Tag Archives: indie film

Doomsdays (2015)

12 Dec

It seems to be common knowledge these days that we are on the eve of an apocalypse. Global warming, international wars, and the probable pandemic outbreak of some killer disease will certainly spell the oncoming death of humanity. However no event could be at catastrophic as reaching “peak oil”, a theoretical moment in the future where Earth will depleted of all it’s oil resources.

If civilization is bound to die soon anyway, why not try and live it up? That’s the exact attitude which embodies the two protagonists of Doomsdays. Billed as a “pre-apocalyptic comedy” Eddie Mullins’ debut feature film examines the lives of two apathetic but cynical hipsters/freeloaders/ criminals/vagabonds/alcoholics who decide to spend their remaining time on earth by illegally partying at other’s expenses. And by “illegally partying” I mean breaking, entering and residing in stranger’s empty countryside homes. Most of Doomsdays features Bruho (Leo Fitzpatrick) and Dirty Fred (Justin Rice) devouring stolen food and booze to their hearts content while completely trashing every home they come across – all without giving a single fuck.

It’s the kind of shocking, ethically questionable setup that feels like it was taken straight from A Clockwork Orange, but Mullins’ characters are so determined to live by their strange moral code (one running gag features a character who not only refuses to drive, but he is committed to destroying every car he sees) that they do everything so nonchalantly together it becomes darkly funny.

Our colorful duo comes across a few interesting characters during their journeys, including an adventurous younger boy named Jaidon (Bryan Charles Johnson), an angry homeowner named Ronnie (Neal Huff) and a “tourist” named Reyna (Laura Campbell). Fitzpatrick and Rice both give compelling performances and show off their character traits flawlessly; Bruho is prone to having sporadic fits of anger, while Dirty Fred lives up to his name and has a tendency to seduce women with his French. Doomsdays is not only a great character piece, but it’s also the funniest thing I have seen all year. Mullins has a great comedic knowhow and the unpredictable WTF action that takes place through the clever framing of cinematographer Cal Robertson is absolutely hysterical.

Strangely, the tone becomes a bit too silent, cynical and sterilized at times so that it slightly undermines the brilliantly funny writing (think something like Michael Haneke directing a script from Noah Baumbach). There are a few moments when the breaking-and-entering schtick runs a bit thin, but for the most part, the film works like a charm and just becomes more engaging as it progresses along to its odd but satisfying climax.

Bottom line: With characters that feel alive and energetic, Doomsdays is a hilariously creative indie comedy that doubles as a weird examination of apocalyptic apathy. 

Dirty Fred likes to think out of the box.

Rating: 9/10 

Film recipe: Borgman (2014) + Buzzard (2015) + Clerks (1995) 

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Heaven Knows What (2015)

13 Sep

Heroin junkies have been made subjects of films before, but perhaps never so intimately and up close as in Ben and Joshua Safdie’s indie hit Heaven Knows What.  Based on the real life memoir of actress Arielle Holmes, the film documents several days in the lives of a group of addicts living on the streets of NYC with incredible realism, intimacy and honesty.

Holmes plays Harley, a homeless young girl who has fallen in love with fellow addict Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones). Ilya, set on getting high on his own, decides he wants nothing to do with Harley, and in a bizarrely startling opener, dares Harley to kill herself as proof of her love for him. It’s a jarring, uncomfortable way to open a film like this, but it acts as compelling evidence to Ben and Joshua Safdie’s commitment to highlight the ups and downs of addiction. The director’s fly-on-the-wall approach works effectively well throughout the rest of the film; the omnipresent camera floats between capturing Harley and Ilya’s toxic relationship to introducing us to other characters like Mike (Buddy Duress) and Skully (Ron Braunstein) who both provide and demand drugs from each other in equal measure.

It’s easy to assume that the Safdie brothers should be building a narrative out of exploitation, a sort of “shock-doc”  expose on one of NYC’s most notorious subcultures. Instead, they simply let their subjects do the talking, and – thanks to some incredibly raw and authentic performances – it works.  By sidestepping the unnecessary melodrama or stylization (any comparisons to similarly themed Enter The Void would be proven inaccurate), we get a subtle and honest look at the lives of these characters, specifically how substances have gradually replaced their interpersonal relationships. The editing is fast and cutthroat, and the rhythmic electronic score by Ariel Pink and Japanese composer Isao Tomita, adds a unique but never distracting layer of atmosphere.

Make no mistake, this is absolutely Arielle Holmes’ story; she absolutely owns every moment onscreen in what will no doubt be one of the year’s most memorable performances. But credit must also be given to the directors for creating such an immersive experience.

Bottom Line: Sincerity and authenticity from Heaven Knows What give the filmmakers a distinct and vibrant storytelling voice.

Rating : 7/10 

Film Recipe: Requiem For A Dream – style overload + cinema verite’ + actual junkies 

 

Buzzard (2015)

6 Jun

Richard Linklater‘s seminal debut Slacker introduced a new kind of anti-hero into the world of indie cinema. A weird mix blend between bum and punk, these jobless but idealistically carefree characters live from one moment to the next without any regard for modern societal structures aka – “The Man”.  Almost 25 years later, and the slacker persona is still going strong, albeit in a the form of our metalhead protagonist Marty (Joshua Burge).

Directed by Joel Potrykus, Buzzard  is a sort of reincarnation of the early 90’s mumblecore. While the film feels ridiculously low budget, Potrykus takes his serious DIY attitude to the filmmaking process and his passion for his characters shines through.

Marty is your ultimate deadbeat. He is a temp at a banking chain where he spends his time trying to cut corners and make a spare buck or two by stealing company supplies and reselling them at OfficeMax. His seemingly only friend is coworker Derek (played by Potrykus), a videogame obsessed manchild living in the self-proclaimed “Party Zone” which is really just code for his parent’s basement. Things get hairy for Marty when a scheme to cheat his company out of a few bucks pathetically backfires and forces Marty to be on the run from the law.

Buzzard is a film teeming with brilliant, original, and often hilariously awkward and confrontational ideas about anti-capitalism and deadbeat culture. The cinematic execution of these ideas is where Buzzard falls short. Potrykus is a very gifted writer and his enthusiasm for his characters is obvious. However, his moments on-screen as a character are mostly awfully-acted and the bromance between him and Burge fails to resonate. Buzzard is an amateur production and it sadly shows in everything from the makeup to the lighting to the editing.

However, there is something uniquely charming about Buzzard and especially Burge’s portrayal of Marty that makes the film a compelling watch. It starts of with a bang of energy set to heavy metal that gently escalates into violence. The third act surpassingly makes a sad but sincere attempt at bringing out the emotional core of the story; it would have worked perfectly if the film had been given a solid editing treatment.

Bottom line: If you can stomach the student-level acting and production, Buzzard is an authentically funny entertaining film reminiscent of early 90’s indies. It also showcases huge potential for director Joel Potrykus and actor Joshua Burge.

Rating: 6/10

Film Recipe: Napoleon Dynamite (2004) + Clerks (1994)

The Master (2012)

27 Sep

P.T. Anderson‘s latest drama The Master, hit theaters nationwide this past weekend.  After receiving numerous awards at this years Toronto Film Festival, the film is now being discussed as an obvious contender for next years  Best Picture oscar.  When I found out it would be starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the Best Leading Actor winner, and Oscar nominees Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams, I was thrilled.  Being in the hands of a director with such great skills that P.T. Anderson has, there was no way this film could go wrong. Right?

Well, lets put is this way: The Master is Anderson’s least accessible film thus far, and is definitely not for everyone.  I’m not even sure who this film is for.

The Master starts out with us getting acquainted with Phoenix’s character, Freddie Quell. Freddie enjoys women and booze among many other things, but has never really adjusted to civilian life post WWII.  Ever since I saw the wonderful Walk The Line, I knew Phoenix could act, but WOW- he gives one jaw-dropping performance here.   Hoffman’s role is also very good as the cult leader of a group known as “The Cause”.  What exactly The Cause is, the movie never really says.  Instead it focuses on the relationship between these two men as they draw intimately close to one another.

Not only is the acting some of the best I have ever seen, but this film looks absolutely beautiful. Anderson got the production design spot on and the cinematography is pristine.  Every shot is stunning and framed in such a way it reminded me of some of Kubrick’s films.  Which means I would have been completely satisfied just watching this on mute with no subtitles.

But then we come to the most important aspect of any film: its story. I won’t say The Master has a bad story – because it doesn’t – but it is extremely illogical and perplexing.  There is not nearly enough explanation to what is happening on-screen, nonetheless why things are happening.  The entire thing feels more like a dreamy memory of a film rather than a cohesive one, with only bits and pieces standing out on the surface.  I felt like there was so much left out that I didn’t get, but whats even worse, there was so much that was unnecessarily added.

The Master could have been such a great film if only its story wasn’t swallowed up by its actors and visuals.

I think this is one of those films that is better appreciated the second time around, but at a dragging 137 minutes, I’m not sure I want to see this again – at least not any time soon.

 

rating 7/10  

 

 

Thin Ice (2012)

4 Sep

I first heard about his film as it was making the festival rounds last year.  Something about this film’s crime-gone-wrong aspect felt very reminiscent of classic Coen brothers, so I was very curious about what this film would actually be like.

Thirty minutes into the film, and I could not help but thinking about how much this was like Fargo – which isn’t a bad thing at all.

The first hour of Thin Ice was extremely captivating.  The film has a great cast with Billy Crudup, Alan Arkin, Greg Kinnear and Bob Balaban giving wonderful and pure performances. Arkin and Crudup are always great, but in Thin Ice they play some particularly interesting characters.

The problem with Thin Ice is it tries to pull of a twist ending and fails.  Or it succeeds and by doing so, undermines the first 70 minutes of what would otherwise be an extraordinary film.

I have this theory that the director/writer behind the film, Jill Spreecher, would have known that people would be familiar with Fargo, and thus this film must have some sort of twist to it, in order to avoid being labeled as a copycat of a beloved classic.

There is nothing wrong with having one film remind you of another.  Especially with such a great film like Fargo.  In fact, it is what we, as audience members expect to see.

I am reminded of two other notable films. Dances With Wolves (1990) and Avatar (2009).   Are the stories basically similar?  You bet.  Does that makeAvatar any less of an entertaining film than Dances With Wolves?  No, not really.

Why is it considered a bad thing among film makers these days if a film resembles another? Is it because then the film maker would somehow have the reputation of having less creativity or intellect?  I would much rather see a film that resembles the story of Blade Runner in 2013 than I would see hollywood do an outright remake of it.

If Thin Ice would have gone the way it should have – without the twist ending – It would have been a very good film.  Better than Fargo? probably not, but still a very good film.  Instead the ending just felt rushed, senseless, illogical and out of place and it really does undermine the acting and character choices that I had loved for the previous 70 minutes of what I was watching.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Thin Ice is that other than the ending, this film is flawless. The acting is brilliant in particular and the story is extremely captivating.

Perhaps the director was afraid she would be intimating the Coens a bit too much, but in an effort to avoid traveling down that road, she ended up intimidating M. Night Shaylaman instead.  Which is a very bad thing here.

rating 6/10

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