“The Spectacular Now is a coming-of-age story in the vein of John Hughes, set in modern-day Athens, Georgia, yet it feels timeless. We follow Sutter (Miles Teller), the perpetually drunk fast-talking class clown, as he stumbles– literally– into the life of Aimee (Shailene Woodley), the unapologetically reserved nerdy girl. We watch them grow together, and while the plot seems wildly simplistic, its straight-forward execution allows for lovely emotional complications. Teller and Woodley peel back the layers, nakedly permitting us to peer into the soul of their character. Supporting turns by Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead provide us with the fragmented context for Sutter’s personality. This isn’t the type of film likely to bowl you over as you sit in the theater; it’s the type to bowl you over when you randomly think about it days later. If James Ponsoldt and the writing team of Neustadter/Weber set out to create a Hughes-esque film for today’s younger generation… they haven’t quite hit that level of home run, but good heavens, it’s a standing triple.”
Follow-up: I saw and wrote this at the Los Angeles Film Festival almost a month and a half ago. The relationship between Teller and Woodley is still the most wonderfully realized relationship between characters in a non-sequel so far in 2013. A standing triple may not have been quite generous enough.
Read the rest of my LAFF coverage at Movie Mezzanine.
Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It begins as a period piece, filmed with authentic period cameras, and full of droll Altmanesque overlapping dialogue. Then, the film seems to dip its toes into an ocean of surreal weirdness. Before, near the end of the film, it doesn’t wade into this ocean– it does a hearty cannonball. Computer Chess follows a chess tournament in the early 1980s. Computer programmers face their computers against each other, and the winner of the tournament takes on a human chess master. A few of the more forward thinkers believe that a computer will beat a human sooner rather than later. Bujalski sets this film at the precipice of a crucial yet seemingly low-key moment in history: when people begin to realize just how unlimited the potential of computers can be. The characters are all deadpan and hilarious, lovingly sketched and unique; nary an affectation of the modern idea of “nerdiness” to be found. Even though I didn’t understand every individual bit of the film (Computer Chess deserves an essay, not a paragraph), several moments will unquestionably stick with me, saved in my memory bank. It’s a weird, occasionally frustrating, frequently funny, and incredibly unique cinematic experience. The layman moviegoer likely won’t enjoy this, as it presents a number of challenges and no clear thesis. However, that’s part of what makes it so important for the open-minded to see. It’s the type of film you hesitate to give an A to upon first viewing… but could easily climb with each repeat watch.
Boy, the things one can do with a small budget these days. Director Sebastian Cordero has taken a small amount of money and put together a science fiction journey that, visually speaking, is astounding. He employs the found-footage technique better than most, planting cameras throughout a spaceship and in space suits, cutting them together to maximize suspense. I don’t mean suspense that an alien ship will blow them up; I mean real space travel suspense, where one stuck piece of equipment can result in the deaths of everyone on board and a machine that stops humming could hint at one’s doom. We follow a crew of astronauts, scientists, and engineers, heading to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, where ice has been discovered. If water exists on the planet, life may exist as well, and an expedition is launched in hopes of finding alien life. In addition to the miraculously high-quality visuals, the science presented in this film was endlessly interesting to me– the filmmakers took great care to try to make it as close to realism as a sci-fi expedition film could manage, and they certainly have achieved that in my unsophisticated layman mind. The characters are bland across the board, stoic and professional; this very well may be a deliberate choice, and one I understand. However, without someone to truly connect to on board, Europa Report is never able to elevate into the stratosphere. It’s a fascinating example of how science and nifty use of a limited budget can create a compelling sci-fi world, absolutely worth seeking out for genre fans. It’s just a shame we don’t have more interesting people inhabiting that world.