That's the rub, folks: Brick, as best as you can describe it, is a postmodern mashup of a '90s teen drug drama and a '30s noir. The setup is quite straightforward: A girl named Emily (Emilie de Ravin) is dead, and her ex-boyfriend Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who apparently can't get enough of the indie scene now) wants to find out what happened. He suspects foul play, and he launches an investigation, much like some renegade gumshoe might do, always evading the watchful eye of the chief. Only here, there's no chief, just a principal (Richard Roundtree, of all people). With the help of a brilliant colleague -- er, classmate -- Brendan starts digging into the underworld, such as it exists in a world of letter jackets and parking lot brawls. (Indeed, for all the talk of highschool, not a single class is actually attended in Brick.)
Continue reading: Brick Review
Aside from Solondz's decidedly risky topics, his format in Storytelling takes chances. It presents two separate shorts, entitled "Fiction" and "Non-fiction," with no obvious connection between the two. The only true thread is that both comment on the telling of tales, the shifting of points of view, and the way most people in Solondz's suburban landscapes constantly paddle their painful lives upstream.
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Joe the King is the sad story of a young boy trying to cope with his dysfunctional family in a poor, small town in the 1970s. Director and writer Frank Whaley's debut attempts to reveal the loneliness of adolescence by exposing the heart of a boy made tough by the harsh circumstances of his miserable family life. Set in upstate New York, the film follows Joe Henry (Noah Fleiss -- Josh and S.A.M.) as he deals with an abusive father (Kilmer) and a hapless mother (Karen Young). His only salvation is his fifteen-year-old brother, Mike (Max Ligosh). Together they comfort each other as they deal with each violent and horrific episode of family crisis.
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Hey, look at me! A gay kid got beaten to death in Laramie, Wyoming, so let's go there and interview people... and write a play using their words.
Continue reading: The Laramie Project Review
Todd Solondz's "Storytelling" is designed to foster a sensation of absorbing discomfort, not unlike his earlier examinations of esoteric, emotionally disquieting Americana "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Happiness." But this film's two shrewd but pointless short stories are suppressed by the underlying feeling that the film got worked over something fierce in post-production, and that half its guts are lying on a cutting room floor somewhere.
The conspicuously abrupt first segment, entitled "Fiction," runs about 20 minutes and stars Selma Blair ("Legally Blonde") and Leo Fitzpatrick ("Bully") in painfully authentic performances as an emotionally insecure coed and her cerebral palsy-stricken dorm neighbor and lover. Unable to connect emotionally, they each vent their frustrations in pallid short stories about their thinly veiled real lives for a creative writing class. These yarns are not well received by their ruthlessly candid classmates, who pass judgment on Blair's and Fitzpatrick's meager authoring talents and, by extension, their messed-up lives.
Desperately seeking some kind of acceptance, the frail, troubled Blair surrenders herself sexually to her even more cruel professor (Robert Wisdom). Once at his apartment, he forces her to spout racial epithets (she's white, he's black and about three times her size) while having his way with her rather violently and so graphically that Solondz covered the scene with a superimposed red box to avoid an NC-17.
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A notably realistic portrait of borderline poverty and familial dysfunction, "Joe the King" has such commendable performances and such an amazingly assimilating sense of time, place and circumstance that I hate not being able to recommend it.
The writing-directing debut of under-appreciated actor Frank Whaley -- you probably know him as the guy Samuel L. Jackson shot after quoting Ezekiel 25:17 in "Pulp Fiction" -- his "Joe" script won a screenwriting award at Sundance this year for its story of a foul-mouthed 14-year-old boy (Noah Fleiss) trapped in a sullen, angry, desperate life he'll probably never escape.
His abusive, hard-drinking father (a paunchy, intimidating Val Kilmer) is a constant threat and an embarrassment who owes money all over town. A troublemaker at school (to add to his shame, his dad is the janitor), Joe takes ceaseless, cruel criticism from his teachers and more of the same from his boss (he washes dishes at a local greasy spoon). The poor kid has spent his life learning the hard way to fend for himself.
Continue reading: Joe The King Review
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