Tag: indie

Columbus


Columbus (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Writer-director Kogonada has the patience of master Japanese filmmakers. In between moments of action or importance are seemingly throwaway moments: pedestrians crossing the street, the sky’s blinding blue-brightness, plants being watered, children at play. This storytelling technique is most appropriate in the impressive debut feature “Columbus,” a portrait of two individuals—one a local in Columbus, Indiana, and the other a visitor—who must or feel the need to put their lives on pause because of family. These asides, moments of randomness and freedom, are almost acts of exhalation when the film’s protagonists are tired of holding their breaths.

The local is Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) and the visitor is Jin (John Cho), the former caring for her mother who is a recovering drug addict and the latter the son of a professor who has fallen into a coma prior to his lecture. The picture, for the most part, is a collection of Casey and Jin’s interactions—how strangers become friends and then later perhaps something more special.

Fresh is the fact that the relationship is not of a romantic nature despite’s the leads’ wonderful chemistry. It is an exploration of two spirits so different but finding commonalities anyway. There is something beguiling in its simplicity. What they share is beautiful, thoughtful, and often poignant. Surprising moments of honesty—sometimes painful honesty—are in store for those willing to look deep into the characters.

Its pacing is controlled, slow, and mesmerizing. During the aforementioned “throwaway moments,” more than a handful of times I found myself thinking back to a scene that had just unfolded. I pondered over the incredibly realistic dialogue; questioned why or how words are expressed a certain way and what these reveal about the subjects; wondered about body language and how reading it accurately may help to extricate big truths from small lies. Facial expressions do not tell all or may deceive. Casey and Jin are the farthest from archetypes so it is most refreshing when they reveal their thoughts about architecture, responsibilities, their pasts, where they hope to be or become one day.

Stunning shots are peppered throughout, whether it be of local buildings or an interior of a humble home. With the former, notice how angles are more dominant, impersonal, we observe structures from a distance. On the other hand, inside houses, colors and patterns are in command. Posh dwellings are bright, filled with hard, shiny surfaces and collectible decorations. Working class homes, by comparison, are quite somber but these are filled by familiar elements like a soft couch, photographs with cheap frames, a cramped kitchen/dining room where family members actually eat and laugh together. Although images may be worlds apart, Kogonada shifts between them with ease. He has a knack for making the images speak for themselves.

Notice the film’s willingness to be silent. There is no score. We hear cars swooshing by. Birds chirping. Footsteps and shuffling during house tours. Whispers in the library. The trickling of the water fountain nearby. By having no score, there is one less barrier between the subjects and the audience. And so when they reveal themselves, it feels like a friend is exposing his or her soul.

I Love You Both


I Love You Both (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Sibling comedy “I Love You Both” is a great annoyance in the beginning because it does not seem to know what it is about. Instead of honing in on what it wishes to say about the special relationship between twins, the screenplay by Doug Archibald and Kristin Archibald, also the central protagonists in the story, gets mired in introducing colorful but stereotypical characters who serve merely as punchlines rather than believable people who have roles in shaping the inner circle of Donny and Krystal.

Until about halfway though, I thought it was about twenty-somethings who feel unhappy about where they are in life and so they attempt to fill the void by getting into a relationship—the twist being that the twins happen to fall for the same nice guy named Andy (Lucas Neff). This bizarre situation, however absurd in reality, is ripe with potentially funny, amusing, cliché moments. Certainly mainstream comedies would have milked it until the last fifteen minutes in which characters must then reconcile so audiences walk away feeling good about themselves. I enjoyed that the material is unafraid to meander, to touch upon unexpected rhythms, to allow a bit of soul-searching for its characters because Donny and Krystal are fully aware that certain lines should not be crossed.

Most effective moments involve one of the twins choosing to make a sacrifice, appropriate because the heart of the film is the love between siblings. One is more fragile than the other—and perhaps with good reason. Although the performers usually come up short in delivering subtleties required for dramatic, deeply personal moments, the camera dares to remain still and capture the hurt one feels for having to walk away from a situation even though he or she feels that exploring it might be a good avenue to experience. I admired that certain strands are left somewhat unresolved which is a lot like life.

Unfortunately, such highs are often followed by forceful attempts at humor—which usually involves co-workers who talk incessantly without much of value to say or do. These should have been left in the editing room because such scenes establish too much of a pattern. Comedies do not necessarily have to be funny every other scene so long as laughs, when front and center, are big and memorable. It gives the impression that the material is reluctant to allow the audience to absorb the various impacts or implications of certain characters’ decisions.

Directed by Doug Archibald, “I Love You Both” is a passable for a first-time filmmaker, but it is not a work for everyone. For instance, the characters are dominated by sadness and self-pity, even though they have no reason to be miserable most of the time, and so casual viewers may (understandably) ask, “What’s the point? Who cares about these people? What have they got to whine about?” Now that Archibald has got this story out of his system, I can’t help but wonder what else he’s got.

Absentia


Absentia (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Seven years after the disappearance of her husband, the very pregnant Tricia (Courtney Bell) had yet to fill out and turn in the requisite paperwork that would officially declare Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) dead in absentia. When Callie (Katie Parker), Tricia’s younger sister, arrived at Tricia’s doorstep, strange things began to occur in the house and around the neighborhood. At night, Tricia was terrorized by what could be Daniel’s angry ghost but she was convinced there had to be a logical explanation. Written and directed by Mike Flanagan, “Absentia” was an independent horror film done exactly right, from its increasingly unsettling rising action to an ending that was a perfect fit to its storyline. Before the nicely timed scares were thrown on our laps, we were first given a chance to get to know Tricia as a both a woman in a state of extended grief and someone who deserved to move on with her life. When Callie asked her big sister how she knew it was time for Daniel to be declared legally dead, it was a special and sensitive scene. I was touched by the possibilities that ran in Tricia’s mind, one of which involved Daniel being a NSA agent who had no choice but to drop his life because his identity had somehow been compromised. I appreciated that the writer-director showed love for his characters prior to thrusting them in situations that led to dead-ends with more questions and no easy answers. By doing so, we grew to care for the fates of the sisters. They weren’t just bodies that we anticipated to get sliced and diced when they entered a pitch-black room. We actually wanted to see them unearth the mystery, perhaps struggle a little bit, and walk away once the malevolence had been dispelled. I so relished the build-up of bizarre details, like the sudden appearance of reported missing items and residents from the neighborhood who’d been gone for years, that I found myself shoving food down my throat in order to alleviate the tension. Though the film relied on more than a handful jump scares, none of them felt cheap because there was a variation in the scares. For instance, a certain positioning of a camera led us to believe that once a character turned around after looking around suspiciously, something shocking would be right in front of them. The director was aware of the conventions and it was fun waiting to see if he would fall to the trappings of the genre early on in the picture. If he ever did somewhere down the line, I wouldn’t know. I found myself so enthralled with what was happening, the technical details became less noticeable–as they should be unless done in such a way as to drive a point across. Furthermore, the film utilized flashbacks rather well. When we plunged into them, the scene unfolded quickly, but never manically edited, like looking inside a vivid nightmare that we desperately try to wake up from. “Absentia” was astutely written and directed with a keen eye: actively choosing atmosphere over splatter-fest, imagination over absolute.

Jesus Henry Christ


Jesus Henry Christ (2012)
★ / ★★★★

By the time Patricia reached the age of ten, she had to take care of what remained in her family of seven: herself and her father. Her mother died in an fiery accident, her twin brothers died out of stupidity, one brother died from a disease, and another brother left for Canada because he did not want to be drafted to Vietnam. It was the late 90s when toughened Patricia (Toni Collette) had her first child named Henry (Jason Spevack), conceived via a cell culture dish but gifted with a photographic memory so clear, the best universities would be lucky to nurture his capabilities. Out of all the questions in the universe, his efforts focused on finding the identity of his father. Based on the screenplay and directed by Dennis Lee, “Jesus Henry Christ” was an especially exasperating experience to sit through because its potential was wasted so systemically through one cute, precious, and quirky scene after another. Instead of focusing on the human factor while improbable coincidences occurred for the sake of plot convenience, a way of giving it a semblance of realism, it was more focused on style than substance. What I wanted was simple: to feel the bond between a mother and son, one symbolized experience and the other raw potential, respectively. As more characters were introduced by the script, naturally, more conflict ensued. Dr. O’Hara (Michael Sheen) was a renowned author who published a book, more or less, about her daughter, Audrey (Samantha Weinstein), called “Born Gay or Made That Way?”. Because of his work, Audrey had to endure tremendous amount of bullying at school, her peers calling her “lesbo,” especially from an obnoxious classmate in Physics class. Dr. O’Hara was a person of interest because he could very well be Henry’s biological father. It also meant that Henry could have a half-sister. While the two families eventually met, it was strange that the material never became all that interesting. More people spoke but their words held little weight. More people took up space in each scene but there was no comedy or drama. Everything was just passive as if each character was simply sleepwalking through this amazing thing that was unfolding right before their eyes. My biggest frustration, character-wise, was that Patricia and Dr. O’Hara were supposed to be smart adults. Why not just sit down and ask each other the difficult but necessary questions in order them–and us–to be able to move on? How did they really feel, as parents and as single adults, about being thrusted into such an awkward situation? These questions, among others, needed to be addressed because although its narrative was so twee to the point of distraction, their world was rooted in reality. Since those questions were essentially overlooked, why make the movie in the first place? If its point was to be cute, I could very much have just gone to the park and played with cute dogs. At least I would’ve gotten fresh air. As for Henry, because the character was established so poorly, whenever he stood next to Audrey with her bright red hair, big dark eyes, and undisturbed solemnity, he disappeared. His genius meant nothing because he had no presence. “Jesus Henry Christ” made me want to shout profanities at it because about halfway through I began to feel like my time was being stolen and trampled on.

The Craving


The Craving (2008)
★ / ★★★★

Five friends (Grayson Berry, Jesse C. Boyd, Anselm Clinard, Wallis Herst, Lesley Paterson) were on their way to an art event, but they got lost after the driver decided to take a shortcut. Desperate for directions, they headed to a remote house but the owner fired his shotgun and caused the car to turn over. With one of them wounded and the shooter dead, a hungry creature in the desert saw the unsuspecting twenty-somethings as food. “The Craving,” written by Curtis Krick and directed by Sean Dillon, started off in a typical manner but I was fairly entertained. Even I have to admit that there’s something comfortable and exciting when it comes to the tried-and-true formula of people on a road trip needing gas. Naturally, the characters seemed like they hadn’t seen a single slasher film. We relish that we’re smarter than them. For instance, we knew that not all of them were going to make it in the end. My main problem with the film was its inefficient use of its time. There were far too many sex scenes and only one was effective. Since the shooter’s body was in the shack, the protagonists decided to sleep outside. There were three tents and two of which contained a couple having sex. When one of the girls heard a howl, which somewhat resembled a coyote, there was a certain cheekiness about the manner in which the scene unfolded. Something as animalistic as sex evolved into something bloody and grizzly–a good way for the first character to be killed off. But once the remaining four found refuge inside the shack, the picture became less exciting. There was one interesting detail involving the scent that the creature emitted which caused the characters to throw logic out the window and became easier targets. However, the creature’s way of luring its targets were not explored. Like George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” although with considerably less tension, the protagonists were stuck in one place. Most of the horror happened at night. Unfortunately, the cameras weren’t powerful enough to deliver sharp images. It was very difficult to see what was happening even if the camera was still. When it moved, images were barely recognizable. I was aware of the budget constraints, but a limited budget does not free the filmmakers from their responsibilities. The director should have communicated with the writer that the images were difficult to see if shot at night. Hence, perhaps the writer should have altered the script to take place in daylight. When the elements align perfectly and form a synergy, it’s a possible to create a solid horror film set in the day. Maybe if we could have seen more of the creature, the film would have been scarier. “The Craving” wasn’t egregious but the filmmakers certainly could have done more to make the movie more bearable. Instead of seeing the technical aspects that didn’t quite work as a challenge and rising above it, it seemed like the filmmakers were out of their depths.

Ink


Ink (2009)
★ / ★★★★

John (Christopher Soren Kelly) was ordered to have no contact with his daughter, Emma (Quinn Hunchar), after an ugly custody battle with his wife’s parents. Come nightfall, Emma’s consciousness was abducted by a deformed creature named Ink. Ink’s plan was to use Emma as a sacrifice and earn his status as an Incubus, a powerful being who had the ability to give people nightmares. Several Storytellers (Jessica Duffy, Jennifer Batter, Eme Ikwuakor, Shelby Malone), whose jobs involved giving humans positive dreams, and a blind Pathfinder (Jeremy Make) tried to locate Ink and return the girl’s consciousness to the land of the living. Written and directed by Jamin Winans, “Ink” snagged my attention with ease because it had ambition. Its first half-hour was effective because of the way it introduced key players such as the Incubi and Storytellers. The contrast between good and bad dreams was simple but I appreciated that it paid close attention to details. The content of dreams tend to vary with age. For instance, an elderly lady dreamed of winning Bingo multiple times while a young boy saw himself as being a rock star playing his guitar in front of rabid fans. But the film became less compelling as it focused on John’s failure of being a father. When he learned that his daughter fell into a coma, his initial reaction was not to see her immediately. He claimed to love his daughter, but he couldn’t get past the fact that he lost the custody battle which happened years prior. The grandfather actually begged him to see Emma but John was more worried about his next big meeting. The writing lacked complexity so John’s reaction didn’t feel emotionally honest. His character arc seemed infantile at best. I place particular emphasis on the human aspect of the film because the father-daughter relationship, or lack thereof, was the emotional core of the picture. It should have been well-defined because it was supposed to be the element that held together subplots like the war between Incubi and Storytellers. As for the scenes involving martial arts, there were far too many of them. There was no variation in the location of physical confrontations. The actors moved but they seemed stuck in one place. I understand that there were budget constraints, but there are certain ways to make it look like battle scenes naturally progressed from Point A to Point B. Instead of another martial arts scene, I yearned for a quiet moment that explained a Pathfinder’s purpose. He just looked foolish with, literally, tape over his eyes. He was supposed to be a key figure in rescuing the little girl, but I couldn’t take him all that seriously. If he didn’t have tape over his eyes, I imagined he would’ve winked at the camera for some kind of approval. “Ink” did not work as a movie, but it could have worked as a short-lived television show. Its screenplay did not match the level of its ambition.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench


Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Guy (Jason Palmer) and Madeline (Desiree Garcia) broke up on a park bench. A week earlier, we learned that the reason for their break-up was because Guy had relations with Elena (Sandha Khin), a free-spirited girl who enjoyed every small thing life offered, like a street performance or sharing knowing glances with strangers on the subway. But Elena lacked one quality that Guy saw in Madeline. Elena wasn’t as interested in music which was important to Guy because he was a professional trumpet player. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” contained some catchy musical numbers that brought a smile on my face. When Madeline and her co-workers began to sing and tap-dance in the restaurant, I almost wanted to join them because it looked like they were having so much fun. It didn’t matter that the choreography wasn’t perfectly executed or that the voices weren’t especially great. It was really more about being in a moment and absorbing and appreciating each other’s joy. But there was sadness in it, too. The picture followed Madeline attempting to date other men in order to get over Guy. There was a scene in which she made a boy wait for her outside while she got a haircut only to tell him after (and after he bought her a cookie) that she had made a commitment, a complete fib, and had forgotten about it. So they had to cancel their date. She was lucky the boy didn’t take it personally because most would have. I didn’t agree with her actions but I was glad that Chazelle wasn’t afraid to put his characters under a negative light. The film also managed to capture tension in the awkward moments. Take the scene in which Guy and Elena showered together. In a span of about two or three minutes, the mood changed from friendly chatter to unbearable silence. It was awkward enough to have the camera next to them as they showered but the awkwardness was amplified when nobody said a word. One did not have to have had a boyfriend or girlfriend to recognize that one poorly chosen word or sentence could destroy an otherwise good vibe. However, I wish some scenes made more sense. When Elena met an older man in the streets and he took her to his home, I didn’t understand why that was relevant. I felt like there was a missing scene or two that would help to explain why it made it through the editing room. “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” was surprisingly modern, with moments of effortless introspection from its emotionally troubled characters, despite the black and white cinematography that hearken back to its French New Wave influences. Its confidence could be felt as the characters broke out into song and dance. It implied that falling in and out of love was a celebration.