The summer movie season is upon us and like a tidal wave, it threatens to drown viewers in a flood of over-hyped, mass produced, and candy coated CGI confections. Who hasn't occasionally been seduced and caught up in the hype of the much-anticipated next best thing? Marketing people are paid a hefty sum of money to discern our weakness, go for the jugular and convince us to part with our hard-earned cash, in order to get our asses in the seats. Like the lure of an intense sugar craving, the summer Blockbuster dangles the promise of an overwhelming experience, an intense symphony of glorious flavors and some sort of satisfaction. But let's face it, like any sugar fix, it's a splurge, a visceral hit of the senses, ultimately full of empty calories. The minute you walk into a theater, you have made a commitment and your time is non-refundable. It is two-plus hours spent in a movie that dazzles the senses, delights in multi-million dollar CGI special effects, but ultimately like any consumer-driven purchase leaves me feeling empty, perhaps even a little sad. In the words of great old Peggy Lee, "Is that all there is?"
So as the movie brands start rolling out their products, I wanted to point out films that might be easily overlooked because of their lack of million-dollar marketing budgets.
Art School Confidential is still a big budget film by my standards, but how can you go wrong with a kid struggling through the intricacies, pitfalls and general maze of art school? Beginning with Crumb, Terry Zwigoff has been adept at creating loving portraits of oddballs and outsiders that exist at the fringes of our bland super-sized culture. Consider this film a low key and humorous anecdote to the M:I:III school of filmmaking, something a little smaller, more intimate and a lot less loud.
If you do want to revel in a little violence, blood and action why not take a peek at The Proposition, the highly atmospheric and surreal gothic Western penned by Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat. With stand out performances by Guy Pierce and character actor Ray Winstone, this strange story of outlaw brothers, set in the dusty outback, touches on issues of family loyalty, betrayal and the corruption of law and order at any level. This film is not for the faint of heart.
Summertime seems like the opportune moment to crawl into a dark theater. If you can't actually afford to go anywhere because you're renting a closet for $700 a month in beautiful San Francisco, why not live vicariously by watching a road trip movie. I know the two Duplass brothers are Sundance golden boys, but The Puffy Chair seems like a very sweet mis-adventure with a Lazy Boy recliner as the centerpiece of the film. Josh, a lovable loser winds his way back home to deliver a Lazy Boy recliner to his father, along for the ride and to complicate matter are his girlfriend, Emily and his brother Rhett. Things get tight in the van and of course there will be plenty of miscommunication, but I for one am yearning for a good road trip movie. I know these guys won't be jet-setting around the globe trying to break some ancient historic code, but lets face it neither will you, so come down to earth.
There is some serious corruption and insanity going on in the world today. Guantánamo and the evident torture going on at the prison is the 900-pound gorilla in the room that no one wants to talk about. Who would have thought -- even five years ago, that there would be a secret (and yet not so secret) detention and torture center run by the United States in Cuba that holds detainees without clear charges, without a trial, and does so indefinitely?
The Road to Guantánamo, co-directed by Michael Winterbottom and Matt Whitecross, is a blend of drama and documentary (as the filmmakers certainly didn't have access to the prison) that focuses on a trio of British Muslims held in Guantánamo Bay for two years until they were released without charge. These are real people recreating their time at a concentration camp. It's time to stop closing our eyes to this despicable place and see what is happening under our noses. Rather than seeing some pro-war propaganda film, bear witness to the true brutality of the "War on Terror."
I hated the film Kids by Larry Clark, but I was almost moved to tears the first time I saw the Tulsa, the series of photographs he produced as a young man. His portraits were explicit yet innocent in their view of an abandoned, lost generation of kids playing adults and being seduced by the darker side of sex and drugs. Maybe it was his intimacy and proximity to the scene that made him seem like a friend, more than a voyeur.
I have high hopes for Wassup Rockers, about a group of skate boarding, punk rock loving, Latino teenagers who don't conform to the dominant hip-hop culture of the South Central neighborhood they live in. A majority of the kids are non-actors, which should add spontaneity to the performances and authenticity to the "scene" Clark is attempting to capture. In the grand tradition of the mythical Odyssey and The Warriors, Wassup Rockers takes the kids on a journey from South Central to the heart of Beverly Hills and tracks their wild ride as they attempt to get back to the relative safety of home while being chased by the police, targeted by Beverly Hills residents and seducing girls with their boyish charms.
My friend Jan, who usually falls asleep during movies, managed to keep his eyes wide open and even shed a tear during the screening of The Motel at the San Francisco Asian International Film Festival. The Motel directed by Michael Kang is finally being released in the United States and it's about time. The story focuses on Ernest Chin, a chubby thirteen year old heading into puberty, while he lives and works at a sleazy and desolate motel run by his family. He meets a man who has checked into the hotel and through their intimate relationship the young boy begins to grow up with the guidance of a father figure he's never had. A very touching and quiet film, the kind of drama that unfolds without being melodramatic. The young actor is amazing, and who doesn't have a soft spot for the chubby kid, trying to find a place for himself in this cold, mean world?
There are so many more films coming out this summer that don't seem to stand a chance against the Big Monster Movies, but at least give some of the underdogs a try. Remember you don't need the empty calories or the ugly sugar hangover of a Blockbuster!!!