Tag Archive | indie

A real human being

When I saw the trailer for Drive, I saw little to be interested in, I think, for two reasons.  Whoever put the trailer together (at least the one I saw multiple times) did not do a very good job. The trailer failed to hint at any of the amazingness contained in this film; instead it catered to the masses (showing sexy shots of Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, Ryan Gosling driving a car, and quick audibles from all the prominent cast members: Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston). Nowhere did it imply that it was more Tarantino than Jerry Bruckheimer, more gritty than showy. Secondly, the failure of promotion combined with the over-saturation of Ryan Gosling in 2011: Crazy, Stupid, Love (meh), The Ides of March (haven’t seen it), All Good Things (the movie that has been lingering in my Netflix Instant Queue), and Drive. And to some extent he has had a year of mileage and exposure starting with awards season last year for Blue Valentine. So in my mind I thought he was phoning this one in to round out a pretty good year.

But what a performance by Ryan Gosling:  He simultaneously made my heart break and creeped me out. For the first forty minutes he is genial and calm, calculating. It takes him about 20 seconds to generate an answer in conversation or decide to shake your hand. He smiles and leers uncomfortably long, and then reverts to a normal person for seconds at a time. I love how his character is presented as is, an explanation is not necessary to answer why he is the way he is (quiet and reserved, but adept at being a getaway driver as well as ruthless). The mystery is part of the fun.

I also downloaded the soundtrack minutes after the credits rolled, after becoming obsessed with it in the first few frames of the film. Check out some of these dreamy, 80s-esque tracks that underscore the grittiness of the movie’s performances:

My absolute fave that refuses to get out of my head…

College feat. Electric Youth – A Real Hero

Kavinsky – Nightcall

Desire – Under Your Spell

Or listen to the entire thing:

Let’s Pretend the Independent Spirit Awards are the Oscars in 2012

I have officially expanded my award season repertoire with rentals of 50/50, Margin Call, and Drive. One problem: it doesn’t give me much headway when it comes to the Academy Awards race.

But, taking a look at the nominees for the Independent Spirit Awards, airing the day before the Oscars, I feel much more on top of my game. Most movies I thought mattered this year are being honored at the ISA. (Of course The Artist and The Descendants are still nominated for Best Feature, sigh).

But what else do we have? 50/50, Beginners, Drive and Take Shelter. I can’t wait to check out Take Shelter and I am very pleased to see Best Feature nods for Beginners and Drive.

Under Best First Feature we have: Margin Call and Martha Marcy May Marlene.

The Best Supporting Male category mainly serves to give me a confidence boost because I have seen all of the films: Albert Brooks for Drive, John Hawkes for MMMM, Christopher Plummer for Beginners, John C. Reilly for Cedar Rapids, and Corey Stoll for Midnight in Paris.

It is a little odd to see Shame and Melancholia under Best International film but no complaints here.

And finally, Margin Call gets the Robert Altman Award (given to one film’s director, casting director and its ensemble cast) and oh yes, it deserves it. I could hardly peel my eyes from the screen as the movie unfolded and a big part of that has to do with the amazing cast. I always tend to believe Zachary Quinto is the MVP of anything he is involved in (Heroes, Star Trek, American Horror Story) but everyone else was up to the task of challenging him on that, even Penn Badgley (shockingly). And I have to say, watching this was far more entertaining than listening to a two hour podcast on the origins of the financial crisis for my International Finance class.

For Shame, you Psycho!

I read a review that compared Shame to American Psycho…and yeah, I definitely got a Patrick Bateman vibe off of good ol’ Brandon. So I broke it down a little; gotta say, Patrick Batemen is a hell of a lot less depressing (and he is probably insane).

Similarities: People with PROBLEMS. Michael Fassbender’s Brandon is a hollow, shell of a human being filled with complex emotions that he drowns out with an endless succession of frivolous sexual encounters. Patrick Bateman is a corporate yuppie so bored with his existence he escapes into his own delusions where he kills his rivals and prostitutes (or maybe it is real–it is ambiguous…). We only realize his delusions once they are carried out to the extreme; leaving me with this thought: huh, I easily accepted his chainsaw pursuit of an unfortunate prostitute but only started to get alarmed when the ATM prompted Patrick to “Feed me a stray cat.”

New York is seedy, dark and grim. Prostitutes are really easy to come by, in a variety of places. Patrick occupies the ‘80s but with Blondie’s “Rapture” playing in the club Brandon goes to, it is clear he inhabits the same space. Lucky (or in most scenes, unlucky) for Brandon he has a sister that is damaged for the same reason he is—they came from a “bad place.” Patrick Bateman only has the world of the superficial, where somehow his brain no longer wants to play the game: the dance of superficiality, undercutting, and expectations. He has a rich fiancée but cares for her not at all.

Brandon tries to date but utterly fails; his addiction allows him to detach. He is not capable of true intimacy. This is what sticks for me still, in the few weeks since I saw it (well that, and the subway sequences; I am now on the hunt for potential Fassbenders whenever I am on the metro). It was heartbreaking to see how impossible it is for Brandon to form a connection. Both films keep the viewer at a distance; we are invited into their lives to observe for a while and draw our own conclusions.

Differences: The world of Patrick Bateman is entertaining. Watch Patrick as he kills you with a quip, and then literally kills you with an axe as he gives you a history lesson on Sussudio! From the very beginning, we are visiting an alien world, and Patrick serves as our guide to its rules and rituals. Patrick may be an unreliable narrator so we cannot even accept what we see as fact. Brandon’s world is laid bare for us to see: we see all of the blemishes.  Brandon’s world is a shambles. A waking nightmare that neither he nor the viewer can escape; toward the end of the movie, I recalled the stray cat scene from American Psycho as a method of momentarily escaping from the misery on screen.  There is nothing funny about the way Brandon moves throughout life; on this the film is unflinching.

Conclusion: Brandon, get some help! He may have hit rock bottom a long time ago, but I believe that time can heal him. The first step is seeking that help, though and I can imagine that he feels too much SHAME (har, har) to even admit his activities to a therapist. Unfortunately for dear Patrick, he has completely lost it. A product of an ultra-competitive world that has led him to insanity, whether it is through killing or believing himself to be a killer in his mind.

So Google Image seems to tell me they have never been photographed together...but this is topical.

Even more good news: there is a Tumblr dedicated to the two of them.

Spotlight On…John Hawkes

John Hawkes in Winter's Bone

Below I indicated my undying love for Ewan McGregor; he mainly serves as my constant. The entertainment world is populated with numerous actors and actresses who never fail to amaze me….like John Hawkes. He was primarily regarded as a successful indie/character actor before his Academy Award nomination for Winter’s Bone last year. John Hawkes seems wary of his new prominence and recognition. However, I have to admit I’ve known him for years but it wasn’t for some darling indie:

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer

In 1999, my friends and I thought this movie was the height of all entertainment. I especially enjoyed this scene where John Hawkes and Freddie Prinze, Jr. rock out to White Snake’s “Here I Go Again.” It has left me with a legacy of forever associating John, White Snake and that song with this movie. This was, after all, my first exposure to the song. I also know the majority of the dialogue not only in this scene but in this entire movie…and I wouldn’t trade it for the world! I also later connected John to this:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

My dad’s obsession with The Perfect Storm ensured I would remember him from that; he never fails to turn up and do a memorable guest role either, I especially loved his turn on Lost as Lennon. I was excited to one, buy the first season of Deadwood at a good price from Costco, and two, to realize he was a main cast member. Now I just need to find time to watch it. While he was steady working for years in the business, Winter’s Bone really put him on the map and rightly so. His performance is what sticks with me, and the implications of what his last words mean, haunting. Martha Marcy May Marlene capitalized on his enigmatic personality and he aptly demonstrated how a group could worship him as their leader.  Looking at his growing docket for 2012, I expect to see his star on a continued rise, whether he likes it or not.

Beginners & Martha Marcy May Marlene

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By complete happenstance I watched both of these films this weekend; while dealing with completely different subject matter, by using a similar narrative structure, it was easy to draw some parallels between the two stories. My overall takeaway: see these movies! Both offer a compelling look into what shapes us and how it affects us down the road, whether for better or worse.

Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor in Beginners

In Beginners, Oliver (Ewan) is dealing with the recent death of his father. The movie flows back and forth between moments Oliver shared with his mother as a child, moments he shared with his father after he comes out to Oliver, and Oliver’s present. Throughout the film we get to see how Oliver’s parents shaped him as a person (and perhaps, how it negatively affected him emotionally) and how later in life he could also use lessons from his parents to fix himself.

The film shows this in its overall theme, and also discreetly. I particularly liked seeing Oliver doing seemingly innocuous things like introducing the house to Arthur the dog or Anna, giving voice to inanimate objects, or saying “You point; I’ll drive,” but realizing later on that these are phrases he picked up from his parents.

Full disclosure: I am an avid Ewan McGregor fan; I am not exactly sure how to convey over a decade’s worth of love for him and his work but it’s there, through thick and thin. So I find it easy now to watch his movies, take in his characters, and discern the bits that are pure Ewan. This movie counts as the first time I felt a connection to Oliver rather than Ewan, and a feeling akin to catharsis while watching the movie.  I am not underscoring Ewan as an actor in his other films, I am trying to emphasize the emotional impact I felt while watching this particular film. All in all, a beautiful story, beautifully illustrated and acted; it is a film I definitely want to add to my permanent repertoire.

John Hawkes and Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene

With all the hype that this movie has been generating, plus my inability to ignore the enigmatic John Hawkes, I was pleased to check this movie out and at the same time scope out the local AMC indie theater.  I found one of the biggest criticisms of this movie to be true: if you need things to be spelled out and questions answered, you might want to skip this film and avoid the frustration. For the most part, I found it easy to reason out many of the questions myself or find suitable explanations, and everything that is left can lead to a lively debate with friends afterwards.

Just like Beginners, in MMMM we see Martha’s two years in a cult and the aftermath of her escape from it at her sister’s Connecticut lake house. Watching Beginners taught me a valuable lesson: pay attention to what seems like throwaway lines because you may discover why that is important later on. And utilizing that idea definitely paid off heaps in MMMM. Why can’t Martha sleep because she hears something falling on the roof? The cult throws things on the roof to distract homeowners before executing a home invasion. Why does she seem to still espouse the ideals of the cult if she took the risk to run away? She didn’t sign up for murder. Although I found it strange that two years in the cult did such severe damage to societal norms in the real world, I just chalk that up the brainwashing power of Patrick and having no external influence to combat those teachings for that period of time. MMMM also gets credit for its seamless transitions; situations in Martha’s current frame of mind led to her replaying the events of the past two years in her head, more so than we were actually cutting back and forth between settings.

It seems that this narrative structure is en vogue right now: although I have yet to see it, J. Edgar employs the same method of bouncing back and forth between Edgar’s earlier years and later years as FBI Director. Nor am I claiming that this is a new method of storytelling; seeing these two films in the same weekend just gave me a new appreciation for the structure and how it can deepen the audience’s understanding of character motivation.