MEAN STREETS and TRAINWRECK: Movie reviews of Tangerine and The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet by Howard Casner

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tangerineGuerilla filmmaking is nothing new to the world of cinema. It’s probably existed since the first motion picture camera was invented. But perhaps the most famous and influential one is Rome: Open City in which the action is often filmed on the streets of a newly un-Nazi occupied Rome with a mixture of amateur and pro actors.

It’s never not gone out of style since (Sam Fuller uses it during the opening scenes of The Crimson Kimono, for example), but bulky cameras and sound gear made it very difficult. Now with smaller, cheaper and easier to use film equipment, it has been on the rise.

Most notably and recently we had Escape from Tomorrow, much of it secretly shot at Disneyland and Disneyworld (and often impressively so). But that film lacked a strong and focused narrative until it felt like the writer and director ultimately lost control of it all and the final third never came together in a satisfying way.

And now we have Tangerine, shot not just on the streets of Los Angeles (mainly on Santa Monica between Vermont and Highland, though it does extend to West Hollywood at one point), but also on busses, motels and in fast food restaurants, especially a donut shop manned by a very beleaguered clerk. Read the rest of this entry »

Movie Review of ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW by Howard Casner

I’m not convinced the new indie, OMG why isn’t Disney suing already, film, Escape from Tomorrow, ultimately works or even holds together in any sort of satisfying manner. If truth be told, it tends to lose its way in the last third, as if the writer/director Randy Moore hadn’t quite made up his mind what he wanted to say or what it was all about, or even what the basic plot was. It just doesn’t quite feel fully thought out.

At the same time, this is the sort of film one wants to see from indie filmmakers, especially a first film, which this is. It’s clever, unique, edgy. It tries to do something different and push the envelope. It is very definitely its own thing. The filmmaker at least attempts to have a vision here, even it’s less than 20/20 some of the time.

For those of you who haven’t been watching the news lately, i.e., are not on facebook or twitter, Escape from Tomorrow is the movie filmed semi-guerilla style at Walt Disney World in Florida and the Disneyland Park in Anaheim (I say semi- because I did catch some green screen shots and some others that tried to pretend they were taking place at one of the theme parks, but obviously weren’t). Everything that was actually shot at the park was done furtively, using the regular crowds as backdrop. Because of this, though the plot is a bit of a fantasia, the movie at times achieves the realistic feeling of such movies as Rome: Open City and Little Fugitive, though not the transcendence.

The basic story revolves around a typical middle class family, about as Donna Reed/Robert Young as you can get: the father is the breadwinner with a nymphet fixation; his wife a stay at home mother and full time Xanthippe; their young son has an Oedipus Complex; and the even younger daughter has an Electra one.

When the father, Jim, gets a phone call out of the blue and is informed that he is fired for reasons that are somewhat mysterious (though possibly with a hint that Jim really should have some idea as to why), he keeps it to himself, and his family spends their last day of vacation at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. But Jim quickly becomes obsessed with two Lolitaish French teens (oh, those French; ever since we saved their asses in WWII, they just screw up everything, don’t they) and begins to suffer hallucinations that become more and more bizarre, to say the least.

Roy Abramsohn plays Jim and Elana Schuber plays wife Emily. Both give solid, down to earth performances (though they do have one scene where they both seem to seriously flounder as they argue over whether to stay at the park or return to the hotel). However, the real standout may be Jack Dalton as their son; he has deep black pools of eyes that seriously creep you out (I mean, seriously, bro), as if he was auditioning for a remake of The Omen.

In the end, it’s the technical aspects of the film that draw you in. Shot in bright black and white by cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham and smartly directed by Moore, there are some remarkably staged scenes, especially one that takes place in race cars that must have required a number of trips around on that ride alone. Each scene at the theme parks had to be a single take since one couldn’t film multiple times and edit it all together, not with a constant changing background. From a directing standpoint, Moore has acquitted himself well.

But as a writer, he may have a way to go. The structure is a bit clunky at times (Jim’s first hallucination is not finessed well at all). Though the suggestion is that the whole story is suppose to be from Jim’s POV and that the hallucinatory aspects are only what he is experiencing, the screenplay does something odd at times, like have a scene with a nurse that ends with Jim out of the room (so he couldn’t possibly have seen her final breakdown) and then have his wife have an hallucinatory moment herself. And there’s a jump in time shot where Jim blacks out and wakes up in a woman’s hotel room that really doesn’t make much sense either. At first, these oddities are intriguing. But as the movie gets more and more fantastic, the whole thing starts crumbling. And the movie takes too long to end, probably because the plot seems to stop going anywhere clear as Moore seems to lose control of the story.