Category Archives: Independent

Nobody Knows (2004)

Wow! This review is two months overdue. I was burned out by watching crappy movies and having to writer about them. It was exhausting. I am slowly getting back to the swing of things. I read an article about 10 Criminally Overlooked Movies You Should See Now from Anomalous Material at the end of May. There were some movies that I have seen and watch they would watch more. I heard about Nobody Knows when I listened to the Cinebanter podcast about it. Hearing Castor’s recommendation, I wanted to check it out from the library. I’m glad I did.

Yûya Yagira was the youngest actor to win the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of Akira Fukushima. He is the eldest of four siblings when his mother, Keiko (You) has to move to a new apartment. The catch is that she has to pretend that she has one child. So, the two have to smuggle Yuki (Momoko Shimizu) and Shigeru (Hiei Kimura) in suitcases into the apartment and have another sibling, Kyoko (Ayu Kitaura) come in by train.

When the family is all together, Keiko has to explain to the little ones that they cannot leave the apartment or make any noises to expose them. None of the kids go to school, so that would not be a problem. Akira looks after his siblings like the father figure. He buys the groceries for his family so they could eat something.

One day, Keiko leaves a note for Akira saying that she had to leave to work in another town, but has left plenty for the kids to live off for a while. Akira does visit his father, but he has another life that is separate from theirs. He cannot help them. Keiko is gone for a month before she returns before Christmas with presents for everyone. The reunion doesn’t last long when Keiko leaves again with no explanation.

The kids think that their mother is coming back. When the weeks turn into months, they realize that their mother is not coming back to them. They have to survive on their own. Akira is left being the primary caregiver to his little brother and sisters. This is a heavy burden for Akira. When he meets a neighborhood girl named Saki (Hanae Kan), things becomes even more complicated.

I was glad that I saw this movie, because this shows a side of life that is rarely seen or portrayed onscreen. I read that this movie is based on true life events. The depths of despair that these kids have to go through is unbearable. How could a mother be so thoughtless and uncaring over her own children? It makes you question how come people would walk away from their responsibility as a parent? It boggles the mind. I don’t have children. There are plenty of couples out there who want children and not being able to have them and people would have them and they throw them away like trash.

Judgment: This movie made me question would you do in the same situation.

Rating: 8.5/10

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Memento (2001)

Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation, they’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.

— Leonard Shelby

It has been a while since I have seen the film that put Christopher Nolan’s name out front and center, the #29 Film of All-Time on IMDb, Memento. It was nominated for two Oscars, including Best Original Screenplay and  Film Editing. The strange thing is that the story is based on Jonathan Nolan’s short story, Memento Mori. Personally, I don’t like movies that go backwards through the narrative. There is something tragically simple about this movie that make me forget about my past grievances with this way of storytelling.

I don’t know how to approach this review without spoiling the ending, which is in the beginning of the movie. Hmm… Be forewarned. A man who has short-term memory loss, Leonard (Guy Pearce) had just shot a cop named Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) in head. He takes a Polaroid for a little reminder that the person that he thinks raped and murdered his wife (Jorja Fox) and lost him with his memories will be documented.

As you know the narrative is backward to retrace the events that lead to Teddy’s demise. The puzzle is slowly being put together. Leonard has an arm full of Polaroids. All of the clues to find the killer has been either in the Polaroids or have been tattooed on his body as a reminder of his ultimate goal of revenge.

Was Teddy telling the truth? Because a person named “John G.” was the person that was there that night his life changes. Teddy is not his real name. Leonard realizes this from Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), a woman who Leonard befriends while he is investigating. Is she working for him or against him? He cannot trust anybody unless it was written on the back of the Polaroids.

He tries to remember Sammy Jankis (Stephen Tobolowsky), a former case of his when he was an insurance investigator. He thought that Sammy was faking his condition which it is exactly like his. Everything that Sammy remembers before the accident, he knows. He has trouble building new memories like Leonard. His wife (Harriet Sansom Harris) thinks at she could do something to trigger his memories, but nothing happens.

Leonard has to deal with betrayal, manipulation, murder, drugs, and theft all for the ultimate goal of solving his wife’s murder.

The movie is carefully thought out about what happens next. I thought the flashbacks in black and white broke up the movie in a good way to see how Leonard knows certain things and not others. This is probably the best performance of Guy Pearce’s career. I thought that the ending was different from what I remember. It blows my mind that the movie about memories and not making new ones could make me questions how the ending or beginning was.

But I did have some questions about certain elements of the movies that didn’t make any sense to me. What happened to the drug money? How did Leonard get those items that belonged to his wife? I cannot think of how that happened. I went over the movie again.

Judgment: I know that Nolan is capable of making movies outside of the Batman franchise that could still be good.

Rating: 9/10

Buried (2010)

I’m buried in a box. I’m buried in a box!

— Paul Conroy

Buried was one of my most anticipated movies of 2010. I never got the chance to see in theaters, because it was so hard to find it. When I saw it on the shelf, I had to picked it up. I thought the concept of one man onscreen for a 90 minutes movie sounded interesting to me especially if its Ryan Reynolds. The movie is enjoyable but it’s not 127 Hours.

Iraq, 2006. A CRT contractor, Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) wakes up in complete blackness. Paul realizes that he is bound and gagged. He manage to get himself free. He pulls out a Zippo lighter to shed light on that he is in a wooden crate. He tries to break the crate open, but he realizes that it is buried underground in the middle of the desert.

Paul hears a cell phone vibrating near him. He picks it up, but the script is in Arabic. He misses the call. He dials 911 and tries to explain to the operator (Kali Rocha) about what happened to him. He was taking kitchen supplies to a community in Baqubah when his convoy was ambushed by insurgents. The rest of the contractors were killed and he is the lone survivor. The operator cannot help, because 911 is US service. No use for the Middle East.

Paul frantically calls his family, but they don’t pick up. Then, he tries his wife, Linda’s (Samantha Mathis) cell. Straight to voicemail. He gets the number to the FBI from 411 and explains his dire situation, but he is constantly being transferred to different people. He finally gets in touch with Dan Brenner (Robert Paterson) that works with the program to help people in Paul’s situation.

There is the problem of him being in the box. Paul calls the missed call and it is from his captor, Jabir (José Luis García Pérez) who thinks that Paul is a soldier. Paul thinks that Jabir is a terrorists. They both have misconceptions of each other. His captor wants to see him suffer and holds another fellow CRT member, Pamela Lutti (Ivana Miño) captive. He has two hours to get 5 million dollars or he will be buried alive. With only a cell phone with half of battery power left, a Zippo, a pencil, a faulty flashlight and a pair of glow sticks, he doesn’t have that much time left.

I thought that it was an interesting concept of all the action happening in a confined space like a makeshift coffin. I felt there was something not right about the way the action went. How could Paul be buried underneath the ground and constantly breathing hard, screaming, yelling? The oxygen would have run out fast by halfway through the movie. There was a moment in the movie where I said, “What the fuck?” The movie lost me for a bit.

Judgment: It was a nice experiment that needs a few tweaks.

Rating: 7.5/10

Half Nelson (2006)

Man… I’m sweating like George Bush on Judgment Day.

— Dan Dunne

I haven’t seen Half Nelson in a couple of years. Ryan Gosling received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance. I thought I might revisit the movie to see if the movie is still effective. The answer to that question is no.

A young upstart, Dan Dunne (Gosling) is teaching at an inner city junior high school in New York City. He tries to get his students to think about history and how they should learn from the past to become people in the future. He also coaches the school’s girl basketball team. His life is thrown for a loop with his ex, Rachel (Tina Holmes) comes back to town. She comes to the game, but it was a losing game.

After the game, one of Dan’s students, Drey (Shareeka Epps) comes into the locker rom to find him smoking a crack pipe in one of the stalls. He wants her to kept what she saw a secret. He gives her a ride home when her deadbeat father doesn’t even bother trying to pick her up.

Drey begins to cut Mr. Dunne’s class. Drey’s mother Karen, (Karen Chilton) is concerned for her daughter. So she won’t end up being the wrong crowd that got Drey’s brother in jail. She especially doesn’t want her hanging out with the local drug dealer, Frank (Anthony Mackie) and making her hustle for him.

During time at the teacher’s lounge, Jimbo (Denis O’Hare) express his disgust that a crack pipe was recently found in the locker room. Dan and Drey develop a close relationship that for some people would be perceived as inappropriate.

I think that the movie lost its luster for me. I guess, I couldn’t believe that nobody would have pegged this guy as a crackhead. If he was using regularly, he would look like death. I wouldn’t believe that he and Drey would be close friends. I’m surprised that other teachers or administrators wouldn’t have found out.

I know that the movie won a couple of Spirit Awards for both Ryan and Shareeka. I think the movie felt disingenuous to me. It’s a shame, because I loved this movie a couple of years ago. I don’t know what happened.

Judgment: Ryan Gosling comes into his own in this movie.

Rating: 7/10

Monsieur Ibrahim (2004)

A man’s heart is like a caged bird. When you dance, your heart sings… and then rises to heaven.

— Monsieur Ibrahim

After the utter disappointment of Doctor Zhivago, I wanted to watch one of Omar Sharif’s recent flicks. I picked up Monsieur Ibrahim thinking that it couldn’t get any worse that the three-hour monstrosity that I just saw. I knew that it was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. I was surprised that I enjoyed the movie, very much.

Living in poor neighborhood in Paris, a young Jewish boy named Moses (Pierre Boulanger) is trying to find his way in the world. He thinks that it is chasing the local prostitutes would make him a man when he turned sixteen. He is living with his father (Gilbert Melki) that is very hard on him. The father compares Momo as he is nicknamed to his older brother, like he is not good enough of a child. The mother is noticeably absent in his life.

Momo buys the daily groceries to cook for the two them across the street at the conveience store of Monsieur Ibrahim Deneji (Omar Sharif). Sometimes he does shoplift a couple of items because they have that much money to spend on food. Momo thinks that Monsieur thinks that he is slick about his pilfering, but Monsieur Ibrahim is a wise man who knows everything.

Monsieur Ibrahim and Momo begin to have a close friendship. Momo becomes a surrogate son to him when Momo’s father abandons him and he has to fend for himself. Their lives are forever changed as they grow a common bond with each other. Momo teaches Ibrahim how to be young again and Ibrahim teaches Momo about life and the meaning of it.

This movie is very imitate in its storytelling that I wanted to get to know the characters more. I wanted to have a Ibrahim in my life to teach me the ways of the world and how to go about it.

Judgment: This movie will make have a deep appreciation for the older people in your lives.

Rating: 8/10

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

After hearing of director Sidney Lumet’s passing, I wanted to see more of his movies. I saw Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead on the self and I picked it up. I knew very little about the movie except a couple of key plots points. I don’t know if I don’t get it or the movie was not very good.

Nanette (Rosemary Harris) is opening up Hanson Jewelry Store when a robber comes in pulls out a gun and demands her to put the jewels and cash into a pillow case. The robber orders Nanette to stand at one corner of the store where he is trying to get to the last display, but it’s locked. As he struggles to unlock it, Nanette pulls out a gun and shoots the robber. He retaliates. She shoots him again, killing him.

The getaway driver, Hank (Ethan Hawke) speeds away from the scene. What you need to realize is that Hank was a part of robbing his parents store. He does not do this alone. His older brother, Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the mastermind behind it all.

The movie is a giant jigsaw puzzle that needs to be put together to figure out why the circumstances happened the way that they did.

The genesis behind the plan to get quick money. Andy  is embezzling money from his real estate company. He has problems performing with his wife, Gina (Marisa Tomei) and he has a meeting with his coke dealer, Justin (Blaine Horton) at his apartment.

Hank is the dumb brother to Andy’s genius. Hank is having difficulty paying his rent, behind on child support to his daughter with his ex, Martha (Amy Ryan), because he has to pay for a private school education for his daughter. Hank is also having an affair with Gina under Andy’s nose.

Andy comes up with the idea to rob their parent’s store so it would be a way to get money without anyone getting hurt. They know the safe combinations, the keys to the displays, the code to the alarm system and everything.

But the initial plan begins to change when Andy says that he will not be a part of the robbery and that Hanks has to do it alone. Andy doesn’t want that to happen. He enlists the help of Bobby Lasorda (Brían F. O’Byrne) to pull off the robbery. That’s when the perfect victimless crime goes wrong.

The movie goes forward and backwards, jumping from different perspectives of the main characters. At times, I got really bored. Do I need to see this scene again for one brother’s POV and the other’s POV. It was draining. I could not follow what was happening. I had a lot of questions than answers by the end of the movie. Was Andy gay? What happened to Hank and Gina? How did Andy and his father, Charles (Albert Finney) know the same bookie?

Judgment: It was not a pleasant watch for me.

Rating: 5/10

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

The Kids Are All Right is one the of movies that I regretted not seeing last year. I was kicking myself because I wanted to see the movie from my Julianne Moore blog-a-thon for LAMB Acting School 101. The movie was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, Actress, Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay. After hearing the tremendous buzz around this film, I was a little disappointed with it.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) have been in a committed relationship for over twenty years. Like with every relationship, they have hit a plateau. Nic is the sole breadwinner of the family working as a doctor, while Jules is starting up a landscape architect business.

Recently celebrating their daughter, Joni’s (Mia Wasikowska) 18th birthday, their family dynamic changes when Joni and her half-brother, Laser (Josh) snoop around their moms personal belonging to find the identity of their birth father. The sperm bank calls sperm donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo) to ask him if her would like to see his kids. He agrees.

Paul initial meeting with the kids comes off awkward as Joni is more receptive to getting to know Paul and Laser is more guarded. Laser lets the secret meeting with his birth dad slip when his moms question his relationship with best friend, Clay (Eddie Hassell). Nic and Jules think that the kids should not meet Paul again until they have a chance to meet him.

When the family meets Paul, Nic is weary about him whiles Jules is open to getting to know him. When the conversation turns to Jules business, Paul wants to hire Jules as his landscape architect for his overgrown backyard. The relationships between everyone changes when an indiscretion threatens to tear the family apart.

I think that screenwriters Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg have created a fully realized family that you are not bothered that the family has two moms.  I did feel that some plot points were not explored enough with Laser’s friendship with Clay, Paul’s flirt-flirt with Tanya (Yaya DaCosta) or Joni with her friends, Jai (Kunal Sharma) and Sasha (Zosia Mamet).

A couple of things really bothered me with the movie was the grainy-ness of the film. I don’t know if that was Cholodenko’s intention for that to happen or it was the transfer to DVD. Also, the indiscretion felt familiar, because it was a plot point in Queer As Folk. It was like okay.

Judgment: It feels like an accessible movie that everyone could enjoy.

Rating: 7.5/10

I Can Do Bad All By Myself (2009)

There is a strange back story with Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All by Myself. During a random blackout, my family wanted to intending to see this movie when we were waiting for the electricians to come. They came before we left. It was also the same day when Whitney Houston’s interview with Oprah was coming out and I missed it. I believe it was the universe’s way of telling me to avoid this movie.

If you are not familiar with a Madea movie, I’ll give you a crash course. Tyler Perry dresses up in drag to be the brash, pistol-packing grandma and he also plays her cantankerous brother, Joe. You’re caught up.

In the middle of the night, Madea wakes up to find somebody breaking into her home. She sees that it is three kids trying to take Joe’s first generation VCR. Upon getting caught, they drop the VCR and breaks it. Madea’s first instinct was not to brandish her gun, but to offer the kids something to eat.

Sixteen year old, Jennifer (Hop Olaide Wilson) is the girl with the smart mouth that rolls her eyes at everyone. She has to take care of her diabetic/asthmatic brother, Manny (Kwesi Boakye) and her mentally challenged brother, Byron (Fredrick Siglar) when their grandmother has gone missing for the past four days.

Their only family left is their alcoholic lounge singer aunt April (Taraji P. Henson) who is having an affair with a married man, Randy (Brian White), who doesn’t like kids even though he has four going on five on his own.

When Madea takes the kids over to her house, they figure out a way for the kids to pay for the broken window and VCR by doing chores at Madea’s house. April doesn’t want to take the kids in, because she doesn’t want the responsibility and her house is in shambles when her father left it to her.

She might have a leg up when a Colombian handyman, Sandino Ramirez (Adam Rodriguez) shows up at the doorstep to find a place to stay while fixing up the place. He was sent by Pastor Brian of  the Zion Liberty Baptist Church from down the street and Miss Wilma (Gladys Knight).

This hodgepodge of a household has to work together to get through one of the darkest moments of their lives.

Tyler Perry’s movies have always been criticized for being racist. I don’t think that they are racist. I think that they are terribly predictable. He always has the same type of character in different configurations. There is the heartless bastard (Randy), the scorned woman (April), the nice guy (Sandino), the smart-ass kid(s) (Jennifer) with the loud Madea bringing up the rear.

His movies always have that “Shug Avery” moment, that moment where the lead character figures out the wrongs in their life and be open to change. They try to sell you that church is the panacea. Go to church, all your problems will be solved. You will get the good man, house, kids and life. I don’t believe that.

I was very bored with this movie. I kept looking at the time. When is this movie going to be over? The only things good about this movie were seeing Gladys sing and a brief shot of Brian White’s ass. There were a couple of chuckles in it. That’s it.

Judgment: I’m done talking about this movie.

Rating: 4/10


Eve’s Bayou (1997)

Memory is a selection of images, some elusive, others printed indelibly on the brain. The summer I killed my father, I was 10 years old.

— Eve

It has been a decade since I have seen Kasi Lemmons’ Eve’s Bayou. I remember that it was sitting in my grandmother’s VHS shelf for years gathering dust for all I know. I saw a copy of the movie that my library and picked. I remember certain parts of the movie, but it’s good to have a refresher.

1962 Louisana is where we have the story of the Batiste family. Eve (Jurnee Smollett) named after an ancestor that saved her master from dying, is being treated unfairly by the family. Being the middle child, she is left out in the cold.

During a house party one night, Eve caught her father, Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) being intimate with a woman, Metty Mereaux (Lisa Nicole Carson) in the carriage house where she was hiding. Traumatized about what she saw, Louis tries to keep his secret quiet from his wife, Roz (Lynn Whitfield).

She tries to tell her older sister, Cisely (Meagan Good) about what she saw, but Cisely chooses not to believe her. She thinks that she is lying. Cisely spins the story to say that they were drunk and falling on each other.

Eve begins to have terrible nightmares or maybe they are premonitions of what things are to come. She hangs around her Aunt Mozelle (Debbi Morgan) who is the psychic around the bayou and possibly practices voodoo.

Roz knows deep down in her soul that Louis is being unfaithful to her. She regrets leaving her family for a snake in the grass. Walking down by the bayou, Roz and Mozelle stumbles upon Elzora (Diahann Carroll), a rival psychic of Mozelle’s. Curious Roz decides to have a reading that warns her of impending doom in her family. Unimpressed by Elzora, Mozelle asks for a reading. Elzora tells her that she is a “black widow” cursed with having the loves of her life dies in front of her very eyes.

Slowly but surely, the secrets that were long-buried deep come up in unexpected ways. The family lives turn upside down.

It is refreshing to see a black movie that has complex characters. They are fully realized. I especially enjoyed watching Debbi Morgan’s performance. She won nominated for a couple of awards for her performance and won the Indie Spirit Award. It was well deserved.

Judgment: A movie that has heart, but tends to veer into the melodramatic at times.

Rating: 7.5/10

Junebug (2005)

I wonder what she looks like. I bet she’s skinny. She probably is. She’s skinnier’n me and prettier too. Now I’ll hate her. Oh, I can’t wait!

— Ashley

I have had a passing interest in seeing Junebug since it garnered Amy Adams an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 2005 and catapulted her to A-list status. My favorite movie podcast, Cinebanter sung its praises. I thought that I might have to check to check it out at the library. I  have to say that I wasn’t disappointed.

This slice of life movie pulls you in with the marvelous, whimsical soundtrack that gives you an automatic smile on your face. The movie revolves around an ambitious art curator from Chicago named Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) who is trying to woo a gifted artist, David Wark (Frank Hoyt Taylor) who has a form of autism. David reinterpreted the Civil War into a sexual orgy of big black penises impaling Confederate soldiers and cum filled scrotums.

The only way she can get him from signing to a rival New York curator to go to David’s home in North Carolina where her husband pf six month George’s (Alessandro Nivola) family is close neighbors with. George’s family is not too excited for their arrival like his grumpy little brother, Johnny (Ben McKenzie) and his mother, Peg (Celia Weston). George’s withdrawn father, Eugene (Scott Wilson) feels indifferent about it, retreating to his basement sanctuary. The only person that is excited is Johnny’s pregnant wife, Ashley (Adams) who makes the Energizer Bunny look like a wind up toy.

When Madeleine and George arrives, the married couple from the Chicago and the uber-religious family from North Carolina clash in some unexpected ways. Jealousies arise and past resentments come bubbling to the surface as these people struggle to co-exist under the same roof.

As first, i thought that the movies was going to be a straight comedy of errors, but there are some dark moments that tugged at my heart. Did Amy Adams deserved the recognition for her performance? Yes. The scene in the hospital was painful to watch. I ached when she ached.

Some of the actions of the characters were fairly predictable. I guess, when you see millions of independent movies, you see the same patterns over and over.

Judgment: I did enjoy this movie and I would like to revisit this family again.

Rating: 8/10

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