Short Term 12: Movie Review

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Short Term 12 was a film I heard about but never got around to seeing.  I go to the theater often, and even though I’m in Atlanta, I often miss the smaller indies when they’re in theaters.  Thank goodness for Netflix!  What a gem this movie is!  It’s one of the best reviewed films of 2013, and it deserves every bit of praise it gets.  The concept of the film is simple.  A 20-something supervising staff member of a residential treatment facility for troubled kids navigates the waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend.  That doesn’t sound like an exciting ride does it?  I’m almost positive that if I pitched that to friends, the response would be lukewarm at best.  “Why would you make that?”  “That sounds depressing.”  I can hear the responses in my head.  Despite the seemingly dry premise, the movie rises above, creating complex characters and deep human moments that put a lump in your throat.  Writer/Director Destin Daniel Cretton based the film on a short film of the same name, modeled after his experiences working with troubled kids.  The old saying “you write what you know” couldn’t be more true.  It might seem like I’m gushing too hard over this movie, like it can’t be as good as I make it sound, but it is.

Short Term 12 Brie Larson and Keith Stanfield

The subject matter makes the film difficult to watch at times. It’s not comfortable. It digs deep into the nasty side of life, but it manages to leave you with hope, and the realization that relationships are what make life tolerable, and only together can we heal.  This is why I love indie film so much.  Smaller character driven stories that dive head first into the human condition.  The performances are top notch, and every character gets their moment to shine, even the smaller supporting roles of all ages.  There isn’t a single moment in the film that feels fake, and I’m extremely strict on that sort of thing.  Brie Larson is a revelation in the role of Grace.  Who is this woman!?  She’s been in a few other things but nothing that lets her grab hold of a character like this.  If this had gotten more widespread industry attention, I bet an Oscar Nomination would’ve been a lock for Miss Larson.  Her co-star, John Gallagher Jr. from The Newsroom plays Mason, and he’s compelling in every scene he touches.  The relationship between Mason and Grace is more authentic and raw than most movies I see today.  They’re two people with dark pasts who’ve found one another.  Their love and romance is genuine and messy.  That gives things a dynamic you don’t see much due to the subject matter of their pasts.  Mason’s character is someone we all wish we could be or be friends with.  He’s fun, likable, and he’s been through hell, but that hasn’t broken down his personality.  If anything, it’s helped create it, and given him more vigor to understand and be patient with the kids he works with (and his girl), something I think we can all admit we suck at.  Another standout is Keith Stanfield who plays Marcus.  The only credit he had before this was The Purge: Anarchy.  He practically rips your heart out in the film, especially when he raps his “new beats” for Mason.  The scene starts with you chuckling, feeling sad soon after, then speechless.  All I could do is gulp when it was over.  I wish we had more scenes like that in films that cost 100 times more.  Are you listening Hollywood?

“Look into my eyes so you know what it’s like to live a life not knowing what a normal life’s like.” – Marcus

Another surprise is Kaitlyn Dever as Jayden.  Like the character of Marcus, she has her own moment that leaves you speechless when she shares a story she wrote.  I won’t go into that any farther or I risk spoiling the film, but the scene is heartbreaking.  However, she also cracked me up more than once with her dry and sarcastic humor, though you know deep hurt has fueled it.  Humor is another area where this film excels which helps you navigate the darkness.  A scene where Jayden’s character has a disturbing meltdown makes you sad, but jokes a moment later diffuse things.  It’s a really weird mix of emotions, but it makes the film so enjoyable.  Later on in Act 3 we come to the films darkest and most intense moment, and even that moment is wrapped up with a humorous line, delivered again, by Jayden.  This film is an absolute rollercoaster of emotion that excels at every peak and valley.  Some may dislike the look of the film, which is very flat and desaturated, but I think the feel of the movie puts you in the moment.  I was never distracted.  The film almost feels like a documentary, with you peaking in on the real lives of those on-screen.

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I could go on forever about what makes Short Term 12 so good, but I think you need to see the movie for yourself.  I can’t wait to see what Writer/Director Destin Daniel Cretton cooks up next.  My expectations are very high.  Movies this authentic do not come around often.  These sort of films make me excited as a filmmaker.  You don’t need $10 million to make something great.  You do however need a fantastic script and great actors, something most people don’t have, but this film does.  There’s a reason this film dazzled critics and viewers alike.  Short Term 12 is an indie gem with heart and authenticity that can’t be ignored.

Short Term 12 is Rated-R for language and brief sexuality.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser Review

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If you have an internet connection you’ve probably seen the new teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens that debuted on Friday morning.  As expected it took off like a rocket on social media, and before long there were tons of conversations going on about every single little detail.  Some people complained about the updated lightsaber, and lots of idiots whined about there being a black guy in a stormtrooper outfit.  I’ve seen the trailer myself an embarrassing number of times.  These are my thoughts, but before you read them, watch the teaser.

Firstly, this teaser does exactly what a good teaser should.  It gives you very little information, and excites you anyway.  There was only a few shots combined with a voiceover, and it still got me grinning ear to ear, gave me chills, etc.  So from a job-to-do standpoint…mission accomplished.

Secondly, the look of the teaser.  They nailed the look of the old films.  It was shot on film, has healthy contrast and saturation, but isn’t pushed hard or graded to death.  It just looks nice and natural and detailed, but retains that pleasing softness.  The jump scare at the start instantly recalls the feel of the old films and John Williams music seals the deal.  A lot of people have made a fuss about the “soccer ball droid” in the next shot.  It honestly didn’t bother me.  It’s a goofy design, but if you consider the terrain, that sort of thing is perfect.  There were all sorts of goofy droids in Star Wars (as in Episode 4), especially at the beginning, far worse than this thing.  Next comes the stormtrooper helmets, weaponry, and landing shot, all of which feels gritty and energetic.  After the sterile nature of the prequels, it’s so great to see the “used future” again and something other than a pristine digital image that lacks an organic touch.  At least these suits on camera actually exist and aren’t CG. :)

The shot of the woman on the vehicle is nice, and the bottom 3rd framing and whip pan also feels like old Star Wars to me.  I love the shot of the X-Wings that we get.  The CG is especially well done.  There is realistic camera shake, haze, a slight flare, lens aberrations, etc. that all sell it.  Next comes the shot that’s generated the most controversy, that hilted lightsaber.  I would like to point out that the lightsaber glow itself is new.  This thing has a lightning feel to it instead of the solid beam we’ve previously seen.  Regarding the hilt itself I don’t know what to think.  It seems a bit odd sure, given what’s come before, but I’m willing to see where they take it.  It seems a little nutty to assume too much about the implications of that right now, but it is the only thing in the trailer that’s a massive change so I understand why some called foul.

Then comes the money shot…THE MILLENNIUM FALCON.  I gotta admit I nearly lost my mind when that shot showed up.  It’s gorgeous, and reveals the Tie Fighters perfectly.  The camera movement feels so real as well.  It’s messy and organic, like another craft was trying to bank and follow the Falcon as it swooped around.  A perfect ending shot to give the fans an infusion of nostalgia, me included.

Today was a special day since I watched Star Wars (Episode 4) with my 3 year old son for the first time.  It was awesome to hear him comment during the whole thing.  Afterwards I played the teaser for The Force Awakens, and after it ended, his first response was: “Can you play the trailer again?”  That’s my boy! :) The smile he cracked during the second play through when the Falcon showed up is something I’ll never forget. #ParentingWin

In all seriousness though, this teaser was solid and did what it was supposed to do, calm our fears (at least for most of us) that JJ Abrams has things in control.  Abrams was always a great choice despite being overrated at times, since he has an old school eye for things, and can communicate nostalgia like a champ.  Even with so few shots, you can feel it in this teaser.  Just as Super 8 was a nostalgic visual love letter to 70s and 80s Spielberg, so will The Force Awakens but with Star Wars in mind.  Even where the teaser feels like classic Abrams, his style being more old school does help.  The look and feel they’re going to nail, but did they nail it on the story and character side of things?  The jury’s still out on that one.  If they can combine the two strengths and make something truly great, then Star Wars fans will finally have the franchise future they were always hoping for.  Is it December 2015 yet?