Thursday, 30 October 2014

Let It Go...And Listen To Your Friends!

The film:
Let It Go (2014)

The under-the-radar-factor:
Micro-budget production has had a few theatrical screenings but is mostly making the rounds with VOD distribution via Cinema Zero. As of this writing, a 15 minute preview of the feature is available. 

The review:

Many years ago my first real girlfriend had decided we could/should no longer carry on a relationship. In my heart of hearts I knew we were kaput as a couple but another part couldn't accept that. I had a determination to win her back that lasted for a couple of weeks but was never acted upon through any attempts on my part. In other words, I saved myself a lot of embarrassment over what I later realized was indeed a much needed parting of the ways.

I wish I could have commiserated with Jeremy, the character played by Andrew Leland Rogers in director Tom Wilton's black and white micro-budget effort Let It Go. But of course, if I had suggested he should follow what I did...or didn't do...we might not have had this film, right?

How does that story go about the best laid plans? It just so happens the day that Jeremy has picked to propose to his live-in gal-pal Steph (Gillian Visco) is the same one she's lined up to call off their relationship. He's just shared his dreams with his old friend Frankie (Maria McIndoo, who also co-wrote the screenplay), while Steph has revealed her break-up plans to her buddy Ryan (Josh Hawkins). Upon officially splitting, the two ex's go into their own separate tailspins. Steph hits the party circuit and indulges in the kind of alcohol fueled behavior that Ryan has embarrassingly had to bear witness to before. Jeremy is more on the numbed side and it's up to Frankie, who's lent him her couch as a temp residence, to try to get him back into the swing of things. Setting the wheels in motion for him to go out on dates with her friends turns out to be a waste of time; Jeremy can only blabber away on details about the woman who has left him behind. Steph manages to convince Ryan to join her for an out of town Christmas time break from it all, just as Jeremy coaxes Frankie to accompany him on an adventure meant as an attempt to reconnect with the lady he has lost.

Take a gander...

I quite liked McIndoo's own feature Say It Like It Is ("Let It Go"..."Say It Like It Is"...hmm, such frank piece-of-advice type of titles from these guys) and was looking forward to her collaboration with Wilton here. This film does start slowly, the visuals are not given any groundbreaking treatment by way of either the cinematography or editing, and it's hardly an indie flick trying to rock the cinematic world. At the same time, it still has that genuine slice-of-life quality that McIndoo's movie possessed, with, gratefully, no attempt to slop on the melodramatics that one might expect from a film that centers...

...well, I was going to say from a film that centers around the breakup of a relationship, but that's not really the case here. Let It Go is far less about the disintegration of Jeremy's world with Steph's, as it is about these two people's relationships with their friends. Friends who know you may end up acting a little drunk and stupid; who excuse the fact that one tries to plant a kiss on them in a moment of emotional anguish and confusion; who'll stick by you even after you've heaved into their shoe...more than once; who won't make fun of you as you react to your first toke... (well, won't make MUCH fun of you)...

To a great extent that's what Let It Go is really about - the subtle celebration of friendship! Friendship through thick and thin, through the laughs and the really annoying stuff. The likeable cast (McIndoo is particularly good and I hope she makes more appearances in front of the lens) are definitely up to taking the viewer along for this quiet but warm ride.

Let It Go is a rewarding put-your-feet up and relax experience for those with the patience to allow the film to find its footing, which it eventually does. So overall, if you're in the mood for a simple but sweet journey, I would recommend checking it out. But don't watch it alone...even though I'm not calling this a "date" film...

Watch it with a friend. Your best friend. That one who will always be there for you... and vice-versa.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

"American: The Bill Hicks Story" Is One For The Fans

The film:
American: The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

The under-the-radar factor:
A UK production, it was shown at the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival and released in the U.S. as a 2 disc box set DVD with several hours of extras. Aside from that...

The review:

"I believe there is an equality to all of humanity. We all suck" - Bill Hicks.

I'm still rather astounded by how many people have not heard of this guy or are only faintly familiar with his work. Their loss. Hicks was a stand-up genius; when on the ball (and not so drunk) he was worthy of being compared to the subversive, shock likes of George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Lenny Bruce in making you think and laugh, even when it felt a little too close to home with your own beliefs and actions. Pancreatic cancer ended his life at the age of 32 but not before he left this planet with sizeable (and often funny) food for thought.

American: The Bill Hicks Story charts the history of its subject in great detail and with tremendous visual panache. Directors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas were able to convince Hicks' family to provide a stunning amount of photos spanning the comedian's life, which were then used in a type of cut-and-paste animation technique rendering impressive results. Family members, childhood friends, and the other stand-ups from the Houston area where Hicks grew up are interviewed at length, with a smattering of his routines. For a guy who lived such a tragically short life, there is a long and engaging story told here. After starting his live stage work in his teens (first as part of a duo, then going solo), his career accelerated to the point of at least being followed by fellow performers, if not the public at large in the U.S.A. (Hicks was to become in a way to the Brits what Jerry Lewis was to the French - an American cultural figure far more appreciated overseas than on his native soil.) The self-assured qualities he displayed in his earliest periods contrasted to the drunken ramblings he had to fight off later. Sadly, the height of his creative genius seemed to be obtained just as he reached his cancer stage and faced an infamous censorship incident on David Letterman's tv show. More on that shortly...

For those neophytes looking for an intro to Hicks the performer, this production is really not the answer. The major complaint to be had with American: The Bill Hicks Story is in the surprising paucity of actual performance footage (even though his personal territory is given full analysis). Those who have already come to know the man and his material will appreciate the intimate details that emerge regarding his short but accelerated life. While there is a fair bit of hero-worshiping taking place here, there are some unflinching looks at his down-and-out alcoholic period as well, helping to create a balanced portrait of the man at his best and worst.

Like I said, this documentary is highly recommended only for those who have already taken the Hicks comedic journey. Fortunately, there is a plethora of material to be found both online and in hard copy forms to initiate any rookie. A perfect example is the video below from the October 1993 performance on The Late Show with David Letterman that was never allowed to air...  until some 15 years later, when Letterman invited Hicks' mother on his show to apologize and run the clip. Have a look - if you're not into the pro-life campaign, anti-smoking messages... or Billy Ray Cyrus... you'll laugh a lot...

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Briefly - Tom Atkins Blues

It wasn't long ago in my part of the world that I observed a cozy, indie breakfast and lunch joint being blown out of existence by the arrival of one of those chain/franchise egg palaces across the road from it. So I was in more than a sympathetic mood for the goings-on in Tom Atkins Blues, a 2010 German based indie by British ex-pat writer/director Alex Ross.  Shot in 11 days with a crew of six and a budget that wouldn't come close to maxing out a college student's credit card, the film features scripted acting parts based on Ross' own experiences in Germany, with interviews with some of the actual locals who lived the life in his old neighbourhood.

Tommy (played by Ross) runs the Spatkauf (Late Night Shop) that he has been looking after in the former East Berlin since a bit after the fall of the wall. His gal-pal, a woman unimpressed with what she perceives as a serious lack of ambition on his part, leaves him. The pain of the breakup is eased for the shopkeeper by the community around his enterprise - people come to chat, buy a beer, and sit outside - maybe to play some chess or a musical instrument. Tommy's place is one of life and vitality - especially with drunks trying to raise the ceiling on the tabs they owe or lazy friends who hang around to pick up women. The bubble bursts for all when a refurbished supermarket around the corner signals the gentrifying tides of change that Tommy is powerless to stop. Customers disappear, business dives, and the eclectic multinational group of people who have regarded the shop as a kind of second home come to realize the worst is yet to come.

Without the pressures of earning enough box office receipts to pay for a studio full of lawyers, Ross is able to take full advantage of the true freedom micro-budget filmmaking affords. The pacing is leisurely and the storyline is hardly stuffed but the results feel highly genuine. A charming tale of friendship and community, Tom Atkins Blues is firmly set in its German locale but has a universal voice that all can connect to. It greatly helps that the cast is well chosen and delivers likable performances throughout, matched by sharp production values and a highly appropriate musical score. Unlike many so-called indies that try to function as Hollywood studio cover letters, this film succeeds in showing that strategic plot points can't compete with earnest reflection and expression. What Tom Atkins Blues lacks in adrenaline, it more than compensates for with atmospheric richness and a warm spirit.

If you didn't catch this film's run on Cinema Zero (congrats to them for continuing to showcase such worthy independent work), you can always have a gander at the DVD.

Man, that Spatkauf must have been one cool place!