DVD Log: Room

Once upon a time, IFC and Sundance channels aired good indie films, and uncut.  One of them was Room (2005, Cyndi Williams), and I was struck with a chunk of it strongly enough to purchase the DVD, as this was in the period prior to being able to choose what I could rent or stream.  Some ten years on, I finally got round to watching it.

Anyhoo, not sure what I was thinking as this is an amateurish effort and mostly a waste of time.  Too bad because there’s a seed of a good but unrealized idea.  Pi — with perhaps some familiar thematic elements — looks like some kind of masterpiece by comparison.  Do not confuse with the very good Room of last year.  2/10

VOD Log: Two Step

Two Step - poster

Credit to my sister for bringing this low budget indie to my attention.  Two Step features a good, tense storyline driven by one mean hombre.  But a movie needs depth.  6/10

Availability: Netflix, iTunes

Two Step - text blockComparison Notes: (all recommended, and better examples of what Two Step was trying to achieve): I’ll See You in My Dreams, Last House on the Left, Eden Lake, Vacancy

She Uses Tangerine [Updated]

Tangerine - poster

Yes, that’s a play on the Flaming Lips.

Tangerine is the most talked-about indie of the year, and for good reason.  It splashes vibrant, ruddy, glowing color all over the gritty urban streetscape of Hollywood.  Then, as night falls on Christmas Eve, that patina is washed away, leaving only the ugly naked truth — and a few more laughs.

I’m going to draw an unlikely comparison to Boyhood, because movies are ultimately about the story.  And the story of Tangerine wasn’t bad, but neither was it great.  The same story with more bland, milquetoast characters would probably get a thumbs down — not just from me but most critics.  The audacious characters of Tangerine drive the narrative.

Tangerine - text blockYou can talk about how different, and how novel, a movie is — and I loved the novelty of Tangerine — but ultimately the story must be there.  So probably the best comparison of all: Beasts of the Southern Wild.  It’s like this whole new world you’ve never seen before.  This is what movies are supposed to do!  So how can you not be over the moon?  How can you not be wildly enthusiastic with your recommendation?  Because story matters.

Every once in a while I wish that some truly profound David Lynch – Inland Empire moment might burst forth to offer true, glowing transcendence — but it was not to be.  Still though, there is something endearing about Tangerine.  Like Beasts of the Southern Wild, my opinion has been raised upon reflection.  But also like Beasts, a more developed story would launch Tangerine into the stratosphere.  7/10

Update: A note I forgot to include: the film was shot almost entirely with three iPhones.  Inspiration to low-budget filmmakers everywhere.

Film Brief: Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin - poster large

I love how Blue Ruin starts, and this little indie thriller holds up well throughout.  It’s well made, taut and engrossing, but unfortunately treads well-worn plotlines too much.  If you have NetflixBlue Ruin - text block and would like a quick suspense film, this one will fit the bill.  A theater showing probably would have bumped this one up a notch; home viewing yields a 7/10.

Film Brief: Short Term 12

Short Term 12 - poster

Like Boyhood, critics seemed to trip over themselves to see who could heap more praise on Short Term 12, a movie I just missed seeing in the theater last year.  John Hartl, writing for The Seattle Times, was a little less glowing:

“Short Term 12” is the kind of teen-oriented movie that’s often dismissed as an “after-school special,” but thanks to a nimble young cast it’s frequently better than that.

A familiar, emotional drama about an institution for at-risk teens, it sometimes plays like an actors workshop.

Short Term 12 has some powerful moments — a children’s story about an octopus sticks out — but the lackadaisical approach to plot did not impress me.  What little was there felt overly formulaic.   I liked this movie, but it did not grab me, and I doubt in a year or two I will remember much.  6/10

Indie Log: Tiny Furniture

Tiny Furniture - posterLena Dunham launched her career with Tiny Furniture (2010), which put her in the position to land the successful HBO series Girls.  It is a fairly typical indie slice-of-young-life movie with nicely complicated characters, and it works.  Roger Ebert gave the film 3 out of 4 stars:

There is a strange space between when you leave school and when you begin work. You are idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean. You grow restless. You cannot go back and are uncertain how to proceed. “Tiny Furniture” is about Aura, who is becalmed on that sea.

Ebert concludes:

It’s hard enough for a director to work with actors, but if you’re working with your own family in your own house and depicting passive aggression, selfishness and discontent and you produce a film this good, you can direct just about anybody in just about anything.

Quite right.  I found Tiny Furniture to be compelling and entertaining, but hardly the uproarious comedy its marketing makes it out to be.  The two sisters and mother are very convincing — probably because they are two sisters and mother in real life.  7/10

No Escape from Tomorrow

Escape from Tomorrow hardly lived up to all its hoopla.  I had been looking forward to it since first hearing about it, and was exceptionally curious to see this film that was shot in clandestine fashion within Disneyworld.  I was shocked to find that long-time Disney ally Apple had made it Escape from Tomorrow - poster new smallavailable for rental, and then I steeled myself for an experience that might inflict a permanent scar on my warm fuzzy feelings about Disneyland, those happy memories from childhood.  I need not have worried: Escape does not in any way blemish the Disney image.

In fact, even though there is extensive footage within the Magic Kingdom, it largely rings hollow.  The film does nothing to add a new perspective to the Disney park experience.  Worse, Escape from Tomorrow failed to tap into the mystique at its fingertips: the history, the lore, and the current embodiment of all things Disney and Disneyland.  A holy trinity of narrative goldmines that was all but discarded.

Obviously, entry into hidden spaces cannot be expected; it’s enough of a feat to film within the park, but the former basketball court inside the Matterhorn, the tunnel labyrinth underneath the parks, secret apartments — these are spaces whose very existence should have been used to inspire the twisted fantasy that the movie aspires to.  As for the areas available for filming, maybe spend less time on Big Thunder and shoot instead within Pirates, or do more with the Haunted Mansion.  It’s as if the filmmakers were completely oblivious to most of what the park could so easily grant them.

Escape from Tomorrow - text block red

As for positives, I will say the film had a more professional production polish than I expected.  And there were a couple laughs — but just a couple.  A.O. Scott of the Times:

None of it is as scary or as funny as it should be, and what starts out as a sly thumb in the eye of corporate power ends up as a muddled and amateurish homage to David Lynch.

Muddled and amateurish, yes.  But I don’t see the David Lynch connection.  There was nothing particularly David Lynch-ish about it.  More perhaps like a modern-day, botched attempt at a Twilight Zone episode.  But either way, this movie is a flop.  A critic or two have claimed that Escape from Tomorrow is headed for cult-film status.  I’m not sure about that — there’s just too little here.  The only reason to watch this movie is to satisfy your curiosity regarding its production.  I do love all the marketing graphics that were generated for the movie, including the latest poster (above).

It’s sad that for all the effort these guys put forth, they couldn’t come up with the easiest part: a good story.  3/10