The Good Doctor – Lance Daly (2012)


It’s been a long wait since Lance Daly’s last film, a wonderfully sharpDublincoming of age drama called Kisses, reached our shores. Small in scale and tender, bleeding with emotion, it’s almost the opposite of its follow up, The Good Doctor. It’s very much a throwback to the cold, calculating psychological dramas of the 80s, where mood and setting counted for as much, if not more than, plot and character.

Bloom plays Dr. Martin Blake, a new resident trying to make a path for himself in a new environment that seems to be at odds with the way he thought life would go. He seems to be pegged back by this fact, and moves through life without attachment. He has no relationships, and is far from his parents, living in an empty, practical apartment, with a small, practical car. The only thing on his living room wall is his diploma. It’s as if he’s geared his life towards this idea of being a doctor to such a fine degree that it’s all he’s ever attained. To that end though, it’s incomplete. All he can do is his rounds. He can’t even play golf.

When Martin is asked by his supervisor, Dr. Waylans (Rob Morrow — though I pretended was still playing Dr. Fleishman here), when he knew he wanted to be a doctor, he tells about being young, seeing a family friend who was a doctor afforded a great amount of respect and being impressed by that. But there are harsh realities to his dream to deal with. Hospitals don’t run like they’re supposed do: doctors, it turns out, are not gods, and nurses (like Taraji P. Henson’s Nurse Theresa), it turns out, are not nursemaids, and push back against him. The pushback is something he comes to resent them for, and becomes convinced they are out to get him, hiding facts about patients that cause him to misdiagnose.

But in Diane (Riley Keogh), he finds the perfect patient to play doctor to. She’s young, attractive, and most importantly, she’s not that sick. She is less jeopardy to treat, and more, she puts himself so easily into his hands to turn him into the rescuer, even spilling her guts about her boyfriend to him. It’s a safe, satisfying situation, one Martin goes to a selfish, miserable end to keep, as he dilutes he meds in order to keep her just sick enough to help her get well, leading him down a dangerous path of deceit and betrayal as his new skills as a doctor may not be up to the level he thinks they are.

It’s a sound, compelling film, one that doesn’t dazzle or shock, but keeps you engaged and manages to make you twist a little as Martin falls deeper into his own ego. In perhaps the strangest twist, we find that Orlando Bloom might actually be a good actor as he gets away from period epics and playing suicidal sneaker executives (although up next for him is another turn as Legolas in The Hobbit). The one thing that gives me pause cementing this opinion of Bloom is Martin’s general character. Like his apartment, he’s a shell. His character is about not feeling great emotion. Even his feelings for Diane are not properly great emotions, they are hemmed in and turned into something ugly by his distorted emotional center. Still, taken in a vacuum, it’s a sterling performance by Bloom, and with the upcoming lesbian vampire film, Jack and Diane, Riley Keogh is one to look out for as well.

Nobody Walks – Ry Russo-Young (2012)


You can’t throw a stick these days without it clunking squarely into something written, directed or created by Lena Dunham. The controversial personality behind the TV show Girls is everywhere: Criterion, HBO, The New Yorker, forums, blogs, Facebook, Twitter — and now she’s on VOD with a new film called Nobody Walks, co-written Ry Russo-Young, about a young artist named Martine (Olivia Thirlby) who has come to Los Angeles to record the sound for a short art film she’s made. Things become sticky, though, when the sexy new houseguest begins to have an affect on the family she is crashing with.

Most of that affect happens in the head of Peter (John Krasinski), the sound effects whiz who is doing the Foley work on her film, who becomes smitten with Martine the second her little boy haircut enters his field of vision. The thing is that it’s never clear why.

Subplots involving Peter’s wife, Julie (Rosemarie DeWitt), and her daughter Kolt (India Ennenga) aside, the film stakes its viability on what you think of Martine, but instead of spending any time building her as a living, breathing character, Russo-Young tends to turn her camera to pretty shots of Los Angeles, furtive glancing and of sound collection, slipping into a lazy reliance on the fact that you probably already like Olivia Thirlby enough to automatically like Martine – and to be honest, much the same could be said about John Krasinski’s Peter too.

What do we really know about Thirlby though? Though she seems fairly down to Earth in interviews she rarely plays anyone likable in her movies. In Juno, she is the annoying best friend; in New York, I Love You she plays the girl pretending to be a cripple for research; she’s barely in Margaret long enough to register, and in The Wackness, she… well, everyone sucks in The Wackness to be fair.

That trend continues here with Martine. She is presented as remarkably empty and timid for an artist, having been sued over her last project – naked pictures of her ex-boyfriend – and unable to field a relatable vision with her short film about insects when asked about it. With her, the film lacks conviction, never clearly deciding whether it wants us to think that Martine is special, or whether she is the fraud to be held up to Kolt’s real artistic blossoming.

Still, it’s a pretty film, paced well considering, and the subplot between Rosemarie DeWitt’s psychiatrist and Justin Kirk’s nameless screenwriter is the film’s saving grace, popping up just often enough to keep you engaged. Russo-Young gets much right, but the film’s center is lacking. Having an enigma character usually relies on the filmmaker’s ability to create a character that we so badly want to open up. It’s something Kolt might be if she were the focus instead of a story conduit, but Martine is, when you break it down from what little is shown, probably not worth opening up. She’s actually a pretty awful person, and so is Peter, whose shortsightedness has him jeopardize so much for so little.

Side by Side – Christopher Kenneally (2012)

Film. Digital. Once, locked in a bitter war and advertised as “film versus digital”, the scrap is barely a fight anymore. Though film keeps hanging on, keeps holding onto devotes, like For Ellen (VOD on 9/19) director of photography Reed Morano, the digital revolution seems cemented in victory at the moment.

This “film”, in fact, was shot on digital cameras. Beginning it’s journey down the workflow, it was stored digitally, edited and graded, and the sound re-recorded and de-fuzzed on digital workspaces. Finally, it was viewed by me (and probably you) digitally, delivered to my digital television by Amazon over a wireless connection, where I watched it in the comfort of my living room. It’s hard to argue against that, the ease, the comfort, and the quickness. No waiting in lines, no travelling, no annoying texters or chatters in the seat in front of you. The only noise outside of the film while watching it was a snoring dog, and I can hardly yell at him to shut the hell up.

It’s a provocative film, though I struggle to call it a compelling must see film because it’s demographic is likely compromised by the intense interest over the last decade in the story. Side by Side is a good primer if you came late to the game, but if you’ve been following the rise of digital and slow suffocation of film over the years, there probably isn’t a lot you don’t know in the offing, and Keanu Reeves’ unfortunate narration style isn’t going to help you stay tuned should you become bored. Still, I appreciate his interest and passion on the subject, and his interview style is fine — the conversations he finds himself engaged in with the Wachowski’s especially is worth watching it for alone.

I’m also appreciative of how much time the film spent on discussing techy elements, like dynamic range and depth of field, and just how important the color grading step is to a finished film, though somewhat disappointed about how little time it spent on archiving. Archival prints are the whole ball game as it stands. Robert Rodriquez is right when he says digital will keep getting better and cheaper, eventually — probably — surpassing film. But how do we hang on to this stuff? Digital is not a sustainable model for making sure these treasures are available hundreds or even thousands of years from now. George Lucas’s offhand, “someone will figure it out because it’s so important” isn’t comforting at this point, especially thinking about stories such as Toy Story 2′s near miss with complete deletion. The final word on it comes from DP Geoff Boyle who pays out the discomfort offered by Lucas by concluding, “we’re fucked.” Sorry to the unborn generations, who may one day have learn about Michael Corleone and the Man with No Name by reading criticism. Suckers! At least someone wins in this story.

My Sucky Teen Romance – Emily Hagins (2012)

To be candid, after seeing the 2009 documentary Zombie Girl, the chronicle of a 12 year old Texas girl named Emily Hagins and her struggled to try and juggle life, middle school and directing her first feature zombie film, I never expected to hear about her again. Like the kids who made a frame-by-frame reenactment of Raiders of the Lost Ark, I thought it was  a cool story, but one that would go no further.

Three years later, though, and here I am talking about her, as her latest feature — the vampire comedy My Sucky Teen Romance – starts its run on VOD. Now nineteen years old and more sure of herself, the movie is a substantial jump up in quality, as you’d expect.

A one-last-hurrah high school movie, My Sucky Teen Romancetakes its starting point from a mutual dislike of teenage vampire culture that Kate (Elaine Hurt) and Allison (Lauren Lee) share as they prepare to head to a sci-fi convention to blow out Kate’s last weekend in town before heading off for college. They are cute and vibrant girls, nothing like the typical riff raff (such as myself) you’d expect to find at a sci-fi convention, and that’s a joke Hagins somewhat annoyingly goes out of her way to make at times, casting the sloppiest, saddest group of middle-aged dorks to fill out the background.

It all goes wrong, of course, when Kate’s long time crush, a grocery clerk named Paul (Patrick Delgado) shows up dressed as a vampire. The thing is, he really is a vampire. His motives hidden from view, he splits his time casing the convention goers, waiting for a specific panel about vampires to take place and mired in awkward sexual tension with Kate, whom he accidentally bites, turning her as well.

Part of me wants to be hyper critical and say this isn’t a professional film, to play the Royal Tenenbaum ruining Margot’s play by saying it’s just a bunch of kids in vampire costumes, but the rest of me is screaming at that part, “shut the fuck up, gramps”. It’s true that it’s not a strict professional film, but it has the hallmarks of being on the path to future professional films for the young director. In most professions, youth is an assett, but not filmmaking. As vital as youth makes you, experience and broadened horizons is a far bigger key to filmmaking. It’s how you learn how and when to apply comic relief, and how to dip into pop culture sparingly, so you avoid making a films with a cultural time limit on it. But so many films these days arrive on screen like a dead fish staring back at you, and that’s something, for all its shortcomings, Hagins avoids nimbly here. There is a surprising subtlety to Kate and Paul’s story, as it intertwines with Jason’s (Santiago Dietche) story that you don’t see coming. It’s a joyful film, like how Shoot the Piano Player is a joyful film. It’s not on par with Truffaut’s second film, but Truffaut was 11 years older and maybe that makes all the difference.