Review: Obvious Child

ObviousChild Obvious Child isn’t your typical romantic comedy.  It has the same basic outline: two people meet and seem to be perfect for one another, some conflict keeps them apart, and throughout the course of the film we find out whether or not the two protagonists end up together.  However, while the conflict that keeps our protagonists from true love is typically another person (ex-lover, parents, etc) or social standing, the conflict in Obvious Child is an unwanted pregnancy. Donna (Jenny Slate), a young slightly irreverent comedian has recently been dumped by a long term boyfriend and, after losing her job, falls into a fit of depression.  After a particularly bad show, she meets Max (Jake Lacy) a nice, straight-laced business school graduate.  The two appear to be complete opposites but, after a few drinks they eventually make it home and have a one night stand.  Things get complicated for Donna as she finds out that she is pregnant with Max’s child.  Realizes that she isn’t ready for it, Donna chooses to have an abortion just as Max re-enters her life.  What follows is a series of amusingly awkward, heartwarming scenes as Donna tries to get her life together and ultimately decide will she or will she not go through with the abortion.

With the remarkable chemistry between the two leads it’s impossible not to like fall in love with them. Jenny Slate is equal parts raunchy and adorable while Jake Lacy is charmingly dorky in a way that endears him to the audience.  There are strong performances supporting them with Gaby Hoffmann as Donna’s best friend Nellie and Gabe Liedman hilariously stealing every scene he’s in as Joey.

Writer/director Gillian Robespierre manages to do something most tend to shy away from for fear of alienating the audience.  She takes comedic approach to a taboo topic and conveys the various physiological psychological feelings associated with said topic in a funny, respectful manner.

[easyreview title= "Review of Obvious Child" cat1title="Nerdpocalypse Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]

Review: Happy Christmas

HappyChristmas Happy Christmas is the quintessential sibling disaster story. Jenny (Anna Kendrick) breaks up with her boyfriend and decides to go live with her brother Jeff (Joe Swanberg) and his family. A back and forth film dealing with a woman desperate to get her life back together, but simultaneously effecting everyone around her in ways she can’t comprehend. Immature to a fault, Jenny is a whirlwind that sees no signs of slowing down. When she arrives at her brother’s house the first night, Jenny begins her selfish spiral out of control. While reconnecting with her old friend Carson (Lena Dunham), Jenny shows that not only is she not reliable but completely irresponsible as a so called adult at 27 years old. Getting incredibly drunk and high she needs her brother to come and take her home. Proving to Kelly (Melanie Lynskey), Jeff’s wife, that she can’t even be relied on to babysit their child the next day. In the most obvious of ways Jenny is a mess. Even by her speech pattern you can get a sense of how frenetic she has grown to be. Not finishing thoughts and the overuse the word “like” was designed to exemplify how child like she truly was. Director Joe Swanberg pushes this example and many similar ones in good measure. Jenny is a likable character, but she is also frustrating to all the people she tends to interact with on a daily basis.

The likability of our main character is done through a myriad of ways. Primarily, Anna Kendrick is just a cute and charming actress which goes far. Secondly, Jenny’s influence into the lives of her brother and his family are two fold. She causes a level of newness that makes them re-evaluate their current path, but she also challenges their life choices openly to further that notion. The best example is Jenny’s influence on Kelly to get her back into writing again. The way in which it happens is a uniquely Jenny idea, but the end result is just what Kelly needs and what her role as a mother, wife, and more broadly a woman needed.

The film has a nice retro feel to it and that makes you feel like you are at home. Ironically, the house in which the movie is filmed in is the director's; tiki bar and all. There is a familiarity to what we witness not just in locales, or people but in situations as well. The characters feel flushed out and genuine. Jenny, Jeff, and Kelly are people I’ve known, people I’ve tried to forget, and people I’ve loved. That sense of comfortability allows the film to dig deeper than one might imagine from reading a synopsis. Quite an enjoyable small film with big heart.

[easyreview title= "Review of Happy Christmas" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.0" overall= false]

Review: The Hip-Hop Fellow

THEHIPHOPFELLOW Hip-hop culture has permeated its way into the mainstream. No matter what the genre, its influences can be seen in the way we speak, the clothes we wear and the music we listen to. It has proven itself to be more than a passing fad to the point where many institutions of higher learning offer courses in its rich history. This is the subject of the Kenneth Price directed documentary The Hip-Hop Fellow. The film follows artist/producer 9th Wonder who, in 2012, received a one-year fellowship at Harvard University. There, he assisted in the establishment of the Hip-hop Archive and teaches a class entitled “The Standards of Hip-Hop.” In addition he worked on a research project called “These are the Breaks” in which he takes his top 10 hip-hop albums and tracks down the original records that lead them to being the seminal works they are today.

Scenes of him instructing his students effectively convey 9th Wonder’s passion for both music and education. Through 9th Wonder and an array of Harvard professors (including Dr. Henry Louis Gates and Dr. Marcyliena Morgan) and hip-hop artists (including Kendrick Lamar and DJ Premier), we get an inside look into the history of the art of sound sampling. The look on his students’ faces as 9th Wonder is able to identify specific notes and passages in hip-hop songs then reveals the original record from which they came is priceless.

9th Wonder's own ability to connect with intellectuals of the caliber Gates and Morgan while simultaneously connecting with his students all under the guise of hip-hop is a marvel to behold. While not having a degree himself, 9th Wonder fits in perfectly with the Harvard educated and the non-Harvard educated alike. Bridging worlds or education, influence, and multi-levels of privilege without batting an eye. The dichotomies that are presented in the film are the heart of it, and make you yearn for even more.

This is a great look into how hip-hop has been influenced and how it will influence our modern society and is highly recommended for fans of all type of music.

[easyreview title= "Review of The Hip-Hop Fellow" cat1title="Micah's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="5.0" overall= false]

Review: Fight Church

FightChurch A documentary about two seemingly obvious opposing topics, Christianity and Mixed Martial Arts, Fight Church takes on the herculean task of showing these two worlds melding together. For full disclosure, I am a fan of the sport but I am not a religious person. Directors Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel do a great job of presenting the subject matter objectively the vast majority of the time. Fight Church is certainly the type of subject matter that will garner strong reactions on either side of the debate. The film follows several men of the cloth as they pursue an interest in Mixed Martial Arts, otherwise known as cage fighting. Undeniably a brutal sport, but finding its way into more and more homes every week. Combining wrestling, traditional boxing, jiu jitsu, muay thai boxing, and a whole host of other martial arts together for a gladiator type sport. The main focus of the documentary is Paul Burress, a pastor who doubles as a well trained MMA guy. Teaching his techniques to the men and women of his congregation who want to learn is a real passion for Paul. He takes things seriously both at the pulpit and in the ring. He is a solid choice for the main focus as he is easily the most stable of characters we have the pleasure of meeting. We also meet a handful of other pastors who practice the same balance between both worlds, some even wish to go professional in the fight careers. A strange balance is attempted to be struck that comes off genuine but misguided to me. In a documentary like this its very difficult to not let your personal opinions of the subject matter influence how you see the film. While I didn’t agree with such moments of young children (approximately 8 years old) doing full contact cage fighting, the documentary presents them with a sense of neutrality that I appreciate. Allowing the audience to garner its own joy, rage, or something in between towards what it saw.

The film works to show another side of the religiosity of its subject matter that early on was being conveniently ignored. There is a moment when one of the film’s subjects goes on a rant about how “mainstream Christianity has effeminized men.” This is a highly important moment to the entirety of the subject matter. Up until this point the men being filmed all were being shown in a pure positive light. The directors made a seemingly concession effort to show you the darker side of the issue, and it was very effective. Had this gentleman not been in the film I would have felt a very serious, and frankly frustrating, agenda was trying to be portrayed. There is however a so called villain in the movie, but he isn’t the gun-totting-at-church-anti-effeminizing guy, but rather a Catholic priest. Father John Duffell is a priest hoping to keep MMA illegal in the entirety of New York State. He sees the sport as too violent and anti-Christian. These views aren’t particularly shocking, but juxtaposed to the pastors who are fighting one another during a cage match and proselytizing afterwards to the crowd plays particularly well.

In the end, Fight Church might change some minds or it might not but what it will do is spark interesting and likely heated debate. Fitting religion into neat modern day boxes will cause conflicts to arise. I found myself shaking my head at the manipulation of the meaning of biblical text, but at the same time the arguments to ban the sport in New York were shallow and completely misguided. The film does a good job of keeping you going back and forth to each side of the argument. Any documentary worth it’s salt will spark an intelligent conversation between filmgoers, Fight Church did just that.

[easyreview title= "Review of Fight Church" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.0" overall= false]

Review: Moebius

Moebius Directed by Kim Ki-duk, Moebius is the latest South Korean import that fits somewhere between the genres of extreme thriller and extreme horror, or at least it tries to fit there. An uncomfortable film more than anything else, Ki-duk’s dialogue absent 90 minute film shows the emotional damage that can happen to a father and son when a horrendous event happens to them. The film starts out with a physical fight that goes on between a husband and wife over accusations of infidelity. This odd moment is seen by their son who clearly is just emotionally distraught by the entire event. Later that evening the husband goes out and has sex with another woman and both the son and the wife find out. This causes the wife to have what one could only call a psychotic episode and attempts to cut off her husband’s penis. He wakes up to fight her off and successfully keeps himself intact. Unfortunately, the wife in her fit of bizarre rage decides that her son, who she has seen masturbating, deserves this punishment as well. She is successful in her attempt to sever his manhood. Laying on his bed screaming and bleeding profusely, the son is rushed to the hospital by his father while the mother simply walks away. At this point, I was sure this movie was going to go in a certain direction, and I could not have been more incorrect.

There is so much that happens after this point that I hesitate to tell you much more for sake of ruining the “surprise.” There are moments of mutual masturbation that are NOT, I repeat NOT, common to anyone. Director Kim Ki-duk tries desperately to make you scream and squeal while watching these grotesque scenes. I am a true advocate for the suspension of disbelief during film watching, but sometimes things can go a bridge too far. I have never seen a film that was so careless with how humans actually interact. There is more care in the average Hollywood parody movie towards human development and interaction than we see here. Moebius was presented as a movie that will have people running from the theater in horror. This isn’t the case, you may leave halfway through but its likely that you just think the movie is awful, which it is. I’ve seen many worthwhile brutal South Korean films that make me cringe in the way it was intended. However, Moebius, was just so bad that at times I literally said “you have got to fucking kidding me?”

I wish I could say that I don’t want you to see this movie, but I actually really think you should. Why? For the simple reason that this movie should destroy the notion of talking in hyperbolic phrases when reviewing movies in the future. Film criticism requires nuance in language to truly convey meaning in a substantial way. The subtlety of language matters so much in how we describe the things we’ve seen. With all that being said, this is LITERALLY one of the worst movies I have even seen. Abysmal in story telling, a completely nonsensical plot, and a resolution that makes as much sense as standing outside with a metal pole during a lightning storm. The title Moebius implies a neverending loop, but in the end that title is the exact opposite of what happens. I am not sure the director read up on what a moebius strip is but he probably should.

YES THAT SCORE BELOW IS A 0 OUT OF 5!

[easyreview title= "Review of Moebius" cat1title="Nerdpocalypse Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="0.0" overall= false]

Review: Summer of Blood

SummerOfBlood What can I say about Summer of Blood that couldn’t be said about the hipster culture in general? The movie takes the audience on a odd trip with our hipster lead Erik (Onur Tukel) as the textbook example of a man child. Never coming close to what would resemble a reasonable view of the world, Erik is a mess. Somehow he has landed a girlfriend who wants to actually marry him, but somehow Erik just can’t grow up enough to make that happen. Seemingly a commentary on the large amount of adolescence in modern adult culture, the movie drew me in for nothing more than the potential pay off. Erik, being the new age Peter Pan is stricken with the complete inability to give a damn about adult topics (besides sex), and adult responsibilities. When he ends up losing his girlfriend after a major fight he is set back upon the world to try and connect with his fellow human beings. Hipster Erik wears ill fitting shirts, looks to not care about himself, and just proceeds with any impulses he has. From masturbating at work to not doing his job, Erik is a hilariously frustrating character. Fast talking curmudgeon at the ripe age of 40, he is going nowhere fast and is surprisingly alright with this. His life is spiralling and the film just lets it keep going without any level of retribution for a the first one and a half acts. After which, the movie takes a bizarre turn. One night Erik is bitten by a vampire and his entire world is changed forever. From a mildly entertaining yet incredibly flawed person to the total sex machine god, Erik is back! Well, not back, because he never was. Either way, he is officially off to the races. Having sex with any and every woman he can, sometimes more than one at a time, Erik feels liberated. Still exuding the issues of being a man child, but now with the demeanor of a man who can get whatever he wants. Sadly, the last act of the film drags much longer than it ever needed to. I felt the movie was about 40 minutes longer than it actually was. Onur Tukel was really annoying, funny, and pathetic as Erik. Considering who the character is I think Tukel did a fantastic job. Erik feels like that wayward friend that we all have but on steroids.

The Summer of Blood is not for everyone, but could be a very enjoyable cult classic type film. There isn’t much of a narrative per se, just oddity and dark comedic moments. The first 30 minutes set you up for some sort of character redemption in the end. There isn’t one at all. Much like the hipster movement in it of itself, the movie is just about some stuff that happens and no one will really care after a while. When it was done, I just felt nothing. This is the best example of the old Seinfeld adage, a show about nothing.

[easyreview title= "Review of Summer of Blood" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="2.5" overall= false]

Review: The Case Against 8

TheCaseAgainst8 The Case Against 8 is the 2014 documentary about the legal battle to overturn the controversial California Proposition 8, which made same sex marriage illegal in the entire state. Directed by Ben Cotner and Ryan White, the movie works to create an emotional tie to both the plaintiffs and the high profile lawyers who are hired to work for them. The film tells the events of the hard fought legal battle from 2009 until its resolution in 2013. Normally in this type of documentary there are generally one or two main characters that the directors focus on, but here we get six. Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, a lesbian couple and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo, a gay couple are the plaintiffs in this landmark case. Representing them are two of the countries most high profile legal minds, David Boies and Ted Olson. The documentary can be broken up into two major sections quite easily seemingly to mirror the very issue the documentary purports to show. The heart and mind of the issue at hand. The 2 couples are the heart of the film. They pluck at your heartstrings and bring in the most human of elements. Their involvement makes the viewer relate to a topic that they might not even have a directly vested interest in. Perry and Stier, both mothers of 2 boys each from previous marriages are the perfect example of what LGBT couples with children must endure in this time of judicial uncertainty. They connect with you, the audience, as parents first. This was an important highlight to bring about whether you agree with their desire to be married on not. All documentaries are designed to put forth a particular point of view, and we must judge it based on that fact, not based on personal biases. The second couple, Katami and Zarrillo represent the future and the breaking of stereotypes. Two young gay men who are fighting against the notion of the gay community being anti-monogamy. They too play the role of the heart of the film. Interviews with their parents who just want their sons to be happy is a heartfelt moment of humanity. Zarrillo, especially, stands out with his speeches to the public prior to the case beginning.

Every socio-political topic has heart behind it, but it also needs the mind to get pass the legal hurdles that may arise. David Boies and Ted Olson are the mind behind this entire case. Their history with one another is what makes this story even more compelling. Boies worked as the lead counsel for the Al Gore team during the Bush v. Gore fiasco of 2000. What is even more interesting that across from him as the lead counsel from George W. Bush’s team was Ted Olson. Ultimately, Olson won the case, but the two men became close friends rather than enemies due to mutual respect for the other’s skills and presence in the courtroom. So when the American Foundation for Equal Rights was looking for co-counsel for Boies they decided to get the one man from the right that was not only on Boies' level but felt strongly in overturning Proposition 8 as well.

Now that all six main “cast members” are in place, the documentary begins to really hit its stride, showing courtroom scenes, deposition dialogues, and such that lead up to the actual arguments in front of the Supreme Court. Even though I knew the outcome of the case, there was never a time where it felt for sure. Credit goes to directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White for still being able to garner a level of suspense from past known events. They also were able to shed light on some internal topics that I was unaware of while this case was going on.

One thing that socio-political documentaries sometimes do that is damaging to them is the issue of the other side. How do you make a pro-marriage equality documentary without coming off bashing the other side? Cotner and White handles this well by just showing video of the defendants and quoting actual material they had written. Taking away any arguments of misleading the public on the issue via this movie. Its not perfect, but it comes close to sidestepping the issue in its entirety, which I appreciated. I don’t need a two hour sermon as to why the other side is the worse. Just show us what your side is doing, and the directors did just that.

In conclusion, The Case Against 8, is a well handled documentary about a very sensitive topic. Concluding with emotionally jarring scenes of not only the plaintiffs, but Boies and Olsen as well was a fantastic touch. The movie worked on many levels, but no minds will be ultimately changed due to it. However, at the end of the day was that even the point? Cotner and White clearly wanted you to see the journey by which these six people made history. Nothing more nothing less, and for that level of simplicity the film works exactly the way it was designed.

[easyreview title= "Review of The Case Against 8" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]

Review: Opening Night "Shorts" at the Maryland Film Festival

MDFilmFestival Last night began the 2014 Maryland Film Festival. As a hometown kid this was a such a great experience. Moving to the MICA and University of Baltimore campuses exclusively this year was a major change for the festival, but things seems to being going on without a hitch. Unlike the major film festivals, the Maryland Film Festival opens with a series of shorts instead of a major star studded film. Last night the audience was presented with 5 shorts, below are my reviews of each:

Easy - Directed by Daniel Laabs

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At 12 minutes long, Easy, paints an image of a young boy suffering with identity issues in the wake of his passion for gymnastics while trying to deal with growing up. Juxtaposed with his brother's very sured sexuality and seemingly self consumed life. Seeing glimpses of his brother's path and admiring and simultaneously hating his presumed future was a fascinating character study. However, in the end the film was too heavy handed in parts and leaned heavily on obvious metaphors. Director Daniel Laabs' grim shooting technique made Dallas feel like the Northeastern United States during its brutal winters, which played beautifully to the film subject matter. Had Easy been a longer film things could have been flushed out further.

[easyreview title= "Review of Easy" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="2.5" overall= false]

 

I Was A Teenage Girl - Directed by Augustine Frizzell

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At 5 minutes long, I Was A Teenage Girl, shows the interactions betwixt two friends as one describes her first sexual experience. A valiant effort in quick storytelling that sadly didn't have the strongest of performances. However, what carried the film over the finish line was the absolute perfect choice in music and timing. Slow glances, close ups, and a thunderous soundtrack mixed with silence at the right times made the atmosphere that much heavier. I look forward to seeing much more of Augustine Frizzell's work.

[easyreview title= "Review of I Was A Teenage Girl" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="3.5" overall= false]

 

More Than Two Hours - Directed by Ali Asgari

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At 15 minutes long, More Than Two Hours, takes place in very conservative modern day Iran. A couple who are not married recently had sex and the woman is still bleeding after more than two hours. From hospital to hospital the couple goes to get medical treatment. However, due to societal issues of unwed sex they are denied. Pushing against thoughts of humanity versus illegality made for a powerful mixture. Are rules truly meant to be broken in the name of our own humanity, or man's laws paramount. More Than Two Hours aims to make the audience contemplate both sides. Beautifully shot and presented in Farsi, the film is not an everyday story, and that's the most familiar element about it.

[easyreview title= "Review of More Than Two Hours" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]

 

The Bravest, The Boldest - Directed by Moon Molson

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At 17 minutes long, The Bravest, The Boldest is a film about acceptance. Accepting the things you can't change, and accepting the things you can. The film tells the story of a woman who is being presented with news of her love one dying in war. She mercilessly avoids two Army officers as they try and deliver the news to her. A truly heartbreaking modern story of one woman's moment of coming to terms with her new reality. All the while the lengths at which one military chaplain goes to give this woman the solace that she needs. Well placed comedic timing helped to make the rough moments even more meaningful. Director Moon Molson is able to capture your full attention and deliver a complete story in expert fashion. Looking forward to seeing more from him.

[easyreview title= "Review of The Bravest, The Boldest" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="5.0" overall= false]

 

Verbatim - Directed by Brett Weiner

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At 6 minutes long, Verbatim, is a fascinating little film. Based on the actual words from a deposition filed with the Supreme Court of Ohio, the film uses the best element for comedy...emotion. The entire dialogue is lifted verbatim from the case so its up to director Brett Weiner to make it sing. An ever escalating moment between a lawyer and a government employee on whether he knows what a photo copier is was surprisingly entertaining. The perfect amount of anger and derision from the lawyer mixed with the dunderheaded government employee's responses made this highly enjoyable.

[easyreview title= "Review of Verbatim" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="5.0" overall= false]