Category Archives: indie

Black Box

blackboxWritten and directed by Matthew Schilling, the Black Box stars Brad Dourif, who is known for his acting talents in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Jason London, Ray Park and Kevin Sorbo also star in this sci-fi thriller.

You would think since Schilling both wrote and directed the movie the story would be pretty good. Like Woody Allen, Nicole Holofcener, James Cameron and Wes Anderson to name a few typically create a vision that is solid and good. Unfortunately, Schilling didn’t pull this off.

Most reviews for Black Box have not been good unless the reviewer was a sci-fi fan. The level of suspense is good with good acting, but the story is a little hard to follow and makes very little sense. I will give it my best shot to try to explain the movie. The black box contains secrets to one’s desires. Vastly different people meet by chance and as it changes hands, which happens every so often, the new owner is willing to do anything for what the box holds inside. The thing inside is the one thing the person covets the most. So much so, it makes them desire it at a dangerous cost.

A mysterious cowboy, played by Kevin Sorbo without much dialogue, delivers the payback in the form of an immortal assassin. The ending is not the best part of the movie. It ends abruptly with a one liner. If Schilling had wrapped the ending up in a proper way, the movie would have been better and more enjoyable to watch.

 

The Dead Lands

deadlandsThe movie takes place in New Zealand before colonial times when Maoris ruled New Zealand. Polynesian people are the ancestors of the Maori. They originated from south-east Asia and migrated to New Zealand. The movie is about two Maori tribes that have ancient rivalry.  The conflict has been put to rest, and the tribes live amicable.

Until, a young war chief called Wirepa covets the glory gained in battle by rekindling the ancient rivalry. He violently attacks the other tribe. The Chief’s son, Hongi, survives with a few other members of his tribe. Hongi goes after them with full out assault on revenge.

As a strategic plan, they decide to cross through the `Dead Lands’, hence the movie’s name The Dead Lands, where it is believed that a warrior spirit lies in wait. The spirit will devour any person who trespasses, adding a haunting tale to the storyline.

The rest of the movie is action packed outing, with a bunch of martial arts fighting, blood splattering and other violent plundering. The backdrop of the movie is a beautiful tropical forest with the harsh contrast to the story, and the music adds a fair amount of intensity to the movie. A standout actor in the upheaval is Lawrence Makoare as the Warrior, who drives his role with vim and vigor, emotion and pure charismatic presence.

The movie is entirely in Maori with English sub titles. Don’t get caught up in the sub-titles, just watch the movie and the story will unfold. I recommend this movie if you enjoy real violence in a rather barbaric fashion that gets under your skin.

Camilla Dickinson

camillaCamilla Dickinson caught my eye because my daughter enjoyed reading A Wrinkle in Time by the same author, Madeleine L’Engle, who authored Camilla, which the movie is based.

Co-written and directed by L’Engle’s god-daughter, Cornelia Duryée Moore, the movie is refreshing and a reminder that films can be simple, poignant without the box office bonanza. We so often see movies incased with special effects and evil villains out to destroy the world – not the case with Moore’s feature film debut.

Moore was primed to direct this movie with a resume that includes quite a bit of writing, acting and theatrical familiarity. She even co-founded the Seattle Shakespeare Company.

Adelaide Clemens plays the daughter of an affluent family in 1948 Manhattan. At first she seems shy and withdrawn because her mother played by Samantha Mathis is being romanced by a Frenchman. She can’t tell her dad played by Cary Elwes because he is stoic and feels his wife is too emotional and immature to confront the issue.

camilla2Camilla meets her best friend’s brother Frank played by Gregg Sulkin. They begin an innocent courtship that is true enough to reinstate her trust in true love.  Like any story, complications crop up and keep the plot moving along but never really hindering Camilla’s new found independence.  Her independence is nurtured through Frank, his friends and music.  Camilla shares her desire to be an astronomer and study celestial bodies. Frank encourages her and her confidence grows.

The whole cast is very good, but the movie is a bit too long and could use some trimming down where the scenes start too soon and end too late. Still, I enjoyed the movie since it is a believable story of the 1950’s.

The period look is attractive and adds to the story of the era. It is an interesting tale considering whose author later in life created wonderful inspired tales with females as central characters.

Slow West

Directed by John Maclean, Slow Westslowwest is so typical of the true frontier that the movie chases away the notions of the true hero of the Old West. Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee as Jay Cavendish, who is a lovelorn young Scot traveling by horse in the unforgiving frontier. He is hoping to find his lady love, Rose Ross, played brilliantly by Caren Pistorius. Jay comes from a wealthy family, so he isn’t prepared for the rugged terrain and its outlaws.

Rose and her father fled Scotland to escape the law after they accidentally murdered Jay’s relative. Jay has no idea the woman he hopes to find and marry is a fugitive. Just like Scotland’s lore, he is following his heart.

Silas played exceptionally well by Michael Fassbender is a gun slinging outlaw. Fassbender is also one of the movie’s producers. He meets Jay by opportunity and guides him through the frontier in search of his lady love. He promises to keep him alive for fifty dollars now and fifty dollars more when they find Rose.

Jay and Silas are total opposites, so they are not the best of buddies. Silas is a bounty hunter, who shoots first and asks questions later. Jay is refined and mature in respectability. He even gets them out of some scrapes now and then. As if the frontier isn’t hard enough on them, they have a gang of bounty hunters following close behind. The gang is led by Payne played menacingly by Ben Mendelsohn. He and the other bounty hunters are looking to collect $2000 reward for Rose and her father, dead or alive.

Slow West won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, so it has the strength of really good movie. Yet, it is a simple but distressing story that foretells the end through Jay’s dreams. On the other hand, like a Western the story has gun fights, deaths and drunkenness, and the ending is more real than the great Westerns of Old Hollywood.

While We’re Young

while you youngDirector and writer Noah Baumbach is known for intriguing movies like Francis Ha and Greenberg. His movies take the bite out of seriousness by intoxicating them with a lace humor.

In While We’re Young, we meet Josh, played brilliantly by Ben Stiller, who is teaching a class on documentary filmmaking.  He is a successful documentary filmmaker, yet he has an unfinished documentary film that he has been working on for a decade. He is unwilling to accept help in completing his film from the most talented people in his life – wife and father-in-law – which is his downfall.

He is befriended by a 20-something couple after class and is swindled into having dinner with them and his wife Cornelia, played lovingly by Naomi Watts.  Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) become fast friends with Josh and Cornelia.

So, here we have a couple in their forties and a couple in their twenties becoming best friends. The older couple is set in their careers as filmmakers while the younger couple is not quite clear. We know Jamie wants to be a filmmaker but Darby’s role is unclear, which should be a hint to the older couple that all is not up and up with the younger couple.

Jamie begins to feed off of Josh in hopes of using him in order to rise to the status of celebrated documentary filmmaker. Josh slowly figures it out what Jamie is doing, but it is too late and all hell breaks loose when Josh and Cornelia come to terms with Jamie’s machination plan.

Charles Grodin plays Cornelia’s father as a celebrated filmmaker in his own right. I am impressed with Grodin’s underplaying the part and enjoyed his moments in the movie.

We are fortunate to have some name droppers for the secondary characters. Dree Hemingway, who is the great-grandaughter of Ernest, plays Jamie and Darby’s roommate and production assistant. Beasty Boy, Adam Horovitz plays Josh’s best friend Fletcher while Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary plays an interview subject for the documentaries.

The humor in Baumbach’s movie is funny in a problematical and gross way.  The most impressive part about his movie is the issues of ethics, morality, and friendship within the film industry.

’71 Fast Pace, Intense

71I am impressed with 71 since it had me on the edge of my couch the whole time. It was also a lesson about what was going in Belfast during the uprising.

The movie doesn’t let up either because of the fine direction by Yann Demange, and the unbelievable acting by all the cast. I am so impressed with the children actors in this movie. Sure. Jack O’Connell is fantastic. He reminds me of Steve McQueen, silent but powerful. The children were so heart wrenching, strong and innocent.

Demange throws the viewer into the grit and emotional torture these people went through during the civil unrest. The lesson is more of a concept of what it was like to be in Belfast. There is no back-story, which isn’t needed since we are at war now with civilians. Diabolical situation with just enough dialogue to keep us connected to the story.

The story concerns the very beginning of “The Troubles.”  The violent thirty-year conflict in Northern Ireland based on the constitutional status of the country. The movie doesn’t explain “Troubles.” 71 is an experience, a slice of life that will forever be embedded in the souls of those who fought in this bloody war.

The story follows one soldier (O’Connell). His first maneuver is a nerve racking riot on the streets of Belfast. He accidentally gets separated from his unit and abandoned without a weapon. He tries surviving the night alone in a maze-like landscape with people after him. He has no idea who he can trust, but is scared beyond imagination – it’s intense. The movie is so believable I thought it was based on a true story. But, I haven’t been able to determine if that is true or not.

Demange challenges the audience in the beginning of the story by introducing the soldier’s son. They spend quality time together, so I was emotionally attached from the beginning and continued to have my fingers crossed throughout his ordeal. O’Connell’s breathtaking performance kept me in awe. He drives the whole movie.  I encourage you to see this movie for the talented work of everyone involved.

Travolta in The Forger

forgeJohn Travolta is a fine actor. His repertoire includes musicals, drama, comedy, Broadway and even television.  He is a wonderful human being, who has help hundreds of people all over the world with successful and workable solutions.  His latest DVD/Blu-Ray release is The Forger. Travolta surrounds himself with a stellar cast, crew and storyline.

Directed modestly by Philip Martin and filmed in Boston, he sketches a heartfelt movie, unlike the usual tough-guy action smash hit.  Sure. The story has bad guys, who are gritty and creepy, but the three main characters face something even more vital. The real story is about relationships and family.  They come face to face with each other resolving issues that are hard to confront.  It is almost agonizing because they have their own grit and ugliness to conquer.

Travolta’s tour de force performance is like a rare painting that captures you like watching the layers of colors come to life. He plays a father named Raymond Cutter. His son, played honestly by Tye Sheridan, has an unsolvable situation, which carries the story to the end.  The ever so talented Christopher Plummer plays Will’s grandfather.

Like a tight spring, all three gradually come to terms as their relationships come undone and are redefined. They face the issues and decide the next best thing to do is a museum heist because it is an adventure where everybody wins. Sure. There are bad guys and cops, but if they pull it off – what a great prize. Not just because they might get caught. It’s because they want to be a team, a unit, a family.

Watching Plummer play the comic relief cannot go unwatched. His scenes alone are good reasons to see the movie.  Such talent as Plummer opens a bottle of beer, dupes a security guard, tricks a gangster and then dances on an exotic island.

Martin’s action scenes are so simple and unpretentious. What a joy to see a story unfold without a lot of violence and expletive words.  The most violent scene is when Travolta’s character uses a baseball bat and backlashes at three thugs. Martin filmed the entire scene as a master shot from start to finish without insert or harsh cutaways.  It is hilarious. Did I mention there is comedy in this drama?

I don’t want to give away too much of the storyline. The ending is a little empty, but it is truthful. I don’t think I could have thought of a better way to end a story about a family with a problem that is unsolvable.

Song One

SongOneThe story begins with Henry (Ben Rosenfield), a street singer in New York City, getting disastrously hit by a car. Franny, (Oscar winner Anne Hathaway), Henry’s sister, is in Morocco working on her anthropology project. She receives the news and immediately returns home.  Her brother is now in a coma with their mother (Mary Steenburgen) coping as best she can.  As a family, I sense they were once very close, but Henry left college to become a singer. Franny disapproved and wedged the family apart. Being the responsible one, while her mother and brother are more informal and unconventional artists, Franny struggles with the life her brother follows, wants to understand his choice, wake him up from his coma and apologize.

Franny discovers Henry’s journal that depicts his life as a street singer.  She hopes to find meaning to his world and draw him out of his coma. She learns about his favorite haunts and notes his idol, James Forester (Johnny Flynn), a street singing celebrity.

Franny follows her brother’s foot sets according to his journal entries. Franny meets James and they become friends and romantically involved. Together they help each other solve their problems through companionship. Franny trying to draw Henry out of his coma with familiarity of sounds and smells in hopes of rekindling their relationship.  James hasn’t written a new song in over five years, and his tour is coming to an end. He needs new material for his recording session scheduled in Germany.

Written and directed by Kate Barker-Froyland (her feature debut), Song One strolls along with endearing moments and poignant music, but I kept waiting for the inevitable in Franny and James relationship, still it never happened. Sure. The acting is brilliant, but the overall meaning of the story never comes full circle with Franny and James, mother and daughter or brother and sister. Barker-Froyland leaves us void at the end, wondering what was the point of the story.  Sure.  I sense both Franny and James problems were solved, yet they had started a relationship without an end. Song One may seem like a romantic story, but it is more about differences in culture or lifestyle is not an excuse to divide relationships.

Seeing both ends of being a street singer, James success and Henry’s struggle to find his voice, the movie fondled the life of New York City street performers. With great music and talent, an eerie presence under my skin, I feel compelled, like Franny, to understand the culture so new to me.