BARE BONES: ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL and THE NIGHTMARE

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me earl and the dying girl

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015)

Offbeat comedy/drama tells the story of teen Greg (Thomas Mann) who has little ambition other than to make movie parodies with his friend…or ‘co-worker’ as he likes to refer to him…Earl (RJ Cyler). Greg’s parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) force him to spend time with classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who has been diagnosed with leukemia. Soon a special bond forms between them that changes Greg’s life as her condition worsens and his feelings for her deepen.

Written by Jesse Andrews and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown), this is a charming and sometimes very poignant story of love and friendship formed under unusual circumstances. As in most indie films like this, there are some very eclectic characters who are nonetheless appealing and Gomez-Rejon gets good performances out of our leads and support…though Offerman seems to be playing the same oddball he plays in everything he appears in. It’s sentimental at times and funny at others and obviously, there is a degree of sadness given it’s title. If the film stumbles somewhat, it’s in that, at times, it is a little too weird or too quirky for it’s own indie good. Random model animation sequences and Greg’s overly weird parents are sometimes distracting more than accomplishing anything to serve the narrative. Otherwise this is a sweet, sad and sometimes very funny movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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THE NIGHTMARE (2015)

Documentary tackles the subject of sleep paralysis, a state where individuals are stuck in-between being asleep and being awake, can’t move their bodies and suffer from extreme hallucinations such as shadow-like intruders. Director Rodney Ascher talks to eight different subjects gathering there stories of extreme cases of this state which has been often mistaken for paranormal, even extraterrestrial activity…and some believe it is.

While the subject in itself is interesting, the documentary stumbles a bit which keeps it from being really compelling. First off, the re-enactments of the hallucinations/events all look the same and utilize the same imagery and techniques so repetitiveness sets in quick when dealing with eight subjects with multiple stories. Another thing is that the subjects chosen all tell similar stories, so despite how intriguing it is, the stories themselves also start to get repetitive quickly. By the third story, from the same person, tedium starts to set in. The documentary also doesn’t seem to arrive at any real conclusions as those interviewed have varied results as to dealing with this phenomena. Some of the subjects seemed to have solved the problem by themselves, commanding the ‘intruders’ away, or by interpreting it as the presence of a dead loved one. Other subjects seem to have their own issues apart from sleep paralysis, so one must wonder if it is something caused by emotional stresses. Still other subjects truly believe that in this state they can see and be seen, by other dimensions, so there is that. We also never talk to any professionals on the subject, so we never get any other side to the story than those telling their own tales. A counterpoint or professional opinion would have added some nice contrast and given us some kind of scientific analysis to consider along with the testimony of Ascher’s subjects.

As the actual phenomena has not been fully explained, there are different points of view and while it is fine that Ascher let’s us decide for ourselves, it also leaves us feeling a bit unsatisfied and like not much was accomplished. Interesting at times, but wears out it’s welcome about an hour in and the lack of professional opinions/diagnosis leaves a void in the storytelling.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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REVIEW: SMASHED (2012)

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Pretty teacher Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) are a young married couple who are also alcoholics. When Kate gets sick of waking up in strange places and peeing herself, she decides to quit drinking and get help. But Kate faces an uphill battle as she gets resentment, not support, from her husband and to gain sobriety she may loose everything she holds dear.

What I liked most about this indie drama was that co-writer/ director James Ponsoldt avoids the melodramatics that usually come with films of this nature and guides his cast trough a real life situation and has them play real life people complete with quirks and all. And as for his cast, they all give good down to earth performances, but it is Winstead who owns the movie as the troubled young woman who wants to change the downward spiral of her life. She effectively portrays the frustration of her own behavior and then the hurt and anger when she tries to change her life and doesn’t get the support she needs from those she cares about. She also conveys the mixed emotions of someone seeing their life, and those in their life, differently through now sober eyes. Winstead shows chops that she hasn’t yet had the opportunity to show and she gives a very real and effecting performance. True, I would like to have seen more of the relationship between Kate and her AA sponsor, Jenny (Octavia Spencer) and a subplot involving her vice principal, Dave (Nick Offerman), who has a crush on her and introduces her to his AA group, doesn’t quite click, but this are minor points.

Overall Smashed is a solid and heartfelt drama that doesn’t preach yet, doesn’t make light of it subject matter either and gives a talented young actress a role she can really shine in. Recommended for those who are looking for a drama that’s refreshingly UN-Hollywood and want to see an actress take hold of a good part and show us her stuff. ***1/2