Saturday, October 29, 2011


Like Crazy, USA, 2011
Dir: Drake Doremus
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence

We've all been there. We meet the right one. Then we lose them, but only for a short while, then we get back together, and then one of us fucks up and we lose each other for good. Hollywood drums up a similar tale, Like Crazy (as in “I love you like crazy"). The film is being released this weekend in select cities across the U.S. and is directed and co-written by 28-year-old Drake Doremus, who based many parts of the film on his own failed marriage experience.

It has become a tradition that the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival receives monumental attention, including a theatrical release, and in recent years, multiple nominations at the Academy Awards. In 2006, Indie darling Little Miss Sunshine won two Oscars and grossed over a $100 million domestically. In 2009, Lee Daniels directed Precious, which earned him two Oscar nods and was one of the most critically acclaimed releases of the year. In 2010, Winter’s Bone, which also won the top prize at Sundance garnered great reviews upon release and was nominated for four Academy Awards. So it comes as no surprise that this year’s best film as voted by the Sundance jury gets its share of kudos and acclaim now that the awards seasons has begun. Like Crazy, starring Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones as Jacob and Anna, is a typical love story told in a refreshing and intimate way.

Yelchin and Jones excel as a couple that are kept apart by immigration laws and secret affairs and they help create an absorbing and touching love story. Many parts of the film, however, were improvised. Director Drake Doremus said he often left the camera rolling for up to a half an hour at a time just to capture the two together. As the pair is torn apart by distance and time, the film grows sparser and more pained, the uncertainty between Jacob and Anna more obvious. The film also features Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Samantha, Jacob’s secretary and on again/off again girlfriend.

Like Crazy
was produced far outside the Hollywood studio system for just $250,000 and surprised everyone when it became an unexpected sensation at this past year's Sundance Film Festival. The project was a true collaboration. Director Drake Doremus and Co-Writer Ben York Jones put together a 52-page outline for the movie, creating characters very loosely based on their past long-distance relationships. Once they cast Yelchin and Jones, they gave the actors room to bring the script to life with improvisation that created its own unique reality.

The film beautifully illustrates and explores the complex fragility of first love. After an impressive effort from a group of extremely talented 20-somethings, one is eager to see what the future holds for the artists and performers involved. Like Crazy might not be the most talked about movie of the year, but it is certainly one of the best films you’ll see all year.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Poison, USA, 1991
Dir: Todd Haynes
Cast: Edith Meeks, Evan Dunsky

The Sundance Film Festival has long been known as a breeding ground for up and coming filmmakers. It is the elite gathering of the best independent films from the U.S. and around the world. Among the festival alumni include some of the best-known filmmakers of today, such as Jim Jarmusch, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Darren Aronofsky, and Christopher Nolan. Most of them rose to fame in the 1990s, which was a decade that can be characterized as being the time period when film transitioned from the emergence of the franchise movie in the 80s to an independent haven with dozens of small-studio production and distribution companies, most of which did not survive the decade other than the most successful ones like Miramax and Fox Searchlight.

In 1989, provocative, queer-themed director Todd Haynes had just finished Superstar, a 40-minute dramatization of Karen Carpenter’s life starring Barbie dolls in place of actors. The film was a big underground success, and the summer after its release, Haynes and his producer Christine Vachon began working on their first feature together, Poison, based on the novels of renowned poet and scholar, Jean Genet.

The 1990s played host to dozens of groundbreaking, and brilliant movies directed by 20-somethings with little or no money at all at hand. Haynes was wittingly or unwittingly now part of a movement. The same independent movement that would produce films like El Mariachi, Clerks, Spanking the Monkey, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Swingers, and Pi. Todd Haynes’ Poison is an excellent example of the quality of the work that was being produced during this period.

The film is told in an unconventional manner with a trio of rotating story arcs, distinguished in the credits as “Hero,” “Horror,” and “Homo.” Completely unrelated to each other, the segments deals with a different subject, in different genres. “Hero,” told in mockumentary-style, centers on a small town that is recovering from the strange disappearance of a boy who killed his father. “Horror,” the only segment shot in black and white, is an homage to 1950s paranoid thrillers about a scientist who becomes infected with a disease after drinking a potion he was working on. The final story, “Homo,” is perhaps Hayne’s most personal. It deals with a prisoner in 1940s Paris who is haunted by memories of a prison camp he was held in as a youth, where inmates was forced to perform homosexual acts of violence.

The film broke ground for not just gay-themed filmmakers, but independent artists of all backgrounds hoping to break boundaries without the fear of harsh criticism. Poison eventually won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1991, but was slapped with an NC-17 rating when released in theaters, and was one of the most controversial films of the year. Following his semi-experimental debut, Haynes directed several mainstream films (or as mainstream as Todd Haynes could get) including the 2002 Oscar-nominated Far From Heaven and the HBO Mini-series Mildred Pierce earlier this year.

Hayne’s Poison, his explicit and thought provoking debut, is still a landmark in American independent cinema and an exemplary work of the New Queer Cinema of the 1990s.