As the summer movie season heats up for the July 4 weekend, traditionally one of the most profitable weekends of the year for the movie industry (it helps that the weekend starts on a Wednesday). But if you’ve seen “Mr. Deeds” and “Men in Black II,” “Powerpuff Girls” and “Like Mike” don’t interest you (or you catch them all today, and realize you still have four days of the weekend to go), you may want to head down to your local (or in our case south Denver) art theatre to check out an indie flick. Sure they don’t have the special effects or big budgets of the traditional summer popcorn movie, and many rely heavily on story and strongly developed characters, but at least you are almost guaranteed a thought-provoking movie-going experience. Here are three mini-reviews of independent films playing now down south, from one to five stars.
The Importance of Being Earnest
This retelling of the Oscar Wilde play starring Judi Dench, Reese Witherspoon, Rupert Everett and Colin Firth, is ridiculously funny in a prim and proper, very British kind of way. The mistaken identities run amuck, the comedic elements skirt the bounds of believability and the ending ties up the loose ends a bit too neatly, but you can tell the actors are having fun, and most deliver their lines with pitch-perfect British accents. One complaint is how the Witherspoon character’s fully realized fantasies of knights in shining armor and princesses detracts from the continuity, instead of providing needless sight-gags to an already funny enough story, but that’s a minor distraction. “Earnest” is a breezy 90 minutes of silliness, with winsome performances and an ultra-happy ending. It won’t make you think, but it will make you smile. ***
Y Tu Mama Tambien
Now this one will make you think. “Y Tu Mama Tambien” is a sexy and erotic tale of two Mexican teenage guys (Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna) who convince an older Spanish woman (Maribel Verdu) to join them on a cross-country journey to a beach that exists only in their imagination. Along the way they learn lessons – sometimes painful, sometimes poignant – about each other, their burgeoning sexuality and the limits and extremities of love. Each of the characters has a secret that is revealed along the journey, and ultimately the movie shows what happens when people are completely honest with one another. Their travels take them through the Mexico of the city and the Mexico of the countryside, both with as much personality as the characters themselves. This film’s frank attitude towards sex and nudity (expect full-frontal from both sexes) may turn off some viewers, but the situations presented in these scenes of extreme sexuality offer a window into how real people take the first tentative steps into their full development as human beings. The journey for these characters is an intense one, rimmed with sadness. If this is porn, it is porn with pathos. Spanish with English sub-titles *****
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Another coming-of-age story, this one about Catholic schoolboys growing up in the 70s. The two main kids (Emile Hirsch and Kieran Culkin) share a general disdain for their nun instructor (Jodie Foster), who has one wooden leg. They also share an interest in comic books, where tales of good and evil rarely have shades of gray. As the boys story unfolds it is mirrored in the comic book world of their imaginations (animated by Todd McFarlane of “Spawn” fame). Mostly, these boys are looking for distraction, an end to their boredom, and find it in alcohol, drugs, increasingly elaborate pranks, poetry and finally girls. One girl (Jena Malone) catches the eye and heart of Hirsch’s character. She is never boring; indeed, she is needlessly complex. She has a shocking secret that seems a little too heavy for the story to support. If these kids were a little older the problems and situations thrust on them might be more believable, as it stands the young cast has a heavy load to carry on their pubescent shoulders. To their credit, they nearly succeed. ***