Spirit Awards Review Nominee Screenings – week one

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So I am a member of Film Independent and every year they do a two-week long jaunt of screenings of all the Spirit Award Nominees. As a lover of Indie films, these two weeks are quite heavenly as not only are the screenings just a short distance from me, but let me see and open my eyes to many films that you don’t always get a media screening invite for. It gave me personally an extra benefit this year as I was quite ill, especially these past few months and missed quite a few of screenings I did have. So onward with brief thoughts and grades on everything I’ve seen so far. Mind you, I did miss some of these even, as not only do they do a whole block of them on weekends as in four in a row – I had a medical time-out for most of the week. Luckily, many of the films are luckily on Netflix, Prime or Hulu – and as voters are also provided with links to watch all of nominated films. But truthfully, watching films on a laptop just seriously isn’t how they are meant to be viewed now is it. So with that in mind – here we go. (following in the format of the Film Independent Screening Awards schedule)

Day One:
“SORRY TO BOTHER YOU” Dir: Boots Riley

I was really loving the first part of this film as it was satire sharp, imaginative and funny. But not only does it run too long, but that bizarro left turn it takes in the last third of the movie will surely leave most as bewildered as I was.
Grade: C-

Day Two:
“SHIRKERS” Dir: Sandi Tan

This was a great little women-driven documentary that takes on a journey of a lost film, a strange relationship that made that happen, and all the friends along the way. But maybe it’s the oddness of all of it put together that works so well.
Grade: B

“LEAVE NO TRACE” by Debra Granik

If you asked me if I thought I would enjoy a film about a man (Ben Foster) and his 13-yr. old daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) who have been living off the grid in an urban park of all places, and what happens when they make a single mistake and get caught, well I would’ve have probably laughed a bit and given you a ‘NO’ in response. As it was, I loved this film. It was taunt with drama, and the age old question of what is right or perceived as so, and what is wrong, again, perceived as so.
Grade: A

“HEREDITARY” by Ari Astor

While the film wasn’t scary per se for me, nor a particularly good horror film by any stretch, it did stitch itself together enough to follow along and be entertaining mostly because Toni Collette took it there. I had forgotten about Gabriel Byrne somewhat over the years, but his supporting role along with Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff topping off with good performances of their own, helped bring this film up a notch to be sure.
Grade: C

“ROMA” Dir: Alfonso Cuarón

A completely different take on the trials and tribulations in the life of a maid in to a rather dis-functional wealthy family in 1970’s Mexico City. While Yalitza Aparicio is a breath of fresh air to be sure, along with Marina de Tavira and well, truly the whole cast, I do think it’s a bit over-hyped in the ‘how good it is’ department. Mind you it IS good and I will leave it at that.
Grade: B

Day Three:

“PRIVATE LIFE” Dir: Tamara Jenkins

Both Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti give a completely believable ordeal of what one couple goes through to have a child – including numerous fertility ordeals, tests, fake surrogates, family surrogates, money and most of all their own lives and relationships, in a series of choices that can only make one cringe at times as to what some will choose to endure.
Grade: C-

“THE FAVOURITE” Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

Let me just shout about how much and how long I’ve loved Olivia Colman. I always felt she was under-utilized so much or not given enough credit for her work. Here, she finally gets her lead role that will no doubt finally change all that and bring her an award. Alongside Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as her supporting, they do a commendable job of making this odd story come to life. While I didn’t love the film overall, the performances were so strong. Even Nicholas Hoult dons the old British wig and make-up to do a fun spin here as the strangest of cads. All said and done, just give Olivia her due already and be done with it.
Grade: C+

Day Four

“MADELINE’S MADELINE” Dir: Josephine Decker

I tried very hard to find a redeeming quality of this film and I just really didn’t find one. It was all over the place with nonsensical scenes cutting back and forth to add up nothing of what makes a film flow from scene to scene. It completely lacked any sense as you didn’t know if Molly Parker’s character was wanting Madeline (Helena Howard) to be crazy or making her crazy. All in all, it just lacked any and all of the Drama/Mystery/Thriller it is categorized as.
Grade: D-

“MINDING THE GAP” Dir: Bing Liu

As we know not all documentaries are going to be a pleasant, happy experience. This one however, made me feel as though I was watching a long drawn out episode of Teen Mom. And while I’ve never actually watched that show, I’m going to guess if you add in their boyfriends and skateboards, you’ve got it down pat. Enough said.
Grade: D-

“FIRST REFORMED” Dir: Paul Schrader

Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried both give good performances here and once again, without that this would be a truly hard film to sit through in it’s entirety. I just wish the movie didn’t drag so much for so long in many different parts. It’s seems as it’s trying to be a social commentary on despair, climate change, torment and tragedy all wrapped up in a bow that you see the ending coming right at you by the 30th minute leaving nothing to chance.
Grade: C

Day Five:

“If Beale Street Could Talk” Dir: Barry Jenkins

While I wasn’t Moonlight’s biggest fan, I did find Beale Street to be a far better film to be sure. I still didn’t love it as it left a lot of questions unanswered for me that I wanted to know and made it feel incomplete to me. While Kiki Lane and Stephan James are the leads, for me it was all about Regina King and Michael Beach (who is all of a sudden in so many projects and I love this fact) who really brought home the acting. And while so much of this hit hard, there was just still too much I wanted to know more about.
Grade: C+

And that’s all I’ve seen at this point – but I’ve still this weeks schedule and to make up some of last week’s also. So please come back as I will hopefully be posting more often again.

@pegsatthemovies

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015) Fox Searchlight

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me & earl

Not being a huge fan of this genre of ‘dying’ teen movies, it would be so easy to sum up this film with just the title alone and leave it at that.

It would also be easy to criticize the fact that Me & Earl & the Dying Girl is directly aimed to the young teen Fault in Our Stars crowd with whom it’s guaranteed to be a summer box office moneymaker.
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And while all of that is true, what people will be missing if they don’t go to see this film is a truly good, touching, funny, quirky and well acted film. I went in to this film wanting to dislike it for so many reasons, the sheer fact of its utter teen-dream marketability and knowing how it will end thanks to the title. And to my pleasant surprise, while watching, I felt my mind change, change and then change again. I was reminded that movies like this do exist and some times they can not only be really good, but they also can be commercially successful at the same time and that’s a-okay for me.
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The film chronicles the senior year of “Greg” (Thomas Mann), his best friend/co-worker “Earl” (RJ Cyler), and “Rachel” (Olivia Cooke), who at the behest of his mother (Connie Britton) has been told to go ‘be friends with her’ as she has been diagnosed with leukemia (aka get it..Me & Earl & the Dying Girl). Rachel of course, sees right through his initial ‘pity’ visit but slowly and surely Greg begins to win her over with his cheekiness and charm.
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And yes, all of the teen dramedy tropes are present and accounted for. The awkward parents, most especially Rachel’s mom “Denise” (Molly Shannon) who practically mauls Greg she is so happy he is there for her daughter, the role of tatted up cool teacher who ‘gets it’“Mr. Walker” (Jon Berenthal) whom while he goes into some original territory – though maybe a little to much for me as I think there might be a line or two that is crossed. Add in the exploration of high school cliques as Greg seems to be the master of his universe as he somehow cultivates relationships in each clique in his school. He glides from circle to circle seemly effortlessly, not alienating anybody or anyone which if I remember high school as I do, is pretty near the impossible to make happen. Though with all this accomplishment, he doesn’t want to call anyone his ‘friend’ as he doesn’t want to emotionally connect with them fully, so he calls Earl, his actual best friend, a co-worker. The two share a bizarre, but fun love of cinema and re-create about 40 spoofs of films such as A Clockwork Orange & The Seventh Seal among others. These are some of the high points of the movie as it’s rather hysterical to see these kids become so creative over the years doing these oh-so-bad-they-are-good mini movies.
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A good supporting cast keeps the film fresh and rolling along. Greg’s eccentric parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) add a fun jolt of parental weirdness to their scenes, While I found myself wanting a bit more in regards to Rachel’s character, the film’s treatment of her friendship with Greg is both darkly funny and realistically somber. This is one movie that it’s safe to see regardless of its given ending.

Screening at Landmark Theatres Westwood – Wednesday, April 29th, 2015
Nationwide release date: Friday, June 12th, 2015
Grade: B
@pegsatthemovies

RATINGS SCALE: A = OSCAR-WORTHY; B = ABOVE AVERAGE; C = AVERAGE; D = NOT RECOMMENDED; F = SKIP IT ENTIRELY (+ OR – GIVES IT AN EDGE UP OR DOWN)