Film Review: All Is Lost

Film Review: All Is Lost

To my mind, there’s nothing like a wordless film. Not a silent film mind you, quite the contrary, I mean films that aggressively employ sound effects, score and photography as the primary tools for storytelling rather than droning on with dialogue, telling you everything you should be meant to discover for yourself.  [Read more…]

IFFBoston ’13 Spotlight: Blood Brother

IFFBoston ’13 Spotlight: Blood Brother

Blood Brother is a documentary directed by Steve Hooper that chronicles Rocky Braat’s journey to an orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS. Originally, Braat’s plan was stay for 10 days, but his trip was extended to the summer, and then, he realized he wanted to stay indefinitely. [Read more…]

IFFBoston ’12 Review: The Queen of Versailles

IFFBoston ’12 Review: The Queen of Versailles

What happen’s when you go from having anything, to not being able to afford it?

It’s easy to look at Lauren Greenfield’s documentary the The Queen of Versailles and be shocked, even disgusted at the wealth of David and Jackie Siegel. But that’s not what the film is about. Not once did I feel that Greenfield was mocking, or asking the audience to laugh at her subjects. What she was doing was painting an elaborate, detailed portrait of an extremely wealthy family. Queen of Versailles is the anti-Real Housewives of wherever – rather than romanticizing their position in life, the film does a really great job of showing them us as they are. This isn’t a caricature, it’s definitely the real deal.

The film starts as David and Jackie Siegel are in the midst of planning and designing the largest single-family home in America. Both came from humble beginnings, and in the 70s and 80s, Siegel built his empire, Westgate, a timeshare company. Jackie, his fourth wife, was former Miss Florida, and married David in the mid 90s. Together, the couple has 7 children, and have taken on an 8th, Jackie’s niece.

The home, a merger of Versailles and the top three floors of the Paris hotel in Vegas, is a 90,000 square foot structure that is the definition of luxury. The plans for the finished house have marble everywhere, gold plating, paintings, antiques, and 30 bathrooms.

The film turns from a story about living in luxury to a riches to [almost] rags tale – following the completion of the Planet Hollywood Westgate towers in Las Vegas, the bottom falls from underneath them as the sub-prime mortgage based timeshare business falls apart along with the rest of the economy.

Greenfield followed the Siegel family for two years, and it seemed like nothing was denied as far as access goes. There’s a lot of stuff that could be fairly embarrassing for the family, moments like Jackie asking what the name of her driver is while renting a car from Hertz. With limited staff at their home, the house becomes overrun with dog feces and clutter.

Should we feel bad for the Siegel’s? No, because I don’t believe that was Greenfield’s intention either. What we have here is an amazing record of just how the economic downfall affected even the most well off family. What’s it like for the super rich to have to cut back? Just as much a culture shock as it’d be for a middle class family to cut back. Just super amplified. To borrow a quote from a friend who also saw the film, if I’m ever that rich, I’ll be sure to have a rainy day fund.

IFFBoston ’11 Review: The Future

IFFBoston ’11 Review: The Future

‘The Future,’ is Miranda July’s follow up to her debut film ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know.’ It tells the story of Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), and their decision to adopt a terminally ill cat named Paw Paw.

Their good intentioned decision is to prevent Paw Paw from being euthanized at the Vet, and for the last six months they believe she’ll live, the pair will give her a happy life. However, it turns out that under good care, Paw Paw could live up to five years. Because of the constant care the cat will need, Sophie and Jason view the adoption of Paw Paw like getting a newborn baby, and quickly become terrified at the idea of losing their freedom. Given 30 days to pick Paw Paw up, they quit their jobs to use the last 30 days of freedom they have to do whatever it is they’ve always wanted to do.

The film deals with a relationships, and the struggles of making something of your life – all through July’s unique voice. The film takes place a world that looks like reality, but has fantastical aspects – we hear the voice of Paw Paw, a t-shirt that has a life of its own, and a Moon that talks.

Sophie and Jason are essentially living a bohemian lifestyle somewhere in Los Angeles, Jason doing tech support and based at home, and Sophie teaching dance to children. Once the two quit their jobs, Sophie decides she’s going to make 30 dances in 30 days that she’ll post on the internet, and Jason takes up the task of going door to door selling trees for a greener city.

Things become complicated when Sophie begins speaking with an older man, taking in the suburbs so to speak – a decision which changes many things between Sophie and Jason as the film moves on.

With July the word ‘auteur’ comes to mind – she has a unique style that if I started watching this film in the middle, I would recognize it as hers. The performances by all the actors can only be described as unique. They don’t necessarily “act” the way normal people do, but in this world, that’s ok.

Technology is featured quite a bit in ‘Future,’ the film opens with the two leads sitting on a couch typing away on their laptops, barely interacting with each other. A little into the film, Sophie cancels their internet, believing that anything they want to accomplish is going to be ruined by it. In the Q & A following the film, a question was asked about her reference to “Facebook” and the way technology is featured in the film. July said that it was important to show technology because it is such an important part of our lives, but she also had to take it away for anything to really happen to the characters.

Surrealist, dark, and emotional, ‘The Future,’ is a wonderful film, that will definitely be seeing a wider theatrical release in the next few months.

Check out some great video from the Q&A here!

Review: Cyrus

‘Cyrus’ is the latest film from The Duplass Brothers, one of the groups behind an indie film movement called mumblecore. If you’re not familiar with the genre, its basically ultra-low budget films that foucs on relationships, using improvised scripts, and non-professioanl actors.

Working up the ladder with films like ‘The Puffy Chair’ (which played at IFFBoston a few years back), Cyrus represents the brothers first major studio effort. The film stars John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, and Catherine Keener, and is produced by Scott Free Productions (Ridley & Tony Scott’s company), and being released by Fox Searchlight.

John (John C. Reilly) has been divorced from his wife Jamie (Catherine Keener) for 7 years, a moment in his life where he clearly carries a great deal of regret. However, Jamie has remained in John’s life ever since, as John is clearly an individual who needs some sort of direction in his life. However, Jamie’s about to remarry, and knows that she needs to do something to get another female figure in John’s life. On his urging, John goes with Jamie and her soon-to-be husband to a party, where he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), who quickly is realized as the girl of his dreams.

But something is up with Molly, she sneaks out early in the morning (or late at night). She also doesn’t seem to really want John coming back to her house. So on a whim, John follows Molly home one evening. In the morning, he goes to investigate what exactly is going on, that’s when he meets Cyrus (Jonah Hill).

Home-schooled, and clearly a bit overprotective oh his mother and his interets, Cyrus is welcoming of John, almost too welcoming. But it is clear to John that Cyrus has other intentions.

The film is shot mostly handheld, and we are made very aware of the camera, with quick zooms in, and occasionally erratic camera movement. However, the film isn’t completely a psuedo-documentary (the characters never acknowledge the camera a la ‘The Office’), but you definitely know that you are the camera. As someone who isn’t as versed in the mumblecore style as others, I find this artistic decision a bit interesting, because most of the time, I didn’t feel like the quick zoom-in really did anything for the audience most of the time. There were a few occasions here and there where a zoom-in highlighted a character realizing something, finding something, or holding something, but I’d say most of the time, I didn’t really understand the motivation.

I’m not certain how much of the film was improvised and how much was scripted, but the dialogue was very natural. Of course, when you’ve got a talented cast like this film, that never was a fear. John C. Reilly is someone who I feel has always been great as a supporting character. His turn in ‘Walk Hard,’ was good, but I didn’t completely love it. He definitely carried the film extremely well, we’re with him pretty much the entire way through and he excelled.

Marisa Tomei is also excellent as Molly, I’m so glad to see her popping up in so many different films. She’s a great actress, and I loved her in her role. Her relationship with Jonah Hills character could have been even stranger and creepier then it was, but they both played it perfectly.

At the end of the day ‘Cyrus’ could have been just another cookie cutter situational comedy. But the style choices by the directors, and the improvisations by the actors definitely give this movie a unique feel. At its core, Cyrus is a very sweet film, and you will be laughing all the way through to the final reel.

IFFBoston 2010 Review: Cyrus

‘Cyrus’ is the latest film from The Duplass Brothers, one of the groups behind an indie film movement called mumblecore. If you’re not familiar with the genre, its basically ultra-low budget films that foucs on relationships, using improvised scripts, and non-professioanl actors.

Working up the ladder with films like ‘The Puffy Chair’ (which played at IFFBoston a few years back), Cyrus represents the brothers first major studio effort. The film stars John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, and Catherine Keener, and is produced by Scott Free Productions (Ridley & Tony Scott’s company), and being released by Fox Searchlight.

John (John C. Reilly) has been divorced from his wife Jamie (Catherine Keener) for 7 years, a moment in his life where he clearly carries a great deal of regret. However, Jamie has remained in John’s life ever since, as John is clearly an individual who needs some sort of direction in his life. However, Jamie’s about to remarry, and knows that she needs to do something to get another female figure in John’s life. On his urging, John goes with Jamie and her soon-to-be husband to a party, where he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), who quickly is realized as the girl of his dreams.

But something is up with Molly, she sneaks out early in the morning (or late at night). She also doesn’t seem to really want John coming back to her house. So on a whim, John follows Molly home one evening. In the morning, he goes to investigate what exactly is going on, that’s when he meets Cyrus (Jonah Hill).

Home-schooled, and clearly a bit overprotective oh his mother and his interets, Cyrus is welcoming of John, almost too welcoming. But it is clear to John that Cyrus has other intentions.

The film is shot mostly handheld, and we are made very aware of the camera, with quick zooms in, and occasionally erratic camera movement. However, the film isn’t completely a psuedo-documentary (the characters never acknowledge the camera a la ‘The Office’), but you definitely know that you are the camera. As someone who isn’t as versed in the mumblecore style as others, I find this artistic decision a bit interesting, because most of the time, I didn’t feel like the quick zoom-in really did anything for the audience most of the time. There were a few occasions here and there where a zoom-in highlighted a character realizing something, finding something, or holding something, but I’d say most of the time, I didn’t really understand the motivation.

I’m not certain how much of the film was improvised and how much was scripted, but the dialogue was very natural. Of course, when you’ve got a talented cast like this film, that never was a fear. John C. Reilly is someone who I feel has always been great as a supporting character. His turn in ‘Walk Hard,’ was good, but I didn’t completely love it. He definitely carried the film extremely well, we’re with him pretty much the entire way through and he excelled.

Marisa Tomei is also excellent as Molly, I’m so glad to see her popping up in so many different films. She’s a great actress, and I loved her in her role. Her relationship with Jonah Hills character could have been even stranger and creepier then it was, but they both played it perfectly.

At the end of the day ‘Cyrus’ could have been just another cookie cutter situational comedy. But the style choices by the directors, and the improvisations by the actors definitely give this movie a unique feel. At its core, Cyrus is a very sweet film, and you will be laughing all the way through to the final reel.

DVD Review: Teeth

DVD Review: Teeth

Horror movies with goofy, wild and crazy premises aren’t unknown the the world. [Read more…]