Tag Archives: indie

Get the Gringo, a film by Adrian Grunberg

By James Gilmore

Adrian Grunberg’s gritty tough-guy film, Get the Gringo, is a wry tongue-in-cheek action crime drama with an edgy but resourceful troublemaker for a protagonist. He is proactive and refreshingly clever, a guy who only looks out for himself in world where everyone is corrupt and everyone is out to get him.

Colorful in texture, tone and visuals, Gringo creates a palatable experience for the audience free from the dictatorial confines of the mainstream Hollywood studio system, as is evident in some of its more taboo elements and several touches of brutal violence. Characters grow out of the naturally developing, organic plotline and are inseparable from this well-told story.

Some viewers may find parts of the third act low on the believability scale but overall Gringo’s storytelling flaws are minimal.

Although the film may not aspire to deep philosophical pondering the film fulfills its goal as a solid piece of entertainment. If you are in the mood for a Friday night flick that is refreshing, stimulating and all-around entertaining, give Get the Gringo a try.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Series 7: The Contenders, a film by Daniel Minahan

by James Gilmore

Before the Hunger Games (2012) there was a grossly popular Japanese film by director Kinji Fukasaku called Battle Royale (2000), and there was today’s subject, an obscure little film called Series 7: The Contenders (2001) by Daniel Minahan.

Movie poster for Daniel Minahan's 2001 film Series 7: The Contenders, as seen on Minimalist Reviews compact film and book reviews.

Based on his experiences working in reality TV, Minahan exploits his intimate knowledge of reality television to accost that hypocritical world with scathing ridicule.  In this deadly serious mockumentary, Minahan takes us through highlights from the seventh season of a fake hit reality series called “The Contenders” in which a group of individuals are selected at random to compete in an anything-goes deathmatch.  Think of Series 7 as the Roman gladiatorial games meets reality television.

The story is short and efficient, confronting head-on a two-pronged theme: that the American public’s insatiable lust for entertainment and the media’s unscrupulous push for ratings could ultimately lead to the sacrifice humanity itself. Minahan drives home his point with merciless precision by employing a faux unscripted format which so closely resembles the genuine article that one wonders if such an inhumane entertainment is not too far off, if our “advanced” civilization has deteriorated to the point of reviving Roman gladiatorial bloodsports just to keep audiences entertained. Or perhaps Minahan is saying that reality television as it is now is an emotional battle royale in which there can be only one survivor.

Character lies at the heart of the script. Plot twists usually occur in the form of character reveals, and everyone in The Contenders hides aces up their sleeves. Even the most unassuming combatant will surprise you more than once.

Viewers may recognize the star of the film, Brooke Smith, whose prior work include roles in Grey’s Anatomy and The Silence of the Lambs.

Daniel Minahan’s Series 7: The Contenders is a complete surprise and a must see, an impressive low-budget film worthy of its stock. Available on streaming at Netflix.com.

Rating: 4 / 5

Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary film by David Gelb

poster for Minimalist Review of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary film by David GelbBy James Gilmore

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a small film, minimalist in every respect. Tender, intimate, and honest, this documentary demonstrates majestic simplicity. Crisply shot with the Red One and Canon 7D, David Gelb ability to capture compact but meaningful cinematic visuals reveals a subtle storytelling genius. The film’s flavorful imagery all but places each dish onto your watering tongue. Although Jiro lacks the polish of a high-budget studio film, raw elements such as the modest, inconspicuous soundtrack (as minimalist in composition as the movie itself) work in favor of the film instead of against it.

Superficially, Jiro provides an insightful cross-section into the alien microcosm of a world-class sushi chef in Japan and its thematically related orbiting satellites.  But on a deeper, more profound level Gelb’s documentary illuminates the relationships of fathers and sons—and by extension, masters and apprentices—as universal, transcending both culture and context.

Simple, honest, gorgeous. A masterful accomplishment for a young filmmaker, worthy of the praise of foodies and cinephiles alike. Place Jiro Dreams of Sushi on your must-see list—and then plan on going out for sushi.

Rating:  5 / 5

Ironclad, a film by Jonathan English

by James Gilmore

In my first random pick for review, I selected a film I’d never heard of based on its cast of superb actors.

Ironclad is an exciting action film with a rich, gritty palette and bravely executed combat scenes filled with gore and glory. Well-designed, efficiently made for its modest budget, but I wouldn’t say well-directed. ‘Adequate’ is more appropriate. The film lacks requisite directorial intimacy in pivotal scenes while exposition is handled more like a dialogue-heavy Shakespeare stage play than a filmic story with keen visual moments. However, the director excels in presenting intense battle scenes—the highlight of the film—much to the viewer’s benefit.

Movie poster for Ironclad a film by Jonathan English on Minimalist Reviews.

This Westernized remake of Kurasawa’s Seven Samurai has a rocky 30 minute start, after which it drastically—thankfully—improves with steady progression for the remainder of the film. Ironclad pales in comparison to the stability, complexity or thematic material inherent in Kurasawa’s version.

While it is refreshing to see Paul Giamatti play the villain and, in juxtaposition, Brian Cox as a good guy (their roles are usually reversed), the protagonist (played by James Purefoy) remains inexorably weak. Without any sense of the proactive goal-seeking or depth required to drive the story, the first act feels directionless and unhinged. Unfortunately, the protagonist’s deficiencies never correct themselves. Every character ends up having more depth than and goal-orientation than the protagonist, who presents himself as the classic reactive type, acted upon instead of pro-acting to advance the plot. His only element of character turns out to be an artificial construct which neither enhances nor develops the story. Purefoy portrays his character just as weakly, like a beaten dog who tries to shrink into invisibility in order to avoid further beatings. He is a non-character, and the weakest link at the core of story.

Despite its shortcomings, Ironclad is worth a look if you are in the mood for a superficial action film and aren’t afraid of a little graphic violence.

Rating: 2 / 5

The Kids Are All Right, a film by Lisa Cholodenko

by James Gilmore

The Kids Are All Right (but the parents are not)—the anti-hollywood movie; or, an advertisement for ultra-liberal living.

Movie poster for The Kids Are All Right, a film by Lisa Cholodenko, on Minimalist Reviews. Somehow Lisa Cholodenko has managed to turn slow pacing, low conflict, and a nearly directionless plot into a film that is oddly intoxicating, sucking the viewer into a strange microcosm of uber-liberal Californianism. Although laughs are unevenly distributed, the comedy is always natural and never forced or artificial as is seen in so many Hollywood films, but grows organically out of the emotional content of the scenes. Despite its ability to entrance, the ending is so poorly handled it begs the viewer to second guess the film’s anti-Hollywood nature and instead wonder whether the filmmakers simply didn’t know what they were doing.  The final sequence—the most crucial in any film—is not only unsatisfying, but is handled with complete ineptitude and lack of relevance to the story.

Also problematic with this character piece is, in fact, character. The story could use a little more diversity among the adults, who all feel like they are part of the same social circle from the start. And while the sex of the director should not interfere with the storytelling, somehow all the male characters in The Kids Are All Right receive unfair treatment. They fail to compare in dimension and emotional presence to any of the female characters. Paul (played by Mark Ruffalo), a principal character and the lynchpin which the entire plot of the story hinges upon, disappears after an ambiguous, noncommittal confrontation with Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and doesn’t even make it to the conclusion. Laser (Josh Hutcherson) lacks both character development and depth, being stereotyped as the typical “insensitive” male in a story unevenly weighted in favor of the females. Even the extraneous gardener character, also male, serves no appropriate purpose except an artificial construct to hinder (although he fails to do so) the developing physical relationship between Paul and Jules (Julianne Moore).

Finally, the acting gems of this film: Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska. Mark Ruffalo also delivers a commendable performance.

The Kids Are All Right could have been a 5 / 5 film but pitfalls in character and the ending of the story severely hamstring the film.

Rating: 3 / 5