Thursday, May 5, 2011
Directed by Kim Rocco Shields
It's rare that I dedicate an entire review to a short film, but I've found one that warrants it. Love is All You Need is an incredibly powerful statement against bigotry, bullying, and oppression. It takes a clever central conceit that most films would use as one long joke and uses it to make the audience see things from a different point of view. It is certainly one of the most unforgettable short films I have seen.
Love is All You Need takes place in an alternate universe where same sex couples are the norm. Those that prefer someone of the opposite sex are considered outcasts and are called derogatory terms like queers or breeders. The story focuses on a teenage girl named Ashley who realizes she is attracted to a boy. The film follows her struggle with this attraction and the fallout that happens when people begin to suspect her feelings.
One of the first questions to always ask in these high concept movies is if the story would be interesting without the central conceit. This film most certainly qualifies. In fact, the filmmakers explained in the post-film Q&A session that this is based on a true story and they just transported it to this different world. Too many films try to relay on their gimmick, but this one actually applies the gimmick to a powerful story in a way that it opens the eyes of audience by letting them see bigotry and homophobia from a reverse perspective.
Another problem with gimmick stories is simply playing the gimmick for jokes. There are some moments played for humor, especially in the moments when they show how the world is different from outs (football tryouts are girls only, the parents worry about the "different" drama teacher). However, this film gets it right by staying true the powerful emotional journey that Ashley goes through. Her struggle with feeling a way that society tells her is wrong is compelling and the torment she suffers from others who don't accept her is an all too prevalent problem in this day and age.
The film is also surprisingly technically proficient for a low budget short film. Director Kim Rocco Shields shows a nice visual sense, with a final shot that is just incredible. The central performance by Lexi Dibenedetto is remarkable in how she conveys the powerful internal emotional struggle that her character faces without resorting to hysterical overacting that usually plagues performers that tackle such roles.
If I have one complaint, it is the decision for this film to be screened as part of the Pink Peach Shorts. This is really a film that needs to be seen by straight audiences. Of course, the filmmakers had no say in that and certainly straight people do attend gay films and programs, but I can't help but think that this film could have reached a wider audience of people (that aren't already on board with the message) if it had been included in the Drama Shorts program, for example.
It is frustrating and maddening that there is still so much hatred for people who are "different". Love is All You Need sends a powerful message by making people see what it would be like if they were the ones being treated like second class citizens. The filmmakers did mention that they plan to expand this into a feature film. Here's hoping they are successful and their important message is brought to a larger audience.
Posted by Larry McGillicuddy at 11:49 PM
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Directed by Taylor Guterson
In recent years, a new genre of indie filmmaking called mumblecore took the festival circuit by storm. I caught on to the genre a little late, but there were several great examples at last year's Atlanta Film Festival, including Kentucker Audley's Open Five and Aaron Katz's Cold Weather. Mumblecore generally refers to ultra-low budget films about young adult told in an improvisational style. Old Goats takes that genre and applies it to a story involving senior citizens in a way that works surprisingly well.
The story follows three senior citizens, all non-actors playing real life versions of themselves. Britt lives on his houseboat and is contemplating daing again for the first time in 30 years. Bob is still a ladies man and is working on getting his memoirs published. David is a wealthy, retired businessman who is stuck in a social circle of cocktail parties thrown by his wife.
At times, this format is a bit much to take as the actors are clearly reaching for what to say next. however, much of it pays off and the conversations have a very natural sound to them. The story of Britt is most compelling and dominates most of the 2nd half of the film as he mets a woman on an online dating site. His attempts to deal with his first relationship in decades make for some compelling and funny moments in the film. Old Goats isn't a great film, but it's a nice one that tells a bittersweet story about life as a senior citizen.
Directed by David Bonawits
Pleasant Peopleis the type of film that you'll often see at film festivals. It's a quirky movie about twentysomethings and love. The problem that many of these films run into is going too far with the quirkiness. Last year's entry Feed the Fish is definitely an example of that, where it was so disconnected from any kind of emotional reality that it was hard to care about what happened. Pleasant People avoids this for the most part thanks to an ingratiating lead character.
Jiyoung is a girl with a dream and her dream is to be a sucessful musician. She records cheap CD's and shows up at amateur open mic nights at a local club. She is in love with a co-worker named Josh, who tolerates her but clearly has no feelings beyond that. The story is very low key, following her exploits in music and love.
One thing I really appreciated about Pleasant People is that it never feels artificial. Even if the story may drag in certain sections, nothing in here feels written or manufactured. I especially liked that the ending is very loose and open. Most importantly, Pleasant People finds that right balance of tone that so many quirky indies miss. Jiyoung Lee (playing herself) is certainly an interesting person to watch and she carries this film with ease.
The influx of big chain stores in the modern economic environment has made it very difficult for small businesses to survive. While not all of these mega retail locations are evil, there's no denying the charm of a local small store or hangout that makes you feel at home. The overly silly, but somewhat satisfying film We are the Hartmans touches on these themes.
Hartmans is a small local pub and music venue that caters to people that don't always feel welcome. It is the last of the small businesses in their town and the oen place that still makes them feel at home. When the owner (Richard Chamberlain) gets sick, his family comes to town and makes plans to sell the place. The Hartmans regulars band together to fight the sale.
There's alot of silliness to be had in here and some of it reaches sitcom levels. However, this is a film that has its heart in the right place. The cast of unknowns works well with verteran actor Richard Chamberlain, who is surprisingly convincing in a role very different from what he usually plays. There's a sweet romance between Hartman's daughter and one of the locals. ultimately, the film gets across the message of standing up for the little guy in the face of corporate greed and does so in an entertaining fashion.
Directed by Mario van Peebles
Mario van Peebles hits the fest with a sports drama starring none other than Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson. That sentence alone should be enough to pique most people's interests. Unfortunately, this is a film that runs into too many problems along the way, especially due to Van Peebles irritating insistence on visiting every single sports movie cliche out there.
Jackson stars as Deon, a talented college football running back, who has stardom in his future. He is projected to be a top NFL draft pick, has a family catering to his every interest, and can pretty much pick whatever girl he wants to be with on a nightly basis. Unfortunately, things do not go as planned as before the NFL draft he is diagnosed with cancer. The film follows how this affects his family, which to this point had completely hinged on his future.
The film received some attention because Jackson lost alot of weight to take on this role. His transformation is certainly a stunning sight and the best shot of the entire film. I think perhaps if Van Peebles had gone through the script a few more times he could've ironed things out. It really has some problematic aspects, especially an ending that wraps everything up way too neatly and strains all credibility. It's a disappointing film, but an impressive performance from Jackson.
Posted by Larry McGillicuddy at 4:22 PM
Monday, May 2, 2011
Richard Chamberlain first gained notoriety for his role as a young intern in the popular 60s television series Dr. Kildare. He parlayed this success into several successful major roles in the 70s and early 80s including The Towering Inferno, The Three Musketeers, The Last Wave, and King Solomon's Mines. In the 80s he became known as "King of the Miniseries" with his performances in Shogun, The Count of Monte Cristo and (most notably) The Thornbirds. Chamberlain's latest film We are the Hartmans debuted at the Atlanta Film Festival Saturday Night, and I had the chance to catch up with him on the red carpet.
In We are the Hartmans, Chamberlain plays the hippie owner of a local night spot that is one of the last small businesses in a town that has become overrun by big chain stores. When he is hospitalized, his family comes to town and plan to sell the place, but the regulars band together to try and stop this sale, as Hartmans has become a symbol of the last place in town where they feel welcome.
Chamberlain mentioned that he was attracted to the role because he usually doesn't get to "play scruffy". The clean cut actor welcomed the change of pace and loved the idea of getting to play a "Willie Nelson-type" character. It was certainly quite a contrast to see the actor in person and see such a major transformation on screen.
I asked the actor about how the film seems to have relevance to greed and the current political climate. He was very excited about the idea of a film that stood up for the little guy, because in this world of big business corporate dominance, "it is so hard to be small". He mentioned how even in the film industry it is difficult to get people excited about working on small projects, because the first consideration is usually determining the profitability of the idea.
"On smaller films, people are more enthusiastic," Chamberlain said. He contrasted this with bigger budget films, where things are often chaotic and more about getting the job done. He mentioned that it's exciting to be on projects where people care more about the material. He also appears in the indie film The Perfect Family, which recently debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival.
However, Chamberlain isn't limiting his options. "Big, medium, small," Chamberlain said in response to what type of films he looks for these days. The 77 year old actor (who hasn't lost his matinee idol looks) still has an infectious enthusiasm for his craft and looks to be continuing his career for a long, long time. Maybe we'll even see him again in Atlanta in the coming years.
Posted by Larry McGillicuddy at 10:53 AM
Sunday, May 1, 2011
What a lovely film to open my Atlanta film festival. Sahkanaga has all the elements that remind me why I love indie filmmaking so much. It is made with real affection for the story and characters. It is also devoid of the overly cynical, self-conscious filmmaking style that shows up too often on the festival circuit. You can see the director has really poured his heart into every aspect of this film.
The story follows the residents of a small town in rural Georgia and how they are shaken by the aftermath of an awful scandal. It is inspired by a true story that happened in 2002, where the owner of a crematorium was found to be dumping bodies in the woods instead of cremating them. Director John Henry Sumerour takes the elements of that story and focuses it on a teenage boy who struggles with what to do in light of a horrific discovery.
The best thing about the film is how it really captures the tone and essence of rural small town life. The town really comes alive and you feel transported there. It helps that the director has assembled a fine cast of very natural actors. There is no overacting to be found here. The events unfold naturally and at no point does Sumerour try to beat the audience over the head. It is an impressively confident achievement and a terrific way to start the festival.
Here we have a film that suffers from a jarring tonal shift that dooms any chance the film had of working. It starts as a poor man'sversion of Shakespeare in Love and takes an abrupt departure to a deadly serious and depressing romantic drama. The latter part is exceedingly tedious and drags on for far too long.
The film follows the life of German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He has dreams of being a successful poet, but his father would rather he earn a law degree. Goethe tries to slug through law school, but his antics constantly get him in trouble and it is clear this is not the place for him to be. It is when he falls in love with a young woman named Lotte that his passions are finally awakened.
The earlier parts of film are somewhat funny and charming. The bizarre shift to a dull, lethargic period drama is not handled well at all, partly because lead Alexander Fehling is not captivating enough to handle such material. In light of this, the attempt at a last minute feel good ending rings hollow. This could have been a fun light romantic dramedy, but the film never finds a proper balance of tone and thus it does not work at all.
Here is a film that is pretty much exactly the opposite of Sahkanaga. It fits right into that genre of self-conscious, cynical indie film, with a writer-director trying way too hard to show the audience how cool he can be. He seems more interested in tyring to pull clever tricks than telling an actual story, and his film suffers as a result.
The story follows a couple of married con artists, who travel from town to town and engineer elaborate ethical games that upend the lives of the people they meet. The film is told in an episodic manner, as they move from con to con. This does cause a problem because while some of the scenarios (particularly a moving sequence in a retirement home) are strong, others fall completely flat (such as a sequence in a church).
It's a shame, because Arthur is a good writer, and he does create some interesting moments. If he had more confidence in his own material instead of feeling the need to announce his skill with so many winks, twists, and tricks, then he'd cetainly be capable of making a solid feature film. Until then, he just has a mediocre film that works intermittently.
Posted by Larry McGillicuddy at 8:56 AM