Old Flames. Movies reviewed: Blue Jay, Complete Unknown

Posted in Cultural Mining, Depression, Drama, Movies, Psychology, Romance, US by CulturalMining.com on October 14, 2016

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

Did you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you had stayed with your first true love — that summer love or high school sweetheart? What would you two be doing now? And would it have lasted?

This week I’m looking two indie movies about old flames. There’s a chance meeting in small town California, and a planned encounter in New York City.

14520498_1170812952980711_4802563027156445665_nBlue Jay

Dir: Alexandre Lehmann

Jim is blue. He’s sad because his mother died; that’s why he’s back in his hometown in northern California after many years in LA. He’s back at his childhood home, going through old boxes, deciding what to keep and what to give away. And reconsidering the house itself – he works in home reno.

Amanda (Sarah Paulson) is also back in town, helping out her pregnant sister. She’s beautiful, glamorous and dressed for success with perfect hair and clothes. Jim (Mark Duplass) is a scruffy, bearded guy, dressed for work, not for company. When they bump into each other in a grocery aisle, awkward doesn’t begin to describe their emotions. A second meeting in the parking lot screams karma. They take it over to the Blue Jay Café, to catch up on old times.bluejay_03

Turns out, they once had a serious relationship in high school, full of love and commitment. But when something happened it ended abruptly with no further contact. Jim is now depressed, jobless and single. Amanda is in a much better situation, but, she admits, her life just isn’t fun anymore. So they buy some beer and head on back to his family home, perhaps to recover the past.

Once there, they eat, drink and smoke some weed and sing along to corny tunes. Rummaging through old boxes, they dig up some bluejay_01items of special significance: a cassette tape and a sealed envelope. The tape is a game they used to play, pretending to be an old married couple, with kids, house, car, and job. (“Old” meaning their ages now.) Wouldn’t it be fun to play that game again, twenty years later? Then there’s the letter written by Jim to Amanda but never sent. What does it say? And would things have ended differently if she had read the letter back then?

Blue Jay is an engaging, low-budget look at a lost relationship. Beatifully shot in black and white with just two actors, it explores the “what ifs” of high school love and its consequences. The whole movie is done very simply, with just a few plot ideas and lots of dialogue and emotions. But the results are marvelous. Paulson and Duplass are great as bittersweet Amanda and weepy Jim. It feels like an improvised movie, but one that keeps only the best parts.

tumblr_static_dr6vjgh8d28g088oo0g8c8wcgComplete Unknown

Dir: Joshua Marston

Tom (Michael Shannon) is a committed contrarian who works at a methodical job for an environmental NGO. He’s preparing for a presentation before a committee about cattle. He lives with his wife, Ramina, who designs jewelry.

It’s his birthday, and some of his closest friends are coming for dinner. It’s also when Ramina brings up a life-changing decision.

Alice (Rachel Weisz) is an American scientist who made her fame in Tasmania studying frog calls. She shows up at the party as an impromptu date of Clyde, Tom’s lumpy coworker. At first she’s COMPLETE UNKNOWNthe hit of the party, with her erudite knowledge and socially engaging manner. But soon she lets out that this isn’t her first job. She has also worked as an ER nurse in Africa, a concert pianist, and a magician’s assistant in China (“He sawed me in half!”). She admits she enjoys reinventing herself from scratch every few years with a new name, place and specialty. Is she a genius… or a con artist?

The guests turn on her – she’s clearly a sociopath and a compulsive liar. They shame her out of the bar when they go dancing. But Tom wants to hear 1471969439688more. He follows her onto the street.

You see, he knew her, intimately, when they were both students. And then one day she just disappeared. Until now, Tom thought she was dead or missing. And her showing up that day wasn’t a coincidence;  she wanted to see Tom again,  someone she knew before she started her adventure. She invites him to join her at playing her game, even if only for one night. But is he willing to join her thrilling life of reinvention? And can he embrace sudden change?

Complete Unknown has an interesting story about a strange and exciting woman (well-played by Rachel Weisz). Michael Shannon is intense as Tom, a grumpy and suspiciuous office geek. Aside from flashbacks and few set-up scenes, it all takes place over one night. But we never really make it past the concept of Alice’s various, changing identities.  I enjoyed the film but it didn’t move me. It felt more like a hokusai_c0611TV pilot for Orphan Black than a drama or a love story.

Complete Unknown opens today in Toronto: check your local listings. Blue Jay is now playing on video on demand. Also opening today is Miss Hokusai, an animated adult drama about the floating world of an Ukiyo-e artist in Edo, Japan.

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

June 22, 2012. Square Pegs. Movies Reviewed: Your Sister’s Sister, Kryptonite!, Alps.

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.

Can square pegs fit into heart-shaped holes? This week I’m looking at three movies about odd-balls adjusting their lives to fit into new families and relationships. There’s an indie rom-com from Seattle about a middle-aged slacker caught between two beautiful women; an Italian drama about a bullied 9-year-old who explores 70’s hippie culture; and an experimental Greek film about people trying to temporarily replace the dead.

Your Sister’s Sister
Dir: Lynn Shelton

Jack, (Mark Duplass) is depressed, unemployed, single, and stuck in a bottomless pit of negativity following his brother’s death. So to cheer him up, his friend Iris (Emily Blunt) – who was also his late brother’s ex-girlfriend – offers him the use of her family cabin, off on some island in the Pacific North West.  But when he gets there, he sees an attractive woman inside, coming out of her shower. And after a clumsy confrontation involving a wooden paddle, Hannah, a lesbian who has just broken up with her long-time lover, gets into a drunken confessional with this stranger, Jack. He’s a lumpish, impulsive ne’erdowell; while Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is a strikingly beautiful, but acid-tongued meat-is-murder vegan. Is there a spark there? Uh, oh… Sometimes things that happen in the night are best forgotten in the morning.

Who shows up but the next day but Iris – who it turns out is Hannah’s half-sister! She’s been through a series relationships with swooshy haired, skinny jeaned, rock- and-roll hipster boyfriends… but could she also harbour feelings of her own toward her platonic best friend Jack? All these new complications throw a wrench into their mutual relationships.

Your Sister’s Sister is a really good, extreme-low-key romantic comedy. It’s mainly about the characters, not the plot, with most of the dialogue improvised by the actors themselves. The three of them work very well together and Mark Duplass is everywhere! (He was in another low-budget, Seattle-based comedy, Safety Not Guaranteed, just last week. Anyway, this movie’s worth seeing if you’re looking for a Left-coast romcom.

Kryptonite!
Wri & Dir: Ivan Cotroneo  (I Am Love)

Peppino (Luigi Catani) is a 9-year- old school kid in Naples in the early 70’s. He wears glasses and that’s enough to get picked on by his schoolmates. When he plays soccer, he‘s stuck being the goalpost. So, aside from his father who works in a sewing machine shop, and his loving mother he turns to his eccentric uncle Gennaro (Vincenzo Nemolato) who thinks he’s Superman.

But things start to go wrong. His mom (Valeria Golino) discovers her husband is having an affair. Instead of making a scene, she collapses and becomes bed-written until sent to psychoanalysis. His dad shoos him away so he can spend time with his secret girlfriend. And Genarro is found dead, hit by a car. So, without a functional family, and to keep him out of trouble, he’s lent out to his many uncles and aunts. They’re Neapolitan hippies, given to wearikng eye makeup and dancing to Ziggy Stardust and Nancy Sinatra.

They introduce him to their own new world of bra-burning, acid tripping, folk-dancing, nudity and mass love-ins. And the Superman Genarro periodically returns

from the dead to impart words of superhero wisdom to the bullied and “different” Peppino, as he struggles to understand and appreciate his differences.

Kryptonite! is a really great coming-of-age drama. It has a complex, but easy-to-follow story with a dozen main characters; Visually and aurally it’s a fantastic feast of eye- (and ear-) candy, including sets, costumes, amazing locations and seventies music.

ALPS
Dir: Giorgos Lanthimos

Something’s strange: why is a moustachioed EMT worker asking a dying patient about their favourite movie star, instead of allergies and past illnesses? Well, he’s gathering data for his second job: it’s a private enterprise where he and his colleagues – a nurse at his hospital, a competitive gymnastic dancer and her coach – rent themselves out to take the place of recently dead or injured people. This way their families and friends can ease more gradually into their new lives, and cope with the large gap. The business is called “Alps” (to evoke the steadfastness and immovable nature of the Alps mountains), with each of the four answering to a secret code name based on a famous Swiss peak (Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa…). The bossy paramedic declares himself the highest peak of the Alps.

Their role is ambiguous, lying somewhere among therapist, actor and prostitute.

They memorize pat dialogue, likes and dislikes so they can pretend to be the missing ones. But the four of them have different aims. The gymnast yearns to leave stodgy classical ribbon dancing and move onto modern pop sounds… like Prince. But she’s is kept tethered by a cruel coach who says he’ll break every bone in her body if she deviates from his orders. Meanwhile the paramedic is a petty dictator, a suspicious popinjay who wants to keep the others members in line with his power scheme. But the nurse would rather fall in love — even artificially — and if the process involves sex, all the better. So the two men want more control, while the women want more freedom.

This is the same director who made the great movie Dogtooth and ALPS shares a lot of its style: intentionally stilted dialogue, long pauses, long takes; a story about vainglorious adults behaving like adolescent bullies and their oppressed victims; and an unnervingly dated and outré look to everything. I guess I’ve adjusted to Lanthimos’s style since Dogtooth, as it no longer bowls me over, but it’s still funny and absurd and shocking with an amazingly strange story. The acting and the characters still grab my attention.

Your Sister’s Sister, and ALPS both open tonight in Toronto, check your local listings; and Kryptonite! plays the opening night of the Italian Contemporary Film Festival next week – for details go to icff.ca . Also opening is the excellent but heart-wrenching documentary 5 Broken Cameras, about the Israel/Palestine conflict from the point of view of a Palestinian activist in a small village; the experimental Indian drama Patang (aka Kites), co-starring Seema Biswas; and the Toronto Korean Film Fest, featuring great Korean classics from years past, like The Tale of Two Sisters; Mother; and Old Boy. Go to TKFF.ca for details.

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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