film review: TRUE ADOLESCENTS

An indie film fan’s wet dream, “True Adolescents” directed by Craig Johnson and which stars Mark Duplass in a role that might’ve once gone to Jack Black.  When his girlfriend (Laura Kai Chen) tosses him to the curb and after a very short career as a couch surfer, Sam Bryant winds up at the home of his divorced aunt Sharon (Melissa Leo in the role that normally goes to Patricia Clarkson).  Sharon is the single mom of adolescent Oliver (Bret Loehr) who, with best friend Jake (Carr Thompson), is scheduled to go on a camping weekend with Oliver’s Dad in Washington’s Cascade Mountains.  When Dad flakes out, it falls to Sam to take the boys on the weekend camping trip.  In that Sam is barely able to take care of himself, we can predict that not only will the trip be a potential disaster —albeit a funny one— but that his own worn-out sense of adolescence will be put to the test.

Mark Duplass in TRUE ADOLESCENTS

What’s so entirely likeable about Duplass’ Sam is that he is just a few pounds and a shave from being a really good looking guy.  Instead, he intentionally maintains the slacker persona in protest to growing up.  And unlike a few other guys that might fall under the same description —Seth Rogan and Jason Segel come to mind— Sam doesn’t get the girl.  In fact, “True Adolescents” is not about ‘getting the girl’ and doesn’t attempt to shoehorn in that subplot.  Rather than meeting a gorgeous blonde on the trail, the only people Sam meets is a blissed-out hippie couple (Linas Phillips and Davie-Blue, both of the marvelous “Bass Ackwards”) who he meets while hunting for a lost Jake.  I won’t give up too much more of the plot, unlike Stephen Holder of The New York Times who went a bit spoiler happy in his review last Friday.

It would be unfair not to also mention the terrific Melissa Leo who, by the way, never looked lovelier than she does in “True Adolescents”.  The film was made just before her Oscar-winning performance in “Frozen River” came out and so filmmaker, Craig Johnson got lucky with his first feature.  He might not have gotten quite so lucky had he been casting a few months later.  That’s not a reflection on his ability to snag a great character actress like Ms. Leo or suggesting that she wouldn’t take a small role in an unknown like Mr. Johnson, it’s just that it would have likely been a far more crowded playing field once “Frozen River” came out.  It should also be noted that the movie was produced by Thomas Woodrow, beautifully photographed by Kat Westergaard, with music composed by Peter Golub.

Melissa Leo in TRUE ADOLESCENTS

“True Adolescence” defies the Hollywood man-boy slob comedy by not delivering a pat ending (a la “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” or “Knocked Up”) or going all saccharine sentimental which it so easily could have.

I was fortunate to be at reRun Gastropub for the movie’s opening night.  In attendance were Mr. Roberts, Mr. Duplass and other assorted cast and crew.  The house was packed with a supportive and gregarious bunch of locals, thanks to the host of the evening, Aaron Hillis.  If that wasn’t enough everyone got a copy of the DVD for their troubles.

“True Adolescents” will be at the reRun Gastropub, 147 Front Street in DUMBO through Thursday, August 4th.  Use this link to purchase advance tickets.  If not, call ahead as the movie has been getting strong word of mouth.

INTERVIEW with Steve James

Filmmaker Steve James in SoHo; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

For Steve James’ latest documentary, “The Interrupters”, the director and author Alex Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America) spent a year following Eddie Bocanegra, Ameena Matthews and Ricardo “Cobe” Williams, three former gang members who have committed their lives to “interrupting” violence on the streets of a Chicago neighborhood..  Like in his prior films, including “Stevie”, “Joe and Max” and the universally acclaimed “Hoop Dreams”, James follows close to his subjects while keeping any agenda at a distance. The film has its share of dramatic moments, but in the end it is about redemption and love.

Adam Schartoff: Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

Steve James: No, I wanted to be a pro basketball player.

Schartoff: “Hoop Dreams” was a result of that, I suspect?

James: It was very personal for me. When I was in college and it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, I ended up in radio journalism. There was an NPR station there and I thought that would be kind of cool. Then during my senior year in college, I took a film appreciation class and I fell in love with film.

Schartoff: Were there any particular documentary filmmakers that you were inspired by?

James: I didn’t get into documentaries until I went and got an MFA in film. They didn’t have an undergraduate program (in film) where I went so I started taking some classes. I ended up just getting a degree. It was there, at Southern Illinois University, where I fell in love with documentary filmmaking. My teacher was very influential and it plugged into that radio journalist in me.

I love stories and it’s reflected in the documentaries I make. I wouldn’t make an Inside Job because I’m just more interested in following stories. It’s one of the reasons I don’t use experts. I want those people who are living in the world, the one I am filming, to be the experts. I’m more interested in what Ameena has to say than a sociologist who might have some brilliant things to say, by the way. Read more

Director Enters Rooftop Brawl after Screening of Wrestling Doc FAKE IT SO REAL

Subjects from the documentary FAKE IT SO REAL; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

For many of the film lovers who attended last night’s Rooftop Films event — and it was an event — it was their first taste of live pro wrestling.

During the post-screening Q&A, and just moments before he got into something of a scrap with Rooftop Films founder Mark Elijah Rosenberg, “Fake It So Real” filmmaker Robert Greene (“Kati with an I”) explained that he had chosen this project because (a) his cousin was dating one of the wrestlers and (b) it was a one-week shooting schedule. Indeed, the film takes place over the course of a single week leading up to the ‘North American’ championship match for Lincolnton, North Carolina’s Millennium Wrestling Federation.

Greene followed the pack of indie wrestlers as they trained, promoted and performed, but it’s their relationships that make Fake It So Real worth watching. No particular wrestler fills a primary storyline, though any one could have. Gabriel, the newbie, struggles with his wrestling identity — you should know that wrestlers use alter egos in the ring — but he struggles with his personal identity as well. When one of his wrestling fraternity “brothers” asks if he’s gay, a subject the MWF milks in its ongoing public wrestling soap opera, Gabriel avoids the topic as much as denying the allegation. It’s a non-issue when they get into the ring and it’s the camaraderie between the motley group that is the focus of the documentary. Read more

Chatting with Maysles

Albert Maysles (left); photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

I am finally getting around to posting this impromptu chat I had with the grandaddy of all documentaries, Albert Maysles at a panel event last March.  March 23, 2011 to be exact.  It’s in 2 parts but well worth listening to.

Chatting with Maysles (Part 1 of 2)

Chatting with Maysles (Part 2 of 2)

INTERVIEW with Mike Cahill

Director Mike Cahill at BAM; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

With “Another Earth”, Mike Cahill has made his first feature film.  He co-wrote the script with Brit Marling who stars in the film and with whom he had already collaborated on some short film projects.  “Another Earth” is as beautiful and wistful a piece of cinema as you’re likely to see this year.  The film has its share of pain and regret, but like the enormous blue crystalline orb that hangs in the sky for much of the movie, there’s also much beauty and hope.  I ran into Cahill about a month ago, just before a screening at BAM.  When he learned that I was having trouble talking my way into the sold-out show, he excitedly pulled a ticket out of his wallet and handed it to me.  In keeping, when I e-mailed him a few of days ago for an interview, he didn’t hesitate to accept.

filmwax: Excited?

Mike Cahill: So excited! It’s opening week.  I’m in L.A. but I’m coming to New York tomorrow morning.  Doing a lot of running around but very excited.

filmwax:  My predictions are very good for the film.  I think it’s the right film at the right time.  Not sure what that’ll mean for you from a business standpoint, but I think a lot of people are going to be turned on by “Another Earth”.  I think it’s going to be a hit.

Cahill: Thank you for saying that. I really appreciate it.  I feel good.  There’s a lot of good energy around this movie.  A lot of good will.  The response has been really kind.  The Q & A’s have been really amazing all around the country.

filmwax:  When you’re at those events, does it feel like you’re preaching to the choir a little bit?

Cahill:  No, not really.  Someone told me that if you do a lot of Q & A’s you’re going to get a lot of the same questions.  That it’s going to feel repetitive.  It actually hasn’t at all.  New things always seem to come up, new dialogues unfold.   It all seems really organic.

filmwax:  This is in no way meant to “dis” the fanboy population but this movie really seems more geared to the indie crowd, the art house crowd, though there’s just enough in there for the fanboy element.  This leads me to my next point.  Here’s a story about redemption and second chances.  The science fiction almost, I say almost, feels beside the point.

Cahill:  It could easily have been a film without the second Earth.  It could’ve just been a drama between this young woman and the man whose family she destroyed.  And that could’ve worked.  But I wanted to use this other Earth, and all the potential it brings up and for all the questions it might evoke. When you put another earth up in the sky it forces the characters to deal with their internal struggle.  When there’s literally a second self out there, there’s no hiding. Read more

the long and the short

Filmmaker Dustin Guy Defa outside BAM in Fort Greene; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (C) 2011

Dustin Guy Defa is on the cusp of something big.  He has made a terrific short called “Family Nightmare” which very few people have seen.  He is extremely conflicted by this film, wondering whether he should even show it publicly ever again.  He’s not returning my calls.  I first offered to show it as part of a night of shorts and he wasn’t into that.  I’ve since come around and decided I’m not a big proponent of short slates.  Then I offered to show it before a feature.  Nah, not really up for that either.  Okay, then I saw the short!  Probably best to do so anyway.  How about we just show the short on its own.  Who says we can’t show a 7 minute short and then just hang out and discuss our reactions to it?  …chirp, chirp.  Nothing.  Okay, I’ll wait it out.

Why his ambivalence, you might wonder?  Like an exposed wound without a bandage to cover it up, the film is about as raw look at dysfunctional family life as you’ll likely to see.  For the majority of it’s 7 minutes you see a family hanging out and partying at home — ostensibly in the 1980s or early 90s.   Some of these occasions were holidays but it’s clear, very quickly, that they hardly needed an excuse to party.  Drinking to access is de rigeur.  But it’s not until one of the wives, possibly Dustin’s mom or aunt, walks into the bedroom and finds a number of the men sprawled on the bed watching porn, do we get a clearer idea of just how fucked up this family is.  There are also a few other moments of implied violence.  But the truly menacing aspect to this film is its audio track.  Like the recent film “The Arbor”, gone is the original audio voice track, replaced by Dustin’s re-enacted audio track.  And it’s spooky, disorienting, disturbing.  It almost puts in you in the mind of these people.  They’re monsters but, hey, they’re family.  The last bit of impact comes at the end with the end title cards where we learn the fate of various family members. Read more

film review: ANOTHER EARTH

Directed by Mike Cahill
Produced by Hunter Gray, Cahill, Brit Marling & Nicholas Shumaker
Written by Cahill & Marling
Released by Fox Searchlight
USA. 92 min. Rated PG-13
With William Mapother, Brit Marling, Jordan Baker, Robin Lord Taylor & Flint Beverage

[Article originally appears: http://film-forward.com/anoearth.html]

“Another Earth”, the first feature film from Mike Cahill, is not science fiction, strictly speaking. The plot does include interplanetary space travel and alien beings, but the film contains virtually no special effects, except for the few that are already apparent in the film’s trailer and other promotional material, so I am not dropping any spoilers by saying that one includes the distant image of a second planet Earth.

Press photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight

“Another Earth” is one among a crop of recent films that uses science fiction as metaphor. I suppose one could argue that it’s a return to form in that way. It’s closer in feel to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”, and Steven Spielberg’s “AI Artificial Intelligence” in that it emphasizes story and character above all else. It’s a touching, wistful, and poetically executed movie, and feels old-fashioned and contemporary all at once.

The film starts in prologue mode with Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling, who also shares co-writer credit with the director), a capricious young woman fresh out of high school soon to attend MIT. Driving along the New England coastal town where she lives, Rhoda becomes distracted by a radio report about the discovery of a new planet that resembles Earth that has been hiding behind the sun and is only just beginning to appear. While driving, she cranes her neck out the window to get a glimpse, causing an unfortunate trajectory, both for her as well as for the film’s other main character, family man John Burroughs (William Mapother of “Lost”). The aftermath of their convergence involves a prison sentence for Rhoda and far more tragic results for John. Read more

film review: TABLOID

Directed by Errol Morris
Produced by Julie Bilson Ahlberg & Mark Lipson
Released by Sundance Selects
USA. 87 min. Rated R

[Article originally appeared: http://film-forward.com/tabloid.html]

Newspapers recently published the obituary of Randall Dale Adams. The name might not ring a bell for many, but Adams was the subject of Errol Morris’s earlier film “The Thin Blue Line”. Adams had been serving time in prison, mistakenly, for the murder of a Dallas police officer. Morris was working on another film project in Dallas at the time and only gotten wind of Adams’s story and some of its dubious facts just by chance. His investigation would lead to the making of the 1988 seminal documentary, and subsequently to Adams’s release.

Now, some 22 years later, Adams has succumbed to a brain tumor, dying last October. It turns out that Morris had found out about the death through a friend, and the press only picked up the story after the filmmaker tweeted about the fact. This event bring up the question, what happens to Morris’s subjects after the cameras have been turned off. The answer in the case of his new film, “Tabloid”, is much more readily available. Not that anyone could have foreseen it.

The movie has not even been released yet (as this is being written anyway) and already its subject, former beauty queen Joyce McKinney, has been witnessed acting bizarrely at several advanced screenings. Sadly, this reviewer was not privy to any of those events. But reports have her condemning the movie and its filmmaker during an impromptu question and answer session following a screening, and at least once in the presence of Morris. To his credit, he let her have her say and rarely interrupted. He seemed to be enjoying himself. Read more

INTERVIEW with Errol Morris

TABLOID director Errol Morris; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

This interview was posted today on POV’s website: http://www.pbs.org/pov/blog/2011/07/errol_morris_tabloid_conversation.php

Errol Morris has been making movies for 33 years, painting fascinating portraits of normal people and extraordinary ones, from Randall Adams (“The Thin Blue Line”), who was wrongly convicted for the murder of a policer officer, to Vietnam War-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (“The Fog of War”) to physicist Stephen Hawking (“A Brief History of Time”) to the famously photographed Abu Ghraib guard Lynndie England (“Standard Operating Procedure”). His subjects have always captured the public’s fascination, but usually as a result of Morris’ singular storytelling style. Using his Interrotron, a machine he invented so his subjects could stare directly into the camera while having the experience of speaking directly to their interviewer, Errol Morris gives the viewer an seat in the room.

In his latest film, “Tabloid”, Morris has found a spectacular protagonist in Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming who became a tabloid sensation decades ago when she tried to kidnap the object of her obsession, a Mormon missionary. “Tabloid” is funny and lighter than the last couple of Morris’ films but no less intense or provocative. The movie shows the filmmaker, 63, at the top of his game and showing no signs of slowing down.

Adam Schartoff: You’re prolific.

Errol Morris: I seems to be all of a sudden! Not as prolific as Werner (Herzog). Werner is the prolific one. He cranks them out.

Schartoff: They don’t seem to be cranked out, but he is! I guess when you’re at the stage of making narrative versions of your own documentaries, you’re a busy guy. After making “The Fog of War” and “Standard Operating Procedure”, were you intentionally looking to do something lighter?

Morris: Yes. The critical response to “Standard Operating Procedure” was all across the board. There were people who liked it and those who didn’t. I felt the movie was harshly judged by many people. Whether I went looney tunes or not, I felt the movie was never really appreciated. It didn’t do particularly well at the box office. One of the things I liked about making “Tabloid” is that I consider myself a funny person. And this is a funny movie. People looked at “Fog of War” and “Standard Operating Procedure” and they said, “Errol, not funny! Not funny!” Read more

MY BROOKLYN, Kickstarted

Filmmakers Kelly Anderson & Allison Lirish Dean have officially begun their Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000 for their new project entitled “My Brooklyn“. The film deals with how much Brooklyn has changed over the past 10 years as a result of gentrification and a pro-development municipality.  For better or worse? That’s up to Brooklynites to decide. This film just aims to be part of the conversation.

The below promotional video explains it better than I ever could. But for anyone who has lived in Brooklyn and feels that they have a stake in what happens to their neighborhood, “My Brooklyn” looks to be an essential bit of filmmaking.  I make a brief appearance in this video about 3 1/2 minutes in.  Glad I could be involved in my small way.

film review: TERRI

Directed by Azazel Jacobs
Produced by Alison Dickey, Alex Orlovsky, Lynette Howell & Hunter Gray
Written by Patrick Dewitt
Released by ATO Pictures
USA. 105 min. Rated R
With Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly, Bridger Zadina, Creed Bratton & Olivia Crocicchia

[this article originally appears: http://film-forward.com/terri.html]

Living in what appears to be on the border of suburbia but perhaps just across the tracks, overweight teenager Terri Thompson (Jacob Wysocki) shuffles along a sylvan path to high school in his pajamas and flip flops. Is he having one of those anxiety dreams of which we all suffer from time to time? Well, yes and no. Terri is not dreaming. As he later explains to his vice principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), who sees the student’s wardrobe choice as a red flag, the PJs are comfortable. Bullied for his size by his classmates, Terri’s counseling sessions with the principal are a welcome escape. The friendship that ensues sneaks up on the parentless and withdrawn Jacob, who feels, perhaps, that he is finally the focus of someone’s positive attention.

Filmmaker Azazel Jacobs with castmembers; photo still courtesy of IFC.

“Terri”, directed by Azazel Jacobs (“Momma’s Man”), is one in a recent series of films, including Mike Mills’ “Beginners” and Miranda July’s “The Future”, to name just two, which are less hung up on traditional narratives, but haven’t abandoned cinematic aesthetics or storyline in the process. Not as dark as your typical Todd Solondz film but equally as funny, “Terri” is chock full of strongly shaped and believable characters. Mr. Fitzgerald is one example. Reilly takes what might have been a one-note character and gives the befuddled principal some actual dimension. Creed Bratton (from the American version of the series “The Office”) is another example, playing Terri’s often sedated and mentally ill Uncle James, with whom he shares a book-filled ramshackle home. Who takes care of whom is another question. Their scenes together are filled with so many realistic touches it’s easy to take the movie for granted. One early scene presents Uncle James enjoying a rare evening of clarity. As he sits at the piano playing some music, we get the sense that there once was a vibrant life inside the man.