Tag Archives: Coming Of Age

Movie Review: Puppylove (2013)

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    Rating: C/ Puppylove opens with two 14-year-old kids preparing to have sex. The awkwardness and authenticity of this scene made me think the movie itself was going to be more realistic than it was. But no, the ick factor of this film goes way above and beyond a realistic amount and into a level of ridiculousness. Let me explain. The girl in the movie, Diane (Selene Rigot) is a young teen and looks barely old enough to be weaned off Barbie dolls. She also seems to be in love with her ineffectual father (Vincent Perez) (Freud would be proud.) At the beginning, we see the girl, Diane, befriend Julia (Audrey Bastien,) the remarkably self-possessed nymphet daughter of overbearing intellectual parents who is all too aware of her effect on men. Continue reading Movie Review: Puppylove (2013)

When Animals Dream (2014)

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Sod the naysayers. I think this movie is wonderful. Lycanthropy as a metaphor for the hairier aspects of puberty is a motif that’s been used before, but never as a story like this been so meditative and visually astonishing as the the Danish chiller When Animals Dream. I knew as soon as I saw the gorgeous opening credits that I was in for something special, Animals’ coastal small town setting as stunning as it is deeply desolate and bleak.

Comparisons, of course, will be drawn to Tomas Alfredson’s haunting story of young vampire love Let the Right One In, both are outstanding films that effortlessly outdo American fright films and prove, once again, that horror can have truly scary implications without focusing on gore or wanton brutality. This is why off-the-radar horror is often (never say ‘always’) better than the slasher films and gorefests mainstream studios offer up to the bloodthirsty masses.

Marie (Sonia Suhl) is an awfully nice girl who happens to be turning into a werewolf – the victim of a family secret that has been kept from her for the majority of her youth. Marie lives with her dad (Lars Mikkaelson,) who seems well-meaning but is way over his head with the women of his family; and her mother (Sonja Richter,) who- ahem – doesn’t seem to be all there, lacking the ability to even rise from her wheelchair or express herself verbally.

And what’s with all those injections mom keeps taking? What exactly is making this woman sick in the first place? Could it have something to do with an attack by a group of Russian sailors years before? Whatever the case, Dad isn’t telling, and Marie grows up none the wiser until she begins developing strange bruises and coarse hair all over her body.

Marie starts working in a fish plant, where she is pushed into a vat of rotten fish by her jeering co-workers the first time under the pretense of ‘hazing.’ The bright spot in Marie’s life is Daniel, (Jakob Oftbro) a cute guy who doesn’t treat her like a total outcast. However, several other men at the plant (led by the leering Esben,) who abhor Marie for her femininity and perpetuate attacks and harassment of a sexual nature on the girl.

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Marie begins to separate herself from her parents and takes up Daniel as a boyfriend, goes to a rave-even has sex, discovering her sensuality and becoming more self-confident in the process. But as the townspeople discover Marie’s fleshly habits, things can’t end on anything other than a full-scale bloodbath. You just better hope you’re on the right side of this war, or you might just end up being this girl’s dinner. Marie didn’t start this. But she’ll sure as Hell finish it.

Some people might not like that Marie doesn’t devour anyone who is not a direct threat to her life, and that her wolf make-up doesn’t look as wolfish as, say  An American Werewolf in London. But these things didn’t bother me. There are some unanswered questions like, will Marie randomly kill people who don’t mean her any harm, or is she harmless just as long as you don’t push her buttons too much? Regardless, it was fun watching the narrow-minded townspeople get what’s indubitably coming to them, in the form of a ravenous, empowered Marie.

Sonia Suhl gives a very good, understated performance as the main heroine and I really liked that she was pretty without being particularly ‘glamorous’ or made up.  There are some really creepy moments in his film, for example the eerie sounds during the sex scene (akin to a rusty door rattling on it’s hinges (!))

Honestly, When Animals Dream is not terribly scary, but it’s creepy and loaded with unsettling atmosphere. It isn’t as thought-provoking as Let the Right One In (mostly due to Marie’s most unwerewolf-like benevolence unless her life is being directly threatened,) but it’s incredibly moody and- wouldn’t you know it?- sometimes incredibly heartbreaking. It’s easy to see who’s the real monster in a town of merciless louts and bullies. But in the end, they’re all pretty much fucked. There’s a new queen in town, and once you’ve wronged her, you better hope you can run fast enough to avoid being nibbled on.

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Spirited Away (2001)

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-Watched English-Dubbed Version-

If you’ve never seen anything by master animator and storyteller Hayao Miyazaki, you’re missing out. The esteemed filmmaker has several fantastic films to his credit, and 2001’s coming-of-age fantasy Spirited Away may be his most magical of all. The wealth of creativity on display in Spirited Away more than makes up for it’s occasional holes in plot and character development, and the heroine Chihiro’s wondrous (if sometimes scary) adventures should appeal to both the young and the old.

At the film’s start, Chihiro (voiced by Daveigh Chase) is a somewhat whiny and entitled nine-year-old girl with an even more entitled pair of parents (Michael Chiklis and Lauren Holly) who are moving their moody preteen daughter to a new house. In the spirit of adventure (or so he thinks,) dad takes a short cut and finds himself in what he thinks is an abandoned theme park. He gets out of the car to take a look around, finds an unattended banquet, and he and his wife throw caution to the wind and begin to arbitrarily chow down (sure, wouldn’t anyone?)

Chihiro refuses to partake and is spared the fate of being transformed into a pig, but her parents are not so lucky. Turns out the ‘theme park’ is a bathhouse for the spirits, and Chihiro must get over her orneriness and aversion to hard work in order to save her parents from becoming the next entree for the creatures inhabiting the magical realm. Along the way, she meets a brooding and mysterious boy (Jason Marsden) who moonlights as a dragon, and evades the evil clutches of Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette,) a malevolent sorceress and overprotective mother of a infant monstrosity worthy of Eraserhead.

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There’s commentary abound concerning (American?) decadence, greed, and laziness, including a creature called ‘No-Face’ who  idly feeds off the materialism of others while becoming increasingly grotesque and corpulent, but Spirited Away never becomes pedantic in it’s nuanced delivery of it’s message. One issue I see with the script is that the supporting characters don’t always have a lot of motivation for what they do. For example, the six-armed Boiler Man spirit (David Allen Ogden Stiers) sticks up for Chihiro shortly after her arrival at the bath house, more or less because the script requires him to.

He’s not developed in a way that this is a particularly feasible decision for him, just as Yubaba’s twin sister is a wildly inconsistent creation. One moment she threatens to ‘tear Chihiro’s mouth out’ if she blabs her secret, the next she asking her to call her ‘granny.’ Whaat? The exceptions Yubaba, whose behavior is unkind, but consistent,  and Chihiro and the boy, Haku, who have a fluid and interesting character arc.

However, Spirited Away is boundlessly inventive and visually stunning; a menagerie of intense color and bizarre creatures that stands up to multiple watches and should enrapture the imaginations of kids and adults alike. It’s certainly not dumbed down to the intellect of a slow five-year-old like a lot of kiddie matinee, it takes it’s young audience seriously and doesn’t treat them like morons;  that’s what’s so great about Hayao Miyazaki as a filmmaker, isn’t it? He trusts that kids will get things and doesn’t talk down to them.

The difference between something like this and the average animated comedy by Dreamworks studios is like the difference between a mountain and a rockpile. Like Pixar’s best films, Spirited Away combines eye-popping animation with memorable storytelling and a genuine sense of wonder to create pure movie making magic. Regardless of whether you’re a huge anime enthusiast, Spirited Away (and by extension, most of Miyazaki’s films) is utterly worth your time. If you like feverishly imaginative fantasy that transports you for a few hours from the mundanity of daily life, you’ll find a lot to love in Miyazaki’s masterpiece.

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The Road Within (2014)

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So, I did the unthinkable last night, I watched a remake of a foreign movie before viewing the original. The Road Within is a remake of the 2010 German film, Vincent Wants to Sea, and I’ve heard it is a very faithful adaptation. Anyway, if that is the case, I might as well cross Vincent off my itinerary. The Road Within may be an independent film, but it feels as pedestrian as they come.

Let’s cut to the chase; the real problem here isn’t the script (trite and hokey as it is,) but Dev Patel. Fucking Dev Patel, man, Robert Sheehan plays Vincent, a Tourette’s Syndrome victim with a anger management problem in this movie, and he’s quite good. He’s making a monumental effort against a weak script with his solid performance.

Following his alcoholic mother’s death, Vincent is sent to a behavioral therapy program by his cold-hearted  politician father (Robert Patrick) and so sooner has he been dropped off and virtually abandoned by pops he befriends a flirty pixyish anorexic (Zoe Kravitz) and hits the road in his therapist’s stolen car to scatter his  mother’s ashes at sea.

Of course there’s one small problem, besides that whole ‘wanted felons in a stolen car’ thing. Vincent and the Anorexic, Marie have taken Vincent’s annoying roommate, Alex (Dev Patel) with them, quite forcibly (to prevent him from narcing them out to the doctors at the facility,) and that’s where the film really falters.

Don’t watch this if you’re an Obsessive-compulsive Disorder victim like me; it will just infuriate and baffle you. Alex is a pedantic clean freak who suffers from OCD, and that’s where the filmmaker’s development of his character ends. His character more often than not provides some kind of ghastly slapstick, his eyes bulging out like a deranged Marty Feldman incarnate, jumping about comically like a spastic and screaming about ‘poo’ and ‘contamination’ whenever someone touches him.

It’s pretty much the tackiest OCD stereotype one can imagine, and I felt almost embarrassed for the actor and the filmmaker in that (a they treated a complex and serious illness this way and (b that they thought people with OCD actually act like this. While Sheehan’s part is underwritten and pretty cliche as far as depictions of Tourette’s Syndrome go (choosing to portray the uncontrollable cursing that sometimes- but not typically- goes with the illness,) his character is written with some finesse and sympathy, and the actor creates a somewhat likable protagonist with admittedly limited resources. He seems, more or less, like someone who could exist in the real world.

Contrary to this movie’s depiction of OCD, people suffering from the illness are not psychotic or retarded (we may in fact be borderline crazy, if ‘insanity’ is defined by having an unfortunate mental condition that hinders our day-to-day functioning, but I desist.) The director, Gren Wells, could just as well have hired Adam Sandler (Happy Madison productions Sandler, not Punch-Drunk Love Sandler) to play Alex and it probably would have been just as convincing a portrayal. Patel’s shtick gets old fast, and by fast I mean the minute he’s introduced into the movie.

Besides the unfortunate depiction of certain psychological conditions, the setup of The Road Within is painfully standard, with characters apparently reaching recovery from a healing road trip and lots and lots of big discussions about the trio’s illnesses effect on their lives. Robert Patrick does a good job (and actually has a touching monologue near the end) but his character is just too unbelievable, going full circle from uncaring jerk to genuinely loving dad thanks to a few short conversations with Vincent’s shrink (Kyra Sedgwick.) The transformation just isn’t plausible with you consider the father, Robert’s years of being a total asshole to his son.

It all ties into a neat tidy bundle at the end and despite some good scenes and performances, ultimately has little to say about the character’s conditions. Comedies, whether convivial or dark, about mental illness can be effective; just look at Benny & Joon, The Silver Linings Playbook, and The bizarro black comedy The Voices. The Voices was offensive as offensive can be, but it didn’t try to be anything other than a pitch black comedy. The Silver Linings Playbook performed the high wire act between being light and funny and not trivializing the characters’ illnesses. The Road Within has it’s moments, but ultimately it’s just not a substantial flick, obtaining cheap laughs from the character’s  respective maladies and telling a well-meaning yet tired story with no real surprises.

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Au revoir les enfants (1987)

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A single look can change everything.

Louis Malle’s heartbreaking autobiographical film is set in 1944 at Catholic school in Nazi-occupied France, and chronicles a naive preteen’s wrenching coming-of-age. Julien Quentin (Gaspard Manesse,) a well-to-do adolescent mama’s boy, thinks he knows everything there is to know about the real world, but things are about to get a whole lot realer, and life a lot more harrowing, during a seemingly uneventful stint in boarding school.

A pixyish, somewhat androgynous child already contending with impending puberty, a harrowing experience in it’s own right, Julien is first seen bawling out his doting mother (Francine Racette) at the train station, where she prepares to send him on the train to school. “I don’t give a damn about dad, and I hate you,” he sniffles, caught in the throes of typical adolescent self-absorption and angst.

But Julien finds unexpected pleasure and enjoyment at the academy, where he roughhouses and plays with the other boys in his age group, sells black market jam to the crippled kitchen hand and school outcast Joseph (François Négret,) and strikes up a tentative friendship with a low-key, musically gifted boy named Jean Bonnet (Raphaël Fejtö.)

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The nosy Julien does some prying and discovers that his new friend is actually a Jew, named Jean Kippelstein, and smuggled into the school by the altruistic and rebellious Father Jean (Philippe Morier-Genoud.) A hell of a priest and a hell of a good guy, Father Jean quietly defies the Nazi Occupation and does what he thinks is right regardless of what society expects of him.

You might think that 20th-century upper-class French kids are somehow less rambunctious than the modern American preteen, but this movie will inform you otherwise. The boys in this movie, are rowdy, wild, combative, and often rude and mean. They just don’t have an Xbox to lull them into complacency. Most of them are more or less completely unaware that their country is in discord, preferring to roughhouse, haze the new guy, and read each other the dirtiest book they know (The Arabian Nights, the veritable Fifty Shades of Grey of their time.)

Filmmaker Louis Malle chooses wisely not to make the boy characters too worldly or introspective, instead deciding to stick to a more realistic approach to adolescence. And the movie is not without it’s humor- when Jean and Julien wander off during a treasure hunt and get lost in the woods, they run into a scared wild boar and are charitably wrapped in a blanket in the back of a German military vehicle and returned to school.

When they return home to their peers, however, Julien elevates the story to legendary heights- now there was not one, but one hundred mad boars and the soldiers shot at them as they ran through the woods. Why, they barely escaped with their lives. This provides some comic relief, but it also has a lot of truth to it- stories all seem to get bigger in the minds of young boys.

Au revoir les enfants is tender, true-to-life, and achingly sad. The children behave as children will, ignorant of the impending storm, and the adults talk worriedly among themselves. The matter of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is a series of decisions and choices, and morality doesn’t always triumph over doing the cowardly and ultimately shitty thing.

There is at least one main character who does a terrible thing (not Julien, whose ultimate act is comprised of folly. not malice) This person screws the others over and is presumably rewarded for it. The movie teaches a sad but true lesson- Happily ever After can occur for the most undeserving people. The righteous man is not always the one who gets a good outcome. And doing the right thing should be because it’s the moral thing to do, not because you’ll be rewarded for it.

The child actors do an admirable job in a foreign film that almost everyone with a taste for a rich narrative should find accessible. At the end of the movie, Julien says he’ll remember that last morning in January til the day he dies. You should remember this movie as such;  not because it is traumatic, but because it is moving and beautiful, without a hint of bitterness for a carefree childhood torn asunder by life’s cruel ironies.

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Paradise: Hope (2013)

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Raging hormones. Sexual frustration. Adolescent rebellion. A lot can go on during a summer at fat camp.

Cute, heavyset 13-year-old Melanie (Melanie Lenz) is dropped off at a weight management camp by her Aunt (Maria Hofstatter) when her mother goes off on vacation to Kenya. Not as bitter as you might expect, Melanie quickly makes friends with a more sexually experienced girl (Verena Lehbauer) and develops a heart-stopping crush on the camp’s middle-aged physician (Joseph Lorenz,) who is unnervingly receptive to her girlish flirtations.

“Paradise: Love” is the third in a trilogy, Ulrich Seidl’s thematic follow-up to “Paradise: Love,” focusing on Melanie’s horny sex tourist mother, and “Paradise: Faith,” following the daily life of the religious fanatic aunt (portrayed briefly in this film) who takes her love for Jesus into the realm of obsession. We fear for Melanie watching “Paradise: Hope.” Desperately hoping that she will not get over her head pining for this older man.

Never during the conversations between the fat camp teens do we get the impression that they are acting. They talk, look, and feel like real people- making themselves out to be more experienced then they are, discussing past escapades with a knowing air, playing spin the bottle giddily while drunk on cheap beer.

This is a movie that understands teen angst and desire and the mad contrast in the level of experience and sexual maturity of adolescent kids (while Melanie’s friend plays the part of an adult, wise in the ways of men, another camp girl still walks around clad in a pink Hello Kitty shirt and many of the kids remain hopelessly naive.)

The teens alternately understand a lot and see a lot more than the adults give them credit for and don’t know a damn thing- about love, about relationships, about the forbidden power a child can have over an adult. Melanie craves tenderness. She wants to feel loved and desired by this aging but virile man. Her instructor’s desire is less emotional, more carnal.

A bit of a dirty old man, he finds attentions from a virginal thirteen-year-old almost to much too resist. The viewer desperately watches events unfold, afraid for Melanie’s sexual and emotional health. Will the object of her affections play the part of a classic predator, everything your mother ever warned you about… or a blessing in disguise?

An almost complete lack of music reigns over this dark but tremulously hopeful story. There’s lots of shots of the teens trying to get into shape while their instructor (Michael Thomas) sternly guides them, eating low fat food in the dining hall, and chatting in their dorms, with few intimate close-up’s, giving an almost fly-on-the-wall feeling to the film. The performances are naturalistic and restrained, showing burgeoning promise in Melanie Lenz.

I wish people online would stop describing Melanie’s character as trying to ‘seduce’ her pediatrician. That man was sending Melanie signals loud and clear, in a playful but totally inappropriate way. Look at the scene where the man follows her hungrily into the woods, looming threateningly in the frame, predatory even as she casts looks upon him beseeching him to follow her. Melanie’s girlish ignorance of the consequences of her crush remain abundantly clear despite her pursuit of the much older man.

Melanie is a kid, for all intents and purposes, albeit a curvy, physically mature one. As far as I’m concerned this is a movie about a flirtation that wouldn’t have gone nearly so far had the adult acted in a grown-up way and gently rebuffed the child from the get-go.

The only thing I wasn’t sure about in this film was the ending. It seemed to end a bit too cryptically, even by European art film standards and I wasn’t wild about the strange and slightly creepy way it went down. Somehow a story revolving around sexual tension between an adult and a child manages to avoid being gross and exploitative- until that scene in the bar. It’s one of those films where you ask, is the hero-slash-heroine going to be okay?- and in this case you just don’t know.

Though slightly less dark than “Paradise: Faith” (I watched the trilogy all out of order, leaving the first installment for last,) “Paradise: Hope” has it’s share of uncomfortable moments and taboo subject matter. For the most part, though, it establishes director Seidl as less of a creepy old man with a camera and more as an observer of life- the discomforting parts, the parts maybe not everybody can talk about, even the ugly parts- to not sordid, but spectacularly real effect. It’s a story that couldn’t have been told in America, and are you really going to fault it there? Controversial, but more palpable that you might think considering the subject matter.

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Boy (2010)

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“Boy” is an appealing film and an arresting look into another time and place, so it’s a shame it relies heavily on coming-of-age cliches to tell it’s story. Never fear, though- despite the feeling of been-there done-that that pervades this feature, “Boy” has charm and sweetness to spare, and is worth watching despite it’s rather standard execution.

At the center of this sentimental picture is an 11-year-old Maori lad (James Rolleston)  who calls himself ‘boy.’ Boy’s life is far from carefree- he lives in poverty, the responsibility of his younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone Whitu) and his cousins often fall into his hands, he is besieged by bullies at school, and the girl (Ricky-Lee Waipuka Russell) he likes doesn’t know he exists. But he approaches his challenges with a freshness and active fantasy life that belies the direness of his situation.

Boy is surrounded by quirky and hardscrabble characters, not least of which is his shy brother, who believes he has superpowers. While Boy’s grandmother is out at a funeral and entrusting his multitude of relatives to him for a couple of weeks, Boy’s biological father Alamein (actor/director Taika Waititi) comes crashing into his life. Boy is entranced by his charming dad, despite the man’s ne’er do well ways and gang affiliations.

Anyone but Boy can see that Alamein is a worthless chode, so it just becomes a waiting game until the big reveal where Boy realizes it too. Meanwhile, Alamein and his equally useless friends start digging for a stash of money they buried years ago. Alamein seems caring and paternal on the surface (at least to a naive kid in desperate need of a father figure like Boy,) but in reality he is concerned with people only to the point that they serve his best interests.

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The child actors perform admirably (you can keenly see the pain in Boy’s eyes when his dad hauls off and slaps him,) and the crayon ‘fantasy’ sequences add a little originality to a mostly tired plot. It actually works better in terms of story that Boy is not always a boy scout even before his father comes into the picture and changes his attitude for the worse- he torments his brother and hurls rocks at the village idiot (Waihori Shortland,) but for the most part his intentions seem to be good.

Taika Waititi does an effective job as Alamein, playing the somewhat tired character of the charming rogue with big plans and no backing-up of his multitude of promises. You kind of want to like him despite the obvious signs that he’s bad business, and you could see how an inexperienced child might be sucked into his high-wire act way of life. But it’s also bitterly clear that he’s bad business for Boy. As Boy spends more and more time with Alamein, feeding off his manic energy, Boy’s brother and cousins go without the much-needed care and concern of their young caregiver. It’s just a matter of time until something gives, and with Alamein’s unreliable ways that shift will be sooner rather than later.

There are multiple Michael Jackson fantasy dance scenes (the year is 1984, and Boy is a massive fan of the Jackster,) and they fit into the narrative more than they probably should- the movie is a surprisingly cohesive mix of laughter and sadness, fantasy and harsh reality. It’s frustratingly predictable, but also solidly sweet, charming, and well-acted, with a steady combination of nostalgia and hard times.

I can definitely see the kid actors going somewhere, and “Boy” has an abundance of warm feelings that help it through it’s more so-so parts. We know that Boy will reject his dad’s false promises and that he will give up pursuing his crush to be with the girl who’s loved him all along, triggering an inevitable coming-of-age, but it’s nice to take the journey nonetheless.

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Blue is the Warmest Color (2014)

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Dare I say that I didn’t quite fall in love with this film the way everyone else seemed to? I’ll be the first one to say that “Blue is the Warmest Color” is altogether a very well-made movie. But it, like anything else, has it’s faults, The first and second halves of this film seem like entirely different movies (and are individually each the length of a separate motion picture, Good God is this movie long.)
The first half is full of joy and vitality, while the second portion, the more inferior one by far, ploddingly deals with the tragedy of a doomed love affair. While Adele, the heroine, is a compelling, likable character at the beginning, by the end she is a pathetic needy husk of a woman, lacking a shred of dignity or decency. Furthermore, by the conclusion it’s hard to root for the broken lovers to reunite. Frankly, they’re toxic to one another! But I digress. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), who is fifteen when this story starts,  is a voracious reader and insecure beauty who is still navigating her intrinsic passions and inner desires, Although Adele hangs with a group of friends in her local high school, she finds she cannot relate to their banter concerning boys and hookups. Adele dates a male classmate for a little while, even sleeping with him at one point, but Adele finds she desires something that young men can’t offer.

When Adele spots Emma (Lea Seydoux) in a crowded street, it’s lust at first sight. Emma awakens something in Adele that she hasn’t experienced before, a kind of intense longing. Emma, a blue-haired, charmingly tomboyish artistic type, is older and more experienced than the youthful Adele, but she takes to her from the moment they officially meet.

Emma and Adele kiss in the park, discuss art and literature, and have sex. Lots and lots of sex. In fact, for a hetero chick, the prolonged sequences of lesbian love-making seemed a little bit excessive. There was one scene in particular that seemed to go on for ages and feature about eighty different positions. “Blue is the Warmest Color” is not porn, but it does seem to cross that line disconcertingly often.

If there’s any fault to be had in this critically acclaimed movie, it’s certainly not in the acting. Both leads, especially Exarchopoulos, blew me away with their incredible performances. The script, similarly, is often exceedingly natural and compelling. However, a film should only be three hours long if not a dialogue or shot is wasted. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with “Blue is the Warmest Color.”

A passionate embrace, a mere mention of skin can say more than a handful of borderline pornographic sequences ever can. Are these scenes necessary to show the love the heroines feel for each other? No. Moreover, the realization that the actresses didn’t have a good experience with this director makes me wonder if filming this movie was awkward or degrading for them.

Mostly, though, the movie was just too long and the second half too uneven for me to give the movie more than 3.5 stars. The actresses are lovely and fiercely talented, and the film is worth your time (if you happen to have a spare three hours to watch a movie,) but I found I just didn’t love it as much as I should’ve.

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Summer Storm (2004)

Tobi (Robert Stadlober) is at that age when young adults wonder who they are, what they want, and where, if anywhere, they fit in. Unfortunately, what Tobi wants is quite obvious and unattainable: his straight best friend, Achim (Kostja Ullmann), who seems oblivious to Tobi’s affections.

“Summer Storm” is the story of Tobi’s coming out, Tobi’s boat rowing team championship, and Tobi himself, a fragile young man who hides behind a mask of goofball lovability to avoid confronting the world head-on.

Similarly compelling are the trials of Tobi’s girlfriend Anke (Alicja Bachleda), who tries to understand the deep feelings Tobi has for his best bud. The only subplot that I thought did not work was the attempts of a member of the openly gay opposite team, Queerstrokes (cute, huh?) to seduce an apparently straight homophobe.

I found this to be silly and cartoonish, and to reinforce negative stereotypes about gays (they want to “convert” you.) I think that the director should have dropped that and concentrated on Tobi, who is, to be a fair, a compelling and likable character.

He can be naïve, he can be a jerk sometimes, but Tobi is well-realized and sympathetic. Robert Stadlober, who is bisexual in real life, gives a sensitive and restrained performance. I also liked his romance with Leo, a Queerstrokes member. Although I initially felt that Tobi was using Leo, I liked the direction their relationship took.

“Summer Storm” is a good if unexceptional drama with mostly realistic characters, humor, and heart. Some aspects ring false (such as the apparently straight Achim masturbating in the shower room with Tobi) but most of it was believable. It is a movie for people who like gay cinema and true-to-life films about growing up.

The Hammer (2010)

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m no big fan of wrestling. I just can’t get pumped up at the prospect of two muscly, angry-looking, sweaty boys/men sticking their testicles in each others’ faces. So the human interest element of a wrestling story really has to involve me, or else the appeal is lost on me.

Well, “The Hammer” is no Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler,” but it still manages to be a pretty appealing ‘underdog’ story, sans “The Wrestler”‘s devastating ending. Now inspirational underdog pic can be great “Billy Elliot,” good “The Fighter,” or just mediocre (“Front of the Class,”) and “The Hammer” falls somewhere in the middle category.

Based on a true story, “The Hammer” follows Matt Hamill, a deaf athlete (played by Russell Harvard, who has the disability in real life,) who struggles throughout his youth for love, inclusion, and acceptance. As a child, Matt’s grandfather Stan (Raymond J. Barry) denied him the right to learn sign language or participate in a school with other deaf children.

So guess what? Matt gets moved to the ‘slow class’ of a mainstream primary school, where the normal kids  assume he’s stupid- he can’t hear, he can’t talk, he doesn’t respond to their taunts… until one day he does respond, knocking one of his victimizers to the ground after being bullied.

Matt grows into a strong, oxish youth who nevertheless remains tentative about social engagements. He also finds his calling in life… wrestling. When Matt fails at his wrestling scholarship, partially because of his inability to understand sign language (way to go, Gramps,) he must fight his fears and insecurities in order to achieve his dreams.

I’ll admit- I kind of spaced out during the wrestling scenes, which weren’t my forte. But despite the sentimentality, the tears, and the token inspirational moments, I was pleased with this film as a whole. It wasn’t really anything new or special, but it was well-done.

First of all Matt was a likable characters- you felt for his failures, even if you knew he was going to succeed at the end. The Grandpa was a three-dimensional character, even if his motivations were not always clear. He made up for his shortcomings by being an overall good father figure to his grandson.

Matt’s deaf girlfriend Kristi (also deaf actress Shoshannah Stern) was kind of blah… you couldn’t really feel the chemistry between her and Matt, and her constant nagging at him to sign rather than speak was annoying, and never really got resolved.

“The Hammer” is an overall rather predictable movie that ends up inspiring you despite yourself. The acting is decent, the script strong, and the characters likable enough. It might be worth a watch if you can find it for a cheap rental, or if you like this sort of movie.