Monday, June 15, 2009

WATERFRONT FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: True Adolescents (With Thoughts On True North and Pride of Lions)...

So it was quite the interesting festival this year here in Saugatuck.

The 11th Annual Waterfront Film Festival not only brought to the shores of Saugatuck many new Midwest and in some cases US Premieres, but the quality of these films was shockingly high. I got a chance to see five films, and of those five, two stand out as not only the best, but possibly two of the better films I've seen all year. First, there was the second film I reviewed this past weekend, Peter and Vandy. Well, the final film I got to see on the final day of the festival will now join that film near the top 20 of the best films I've seen this year. That film is the new indie soon to be hit, True Adolescents.

Premiering at this past years SXSW Film Festival, True Adolescents is director Craig Jonshon's first feature film and stars Mark Duplass (who also co-starred in the WFFF premiere, Humpday) as Sam, a washed-up musician who is jobless and inevitably homeless. He then moves in with his aunt (Melissa Leo), who asks him to simply take her son on a camping trip with a friend of his. However, what ends up happening is much more of a journey than either of the kids or Sam could have imagined.

Coming into this film, I had previously seen the film True North and the documentary Pride of Lions (both of which I will talk about in a minute) and while the latter was quite good, True North did not kick start the day the way I had hoped. However, nothing could have ended the day better than this film.

The one thing that sold this film, and will hopefully make this film a hit, is the relationship between the main lead, Sam, and the two teens. They are just growing up, and this camping trip not only strains their maturity, but it also strains their relationship with Sam, and Sam's maturity as well. It's a coming of age tale, and while it may come off as a bit cliche, it is enhanced by three really great performances, spear-headed by Duplass.

Speaking of Duplass, this performance is something I hope everyone will take in sometime soon, because it's a special comedic turn. He plays an aging rocker who really can't handle the fact that he isn't a big name artist, and he sells this role perfectly. He's the right combination of charming, and yet lethargic that the role is perfect for him. He has superb comedic timing, and truly hits every note.

So does the supporting cast. Melissa Leo is the biggest name actor in the film, after her recent Oscar nomination for Frozen River, and is great here. She is fed up with her nephew, and yet still loves him. Shes compassionate, and is a really nice addition to this film. The two teens are also equally as good, and completely sell the idea that they are growing up and not quite sure about a lot of things in their lives. However, all of these performances couldn't be there is the script wasn't as strong as it really is. It's Johnson's first screenplay, and is really a fresh take on the coming of age story. It does have its cliches, but for a film to take a rather simplistic plot, and infuse it with so much heart and passion, really gives the film a lot of depth that others of its ilk would not have.

The film also has a very interesting visual style. While it is a low key take, a very indie style dramady, but it still has a great style. It's not a cinematic style of film, but it's much more intimate and engrossing than many other films out right now. It allows the story to breathe in its own world, while still planting the viewer right in the middle of the aforementioned story. The film also features a SUPERB soundtrack, rivaling any released this year. It really adds a lot to the film, and in some instances (like a specific scene involving a deal made between Sam and his aunt's son) gives you a stark sense of growth and development within the characters, something that most big budget films horribly miss.

Sure, the film has some flaws, like a hit or miss set of jokes throughout the film, a lagging first act, and a bit of a cliche plot and final payoff, but it will be a film that you won't be able to forget. It's easily one of the better comedies of this year, and along with Peter and Vandy, make this past Waterfront Film Festival one of the better ones of it's history.


Now onto something COMPLETELY different, the horrible piece of drek that was True North.

It's been a pretty long time since I dug into a movie for it's sheer lack of quality, so it's probably overdue. True North is not the worst film I've seen all year, but what is wrong with the film, IS the worst I've seen all year.

True North tells the story of a crew of a Scottish trawler, who are on the edge, at least monetarily. The Skipper is bankrupt, and close to losing his ship to the bank. However, to make things better, the Skipper's son, Sean, takes on a group of Chinese illegal immigrants to Scotland, for quite the sum of money. His friend and crew mate Riley helps him out, and as they go on their trip, tides turn, and the scheme hits many bumps. Left out of the stored group is a young Chinese teen hides in the engine room. This also adds to the drama, and in many ways adds to the schlockiness of the film.

The movie does have a few highlights. First, Peter Mullin as Riley is phenomenal. He brings a lot of heart to this rather dreary and depressing story, and brings in a lot of breaths for the audience. Also, the visual style of this film is quite stunning. It's a dark tale, and the cinematography and direction really add depth to the film. It's a film primarily set on the open sea, and the look of the film is quite smooth and fluid.

However, the film is two separate movies, smashed together, with the outcome being the worst half.

The main flaw of this film is that it doesn't quite know what it wants to be. You have a very awkwardly shot, written, and paced opening that plays more like a dramadey than a film based around smuggling humans into a country. You have characters instead of full fledged humans being portrayed on screen, and the notes that it hits sounds like an out of tune flute. Grating and ear destroying, the film really fell flat in these important opening moments.

Then the ship takes on their new cargo, and the film switches gears. While it's an interesting look at what goes on when people do this, it doesn't wholly work. It is a lot more intriguing and engaging, as the roles, particularly that of Sean (which was the worst part of the opening of this film), become more fleshed out, but it is completely undone by the supporting cast, and particularly the score. Every heart turning scene is set to the sound of the most bombastic and thematic style of score that seemed to come out of Indiana Jones instead of an intimate and stark indie drama. It does the film no service, and while it does increase in quality exponentially during these moments, it still can't commit to being a good film completely.

While the film does have what can be called a third of a good film in it's whole, it doesn't amount for something you should strive to see. It's something that, if it's on TV or at your local rental shop, I will tell you that you should watch it, just so you can get as angry as I am.


Finally, I saw the documentary Pride of Lions, and it is a PHENOMENAL documentary. However, the story is quite deep, so I will simply point you to it's official website. Please, if you get a chance, see this film


Thanks again to everyone at the Waterfront Film Festival, Jason Ritter, and all of the film makers who brought their films to the festival. Can't wait until next year!

Go see something good!

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