Tag Archives: Indie Dramas

Fish Tank

The life of hot-tempered teen outcast Mia (Katie Jarvis) takes an unexpected turn when her mother, Joanne (Kierston Wareing), brings home a handsome and mysterious boyfriend named Connor (Michael Fassbender), who pledges to bring sweeping positive changes to the household. British writer-director Andrea Arnold’s sophomore feature won Best British Film at the 2010 BAFTAs.

Rating: 8 out of 10 

Fish Tank has a wonderful correlation that runs through the entire film.  The main character, 15-year-old Mia, is troubled because her small world is changing.  She no longer has a good relationship with her mother or sister, she has no girlfriends, and anytime she leaves her home is constantly in conflict with others. 

At one point, she bumps into a rundown trailer park where she sees an old horse on its last legs.  She becomes protective of the horse and demands the owner’s take better care of the animal.  As the story progresses, the horse gets sicker and sicker and Mia’s life gets more and more complicated and confusing.  I realized that the horse was a symbol of her lost innocence.  What better way to capture the end of childhood than a sick horse ready to be put down?  All girls dream unrealistic dreams when they are young.  They want to be a princess, marry a prince, and ride away in the sunset on their pony.  So, what does a young girl do during a time when everything they knew isn’t as it seemed and the world grows darker and colder by the minute?  They hold onto a hope for something better and Mia is no different.  Her passion is for dance and the way it takes her away to a better place in her mind.  There are several wonderful scenes where she dances alone in an apartment building to her music and you can feel what it means to her.  The emotional connection I felt was largely due to the wonderful performance by Katie Jarvis in the lead.  Her scenes are never forced or overacted.  They play out eloquently and in service to the story. 

Is everything perfect here?  No.  While I really enjoyed Mia’s story, there was a sense that there could have been more character interaction.  Mia’s mother and sister are largely wasted as after thoughts when they could have been central in how Mia faces the challenges she does (I won’t spoil them here).  “Fish Tank” is wonderful at presenting confusion but does very little in resolving it.  Some viewers would call that a strength but I consider it a weakness.  Some filmmakers like to leave a lot open ended to let the viewer imagine what could or should have happened to the characters.  But, it’s not about what I think should happen to Mia.  That’s the storyteller’s job and they let me down a little near the end.  But, for those that like cerebral coming of age stories, Fish Tank is a must see.

Love Ranch

Inspired by the story of the couple who introduced legalized prostitution to Nevada with the opening of their Mustang Ranch brothel, this Taylor Hackford-directed drama focuses on the devastating consequences of infidelity in the land of sex for pay. Helen Mirren stars as Grace Botempo; Joe Pesci plays her husband, Charlie; and Sergio Peris-Mencheta plays the boxer who, on entering their world, sets into motion a violent chain of events.

Rating: 6 out of 10

“Love Ranch” is like a Chia Pet. Sure, it’s kinda neat. But in the end, it just sits there doing nothing.

This film features two outstanding actors in Pesci and Mirren, and they are very sharp as a couple who are at odds, have a strange love that involves a lot of business and no passion, and exist in a very cold world. They’re not likable people, by any stretch, but they’re intriguing. The small nuances given by the actors, from a subtle accent to facial expression, give the sense that you know them.

But in the end, the film is flat. It suffers from a lose script that allowed Pesci and Mirren to stretch their legs as actors, but doesn’t engage the viewer’s attention. It’s kind of a tragic love story focused on Mirren, Pesci, and a boxer who draws Mirren’s affection. But the boxer is a cookie-cutter character with a funny accent because he wasn’t given time to be developed. If you’re a big fan of Mirren or Pesci, it’s worth a watch. As a film, it’s not completely there.

Please Give

Life gets knotty when successful Manhattan couple Alex (Oliver Platt) and Kate (Catherine Keener) develop a relationship with the granddaughters of Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), the cantankerous elderly woman who owns the apartment next to theirs — and who must die so they can expand their home. The all-star cast includes Amanda Peet, Rebecca Hall and Lois Smith in this indie feature from writer-director Nicole Holofcener (Friends with Money).

Rating: 5 out of 10

“Please Give” feels like an off-Broadway play. It’s simple, with people and families, dialogue and atmosphere that feel real. It has interesting characters, humorous moments that add levity, but ultimately lacks drive.

We’re given a handful of interesting characters — a couple that buys furniture from the families of dead people to sell them in a high-end story. They have a bratty teenager who wants designer jeans and has low-self image because of acne. There’s a cranky old bitty who lives next door with her two grandchildren; one an unlikable lush who has an affair with the husband, the other a doe-eyed church mouse looking for love. The family bought the bitty’s apartment in advance and are just waiting for the woman to die so they can expand theirs.

This film has a great cast with realistic performances. The story works, and the characters revolved around it pretty smoothly. They try to develop them all, but because they do, the story is spread thin. It just never feels like it’s going anywhere. The lack of focus didn’t decrease the pleasure I had watching it, because I liked it. There was just something missing.

Get Low

Oscar winners Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek team up to tell the true story of irascible Felix Bush, a backwoods Tennessee loner who planned his funeral in 1938 while he was still around to attend — and enjoy — the proceedings. Director Aaron Schneider’s deft blend of dark humor and poignancy also stars Bill Murray as Frank Quinn, the huckster owner of a failing funeral home, and Lucas Black as his dubious assistant.

Rating: 7 out of 10

“Get Low” is an intriguing character piece that runs high on acting, and low on movement of characters.

We’re given storyline to a hermit who wants to hold a funeral for himself while he’s alive. He’s a bit of a legend because of his downright grouchy and mean ways, but reviled by locals. He gets them to come by holding a lottery for his land. But that’s the overlying plot to a story about a man with a broken heart and a questionable history that unfolds in a nice story. It moves slowly, but steadily, and is supported by excellent supporting roles from Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray.

This isn’t an action-packed thrill ride, but it is a steadily paced story about a very broken man.

Five Movies to Snuggle Up to on Valentine’s Day


This is not my list of the best romantic films of all times. This is simply a list of some great romantic movies for you and a loved one to snuggle up to with a big bowl of buttery popcorn and watch on a chilly Saint Valentine’s Day evening. Here’s hoping you have a romantic day full of love!

Say Anything: This is one of the best teen movies from the 80s, and it’s just a heart-warming, romantic story of the lovable loser who falls for the perfect girl — a valedictorian. Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) and high school goody-goody Diane Court (Ione Skye) are threatened when Diane’s overly possessive, disapproving father (John Mahoney) interferes with their relationship. With a prized scholarship to study abroad hanging in the balance, Diane must find a way to make both men happy. Writer-director Cameron Crowe steers this 1980s teen flick into instant-classic territory. I highly recommend!

Amélie:This is one of the most darling films I have ever seen. If you don’t mind subtitles — as I’m sure many of you don’t — then this is a movie you may want to grab. It’s visually stunning with a truly unique director in Jean-Pierre Jeunet ( A Very Long Engagement), a fantastic romance story that unfolds in unusual and gripping ways, and it’s just pure fun. Definitely a winner.

A Very Long Engagement: This is another Jean-Pierre Jeunet film. What can I say? The guy makes great romantic films. Audrey Tautou stars as Mathilde, a young Frenchwoman who vows to find out what happened to her missing fiancé (Gaspard Ulliel) during World War I. He appears to have died after a court-martial, but she needs to know for sure. As she looks for the truth, she discovers unexpected things about herself and the people she meets along the way. It has some heart ache along the way, but what great love doesn’t?

Forest Gump: This is one of my favorite movies of all time. Most certainly in the top 25. It has everything you could want in a romantic film — a love that’s sparked from childhood that drives a character in everything he does through some of the most incredible experiences any man could have. There is nothing wrong with this movie. It’s simply flawless, and Forest’s innocence and love of someone who, on the surface, is beyond broken after so much tragedy befalls her, is touching. We all could learn to love like he does. It’s a wonderful movie, and a great choice for Valentine’s Day.

Slumdog Millionaire: I hadn’t seen this film when it won best picture. I’m always skeptical of films that become critic’s darlings and run away with all the trophies. This is not one of the best films I’ve ever seen, but it’s a fantastic date movie. It’s got a nice romantic plot with another character who endures incredibly terrible things all the while trying to find a long-lost love. I think it’s true that distance makes the heart grow fonder. Love isn’t worth having if it’s not worth fighting for.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The Killing of John Lennon

Lifting dialogue directly from notorious assassin Mark David Chapman’s real-life journal, director Andrew Piddington paints a chilling portrait of the man who infamously shot John Lennon outside his New York City apartment building in 1980. The film chronicles Chapman’s trek from his home on the islands of Hawaii to Lennon’s home on the island of Manhattan, where he made history by murdering a living legend.

Rating: 6 out of 10

I was too young to remember at the time, but if you ask anyone 40 or older where they were when they heard John Lennon was shot, they all seem to remember in detail. It wasn’t just a murder by a dangerous psychopath; it was also the end of an era. It signified the end of free love with the 60’s and 70’s mentality and ushered in the 1980’s era of egotism, greed and cynicism. The teenagers of The Beatles era were now grown up and without one of their heroes.

I am personally biased when viewing this film because I love John Lennon’s music. I didn’t live through the era to truly experience what it meant to people but I certainly appreciate the power of his words and music every time I listen to his beautiful songs. So, watching a film based on the man who murdered such a beloved artist the world over was difficult. To the filmmaker’s credit, they really didn’t try to paint Chapman as Satan nor did they try to garner sympathy for him. Instead, they filmed a pseudo documentary based on the court records and Mark David Chapman’s book that he wrote after the murder. The portrait it paints is of a man deeply disturbed and filled with anger and resentment of the world around him. He can’t find his place anywhere and reads “The Catcher in the Rye” and identifies with the main protagonist and his view of a planet full of “phonies.” He then begins to obsess over John Lennon’s phoniness at the phrase “no possessions” from the song “Imagine.” He then decides he has to kill John Lennon so that the message of “phonies” can get out by inspiring people to read “Catcher in the Rye.” Still with me? Yep, that’s one crazy bastard! Personally, I think Chapman was disgusted with himself. He thought of himself as a big phony that was married and settled down and yet couldn’t stop obsessing over other people’s lives. He was a huge loser who wanted to attach himself to one of the most beloved people on the planet in a permanent way.

As far as the film goes, it’s well made and executed and features a brilliant performance by newcomer Jonas Ball. It really tries to bring you in the mind of a psychopath, viewing the world as he does. Unfortunately, I’m sane and his thought patterns repulsed and confused me. So, I’m giving this film a semi-positive review because it was well done but approach at your own risk. It pulls no punches and the outcome is just as devastating even though you know it’s coming.

The Kids Are All Right

Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), the children of same-sex parents Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), become curious about the identity of their sperm-donor dad (Mark Ruffalo) and set out to make him part of their family unit, often with hilarious results. But his arrival complicates the household dynamics, and nobody is sure how he fits in — if at all — in this Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning comedy.

Rating: 8 out of 10

“This Kids Are All Right” is as good as the critics say it is (95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes).

The movie’s cast was excellent, with Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a married, lesbian couple raising two teenagers and Mark Ruffalo as their sperm donor. Every character is likable at times and irritating at others. I didn’t always understand their motivation or agree with their choices but that’s the way we all feel about one another, isn’t it? These characters are all flawed and come across as real, genuine people muddling through a unique situation.

When the older of the two kids turns 18, she gets in touch with her mothers’ sperm donor and, along with her brother played by Josh Hutcherson, the family begins to get to know him.

It seems complicated and difficult but I was rooting for this family to figure it out and make it work the whole time.