Sean K. Cureton

Archive for January, 2017|Monthly archive page

Little Sister: Gothic Pathos

In Movies on VOD: Reviews and Recommendations on January 28, 2017 at 1:13 pm
Little Sister

Forager Films

Little Sister (2016)
Directed by Zach Clark
VOD Rating: Liked It

It’s hard to represent all of the emotional idiosyncrasies inherent to any one socio-cultural subset. The 21st century alone has seen the rise of the Millennial, and with it a cultural focus on the self-involved, sheltered, and precocious spiritual and political leanings of an epochal generation that has been derisively labeled as Generation Me. Intellectually equated with of the ever irksome hipster aesthetic, Millennials have become the butt of every joke regarding the recurrent aimlessness of youth. But just twenty years prior to the dawn of the Millennial, the Goth movement was far more pervasive in its influence upon young minds. Little Sister sees director Zack Clark approach Goths as a narrative conceit, but instead of marginalizing them for their affinity towards garish makeup and abrasive music, his film seeks to discover the humanitarian ethos that persists across generations regardless of the tone and content of each and every subsequent youth in rebellion.

Centering on a young nun in training named Colleen Lunsford (Addison Tomlin), Little Sister goes about divulging the innermost traits of its characters in a roundabout manner. Rather than openly admitting to his film being about a pair of former teen Goths coming back home to deal with the past, their dysfunctional parents, and the lingering horrors of the Iraq War, Clark means for his audience to see his protagonists as people first. Upon entering her childhood home for the first time after spending several years in self-inflicted excommunication, Colleen immediately begins coming across all of the various personal mementos from her time spent as a Goth. An inverted cross greets the viewer when Colleen makes her way to her old bedroom, which is ethereally tinged with an otherworldly glow amid the shadows and black painted décor. All of this back-story is implicitly accessible to the viewer, and goes a long way towards representing what is a far more realistic and unsensational version of what could have been a broad comedy in the wrong hands.

Tomlin brings an undeniable compassion to her role that results in Little Sister being among the more somber and reflective movie going experiences from this past year. Where Barry Jenkins sought to viscerally propel his viewers through his respective coming of age drama in the critically heralded, Best Picture nominee Moonlight, Clark takes a page from fellow contemporary Jeff Nichols and allows his characters to reveal as much about themselves as the viewer is willing to receive. When Colleen’s older brother Jacob Lunsford (Keith Poulson) is revealed for the first time, there is no remark to be made about the deformity that he brought back with him from the Iraq War. Instead, Colleen seeks to urge her brother out of hermitic isolation by indulging their shared love for the hardcore punk band GWAR. Her pantomimed performance that serves as the cornerstone of the entire production reveals far more about the viewer than it does about either Colleen or Jacob, as Clark means for this instigation of old passions to reflect a shared sense of creative vitality that is the lifeblood of humanity as a whole.

Little Sister approaches its characters without any contextualizing tone, which might make its intentions not entirely easy to read all the time. But for those viewers who are willing to suspend their need for concussive narrative exposition, Clark’s latest directorial effort signals the rise of a filmmaker whose past and future work should be sought after with a renewed vigor. Taking a cue from the Mumblecore film movement, Little Sister offers one of the most irreverent independent film experiences since Garden State, though Clark is a far more tactful storyteller than Zach Braff could ever hope to be. Adolescence is a wellspring of creative inspiration that everyone will continue to draw from as more people come forward to tell their own stories of youthful rebellion, and Clark has added another indispensable entry into that canon with Little Sister. Teeming with pathos and earned dramatic catharsis, Little Sister is a truly exceptional movie that slipped through the cracks of mainstream attention due to its unobtrusive tenderness.

Little Sister is currently available on Netflix, and is my Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week.

La La Land: Daydream & Despair

In Movie Reviews: 2016 on January 7, 2017 at 1:18 pm
La La Land

Summit Entertainment

La La Land
Directed by Damien Chazelle
3 out of 4 stars

Damien Chazelle is a clear frontrunner for the current awards season, and his sophomore feature length motion picture La La Land is an exceptionally effective Hollywood musical throwback. Brimming with bright lights, big dreams, and starring two of the greatest young talents working today, Chazelle’s follow-up to his Oscar nominated drama Whiplash is a definitive crowd pleaser. Centering around the aspirations of two young artists in Los Angeles – one an aspiring starlet of the sliver screen, and the other a struggling jazz musician forced to play Christmas carols in a local tapas bar – La La Land blends childish daydream into a potpourri of waking despair offset by a number of willfully romantic musical compositions. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone manage to walk the high wire act of making a contemporary Hollywood musical that finds its way into the current pantheon of mainstream cinema. And despite its obvious self-indulgence, La La Land is a modest hit that might pave the way for even greater original musical movie productions in the near future.

Throughout Chazelle’s latest feature length endeavor, the director’s penchant for exploring the unwieldy capacities of jazz, both in terms of composition and performance, lends to a multitude of conflicting emotions and thematic idiosyncrasies that simultaneously vie for the viewer’s attention. As Sebastian Wilder, Gosling exudes a temperamental prickliness that erupts in spare moments of antagonism. Thankfully, Stone as Mia Dolan, aided by her character’s respective abundance of blind optimism, breaks through to the core of the movie’s overarching creative rebellion. Like the classic Hollywood drama Rebel Without a Cause that serves as an archetypal frame of reference for the two young lovers whirlwind affair, Sebastian and Mia seek artistic fulfillment in La La Land despite the odds, and emerge victorious by the grace of their respective talents alone. Los Angeles is a “City of Stars” in Sebastian and Mia’s eyes, even if the brightness of subjective ambition proves to bright for the dueling protagonists to see one another clearly and often enough.

Prior to La La Land, Whiplash saw Chazelle exploring the depths to which artists might lose themselves in the pursuit of technical mastery. In that film, Miles Teller plays the young jazz drummer Andrew Neiman as a monomaniacal sycophant to his own historical idols. Like Sebastian and Mia, Andrew shrugs off the affections of his father, extended family, and girlfriend for the cold embrace of his disciplinarian instructor. La La Land offers a few of the same bitter returns for its heroes, as Sebastian and Mia are forced to fall out of love with one another in order to reach the dazzling heights of celebrity and sub-cultural renown. Creativity is a double-edged sword in Chazelle’s hands, as its finely pointed aim consistently reaches its mark while obliterating all ancillary pleasures and desires in its single-minded pursuit.

La La Land may not offer the same kind of heartwarming narrative of the classic studio musical, but in our current day and age its cynical view of human nature feels more accurate in describing the guarded sympathies of 21st century Hollywood. Movies like Singin’ in the Rain and The Bandwagon from the 1950s allowed its heroes to fall and stay in love because they were made a by a culture that still strove to believe in the virtues of ethically binding monogamy. Over fifty years later, those same beliefs have become mere reminders of a retrospectively quaint philosophy, and monogamy a social stricture dictated by objective law alone. Sebastian and Mia are narcissistic performers dressed up like 1950s Hollywood musical players whose inability to find a happy ending together is the only logical conclusion that a movie like La La Land could reach in 2016. There is a lot of pain behind Gosling and Stone’s eyes in La La Land, but not much hope for a better future than the one they’ve blindly built in their own image.