Wednesday, February 29, 2012

EXCISION and PRICE CHECK - Reviews by Nicole Bacher


Director/Screenwriter- Richard Bates Jr.

Pauline (Anna Lynne McCord) is a high-school outcast with two things on her mind: losing her virginity to school stud Adam (Jeremy Sumpter), and perfecting her do-it-yourself organ transplantation system in time to operate on her sister who has Cystic Fibrosis - typical behavior for your average sixteen year-old. McCord absolutely nails the difficult role of Pauline, with this being one of those indelible whack-job types of roles that very few actresses have the guts to actually go all-out and make their own. McCord pulls off one of the bravest, most egoless performances I’ve seen in a genre film. She brings a certain level of sympathy to the role that probably only makes it more disturbing. The movie has so much gore and blood in it that I don’t know where to begin. It could be said that Pauline’s intentions throughout the film are good, even if she is completely out of her mind and needs to be locked up, but thinking she can cut open her sister is just completely crazy. Then again, it’s probably not all her fault, with her conservative, buttoned down Christian mom (Traci Lords) constantly making her feel inferior to her golden girl, sickly sister. Her mother’s idea of helping Pauline is taking her to the local Reverend to talk about her problems, and the Reverend is played by John Waters, probably not the best person for guidance (his entrance into the film brought many laughs). The irony in this film is iconic. The cast truly made this film and it helped coming into this film with an open mind.

McCord certainly subverted all the prejudices I held against her as I walked into the film, but major credit is also owed to director Richard Bates Jr. Despite the subject matter, Bates never makes Excision come off as exploitation. Rather- it feels almost like a piece of pop art, and watching this, which is his first feature-length effort, I couldn’t get over the feeling that it felt like I was seeing a major new voice in genre films emerge throughout. So, while it’s more than a little sick, and will likely leave you queasy by the time the credits roll, Excision is nonetheless a truly unique horror ride into the scariest of all places, the mind of a teenaged misfit. On a scale from 1 to 10 where 10 being extremely mainstream, I would give this film a 3. The film is one of a kind and nothing like anything I have ever seen. The director’s vision is so different nothing compares. Scary and perverse, Excision is certainly the type of genre flick you’ll have a hard time shaking in the days after you watch it.

Price Check

Director/ Screenwriter- Michael Walker

Pete Cozy (Eric Mabius) works as a mid-level manager at the headquarters of a regional supermarket chain in Long Island, although he’d rather still be in the music industry. Regardless, he’s happy to have a position without too much responsibility so that he can spend more time with his wife Sara (Annie Parisse) and son Henry, despite the low salary and accumulating credit card debt. When his supervisor in the pricing department leaves the company, the position is filled by feisty, Susan Felders (Parker Posey), a transfer from the corporate office, rumored to be “a real ball-buster” according to one co-worker. When she arrives, however, Susan proves to be an effective team player. She is a straight-talking, free-cussing fireball who is determined to reshape the department and the store chain into a powerhouse within the larger corporation. She makes some quick changes at the office, promoting Pete to a VP position and doubling his salary, which pleases his wife, but increases his workload. Single and new in town, Susan quickly works her way into Pete’s family life, inviting herself to his son’s school Halloween party and buddying up to his wife. As the extra workload adds up to more hours in the office and then to posh LA business trips with his boss, Pete and Susan spend an increasing amount of time together, much to the concern of his wife. Things start to unravel as Susan comes on to Pete and vice versa. When they return to the office, tension is high and Pete tests his power and forgets the Susan is still boss.

Walker’s script is mediocre with realistic situations, cute dialogue and clever humor that contribute to the overall authenticity of the workplace atmosphere. Walker directs with precision and production values are excellent overall. On a scale from 1 to 10 where 10 being extremely mainstream, I would give this film a 6. Sundance queen Parker Posey brings a certain bold enthusiasm to the office setting, pulling off the role with expert comic timing. She essentially steals the film. It was as if she made this role her own. Mabius keeps his performance dialed back to extract the humor from the large number of awkward setups. The supporting cast of co-workers is solid without overshadowing the leads. The music by Luna is a nice warm touch to give the film a mellow feel. Price Check is a film that could be passed over if it wasn’t for Parker Posey. She once again is the show stealer.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

ATOMIC STATES OF AMERICA and FINDING NORTH ~ Reviews by Kimberly Heydenberk

The Atomic States of America

Directors: Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce

The Atomic States of America, based on the book: Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir From An Atomic Town , is about the United States’ dependence on nuclear power and the ramifications associated with that dependence. Former Presidents have spoken about the importance of nuclear power and that has started more intellectual talk of how necessary it is for our powerful country. What those speeches fail to mention are the health issues nuclear power causes. The documentary gives accounts of those who have gotten sick as a result of having a nuclear-reactor site close to home. One woman states that everyone on her street had cancer and no one could understand why people kept dying in such close proximity to one another. Another story is about a father whose daughter had to undergo a number of surgeries and is thankfully alive to this day. The daughter spoke in the documentary, thanking her father for all that he has done for her. I give this film a 9 out of 10 (10 signifying an ultra-independent film) because it completely goes against the norm of keeping the United States as some nuclear hungry nation. I honestly did not know much about the topic going into this film, but I highly recommend it for those who want to remain informed about the issue at hand. There are people being exposed to nuclear reactors and are eventually afflicted with deadly diseases. This myth gives voice to the disadvantaged, which reminds me of the amazing documentary that also appeared in Sundance this year, Finding North, which addresses hunger in the United States. Scientists who take the topic of exposure to nuclear contamination and hide it under the rug are irresponsible. People in positions of power are not thinking of the residents who are being subjected to exposure and it is appalling. This documentary is another strike against people in power who have distanced themselves so far away on their pedestals from the average person that they refuse to address a very serious issue. After the film the audience were given Shirley, the book the documentary is based on. Reading this book after the film should give readers an even greater insight as to the personal account of growing up next to a nuclear reactor. There is even some input from actor Alec Baldwin on this issue, which seemed like a random addition in the documentary and may have weakened the argument that the directors were trying to send to the viewers. However, the documentary is still a strong blow to people in positions of power in our government. I highly recommend this documentary to anyone, especially those who are not well informed about this issue like myself.

Finding North

Directors: Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush

This is a documentary delving into the hunger crisis in the United States. There are many Americans who are lucky to eat one meal a day. In one of the stories, a girl admits to being so hungry that her stomach growls all the time in class. She cannot concentrate and doesn’t receive the best grades because she is so hungry. Another story is of a police officer who does not make that much money so he heads to a shelter for a meal. He finds this a blow to his ego but he just cannot afford to put food on the table. Also, there is a single mother who does not get paid enough in food stamps and when she lands a job she does not make enough to support her children. All of this is happening in our country and this is a real problem that the United States has turned a blind eye on.

The documentary calls attention to the government’s lack of care about the issue of hunger going on in our country. It is a completely biased film in favor of the hungry. There is a part in the film revealing that people in America have this idea of starving children as a children in Africa whose bones protrude due to lack of food. However, there are people starving all over the United States. They may not be skinny but that is because their diet is terrible. Some do not have access to food and when they obtain food, it is unhealthy. Who will buy $2 worth of apples when you can buy 10 bags of Top Ramen for the same price?

This documentary was well done and it was clear that the two directors are making more people aware of the problem. A huge strength I saw in particular were the speeches of past Presidents who address the hunger problem but as the years go by the numbers of hungry people keep going up. Another strength was that instead of just having stories dominate the documentary, they also included the costs of healthy foods opposed to unhealthy ones. Healthy food is also difficult to come by because a grocery store with healthy food may be so far away from your home that you end up using up too much gas getting there. The directors even went into detail about how school cafeterias are on such a tight budget they can’t serve healthy food options and showed how one lady works at serving healthy food to kids. This documentary was really incredible across the board to the extent where the method of delivery was not at all preachy.

The government is not even considering hunger as an issue in this country. President Obama is taking steps to eradicate this issue, along with actor and advocate Jeff Bridges. In terms of myth, the dominant society is leaving “everyone else” behind. The gap between the rich and poor has grown tremendously and the working class is suffering. A mother was interviewed who is struggling with a son with asthma. She has to pay for his medicine while keeping food on the table. Having a job does not guarantee safety and the directors show the reality of this.

What makes this documentary so independent is that the disadvantaged are given a voice. This documentary is a space where men and women can tell the audience that this is how life is for us and that something needs to come of it. Western culture usually deems those who cannot afford food as lazy. Lazy? There are people working so hard but nothing is coming out of it. A police officer is even relying on a shelter for a warm meal. There is nothing lazy about any of this. These are working men and women who are essentially the outcasts of society.

In order to increase awareness, the directors offered up their documentary to be shown in local towns. A handout was given out on ways to take action such as sending President Obama an email to continue supporting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and statistics of food hardship in Utah. Some audience members were concerned with Washington not listening to our concerns so the directors suggested starting local.

The most powerful scene for me was when they showed a teacher who delivers food to her students’ houses. She admits to growing up without having food to eat and does not want others to experience the same thing. She is not rich, but buys what she can afford, even if that means all she gives are cookies and chips. Even though they aren’t the healthiest snacks, she says they are better than nothing. This scene touched me because of how selfless she is. She is on a tight budget and to buy food and share it with her students is really a true teacher. The most powerful image for me was of the young girl who admits to being hungry all the time. She is one of the students receiving food from her teacher. She really moved me because there was a time she did poorly in school because she was so hungry.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

GOATS and TEDDY BEAR ~ 2 Reviews by Elizabeth Pickens


Director: Christopher Neil Screenwriter:Mark Jude Poirier

GOATS tells a story of a 15 year old boy named Ellis, who lives with his self-absorbed New Age mother and has an estranged father. Without much guidance he turns to an unconventional guardian, a goat-trekker who smokes too much marijuana and disobeys the law, named Goat Man. Ellis lives an easy life, yet it comes to us pretty quickly that he is much smarter and more independent than the adults in his life. Which is why his decision to get away from his home and travel to the East Coast to attend an all boys Prep School is important. It is Ellis’s chance to find change and himself while also seeking what he wants most, which is love and a genuine caring family. Though often stoned, the comedic nature of the film turns to serious whenever Ellis learns more about his new friendships and his father and his new wife. He observes that the lack of responsibility in adults can be a common thing, especially in wealthier families, and that trust is not given but earned. GOATS gives an expansive view of family, and the film tries to depict what a true family is. A true family can never be perfect, as Ellis finds out, especially when he figures out his mother often tricked his father into not coming to visit him, while his father never tried hard enough to come anyway. The journey that Ellis goes on helps build him as a person and shows him that even an oddball family is better than no family, and that embracing what he has and accepting his life, and who he is, is all anyone can do to survive in the world. The film holds strong mythic qualities of an independent film, by using an unconventional guardian such as Goat Man. He does everything that is against the typical American mythic system, specifically by smoking marijuana and somewhat getting Ellis, a minor addicted to it as well. But what makes this film great is that it challenges these ideals in a comedic and wry fashion, giving a very independent feel to it. The film also challenges the American mythic values of parenthood, as Ellis’s mother is nowhere near a mother figure, while Ellis’s father has started his own family and subsequently, in Ellis’s view, left him behind. I would rate this film an 8 on the mainstream to independent scale, given the facts listed above and the fact that any film that relies on a goat trekker as a boy’s sole guardian and closest friend, definitely deserves a double take.

Teddy Bear

Director & Screenwriter: Mads Matthiesen

Teddy Bear opens with its main character Dennis, a colossal looking body builder, unable to make small talk with his date. This is just one of many failed dates that Dennis has gone on, as he remains a very gentle and romantic man at heart, but also a very quiet man who struggles with social awkwardness. Despite his large build and physical strength, he is nothing near stereotypical. Mythically, Americans believed larger men to be stronger, both physically and mentally, and capable of attracting more women because of it. Bigger, faster and stronger men are the ideal in society, yet Dennis proves that being that way does not make you better nor does it make you appealing. He is fairly submissive to his birdlike mother, who has a strong hold on him and often controls and contradicts his life. It therefore remains in a metaphorical sense, a flip in characteristics, as the physically weaker mother is more powerful than the giant and gentle son. The mother parades around as a woman in charge, yet her willingness to do so is what is leading Dennis to lie about the things he does and is ultimately ruining his life. One sequence that demonstrates how the mother, the supposed caregiver and nurturer, does ruin things begins when Dennis brings his girlfriend from Thailand to Denmark and lies to his mother about who the girl really is. However, the mother is quite aware of the lie. Later, when Dennis returns home, he finds his room has been viciously torn apart, things that he cares about broken. His silence and the singe tear that rolls down his cheek sets the stage for Dennis’ final rebellion as his mother’s vicious temperament finally sinks in. When Dennis goes to Thailand, he starts his quiet revolution and it becomes rather heartwarming and transfixes us, as he pushes past his fears and finds integrity and himself there. Because of all this, as well as the fact that Dennis is finally able to stand up to his mother and prove that he is the new type of powerful man in the world, able to be romantic and gentle, but also tough and can take control of his own life, I would rate this film as a 9 on the scale of mainstream to independent. Dennis is starving for some type of romantic attention, but he has no guidance as to how to go about seeking it. It is when he musters up the courage to travel to Thailand that he is able to embark on a personal journey of self-discovery. This journey of self-discovery about a large body builder is exceptionally independent and precious. It remains a story solely about integrity and the strength of kindness and gentleness over power, cockiness and violence; and it is about what it means to be true to oneself.