Blue Jay – Nostalgia At Its Finest

Everyone wonders about first loves or even first crushes – would it have lasted over the years? Would it still be as fun as it was then? Blue Jay – created by Mark Duplass and directed by Alex Lehmann- is a realistic film that asks these universal questions about love.

With a small cast and a tight budget – Lehmann perfectly directs Duplass and Sarah Paulson. Their chemistry is on point, and the choice of filming in black and white perfectly punctuates and highlights the two characters.  After 24 years – high school sweet hearts Jim (Duplass) and Amanda (Paulson) are reunited by chance in a grocery store. We want to know so much – why did they not end up together? What have their lives been like since they split. We are given nuggets of their life and experiences together, as the plot unfolds.

A story such as this one that centers around a single relationship completely depends on the likability of the characters. Duplass created the story and he and Paulson improvised. Astonishingly there was no script. Duplass and Paulson’s acting chops shines here, as I truly did not get bored with Jim and Amanda, or find them trite or cliche – despite their apparent flaws. They are three dimensional and very painfully human. I found myself rooting for them in the end – to at least be able to find happiness in their own ways. Their nostalgia about bygone days and their naivete as teenagers is both hilarious and heart wrenching. It had me thinking about my own youth  -and the people who have faded from my life. This film is quiet and sweet – and it might awaken in you memories of experiences and people you haven’t had time to think about in awhile. The film paints a picture of life – and its different eras. It is when they are no longer compartmentalized and they bleed into each other that a person is awakened to who they truly are. After hearing a recording from high school, Amanda says incredulously, “I don’t even recognize that person”. Such is life.

A beautiful yet sad story about love, loss, regret and youth. I heartily recommend.

 

 

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Captain Fantastic: All Aboard the Fantasy Train

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously

-Noam Chomsky

Sometimes – okay, more than sometimes – I feel myself wanting to pull away from modern society. Or more specifically, capitalist, consumer, money – driven society. I find myself considering switching out my iPhone to a standard flip phone, trying to completely unplug myself, avoiding shopping of any sort, pining for a weekend trip to the woods or just stay home and drown myself in a sea of books. I fantasize about moving with some of my more adventurous friends to a mountainside and creating a perfect little community where we share everything – money, resources, child care, food. And then reality hits painfully, when I realize despite these imaginings, I am just as entrenched as everyone else. Thinking is not the same thing as doing. And I am just as much as a cog in the wheel as a politician, or an ignorant bystander. Captain Fantastic was a nice little getaway, despite dealing with some heavy issues – specifically grief, and the incredible responsible weight of parenting. Viggo Mortenson places a father who with his wife, brings their six children to a secluded forest in the Pacific Northwest to try to escape the trappings of modern Western society. The cinematography and costume design brings a rich colorful palate of primary colors – complimenting the forest then later juxtaposition against the New Mexico desert and bland background of strip malls and track housing of modern life. In the forest, the children tare trained to be survivalists, train their bodies to be athletic and train their minds to be ravenous of knowledge and skeptical of everything – especially modern capitalist society. When the father is left to care for his children alone he turns up the volume, increasing the training, and truly immerses the family in his vision. When the family needs to travel back to civilization, the children are in awe of many things. “What is wrong with everyone? Are they sick? Why is everyone so fat?” the children wonder aloud. They ogle at video games, TV, grocery stores, diner food and see first hand how their cousins live their “normal lives”. The children know everything – but nothing. Which I believe is the message of this film. Don’t we all feel like this? We think we know so much until we experience a new truth, a new perspective, a new environment. And we realize with maturity comes the grace to acknowledge what we don’t know. Which is exponentially more than what we do. The father is forced to accept the fact that his vision of how he wants to raise his children might not be the best way. But indeed the other extreme isn’t the best either. He is forced to accept the Middle Way – a fantastic message with heart and hope for those of us who are just a cog in a wheel. I heartily recommend.

Mad Max: Black and Chrome – So Shiny! So Chrome!

Currently, Mad Max: Fury Road is in limited release around the country in black and white. I got the privilege of viewing the film at the Cinerama – a fantastic state of the art cinema in Seattle. It was incredible. Fury Road is a fantastic film in color – the super bright orange and greenish hues especially highlighted the explosions, and well chrome against the Namib desert in which it was filmed. However, to view the film in black and white is a whole other exercise completely. Although it was my second time viewing the film I believe taking away the color highlighted some of the details for me. The film is chock full of tiny amazing details – such as the Brannock device used as a gas pedal in the war rig to the intricate arm prosthetic that Charlize Theron wears. Light and dark was also highlighted – both contrasting each other and illuminating the natural light of the desert. Without the usual explosion of color I felt more engaged in the film’s feminist story and able to truly watch the acting despite the near constant action. The film felt grittier and more realistic – and the fact that over 80% of the stunts were done without CGI really shines. The Mad Max franchise is really one of the coolest post apocalyptic worlds in fiction. I heartily recommend seeing this version – whether its the first time seeing this film or the tenth. Mad Max: Black and Chrome truly reveals George Miller’s vision for the fourth installment in the franchise, and brings you in deep to the Wasteland.

 

Green Room – Hardcore Tension

Indeed, reality is much more frightening then fiction. Although Green Room is fiction, the villain (played by the legendary Patrick Stewart), the setting and the violence that ensues are quiet, believable and unsettling. Ordinary, even.  The quietness is the perfect juxtaposition to the culture and extreme noise of hardcore punk. Anyone who has gone to a crusty punk show in a rusty tin can of a venue is familiar with the gritty, grime covered atmosphere. The Green Room itself is the embodiment of this, a tomb to previous musicians that played in the past, vandalized with stickers and etchings of band names and inside jokes. Truly, it is the perfect setting for something terrible to happen.  To up the ante the venue is a neo-nazi skinhead bar. Enter a few starving musicians, who will play anywhere – anywhere – to make a few bucks. This is one of the most original thrillers I have seen, combining a very believable set of circumstances, and unfortunately a very believable cast of characters. The ordinary, every day nature of the main characters just trying to get by are naturally easy to feel empathy for. After all, we all remember when we were young and desperately needed to make a few bucks to pay rent. It is was easy for me to imagine myself in the same terrible circumstances. Director Jeremy Saulnier creates an atmosphere of quiet dread. The cast and acting are amazing, from Anton Yelchin, Alia shawkat and an unrecognizable Imogen Poots sporting a Chelsea Cut. And of course the amazing Patrick Stewart. The cinematography is completely on point – dark and dingy with a greenish tint. This is a film that is best watched knowing little about it, and instead just be immersed. I heartily recommend.

Hello My Name is Doris – Delicious, Delicious Satire

Hello My Name is Doris is a pleasant surprise: a satisfying satire of today’s youth thinly veiled as a geriatric rom-com. I initially decided to watch the film as I was in the mood for something light and bubbly, and adore Sally Field. Field, in the role of Doris, shines. Her character is multidimensional and fleshed out guaranteeing the viewer truly wants good things to happen to her. After her live-in mother’s death, she is left to pick up the pieces and examine her life and single lady status. What happens is absolutely delightful: she falls hopelessly in love with a man thirty years her younger (played by Max Greenfield, most notably from New Girl). Soon she is accepted into his very hipster fold, and this is where the fun really starts. Instead of the usual formulaic unrequited love film, viewers are treated to a bold examination of the hipster lifestyle. Doris goes with the flow, elated that she has found some new young friends, and suddenly her routine, rut filled life is ripe with possibility. But the question isn’t if she gets the boy in the end, but rather, does these friends truly see her as an equal? Or an ironic footnote to their tragically hip existence? I found myself laughing out loud several times throughout the film. Especially at the fictional indie electropop band Baby Goya and the Nuclear Winters. Yep. You read that right. See this film and delight in the meta humor, and a story around a character that is lovable and deserves great things. I heartily recommend.

Wildlike – A Gentle Walk Through Hazardous Terrain

Sometimes the darkest stories lend the most hope. Wildlike from indie director Frank Hall Green is a sleepy study of Mackenzie, a young abused teenager on the run (played by Ella Purnell) after her trust is heart breakingly betrayed. She finds hope in an unlikely middle aged man (Bruce Greenwood, from Star Trek) in the Alaskan wilderness and they make a human connection they both desperately need. The subject matter is heavy and uncomfortable, but it is done with grace. Green does a lot with a small budget – and the result is a polished film. The breathtaking scenery is the perfect backdrop to the film – adding a balance of beauty to the ugly reality of Mackenzie’s life. The pace is slow but not too slow  burning- just enough to let the plot unravel slowly and quicken at the denouement. This technique lends the ending gravity and depth.The acting is excellent – Purnell conveys so much emotion through her large, expressive eyes – often without saying a word. She is excellent in this role, and Greenwood compliments her with his veteran experience. Don’t let the subject matter dissuade you – Wildlike  is a beautiful film which captures both the fragility and toughness of nature – and the human spirit. I heartily recommend.

The Lobster – It Is Better to be Dead or a Wild Animal Than Single

…At least that is what the dystopian society in The Lobster believes. So profoundly in fact, that this truth – as it where – hinges entirely on the preposterous vision of an entire subsection of society dependent on the “rehabilitation” and matchmaking of single folk. From the hilarious and dark mind of Greek director Yargos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, AlpsThe Lobster is just as deliciously strange as Lanthimos’ previous films. Juxtaposing the banal: awkward small talk with strangers, stiffly dancing with a potential match at a singles mixer, sitting down to breakfast in a hotel alone; with the extraordinary: what lengths one will go to to find a potential mate and well, being turned into a wild animal if one’s match is not made. (Don’t worry, the characters comically get the choice of what they want to be turned into.) The actors do an amazing job (especially John C. Reilly) with delivering the purposefully emotionally stunted dialogue, and the cinematography is stunning. The use of chiaroscuro is brilliant -contrasting bright colors is some scenes and matching dour, muted grays in others.  The music perfectly highlights the tension in some scenes and the awkward levity in others. Despite the high quality production value, I wasn’t sure if I liked the film after the first viewing. I had to really think about it, mull it over and digest the message, the harsh, biting satire. I found it a bit disturbing, but also completely nonsensical in some ways. I even re watched some scenes. Then it occurred to me – the fact that I was thinking about it so much, trying to understand it is proof alone that it is a well done film. Most films drift away in my memory – usually as soon as the very next day. This one stays. It sits in your belly like something that disagrees with it, churning almost sickly, causing you to examine your own society and the pressure for a perfect relationship. I heartily recommend, but urge to go in open minded, and willing to think a little.