An avid student of the depiction of youth in movies, …
Digging for Fire comes perilously close to having something interesting to say about relationships and lurking curiosities. Unfortunately, it lacks the narrative focus and observational humor to be more than a mild diversion. It’s the kind of film where the secondary characters exist only to further the plot, while the main characters always say exactly what’s on their mind. It’s not a bad movie, exactly, but it never quite reaches the emotional heights that it’s reaching for.
It is an inherent belief that the holiday season and family gatherings go hand-in-hand like puffy earmuffs on an exposed frozen ear. Well, writer-director (and co-star) Joe Swanberg backs up this assertion with his dysfunctional familial gem Happy Christmas. The gift-giving in Happy Christmas is predicated upon breezy disillusionment, personal and professional malaise, and the underscoring of being unfulfilled. Once again Swanberg puts his unique stamp on the microscopic root of relationships and the fragile consequences of coping with the pressures of such interaction.
If Terrence Malick had a twisted little sister, it would be Josephine Decker; the resemblance is clearly discernible in her sophomore feature, Thou Wast Mild & Lovely, utilizing Malick’s uninhibited and experimental handheld style but with her own dash of psychosexual drama. Decker’s story is framed against the backdrop of a quiet country farm, and shells out the kind of chills that not even Malick could muster.
Just when I thought there weren’t any great filmmakers working in horror anymore, Ti West just scared the shit out of me. West bust out on the scene with the moody throwback The House of the Devil showing that he could replicate period aesthetic with ease. His first several films were shot standardly, but for The Sacrament, West dips his toes in the waters of the found footage genre.
The rustic, lyrical sophomore feature of writer-director Josephine Decker, Thou Wast Mild and Lovely proves as slippery and elusive a film as its characters do to one another. A work of atmospheric dread enhanced through loose editing and heightened colours and sound design, it opens with a sensual female voice discussing an unknown lover – “But the way my lover opened and closed my legs, the way my lover folded and unfolded me into my lover’s breast, my lover knows how to love me” – over the image of a perturbed, barking dog, this coming right after footage of a father and adult daughter playing in a field with a headless chicken, each with the exuberance of running puppies. What follows rarely deviates from that enigmatic prologue’s register.
Looking’s sixth episode, “Looking in the Mirror”, is a very pleasant surprise. There’s an energy and vitality in this half hour that had been missing from the show up until now. Maybe it’s because almost all the characters finally interact with one another, or maybe it’s because the editing and dialogue are paced less leisurely than usual. But a theme Looking has been exploring – going after what you want rather than what you should want – comes into focus and propels the stories forward in an exciting way.
Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies is a prime example of how a cast can save a movie from drifting into obscurity once the end credits roll. Good chemistry between actors is essential to making a film enjoyable; luckily for Drinking Buddies, the cast is exactly what turns the film into a minor success. The four principal stars are supremely likable and are given the chance to show off their improvisation skills throughout.
Filmmaking functions heavily in accordance with associations. When things go well on projects certain cliques form. For example, in comedy there is the Apatow gang, featuring writer-director Judd Apatow and such actors as Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd just to name a few. In the American independent horror film genre, there is the group comprised of writer-director Adam Wingard, writer-director-actor Joe Swanberg, actors A.J. Bowen, Amy Seimetz as well as arguably the most notable name of the bunch, writer-director-actor Ti West. Fans are in luck because the entire gang is back with the home invasion film You’re Next, the wait for which has been mind-numbingly long since it’s premier at TIFF…in 2011.