Not-So-Quick Movie Review: True Adolescents (2009)

I realize I’ve been talking a lot lately about why I’m watching a movie. I think it’s interesting the ways we get to the entertainment choices we make. I’ve got a lot more time than most people I know to watch things, so I don’t consider my movie-watching time as valuable which means I’m more likely to try different things than I would otherwise. Take True Adolescents for instance. I became a big fan of Mark Duplass after seeing him in The League, which lead me to check out one of the movies he made with his brother Jay The Puffy Chair. I was then lead to True Adolescents by Netflix based on the previous movies I’ve watched. I’m glad they did because I’m not sure if I would have even heard of this movie otherwise.

Much like Puffy Chair, this one stars Duplass as a an immature adult, Sam, who wants to hang on to his adolescent dreams. He doesn’t have a job-job, his girlfriend just broke up with him and he’s in a band that plays for a handful of people at a bar. The first third or fourth of the movie just shows his life and soon gets him to his aunt’s house. Said aunt is played by the amazing Melissa Leo and also has a teenage son Oliver who’s kind of a jerk. We’re introduced to him as he throws a squid meant for dissection at a girl in his class. Turns out that Oliver’s estranged father was supposed to take him and his pal Jake on a camping trip, but flaked out, so Sam eventually agrees to take them.

The trip to camping and the actual experience in the woods/on the beach (they’re in Washington, so I guess that’s a thing that makes sense) makes up the real meat of the story as the boys not only explore their relationship with girls and each other and Sam gets a taste at some real responsibility in watching over a pair of teenagers. In a relatively short period of time–the movie has an 88 minute run time–writer and director Craig Johnson does an excellent job going through the characters’ stories without being super obvious and “movie” about everything.

Here’s an example that gets into some spoiler territory, so if you want to go into the movie completely clear, skip this paragraph. There are hints during their travels to the camping area that Jake might be gay or at least questioning his sexuality including a somewhat confusing scene where he stops making out with a girl in a pool to swim over and start wrestling with Oliver who was also making out with a girl in said pool. There’s a quick moments where Sam opens the boys’ tent and they’re kissing. This event spurs on the rest of the movie from that point, but I was really impressed with how it was handled. In a clunkier movie you would have seen a whole scene between the boys leading up to this, but none of that is necessary.

In a way, the movie reminded me of Cold Weather which I didn’t like. They both have main characters who could be considered averse to responsibility, but Duplass pulls off this kind of role with a confident brashness that makes me like him instead of annoyed with him. Both films also take advantage of the beautiful scenery in the shooting area, but while Cold Weather simply shows you these scenes, True uses the environnents for the purpose of the scene and builds the story around them (or at least the second half). That way, you get both the beauty and actual story instead of stopping the latter for the former.

So, to put it simply and state the obvious, I really dug True Adolescents. It showcased it’s players really well and also showed an economy of story that fit very well with the tone of the film. Plus, kind of like the Duplass Brothers films, I got the idea that Johnson made it on a pretty low budget. I could be wrong about that and haven’t done any research, but as always, that “I’m gonna make a movie” spirit is one that I can appreciate and feel the need to foster in myself. Maybe this year!

Halloween Scene: Red State (2011)

I’m a Kevin Smith fan, which I’ve written about before on UnitedMonkee. In addition to his flicks, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to and enjoying the podcasts on his Smodcast network. As such, I’ve been hearing a lot about Red State over the past few years. In brief, Smith wrote the movie around the same time as Zack and Miri Make A Porno, but the Weinsteins wouldn’t go for it. He went on to make Zack & Miri, then directed his first bigger budget flick, Cop Out, which didn’t live up to expectations. Eventually after some airline incidents and the introduction of copious amounts of weed into his system, the writer/director decided to get private funding and make the movie himself for a few million bucks. He then decided to distribute the film himself after a goofy stunt at a film festival, took the movie on tour and just this week released the movie wide on DVD, VOD and whatnot. Overall, I think it’s a pretty amazing way to go about making flicks and getting them out there. Of course, it won’t work for just anyone as Smith has just under 2 million followers on Twitter thanks to amassing an audience for so many years. Still, I think it’s the wave of the future, people just making movies, you know? The whole thing is kind of inspiring and makes me want to dig my woods-based slasher script out of a pile and start filming. But, I digress.

I was excited when I heard via Twitter that Red State would be on Netflix Instant starting yesterday (I watched it yesterday, just didn’t get around to blogging about it). I knew going in–from hearing Smith talk on his various podcasts, including Red State Of The Union, which documented the film’s production with interviews galore–that it was about three kids trying to get laid and running afoul of a group of religious extremists. Some bad stuff happens to them and then John Goodman comes in at the end. That’s about it. If you haven’t seen the movie, it might be best to go in with just those thoughts, I’ll be getting into SPOILER territory soon.

The movie starts out very Smithian with lots of dialogue and exposition, but I thought it was handled pretty well, even if the idea of the dumb girl in class not knowing about the religious extremists who live a half hour away is very unlikely. I really enjoyed the performances by the three young male leads (Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun and Michale Angarano) even though their desperate and gross Porky’s 2-like plan to get laid by the same old lady in a trailer reeks of awful desperation. Shit hits the fan pretty early on after that and the spotlight gets less stolen and more absorbed by Michael Parks who plays the charismatic, yet bigoted (and evil) preacher of this extremist group. There’s this sermon scene that would seem incredibly dry on paper, but the dude just demands that you watch and listen to him, even if he’s spouting off the most hateful shit imaginable. There’s a build-up to the awfulness that almost makes you think he might not be such a bad guy, then you remember there’s kids being held captive.

Let’s call the rest of this SPOILER TERRITORY until the  last paragraph. I watched the review of this movie on The Totally Rad Show and one of the guys mentioned something that I felt while watching: it really plays up on the fear of being publicly denigrated with no one reaching out to help you. It’s something that I think Wicker Man was going for, but didn’t really achieve (for me at least). Between the dude in the cage, the guy on the cross and the two boys trapped in the underground hatch, there’s all kinds of that going on. I also liked how one of the boys completely abandons his friend when he realizes he’s got a chance to escape. You already know that these three boys aren’t the most upstanding of citizens, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but is still a realistic moment that a lot of horror flicks either don’t attempt or don’t succeed at.

And then there’s the John Goodman stuff. I love that guy and he kills in this movie as a DEA agent sent out to check out the reports of gun possession at the group’s compound. From listening to the podcasts, I had thought this would happen in the last 10 or so minutes of the movie, but it actually takes up the last third as things turn into a moral drama with lots of gunplay. I liked that my assumptions about the movie were wrong and that I could still be surprised after hearing so much about it. And then you’ve got the just-before-the-end part where Parks thinks he’s hearing a sign that God is actually on his side but we later find out was just some kids playing a joke. I’m not sure how I feel about it. It reminds me of this arc in the Daredevil comics where Matt Murdock is on trial and then some guy who happened to have dressed up as DD swoops into the courtroom. It was a little to happenstancial then and that’s how I felt this time around. The timing is just too good, even if there was a reason for the joke to be played.

Okay, we’re out of the spoiler danger zone. I think any horror or thriller fan would dig this movie, even if they’re not fans of Smith’s, though you will have to be okay with some pretty intense scenes and the common-for-Kevin slathering of profanity and sex talk. These things don’t bother me, but I figure there should be some fair warning. It really is a taught, intriguing and scary flick that’s so set in the real world that it makes it even more spooky. Zealots, man, they’re just too much.