Daily Film Thoughts: It’s Cool To Be Indie

Over the past few years there has been a remarkable outbreak in popularity within the film community when it comes to indie films. Diablo Cody’s  (her latest will be reviewed below) Juno, hipsters running amuck and even more obscure, but appreciated “mumblecore” – the sub-genre that is quietly taking quality cinema over (in my eyes). Each of the features below are 2009 releases – expect a lot of this until the beginning of next year unless someone/something blows me away.

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Alright, so going in order of viewing will be the mumbliest of mumblecore produced this year in Lynn Shelton’s Humpday. Over the past year or two, the term “bromance” has taken over the younger scene. Fortunately with I Love You, Man the term wasn’t deliberately used and cinema has kept its face away from the ‘cool’ water and the self-defeated indie reflection I’ve come to loathe. With Humpday, the whole male bonding formula defines itself in a refreshingly awkward pivot.

Simply put, the story is about two people that were once good friends in college embracing their friendship once again after what is assumed to be several years without contact with one and other. On one hand you’ve got Ben (mumblecore regular Mark Duplass), a fine looking man in his late 20’s that is happily married to his wife Anna (Alycia Delmore) and who is persuing a typical family life. He finds himself in a panic when the generic connotations of being a family man hit him when reengaging with the freebird-like Andrew (Joshua Leonard). Andrew’s situation is different as he loves the idea of being a smug and worldly indie guy more than he loves being one. With this, he finds himself feeling a cadaver; a lifeless shell of a man because he’s been too torpor towards his life and experiences to have actually seen any of them through.

After meeting a group of free-spirits at a bar, Andrew is invited to stay with the liberated bunch in hopes of tasting some semblance of a fresh perspective. He invites Ben over, and while averse towards their style, his hesitance of interacting deeply with these people finds itself only a momentary lapse – however, with judgment impaired, his interest decides to wander closer to their values than he wanted. What it boils down to is two heavily intoxicated guys learn about an annual independent porn festival and decide to want to take part – only to find every idea but one being too conventional and not artsy enough to win (as machismo does reign supreme in these heteros, winning does mean everything). The one they decide upon is of them – two straight men – having sex as it has never been done; therefore being unique.

From here on out its awkward city. Even though it’s apparent that neither want to go through with the filming, both find it necessary for them to hurdle over this with emphasis. The primary source of the film’s issues are found here with Ben’s rational. His reasoning for going through with this is entirely dependent on if you’ve been in the same particular situation as him with his whole arc relying on an understanding. If not that, he’s left a recondite soul; one more antagonizing to figure out than a Sudoku for beginners. Andrew, on the other hand, is entirely interpreted. Shelton forms him into a character many can sympathize with stirred in with the solid performance by Leonard made for an exceptional character to watch grow and understand.

Mumblecore is easy to admire – it’s completely natural; effortless in an endearing and compatible sense, at least for younger viewers. It’s rare I behold a performance that doesn’t resonate with me in some way – same applies for Humpday in which each performance spoke the role with integrity and a clairvoyant sense of honesty, but no one more so than Ms. Delmore. The majority of humor revolves around her take on the situations thrown at her that overwhelm her for the most part. If any character is the easiest to recognize, it would be her character simply for the marvelous work done in crafting her. She has the perspective that I’m least accustom to, yet I felt most intimate with the secondary character. A display that makes me desirable for more of her work. After all, it was her first performance on screen.

Humpday is a film that distances its intentions far away from expectations that arise from the title. In fact, it is a rather cleanly constructed and sexually devoid feature that packs a punch with emotional rhetoric and veritable humor. This is mumblecore speaking emphatically. [8/10]

BD

Blaxploitation – a dark time in cinema (get it?) where classics like Dracula were reduced to funky haphazardly constructed clones that fought kung-fu. In Black Dynamite, the phallocentric perspective resurrects itself with a nonchalant groove. Like a Jesus impersonator jokingly saying “Got wood?”, this parody takes a shameless, hysterical approach towards a sub-genre that will only offend it’s most devout followers.

In making potent camp, director Scott Sanders deflects the abject opinion on spoof films that has fabricated over the past few years with the Friedberg/Seltzer freight train of terrible humor that is scarier to behold than most films watched on Halloween. In constructing this grandeur of (intentional) cheesy filmmaking Sanders, along with Michael Jai White and Byron Minns, collaborate to write one for the ages that will leave you aching with laughter. Plentiful times you’ll witness the trio write the easy way out of an aromatic situation. This evolves into an annoyance later on as you witness the intimidating potential wither. It is either due to lack of refined wit or pushing parody to stupor extremities as their devoutness to the concept cannot be questioned. Thankfully, they don’t retrofit this comedic vehicle to appease those ignorant to what they’re mitigating.

Typical story if there ever was one: a man known only as Black Dynamite (Michael Jai Smith) is out for vengeance on the men who killed his younger brother finds that the task takes on vastly larger connotations to it that would be found intimidating to anyone else if said scenario was inflicted upon them. Turns out his is a former CIA operative, former Vietnam veteran, kick-ass kung fu master with a license to kill – so, nuh-uh, these bad guys don’t know who they messed with!

With quick cuts, repetitive reaction shots, prolonged moments of plight – Sanders condenses what it is to be exposed to the 80s by exploiting the exploitative. Inevitably these set-ups being played on repeat do enervate the story. The structure does build transparent near the conclusion. Like an admirable fighter in the 15th round, the parody’s punches do grow softer and less effective, and if not for the sporadic resiliency, would’ve succumbed to defeat. Fortunately, the finale does wallop the viewer with a twist or two – built with the utmost sincerity in mocking the absurd final acts of yesteryear – keeping the story as fresh as it is flagrant for its c’est la vie farewell.

Bombastic, misogynistic and kick-ass, Black Dynamite envelopes the mindset of what it was to be “the man” in the 80s. The most tragic thing to come from this film? The fact that it hasn’t been given the opportunity to dominate more big screens. [8/10]

Jennifer's Body

I’ll keep this one short because I spent far too long on the other two. Alright, so against all inhibition within me telling me to say no, I decided to watch Jennifer’s Body. What didn’t help its already fleeting cause was having seen a great parody only a day prior. Regardless, I watched it hoping to extract some pleasure as many people around me insisted that the reviews were solely pompous patrons being dissident. Needless to say (if you read the following) the pompous patrons were right with this one.

Diablo Cody’s latest does not have the fortune of being directed by one of the most impressive indie talents that America, containing great music by a band few had heard of and an assortment of skilled veterans guiding two aspiring actors. So what’s the next best thing? Well, certainly not AEon Flux’s Karyn Kusama, Megan Fox and music that defeats the whole point of being indie in cinema by showcasing some of the more popular artists of today in Cute is What We Aim For and Panic at the Disco. Also: in terms of screenplays being churned into celluloid parades, this is one of the adaptations I’ve seen and it’s easily the worst. With the sunshine pop styling of Juno in mind and acceptable line delivery ricocheting throughout my mind, I read the script late last year. In collapsing the interesting structure of the initially drafted story (that I read), the expected slighting of tryhard horror fades into an all too familiar voice and becomes what it tries to mocks in the worst of ways.

Plot? Alright: Girl (Megan Fox) becomes a cannibalistic vampire after being taken away by a suspicious band in their pedovan after a fire at the bar where their gig was. Her best friend (Amanda Seyfried) wonders what the dilio is and goes out to find it. It isn’t fun in a Nancy Drew type of way – or any type of way, mind you – and again, no semblance of insincerity towards modern horror is found outside of witty lines being delivered with repugnance (“You need a mani(cure) bad – you should get a Chinese chick to buff your situation”).

All in all, you know your spoof has misfired when no one can decipher what exactly it is you’re mocking. Seyfried has her moments, but Fox completely misplays the role in trying to channel Ellen Page’s peculiar charm. Sex and quirk do not work – the core of Jennifer’s Body’s issues are simply this. Don’t believe me? Ask Woody Allen. [2/10]

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Medicine for Melancholy – a film I’ve been looking forward for a few months now has finally been accessible by me, after skipping Toronto theaters in lieu of a more obscure release. Well, the wait certainly wasn’t worth it, as the product was more mixed than the bags of nuts you get onboard a flight – the story’s quality would also have to reflect that of the films you generally watch in the sky; decent enough to see through, but not something ideal to view when there are other options at hand.

Two people conversing for prolonged periods of time: a formula most have grown to adore. With Linklater’s Before films, Once and In Search of a Midnight’s Kiss, this design has become a beloved one as it entails no trace of turgid traits. Maybe this film would feel more refreshing if the latter hadn’t done it all last year. With the unparalleled monochromatic photography, disconsolate silence that strikes more vehemently in the hearts of the characters than the people witnessing the lives unfold and a charming selection of music that sustains durability within the pacing. Sadly, it is the music that does most of the story’s most sincere speaking – not a positive indication of intricate writing, in my eyes.

After waking up from a one night stand at a party, Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo (Tracey Higgins) stumble out of an acquaintances’ house hungover. Micah, clearly feeling guilty about the night prior, tries to make amends with Jo by taking her to a coffee shop and attempting to converse with her in a taxi as they both “were going the same way”. Romantic innocence – seems like a poignant stance to take. Unfortunately – unlike either of the aforementioned film – writer/director Barry Jenkins flocks to a more ambiguous route as soon as the audience begins to feel that something isn’t right.

When it’s revealed that Jo is in a relationship with a white curator, Micah shows a less pleasant side to him – a racist one. After being called out on his “stay black, stay proud” shtick by Jo (who I forgot to mention is also black), it is made obvious that these two will run into complications that surpass her leaving her gloomy boyfriend that really stick deeply into the core values of her possible new boyfriend. So while Micah refuses to battle his hatred for white culture when the opportunity arises, Jo ventures to bring out the delightful charm that Micah possesses in hopes of obtaining an ideal boyfriend. Why she feels she can fix him is not at all explained, but perhaps his persistence and appreciation for everything overwhelms her enough to believe. Regardless her character arc is often neglected – leaving the story to ride on the shoulders of a man who holds disdain for whites and the manufactured way the world looks at ‘his people’. The least pleasant piggyback ride I’ve ever taken.

It’s frustrating to watch a film made by someone with ambition because there is a tendency for brilliance to spawn periodically. It’s the old feeling of where you know something genuine, gentle and grandiose could have been concocted. For example, I savor the basis of the film’s concept; I find it to be an extensive treatment on commonality and the human nature that follows essentially anonymous sex with both guilt and affection. This just does not last and it cannot if you aspire to achieve brilliance in one go – especially high-level art that revolves around racial ambiguity.

With an often neglected perspective of the only other important character in the feature coupled with the occasional symbolically deficient scene that rides along hoping you just “get it”, Medicine for Melancholy’s assembly is discordant. The leads do quite well with what they’re given – Cenac obviously the more impressive as his character contains the beat in which the film bounces to (it is also nice to see him envelope a character well for once; I’m sick of his wooden act on The Daily Show) – and the photography was perennial ambrosia (though Jenkins’ heavily symbolic use of it was exasperating). In a phrase: the doctor’s ironic prescription is neither clever nor important in anyway. Something to check-up on, but nothing mandatory. [6/10]

Hope you enjoyed. I’ll try to keep up as to not let these daily viewings pile up like this. Next up: an extensive look into Anna Kendrick’s filmography. Love her – hope you do too. Cheers.

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