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movie reviews Archives - Jeff Finley

The Freebie

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I found out Katie Aselton was directing films when I read about her most recent film called Black Rock. She’s the wife of one of my favorite directors Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair, Baghead). I couldn’t see Black Rock yet, so I saw that her directorial debut The Freebie was avaiable on Netflix so I watched that. I saw the movie poster for it and was underwhelmed. It seemed to be branded as a quirky sex comedy, but I was really hoping it wasn’t. And I am pleased to say it blew my expectations out of the water.

So if you really want to watch a lighthearted romantic comedy, don’t watch this.

The Freebie is about a young husband and wife that have lost the spark in the sack. One night they decide that it would be a good idea to experiment with sleeping with other people for one night. Now, I recently heard a This American Life episode about the crazy things people do for love and the whole “let’s try sleeping with other people” experiment was one of the examples. And as you might expect, it didn’t work out in the end, the couple was worse off for it. I feel like if you’re in a position where that experiment actually becomes an option with your spouse, you’re probably not doing so good and one or both of you is looking for a way out. Something to break up over. It’s really sad actually and I am thankful that Kim and I both firmly stand against this idea.

But I’m not opposed to watching a film about a couple trying it out. I was really curious how Katie Aselton was going to pull it off in her film. Honestly, she did wonderfully. I went into it with mixed expectations. The poster/branding made me feel bleh, but if she has the same sort of taste in movie making as her husband Mark Duplass, then I was hoping for a gem. And fortunately, we get a diamond. (Cheesy, I know, but it’s true).

The movie has all the cinema verite goodness you’d come to expect from a Duplass film (Mark Duplass produced it by the way). It feels so natural. The acting is superb and the way she handles “the idea”, “the execution”, and “the aftermath” is so tastefully done I’m just blown away. She didn’t let it turn into a stupid romcom and she was aware enough to address the fact that this was a terrible idea. I’m glad she didn’t somehow find a way to make light of the situation because that’s what mainstream films typically want to do. The truth is we don’t really find out if it “works” because relationships and marriages can’t solve their problems in 90 minutes of cinema. You get the impression that the aftermath and the issue still exists for this couple after the end of the film and that’s how it really is. I appreciate that.

I’m so happy with The Freebie. I can’t wait to watch it again, this time with Kim. I think she’ll “enjoy” it like I did. It definitely affected me.

Project Nim

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I saw Project Nim last night, which I had heard a lot about. It kept coming up in many top ten documentary lists this year and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a fascinating look into the 1970’s experiment where they tried to raise a chimp as a human and see if they could teach it sign language.

There were quite a lot of cute parts with baby monkeys doing baby monkey things. But then when baby monkeys grow up, they start doing things that make you realize they’re a wild animal. They’ll lash out and bite you or wreck your home. That’s kind of what happened and little Nim Chimpsky got moved from home to home with different teachers who all claimed they could do it better. What resulted was a confused chimp who was really being unfairly raised outside of his natural environment. He couldn’t really “be” a monkey like he should be.

Whether you’re an animal rights activist or not, you’ll see how incompetent some of these people really were. And the professor who started the project seemed to be more interested in his own esteem and getting with all his female teachers! Kind of whack if you ask me.

But then a guy named Bob Ingersoll came in who actually seemed to respect the fact that Nim was a monkey and treated him as such. Eventually though he got taken back to the laboratory and locked in a cage with other chimps. He was scared and didn’t know how to act around them. That part of the movie got really sad.

I don’t need to go into more detail, but it was definitely a fascinating movie. Directed by James Marsh who did Man on Wire and I’ve heard referred to as the “British Errol Morris” due to his more cinematic documentary style. Project Nim was awesome.

Life in a Day

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Kim and I watched the documentary Life in a Day, which was comprised of user submitted clips from around the world. It was actually really good! I felt so many different emotions from joy, grief, and fear. Some disturbing images of animals getting killed was hard to watch, but it was real. It was real life. The film managed to make you care for these people even though they were simply clips, none lasting more than a few minutes. Part were truly touching and overall it’s one of those movies that makes you look at your own life and how innocuous and mundane it really is, but at the same time beautiful.

Cold Weather

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I had the pleasure of seeing Aaron Katz‘s new film Cold Weather the other night. It was lovely! Aaron was one of the original “mumblecore” directors I got into when I saw Dance Party USA and Quiet City. He doesn’t make nearly as many films as some of the others (looking at you Joe Swanberg), but when he does they are really really good.

Cold Weather, production wise, is more polished but the acting and story is still very down to earth and real. Basically what takes place is a ho-hum twentysomething flick like just about every other “new talkie” – but things take an awesome turn when they discover a key character is missing. So what unfolds is a thrilling hunt to find clues and uncover secrets about the characters.

I’ve been watching a TON of true crime shows with my wife like Disappeared, Nightmare Next Door, (anything on Information Discovery Channel) and I recently went to a focus group for a real murder case happening in Ohio. So my crime solving antennaes were way up already and this movie took my love for cinema verite and combined it with a missing person’s story. I was hooked!

The ending might leave people confused and wanting more. But if you look at the film as a slice of life or more than just a mystery thriller but as a character study about a brother, a sister, and a friend, it’s pretty remarkable.

Bellflower

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Wow this was a weird movie. I like weird, so I recommend it. I was impressed by the visuals and the tone of the film. At first I thought the dirty lenses were trying too hard to be hip/retro, but it grew on me. I didn’t really like the characters at all and the story is kind of thin. I think I mostly appreciate this as an art film. The way it looks, the way it sounds, the post-apocalyptic lunacy of building flame throwers and Mad Max cars, all set in suburbia. The film is sort of misogynistic and all about bros and muscle cars and beer (the women in the film are portrayed as disposable and problem-causing), which pretty much are the opposite of what I like. But the movie was a trip.

I like what Kim Nicolini says about Bellflower:

What makes Bellflower so fresh is the creative ingenuity and the emotional passion of its filmmaker Evan Glodell. Glodell takes D.I.Y filmmaking to the Nth degree. Not only did he write and direct the movie, but he poured his entire emotional presence into the film through the physicality of the filmmaking process.

Seriously though, I want to see more from Evan. The fact that he built his own cameras and was so emotionally invested in the film, it’s truly an art project and reflection of the director.

RSO [Registered Sex Offender]

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I couldn’t sleep last night for fear of having another night terror (long story, should I blog about it?), so I distracted myself by knocking out another movie from my Netflix instant queue with my iPod. I added the film RSO [Registered Sex Offender] to my queue a while back because Andrew Bujalski is in it. One of my fav directors (Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation, Beeswax, and the “godfather of mumblecore.”) Also credited in the cast is Richard Linklater (director of School of Rock, Before Sunset, and Waking Life). It wasn’t exactly what I remember going back and forth on whether this was a documentary or just another mumblecore movie. I think it was like a mumblecore mockumentary about a 25 year old sex addict who gets out of prison for “purposely” sending a NSFW photo of himself to a minor. He’s now labeled an RSO and has to integrate himself back into life.

He’s probably one of the most unlikable assholes you’ll ever see on screen, well I can sort of have empathy for him at times. But the film totally knows it and people keep telling him as pisses people off at various job interviews, community service tasks, therapy, etc. But the way it’s done is extremely blunt and sarcastic, but quite smart and honest. This isn’t really a movie I WANT to give 5 stars to, but I think I have to simply because it’s quite a leap from most “mumblecore” type films. It’s definitely a black comedy, but isn’t filled with gratuitous gross out sex jokes or innuendo like a lot of mainstream “sex comedies” might be. It’s mostly done through dialogue which is great btw. Most people won’t like this film I’m sure, but I was impressed. I am not going to lie, I liked it. The movie had that mumblecore heart that I love despite being a little crude.

Yeast

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I was home sick today with a head cold and feeling pretty terrible. This was the perfect opportunity to watch a movie that I know Kim would not want to watch with me and that is Yeast. The film is directed by Mary Bronstein, which happens to be the wife of Frownland director Ronald Bronstein.

From the director:

“Yeast” explores the grinding mechanics of friendships that have run their course . . . they are Ebola-infested, maggot-filled and bursting at the seams.”

At a recent movie night at our house, I decided to “try” to play Frownland for Kim and Adam. We didn’t even get through 10 minutes before I turned it off, it’s that off-putting. It’s not really offensive in any way, it’s just extremely hard to watch unless you are by yourself and are interested in lo-fi “mumblecore” style films with very dislikable characters. The characters in Yeast, and in Frownland I should add, are so unlikable that it’s quite a shock to most people. Things don’t really get better as the movie goes on. If you watch Yeast, you’ll probably be ready to kill the main character at the end.

I probably wouldn’t like this film as much as I did if I didn’t know where it came from. Part of the crew and even some extras are the Safdie brothers, who directed Daddy Longlegs and The Pleasure of Being Robbed, both fantastic films. Actually, the film stems from the same Red Bucket Films family tree which I love so much.

So if you’re into Lo-Fi, Indie, DIY, Mumblecore, Dogme 95, or Neorealist cinema, Yeast is a must watch. Other than that, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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The Parking Lot Movie

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Kim and I watched The Parking Lot Movie on Instant Watch and it was pretty great. It’s about a small pay parking lot and its rag tag crew of over-educated but underemployed attendants. I started off annoyed with these kids who dress up in costumes and play games in the parking lot to pass the time and it feels kind of intimidating to park there and have these idiots take your money. However as the movie went on I really started to relate to them.

It takes a certain kind of person to sit all day in a small little booth and deal with the general public. The documentary has a kind of punk rock sensibility which I immediately latched on to. It was quite funny watching them deal with rude parkers, suvs, frat boys, drive-offs, and other morons.  I will look at parking lot attendants in a whole new light! And I really wanna try to play a game of flip-cone, where you try to flip a parking cone in a certain way so it stacks onto another.  Fun!

 

Tabloid

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I watched Errol Morris’ film Tabloid over the weekend. It was a fascinating story, sure, but the titles and typography were probably the best I’d ever seen in a film. Whoever did them did a fantastic job off pulling off the gritty tabloid-style while still being sharp and sophisticated. Go see if not for that alone.

Director Errol Morris profiles another intriguingly dysfunctional personality in this complex documentary about Joyce McKinney, a former beauty queen whose lovely exterior hides a genius IQ — and a criminal disposition. Joyce, a one-time Miss Wyoming, kidnapped her Mormon boyfriend and raped him repeatedly, which was only the beginning of her often-illegal and always eccentric behavior as she pursued her romantic ideals.

 

brothers

Brothers: Jim Sheridan < Susanne Bier

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I saw the new film “Brothers” today at the Capitol Theatre. I was eagerly anticipating it mostly because I was shocked they were already remaking Susanne Biers fantastic Danish film Brødre from 2004. The American version stars Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Tobey Maguire.

But most American’s haven’t seen it I’m sure, and the storyline seems perfectly fitting for a US mainstream audience.

The storyline was the same. A marine has to leave his wife and kids to go fight in Afghanistan. His helicopter crashes and he’s reported dead back home and they even have a funeral. At that point, the marine’s brother, who just got out of jail, steps in to take care of the kids and keep his wife company. Naturally of course, he gets a little too close and feelings start to develop between the two. Spoiler alert (not really, this is part of any synopsis) the marine is not dead, but a held captive by the Taliban. He does some crazy shit to get out of there and eventually makes his way back to the states to reunite with his wife and family. But of course, drama ensues as he suspects infidelity and doesn’t trust his ex con brother.

The differences are subtle, but in Brødre, Susanne Bier made me feel shaken and nervous and tense the whole time. It grabbed me and didn’t let go. Jim Sheridan’s Brothers on the other hand felt cliche, overly dramatic, forced, and unrealistic. Even though it was the same story. Also, the three main characters are all so young and it still feels like a mix of Spider Man, Donnie Darko, and Sam from Garden State. They were playing very grown up roles and it seemed like they were “playing house” as this review put it.

Maybe it’s just me, but watching Tobey Maguire is a joke. He’s so flat with his lines and then when he has his “scenes” where he’s full of rage is hard to believe. Maybe if I hadn’t seen the original, I wouldn’t have even noticed. But Ulrich Thomsen, who played the same character in Brødre (and was amazing in Dogme 95 classic Festen as well) was so much more convincing. The anguish, despair, and guilt felt much more authentic than Tobey Maguire’s “acting class” anger scene.

Natalie Portman, who I like generally, was alright as the wife. But for some reason the American film made her feel like a cliche housewife. She’s actually pretty convincing when she cries (she made me cry in Garden State) and she’s a likable character. Same with Jake Gyllenhaal, I thought he was good as the other brother. If anything, he may have added a little extra with his own goofy personality and made the character TOO likable.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the original, so I’ll have to go back and rewatch it. If I recall, it didn’t feature pop songs, a resounding score of heartfelt cinematic music, or name dropping of Nsync or Snoop Dogg! To sum it up, the Danish orginal was raw, intense, and gritty. This one was polished, poppy, and a little soft. If you’re gonna see one, definitely see the original.