July 12, 2012. Indi-rama. Films Reviewed: Neil Young Journeys, Union Square, Fat Kid Rules the World, V/H/S

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Spiderman, the Dark Knight, Avengers: there’s no shortage of superheroes right now – accompanied by super budgets and mega advertising campaigns. With the happy meal toys and non-stop TV ads, they’re getting way more publicity and reviews than they need. But what about the local heroes, the ones who make great films on a shoestring and whose movies end up showing on a single screen in one theatre? Don’t they deserve to be talked about, too? So this week I’m only reviewing indie productions that deserve to be seen – no big budgets or big studios. I’m talking about two dramas: one about a boy whose life might be saved by punk rock; another about a woman whose life might be ruined by a surprise visit; a concert film about a musician who goes back to his Toronto roots; and a horror movie made from handmade video tapes.

Neil Young Journeys

Dir: Jonathan Demme

I have to admit, one of my earliest memories of Neil Young was being woken up as a kid on a Saturday morning by someone playing Heart of Gold at full blast. I declared war on him for ruining my sleep. I despised his repetitive, simplistic lyrics, his plodding music, his high-pitched whiny voice. Hated him. Then, years later, something shifted in my brain… and I learned to love Neil Young.

If you’ve somehow never heard of the legendary Canadian you might go through the same process in viewing this movie. Neil Young’s Journey is a solo concert film of Neil Young at Massey Hall in downtown Toronto. He accompanies himself on guitar, piano, even an amazing rendition of After the Gold Rush on a pipe organ. The film alternates the music with a travelogue of a visit to his childhood home in Omemee, Ontario and the long drive into Toronto with his brother. The slow trip matches the relaxed pace of the film. Occasionally, Jonathan Demme gets carried away — with things like a baffling, five-minute extreme close-up of Neil Young’s grizzled lower lip and chin — but, on the whole, it’s a beautiful skillful, committed, and often moving record of a concert back in Toronto. He plays a selection of his hits from the 70’s and 80’s — like Ohio, Cinnamon Girl, and Out of the Blue – and newer songs from a recent album Le Noise. While visually it’s very plain, musically it’s sophisticated and satisfying. Just close your eyes, relax and enjoy it.

Union Square

Dir: Nancy Savoca

Jen (Tammy Blanchard), is a neat, pretty, quiet, and tidy anal professional, originally from Maine, living with he boyfriend in downtown Manhattan. She doesn’t drink or smoke, is a vegetarian, a yoga enthusiast, and runs a health food company out of her apartment. Her boyfriend and fiancé, Bill (Mike Doyle), is a generic-looking Stanford grad and runner who calls Jen “twig”. They’re happy. There lives are absolutely perfect.

But into this rarefied existence plops Lucy (Mira Sorvino), a loud-mouthed, gaudily dressed woman with a strong accent, who seems to know Jen for some reason. But it’s soon revealed that she’s her sister. She talks at twice Jen’s volume, interrupts her, laughs, shrieks, cries, and breaks hundred of house rules (no shoes, no pets, no cigarettes, no meat) even in her first few minutes in the apartment off Union Square. She’s a working-class, Italian-American from the Bronx! And that means Jen is, too. And guess who’s coming to dinner — Rob’s parents… even as Lucy camps out with her shopping bags on the couch. She has a magician’s bag of tricks, pulling out a depressed old dog named Murray, and a Miami Sound Machine ring tone. And as Lucy spreads herself out, Jen becomes increasingly tense.

Will Jen’s house of cards collapse as Bill discovers her real origins? Can she still “pass” as a suburban educated New England WASP? And will Lucy get a chance to tell Jen the news she brings?

Union Square (which Savoca shot in a friend’s apartment, with a naturalistic hand-held camera) functions like a tight, one-act-play, with revelations, gradual changes in character, and a final cathartic scene about what’s behind the two sisters’ fighting. Mira Sorvino and Tammy Blanchard are terrific as the sisters. Union Square is a short (80 minutes), sweet, tender — and really funny — family drama.

Fat Kid Rules the World

Dir: Mathew Lillard

Troy (Jacob Wysocki) is a depressed, self-loathing, overweight teenager who lives with his rigid disciplinarian single father, an ex-marine, and his obnoxious jock younger brother. He has a crush on a girl who doesn’t know he exists, was abandoned by his best friend when his mom died, and whose only contact is with anonymous game-players he meets online.

So he jumps in front of a bus to end it all… but just before it hits him, out of nowhere comes a homeless, drug-addicted punk drop-out (Matt O’Leary) who saves his life – and then asks for a few bucks for food! Gradually they get to know one another and he tells Troy they can form a punk band together: Marcus on the guitar, Troy on the drums, in exchange for a bed to sleep in or at least some food. Troy finds new status with the irresponsible but popular musician

Will the painfully shy Troy gain the self-confidence he needs to escape his depression? Will he bend his father’s hard heart? And will Marcus ever realizes he has to overcome his pharma-addictions if he ever wants a normal life?

Based on the teen novel, this is a great coming-of-age story by first time director Matthew Lillard (the iconic Generation X actor, who became a symbol of underground youth culture in movies like Scream, Hackers and as Shaggy in Scooby-Doo.) O’Leary and Wysocki have a great raport and dynamic and are great as the two main characters. They really carry the movie through.

V/H/S/

This played at the recent summer series of Toronto After Dark. It’s found-footage horror at its best.

When a bunch of petty hoods are told to break into a home and steal a VHS tape they discover a cache of extremely creepy, violent and occasionally funny homemade snuff films. The movie consists of the burglers replaying those scary videotapes on an old TV set. There’s a travelogue shot in the southwest with an unknown visitor shooting more film at night; a captured skype conversation between two lovers with unusual things appearing in the background; a failed attempt at amateur porn by some guys who pick up two drunk women in a bar (but where the sexual predators might become the prey); a hallowe’en party gone awry; and a strange drive up to a remote cabin in the woods. They’re all different styles, but all really scary, and occasionally gory in the extreme – for true horror lovers. The short films were all complete stories but seemed sort of like six directors’ demos for later linger movies. But this compilation is definitely worth seeing on a scary rainy night – can I say it again? Extremely scary.

Neil Young’s Journey, Union Square, and Fat Kid Rules the World all open this weekend in Toronto, check your local listings, and I hope V/H/S/ will also show up a theatre someday soon. Also worth seeing is the New Zealand indigenous family drama, BOY – it opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this weekend. And the Shinsedai film fest, chock-full of the best of Japanese pop culture is on now.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, with podcasts and complete reviews available on my web site CulturalMining. com.

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