Making sense of things. Films reviewed: Little Men, Indignation PLUS Lo and Behold

Posted in 1950s, Brooklyn, College, Coming of Age, documentary, Drama, Kids, Romance, War by CulturalMining.com on August 5, 2016

Lo and BeholdHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

In Lo and Behold, Werner Herzog’s excellent new documentary about the internet, a scientist explains the first internet connection between two computers. The message was supposed to be “log on” to start the transmission, but it was cut off after the first two letters, LO. As in the biblical Lo and Behold. The mysteries of life.

This week I’m talking about two dramas, about young men trying to make sense of life’s mysteries. There’s two friends in Brooklyn trying to understand their parents; and a young man in Ohio trying to understand the meaning of life.

12513502_761314487302803_7976637993320204498_oLittle Men

Dir: Ira Sachs

Jake and Tony are best friends. They met on the day Jake moved with his parents from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and immediately hit it off. Jake (Theo Taplitz) is a sensitive quiet boy who is bullied at school. Jake expresses himself through the art and comics he draws. Tony (Michael Barbieri) is his exact opposite. Outspoken, Brooklyn born and bred. He’s good at sports and always loyal to his friends. Jake is a shy introvert, while Tony is bursting out all over.

They meet because Tony’s mother, (Paulina Garcia), is a dressmaker with 13331003_828730807227837_8992169820379428690_na small boutique. It’s on the ground floor of the apartment Jake’s family is moving into. They inherited it when Jake’s grandfather died, and Brian – Jake’s dad — (Greg Kinnear) inherited it.

Finally, Jake has a friend, someone to hang with. Tony shows him around the hood, lets him meet his buddies, they even take an acting class together. Tony excels there – he’s a natural. The two boys even have a plan: that they both get accepted to the NY High School of Performing Arts. Tony would pursue his acting, of course, and Jake could do his drawing.

So we’ve got two 12-year-old kids, best friends, everything’s going great, until… the grown- ups ruin everything. Jake’s grandpa was a kindly old man, who took a Chilean refuge (Tony’s mom) 12485861_761657650601820_3424484959118845572_ounder his wing and kept her rent low. But Brian, Jake’s dad, has no such attachment or obligations to their tenant. They just want to make money. So the disagreement becomes a spat, which becomes a feud, which becomes a lawsuit. It’s spiraling out of control, and the parents aren’t letting their sons – who have nothing to do with it — see each other anymore. Jake and Tonty decide to fight back. But can they change their parents’ minds?

Little Men is not a remake of the Parent Trap; it’s not a kids’ movie at all.  It feels more like an adult’s  bittersweet memories of childhood. That said, it’s a great coming of age drama about two best friends torn apart by a family disagreement. The parents are well played, but it’s the acting of the kids that really shines, especially newcomer Michael Barbieri as Tony.

150619_IND_College_Webhall_00360.CR2Indignation

Dir: James Schamus (Based on the novel by Phillip Roth)

It’s 1951, in Newark, N.J. Marcus (Logan Lerman) works in his father’s butcher shop plucking chickens. He’s in High School, captain of the baseball team, with straight A’s. Which is very important. Because America is at war in Korea, and all his friends are being drafted, sent to fight, and shipped back home in a coffin. Only Marcus might avoid the war if he gets into university — students are Sarah Gadon stars in INDIGNATIONexempt. Marcus isn’t concerned. But his Dad (Danny Burstein) is sick with worry that his only son will die. He develops a compulsion, and follows him around at night to make sure he’s safe. Marcus’s mom (Linda Emond) meanwhile is going bonkers over her husband’s obsessive behaviour. For Marcus, the only solution is to go somewhere far, far away.

He ends up a scholarship student at a college in small town Winesburg, Ohio. It’s a chance to shed his background, expectations, stereotypes – that of the insular Jewish community of 150625_Hospital_Escargot_00071.CR2Newark, New Jersey — by cultivating his intellect at a free and open mid-western campus. He can stay true to his ideals and beliefs: freedom of thought, freedom of speech, non-conformity, and freedom from religion – he’s an atheist. Unfortunately that’s easier said than done.

He arrives to find he’s placed in a dorm with the only other Jewish kids on campus not in a fraternity.

And the University head, Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts) is a cold-war Sarah Gadon & Logan Lerman star in INDIGNATION - in theaters Augustconservative, a churchgoer and nosy as hell. And seems to take particular interest in Marcus, forcing him – to his great distress — to defend all his personal beliefs and philosphies.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The awesome Olivia Hutton (Toronto actress Sarah Gadon) seems to notice Marcus. Olivia is everything he dreams of – smart, beautiful, and independent with the manners of sophisticated society. Their first date is awkward but it’s what happens next when they park the car that’s important. She gives him a ind_0707_000471468363878blow job… and it blows his mind. This is 1951, and he can’t understand what happened. “Nice” girls aren’t supposed to be sexual. Why did she do what she did? And what does it mean?

Marcus is in love, but everyone else – his roommates, the Dean, his parents, and Olivia’s secret vullnerability – threaten to destroy their relationship. Can Marcus stay true to his beliefs in oppressive, 1950s America?

Indignation is another great drama. It’s moving and fascinating, with an unexpected twist at the end. It’s literary in form – full of long debates and discussions – alternating with intimate scenes of suppressed sexuality.

James Schamus is a first-time director but he’s no newbie. He’s an old hand at scriptwriting and producing movies. He was Taiwanese director Ang Lee’s writer and producer for many years, including movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain to name just a few. He’s treading new waters here, but he does it quite well.

Lo and Behold, Little Men and Indignation open today in Toronto: check your local listings. 

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Love and Other Addictions. Movies Reviewed: Smashed, Keep the Lights On.

Posted in Addiction, Cultural Mining, Drama, drugs, L.A., LGBT, Manhattan, Movies, Queer, Romance by CulturalMining.com on October 19, 2012

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, and I’m back with more movie reviews…

I’m going to briefly talk about two new movies about love and addiction.

Smashed

Dir: James Ponsoldt

Kate and Charlie (Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Aaron Paul: Breaking Bad) are a married couple in LA who love falling asleep drunk and waking up for some sloppy morning sex. He’s a writer with rich parents in the movie industry, while she’s a school teacher from a less privileged background. One day she shows up drunk for her public school class and ends up puking in the trash can. This starts a rumour that she’s pregnant, and she doesn’t want to tell the less dramatic truth. She lies to the weepy Principal (Meghan Mulhally)

Eventually the fit hits the shan and she has to come clean. She loses her job, and succumbs to despair. But when a fellow teacher, Vice-Principal Dave who has a crush on her, brings her to a 12 step group she begins her slow struggle to get rid of her alcoholism. Dependable but jolly sponsors like Jenny (Octavia Spenser) are there to help her recover. Will she make it and can she get her husband to join her in sobriety?

Keep The Lights On

Dir: Ira Sachs

…has a similar theme.

Erik (Thule Lindhardt: Brotherhood) is a Danish filmmaker living in Manhattan in the late 90’s. He likes art and jogging and is prone to making animal sounds when he is surprised. He also enjoys hooking up with other men by telephone for casual sex. He meets the young professional Paul, a lawyer (Zachary Booth), and despite a rocky start, they end up falling for one another. But theirs is a difficult, co-dependant relationship, fraught with trouble. As Erik rises up in the indie film world, the much richer Paul is sliding into an awful chain of crack addiction, isolation, recovery and then back again. Their relationship takes on weird dimensions involving sex and destruction, and despite Erik’s repeated interventions and stints of rehab, Paul keeps going back to drugs. Will they end up together again? Or will Erik go with his friends’ opinions and dump the guy already?

Both of these movies explain the long slog in and out of addictions and how they can be conquered (or not). Smashed is the lighter one, with humour and more engaging characters. But it also has an earnest, lesson-learned, movie-of-the-week feel to it. Leave the Lights On is longer, darker, and harder to take. It’s also given to relentless speeches about what relationships mean and what went wrong, wringing still more lessons out of this endless spiral of trouble with drug addiction. The acting in both movies was good, especially Lindhardt in KTLO and Winstead in Smashed.

Still, I didn’t love either of these movies, possibly because I’m not a fan of the sub-genre: addictions plus relationships. I feel for the suffering people in the relationship, but I don’t want to go to a movie only to end up as the shoulder the filmmaker wants to cry on.

Ira Sach’s Keep the Lights On, (which played at Inside-out) is now playing in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox; Smashed (which played at TIFF) opens next week In Toronto; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com .

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