Danny + ADRENALINE: A 72 Hour Fever Dream

This last weekend I participated in the Adrenaline Film Project. It’s a 72 hour film competition that is put on in conjunction with the Virginia Film Festival, but this is the first year that it was held on a separate weekend, about three weeks before the rest of the festival. Founded and still run by director Jeff Wadlow (KICK-ASS 2, TRUE MEMOIRS OF AN INTERNATIONAL ASSASSIN, NEVER BACK DOWN), Adrenaline’s been around since 2004.

I’ve done Adrenaline two years in a row now, and what I’ve found about it is that it’s the best way to learn about filmmaking. It condenses a lot of lessons into one tight period of time. You learn to make concessions, to cut the fat, and to put your all into something only to detach yourself shortly after. It’s a cruel but efficient process that really feels worthwhile at the end of the day. I’ve absolutely improved as a filmmaker because of it.

My team and I were assigned the Adventure genre – and what we produced was a cute little short about a young girl and her grandpa. Nothing terribly exciting, but pretty polished and complete given the constraints. This year was much less punishing than last because we focused less on trying to make the most creative and original thing ever, and more on making something that simply functions and exists wholly. Our short last year, though fun and interesting, really had a difficult time working as a short. Though we put a lot into the production design and the aesthetic, it made little sense and had no great sense of flow or logic. I would say the opposite is true for our short this year. We spent a great deal of time on preparation and understood what we could adequately accomplish as far back as the pitching phase, which se us up for a really clean shoot and mostly smooth editing process.

We were most proud, however, of our young actor, who played the daring protagonist. Of some fifty actors in all of the 12 films this year, she won the top prize for acting. This was her first film, and we felt she aced it, working many hours in one day (far more than we should have made her) with no complaints.

I’ll post a link to our short once they make it available. But if you’re in C’ville for the festival in three weeks, you can see it on the big screen here.

BLADE RUNNER 2049: On Dave Bautista and Seeing Miracles

Spoilers for the entirety of BLADE RUNNER 2049.

I think everything that can be said at this juncture about the recently released BLADE RUNNER 2049 has been said. I say go see it, though I have some reservations about the way it treats race and gender. I’ve seen the film twice in the past week and it has left prickles in my head. One of those barbs is Dave Bautista’s performance in the first ten minutes.

The very first scene sees Ryan Gosling’s K en route to the farm of Sapper Morton, Bautista’s character. They are both replicants, artificial humans – but Sapper is the outdated, illegal model, and K, a blade runner, is designed to hunt his own kind.

We first meet Sapper as he digs his hand through murky fluid, covered entirely by a hazmat suit, inside some kind of hothouse tent. What he pulls from the liquid are worms, which we are told are a primary protein source for the world of 2049. As he sees the silhouette of K’s spinner descend onto his farm, there is a sense of knowing in his body, even though we cannot even see his face. While K searches Sapper’s house, Sapper exits the tent, undergoing some kind of decontaminant wash. What I love in this first scene are the intricate details of the world that are conveyed clearly and subconsciously. We learn not only that our race has been reduced to eating worms, but that the very process of cultivating this food source is hazardous. Farming, what we used to think of as a humble and natural profession, has become a dangerous and toxic thing in and of itself. And at the center of this is a man like Sapper, desperate for a life unquestioned and free, but hardened by the elements around him, both human and environmental. This is so succinctly expressed by his clunky farming suit.

As Sapper enters his home and puts his boots by the door, we get to see Bautista’s visage in full for the first time. There he is again, knowing what is about to happen. There is at once a resigned acceptance of his fate and yet a small, warm sliver of hope that he just might make it out of this alive and free.

As K calmly interrogates him, Sapper tries to be just as at ease. “What’s that smell?” K asks.

“Garlic, just for me,” Sapper replies.

Garlic? I tilt my head in the theater. But then I get it. I said this piece was about Bautista, but I also have to keep pointing out how skillfully this film both establishes setting and character simultaneously. We learn that Sapper, despite the harsh farming conditions he must undergo, goes to the trouble of growing a natural plant, just for himself. And we also learn that the best thing one could hope to grow in the soil in 2049 is garlic. The intersection of these two bits of knowledge go so far to paint a yearning but calm existence. My heart breaks just thinking about it.

When it comes time for the tension to reach a breaking point, both men know what must come next. As K flaunts his fierce and lurid pistol, Sapper subtly pulls a pen knife, so minuscule and yet held without any doubts of what is about to happen. This is where Bautista’s performance shines the absolute brightest, because he, this massive, lumbering behemoth, looks both ready to fight and scared to die. He is so very scared to lose the little bit of life he has: his farm, his house, his garlic for god’s sake.

Many people die throughout the film’s course, including K. But something feels special about Sapper’s death. I think that is because he embodies the film’s spirit. Brutal and hardened, but wearily cultivating hope inside. Bautista’s performance is doing a lot of the work there.

He puts in one messy attempt to save himself. He bloodies K, but the younger man is simply stronger, and more ruthless. Leaving him in a red pile on the floor, K tells Sapper, “Don’t get up.”

And yet, a minute later, Sapper gets up. “You new models are happy scraping the shit…

…because you’ve never seen a miracle.”

And that’s how we learn the very basic underpinning of Sapper’s character. He’s seen a miracle. That’s all he needs to get through each day, and that’s all he needs to stand up. This is simple, biblical stuff that the film is dealing us, but it’s composed with such integrity and verve.

What a way to start a movie.

THE BIG SICK: Leaving Yourself Out of Your Story

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

THE BIG SICK is co-written by Emily V. Gordon and star Kumail Nanjiani, based on their real-life story of meeting and falling in love. The movie is warmly engaging and funny. It feels like a long time since I've seen a romantic comedy that is neither overly saccharine and twee nor obnoxiously brash. Every performance is really strong; Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are the real highlights as the restless, worried parents of Zoe Kazan's cinematic version of Gordon.

For those unaware, the central chunk of the film deals with Emily's frightening illness, that forces doctors to put her in a medically-induced coma. It occurs shortly after she and Kumail have had a rough breakup, and the ensuing drama of Kumail both feeling guilty and out of place in her absence is the meat of the film.

This is why I both commend the filmmakers – Nanjiani, Gordon, and director Michael Showalter – and also scratch my head a little bit. They tried to pack a lot into one small film, probably more than we might realize at first. It starts from the very beginning of the duo's relationship, and crams in their dating and first breakup in the first act, which is supplemented and and affected by the scenes with Kumail's Pakistani family. It's Kumail's inability to act on both parties (his family and his girlfriend) that drives the conflict. It's not only a story he tells from his vantage, it's a story serving his character. And unfortunately, Emily's part in all this really gets sidelined.

Of course, for her to be in a coma for most of the film is the main reason she can't be an active participant in the narrative. But what disappointed me is how much say she got in everything in the last act, when she wakes from the coma. Yes, we see that she made the choice to follow Kumail to New York at the end, but we're truly left wondering why, other than "she felt like it." It's not that that can't be dramatically compelling by itself, but in order for that to happen, it has to be, well, dramatized. We don't get a sense of interiority into her decisions. We're just shown that in the time between her encounters with Kumail that she's warmed back up to the idea of being with him. I can think of a few ways that that could have been fleshed out, but that would be adding, and changing what the film is. Because, let's make no mistake, this is Kumail's film.

I don't know for sure if that's a bad thing, as everything exploring Kumail and his relationship to two worlds is extremely watchable. The scenes with his family are funny, pretty heartbreaking, and even a bit provocative when it comes to understanding cultural differences in romance and familial duty. On the other side of the coin, we watch him struggle with feeling unwanted in the outside world, whether it's because of his race, his career goals, or primarily, his relationship to Emily and by extension her parents. It's a strong story. And it works really well.

That's why I'm encountering problems when thinking about this movie. I can't help but feel that it's not a love story, and more an identity story. And so I also feel that the filmmakers needed to pick one story to tell. If it was meant to be a story of coming together, then maybe it needed more scenes with Emily by herself, and less time spent with her asleep. If it was truly meant to be about Kumail coming into his own, then we should have started with the couple already dating, making Emily an established part of his life in the beginning.

Every part of the film is truthful and warm and satisfying to watch, because it is, after all, a real story about real people. But the thing is, real life doesn't have proper beginnings, middles, and ends. A great story you tell in person about how you and your partner met works because we have the living proof of its happy ending in front of us. That's the challenge of bringing one's story to the screen – we don't know you. And I suppose I'm just bummed that I didn't feel any catharsis emerge from Kumail and Emily's encounter in the final scene.

All of this said, I highly, highly recommend this film for its myriad of lovable characters and the humor and warmth it brings with them. Go see it in the theater.

Danny + Contest: “Virginia is for Film Lovers” Challenge

Hey. Some friends invited me to help them with an entry into an Audience Awards contest being put on by the Virginia Film Office and Virginia Tourism. The Virginia is For Film Lovers Challenge required filmmakers to show in 30 – 60 seconds why Virginia is great. So we put this little sweet thing together. Check it out, and vote for us if you think we earned it. 🙂

https://theaudienceawards.com/embed/somerset-158114

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: (De)Mastering the Closeup

This weekend had WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES coming out. I saw it last Thursday night, expecting another solid entry in this better-than-it-should-be prequel series. I did not expect it to be a film of the caliber that it is. WAR is drenched in skilled visual storytelling. I’m not gonna write a full review because I think 1) It’s strengths are mostly obvious and 2) I think going into the movie as blind as possible is good.

Beyond the astounding work done by WETA Workshop in bringing the physical features of the apes to life, the film is powered by the nuanced, digitally-captured performances of Andy Serkis, Karin Konoval, Steve Zahn, Terry Notary, and many others. I could go on about the wonderful things these performers do with what is on face-value a silly conceit, but to keep it short, they are at full steam, churning our most empathetic tendencies. The film has broad scope and ambitions, and these performers and technicians do so much to keep it pulsing with vibrancy, humor, and tragedy. Amidst the discussion of the performances and the technology that renders them, though, many of the movie’s other pieces can be swept aside. The score, the art design, and editing are stellar. And the direction by Matt Reeves is some of the best you can ask for in a film, much less a tentpole blockbuster. He knows his shit, guys.

But one of the coolest features of the movie, that I think isn’t being talked about too much so far, is its use of the closeup. That seems like it would be an easy thing to do, right? Yes, and no. As a basic cinematic tool, it is effective but prone to overuse. What I found special about WAR is that it employs tight closeups always to soulful effect.”Oh, this line/moment/thing is important. Better do a closeup on it!” is traditionally the mantra of filmmakers with no creative ways to enhance the visual/narrative relationship. Such a strategy is one good filmmaker’s tend to avoid. Reeves meanwhile, says fuck it, and plops the camera right in front of his actors’ faces routinely throughout this film.

This is pretty audacious because in the case of WAR, the constant use of closeup had the potential to be even more grating, coming off as a show-offy demonstration of the effects work and performances. But Reeves really knows what the hell he is doing in regards to framing characters for maximum audience connection. There is one scene in particular that I’m thinking of. Slight spoilers ahead.

Caesar (Serkis) and his ape companions are traveling to find a murderous human Colonel (Woody Harrelson in the creepiest role yet) and stumble across a seemingly abandoned human camp. There, the orangutan Maurice (Konoval) finds a little girl who will come to be called Nova (Amiah Miller). Maurice hears a sound, enters a room, and sees Nova hiding in a bed across the room. Reeves has Nova’s face framed in medium closeup, but just out of focus. Maurice’s entire entry into the room is one static shot that ends on closeup, as if from Nova’s point of view. When it cuts back to Nova’s closeup, she sits up and comes closer, into focus. And from here we have two tight closeups on these characters. The rest of the scene plays out as they both discover that the other cannot speak verbally. Maurice tries to sign to Nova, and Nova has a mysterious condition that renders her mute.

The relationship established here carries palpably throughout the rest of the film, and its because we feel the nakedness of this moment. Both characters come from a harsh world, each at war with the other. Maurice stepping both literally and figuratively into Nova’s world is an act of daring. Putting them in closeup naturally enhances this relationship. But why are Reeves’ closeups better than another director’s might have been?

I think it has something to do with the goal. In most cases, a closeup is to drive emphasis on a subject. This is a fine goal, but a simplistic one. What Reeves and cinematographer Michael Seresin have done is set their sights not only to emphasize their subjects but to de-emphasize everything else. In a normal scene, there is a master shot or a two-shot that establishes the spatial relationship between characters, and the closeups are used in juxtaposition to that shot. “Here are the characters, and here is what they are feeling.” But the scene in WAR doesn’t have a master shot. It’s just the closeups. Therefore, it functions not as an underline or emphasis, but a way of removing the characters from the space they occupy, making the scene solely about their relationship. The scene is so wonderfully intimate because you feel nothing but Maurice’s inquisitive, nurturing gaze, Nova’s vulnerability, and both of their isolation.

Sometimes the best filmmaking is just being able to show restraint. Providing little sights to bestow big feelings. And showing genuine restraint in a movie with hundreds of digitally-rendered monkeys fighting Neo-Nazis is something I’d call impressive.

Danny + FILMSTRUCK: Trying to be Culturally Enriched

I’ve seen a lot of movies. But lately I’ve really felt like I’m missing out on the true, classical canon of cinema. Your Kurosawas, your Fellinis, your whoevers. So I’m trying to watch more of those great classics, in order to learn and appreciate this awesome medium even more.

So I’ve set myself up a free two week trial of FilmStruck, a nifty streaming service created by Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection. I’m going to be watching as much as I can in this two weeks to figure out 1) if I really have the patience for older movies and 2) if this thing is worth $10.99 a month.

I’ll be using my site to give updates on what I watch. It’ll be fun, and maybe you’ll be inspired to watch shit too.

Thanks,

Danny W

Brand Rejuvenation: Crisis of Tone in SABAN’S POWER RANGERS

Why am I writing a review of a movie that came out three weeks ago and essentially floundered critically and commercially? A movie to which the best way I could respond was “shrug”? Because I was shrugging at three or four movies. Though we might first scoff at the awkward title, SABAN’S POWER RANGERS is the perfect way to address this beast with so many different heads. Let’s break it down.

This thing is based on the MIGHTY MORPHIN’ POWER RANGERS TV show which has been running since the early goddamn nineties, which was itself adapted from a Japanese show called SUPER SENTAI. It features spandex-clad teenaged space ninjas  with giant robot pets that combine into an even bigger robot. Now, when they’re trying to make a brand spankin’ new version of this cartoon-but-with-real-people, I imagine they want to make it a little less goofy sounding. “Power Rangers” is a fine title. Still comic booky, but elegant and vague enough to convey a grounded approach to the source material. But then they add in this “Saban’s” business. It’s a clear attempt at brand control, echoing MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS. The difference here is nobody knows who the hell Haim Saban is.

The movie starts with troubled teenagers in weekend detention all randomly finding some special rocks in a mountainside, and getting superpowers as a result. They then locate Zordon (played by my buddy B-Cranst), an alien who used to be a Power Ranger but is now just a face in a wall. He reluctantly enlists these “teens with attitude” to save the world from Rita Repulsa, portrayed with uncomfortable relish by Elizabeth Banks. Rita also used to be a Power Ranger and wants to ruin everyone’s stuff with a giant gold monster named Goldar, which she’ll use to dig up the “Zeo Crystal.” Which is located underneath the local Krispy Kreme.

Along the way, they train to become the new Power Rangers and struggle to find themselves and learn to overczzzome their zzdifferences and zzzordszzzzzZZZzzz……

Did I mention it is under Krispy Kreme? Isn’t that funny guys? That the important object in the film is under a recognizable franchise establishment? Krispy Kreme? The donuts.

They use Zords! Big dinosaur robots.

There are about three tones in this movie.

The first is a gritty, troubled teens, sci-fi story. The closest analogue everyone references is CHRONICLE, which makes sense because one of the first drafts of this script was written by Max Landis, who wrote that 2012 sleeper hit. And it’s directed by Dean Israelite, who made CHRONICLE ripoff PROJECT ALMANAC. The characters move about, looking grim, while they are filmed in shaky, quick-cutting, “Indie-scope” and color-corrected to a desaturated demise. Characters’ backstories are wrapped up in dark pasts and mistakes. The Pink Ranger sent out what is basically revenge porn of her friend to the whole school.

But then, it’s also trying to be a fun action movie, with quirky teenaged characters. There’s gotta be jokes, kay. ‘Cause the kids like jokes. That’s why the movie opens in the Cenozoic era and then quickly jumps ahead 65 million years to a joke about a minor giving a bull a handjob. There’s a part where nuns are singing in a car and can’t hear the big loud robot outside. The jokes, see? This is the movie trying to be irreverent and offbeat like the big boys at Marvel. I have a lot of problems with Marvel movies but irreverence is one thing they’ve gotten pretty good at maintaining. SABAN’S NINJA POWER GUYS does not succeed in this regard.

Then, friends, we have the final tone, which is the bland, brand-powered, corporate-sponsored soupy mess that holds the whole thing together. Because, and I totally forgot to tell you guys this, but Krispy Kreme gets a lot of name-dropping in this movie. There’s a part in the training montage where the Pink Ranger and the Yellow Ranger play karate keep-away with a donut in the Krispy Kreme. ANECDOTE TIME: They get into their big Zords at the end and the Red Ranger’s T-Rex steps on a yellow Camaro with black racing stripes. I’m sitting in the theater thinking, “Wow, that was a pretty obvious reference to the Transformers franchise, a little on-the-nose there.” And I shit you not before I could even finish this thought that punkass Red Ranger shouts “OOPS SORRY BUMBLEBEE!”

!!!!

FUCK. Can this movie get weirder and more uncomfortable?? Yup!

By lacing it with heavy-handed and oddly placed psychosexual motifs, of course! You can tell it’s heavy-handed, because even I picked up on it and I’m a dumb brick; and you can tell it’s oddly placed because THIS IS A CHILDREN’S FILM. BASED ON TOYS. Sorry. Got a little fiery there. Sexuality and gender is actually something I’d like to see being explored in children’s entertainment more often, but in this context, what even are they trying to do?? The central conceit here, the main hurtle that the Rangers need to overcome, is their inability to “morph” into their shiny armor. Yeah, like puberty. Only until they are all perfectly in sync with one another can they reach their fullest capacity. I haven’t seen superpowers-as-puberty done this clunky since this. One scene shows Elizabeth Banks hovering over the bed of the Yellow Ranger, who we’ve recently learned is queer. Points to the movie for some LGBTQ representation, but what the hell are you saying when your sexy, male gaze-y villain gets into an intense physical altercation with a teenaged queer Latina and says in her most trying porn-voice: “I used to be just like you” ?

I have too many thoughts on this movie. Too many problems. The acting was hammy. The CGI was gross and murky. The production design WAYYY too alien and simultaneously generic. But you know what?

I didn’t hate it. There are some wonderful, dare I say moving shots. The music’s not bad. The cast, while consisting of badly sculpted characters and performances, somehow manages to give it their all, and I shit you not it works. I didn’t believe a single character but I believed that those characters loved each other. I don’t know if the cast were buddies on set or not but that is my best guess as to how their emotional group scenes worked on me. Bravo. The other thing I liked is actually controversial, because I’ve heard others bemoan it: the pacing. All the real Power Rangers stuff – the suits, the monsters, the Zords, and the Megazord, doesn’t really show up until the last half hour. The movie puts a ridiculous amount of time into setting up the characters and their struggle to work as a unit, in an attempt to give us that satisfying morphing scene in the final act. And I think it functions wonderfully. Too often I walk out of blockbusters these days and feel like movies don’t give us time to feel the circumstances of our heroes, and wold rather gloss over their growth. I’ll admit, when the kids finally get their shit together and morph into those shiny power suits, I got pretty amped.

Still, I honestly don’t think I can recommend this movie. It is soggy, mostly boring, and a visual headache most of the time. It cannot decide what kind of movie it wants to be. It’s three or four or five different movies all smashing and folding together to create a gross monster of storytelling, a mishmash, a chimera, a… Megazord, if you will.

The Winning Move: On WARGAMES and Daring to Be Naive

I didn’t really expect my first post to be, well, so charged. But recent events have got me thinking about my place in this increasingly dangerous world as someone who’s primary obsession is entertainment. Last week, we (the United States) launched dozens of missiles on a Syrian airbase. Say what you will about the motivations involved – whether it was truly in retaliation to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, or if its a veiled dick-measuring contest between a powerful dictator and a game show host played in a war criminal’s yard – this was a direct confrontational action carried out by our new Commander in Chief. An act(ion) of war. But we can’t just posit the effects of that act. The motivations matter.

So let’s talk about WARGAMES. From 1983, directed by John Badham (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER), and starring young, button-nose, pre-Ferris Bueller Matthew Broderick. The movie sees Broderick playing teenager David Lightman, a nerd with an easygoing attitude towards school and computer privacy ethics. He’s trying to find a videogame company to play some unreleased games, when one day he stumbles upon an unidentified system with a game called “Global Thermonuclear War.” He runs a simulation of total world destruction, and soon discovers that the system he tapped into was NORAD’s newest automated defense intelligence, WOPR (War Operation Plan Response), also known as Joshua. Now David has to escape authorities while also preventing the hyper-advanced computer from starting an actual, world-ending nuclear war.

I first saw this thing in 6th or 7th grade, and I think there’s something obvious and yet poignant about the fact that my understanding of its basic “lesson” has stayed mostly the same over the years. The only thing that has increased is my appreciation of it. It carries a simple message: war is pretty bad.

HEY SPOILERS

Watch this scene.

In order to shut it down before it launches a nuke, David makes several attempts to beat the computer in a game of Tic Tac Toe. It makes sense if you’ve seen the rest of it. But he finds the machine an unbeatable opponent. So what does he do? I LOVE THIS.

He gets the computer to play against itself. It goes rapidly through hundreds of games in a matter of seconds, each time ending in a tie. It is its own perfect opponent. But finally the computer stops and makes a conclusion: “The only winning move is not to play.”

The only winning move is not to play.

But of course! War is bad, and we all win if we’re friends and we don’t fight. Right?

I rewatched the movie in its entirety this weekend and picked up on more of its thematic logic. Joshua’s creator, Professor Falken, played with achingly human sensibility by John Wood, speaks to the one lesson his brainchild never learned, even with all of its hyperactive learning capability: futility. When to give up. When David and his maybe-girlfriend Jennifer (Ally Seedy having more fun than any of us) arrive to Falken’s secluded hideout – in a location he selected specifically to die quickly in the case of nuclear attack – he himself has given up. His wife and his child, Joshua’s namesake, having died a long time ago, he is resigned to his an the rest of humanity’s inevitable demise.

In a wonderful scene, David smacks down Falken’s well-thought-out logic and brashly declares his desire to fight and to live. Falken concedes and helps David and NORAD stop Joshua.

But back to that climax. David gets the machine to give up. It accepts futility. It can’t win. So why keep trying? The same mindset that Falken engaged with at his lowest point is proven to be the only thing that can save us. But rather than mope, alone, waiting for death to come, we should stare death boldly in the eye and enjoy whatever we can while it approaches.

WarGames rides a wonderful line ideologically between action and inaction. What has a greater impact on our fate? Doing something or doing nothing? Another important detail I didn’t notice until now is that the reason they can’t unplug Joshua is that the nuclear silos’ own computers would interpret that as the destruction of NORAD – leading them to activate a failsafe and launch all their nukes. This movie’s NORAD essentially wants to ensure world demise; if NORAD goes down, everyone must go down with it. The movie condemns this form of nihilism. And it’s that nihilism that David convinces Falken of overcoming, so even though the end of the world could come at any time, we do not submit to it.

The action must be for the right reason. You cannot automate a war. We must be human and naive, and be responsible for being those things.

 

Archive – THE KINGS OF SUMMER: Is that a monarchy or an oligarchy, then?

WARNING: This is a post from my high school blog. I cannot vouch for its quality but I wanted to give people an idea of how my writing has developed over the years. Yes, I’m padding my site.

THE KINGS OF SUMMER
 
 
2013
Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Wr. Chris Galletta
Prod. Tyler Davidson, John Hodges, Peter Saraf
Str. Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moisés Arias

I thought I knew exactly what I was getting into when I pressed play on The Kings of Summer, and actually, for the most part, I got what I was expecting. But fortunately, that expectation was a reasonably high one, and it was satisfied, while also coming with some nice surprises along the way. 

The movie follows the adventures of three high-school boys attempting to live off the land in the woods during the summer. They form a mystical, tribal bond with one another and challenge the wilderness with their rudimentary skills.

This is the first movie from Vogt-Roberts. He’s got a resume in web series and skits, and that shows here with the quirky sense of humor underlying the whole piece. That’s one of the movie’s unexpected bonuses, as I walked in thinking it was mostly a drama. In the end it is mostly earnest, and V-R directs with a hyper-photographic way. I’m talking lots of lens flare, sparkly eyes, and close-up profiles against sunsets. It’s beautiful, and the addition of the humor makes a charming, witty indie-treat.

Nick Offerman of TV’s Parks and Recreation makes a great show here as the father of our main protagonist, played by Robinson. Both play off of each other well, as Offerman plays a genuine a**hole here as opposed to his much loved character on Parks and Rec., Ron Swanson. However, the credit must go to Robinson, as he really manages to carry the movie along with his pubescent cohorts,  Gabriel Basso and Moisés Arias. The three’s friendship feels genuine in every scene, despite some of the character choices to not always feel genuine. Arias’s character, Biaggio, is exceptionally weird and it occasionally comes off as artificial, rather than him just being depicted as an outsider like the rest. If we peel further into the acting in this movie, the meatiest meat is between Robinson and Basso, as they end up vying for the heart of a hip, attractive girl played by Erin Moriarty. The two show a juvenile friendship that is tested by pride and ignorance, then ultimately proven to be strong.Chris Galletta’s script is perhaps the weirdest part of the movie, as it jumps back and forth from being uniquely poetic to being criminally derivative. We get some hilarious, interesting conversations about Monopoly and Boston Market, but then we have to sit through a forced climax that substitutes action with the rest of the movie’s character-driven circumstances.It’s a simple movie, so I don’t have to comment, and really I would just say that if you enjoy the current sweep of warm, independent, coming-of-age comedy-dramas, go for it. It’s an hour and a half not wasted if you do.

Thanks for reading this quick chat with myself on The Kings of Summer.