Deserted (2016)

After her release from jail for her mother’s murder, Jae goes back home to live with her brother.  As she is highly uncomfortable there, she decides to go with him and some friends to a music festival in the desert.  After encountering mechanical difficulties, they meet a group of guys traveling in an RV and get lost in the desert.  The beautiful location and landscape has them at ease at first until they realize they are lost and at risk of dying from the elements.  Written and directed by Ashley Avis, Deserted is one mellow movie where the lead is looking for herself as much as her way out of the desert.  The film processes in a slow fashion yet does not feel long or boring.  It follows Jae and her brother Robin along with old and new friends.  The dialogue seems genuine for the great majority of the film with a few hiccups that barely feel like such.  The characters don’t have much background from the start and a few bits and pieces are discovered along the way which works with the lead’s search of self.

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Suck it Up (2017) [Slamdance Film Festival 2017]

I’ve always been a fan of movies that examine how deaths can affect the ones we love and how it can create a pretty significant ripple. “Suck It Up” is a bit of “Garden State,” and “Ordinary People” mixed with mumblecore here and there. While I appreciate director Jordan Canning’s efforts to create this drama about how the death of one of the more important people in their lives affected them drastically, the script from Julia Hoff seems to be almost bereft of drama to the point where scenes just stretch out in to nothingness. There are a lot of really drawn out moments where almost nothing happens. In brief scenes where Canning tackles the dynamic between our characters Ronnie and Faye, “Suck It Up” presents only slight glimmers of an emotional character study.

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There’s Something About Mary (1998)

Theres-Something-About-MaryThe Farrelly Brothers’ “There’s Something About Mary” is a pitch black romance comedy, and it embraces its dark mood with a sense of humor that’s relentless in being ridiculous. Released during a time where Ben Stiller still had potential, and Cameron Diaz was still something of a fox, the Farrelly brothers focus less on the dream girl and the guy who lost her, and more how the dream girl manages to arouse a group of men that are dangerously obsessed with her.

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Night of the Living Deb (2016)

notldebEver since “Shaun of the Dead,” many filmmakers have been intent on delivering their own horror comedies about self obsessed thirty somethings thrust in to the zombie apocalypse. Kyle Rankin’s “Night of the Living Deb” is not a masterpiece by any definition of the word, but it ends up being a decent diversion that has a good time using zombies as a means of emphasizing the dynamic between our main characters. Set on the fourth of July, awkward Deb awakens in the apartment of her love interest Ryan. Though she’s in love with him, Ryan isn’t entirely interested in her and is anxious to get her out of his life as soon as possible. Little do either of the pair know that overnight their small town of Maine has been consumed by a zombie apocalypse and everyone they known are now flesh eating zombies.

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There Is a New World Somewhere (2016)

TIANWSLi Lu’s drama “There Is a New World Somewhere” is another one of those dramas about thirty somethings looking for directions in life. It’s in the tradition of movies like “Garden State” and Greta Gerwig movies, while director Lu really tries to invent her own “Five Easy Pieces.” The problem is “There Is a New World Somewhere” doesn’t present enough of a dilemma for our protagonist Sylvia to begin hitting the open road and looking for some sort of purpose. We settle in with her for all of fifteen minutes before we’re told how restless she is, and then takes off with character Esteban who she meets at a party one night.

Agnes Brucker is a very strong actress with a unique energy and charisma that has never really been wisely utilized by other directors, and it’s a shame. She’s very good in “There Is a New World Somewhere” and literally carries what is only a mediocre road trip film about two people trying to find themselves. I think. Or maybe they’re trying to find the meaning of life. Or a purpose? I never did catch on. Either way, Bruckner is the highlight as Sylvia a struggling artist anxious to launch an opening at the gallery she works in to showcase her art. When she’s turned down, she begins questioning her life and is called to party with some long lost friends, many of whom are on the verge of being married.

After forming a connection with party goer Esteban, Sylvia skips town with him and begins traveling around the country. Along the way, the pair have a passionate affair and wander around from landmark to landmark discussing the meaning of life, their passion for certain parts of life, and how unfulfilled they feel. Li Lu has a wonderful directorial style providing some great wide shots and beautiful dream like moments and montages where Sylvia and Esteban linger in various spots and different cities trying to savor life. I just wish “There Is a New World Somewhere” had a much more solid narrative and a lot more character depth.

When Sylvia skips town on her friends to take a trip with a stranger, it feels like half baked motivation to set the plot in motion. When the pair of character do manage to get in to various escapades, it’s never all that interesting. That said, Lu’s direction is vibrant, while star Bruckner is a very good actress who shines in an otherwise middling drama.

Now on VOD, IVOD, and is in Limited Theatrical Release until August 31st.

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The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

SecretLifeofPetsThe best way to describe “The Secret Life of Pets” is “Toy Story” meets “Looney Tunes.” In fact the “Toy Story” comparisons are never far off, as the film’s formula is most derived from Pixar’s film where we view the secret lives of everyday household elements when their owners aren’t looking. This time we set down on a random apartment complex in the middle of Manhattan where a slew of household pets commune and indulge in their own hobbies when their owners are out for the day. Louis CK does a wonderful job voicing Max, the hero of the film who is a terrier and loyal friend to his owner Katie. While Katie is gone for the day, Max gets together with the pets of the building to talk over the day and discuss what they think happens when their masters are gone.

Eliie Kemper as Katie is a single working woman with a heart for dogs who bonds with Max, and then suddenly brings home a new dog one day. Max is horrified and angry when Katie brings home big fluffy dog Duke, a well meaning adopted pet who tries to make friends with Max and then forms a rivalry when he realizes Max is trying to get him kicked out of the house. While being walked one day, Duke tricks Max in to going on to a construction site, prompting the pair to get lost in the city. With dog hunters and vicious cat on their tail, the two have to work together with the help of anti-owner revolutionary leader, the bunny Snowball. Meanwhile puffy dog and neighbor Gidget goes looking for Max and Duke, hell bent on bringing them back home.

“The Secret Life of Pets” is a subtle celebration of New York City, where our animal characters travel all throughout New York in an attempt to get hack home. The movie doesn’t attempt too much emotional complexity or adult themes, but instead revels in its silliness, ace animation, and often laugh out loud comedy. One particular scene involving an old woman’s reaction to a baby in its carriage is quite hysterical. The animation opts for a very unique and fun style in the vein of Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. Despite the movie injecting a lot of heart at the core of its narrative about animals and their devotion to their humans, the animation is decidedly exaggerated with a lot of the characters presented in over the top animated forms.

Even tough heroine Gidget is presented as something of a barking and talking puff ball throughout the film. At a little over seventy minutes, “The Secret Life of Pets” has no room for filler or flab to its story, providing a brisk and hilarious adventure with a genuine sense of emotion to it. It’s a fun, funny, and simple animated film, and one of the better animated entries to come to theaters. While yes it can be accused of taking from “Toy Story,” Max and Duke are genuinely entertaining heroes I hope we can see more of soon.

Hunt for The Wilderpeople (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

WILDERPEOPLEDirector Taika Waititi has a keen and admirable understanding of humanity as well as the relationship with death and loss we have every waking moment of our life. Whether it’s a gory horror comedy like “What We Do in the Shadows” or a family drama like “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” Waititi is never above examining our everlasting relationship with death that begins when we’re very young. “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is destined to be a classic drama comedy that pits two men against the wilderness in their efforts to make sense of life and come to terms with death.

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Midnight Special (2016) [Blu-Ray]

midnightspecialblu“There’s a star man waiting in the sky, he’d like to come and meet us, but he thinks he’d blow our minds…”

Jeff Nichols’ science fiction thriller owes a lot to John Carpenter’s “Starman,” mainly because he aspires to achieve the same exploration of humanity with his own film that also speaks very heavily about our own society. Right down the truly excellent score by David Wingo, “Midnight Special” feels like new wave John Carpenter, as it’s an ode to the classic seventies and eighties science fiction films that teams family against impossible odds. This time, it’s a young boy named Alton who is imbued with amazing and enigmatic powers that has made him something of a martyr for a religious cult.

Born under mysterious circumstances, Alton became the figure of worship for a relentless cult, and is perceived as an omen of a higher power making its way to Earth. His dad Roy and best friend Lucas break him out and seek to re-unite him with his mother, all the while trying to figure out why Alton is on Earth and what his ultimate purpose is. Like “Starman” and “E.T.” Roy, Lucas, and Alton find themselves evading the government and local law enforcement, all the while trying to also side step their temptations to return to the comfort of their cult. With two of their members on the hunt for Alton to bring him back to their clutches, the quest to help Alton becomes more harrowing and deadlier by the hour.

“Midnight Special” is a beautiful ode to the science fiction of yesteryear that also obtains its own substance and complex ideas about our own world and reality. Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton are rather superb as two men with their own goals to save Alton who aren’t always on the same page. Shannon as father Roy will do anything to save Alton, even if it means gunning down a highway ranger, while Edgerton as Paul is very strategic and much more rational. Alton is a very unusual and mysterious being who begins drawing just about everything to him, and becomes this walking magnet metaphorically and literally.

The idea of what Alton could represent becomes gradually more intriguing the more Roy and Paul fight to get him to safety. Once Kirsten Dunst is introduced as Alton’s mother and ex-cult member, there’s much more comprehension on what his presence means. Once Nichols has the opportunity to explain Alton to the audience, much of what “Midnight Special” is comes full circle to represent something so much more complex and insightful. Nichols doesn’t opt wholly for a cinematic tribute, as he also realizes that there’s some interpretation to be gained. “Midnight Special” is a surprisingly transcendent science fiction tale about humanity and our state of being. Jeff Nichols’ drama is a bonafide gem, and one that deserves to be appreciated and studied.

The Blu-Ray release for “Midnight Special” comes with a five minute segment called “Origins” about the inspiration for the film, and the central themes, along with interviews from the cast. Finally, there’s the twelve minute multi-chapter “The Unseen World” which focuses on the multiple characters and their arcs, including Roy, Lucas, mom Sarah, Alton, and NSA agent Sevier, as played by Adam Driver.