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


VOD Log: An Honest Liar

An Honest Liar - poster

I felt An Honest Liar was good, compelling, and very interesting; ninety-five percent of what you want from a documentary.  But I knock it down a peg because the promise of The Amazing Randi as himself some sort of profound contradiction, or deception, went unfulfilled as far as I was concerned.  Still, recommended — and I like the title — it reminds me of The Unknown Known.  7/10

Availability: Netflix

To the Wonder of Roger Ebert

To The Wonder - poster

Sometimes I believe in fate.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball on To the Wonder being the last review of Roger Ebert, published two days after his death.

That it was this film, and not something more banal — say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles VI, or The Avengers Chapter XVI: Cataclysm of the Abominable Silver Snow-Surfer — that it was this film must be seen as more than coincidence.  Yes, fate.

And it happens I agree entirely with Ebert, who bestowed 3 1/2 of 4 stars on To the Wonder.  So I will defer to him.  But first my two bits: To the Wonder is quite unique.  I was trying to peg it as something like an Iñárritu-made cross between The Loneliest Planet and Blue Valentine, but that doesn’t quite work.  The narrative style — as Ebert wrote:

Although it uses dialogue, it’s dreamy and half-heard, and essentially this could be a silent film — silent, except for its mostly melancholy music.

— this style I’ve never quite seen before — never used throughout an entire film.  It’s a style that turned a lot of audiences and critics away.  Storytelling many found too oblique.  I mused on this, and feel that more conventional dialogue-driven To the Wonder - text blockaction could have told the story in a stronger way — but that would be an entirely different film, and not necessarily for the better.

That’s because To the Wonder is full of lyrical beauty, with a strong yet ambiguous story at its heart.  It’s open to interpretation, and that’s not a bad thing in movies.  Ebert’s final review so aptly — for this movie and his life — concludes:

Why must a film explain everything? Why must every motivation be spelled out? Aren’t many films fundamentally the same film, with only the specifics changed? Aren’t many of them telling the same story? Seeking perfection, we see what our dreams and hopes might look like. We realize they come as a gift through no power of our own, and if we lose them, isn’t that almost worse than never having had them in the first place?

There will be many who find “To the Wonder” elusive and too effervescent. They’ll be dissatisfied by a film that would rather evoke than supply. I understand that, and I think Terrence Malick does, too. But here he has attempted to reach more deeply than that: to reach beneath the surface, and find the soul in need.


Availability: Netflix

Roger Ebert - Walk of Fame

Losing with Netflix

I am generally a fan of Netflix, but it was disheartening to see what movies were disappearing from the service come August, especially upon reviewing what would arrive in their stead.  A number of good movies, including Face/Off, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and The Fifth Element, will be leaving.  Replacing them?  Highlights include Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Season 2.  Yes, that’s sarcasm — and sadly, truth.  Point being, the additions amount to basically a big pile of garbage compared to what’s leaving.

The complete list of arrivals and departures is here.  Expect more and more good content — especially movies — to vacate Netflix.

On The Double

The Double - poster small

The Double, an adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novella, earns lots of style points, with its bleak, Eraserhead-conjuring industrial world.  The writer-director Richard Ayoade certainly has an idea.  But this movie is fairly pointless, and worse, not entertaining.

With Synecdoche, New York, BirdmanFight Club, Secret Window, The Machinist and Moon, and the granddaddy of all, Mulholland Dr., there is little reason to watch this rather weak take on the doppelgänger sub-genre.  4/10

The Double - text block




Docu Log: Hot Girls Wanted

Hot Girls Wanted - posterHot Girls Wanted documents the “amateur porn” industry by following a few girls who are chewed up and spit out by it.  Though the subject matter is powerful stuff, the filmmaking is fairly mundane, like reality television gone explicit.  As the situation steadily devolves for the ‘actors,’ the movie becomes more compelling in its intimate portraits, enough so that I was tending toward a marginal recommendation.

Then the following night I watched the Frontline episode on solitary confinement within US prisons (see next post) and was reminded of what good documentary filmmaking is like.  It helps to have a good narrator instead of just throwing text on the screen.

I will credit Hot Girls Wanted for sparking this thought: how twisted is it that prostitution is illegal, yet porn — which can be much worse — is perfectly legal?  5/10

Indie Log: We Are What We Are

We Are What We Are - poster landscape

Ever-rising star Julia Garner fits well in cultish settings: Electrick Children, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and now We Are What We Are, whose Rotten Tomatoes consensus reads:

A compelling story cleverly told, We Are What We Are quenches horror buffs’ thirst for gore while serving up serious-minded filmmaking and solid acting.

Indeed.  Among the generally top-notch moviemaking is a bit of awkwardness and a pacing problem — the movie does not feel like it is moving slowly per se, but neither does it stir itself along the way one could expect given the underlying plot, especially in the first half.  We Are What We Are is no Martha Marcy May Marlene, but it’s still worthwhile.  Available via Netflix and iTunes rental.  And look for Kelly McGillis — she’s a long way off from Top Gun and Witness.  7/10