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Borderstan Movie Fan Explains Indie Flicks

by Borderstan.com — June 10, 2010 at 6:59 am 1 Comment

Mary Burgan  Borderstan Movie Fan

Mary Burgan is the Borderstan Movie Fan.

Mary the Borderstan Movie Fan’s column on movies runs every two weeks. Mary Burgan is a retired professor of English and association executive. Her previous reviews are listed at the end of this post.

My Fandango account has just written to inform me that tickets for Eclipse are now available and I should get mine right away so that I can be one of the first to see that eagerly awaited teen vampire movie when it opens on June 30. I am not going to take Fandango up on the offer.

The other communication I’ve just gotten from Fandango asked me what I thought about “Indies,” that is, little (meaning on the cheap), independent movies that are rarely on offer at the big Cineplexes. I tried to respond that I liked them a lot, but the page couldn’t register my choice without throwing up a window that offered me a free movie ticket if I would only buy one of a group of magazines that I never read.

I wanted to do my bit to push for more indie movies–to find one tiny screen for them among some of Fandango’s many giant screens that are showing sequels to movies that were good enough in the first place, but often suffer in later versions. I’m thinking of, for example, Iron Man,  Sex and the City, Toy Story, Shrek, and, of course, Eclipse.*

To my mind, the two best movies in town these days are the indie films, City Island and Please Give. If you are bummed out by the idiocy of all the sequels, deafened by their sound effects, bored by their feeble attempts at humor, go see either of these.

Both are movies about families, and although the families live in New York City, the patterns of interaction among their members will be familiar enough to strike a chord with most people who have lived in families. City Island is more ethnic (Italian), but not overwhelmingly so. Instead, Andy Garcia (the father) portrays a sensitive man who has secret ambitions that are perfectly innocent but that he can’t reveal to his wife. I won’t go into more detail because the story is original enough that I wouldn’t want to mar all the surprises.

The same is true of Please Give, but there the family head, is the mother as played by Christine Keener. Keener’s always interesting in a film, but the surprise of this one is Oliver Platt who plays the father as funny and flawed. Again, I won’t give too much plot. Besides, in Please Give as well as in City Island, the plot is more a thing of nuanced actions–of modest human revelations, rather than thunder and lightning.

So these two movies are gentle, and I find that rare and consoling these days. Three other small and humane films that are like these are The Station Agent (2003), You Can Count on Me (2000), and Rachel Getting Married (2008). Of course, there is enough angst to keep them interesting, but the love of family, even a self-made family of misfits, wins out in the end. Meanwhile, they have extraordinary performances, bright dialogue that cuts through clichés, and adroit direction–frequently from directors who have had a major hand in writing the film and conceiving its ambience.

There are more indies that I could recommend, but I’ll not name them. Instead I’ll give some identifying characteristics:

  • The film is (relatively) low budget.  Its actors work almost pro bono, its director is doing a labor of love, and its sets look real because they are in real people’s houses.
  • The script is literate, giving actors interesting things to say (which is why it’s somewhat different from real life).  The writers also know enough to stop characters from talking.
  • Its themes are earthbound.  Rarely are there supernatural and/or extraterrestrial interventions–though my one exception would be John Sayles’ The Brother from Another Planet (1984).
  • It may have actors like Laura Linney, Patricia Clarkson, Hope Davis, Catherine Keener, Jack Black, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Matt Dillon, either before they became famous or in supporting roles.  Anyway, the cast is an ensemble rather than a star-studded showcase.

Warning!  There are many films that meet the desiderata above and are still boring and a mess, but they’ll probably be interesting-boring and a creative mess.

* Don’t trust me on Twilight (2008) or The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009). My only knowledge of them comes from my ecstatic 15-year-old granddaughter and the lousy reviews they got.

Other Reviews by The Borderstan Movie Fan

Comments (1)

  1. This film column is one of my favorite features on here. Glad to see some love for the indies. I wanted to put in a plug for all the really superb indie and foreign films that regularly play around town in galleries, embassies and other venues. One of my favorites is the Freer/Sackler, which offers amazing mini-festivals of truly superb and breathtaking cinema, year ’round: Bollywood, Hong Kong, Iranian, and more. Their annual Hong Kong filmfest is coming up, drama, cop/action, great stuff: http://www.asia.si.edu/events/films.asp

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