July 2018 Indie Movie Digest

Hey, geeks! We here at The Geek Abides love movies. And it sometimes seems like there are too many coming out each week to give proper spotlight. Here’s a quick recap of what came out this last month and which ones are most likely to become a sleeper hit.

Boundaries – Christopher Plummer has been having a career renaissance in the last decade, perhaps apexing last year with his last minute replacement of Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World leading to his third Best Supporting Actor nomination. The odd thing about it is that his resurgence comes only now that he’s pushing ninety. Well, all the power to him, as he stays busy with the road-trip comedy Boundaries. Said film follows geriatric Jack Jaconi (Christopher Plummer), a pot-dealing Seattleite who is excommunicated from his retirement home. Already caring for nearly a dozen animals, his daughter Laura (Vera Farmiga) can’t take him in. However, Jack’s other daughter JoJo (Kristen Schaal) can. The only problem: she lives in Los Angeles. Determined to be rid of her father once and for all, Laura takes it upon herself to drive him down the coast with her son Henry (Lewis MacDougall) and a few stray dogs in tow. However, with Jack lining up several clients along the way to deal to – unbeknownst to to Laura – and Henry hoping to visit his estranged father Leonard (Bobby Cannavale) in San Francisco, the trio are sure to make plenty of stops along the way, and get themselves in a plethora of hilarious situations. Hilarious, however, Boundaries really isn’t. Granted, it’s perhaps more so going for a amiability, but when it does go for comedy, it’s so slight and largely contrived it keeps the audience from really connecting with the characters in preparation for hitting the obligatory emotional beats of this family dramedy. It certainly has the dramatic chops to underscore the dialogue, with veteran actors Peter Fonda and Christopher Lloyd also providing cameos, but they’re let down by a script that’s far too milquetoast to make an impact or make the trip necessarily worth it.

Final Score: 4/10

Sorry to Bother You – And the weirdest film of 2018 goes to… Yeah, this movie is basically a bizarre, high-flying carnival ride that doesn’t slow down until you puke and want to go home. Still, it should be said that at its best, the directorial debut of rapper Boots Riley is perhaps the most profound and sociologically germane film in recent memory. It’s hysterical in its surreality, unrelenting in its criticism, and one-hundred-percent bat-sh*t crazy. In Sorry to Bother You, Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is just another Oakland, California-based hustler looking to make a buck and get out of his uncle Sergio’s (Terry Crews) garage that he calls home. Getting a job as a telemarketer at a company called RegalView, Cash quickly rises through the ranks by way of his “white voice” (David Cross) thanks to the tutelage of senior coworker Langston (Danny Glover). Becoming a “Power Caller” and moving on up to the penthouse offices, Cash finds himself being courted by WorryFree CEO Steve Lift (Amie Hammer), a pseudo-Christ figure and alleged human trafficker. As his friends and fellow RegalView employees orchestrate a work strike, Cash will have to decide what’s more important to him: economic success – with a shady company notwithstanding – or his meaningful relationships with people, including his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson). Now, structurally speaking, it’s nothing original. Character wants something more than anything, gets into bed with the wrong people to get it, and through moral quandaries has to realize that what he needs has been right in front of him all along. Yet where Sorry to Bother You goes right is just how scathingly potent its sociopolitical commentary is. One part Idiocracy and one part Wall StreetSorry to Bother You is easily the most confident and unique film of the year, and I’d have ranked it one of the best if it knew when to pump the brakes toward the end instead of slamming the pedal to the metal like it does. By the time it’s over, you’ll likely be glad that it is, but undeniable is its barrage of intellectually arresting material.

Final Score 8/10

Leave No Trace – A couple of years ago came a film about a widowed father who believed that doing his children the greatest service was to raise them in the wilderness, teaching them survival and self-preservation in addition to all the usual stuff. It was called Captain Fantastic and proved to be quite the awards darling, particularly for star Viggo Mortensen. Now I’d hate to make that comparison, being that these two films take rather distinct approaches to their similar plots, but it’s the closest thing I’ve got to a preamble of sorts. In Leave No Trace, thirteen-year-old Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) lives with her father Will (Ben Foster) in a national park just on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Apt to move camp every few months else they be uncovered, Tom is accidentally spotted by a passing jogger, leading to their capture by the authorities and Tom’s fate being placed in the hands of child services. Fortunately, they deem the war veteran Will fit to care for her, provided she receive a proper education and they live in a government sanctioned home. Forced to reevaluate their relationship to each other and society, Tom and Will must come to terms with what they individually need if they’re to find their ultimate place in the world. Now, this is a pretty straightforward movie. It’s solemn and concise, not one to mince words. It may be missing that certain je ne sais quoi to really put itself over the top, but as it stands Leave No Trace is a thoroughly solid and grounded character drama. Ben Foster is perhaps one of the most underrated actors consistently working today, and that’s unlikely to change here, but it doesn’t take away from the work he does with the equally estimable McKenzie, who likely will be breaking out shortly after all this is said and done. I’d probably still give the edge to Captain Fantastic for blending the humor along with its heart, but if you like to keep your drama simple, this should just about check all your boxes.

Final Score: 8/10

Damsel – For those who haven’t seen him since his last wide-release film The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 in 2012, Robert Pattison has been flat-out killing it on the indie scene. From this, to The Rover, to him being robbed an Oscar nomination in last year’s Good Time, one would have never imagined his sheer aptitude for disappearing completely in the most eccentric of roles. Same applies with Damsel, which, set in the Old West, chronicles the plight of Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson), who, after tracking down a miniature horse, must trek it across the Frontier, give it as a wedding gift to his fiancée Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), and rescue her from her captor Anton (Gabe Casdorph). This is the story he preaches to would-be preacher Parson Henry (David Zellner) and the two make their journey to where Penelope is allegedly being held. However, upon arriving, Parson Henry realizes Samuel is not to be trusted, as what they find is nothing like he described. The lines between hero and villain and damsel are subsequently blurred in this farcical Western adventure. Coming off the heels of the tragically humorous Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, director Zellner – this time joined by his brother Nathan – again subverts genre expectations in the sake of some truly odd storytelling. While this sophomore effort is a step down in its resemblance of a short story turned full-length, the comedic payoff makes it all worthwhile, as the Zellners possess a deft understanding of constructing these zany scenarios to humorous effect. It’s structurally unsound and will make you question certain story beats, but Damsel is a fine addition to the genre and features a slew of wonderful performances that span the full spectrum of human emotion and peculiarity.

Final Score: 6/10

Blindspotting – And here’s another racially conscious film set in Oakland with plenty of social commentary to spare. But that’s about where the similarities end between Blindspotting and the second entry on this list. Whereas the latter pushes and pushes the comedy angle ad nauseam, the former is perhaps more interested in relaying grounded characterizations by way of some timely themes. It goes for laughs plenty in its first act, and often jumbles the tone as a result, but boy does it clean up its act toward the end with some fine acting from writers Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. Here, Collin (Daveed Diggs) is serving the last three days of his probation, living at a halfway house, after being incarcerated for some time prior. He’s really trying to walk the straight and narrow, keep himself on the outside, but his troublemaking best-friend and coworker Miles (Rafael Casal) continually instigates opportunities for Collin to once again take the fall. After witnessing a manslaughter by a white police officer upon an ostensibly unarmed black man, Collin finds his mental state on shaky ground. He tries everything he can to shed the monstrous image society has foisted upon him, while Miles tries to adopt such an image deliberately. As their ideologies and trajectories crisscross, their friendship will be tested in ways it never has before. Now, it really wouldn’t be a proper indie if it wasn’t for the most part thematically conscious, and Blindspotting is so much so it might as well have been presented in written dissertation form. In fact, it’s often so unsubtle that it literally explains its own title in character dialogue, extensively. That’s not to say it’s not timely, because if you’ve lived in America the last four years that much will be clear. Rather it’s the execution of said themes through the characters’ journeys that makes it so profound. Rather than tackle its issues on a widespread, macro level, Blindspotting prefers to hone in on just a couple of dudes on a micro one, and it’s all the better for it. Diggs and Casal have such good chemistry they rival the likes of other writer-actor duos like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in Good Will Hunting. And while it might not be as emotionally affecting as that film, it is more than enough to make it the best one on this list.

Final Score: 8/10

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