#StrictlyIndie Film Views: "The Motel Life"

The Motel Life has a fast-cutting yet slow-paced first act that is difficult to get immersed in; but if you give it some time, it catches its bearings and delivers.

The film begins with a great inciting incident. Frank (Emile Hirsch) discovers that his brother Jerry Lee (Stephen Dorff) has been involved in a hit-and-run accident. With the cops on Jerry’s case and the guilt permeating in his mind, the two are forced to flee Reno and drive across state where they land in a town in which Frank’s ex-girlfriend (Dakota Fanning) resides. However, the first act that gets us there is decorated with fragmented, uncertain scenes and quick flashbacks to the two when they were boys that renders rather confusingly. It’s hard to really grasp what direction the film is going to go in, and at one point even seems to lose the stakes it had presented in the very beginning, but then you realize why Gabe & Alan Polsky shape the world the way they do before we get back into the story. They paint a vivid yet subtle picture of a world where everyone is up to their ears in loneliness, but Frank is the most lonely of them all.

Once the Polsky brothers hit their stride and the pieces are thrown together, you can relax and enjoy a thoroughly well-acted and heartbreaking drama about brotherhood and love. Franks stories that he tells his brother are a nice contrast to their motel-ridden lifestyle and never delve too far into territory that would keep each scene from being raw and honest. If I were to be a proper critic for a moment, one of the only other technical aspects of the film that is confusing is the generational gap between the three characters. As the flashbacks show, the brothers seem to be around the same age but are obviously at least ten years apart in real life. The same goes for the believability in the relationship between Dakota and Emile. It feels weird at moments, but the performances are the glue that keeps this first-time project together for the Polsky brothers’ directorial debut.

You can watch The Motel Life now on Netflix or in the Seed&Spark cinema for $2.99 or 250 Sparks (their internal currency).

Review by Ryan Kramer

#StrictlyIndie Film Views: "Boyhood"


Everyone can agree that Linklater’s latest film, Boyhood, is a grand achievement in filmmaking, but why doesn’t the film quite stick with you the way it probably should? There are directorial decisions and character qualities that shape this film into a really beautiful epic, but there are also avenues that could have been explored and more open in allowing the audience to feel what this fantastic cast could have provided.

Filmed over a twelve year period, it’s really interesting to see Mason (Ellar Coltrane) come of age within the slice of life snippets leading into his young adulthood. The thing is, once we get there, it feels as if Mason is rather unaffected at times, and can come off more pretentious than sincere. Linklater seems to make a conscious effort to not have this film solely driven by emotions, which is an interesting choice, but doesn’t allow us to see certain emotional responses to incidents that are prevalent in this character’s life. The only time we see Mason act out is when his mother’s second husband points out that he has no respect for their household and his curfew. Mason comes back with a cliched, “You’re not my father” line, and that’s the extent to which we see him react to anything.This also makes it very noticeable that the first half of the film is much more powerful than the second.

What stands out in the first half of Boyhood is that it’s not just about boyhood. The family dynamic is great, giving Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke the room needed to give some of the best performances we’ve seen from the two. Linklater also does a great job in developing the mother’s first husband in a short period of time, his downfall brilliantly alluded to in small doses. If you’re a child of divorce, like many of us are, this depiction of a dysfunctional family will hit home in a very real and unsettling way.

Overall, Boyhood is an extremely unique and riveting piece that takes a lot of nerve and gusto to make. Unanimous nods and awards are rightfully deserved. Richard Linklater has come a long way since writing and directing films like Slacker and Dazed and Confused, and has shown his innate ability to adapt to the times. Boyhood is a sign that he’s only getting better and better as his career progresses, and I believe we still haven’t seen his best.

#StrictlyIndie Film Views: "The Sacrament"


Whether you’re a fan of Ti West’s previous work or not, his most recent film, The Sacrament, demands its viewers’ attention. The pace at which West let’s the mystery unfold allows for great tension and suspense in what is probably his most chilling and polished film yet.

The Sacrament follows three friends who are all apart of a multimedia company called VICE. When Sam (AJ Bowen) finds out that his fellow photographer’s sister has joined a community outside of the states to better herself from her drug addiction, he immediately wants to investigate its origin. He also brings along his cameraman, played by yet another indie filmmaker/actor: Joe Swanberg. From the moment the three get off the helicopter, there’s a clear sense that “Eden Parish” is not what they thought it was. The so called paradise is guarded like an internment camp. There’s only one way in and one way out. The three are greeted by Patrick’s sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz), who ensures them that the men with guns are not a fair representation of what they’re about to witness. From there on, each scene is a nail-biter, skillfully emphasized by Tyler Bates’ original score.

The found footage sub-genre of horror filmmaking has made its way cozily into my heart over the past few years. Ti West is no newcomer when it comes to the genre, having directed segments in anthology films like V/H/S and The ABC’s of Death. Interestingly enough, this film reminded me of Timo Tjahanto and Gareth Evans’ segment from V/H/S 2 called “Safe Haven.” Timo actually explains how he wanted to try doing a film about the Jamestown Massacre in an article from Entertainment Weekly, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is, Ti West grabbed at the opportunity to portray this deranged vision of a powerful man’s utopia and did a damn horrifying job.

The Sacrament is now screening at select theaters and is also available to rent on iTunes.

Review by Ryan Kramer

#StrictlyIndie Film Views: "Short Term 12"


The terms “Hipster film” and “Melodrama” are some that are thrown around almost too often these days; both of which could be used to sadly categorize a film like Short Term 12. In my opinion, a melodrama is a work in which performances and direction are far more exaggerated than the subject matter calls for, and as a result, comes off as inorganic. Destin Cretton’s film doesn’t fall under that umbrella. Short Term 12 doesn’t simply pull heart strings to get an emotional response. It explores the amount of courage, patience and unrestrained empathy that is needed to let someone in after a life of abuse.

The film centers around Grace (Brie Larson), a strong-willed woman with an unrelenting vocation for helping the children she works with at a home for at-risk-teens. Her day to day is rather procedural (filled with level drops for cussing and random room checks) until a girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) is brought in. Jayden is dropped in the group home as a favor to her father and Grace soon realizes the distinct similarities between them. As Grace uncovers the truth behind Jayden’s home life, her own past is brought to the forefront, testing her relationships outside of the home.

Short Term 12 is also just as much a love story as it is an unsettling drama. Grace’s boyfriend and co-worker at the facility, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), is hellbent on getting Grace to allow him inside her head. He believes she is the weirdest, most beautiful person he has ever met in his entire life, and Brie Larson’s performance won’t have you feeling any other way. In what is undoubtedly Larson’s most challenging and rewarding role yet, she delivers exactly what is needed to pull you in. 

With other notably resonant performances from Keith Stanfield and the rest of this vibrant cast, Short Term 12 is one of the most heartwarming and heart-wrenching films of 2013. It is now available for instant stream on Netflix.


Review by Ryan Kramer.

#StrictlyIndie Film Views: "Grand Budapest Hotel"

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a fresh breath of indie air into mainstream cinema. I have always been most fond of Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, as it was the first of his film’s I had ever seen, but I can easily say this is his masterpiece. The fact that he can take such a niche genre and never have a dull moment is a testament to Anderson as one of the most creative and impressive minds to hit the screen.

Budapest follows the adventures of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his devoted lobby boy (Tony Revolori). It is powered by its rapid-fire dialogue, eye-glueing shot construction and fantastic performances. Speaking of performances, Ralph Fiennes gives one of his best yet as an eccentric and strict but extremely empathetic concierge. If you’ve seen The Chumscrubber, you would have gotten a taste of Fiennes’ more comedic side; but this showcased that to the nth degree. I think we’ll be seeing more off-color comedy from him in the future (or at least I hope so).

From a story standpoint, the film really starts to take off after one of Gustave’s wealthy widowed lovers dies. I say one because he has many at The Grand Budapest. This particular widow is played by Tilda Swinton in great fashion, with hair looking like something pulled from ‘The Bride Of Frankenstein’. At her funeral service, Gustave has ‘Boy with Apple’, a rare painting, bestowed upon him. That’s when incredulous events unfold such as Gustave being accused of murder, thrown into prison, pursued by the widow’s estranged son (Adrien Brody) and chased by a villainous hitman (Willem Dafoe). Anderson does a great job of building up the relationship between the lobby boy and Gustave and uses consistent little threads of comedy that not only develop the two’s characterization, but are simple moments of laughter, like Gustave’s cherished cologne, L’Air de Panache.

All in all, The Grand Budapest Hotel is simply not to be missed. It’s a grand achievement and spectacle to be ogled at. If you’re a fan of Wes Anderson, you should see it in theaters before its run is over. If you don’t know who Anderson is, you should see it in theaters before its run is over and then get yourself familiar with the rest of his body of work. You won’t be disappointed.


Review by Ryan Kramer