It's difficult to live in Los Angeles and not succumb to that disease known as narcissism, particularly as a gay man whose ego has been fed on a steady diet of prospective fucks. In Eric Casaccio's short film, aptly titled Narcissist, the psychosis of the typical vain bear is explored with the dexterous ease of someone who's all too familiar with the tale. Rob and Evan, a shattered relationship

In the opening scene, we meet Evan (Hunter Lee Hughes), an affable man who is blind-sided when his long-term boyfriend, Rob (Brionne Davis), breaks up with him over video chat--or rather, Rob's new boyfriend breaks up with Evan over video chat. Feeling vulnerable and depressed after such an unexpected blow (no pun intended), Evan begins to reminisce about the past, when things between Rob and him were at their peak. In sharp contrast to the callous version of Rob presented at the outset, in which he coldly states, "What constitutes a fuck is when I sweat," in reference to Evan being able to satisfy him. With such a derisive line, we see that there's a clear pattern with this particular narcissist. He acquires pleasure from building his boyfriends (a laundry list of them, summed up by all the photos he collects of himself and the boy du jour in the same exact location) up and then tearing them down. It's a perverse way to boost his own ego.

Film poster for Narcissist

Rob's fate as a lonely, middle-aged cipher trolling Grindr for fulfillment seems like a more than fitting vengeance for Evan, who goes on to find true happiness with someone who doesn't condemn him for his aesthetic or in the bedroom preferences. As the third short directed by Casaccio, Behind the Hype is more than ready to see what he's capable of doing with a feature length film. Considering the depth with which he's able to explore the theme of his choosing within such a short time frame (Narcissist clocks in at about 17 minutes), it's easy to imagine the impact he could have with the 90-minute realm.

Charlie McDowell's debut feature, The One I Love, views like a combination of The Stepford Wives, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Rosemary's Baby. One, in fact, wonders if this was one of the initial elevator pitches when McDowell was initially trying to get funding (though, of course, when you're working with Mark Duplass, you come to realize that outside funding is unnecessary). After struggling to overcome the obstacle of infidelity in their relationship, married couple Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) decide to take the advice of their nameless counselor (played by Ted Danson) and head for a weekend getaway at a remote, picturesque house recommended specifically by said therapist. The result turns quickly sinister, unexpected and unnerving. Promotional poster for The One I Love

McDowell's deftness in unraveling the bizarre plot twist of the story early on in the film serves to reel us in and keep us hooked for the entirety of the narrative--no matter how macabre things get. At first, the weekend starts out normally enough, with Ethan and Sophie playing nice with one another in spite of the trust issues Sophie has with him after his committing of adultery. To loosen up a bit, the two smoke some pot and drink as though their marriage depends on it. When Sophie meanders into the guest room later that night, she finds a seemingly alternate version of Ethan: a cooler, more romantic, more attentive one.

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Ethan urges her to spend the night in the guest house with him, leading her to return to the main property to collect her things. It's there that she sees Ethan sleeping on the couch as though he'd never left. Creeped out by how quickly he seemed to have returned to the house, Sophie asks how he got back before her. It is at this point that they get into an argument about the events that have happened over the past few hours. Confused by Sophie's anger, Ethan goes into the guest house to continue sleeping on a different couch, where he awakens to a very different wife, though she appears to look exactly the same. When Sophie and Ethan have the epiphany that they're co-existing with two doppelgangers of themselves, they both have very opposing reactions. Sophie, enamored of the more dashing incarnation of Ethan, wishes to stay and "explore" the possibilities, while Ethan is entirely averse to continuing with the trip.

Revelations on a weekend getaway

The implications of The One I Love are centered around two contrasting viewpoints of love and its evolution. On the one hand, you can be satisfied with the flaws and the complications, taking them as a part of the reason for loving the person you do, and, on the other, you can see it as a statement on never being satisfied after the so-called honeymoon period has ended. For Sophie, it's the former, as she can't help but be allured by "the other" Ethan and his charms. But, as is usually the case, one always presents their best form during the beginning stages. The real Ethan knows better, not exhibiting the slight bit of interest in "the other" Sophie, especially after she weirds him out by offering him bacon for breakfast--something the real Sophie would never do.

The creepy pull of the guest house

While McDowell's film has its occasional, mainly suspension of disbelief kinks, the admirability of him deciding to deviate so far from the norm of what a typical romantic comedy entails more than makes up for it. After all, we've long ago left the Golden Era of 90s rom-coms like My Best Friend's Wedding and Notting Hill (maybe it has to do with Julia Roberts aging). And with this acknowledgement comes the need for somebody besides Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze to stray from the prototypical formula of the boy loses girl storyline. Thank god we have  the dynamic duo of Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, breaking out from her Peggy Olson mold, to help pioneer this new genre.

Michel Gondry holds the distinctive cachet of a director like Wes Anderson. Everything he does is fraught with whimsy, and the characteristics of an auteur. Thus, it can be difficult for a fan to admit when Gondry has ventured too far out of his ordinary wheelhouse, which is the case with his latest film, Mood Indigo (or L'Écume des jours in French, meaning Froth on the Daydream, also the title of the Boris Vian novel on which it is based). Like The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind, Mood Indigo favors the fantastical in terms of special effects, layering them on much more thickly than the aforementioned films. Promotional poster for Mood Indigo

Gondry and co-writer Luc Bossi remain largely faithful to the premise of the book, which focuses on the affluent Colin (Romain Duris, of The Spanish Apartment and Russian Dolls). Colin's wealth mercifully keeps him from working, as he concentrates on more important things like playing a rare instrument, called the pianocktail, that makes cocktails while you play it. His friendship with Chick (Gad Elmaleh), a literary fanatic obsessed specifically with the works of Jean-Sol Partre (yes, a spoonerism for Jean-Paul Sartre--and how often do you get to use the word "spoonerism," by the way?), begins to shift when Chick meets a woman, Alise (Aïssa Maïga), with his shared passion for Partre.

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Alise, who also happens to be the niece of Colin's servant, Nicolas (Omar Sy), helps nudge Colin toward the woman of his own fancy at a party. Chloé (Audrey Tautou, who, for some strange reason seems to be having trouble making a comeback), instantly allures Colin, though he feels tongue-tied and awkward upon their first encounter. Before going to the party, Colin specifically practices a dance to Duke Ellington's "Chloé." Incidentally, "Mood Indigo" is also the title of another Ellington song. Once the two start dancing together, their love is cemented, quickly leading to marriage and even more rapidly leading to Chloé contracting a strange illness while on their honeymoon. This illness involves a water lily growing inside of her, wreaking havoc on her lung. Colin goes bankrupt trying to give her the best medical care, only to lose her in the end anyway.

Awkward love

With a mood that shifts between light-hearted and utterly depressing, the severe contrast in tone doesn't quite carry off when viewing the movie as a whole. Of course, the cinematography, music and effects are what manages to salvage what the story lacks. As Gondry's seventh film, one would expect a bit more in the way of cohesion. However, it could be that adaptations are not what works for him. With Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as the benchmark for what he's capable of directorially, Mood Indigo falls noticeably short.

 

Growing up is neither easy nor enjoyable most of the time, particularly as a boy at the dawning of the twenty-first century. Richard Linklater quite literally documents this experience in his latest feature, Boyhood, an epic twelve years in the making. Although some might be inclined to think that a film that uses the same children as they grow into adolescence errs on the side of gimmicky, Linklater's story, attention to pop culture detail and distinctive dialogue style proves that this film is anything but artifice. Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) as a boy with his father, Mason (Ethan Hawke), and sister, Samantha (Lorelai Linklater)

Following the travails of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), a boy from a broken home, as he grows up in the strange time that was the early 00s, Linklater unfolds a plot that is mundane in theory, but layered with richness and relatability as you become increasingly invested in Mason's character and his interactions with other people in his life as he grows up (often times, sooner than he should as a result of being exposed to his mother's series of replacement husbands). Olivia (Patricia Arquette) tries her best to deal with the unexpected punches life throws her way, navigating the waters of parenthood on her own for most of her children's early life. Mason's sister, Samantha (Lorelai Linklater, Richard Linklater's daughter and no stranger to being in his films if you've ever seen Waking Life), has her own set of issues to deal with, though often serves as a constant source of annoyance to her brother.

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After Olivia re-locates their family to Houston to be closer to her mother and go back to school, she quickly re-marries to her college professor, Bill Welbrock (Marco Perella), as a means to form an intact family. Combining her two kids with Bill's boy and girl, the couple seems happy for awhile, until Bill shows his true colors as a violent alcoholic. The trauma of plucking Mason and Samantha from a living situation they had become so used to causes emotional upheaval in their existence that they thought they had finally evaded. Transferring to different schools, the brother and sister start over again, while still remaining in close contact with their father, Mason Sr. (Linklater favorite Ethan Hawke). Many of the cultural references in Boyhood stem from conversations Mason and Samantha have with him, especially as he discusses politics pertaining to the hotbed issues of the moment: Bush's shittiness as a leader, the conspiracy behind the war in Iraq, etc.

Entering teenhood

Other pop culture moments with pronounced attention to detail include Sam singing "Oops... I Did It Again" at the top of her lungs much to Mason's annoyance and Mason watching this once viral Funny or Die video. And, in many ways, this is what makes Boyhood most interesting to watch: Seeing the events of the 00s unfold and their subconscious effect on Mason's development. It is particularly resonant for those who are actually Mason's age at the end of the movie. The fanfare surrounding the release of the movie is, in most respects, deserved, though it does show a very specific (read: white) experience in American youth culture. And that might not necessarily appeal to everyone who didn't grow up with a white middle class background. Other than that, however, the film is worth your near three hours of time, serving almost as a cautionary tale about investing too many emotions in your children (as evidenced by the scene in which Olivia sobs as Mason leaves for college and says, "I thought there would be more").

 

Joe Swanberg continues to rise through the ranks of independent film directors with his follow-up to 2013's well-received Drinking Buddies. This time, instead of focusing on the impossibility of male-female friendships, Swanberg centers his plot around the neurosis brought forth by the appearance of family. Playing the lead character, Jeff, Swanberg falls somewhat short in an acting capacity, which is only part of what makes this film a pale comparison to Drinking Buddies. Promotional poster for Happy Christmas

After breaking up with her boyfriend, the reasons behind which remain nebulous, Jenny (Anna Kendrick, one of those inexplicably annoying actresses you can't pinpoint exactly why you dislike) takes advantage of the kindness of her brother, Jeff (Swanberg), who offers her his basement in Chicago. Jeff's wife, Kelly (Melanie Lynskey, who you may recognize as the Jaclyn Smith-wearing, baby-toting in a bar woman in Sweet Home Alabama), becomes averse to Jenny after she gets trashed on her first night staying with them. Upon attending a party with her friend, Carson (the always blah Lena Dunham), Jenny gets out of control with her drinking and weed-smoking, prompting her to stubbornly pass out on the hostess' bed.

Jenny's first night out turns out to be a bust

Concerned about her behavior, Kelly feels reluctant about letting her watch Jude (Joe Swanberg's real life baby of the same name), their two-year-old son. Jenny, who was supposed to watch Jude the morning after her party, ends up being too hungover to do so, leading Kelly to call their former basement resident, Kevin (Mark Webber of Snow Day fame), to care for her son while she goes to brunch. Jenny awakens to find Kevin in the living room, and the three end up going to the park together. When Kelly returns, Kevin takes off, but not before getting Jenny's number so he can "lend her some DVDs"--a.k.a. sell her pot when she needs it. Jeff urges Kelly to give Jenny another chance to prove that her fuck-up was a one-time instance, and so, with no mask of certainty, Kelly leaves Jenny alone with Jude while she runs some errands.

Full-time fuck-up

After successfully keeping Jude alive for a few hours, Jenny and Carson pour themselves some drinks from the tiki bar in the basement and invite Kelly to join them. A few sips of beer later, Kelly confesses to feeling a tinge of resentment toward Jeff because she's the one who has to watch Jude all the time, leaving her no opportunity for writing (she had previously written one novel). Jenny and Carson encourage Kelly to keep writing and convince her that she can "have it all."

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Filled with a renewed sense of hope for her career's potential as a result of this conversation, Kelly asks Jeff for the Christmas present of being able to go somewhere and write in private. Jeff is happy to oblige, offering up his empty production office as a quiet place for her to work. In the meantime, Jenny keeps herself busy by fucking with Kevin's head. Clearly the one who's more into it, Kevin treats her well and buys her a gift for the holiday, though ultimately ends up pissing her off anyway because he won't come home with her on Christmas Eve (he wants to, but has to wake up early to go to his mother's house the next day--proving that a mother always trumps a girlfriend in these Oedipal times). With her self-esteem in a shaky state after being what she perceives as rejected, she goes back to the basement and proceeds to drink and smoke weed. In this altered state, she puts a frozen pizza in the oven and forgets about it. About an hour later, the house is filled with smoke, setting off the alarm and waking up everyone else.

Christmas morning, after a night of drama caused by Jenny leaving the oven on

Jenny's selfishness and lack of concern is, presumably, supposed to be fascinating to the audience, but, for the most part, it's just vexatious. The main issue with Happy Christmas is how hard Swanberg tries to make his characters seem complex through simplicity, but with dialogue that consists primarily of "like" and "sorry," becoming engaged is a somewhat difficult feat.

 

Even when we have an identity we can't stand, it's still irksome when someone else tries to adopt it as his own. In many ways, Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), the protagonist in Richard Ayoade's adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Double, is a foil to the character Ayoade played in The IT Crowd, Maurice Moss: Mutable, amenable and largely unnoticeable. Everything about The Double is deliberate--from the consistent mirror images to the nondescript cinematography. And it is in this meticulousness that Ayoade continues to show his growth as a writer-director (2010's Submarine, also an adaptation, was his directorial debut for feature film). Differentiation.

Like most of Ayoade's previous projects (The Mighty Boosh included), he tends to create a visual landscape that seems outside of any specific time period, though if one were to guess, the 1960s seems like the most likely decade. Following the lonely, isolated life of Simon, who works in an office and performs the sort of unclassifiable work that office drones perform, Ayoade paints a grim portrait of life as a "non-person," interchangeable with just about everyone else. The only being who truly acknowledges Simon's existence is his aged mother, who lives in a nursing home and expects Simon to be available at her beck and call, which he usually is.

Promotional poster for The Double

Simon's sole source of light in a dark, dismal world is a girl named Hannah (Mia Wasikowska, who has already appeared in another great film this year), who lives in the building across from his and also works in his office. Afraid to approach her, the two are finally brought together by the suicide of a man that jumps from her side of the building. As the man free-falls, he makes eye contact with Simon and waves to him. Once the body has been taken away, Hannah and Simon go out to the local diner Simon frequents. Hannah confesses that she yelled at the man the previous night for essentially stalking her. Their conversation is interrupted by a phone call from Simon's mother, prompting Hannah to leave. The next day, Simon, who has constant issues with getting into his own office building, is kicked out of a mandatory event. It is at this moment, that his doppelganger, James Simon, enters the picture.

The object of Simon's affection

At first, Simon and James strike up a cordial enough friendship. Watching James interact with others and his confidence in everything he does is fascinating for Simon. On the way back from a night out, Simon feels comfortable enough to tell James, "It's like I'm permanently outside myself. Like you could push your hand straight through me if you wanted to." When he looks over to see James' reaction, Simon balks when he notices that James has fallen asleep on the train.

Voyeuristic tendencies

James has his own woman to pursue, the boss' (played by Wallace Shawn of Clueless fame) daughter, a surly sort who treats Simon like shit, asking questions like "Why won't you die?", but then, whenever James poses as Simon, ends up having sex with him. If nothing else, The Double proves that women have an undeniable predilection for assholes. As James starts to become more demanding of Simon--asking him for the keys to his apartment to bring back women, taking credit for his work, etc.--Simon can see that he's let things get too out of hand.

Shadows and silhouettes play heavily into the cinematography of The Double

To make matters worse, Hannah has developed an attraction to James, much to Simon's complete and total vexation. Gradually, he begins to realize that he can regain the upper hand, if he's willing to sacrifice himself in the process. His self-effacing persona begins to pay off once he discovers that his pain is just as much James' pain. Concluding with a somewhat different ending from Dostoyevsky's version, Simon's beautiful and ironic final line is: "I'd like to think I'm pretty unique."

The vampire genre has at last been played out enough for Jim Jarmusch to finally dabble in it. In his gothic, melancholy film, Only Lovers Left Alive, we're left with the sense that even vampires feel obligated to go through the motions of survival. Morose vampire/musician Adam (Tom Hiddleston) lives and writes music in Detroit, relying on an errand boy/roadie type named Ian (Anton Yelchin) to get him instruments and other provisions for survival so that he can remain a recluse. Promotional poster for Only Lovers Left Alive

Although Adam has spent centuries collaborating with some of the world's best musicians, he has grown weary and jaded in the modern epoch. Contemplating suicide to escape a world he deems full of "zombies" (this is his word for addressing humans), he asks Ian to bring him a wooden bullet for an "art project" (because what's more artistic than suicide?). His sadness is given a brief reprieve when he gets a phone call from his wife, Eve (Tilda Swinton), who has been living in Tangier. Adam's visible state of misery alarms her enough to prompt her to grab a night flight immediately--even though it means leaving her dear friend and blood source Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) behind for awhile.

Reunited.

Upon seeing Eve in the flesh again, Adam's faith in existence is briefly renewed. Enjoying one another's company together, the two talk about the great men Adam has known, the state of civilization, eat blood popsicles, play chess and occasionally dance while listening to Motown music. Their quiet, contented existence is interrupted by the unwanted appearance of Eve's sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), a freeloading sort who's been living in Los Angeles, which Adam refers to as "zombie central."

Eve's sister, Ava, who loves stealing from their blood supply

Adam doesn't even attempt to mask his hatred for Ava as she acts the free-spirited vacuous type by bouncing around and blaring his music loudly. Eve tries her best to appease Adam in order to get him to let Ava stay in his house. Adam is reluctant to trust her with their scarce supply of blood--vials of Type O Negative he pays a doctor off to obtain. Because the human blood source is so contaminated in the twenty-first century, Eve and Adam are hesitant to trust conventional means of blood-draining. Ava, on the other hand, has no problem sucking the life force out of people. In fact, she ends up biting Ian one night after forcing Eve and Adam to go out to a bar to see some live music.

Before the bite.

After kicking Ava out, much to her chagrin, Eve and Adam know that they have to get rid of Ian's body and then flee the scene so as not to be linked to the crime. Once Ava calls them judgmental and condescending for criticizing her for deigning to consume blood in the old school way, the two get down to the business of tossing Ian's body into the back of their trunk and throwing his body into some skin-eating acid water (of which Eve notes, "That was very...visual.").

Barely making it back to Tangier alive.

Because they have to depart in such a hurry, Eve insists that they leave behind Adam's beloved instruments and the Type O Negative blood. Certain that Marlowe will be able to supply them with more high-quality blood, Eve is troubled to find that his health has deteriorated after drinking some bad blood from the Tangier clinic. When he sees Adam again, he cautions from his deathbed, "Humility will get you nowhere." To that point, Only Lovers Left Alive is very much a comment not only on love and the decline of the modern man, but also the nature of art and its purpose to the creator. When they leave Marlowe to his inevitable death, Adam is consoled by the sight of a woman singing. Eve remarks to Adam, "I think she's going to be famous." Adam responds, "God, I hope not. She's too good for that."

Alternate promotional poster for Only Lovers Left Alive

In the end, Eve and Adam are forced to perform the very act that they chastised Ava for in order to go on surviving. There is beauty in their hypocrisy, and their desire to go on living as lovers devoted to one another.  And as compared with Jarmusch's last film, 2009's The Limits of Control (also starring Tilda Swinton), Only Lovers Left Alive is a more succinct, self-restrained work from a writer-director who consistently improves upon his canon.

Irvine Welsh's work is no stranger to the silver screen. His modern classic novel, Trainspotting, was also a success in its 1996 film incarnation. With Filth, a novel that came out in 1998, Welsh gets a similar psychedelic slant from writer-director Jon S. Baird. Following the debauched existence of police official Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy), Filth shows us the depths of depravity as only this Scottish scribe can.

Promotional poster for Filth
Promotional poster for Filth

Robertson's main obsessions in life are his wife, Carole (Shauna Macdonald), getting a promotion at work, and playing what he refers to as "the games," which basically just means fucking with his co-workers and only friend, Clifford Blades (Eddie Marsan). His latest attempts at psychological warfare involve undermining those within the constabulary who he views as a potential threat to his promotion and prank calling Clifford's wife, Bunty (Shirley Henderson, who isn't given nearly enough starring roles).

Not giving a fuck
Not giving a fuck

Amid this drama, the racially motivated murder of a Japanese student has taken precedence at the constabulary, leading Robertson to aggressively pursue potential leads while still finding time to make his co-worker, Peter Inglis (Emun Elliott), appear homosexual to the other members of the force (which he probably is). Incidentally, only from an Irvine Welsh character would you hear the phrase "Pussy's for faggots."

Vaginal animal hallucinations
Vaginal animal hallucinations

Robertson's drug-addled mindset continues to intensify as the film progresses. Hallucinating all manner of hybrid animals and therapy sessions with a cartoonish analyist (the always disturbing Jim Broadbent), we soon come to realize just how unstable Robertson is (cross-dressing is a factor). We come to question if his account of events was ever even real, or an utter delusion. And, speaking of delusions, Robertson also finds it necessary to give Clifford a little dash of ecstasy in his drink while they're in Amsterdam together. Not really sure what the Scottish obsession with "Sandstorm" by Darude is (if you've seen Under the Skin and have an ear for background music, you'll understand), but apparently doing drugs is the perfect excuse to play it.

Hashtag filth

Naturally, in the literary version, things end up slightly more macabre--with Robertson turning out to be the one who murdered the Japanese student. But perhaps casting James McAvoy made Baird feel like Robertson was too pretty to perform such ugliness on others, finding it necessary for him to perform it, instead, on himself.

Argentine writer/director Sebastián Lelio's fourth feature film, Gloria, shows us the woes of romantic dalliances during female middle age. Whimsical, confident Gloria Cumplido (Paulina García) is a divorcee who still loves to have fun and refuses to settle down again with just anyone. Her penchant for dancing in nightclubs leads her to encounter a seemingly like-minded spirit named Rodolfo Fernández (Sergio Hernández), who eventually proves himself to be an utter disappointment. The unshakeable confidence of Gloria

Although Gloria tries her hardest to stave off loneliness--an attempt compounded by the constant bitter rantings of her upstairs neighbor--it is a lingering sensation that creeps in when she wants it to least. With her children out on their own, Gloria does her best to stamp out the void. Moreover, in this particular film, little emphasis is placed on the what Chilean people actually do for a living, and Gloria's nondescript office job is only occasionally mentioned or shown. Thus, it appears she has nothing in the way of fulfillment through a career either.

Gloria with her ex-husband.

Spanish/South American culture is also strongly present in terms of how comfortable Lelio is with showing copious amounts of old people nudity/sex. The very first night Gloria encounters Rodolfo, she's all about pouncing, and the result is the sight of several minutes of flaccid flesh, which continues to be a running visual motif throughout the film. Like Gloria, Rodolfo also has a family: two daughters and an ex-wife. The difference between the two of them, however, is that Rodolfo allows his children to control his life far more than Gloria. His lack of total focus on her leads him to abruptly leave a birthday party for Gloria's son, an action that enrages Gloria and causes her to break up with him.

Promotional poster for Gloria

Almost a foreshadowing of their broken relationship is Gloria listening to the radio and hearing someone request Jeanette's "Why Are You Leaving?". In spite of her contempt for Rodolfo, she lets him worm his way back into her semi-broken heart. This time, he takes her on a romantic getaway, leading her to believe that he's finally taken into account her feelings about his over involvement with his children. However, she is duped once again after she throws his cell phone into a bowl of soup and tries to laugh it off as a joke. This prompts Rodolfo to excuse himself to go to the bathroom, though of course he simply vanishes to tend to an emergency with his ex-wife.

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Feeling shamed and jilted by Rodolfo's desertion, she goes on a bender involving gambling, makeout sessions with inappropriate men and waking up with a hangover alone on the beach. It becomes clear at this point that Gloria is dealing with some very real shit. Not to mention the fact that her eye doctor has recently informed her that she's showing early signs of glaucoma. To make matters worse, Gloria's beloved daughter, Ana (Fabiola Zamora), is moving to Sweden to be with her boyfriend. Enveloped by isolation, Gloria triumphs over her own forlornness--mainly through the film's incredible soundtrack--and shows that it's possible to enjoy oneself even during the bleakest of circumstances.

The highly talked about, subjectively scandalizing Blue is the Warmest Color proves one thing: Even lesbians use the "I'm on my period" excuse to get out of sex. Except in a lesbian relationship, one of the women is actually in tune with when your cycle is and won't believe the lie, but instead read immensely into it. Not only that, but being a lesbian doesn't exempt one person in the relationship from being more into it than the other--not that we really needed writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche to tell us that. In fact, Kechiche's male gender is perhaps the most controversial aspect of Blue is the Warmest Color (unless you're new to the scissoring game). Love at first sight.

Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a bi-curious high school student whose eye is drawn immediately to the charismatic, blue-haired Emma (Léa Seydoux). Confident and self-assured, Emma attends the Beaux Arts college to pursue her passion for drawing. The connection between Emma and Adèle is unignorable--primarily for Adèle, who is still grappling with the notion that she might not be straight. Her first sexual encounter with a fellow male student proves lackluster to Adèle, prompting her to call things off with him. With the help of a friend, Valentin (Sandor Funtek), who takes her out to a gay club, Adèle finds herself wandering into a lesbian bar nearby where she fortuitously runs into Emma.

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Although Emma is in a relationship and Adèle fears total banishment from her friends/conventional society, the two fall into a hopeless romance that ultimately results in Adèle's utter isolation as Emma throws herself into her art. Even among Emma's friends, Adèle feels awkward and out of place. More and more conscious that her true identity is just as ambiguous as her sexual identity, Adèle gives into the temptation of sleeping with a male colleague who teaches a class at the same school. Emma finds out about her indiscretion and throws her out without a second a thought. It is also during this scene that we learn lesbians aren't opposed to calling their girlfriends "slut" and "whore" either.

La tendresse.

It's difficult to say if Blue is the Warmest Color (which is actually titled La Vie d'Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 in France and based on Julie Minoh's graphic novel) would be nearly as riveting without the same sex element and explicit sexual content. Its NC-17 rating, however, still comes off as absurd when compared to the R rating of The Wolf of Wall Street. While the love story between Adèle and Emma is moving, it is, by no means, epic. The only reason it comes across as such is due to the length of the film and the tragedy of the couple not ending up together.

Promotional poster for Blue is the Warmest Color

After their breakup, Emma and Adèle meet again. While Adèle tries to coerce Emma (who is now in a relationship with her friend, Lise) into infidelity, Emma rebuffs her advances, but affectionately tells her: "I have infinite tenderness for you. I always will. All my life long." It is with this sentiment in mind that Adèle accepts Emma's invitation to her art show, where she re-encounters a gallery owner, Joachim (Stéphane Mercoyrol), who showed interest in her previously at a party for Emma. Because the two had talked about New York and Adèle's desire to go there, he inquires as to whether she ever made the trip. She tells him she never did. But then, New York and France are two sides of the same coin--and it is this duality and sameness that mirrors Adèle's own explorative sexual saga.

Blue nails.

Although the film is saturated in blue--blue nails, blue jackets, blue dresses, blue hair, blue walls, etc.--it is invariably the pink (that's code for vagina in case you didn't get it) that has drawn so many moviegoers (read: straight people) to this particular narrative. It is, at best, maudlin and, at worst, falsely and exploitively avant-garde.

 

Sebastián Silva got off to a quick start with movie industry success (which, in this case, refers to recognition as opposed to financial gain). His 2009 film, The Maid, received plenty of critical accolades, allowing Silva to continue creating movies with artistic freedom. Crystal Fairy (or, as its alternately known Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus and 2012) is a mythical, spiritual, intellectual tale that follows an unapologetic gringo named Jamie (Cera) and his band of Chilean friends as they seek the hallucinogenic nectar of the San Pedro cactus. Along the way, they are distracted by a spirited woman by the name of Crystal Fairy (the much under appreciated Gaby Hoffman) who enhances their journey without them truly realizing it until it's all over. Promotional poster for Crystal Fairy

Crystal Fairy floats into Jamie and his friend Champa's (Juan Andres Silva) life at a party where she's seen prancing around in what Jamie dubs to be an embarrassing fashion. Coked out enough to approach her, he tells Champa that he feels compelled to help her stop humiliating herself. At first uncertain of her heritage (due to her dark features and thick hair--later a characteristic that garners her the name "Crystal Hairy"), Jamie is surprised to learn that Crystal Fairy is an American. Feeling an inexplicable sense of camaraderie in his drug-addled state, Jamie invites Crystal on his quest to find the fabled San Pedro cactus, a glorious plant filled with pure, potent mescaline (so of course it's outlawed in the U.S.).

http://youtu.be/E7nInvUzAI8

The next day when Crystal calls up Jamie to take him up on his offer, he is slightly hazy on the details of ever having met her. Champa and his brothers, Pilo (Agustin Silva) and Lel (Jose Miguel Silva), however, are more than open to the notion of meeting Crystal in the town square where she says she'll be. When they come across her, she's in the midst of an argument with a group of cutthroat Chilean women after she tries to pay for something with a drawing. Jamie, already vexed by her slowing them down, is immediately offput by not only the drama Crystal causes, but her New Age/hippie persona. Only later does he comprehend that this over-the-top version of herself is a defense mechanism she uses against her past.

Preparing the innards of the San Pedro cactus

As the trip progresses and their hunt for a cactus intensifies, Jamie--called "the Pollo" by the band of brothers he's with--only grows more irritated by what he views as Crystal's crackpot theories and sentiments slowing them down. From helping to purge their chakras to walking around in front of them naked, Crystal upsets the balance of what Jamie had in mind for the trip in many different ways. It isn't until they actually head to a deserted beach to enjoy the fruits of their beloved plant that Jamie finally begins to appreciate Crystal.

On the beach.

Shot in a method that calls just enough attention to its low-budget nature, there is something about Crystal Fairy (both the film and the person) that keeps you captivated throughout--even though, for the most part, very little is actually happening. Perhaps this is because Silva based Crystal on someone inspirational from his own life, a woman who barely graced it, yet influenced him profoundly. In an interview with Movieline, Hoffman noted:

"There were biographical things about her that he told me. You know, he’d actually had this experience with this woman, so, I don’t want to reveal too much, but elements of the character, like the story she tells at the end, are factual. But, for me, it was more about taking those facts and making her dynamic instead of one-dimensional and cliché, which she could easily have been."

Tripping IRL

Among other life imitating art factors in Crystal Fairy is the fact that the actors were legitimately tripping on mescaline during the filming of the movie. This detail shines through minimally on film, and perhaps because the performances are so understated, you realize that the experience of and the rapport between the actors is real. In blurring the lines (goddammit, Robin Thicke) between where the acting begins and the improvisation ends, it makes sense that Crystal Fairy would be the project to reignite Hoffman's interest in acting and offer Silva a chance to pay homage to someone significant in his life.

Centered around the most destructive fire in the history of Texas, Prince Avalanche is a story that parallels the wreckage of said wildfire on an emotional level. Although this event took place in Bastrop County in September of 2011, the film is set in the summer of 1988. Alvin (Paul Rudd) has taken on the job of repainting the road and replacing other traffic related markers destroyed in the fire's wake. As a favor to his girlfriend, Madison, he hires her brother, Lance (Emile Hirsch, who has something of a Joaquin Phoenix way about him), to help him. The two forge a bond that occurs only after a series of denials, arguments and general contention. Promotional poster for Prince Avalanche

Alvin’s stoicism is in direct opposition to Lance’s fun-loving, adventure-seeking nature. David Gordon Green (best known for All The Real Girls and Pineapple Express) adapted the script from an Icelandic work entitled Either Way. His ability to imbue the screenplay with bare bones dialogue and a minimalist setting to match is remarkable to watch play out onscreen. The controlled performances of both Rudd and Hirsch complement one another seamlessly, while the static backdrop of ravaged Texan land punctuates a sense of restlessness and uncertainty.

Going crazy in Texas.

As Alvin writes letters to Madison and attempts to learn German for when they ultimately move there together, Lance does his best not to lose his mind over sexual frustration. The only other person they encounter in the woods is an old man (Lance LeGault) who advises Lance to go into town to try to find himself a lady. Lance already has a girl named Peggy Johnston in mind to “squeeze the little man,” as he refers to it. The only problem is, Peggy is already spoken for by one of Lance’s friends, Kip (it doesn’t get more 80s than that in terms of guys’ names). Regardless, Lance sets off for the weekend on a mission to get laid.

http://youtu.be/gJGEu268KvI

In Lance’s absence, Alvin entertains himself by cooking various roadkill and talking to an old woman he encounters who busies herself among the ruins of her home. She laments that now that all of her possessions have been burned, there is nothing to prove her accomplishments or even her existence. It is a strange, yet valid point to be made, particularly in American culture, wherein we are defined but what we have amassed. Alvin eventually grows weary of talking to her and goes off on his own jaunt, involving quite a bit of talking to himself.

http://youtu.be/k0OWHtMgTvA

When Lance returns, there is an aura of jadedness about him. Dressed in a lab coat and wearing sunglasses, he somberly exits the car and, when probed by Alvin about his weekend, asks if they can just “enjoy the silence.” After a while, he finally admits that nothing happened between him and Peggy Johnston apart from making out because Kip caught them leaving the bedroom at a party together. He then removes his sunglasses to reveal a black eye. Feeling sympathy for his plight, Alvin sardonically offers, “In your own mind, you really do see yourself as a gentleman, don’t you?”

Passing the time.

In spite of Alvin’s exhibited devotion to Madison--emphasized by a letter he writes to her featuring the aphorism, “True love is like a ghost: People talk about it, but very few have actually seen it”--she still ends up breaking up with him. This information wreaks havoc upon his fragile heart, leaving only Lance to pick up the pieces. Instead of consoling him, however, he tells Alvin that it was deserved, that he’s never actually there for Madison. Outraged by Lance’s accusation, Alvin attempts to get in a fight with him, but it only leads to getting drunk and growing closer (god, male friendships are so much simpler than female ones).

http://youtu.be/RDCYyvrOSNY

Prince Avalanche is a breath of fresh air, proving that you don’t need more than a $60,000 budget to make a memorable, meaningful movie. It is also a testament to how an environment can reflect our own emotions back to us—much to our dismay. Plus, it’s been awhile since a truly great story about male bonding has been released (I would even venture to say not since Grumpy Old Men).

 

 

 

 

The topic of twenty-first century detachment has only been a recent source of concern and dissection. The problem with examining it, however, is that it can, at times, be difficult to take seriously (after all, technology tends to come off as whimsical and arbitrary more often than not). In Henry Alex Rubin's Disconnect, the ominous potential of the internet takes effect on a group of people whose lives intertwine in ways they are unaware of. Each ripple effect of the internet serves to bring this karass of people closer together, even though they're not completely aware of it. Promotional poster for Disconnect

As one couple, Derek (Alexander Skarsgard) and Cindy (Paula Patton), struggles through the plight of an online identity theft, another family must deal with the attempted suicide of their son, Ben (Jonah Bobo, an unfortunate last name, to be sure), in the wake of a nude photo of him that circulates on all of his classmates’ phones after he private messages it to a made up girl named Jessica Rhony (an anagram for horny). The world of internet porn is also explored as Kyle (Max Thieriot) is pursued by a local news reporter named Nina Dunham (the much underrated Andrea Riseborough, who is perhaps not as annoyed as I am that her character name rhymes with Lena Dunham). Posing as a woman interested in “going private,” Nina starts engaging Kyle in a probing conversation about what he plans to do with his future. Ultimately, she gets him to agree to be interviewed (in blurry head, scrambled voice fashion), asking him questions about the ringleader of the group, an older man named Harvey (Marc Jacobs, who may have actually turned out to be a glorified pimp in real life if he wasn’t a renowned fashion designer).

Marc Jacobs as Harvey, the loveable pimp

Jason (Colin Ford), a lonely bully with a retired cop for a father, finds sadistic, yet empty amusement in creating a fake Facebook profile with his friend, Frye (Aviad Bernstein), to play with the emotions of equally lonely Ben. Believing that Jessica is real (which no one should ever assume in the modern world of imaginary people), Ben begins to confess his innermost feelings to her, including how he feels about his father, Rich Boyd (Jason Bateman, always in the terse button-down roles), a successful lawyer who seems only to take notice of his phone. As Jason starts to get closer to Ben under the guise of Jessica, he starts to have misgivings about what he and Frye are doing, though that doesn’t stop them from sending a picture of Ben with the words “Love Slave” scrawled across his naked body to the entire student body.

Rich and his wife, Lydia (Hope Davis), discuss Ben with his sister, Abby (Haley Ramm).

In the aftermath of his humiliation, Ben obviously feels that the only course of action is suicide, though, of course such a reaction seems a hair melodramatic and extreme. In the midst of hanging himself, his sister, Abby (Haley Ramm), walks in to find him flailing about and cuts him down as quickly as she can. Ben’s asphyxiation leads him to be hospitalized for a coma, further intensifying Jason’s guilt. In the meantime, Nina has allowed her source to get a little too close to her when she lets Max into her home after celebrating her piece’s feature on CNN. Jason’s father, Mike (Frank Grillo), has also given Cindy and Derek a lead on their identity thief in Pennsylvania. Although their relationship has been in peril, their pursuit of the man she started talking to in a chat room for grief, (due to the fact that they lost their son, Ethan), Stephen (Michael Nyqvist, who looks strangely like Larry Hagman), brings them closer together in their mutual quest for vengeance.

http://youtu.be/aqCcQOlDM4o

While some elements of each person’s story find resolution, others are left hanging in the air with uncertainty. And perhaps that is the true intention of Andrew Stern’s script—to prove that even with advancements and progress in technology, an instantaneous solution to our problems isn’t always possible. As for the exploration of loneliness in spite of being so “connected” by the internet, Disconnect is one of the first films about this subject that is easy to take seriously (even if it is frequently overemotional).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted
AuthorSmoking Barrel

Harmony Korine has tackled a variety of controversial subjects since his early films, Gummo and Kids, but with Spring Breakers, Korine takes a seemingly innocent topic--having a good time on your spring break--and transforms it into one of the most delightfully debauched movies in recent release. Following the extreme lengths that four girls are willing to go to have a good time, Spring Breakers is Korine’s most commercially subversive film to date. Faith (Selena Gomez), Cotty (Rachel Korine, yes, Harmony’s much younger wife), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Brit (Ashley Benson) are four friends with varying degrees of morality—Faith of course being the most prone to conventional moral behavior. Promotional poster for Spring Breakers

When the quartet realizes they aren’t going to make it to Florida on the paltry 325 dollars they’ve managed to save, Candy, Cotty and Brit scheme to rob a restaurant (the kind that would serve fried chicken) and take their earnings to have the spring break of their dreams. As Nicki Minaj’s “Moment 4 Life” plays (just one in a series of brilliant musical backgrounds for a particular scene), Cotty watches Brit and Candy carry off the plan without a hitch. When Faith learns of how they acquired the money, she pushes aside her feelings of guilt to get out of a town she describes as follows: “The grass isn’t even green. It’s brown.” With such dismal surroundings, the sharp contrast they encounter in Florida is extremely welcome.

A man and his harem.

Revisiting the same montage of bodies and tits set to the sound of Skrillex during the opening sequence of the film, the girls finally get to experience firsthand something beyond their own humdrum college existence. At a concert on the beach that could have just as easily been extracted from early 00s MTV Spring Break footage, the girls have their first encounter with Alien (James Franco)—real name Al—a white rapper with long, flowing corn rows and a gold grill on his teeth. As balloons in the shape of aliens float around the stage in front of Alien, the story begins its shift into an even more surreal plotline.

http://youtu.be/uuQPC9RrsVE

In spite of Faith being extremely religious, she seems to be the one most taken with the atmosphere of spring break, asserting to Candy and Brit that she never wants to go back home. Peppered with shots of the foursome riding around town on scooters, flipping people off that drive by and hanging around various beach and pool parties, there is a fragmented and disorderly element that pervades most of Spring Breakers—mirroring the lives and actions of the four friends. The fun comes to a grinding halt when the girls are arrested at a house party for narcotic use (coke, obviously) and they’re taken to the county jail to wait out their sentence.

http://youtu.be/YefLGog9410

At the court hearing, Alien happens to be sitting among the crowd—awaiting the verdict for two of his own lackeys—and decides to bail them out. Faith is the most hesitant to accept his random act of kindness as being without a motive. Regardless, she opts to get in his car with the rest of her friends knowing that their options are limited now that their cash has run out. From there, Alien takes them to the side of spring break you don’t usually see—where the drug lords live. Immediately repulsed by her surroundings, Faith is the first to jump the metaphorical ship, even in the face of Alien’s argument that she’ll be more miserable back at home.

http://youtu.be/u3lM6MvBkP4

With one “chickie” (a term Alien uses in a creepy free-form song he plays on his piano) down and three left, Alien enlists their help to steal and generally cause destruction in their wake. And, just as Korine did in Gummo (the weightlifting scene in which Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” plays), he uses a dated iconic song in an insurrectionary manner to convey a larger message. In the case of Spring Breakers, an acapella version of “Baby One More Time” outside of a convenience store symbolizes the certain decay of our culture and how emulation of what we see on the various screens around us ultimately influences us—whether consciously or subconsciously. Right before Cotty, Brit and Candy commit their first robbery, Cotty says, “Just pretend you’re in a movie or a video game.” That line alone says so much about where we are as a society. Though, admittedly, it’s difficult for anyone to deny a love of Britney.

http://youtu.be/u-UJQGwzyxo

Using yet another Britney Spears song—the lesser appreciated ballad “Everytime”—as the three girls cause mayhem throughout the underworld of St. Petersburg, Korine continues to display his knack for fucking with his viewers’ heads. And that is the true brilliance of Korine that often makes him so despised by his detractors: The fact that he can simultaneously disgust while provoking meaningful thought. As for the conclusion of Spring Breakers, well, let’s just say that by the time you’ve come this far, nothing will surprise you anymore and you, too, will be muttering “Spring break 4eva” to yourself.

Like its own, slightly less sinister version of The Cabin in the Woods, Your Sister's Sister is a film that emphasizes the realizations and revelations that are bound to occur in an isolated setting. Written and directed by Lynn Shelton (whose other notable work was 2009's Humpday, also starring Mark Duplass), the minimalism of the movie's production barely crosses one's mind because of how engaging, yet uncannily natural the dialogue is.

Opening at a commemorative get-together for Jack's (Duplass) brother, Tom, who died a year ago (though we never discover the cause), a mutual friend named Al (Mike Birbiglia, the only other character in the movie to have dialogue besides Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt and Duplass--unless you count the waitress who asks Jack if he wants more coffee), speaks fondly of Tom. As he recounts seeing Hotel Rwanda with him (I love when film allusions are made in other films, it should really happen more often), he points out that, afterward, Tom immediately started volunteering for an organization to help Rwandan refugees--illustrating that he was the type of man who actually put his convictions into action instead of just talking about them.

http://youtu.be/JlbKcGn9M1M

Jack, however, points out that it was another movie that changed Tom's life course: Revenge of the Nerds. He explains that Tom's eyes were opened to the benefits of being a "nice guy" as opposed to the bully he really was. Jack's insistence on this fact makes everyone grow increasingly uncomfortable, except, of course, his best friend and Tom's ex-girlfriend, Iris (Blunt).

After Jack stalks out of the room, Iris follows him and suggests that a retreat to her father's cabin might be in order so that he can possibly get the chance to gain some perspective on the past year. With no other viable solutions to his misery in mind, Jack accepts Iris' offer and heads to the cabin with his bicycle (per Iris' insistence and also perhaps to showcase the stereotype that you can take a ferry from Seattle to anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest vicinity).

Upon arriving, Jack is surprised and intrigued to find Hannah (DeWitt, who will always hold a special place in my heart for her role as Don Draper's East Village mistress, Midge, on Mad Men), Iris' sister, even though Jack isn't aware of that familial connection as he watches her strut around the house without pants on. When Hannah catches him lurking, she sneakily lunges at him on the porch with an oar. Once he explains himself and they are formally introduced to one another, their shared love of alcohol is quickly uncovered.

Inviting Jack to join her in a bottle of tequila, Hannah is drunk enough to inform him that she just ended a seven year relationship with a woman named Pam. As she relays the story, Jack learns that Pam cheated on her with another woman. Appalled--and evermore inebriated--Jack confesses that if he was "differently equipped" or if she was "differently inclined," the night would probably go in another direction. Hannah gamely responds with an affirmative reaction to taking him up on his offer. A bit taken aback (but nonetheless aroused), Jack asks if she's certain she wants to go through with something they'll undeniably regret in the morning. With Hannah's reassurances that there's really no legitimate reason why they shouldn't go through with it (he's single, she's single--lesbian aspect aside--fuck, it's like the simple math of 2 + 2), the two of them head to the bedroom.

As they become marginally engrossed in the throes of passion, Hannah reminds Jack that they don't have a condom. Vaguely miffed, Jack suggests saran wrap (it's somewhat reminiscent of that scene in Shopgirl where Jeremy advocates using a "baggie"--oh men and their utter insensitivity) as an alternative. Ignoring his attempt at problem-solving, Hannah goes to retrieve one from some unknown part of the house. Passionlessly, Jack gives approximately five thrusts before passing out and subsequently awakening to the sound of Iris walking toward the house with groceries. Frantic, Jack starts shouting cover stories at a barely coherent Hannah as he goes to put on some makeshift workout clothes so he can pretend as though he's been on a run.

When Iris enters the house to see Hannah, she is completely overcome with joy--an emotion that is tempered when Hannah tells her that she broke up with Pam. At that moment, Jack enters the room looking as though he just went for a swim in his clothes. Feigning shock over seeing her, Jack proceeds to act as unnatural as possible, though Iris is utterly oblivious to it, apparently accustomed to Jack's zany ways. As the day progresses, Jack steals away a few moments alone with Hannah to discuss the fact that Iris can never know what happened. Picking up on Jack's underlying emotions, Hannah questions if has feelings for Iris. Jack quickly and too strongly denies having any such sentiment.

Shrewd elder sister that she is, Hannah instantly grasps the true reason why Jack doesn't want to tell Iris. Later on that night, as it turns out, Iris crawls into bed with Hannah and, as they get to talking about Jack, answers honestly when Hannah asks if she likes him. Iris admits, "I think I'm in love with him." A look of alarm subtly spreads across Hannah's face as she realizes the gravity of what she's done. With this recently acquired information, Hannah confronts Jack and agrees that his original plan to keep their tryst a secret from Iris is probably best.

http://youtu.be/pB4hc9_4PVU

As the plot continues to unfold, the complexities of each character play off of one another to perfection--revealing an unexpected twist in the story that proves you don't need a high budget to create high drama.

“Forget everything you know” and engross yourself in David Spaltro’s newest indie film: Things I Don’t Understand.  In his second feature film release Spaltro explores the world of a withdrawn prodigy, Violet Kubelick, played brilliantly by up and comer Molly Ryman who perfectly leads the cast. Fascinated by death and “the meaning to it [life] all, ” Violet begins writing a thesis, becoming mostly obsessed with interviewing those who have come close to it. The film opens with the aftermath of her most radical experiment – a failed suicide attempt.

As she reluctantly begins the healing process, Violet ends up visiting a hospital in hopes of continuing her assignment. She approaches the familiar setting with caution, but ultimately becomes captivated with a young, terminally ill patient Sara. A role in which young actress, Grace Folsom nails the part as a loveable, sharp-witted girl who has surprisingly honest notions about herself and everyone else…

 The genuine friendship and spot-on perceptions enable Violet to face her dysfunctional virtues, and seemingly by default encourages those around her to do the same.

Supported by a combination of intriguing characters: a druggie/musician best friend, Remy (Hugo Dillon), failed activist roommate, Gabby (Meissa Hampton), an angel-like therapist, Dr. Blankenship (Veteran actress, Lisa Eichhorn) and, of course, a challenging love interest Parker McNeil (TV actor, Aaron Mathias).

Spaltro’s writing displays a soothing essence formulated by a realistic story of how some people (in this case), Violet and her friends/roommates choose to live daunted by the simple things they need most. A journey that once embraced propels them into the vivid and rewarding direction they were meant to experience.

Spaltro notes, “The project was always about the idea of faith and it’s individual meaning to every person.”  The story is indeed solid— the directing and cinematography, however, remain somewhat in a safety zone.

As the film went on, so did the amount of basic camera angles, and simplistic visual set-ups, perhaps because the commendable acting and insightful writing were strong enough to capture the audience on their own merit. At times, the lighting also lacked a bit of contrast. And while Spaltro admits, “This project tested my own abilities and voice as a filmmaker.” It would have been nice to have seen him take more risks behind the lens, in terms of the technical aspects, and the shooting style of the film.

Overall, Things I don’t Understand takes an enlightening look at life and captures a straight forward tale of how inherent dysfunction can drive the way we live. In the end: showcasing how relationships with others are able to conquer it.

Just one of the reasons why we dig indie films.

For more information on the film: http://www.tidu-film.com/

Posted
AuthorVeronica Barriga

Getting caught between the past and the present is easy to do, especially when your past is as deeply fucked up as Martha's (Elizabeth Olsen). With a childhood spent in a presumable void (Martha’s parents either died or abandoned her and her sister—the details are kind of vague), Martha became an ideal candidate for being allured by a cult masquerading as a “community” and a “family.”

She is introduced to the farm, located in the sequestered Catskill Mountains, by her friend, Zoe (Louisa Krause). In typical form, the commune is run by a Charles Manson-esque leader named Patrick (John Hawkes). The day he meets Martha, he dubs her “Marcy May.” As we later learn, he changes most of the names of the people who come to stay there. It is, after all, an excellent tactic to use when you want to make someone disassociate from the person he or she was.

As Martha grows increasingly enamored of Patrick, she is more prone to swallowing any line of bull shit he doles out. But, at the end of two years, Martha has seen and experienced enough trauma to warrant a knee-jerk escape back into civilization. When Watts (Brady Corbet), one of Patrick’s primary minions, tries to get her to come back, she refuses to leave the restaurant she is in.

Reflexively, she calls her only living relative and sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson, who I haven’t seen in anything since the long ago forgotten WB show Jack and Jill). Not having heard from Martha in two years, Lucy is extremely eager to take her in. And so, Lucy drives Martha to her house in Connecticut, where she lives with her British architect husband, Ted (Hgh Dancy). Almost instantly, Martha clashes with both of them, wasting no time in revealing her distinct lack of social grace (e.g. skinny dipping, sitting on countertops, lying next to Ted and Lucy while they have sex, et cetera).

It becomes clear that Martha is harboring some residual demons, blurring the line between remembrances and real time—and soon, fantasy and reality. Directed and written by the annoyingly young Sean Durkin (age 29, a zygote in movie years when you’re a male writer/director), Martha Marcy May Marlene garnered attention at Sundance and Cannes earlier this year. No stranger to the festival circuit, Durkin formed Borderline Films in 2005 and released the first feature, Afterschool, under the company moniker in 2008 to favorable critical reception at the Cannes Film Festival.

Slowly building up to his immense talent for storytelling with several short films prior to this, Martha Marcy May Marlene is certain to be just one of many great things we see from Durkin. P.S. If you’re wondering where the name “Marlene” factors into the title, it’s because whenever any of the girls in Patrick’s cult answers the house phone, they have to tell the caller that their name is Marlene Lewis. Fucked up, right?

The thing about Evan Glodell's Bellflower is, it is the first movie of this century to truly reflect how fucking lost, stuck, and stagnant people in their twenties are. The film is centered around two friends, Woodrow (Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson, who kind of looks like Matthew Goode), obsessed with creating the ultimate flame-throwing car in preparation for the apocalypse so they can rule over the ruins based on how cool and intimidating they look. And yes, it is Mad Max inspired.

Their plans for finishing their creation are somewhat derailed when Woodrow meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman) at a bar and challenges her in a cricket eating contest (I know, gross). At first, he is painfully shy, but Milly soon brings out his ribald and ruffian side. Her impetuosity is evident on their first date, when she insists that Woodrow takes her to the most disgusting restaurant he can think of, which is in Texas. Even though they're in Los Angeles (a fact that is never actually stated, maybe because it's obvious from the look and name of the movie), Milly is unfazed by the distance required to get to this "restaurant," a place that is actually more of a stand that serves meat loaf for $1.25.

The two share an instant connection that is only fortified on the road trip, particularly since Woodrow's car is capable of dispensing whiskey from the dashboard area of the passenger side. They return after about a week, just in time for the birthday party of Milly's best friend, Courtney (Rebekah Brandes). It is there that the tension between Milly and her roommate, Mike (Vincent Grashaw), intensifies (Mike has a crush on Milly, who clearly does not reciprocate said crush). The trio of Aiden, Woodrow, and Milly split early from the party, leaving Courtney and Mike bewildered by the relationship that has formed in such a brief amount of time.

Perhaps the best and most deliberate choice about Glodell's debut (and by the way, he trumped the Orson Welles rule of thumb by not only starring, writing, directing, and producing the film, but editing it as well) is that he never addresses the fact that none of the characters in Bellflower seem to have to worry about a job or where they're going to come up with the money for the various parts of "Medusa." This is something that seems to reflect the notion that no one of "our generation" has any sort of career type job. An intimation that is basically accurate. Those who are in their early, mid, and late twenties have been dealt a hand that apparently promotes no other option but slackerdom and alcoholism.

This little detail aside, there is also the issue of what constitutes a "modern love." In Bellflower, loyalty and possession are still the chief concepts touted, even if they veer on the chauvinistic side as the movie draws to a close. Milly is, naturally, the one to falter first in terms of maintaining her sense of fidelity. Ironically, she chooses Mike, her undesirable roommate, to cheat on Woodrow with. Thinking Woodrow is going to be off on a Medusa jaunt with Aiden, Milly does not anticipate it when Woodrow bursts in to find them in an extremely compromising position.

The revelation of Milly's sluttery sends Woodrow into a depressive frenzy that takes the narrative of Bellflower in unexpected directions. In many ways, it starts to remind you of the reckless alacrity of Natural Born Killers. Not every audience member will be amenable to the feckless nature of Bellflower's shift in the course of plot. To those audience members I say: Fuck yourself.

Although, to some, this may sound like the title to a classier version of a porno movie, The Myth of the American Sleepover is one of the first classic coming of age stories to hit theaters in quite some time. Detailing the intertwining lives of a group of high school students on the last weekend of the summer, David Robert Mitchell's debut feature film exposes the vulnerability and confusion of youth.

Opening at the mecca of normalcy and Americana--a public pool in suburban Detroit--we are introduced to Maggie (Claire Sloma), a gamine-coiffed, facially pierced rogue who feels like she didn't sow enough oats over the summer. As she mentions this to her friend, she makes eye contact with the pool boy. We all know where this is going.

Our next victim of a boring and sexless summer is Rob (Marlon Morton), a boy who becomes quickly obsessed with a girl he sees shopping in the supermarket. From the moment he sees her leave, his only quest is to find her again. From there, the film transitions to Claudia's (Amanda Bauer) unfortunate invitation to the sleepover at Janelle Ramsey's (Shayla Curran) house. New in town and with her boyfriend, Andy (Drew Machak), as her only confidante, Claudia decides it would be a good idea to go.

Our other misguided and floundering protagonist is Scott (Brett Jacobsen), who has returned from college in Chicago--possibly on a permanent basis. When he goes to pick up his sister, Jen (Mary Wardell), from a school activity, he encounters an old picture of him talking to the Abbey twins (Nikita and Jade Ramsey), both of whom were in drama with him. He steals the picture from its display case and suddenly has a consuming desire to find the twins again. When he asks his sister what happened to them, she says they're at an orientation at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Pulled by the nostalgia of the photo, he goes to find them.

Meanwhile, Maggie and her friend have found mischief of their own to get into on the way to the sleepover at Janelle's when they stop by a party at an older high school guy's house. It is there that Maggie sees her pool boy again. Surprisingly, he isn't an asshole and the two get to talking about the myth surrounding the allure of growing up. Philosophizing about how only when we lose our innocence do we realize how foolish it was to catalyze the process of getting older, he urges Maggie not to rush into anything until she is ready.

The Myth of the American Sleepover is not a climactic movie, because it mirrors the very nature of being in high school: Slow, constantly waiting for something to happen, and always somehow left disappointed. Fundamentally, the pacing and palpable feelings of ennui are what makes Mitchell's (based on a true) story so real.

Alex Cox is one of the clearest demonstrations of Hollywood acceptance being reserved for fuck-ups and retards. As the director of Repo Man, the consummate 1984 film about the grim and lurid existence of a Los Angeles denizen, Cox quickly established his rebellious and kitsch-heavy style. The film was long due for a sequel, with rumors swirling that David Lynch would be the one to direct it. After much fanfare and anticipation, Repo Chick, written and directed by the same comedic mastermind behind the original, premiered at The Venice Film Festival in 2009. Because Universal Studios owns the rights to the original Repo Man, Cox was given a cease and desist notice in 2008 when they learned of the production. However, since Repo Chick uses none of the characters from the 1984 incarnation of the film, Cox ignored warnings from the studio to terminate production.

And rightly so, considering the film's plot has very little bearing on the original. Pixxi De La Chasse (Jaclyn Joney), the heroine of Cox’s story, is a disinherited heiress who suddenly discovers her latent talent for repossessing everything from cars to shopping mall square footage. As is the norm for Cox, Repo Chick is laden with attacks on the nature of an economic downturn and the implications of those who benefit from it. Far from being anything akin to Repo Man, the film still managed to generate interest from David Lynch’s production company, Industrial Entertainment, for limited distribution, followed by an immediate DVD release. And, while Repo Chick may not have the landmark cultural presence of people like Emilio Estevez or local L.A. bands like the Circle Jerks, and was predominantly filmed in front of a green screen, it has definitely repossessed the fiercely independent spirit that Alex Cox is renowned for.

Cox's career has been one of the most peculiar in terms of being able to share a brief dalliance with studio enthusiasm. After Repo Man, Cox continued his renegade motif with Sid and Nancy in 1986. This film, with Gary Oldman's acting credentials to buffer its "gritty" (by studio standards) feel, was a sign of Cox's impending work--and the impending reaction it was to receive.

As is the Coxian norm, the film followed Repo Man's suit in featuring a litany of significant musicians, including Nico, Courtney Love (before she was technically a musician), and, once again, the Circle Jerks. Never one to pass up the opportunity of conveying some sort of message, Cox noted that the approach he took to retelling the much speculated about death of Nancy Spungen was intended to demystify the glamour of the duo's heroin-based love. Cox told the New Musical Express:

"We wanted to make the film not just about Sid Vicious and punk rock, but as an anti-drugs statement, to show the degradation caused to various people is not at all glamorous."

This would be the last time that Cox could get away with his directorial propensities and still have them be deemed commercially viable by Universal. Following Sid and Nancy was Straight to Hell in 1987, an homage to the spaghetti western genre that Cox had always been so fond of. Featuring Cox favorites Joe Strummer, Courtney Love, Sy Richardson, and Miguel Sandoval, the movie takes place in a Jodorowsky-esque locale (it was filmed in Almeria, Spain) and follows a gang of robbers who hide out there after a heist.

From 1987 on, it seemed that Cox was doomed to go on a downward spiral in his Hollywood ranking. Increasingly, Cox came to viewed as some sort of movie industry miscreant. Films like Walker, El Patrullero, and Death and the Compass unfortunately lost Cox a marketable audience--in spite of the fact that his talent flourished, but was simply misunderstood by those still expecting another version of Repo Man every time his next film would be released.

The most recent--and unusual--chapter in Cox's life has been his recent acceptance of a teaching position at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Most filmmakers cannot sugar coat the notion that once you've agreed to teach at a university, it tends to be for dire financial needs as opposed to a strong craving to instruct and mold minds. Especially the grandiose and egotistical minds of film students. Even so, there is some kind of poetry in the idea that Cox will be in Colorado, just on the periphery of California, where all of those golden film dreams are guarded by lesser men.