Troy is seventeen, overweight, and depressed. As he wanders through high school a ghost, Troy begins to question the point of living. One day while walking home Troy attempts suicide by stepping in front of a bus only to be saved by Marcus, a relatively charming high school drop out. The two start an uneasy friendship in which Marcus enlists Troy to become the drummer in his new punk rock band. The only problem? Troy has never played drums before in his life. Matthew Lillard's Fat Kid Rules the World is a unique (enough) "coming of age" drama that succeeds because of its strong performances and the general passion Lilliard has for the material. Fat Kid gives an honest depiction of high school life for a kid like Troy, often using an overabundance of shots which give the viewer glimpses into Troy's active imagination. These efforts are certainly fun and provide the audience a strong understanding of Troy but I did think they were a little overused. The narrative of Fat Kid is well layered, giving subtle glimpses into why Troy is who is, as well as the various family dynamics which exist. The film never outright states things, instead letting the viewer put the pieces together. I actually found Troy's Dad, played by Billy Campbell, to be one of the most interesting characters in the entire film. He is a man who feels responsible for his son's failtures, due to the death of their mother, and his conflicting thoughts about Troy hanging out with the troubled Marcus provide some genuine emotional drama. What's interesting about Fat Kid Rules the World is how Marcus, a complete fuck-up, is really the key to Troy and his family becoming whole again. Fat Kid Rules the World doesn't bring anything earth-shatteringly new to the genre but it certainly is a heartfelt film that has more positives than negatives.
Set in the inner-city of Memphis, Daniel Lindsay & T.J. Martin's Undefeated
chronicles the Manassas Tigers' 2009 high school football team. The film splits its time between the on and off-the-field lives of these players as they strive to be the first team in their school's history to win a playoff game. Undefeated is a sports documentary that transcends sports, telling a heart-wrenching, human drama about how valuble sports and guidance can be for at risk youth. The film doesn't get sentimental about its intentions,
never falling victim to the tropes of the "feel good movie", instead being raw and unflinching filmmaking intent on simply documenting their experience. Bill Courtney, a lumber salesman who volunteers as the head coach, is really nothing short of a hero in what he does for these young men. It's simply fascinating to watch this man groom these boys into men with a passion and resolve that is quite frankly, inspiring. I know too many people who right off sports as vapid machoism, but Undefeated shows the power of sports in its ability to build character and become a better porson because of it. Bill Courney has a line at the very beginnning of the film which perfectly encapsulates this: "Football doesn't build character, it reveals it". From a technical standpoint, Undefeated is not a "talking heads" doc, being elevated from stylistic editing and cinematography which really aids in building tension and emotion in the story. I would go as far as to say this film deserved accolades for its editing, which in my opinion, really made the film as powerful and disntinctive as it was. Undefeated is not a sports movie, but a movie about impoverished youth, with football simply being a tool which aids them in their growth as men.
A psychotic killer called "The Breather" is on the loose, killing off sexually active high school students. With the police clueless about the identity of the killer, everyone is a suspect, including the innocent, quiet Toby. Mickey Rose's Student Bodies is scathing parody of the Slasher film sub-genre, which more so than not succeeds because of its erratic, playful style. Right off the bat Student Bodies makes its intentions clear, stating in big white letters "This motion picture is based on an actual incident. Last year 26 horror films were released... None of them lost money". It is this type of ham-fisted gesturing to the audience which makes Student Bodies so much fun. This opening message is just the beginning, with playful messages throughout, either pointing out the death count, a major plot-ploint, or a dubious mistake by one of the impending victims. Another one of the best aspects revolves around the treatment of the "Breather". Using a POV approach, think Black Christmas, the audience is subjected to 'The Breather"s strange ways, from his choice of murder weapons such as paper clips and eggplants, to how he disguises his voice on the phone with the aid of a rubber chicken. If you haven't figured it out by now, Student Bodies is stupid, and I mean that in a good way, effectively making fun of most of the tropes of the genre while being incredibly politically incorrect in the process. Now don't get me wrong, the film is definitely hit or miss with some of its jokes, and it pales in comparison to some of the best spoofs (Shaun of the Dead), but I would be lying if I didn't say it was enjoyable. In the end, Student Bodies doesn't hold back, providing a rather scathing commentary on the slasher genre which is almost certain to be enjoyed by fans of the slasher/horror genre.
During an IRA bomb attempt in London, Collette (Andrea Riseborough) is brought into custody by MI5 agent, Marc (Clive Owen), who offers to cut her a deal. If Collette becomes an informant for MI5, she can avoid prison entirely. With her primary concern being the well-being of her young son, Collette returns to Belfast as an informant, betraying her family and long time beliefs for the sake of her son's future. James Marsh's Shadow Dancer is a tense, well-crafted thriller which relies heavily on the central performance of Andrea Riseborough to express its themes. Shadow Dancer shows the poisonous effect Irish politics has on one particularly family, leading too tough moral choices which are never black and white. Collette is a woman trapped between protecting her son and betraying her brothers and Riseborough does a tremendous job at capturing the vulnerability and resolve which this character has. Another impressive aspect of Shadow Dancer lies in its ability to create a tense and suspenseful experience when there is barely any violence on-screen throughout the entire film. The viewer is on constant edge regardless of this lack of action and Riseborough and director, James Marsh, deserve a lot of credit for that. Being about a really sensitive subject, Shadow Dancer never chooses sides, opting instead to show the bad and good which exists on both sides of this complicated and long-lasting feud. The film understands that these people, on both sides, are simply fighting for what they believe is right and the film never condones nor demonizes them for it. In a way, Shadow Dancer is a film about maternal nature and Collette's desire to give her son a better life. I do wish the film would have spent a little more time establishing the connection and love between Collette and her son, but this is a very minor complaint.
Jerzy Skolimowski's Barrier is centered around a restless medical student, living in Warsaw. He has just graduated and is ready to go out into the world. In the course of one day, we follow this man on his aimless wanderings, as he struggles to define his own existence or place in post-war Poland. Barrier is a intoxicating, surreal journey in which plot means very little. Barrier is a perfect title for Skolimowski's film, as it deconstructs not only the barriers between the young and old generations but the working class and intellectual classes of society. Barrier is equal parts cynical and romantic, as Skolimowski seems to be fearful of his countries future, though still confident in his people's resolve. Barrier is a film which is tonally very playful, with the easiest comparison being something you would see in a Godard film. Our medical student and the girl he meets on his journey are photogenic and full of life. On the other hand, the cinematography of Barrier is cold and sterile with precise, beautiful imagery that feels reminiscent of Antonioni. These two distinct elements of Barrier create a great contrast and further nail home Skolimowski's thematic intentions. Barrier seems to suggest that youthful exuberance towards the future is both a blessing and curse, with Skolimowski contrasting his cynical viewpoint of post-war Poland with the romanticism of youth. Jerzy Skolimowski's Barrier is a challenging piece of cinema that has a lackadaisical pace but this is an incredibly poignant film from a masterful filmmaker who achieves more in 80 minutes than most films do in twice the running time.
After just graduating from high school, four geeky high school friends set off on holiday in Crete, Greece for a sun-filled, booze-soaked adventure in the hopes of getting laid. Lets get one thing straight right off the bat, The movie version of the fantastic UK show is not nearly as endearing or dare as say poignant. The television show really taps into issues facing today's youth in absurd but truthful ways. The movie is much more a raunchy sex comedy in the vein of American Pie. I guess in a way it was almost to be expected given the tendency to do movie-versions bigger, louder, and almost intentionally dumber. That all being said the film maintains its absurd point of view centered around teenage boys desperate to lose their virginity and it makes no bones about it. The Inbetweeners movie has quite a lot of inventive comedict bits with a few generic ones sprinkled here and there, certainly hitting more than missing. The movie is true to the characters though I could see some complaints of how Carli acted in the movie, I thought it was a long time coming. I have no doubt that seeing the show makes the movie far better and if you haven't seen it you should anyway. The bottom line is Will, Simon, Jay, and Neil are four distinct characters that play off each other extremely well. I guess I just like hanging out with these guys for 90 minutes even if the movie never reach close the heights of the series. If this is my last journey with Will, Simon, Jay, and Neil I can't say I didn't enjoy it.
Set in the near future, Frank, an elderly, retired cat burgular, has two grown children who are concerned about their father's well-being. Frank is a stubborn man, with no desire to leave his home, where he lives alone. With his old man not budging, Frank's son buys Frank a humanoid robot programmed to be a caretaker whose primarily goal is to improve Frank's mental and physical health. Jake Schreier's Robot & Frank is a charming, comical and surprisingly tragic story about friendship and family. Early on in the film it's apparent that Frank is a man suffering from what appears to be early stages of Alzheimer's disease. Thankfully this is never outright stated, but subtle shown through actions of Franks. The aspect of this film which I was very impressed with was just how touching the relationship between Frank and the Robot ended up being. Frank is a man who slowly begins to trust and rely on the Robot and the film does a great job at capturing their growing relationship, even having the success of the film rely heavily on this growth. Robot & Frank should also be commended for its near-future setting, with lots of small, yet effective uses of technology which feel authentic and likely in the near future. The film manages to pull of this near-future in a small-scale setting which no doubt saved the production lots of money. While I certainly enjoyed Robot & Frank more than I was initially expecting, some of the films decisions border on sentimental contrivance. There is a climatic narrative twist that just feels out of place and unnecessarily, for example, but the film's likability more so than not outweighed my frustration.
Just before Christmas, Lee Leander is caught shoplifting in New York City. Being that it's her third offense, Lee is brought in to be prosecuted by John Sargent to the full extent of the law. When the trial begins, John Sargent decides to postpone, realizing how hard it is to get a conviction during Christmas time. With John's conscience telling him no one deserves to be in jail for Christmas, he bails Lee out and offers to take her home to her family in Indiana. For a premise which is a little hard to initially swallow, Mitchell Leisen's Remember The Night is a well-constructed, charming and believable romantic comedy that delivers on both dramatic and comedic levels. In that sense, Remember the Night is much like life, seamlessly going from a scene of zany comedy to heartbreaking drama. Lee Leander is a woman who has led a life of theft but as the story unfolds we begin to realize she isn't a bad person, but someone who has made mistakes in her life. While Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray have great chemistry, the characters's contrasting lives is what sets this on-screen relationship apart. In a sequence a little more than halfway through the film we witness both Lee and John returning home to their respective families. While John's family greets him with pure exuberance, Lee is greeted by a cruel mother who has given up on her daughter and wants nothing to do with her. With this stark contrast we begin to realize how different things could have been for Lee if only she was brought up in a loving family. Remember The Night argues that some criminals are merely a product of their environment, urging the viewer to throw away their preconceived notions of individuals and look beyond the surface. It's a heartfelt and graceful script by Preston Sturges which really captures an optimism about humanity which is rarely pulled off so well.
Winter's Bone tells the story of Ree Dooy (Jennifer Lawrence) a 17 year-old girl who is forced to take care of her younger brother and sister. Her mother is mentally incapacitated and her father is a meth-head leaving her little other options. One day, The Sheriff informs Ree that her father put their house up for his bail bond and disappeared. This sets Ree off looking for her father, which inherently leads her down a rather dark and mysterious path of town secrets and meth-heads. If Ree fails to find her father, her entire family will be thrown out of there house and into the woods "like dogs" as Ree herself puts it. Winter's Bone is a strong thriller/mystery that takes its time from the very beginning to develop this southern underbelly setting. Before the "inciting incident" even takes place, the viewer is shown Ree's surroundings, her home, andher daily routines. This gives the audience enough time to engross oneself into her world of the poverty stricken South. Winter's Bone's atmosphere fells geniune and even gives off a nice foreboding sense of dread. As the film progresses we follow Ree, as she sifts through various lies and mysteries slowly unraveling the truth about her father. The pacing is perfect, in that the audience basically experiences exactly what Ree does, and is forced to pay attention to small details. Jennifer Lawrence is impressive as the tough skinned Ree. This film is pretty close to a one-woman show, and her performance is strong-willed yet niave. The supporting cast is also good, particularly John Hawkes who plays Teardrop, the brother of Ree's missing father. Winter's Bone story and script is overall very subtle. There are a few moments where the dialogue is a little too information heavy aka NOT SUBTLE, but overall, its well written and feels genuine to the setting. It touches on the social order of things in small southern towns and how important reputation can be. It never dives too deeply into the Meth world either, only giving us glimpses, never taking us away from the central story arch-character struggle Ree is going through.
A film that starts off incredibly strong, Mark Robson's The Seventh Victim is never able to keep it up, fading down the stretch. The first half of this film has to be one of the best omnious/mystery type films I have ever seen. Kim, our main protagonist, is such an innocent, fragile character by nature, which adds to the mystery element of her sister's disappearance. It's without a doubt a well-written film that is a very interesting commentary on Good vs. Evil, but I really found the film to lose a lot of its momentum in the second half. To it's credit, it's depiction of this satantic cult is done in a far more intelligent and interesting way than most films, not just painting them as crazy monsters but actually well-organized individuals with a plan who look no different than the average individual. I actually found Jacqueline, her missing sister, to be the most interesting character in the entire film. She is such a fragile soul who is caught up in this group-think mentality, clearly having no real grasp of her own individualism. The two best scenes in this film without a doubt are the shower scene, which must have influenced Hitchcock's Psycho, and the scene in the hallway where the private investigator is murdered in front of Kim. I can honestly say that the hairs on my neck stood up during this mastefully crafted sequence. In the end, the first half Mark Robson's The Seventh Victiom had me thinking it was going to be a favorite of mine but unfortunately It lost its grip on me during the second half of the film.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.