally reserved intelligence by Kristen Stewart. It’s this sensational but subtle story that proves to be the single standout and in its examination of two very different ladies helps make Certain Women long lingering.
The Hollow is a deep drama that’s trying to recapture stories told before – and done better. The tale of a local flirty gal who ends up murdered (Twin Peaks, anyone?!) and the skeletons that pop out in the eventual investigation offers nothing new to a tired murder-mystery genre. Much like Peaks it does try to flesh out the colorful cast of characters involved (sorry – no standout Dale Cooper’s here!), but on a short feature film time it’s a tad underwhelming. Best of the bunch is the relationship between a guilt ridden James Callis and kick ass Christiane Seidel playing FBI agents (though Callis’s sweaty cop act does grow tired!) as well as too-short turns by the likes of William Sadler, Jeff Fahey and William Forsythe who should have be the leads. (Great actors don’t have to be in their thirties filmmakers!) But even the above can’t make the been there, done that small town saga feel ironically like its title.
FRIENDS EFFING FRIENDS EFFING FRIENDS
Sadly while this “post-modern” romantic comedy barely delivers on its salaciously long title, it’s the wasted work by the normally stellar cast that is the bigger disappointment. The wry humored Tyler Dawson, hot off the cinematic smash Bellflower, and equally quirky Graham Skipper, the modern master of genre work, both try to give the underwhelming script a boisterous boost with their witty wares, but even their comedic charisma can’t help elevate the rather sophomoric material. (Plus thoughtful and captivating actress Jillian Leigh deserves so much better!) A movie not as engaging as the title itself, these funny friends are in desperate need of a new scribe.
(Amazon Studios/Magnolia Pictures)
It seems like after his famed five-star Vengeance Trilogy, iconic Director Park Chan-Wook has been a frequent victim of the mixed movie bag. While there are glimmers of genius in the wicked work (Thirst is a fabulous failure of the highest order!), there are also elements that don’t rise to the level of a filmmaker of such innovative originality. (The over-played Stoker wares out its welcome half way through!) His latest The Handmaiden is no different with a rich and lush visual style that is frankly Park’s most accomplished looking work to date. But his tired tale of love and conning told multiple times through different character perspectives breaks no new ground and thus his more Park-esque moments feel less than salaciously spectacular. Heavy on style, light on freshness, The Handmaiden is far from being a perfect Park picture.
It’s fitting that Alfonso Cuarón’s son Jonás Cuarón who co-wrote Gravity is the helmer of Desierto as the two films have quite a lot in common. Both are utterly reactionary pictures (characters reacting to events with no actual story to speak of), with little dialogue and characters that are hard to care about. Difference is Gravity had the benefit of an outer space visual spectacle that harnessed all of negatives. By contrast Desierto, featuring a psycho killing illegal immigrants trying to cross the border into the US, is set in the desolate desert which after a few cool landscapes grows tired. Not to mention that the films’ inclusion of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the lone gunman is miscasting at its most glaring. Without delightful dialogue or a colorful background to help the talented thespian properly chew the scenery, he’s left to his own physical devices to instill fear and being a rather lanky lad it’s a futile film task. (No dialogue – you need a bigger bad guy boat!) Gravity without the grandiose, Desierto is as barren as its sandy setting.