White Girl (2016)

Impression: I can see why this movie was controversial: there are a lot of drugs, and there is a lot of very explicit sex, and the movie is unapologetic about both. But it’s not frivolous. There is a statement being made. Leah is young and somewhat naive and curious, and willing to try anything and she unwittingly gets herself involved in the criminal underworld whose rules she does not understand. The movie is not glorifying any of this, but is very brutally realistic about the kind of consequences her actions can have (and do in this movie) for someone like her and the very different consequences that apply to others. She feels completely free to do whatever she wants, take the kind of drugs she wants, have sex with whoever she wants. And it’s not that there are no personal consequences for her complete sense of freedom, there are, and they are brutal.  But as the last scene illustrates, she can just continue with the life she had planned. The consequences for Blue, her Puerto Rican drug-dealing boyfriend, are different, and arguably more final. The movie is filmed with a lot of very tight close-ups, and you get to know Leah’s face in such intimate detail, that it’s almost uncomfortable. It was very well acted, and I was surprised that the actor who played Blue had never acted before.  Chris Noth was amazing as the sleazy lawyer.  I loved the use of very bright sunshine and slightly overexposed film that accentuated the happy moments, and the kind of blissful ignorance of any consequences which Leah feels.  And the way those end abruptly when reality catches up with her a number of times throughout the film. Beyond the shock value and the controversy, I think this is actually a very well made and thought provoking film.

Facts: A young college student in New York during her summer break gets into drugs and sex. Lots of it.

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Plástico (2015)

Impression: I don’t often hate movies. I feel like my strongest negative opinion is usually indifference. And most often hate is reserved for movies which I feel were over-hyped, but not that great. So it was quite a surprise to me how strongly I disliked this small Mexican movie. It just really rubbed me the wrong way.  And it was not the kinky sex scenes that were disturbing.  It was the offensively ridiculous and very literal oversimplification of the role cause and effect plays in people’s lives. No, if your father kills himself while indulging in some strange fetish involving plastic, your two life choices are not to grow up to be 1. a miserable drunk who works in a plastics factory or 2. a fetish prostitute. I really don’t think that’s how childhood trauma works. The movie also felt way too long, although it clocked in at well under 2 hours. It definitely could have used some editing. The premise is not very complicated, and maybe could have made a decent short.  It was a mistake to structure it basically as a thriller with flash-backs to something ominous, but unclear in their childhood.  The big reveal is how the father died, which is offered up as a resolution and magical explanation of everything wrong in the adult children’s lives. It just felt like a cop out. Or is it supposed to be a cautionary tale, to not engage in weird behaviors that could kill you, because you will ruin your children’s lives? I am not sure.

Facts: An estranged brother and sister lead depressing and unfulfilling lives as a result of something that happened in their childhood.

The Overnight (2015)

Impression:  Having had a kid, and hung out in parks with him, and having moved cities a couple of times, and struggled to make friends in new places as an adult, the opening sequence of this movie was oh-so-relatable.  Being invited to dinner and having a fun time with brand new friends, that’s happened before too. But then, this movie gets a little weird. And funny! What if your new friends with kids were maybe…actually… into swinging. A lot of awkwardness and comedy ensues, as each of the two main characters goes through a different sequence of emotions, from weirded out, to bonded to the hosts (uhm, not that kind of bonded!), to at odds with each other about what they think of all this and what should be done about it. Although it’s really just a silly comedy about sex and relationships, it never gets too absurd (ok, maybe the trip to the massage parlor is a little weird) and the characters for the most part react to the situation within bounds of what would be expected. The humor is born of the awkwardness of the situation itself, rather than mocking it or taking it to some kind of over-the-top absurd conclusion. All in all it’s a low key comedy that’s respectful of its characters and audience, and fun to watch. I’ll still probably have a little smirk on my face the next time I get invited to a dinner after meeting parents at a park .
Facts:  A family newly moved to Los Angeles gets an invite from a friendly dad at the playground for dinner, hilarity and weirdness ensues.
Extras:  I watched this movie because I love the Duplass brothers. I think Togetherness is one of the most underrated and underseen TV shows of the last decade, at least. They specialize in directing, producing, staring in talky low-budget films/series, and they make a ton of them. Glad to see someone carrying on the tradition of what “indie” used to mean in the 90s.

The Handmaiden (2016)

Impression: This movie ticks so many boxes for the elements I like in movies: beautiful people in beautiful places, unexpected twists and turns, funny and weird. During the first hour you think you know where it’s going: it seems like a very beautiful, but straight forward, and slightly cheesy period piece. Once part 2 starts, you realize that everything that just happened can be completely reinterpreted with a help of a few pieces of background information you’ve just been given and nothing is as it seems.  A sign of a great movie is when a run time of almost 3 hours feels like no time at all has passed. This is one of those movies.
Facts:  A Korean/Japanese period piece/comedy with unexpected twists and turns reminiscent of The Sting, but with a lot more explicit sex scenes and general weirdness.
Extra: I saw this one as well at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. I  was sitting next to this Haitian couple and during the sex scenes only, the woman felt compelled to narrate and comment on what was going on in great detail, which made it a little awkward.