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Rock the Paint (2005)
Admirable effort; borderline execution
Rock the Paint is a film with fine and noble intentions. A modern-day examination of lingering racial tensions at the high school level, the story focuses on several basketball players in Newark.
Douglas Smith is convincing and effective in the lead role. He's a great emerging talent. Unfortunately, the cast around him is average at best with many overplaying their roles to almost cringe-inducing effect. The drama is pushed a little hard in points and the basketball scenes are completely not convincing at portraying basketball at the characterized level. The film has a definite "independent" feel to it. I love independent film, so that's not a big problem for me, but others will probably criticize the production values. The soundtrack induces a headache in about 3 minutes and keeps pounding away throughout the film; I'd go so far as to call it obnoxious.
The big sore spot here is the actor playing the "little brother" character. He's painful to watch. It's like junior high drama theatre. Every scene that he's in robs the movie of any sense of realism.
Still, the film is watchable and one can only criticize it so much given its underlying message and sufficiently competent script. The theme is a good one and Douglas Smith is a pleasure to watch.
Autism: The Musical (2007)
A very special film
"Autism: the Musical" wasn't necessarily something groundbreakingly new, nor was it the most complete view of autism (which can be and usually is a great deal worse than what you see in the film), but it was a truly inspired and beautiful vision of hope and understanding.
The children in the film are wonderful and evoke real cinematic connection. The adults cover the whole range of what people can be, from good to bad.
If this film doesn't deeply touch and affect you, then there is something quite wrong. It's a valuable and important film for everyone to see and I applaud its production. In the world of documentaries, this one is significant and deserves to be viewed.
Blue Citrus Hearts (2003)
Tries so hard at all the wrong things.
Blue Citrus Hearts was one of those films you buy out of curiosity because Amazon associates it with a lot of the films that you like and enjoy. I'm a huge indie fan and this sounded sweet and had some positive critical review behind it, so I took the chance. I can't say that I'm upset that I saw it, but honestly it hasn't really changed me in any way as good cinema ought to.
First, the good: Paul Foster as Julien is wonderful. He's charming, interesting, beautiful, and lights up every scene that he's in. I would be very excited to see him in something that displayed his talents better. Lee Ann Roberts as Sam's mother and Helen Bowman as Sam's grandmother were both very good and made the most of their few moments on the screen. I have nothing against the "two boys fall in love and it's tough" script; it's pretty much what one expects from a low-budget indie. It's a very rough effort that tries hard but the writer clearly needs more life experience to really grab hold of an issue and do something revelatory with it.
And then, the bad: The camera-work is pretty much unforgivable. I completely understand that it's a budgetless indie, but the cinematography in BCH is a step below what you see people doing with their cell phones and posting on YouTube these days. The shaking, the awkward angles, and the crappy lighting all made the film very difficult to watch. If there's something worse than what they did with the camera, then it's the audio mix. The ambient sound made parts of the film un-hearable and some elements were so loud that you just wanted to press 'stop.' I have probably never encountered a movie ever that I so wanted to stop watching on account of the audio. The soundtrack was horrific; it sounded like they went down to skid row and had all the drugged-out buskers sing into a microphone whatever they could make up at that moment and decided to call that the movie's musical score. Alex Booth as Arielle and Suzie Cyanide as the local tranny were grating and terrible. Cyanide in particular spent chunks of his time staring right at the camera as if reading his few lines off a cue card - it was very uncomfortable to watch.
But the real problem here is a complete lack of direction. Several times through the film, the actors are just kind of sitting there looking at people behind the 4th wall spitting out dialogue that they seem to be improvising as they go. They don't understand what's supposed to be happening at that moment in time, they're not telling us any part of a story, and that is entirely the fault of the Director. If someone had effectively been able to get the actors to understand what they were supposed to be doing and feeling throughout the script, this movie would have been much improved.
I don't know what to say about the star, Joshua Peter Laurenzi. He's not a good actor, but he's not unwatchable. Again, it seems the Director just told him, "hey, you're full of angst and unhappy" and then started filming him as he did whatever he wanted to do.
All the badness aside though, there's something endearing about watching such rawness. We were all teenagers and a lot of the issues are familiar. The film just tries way to hard to be the most indie indie-film ever when it would have done much better to actually create something less painful to look at with some sense that the characters themselves believed that they were not just actors. If this were made by junior high school students (and make no mistake, it looks as though it was), then I'd say "good job, kids." As an effort by adults; however, it just didn't win me over despite the charming Paul Foster and some not-terrible motivating ideas. If it's showing on cable some time, see it. For heaven's sake, don't spend money on it though.
Highlander: The Source (2007)
There really isn't too much to add to the other reviews; this movie is dreadful. The special effects are worse than anything I've seen since the 70s. The audio/sound-fx are horrific. The acting is uninspired. There is no story and what they've attempted doesn't fit in with any part of the Highlander-universe.
The best part of of the series was, of course, the sword fights. Rather than choreograph a fight here, they've elected to take a picture of the characters and jiggle it at high speed around the set. Seriously, I could make a better fight scene with my great-grandmother and a tortoise.
Do not under any circumstances consider watching or buying this horrific piece of nonsense.
Good concept with poor execution
I wasn't too sure what was in store for me with this Mexican gay indie flick. After watching it, I'm still struggling for a final opinion.
THE GOOD: Limbo is certainly original and you've probably not seen much like it. The underlying premise of hanging around somewhere between life and death as a basis for a coming-of-age character study actually works rather well. The main character, Isao, is sweet and charming enough to like and his wide-eyed curiosity about himself and the world around him is fun and gives the movie a spirit. The script is respectable and brings together many varied elements of the story in a compact and flowing manner. Watching Limbo, I was intrigued at what was going on and wanted to know what happens next - rare for gay indie cinema which is typically very formulaic.
THE BAD: Unfortunately, quite a bit of the technical stuff. The sound production is absolutely horrid in terms of effects, music, audio-ambiance, and dubbing (just watch the scene with the gym teacher approaching the showers... the audio makes the script's attempt at drama laughable). I often wondered when some of the "dramatic build-up" music was playing just who could have possibly thought that such cheap and awkward sounds were okay. The cinematography is pretty bad - brace yourself for a lot of short clips super-fast-flashed across the screen as a much-overused device. It appears as though it's shot on video tape and is not brilliant footage. The acting leaves much to be desired in just about every case (with the exceptions of the nurse and the lawyer who are not bad and Isao who varies from barely passable to okay) and in a couple of spots is positively horrible (the aforementioned gym teacher and the blind man). The result is that it just feels like a very juvenile production. I know that that is the case for most low-budget indies, but in Limbo it really seems to draw away from the surprisingly interesting story. One of my big problems is actually a casting one: the actor playing the 10-year-old, sexually confused boy is actually a girl named Fatima Diaz. For a film that preaches about it being okay to be a queer-acting boy, this casting choice undermines the message by saying that it's not even okay to cast a boy to play a queer-acting boy.
THE VERDICT: While it was pieced together and soundtracked a bit like a Junior High School project, Limbo steps out of the box and offers up something fresh. Fatima Diaz is very watchable and charming. The story actually grabs your attention and makes you pay attention which is a wonderful thing in this genre. The production qualities are very cheap, the acting isn't great, and the casting is... puzzling. So you end up with an idea vs. execution kind of film. If you can manage the problems, then the underlying story is very intriguing. If you're like me, then at the end of it all, you'll be going back and forth over which side wins out. It's probably an okay purchase for the gay cinema buff.
A Plumm Summer (2007)
Like Sunday dinner family hour
A Plumm Summer is a sweet little indie film pulled off perfectly. There are some big names in the supporting cast who are all note-perfect, most notably Peter Scolari and Henry Winkler. Billy Baldwin also puts in a very good turn for the first time in quite a while. Newcomers Chris Massoglia and Owen Pearce couldn't be any cuter and more adorable as the brothers/stars of the film. Massoglia (credited as "Chris J. Kelly") is particularly outstanding considering it's his first jump from TV to film - you really like him and feel for his character. To me, A Plumm Summer hearkens back to 6:00 on Sunday when the family would gather around the TV with dinners in hand to watch the Wonderful World of Disney's weekly fare. This is like that... but better quality than most of what Walt served up. There's some real heart to this effort thanks to genuine drama that hits a message without becoming overwrought with itself. The mystery element to the story is none too deep or complex, but it doesn't need to be; it's just the vehicle that introduces some very likable characters and lets us get to know them. There's a laugh or two along the way and everything is generally light-hearted and fun. It's a good family film that entertains as well as confronts a serious note or two along the way. It won't change the landscape of movie-making, but it's awfully nice to see that somebody will still make a sweet, innocent film like this. Kudos to the folks responsible for doing that. A very endearing, charming, family film worth anyone's time.
Son of Rambow (2007)
Very cute little piece of offbeatness
I had no idea what to expect when I started watching "Son of Rambow," but am happy to say that I got much more than I expected. A touching little coming-of-age story about friendship and loyalty that makes you chuckle along the way and root for that awkward little kid in all of us.
The Good: Adorable lead cast - particularly Will Poulter does a fantastically mature job creating a sympathetic character with true feelings and realism. The film has a light, wonderful, and adventurous spirit like The Goonies with a deeper sense of friendships and relationships like The Outsiders. It's all wrapped up in a thick layer of 80's nostalgia that works pretty well. There are some very cute moments that cause you to giggle and they're played out with subtlety and charm. The camera-work and audio are first-rate, the sets are spot-on, and the use of animation to portray the child's imagination is done well. The skillful way that such a charming little tale is all based on Rambo shows the cleverness and thought behind it.
The Bad: Jessica Hynes as the mother just never worked. The script hinted at inner turmoil and struggle, but the actress played it entirely one-dimensionally. She nullified the effectiveness of most of her scenes. There was a brief couple minutes involving a teacher shoving a pair of scissors up his nose that did not work at all and shouldn't have made it past the editing room. Like most films set in the 70s or 80s, nobody really looks like anybody looked in the 70s or 80s.
The Verdict: It would be very hard to not enjoy this film. I think anyone from 12-70 years of age would enjoy watching it with the widest appeal to those of us who were kids in the early 80s. If you're looking for a light, funny, coming-of-age drama, you can't go wrong with Son of Rambow.
Paranoid Park (2007)
A charming look at a grim situation.
Paranoid Park is an unpredictable, fresh film from Gus Van Sant that tells the story of introspective-teen Alex's struggles with life as he gets involved with the killing of a train station security guard. The whole film hitches on the performance of its star, Gabe Nevins; fortunately, Nevins is in just about every scene of the movie. Nevins is an absolute newcomer to movie-acting, but he works perfectly here. Every scene that he's in, the viewer is completely captured in his quiet, emotional turmoil. Nevins' big, beautiful, sulky eyes tell a story all their own. He's wonderful.
Unfortunately, the other young actors are not so comfortable or capable in front of the camera. They are genuine enough though for it to be forgiven though. The real problem here is Van Sant, who's cinematography is trying far too hard to "look" independent. The goofy camera angles and Van Sant's trademark moving-angle/moving-actor camera-work seem un-natural and distract from developing the characters more (which is where more focus was needed). The story jumps forwards and backwards in time so much that sometimes you don't know when you are, but once you've figured the chronology out, that's not a big complaint for me.
Overall, the film is a success. It's a reasonable enough story with interesting characters that's well-held-together by an amazing and fresh young performance by Gabe Nevins (just watching him is reason enough to see this movie). As a bonus, the material he's acting out is unique and interesting. A solid thumbs-up purchase for me. Hopefully we see more of this young actor in the future.
Citizen Duane (2006)
An outstanding jewel
Citizen Duane is one of those films you have never heard of. If you ever happened to stumble across it, the cover would lead you think that it was some manner of strange kids' fare that wouldn't appeal to anyone over 12. However, the truth is that this is a brilliant piece of cinema that strikes every chord it goes for perfectly.
Douglas Smith and Devon Bostick as the dysfunctional brother team are outstanding. Alberta Watson is believable, sweet, funny, strong, and real every moment she's on screen. Donal Logue is great. This is one of the strongest casts you'll find assembled anywhere. Douglas Smith in particular is a breakout here. He's like a very real, quirky, and strange Fred Savage if Wonder Years were written with a slightly psychotic flair. He conveys a world of emotion with his face and is utterly charming.
The plot is clever even if not the deepest material around. It's a tad predictable, but well-paced which prevents it from being tired. There are a number of extremely good laughs pulled off perfectly by Smith. The ending is sweet and touching. I recommend this movie to anybody that loves a good, funny, underdog film with likable characters. You won't be disappointed by this unheard-of gem!
A Shine of Rainbows (2009)
Beautiful and touching.
A shy, stuttering 8-year-old boy moves from the orphanage he's lived in since the death of his grandmother to an Irish island with his adoptive, free-spirited woman and her cold, silent husband. The story that unfolds is about both the boy and the husband coming out of their shells and learning to express and value what's important in their lives.
THE GOOD: The performances of every single actor in the film stand out. Particularly the child actors do an extraordinary job. The emotional fabric of the film is wonderful. You have to be touched if you have any emotions at all! The cinematography is jaw-dropping-gorgeous, owing mostly to the beautiful Irish setting.
THE BAD: There's no way around the simplicity of the script; you know everything that's going to happen long, long before it actually happens. In most films, this would be crippling; however, here it doesn't really matter because the story's about the characters, not the plot.
THE VERDICT: Heart-warming, beautiful, emotional, and family-friendly. You should most certainly watch this.
Battle for Skyark (2015)
So bad that it couldn't actually be worse.
How do films like this get made? I'm sure that I'll never know. But somebody spent a fair amount of cash producing this nonsense.
The good: It's short? The bad: Everything else. There is no discernible plot of any kind. The characters actions make absolutely no sense. There's no exposition, no climax, no goal to achieve, and it ends as a cliffhanger. The acting is unforgivable. No part of the story makes the slightest attempt to follow a thread of logic. Kids are beating up/killing adults at every preposterous turn. The fortified camp of survivors on the planet's surface is essentially a ring of shopping carts pushed together with some cardboard for extra reinforcement. The dialogue is embarrassing for any genre regardless of expected audience. The special effects don't even make sense (is the "skyark" a few hundred feet above the ground hovering or in orbit? You'll never know; you'll never care). As a distraction for sitting through this dreck, I tried to think of a worse film that I've ever watched; all I could come up with was "Ski Patrol" ... maybe, but Ski Patrol at least had a dog that could fart on command which exceeds any of the talents in Battle for SkyArk.
The verdict: This is not worth your time, money, or effort to make sense of. It's simply one of the worst movies that has ever been made. It has absolutely no redeeming virtues. Nothing that could have been done to this film could possibly have made it worse - it is the low marker for judging movies. Imagine the worst anime that you've ever sat through being turned into a live-action film by a group of 5 junior high school students with a handicam... that is better than this by a factor of 100. Run away!
Azul y no tan rosa (2012)
A beautiful film from Venezuela. The title actually translates as "Blue and Not So Pink," but has been dumbed down to "My Straight Son." The movie is an exploration of things we wish were different and how we deal with them - be they the tragedies of life, first love, gender identity, physical appearance, bad relationships, or self-confidence. Every character offers a different element that they struggle with and their own unique solution. The film wraps it up in wonderful, believable relationships and intelligent dialogue. The plot takes you a bit all over the place, but the story never looses your attention. The actors are all uniformly brilliant and the emotion is genuine. Courageous and heartwarming, this is meaningful work and well worth anyone's time. One of my favourites.
Patrik 1,5 (2008)
Beautiful, charming, and sweet.
Often when you watch a "gay" movie, you have to allow for some bad acting, predictable story, and tired stereotypes. This film has none of those problems and in fact, is tough to really label as a "gay" film as that's just a small factor in the plot. It's a film about relationships - how they begin, how they end, how they end up when all is said and done, and how we manage going from one phase to another despite our intentions or beliefs. The performances are wonderful, the story is well-written, and the emotional pay-off is genuine. There's no dramatic moment waiting to shock you, just a quiet, well-told tale of 3 people who each have their own demons to fight that happen to be connected to one another by choice or chance.
Charming, warm, gentle, kind. There is nothing bad here. I love it not only as one of the best "arthouse" films I've watched, but as one of the best dramas I've seen.
Peter Pan (2003)
Peter Pan, one of the most enduring stories of all time, finds its ideas and visions captured perfectly in this film adaptation.
THE GOOD: Just about everything. The script is true to its literary roots, the casting is absolutely perfect, the visuals are wonderful, the score is beautiful, and the special effects are classy and elegant. Special applause for ending the creepy tradition of having women in the lead role. Rather than confusing the crap out of us with Cathy Rigby or Mary Martin, Jeremy Sumpter as the lead *is* Peter Pan. He is convincing, entertaining, and fully believable. The use of colour to convey moods is both beautiful and effective. The climax gives you chills. It is wondrous how much excitement and joy has been squeezed into this gem. The audio is haunting and perfect.
THE BAD: There is nothing bad about Peter Pan. It could not have been done any better. This is the definitive version for all time.
THE VERDICT: The is a great looking and sounding film. The story is wondrous and exciting. The actors are all uniformly perfect for the roles. Jeremy Sumpter in particular is a revelation. I really believe that this version of Pan is one of the great cinematic achievements of film. Everyone should watch this - it's pure enjoyment that represents everything that the cinema should be. I have also found it to be one of the most re-watchable movies ever; it can give you butterflies in your stomach just as much on the tenth viewing as the first. One of the most solid 5 stars out of 5 that I can name.