Guide to Albany
The Reel Deal
The Iron Giant (Special Edition) one sheetAs an avowed animation skeptic, an endorsement from me is a little like a blessing from the Pope. (New Pope, which in this case is better than Old Pope.) So it isn't something to take lightly when I say The Iron Giant is one of the best animated films ever. It's a true classic, as well as Vin Diesel's first monosyllabic animated role (and even more affecting than Groot).

Before you see Hotel Transylvania 2 - also a surprisingly entertaining, often adorable children's film, breaking records and sure to last in theaters for quite a while - you have the chance this Wednesday and Sunday only to see the new, high definition restoration of Giant in theaters, with 10 minutes of additional scenes originally not created due to budget constraints.

Adapted from the 1968 book The Iron Man, by British Poet Ted Hughes, about a lost giant space robot scaring townsfolk by secretly eating their farm equipment, The Iron Giant explores the giant's friendship with a young boy, and the general public's fear and attempt to destroy him. There's a strong E.T. vibe, but remember this was written in '68. Most of the film was hand drawn, with more complex elements (including the robot) handled by CGI animators.

Strangely, Warner Brothers marketed the film disastrously and it floundered, making just $30 million in theaters worldwide on a $70 million budget. The degree of failure can be best judged if you consider 96% of critics on endorse the film, with an average score of 8.2 out of 10. That's 122 critics for, and just 5 against. RT summarizes their overall feeling like this: "The endearing Iron Giant tackles ambitious topics and complex human relationships with a steady hand and beautifully animated direction from Brad Bird."
People who've seen the film agree, with well over 100,000 voting on giving an average score of 8.0 out of 10.

      Who's Brad Bird? Just the double oscar winning director of The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. He also directed the classic Do the Bartman, and wrote the screenplay for Batteries Not Included - 10 years before taking on The Iron Giant.

If you wish there were an animated film targeted to children but with real artistic merit and a compelling story to boot, - and, likely to be just as entertaining to the adults who bring them - you wont find a better example than this. The Iron Giant: Special Edition is an event not to be missed.

You can read the Fathom Events press release about the new version below:


Wednesday, September 30, at 7pm,
Sunday, October 4th, at Noon.

Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes (approximate)
*Note: some sources indicate there's also an interview with the director, so assume 2 hours total.

Ticketing: Tickets are available by clicking on the orange "Buy Tickets" button. If online ticketing is not available for your location, you can purchase your tickets by visiting the box office at your local participating movie theater.

Special Fathom Features: Enjoy the The Iron Giant: Signature Edition which has been re-mastered and enhanced with two all-new scenes.

Fathom Events and Warner Bros. are excited to bring The Iron Giant: Signature Edition to select cinemas nationwide for a special event screening on Wednesday, September 30 at 7:00 p.m. local time, with an encore event in select markets on Sunday, October 4 at 12:00 p.m. local time.

When "The Iron Giant" arrived in theaters in 1999, it was hailed as an "instant classic" by Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal and the world soon learned another "giant" had arrived as well: filmmaker Brad Bird, who made his stunning directorial debut with this film and has gone on to win two Oscars, as well as worldwide acclaim for his work on both animated and live-action features.

Winner of 9 Annie Awards, "The Iron Giant" is being remastered and enhanced with two all-new scenes! The Iron Giant: Signature Edition will be re-released in theaters across North America for a special Fathom Events screening on Wednesday, September 30 with an encore event on Sunday, October 4.

"Deliciously funny and deeply affecting. And beautiful, oh so beautiful, as a work of coherent art." Joe Morgenstern/Wall Street Journal

"An unalloyed Success." Lael Lowenstein/Variety

"Enchanting." Robert Ebert/Chicago Sun Times

"A lovely & touching day dream." Owen Gleiberman/Entertainment Weekly

"Warner Brothers outstanding "The Iron Giant" is a giant leap for the studio and robot kind!" David Hunter/Hollywood Reporter

The End of the Tour, one sheet Here's the best advice for watching director James Ponsoldt's newest film The End of the Tour: Sit up-close.
Another gem from A24 films, Tour is a thoroughly compelling depiction of the 1996 five day road-trip interview of Infinite Jest author David Foster Wallace by Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky. That may sound like something of a head-scratcher as a subject for film, yet The Spectacular Now (2013) director's respect for the material, the film's smooth pacing, and unexpectedly charismatic performances from the leads allow for a faithful translation of the two men's personalities, writing styles, and the issues they explore during the copious downtime spent together on the last leg of Wallace's book tour.
The conversation flows easily, exploring Wallace's philosophical outlook and personal convictions, and their application in normative ethics, replicating Wallace's trademark deep yet easy to digest delivery. This is mumblecore having grown up and gone back to finish its degree.
The film begins with Jesse Eisenberg's Lipsky as a green journalist determined to find a subject for his first big article at Rolling Stone. A well educated and published author himself, Lipsky's girlfriend suggests he read Infinite Jest. Just a few pages in, skeptical her suggestion could impress a writer with an advanced degree, Lipsky bluntly resigns himself subordinate. "Shit."
The book is so good, he convinces his editor that Rolling Stone should feature an interview with Wallace, under Lipsky's own by-line.
Wallace (Jason Segel) is solitary and taciturn, most comfortable in rural Illinois, surrounded by his dogs and the snow swept landscape. The pair are excited to meet each other, while Wallace is as cautious as Lipsky is admiring. Being a writer himself, Lipsky harbors a deep interest in exploring Wallace's talent, while Wallace's enforced detachment induces suspicion of Lipsky's motives. Conversations wander to the challenges of awkwardness and sincerity, authenticity of image, the pitfalls of fame, and the influence of the internet which had just started invading people's homes. The writers explore philosophic and professional issues, diverting from one intense topic to something tangential, domestic, or mundane yet the flow feels natural and effortless. Personal issues such as depression and addiction lead to questions of religion, entertainment and commercialism. Wallace explores the question of how to live fully and enjoy life beyond rudimentary solipsism. As Jason Segel has mentioned, and many often agree, Wallace gives us words for complex thoughts and feelings we all have, but didn't know how to express.
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However it came about, Segel and Eisenberg prove excellent in their roles. Defying usual Hollywood convention, the actors are actually less traditionally handsome than the real world writers they portray - making them more accessible to the average viewer. Wallace himself would likely endorse that effort towards authenticity versus deification. Eisenberg exudes the enthusiasm and drive of a young journalist, torn between his admiration for his talented subject and his journalist duty to investigate the man's less admirable traits. Segel's lithium infused performance may be even more compelling, perhaps because it's so consistently low key - defying what we've seen in everything else he's done.
Staging and cinematography further immerse the viewer in the conversation. Camerawork features mid shots often, and mid-close shots when the conversation becomes more intimate, or contentious. The combination of subdued lighting and settings, the natural performances, the close camerawork, and the free-flowing conversational style draw the viewer in, and hold us there.

Some elements in the film feel more symbolic than literal, leaving us to wonder how authentic they might be. Once Wallace is finally comfortable having Lipsky around, he offers half his pop-tart, which Lipsky is reluctant to accept. Wallace insists. Lipsky relents. It might have happened, but it evokes a sense of taking of communion - a theme Wallace might likely appreciate: "Take this pop-tart, it is my body. Smoke this cigarette, it is my blood." Wallace has accepted Lipsky as a kindred spirit. Lipsky nibbles at snacks simultaneously seeming tentative and enthusiastic, and they chain-smoke their way through the book tour. A number of driving scenes fill the screen with the bright, blaring signs of fast food restaurants stretching to the horizon.
Early in the film, Ponsoldt uses a tracking shot - left to right - of Lipsky walking through a parking garage to a rental car. The drab concrete and geometric shapes parallel the structured, methodical process of a journalist. Near the end of the film, the pair walk Wallace's dogs through a snowy field. A footpath is clear, traversing the field diagonally across the screen. Partway along, they pause and Lipsky surveys the countryside Wallace knows from so many trips before. "I'd better get back," Lipsky remarks. He has that article to write.
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Is the field just a field, or is that path Wallace's exploration of the world from a slanted perspective? Is Jesse Eisenberg really that inelegant at smoking, or was Lipsky that determined to immerse himself in Wallace's world? Is it true (as presented in the film) that Wallace dabbled in lighter drugs, but had never been a heroin addict as a number of articles had alleged? Is the pop-tart just a pop-tart?
The End of the Tour serves as a great introduction to the style and themes Wallace addresses in his work, as well as an amiable road trip movie. It might leave you feeling you've spent a great evening out with friends, having one of those comprehensive but disorganized conversations that when it's finished somehow still feels complete.
With such relatable characters and so many rich ideas, it may encourage exploration of Lipsky's work as well as the works for which Wallace has become so revered.
Until then, The End of the Tour opens 8/21 at the Spectrum in Albany, where you can get a hot tea and carrot cake, or maybe a coffee and some twizzlers, grab a seat right up close to the screen, and sit in for a couple of hours on the most entertaining conversation you'll see this year.

Footnote: The editors at Rolling Stone decided not to publish the story about Wallace, and Lipsky filed away his cassettes in a closet. The two never meet again. Four years later Rolling Stone asks Wallace to write for the magazine, covering the John McCain presidential campaign, as well as 9/11.
David Lipsky would publish Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, his memoir recounting their experience, in 2010.


Me and Earl and the Dying Girl , one sheet.It's summer again, and free screenings are around every corner. This Thursday, Fox Searchlight's critical smash Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is showing at Crossgates, at 7:30pm.

Based on Jesse Andrews 2012 debut novel, this comedy-drama blends a teen coming-of-age story and cancer tragedy. That's sounds as bad as milk and Pepsi, or a bacon shake, but like those, it somehow works.  Finesse may have something to do with it: the practiced hand of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directs and chances are, you know him.

Gomez-Rejon directed American Horror Story (2011-2014) and Glee (2010-2011), as well as The Carrie Diaries (2013) and Red Band Society (2014).  It's as if he's been preparing for this very film for the last 5 years.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl enjoyed a standing ovation from the audience at Cannes this year, and took both the Grand Jury Prize for Drama as well as the Audience Award for Drama. (Ryan Reynolds was booed there in 2014 for his pet project The Captive - it can be a really tough crowd.)

If you can't make the free screening, MEDG will be opening in theaters this weekend.
Yeah... you know you want to!
Copyright Fox Searchlight 2015

Actually, it's all related to a vimeo project Alan and Firefly's Captain Mal are crowdfunding.

A week and a half ago, Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion asked people to support their vimeo project with a 30 day campaign goal of $425k. 10 days later, they have over $2.3 million. Now that's shiny!


Head on over to indegogo and read all about it, and all the cool swag their giving away. You'll be glad you did!



Marvel's superheroes seem almost as competitive off screen as on, at least when it comes to their charity work. With coordination through Microsoft's Collective Project, Robert Downey lends his support to Hand-a-Thon volunteers who design, assemble and donate prosthetic arms for children. Thanks to 3-D printing, the volunteers at the University of Central Florida built 60 arms in just one day.

Naturally, the video's adorable.

Here's a segment highlighting the Hand-A-Thon event at UCF.

Netflix Suggestions

I was going to write about the Oscars and I had all these notes written out, clever bon mots, but after reading the entirety of the internet's responses there wasn't anything I could have said that hadn't already been said. Things like, "Selma was robbed" and "David Oyelowo was in three nominated movies this year; why did he not get an academy award for any of them??"  (Note: if you haven't seen A Most Violent Year, please do so. Oyelowo's smooth as silk twist at the end is worth waiting for).  It was nice that Selma won for best original song, but its win felt like that scene in Blazing Saddles where the cowboys ask the workers to "sing us a song!" And while Julianne Moore won for Best Actress in Still Alice, she also shined in Map to the Stars, which surprised me by not getting nominated but perhaps the subject matter hit a little too close to home for some folks ::ahem::

So we're back to Netflix suggestions. Some Oscar Nominees are already on Netflix, did you know? Ida and Virunga are, respectively, Best Foreign Language Film winner and Best Documentary Feature Nominee. Both are worth watching, especially the heartbreaking Virunga which highlights how important it is that we pay attention to what some corporations are doing; purging villages of their people and their resources, harming protected wildlife in the process, and the dirty means they go through to achieve their nefarious purpose. 

This week's recommendations:

  • Take This Waltz: Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen star as a couple whose relationship is tested when she meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) on a business trip where sparks fly...and then she discovers he lives across the street. Noteworthy: palpable tension between Williams and Kirby, Rogen being heartbreakingly charming. Why is he not doing this more often?
  • And the Oscar Goes To...: feature documenting the history of the Academy Awards with vintage clips and milestones from Hollywood's greatest. Worth it for the bits of history and things you might not have known about old Hollywood
  • Labor Day: Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin star in a film about an escaped convict who takes a mother and son hostage but his reasons aren't so dishonorable. I really enjoyed this one. Also with palpable tension, which takes talent when there are no sex scenes in the film. 

Reminder, if there's something you're not sure you want to watch comment above and I'll be your guinea pig for next week's suggestions. 
It's cold out and some of you hug the Netflix when it's lower than 30 degrees. Or you may be home sick with an awful chest infection (me) and bored out of your gourd. 

At any rate, I thought I'd start randomly posting about films on Netflix that I enjoyed and think you should give a shot to if you're hovering above that "play" button, unable to decide whether to push it. I, however, watch almost anything once if it piques my interest so let me help you.

This is a new thing so I'm just gonna be succinct, review one film and give a list of the others. If you want to hear more about why I liked something, comment below.

Chef (2014)


This Jon Favreau flick stars him alongside John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Scarlett Johansson, Sofia Vergara, Oliver Platt, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Downey, Jr. (who's hard to distinguish from his Tony Stark persona in this film but still enjoyable). 

Favreau is a talented and creative chef whose vision is stymied by his "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" boss, Hoffman. After a verbal altercation with a restaurant reviewer, Platt, goes viral on the internet, he challenges the reviewer to a do-over. Hoffman doesn't allow him to serve the menu he originally wanted to use, so he quits his job on principle and eventually finds his way to serving his own fare on a food truck. In addition to this, he's also balancing trying to be a good father to his son. 

Key points: the passion and talent that Favreau's character puts into his food as well as the honesty in how he communicates with his son are really wonderful, in my opinion. The wit in the dialogue is timed well, and the storyline moves along entertainingly. 

It's a film about being honest and true to yourself and with others. I gave it a Netflix rating of 4 stars. If your girlfriend isn't into the Iron Man or Avengers films [dump her. I'm KIDDING! Sheesh], this is something you can watch together and enjoy.

Other films I enjoyed are:
  • Last Weekend (4 stars) Slice of life about a family's last weekend in their family vacation home. It's a little #RichPeopleProblems, but I love Patricia Clarkson's character in it.
  • Patton Oswalt: Tragedy Plus Comedy (4 stars) Stand up. Patton on point.
  • Iliza Shlesinger: Freezing Hot (3 stars) Stand up. I loved her "War Paint" more (also still available on Netflix) but this is still worth watching
  • The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears (4 stars) Bizarre (in a good way) thriller/horror foreign film. If you liked "Into the Void" you might dig this. The art nouveau set design is a win in my book.
  • Best Man Down (4 stars) Comedy-drama wherein the over-the-top drunk best man dies the night of the wedding reception and the married couple learn more about his humanity in death than they knew in life.
Stay warm, Albany. And if there's something you're curious about seeing, comment above and I'll give you my opinion. If I haven't seen it I'll be your test monkey.

    [It's] a movie about hope, about people in this country who, when they all come together, can make anything happen. - Dr. Robert J. Jones, SUNY University at Albany President, commenting after a special screening for Selma, Jan. 6th, at Colonie Center.

vlcsnap-2015-01-11-16h05m11s4.jpgSynopsis: SELMA is the story of a movement. The film chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. Director Ava DuVernays SELMA tells the real story of how the revered leader and visionary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his brothers and sisters in the movement prompted change that forever altered history.(C) Paramount

Produced by Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions and Brad Pitt's Plan B, Selma provides a sober-eyed look into the world Dr. Martin Luther King worked to transform, through the convergence of people and events that led to President Lyndon Johnson's enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The finished product is exceptional, but some of the ingredients that went into it might raise a few eyebrows.

The first major motion picture to focus on King, Selma wisely chooses a major event and portrays the times as much as the leader. To try and create a biopic of the man and fit it into two hours would have felt rushed and not deeply informing. By limiting the period, the limited time of a film allows for specific figures and moments to linger, giving the viewer an intimate sense of the people and their motivations. While many films might allow brief appearances in order to fit many people in, Selma revisits numerous characters, so by the end of the film, we've memorized a dozen or more faces and the names that go with them, and are left with a strong sense of who they were and the role the played in history. And while at times the delivery is especially theatrical, each major actor (and several minor) is handed a lengthy soliloquy, and all do them justice.

Oprah's minor role introduces us to the harsh realities of living in the Jim Crow South, and it's nice to be reminded what a  phenomenal actor she is. There isn't another performance in the film that doesn't stand shoulder to shoulder with hers. And, Oyelowo's King is suprerb, the result of his documented perfecting of his impersonation long before this film.

This alludes to one of the more interesting facts about the film: nearly every major role is portrayed by a Briton. King, Coretta, LBJ, Gov. George Wallace, even the minister James Reeb are all played by British actors. Their accents are remarkable, though at least Tim Roth (who plays Wallace) is notorious for his remarkable vocal impressions.

In the cinematography we find one of the weaker points of the film, but even this is a minor complaint: the film often seems in soft focus. It could have been the particular screening, but it was noticeable throughout. At the same time, artistic choices prove at least effective, and sometimes unusual. Aside from King's speeches, most deep introspection is conveyed through the aforementioned soliloquys - and almost always shot at night. This allows the lighting to dim, with only the speaker illuminated. It's not just obviously visual symbolism, but it strongly reminds of those busts of famous historical figure dioramas in museums - the ones with 6 or 8 statues, all bathed in darkness, and when a bright light shines on one, a voice-over in deep, paternal tones recites a famous speech from that particular luminary. Each scene in Selma feels emotionally equivalent to those stagey museum presentations, yet the story flows through them effortlessly. One of the most effective of the introspective scenes involves Coretta's confrontation of King for his infidelity. The subject is so respectfully handled King doesn't even acknowledge it directly - rather, alluding to it by acknowledging his feelings in general. This treatment proves infinitely more impactful than any grand admission or domestic argument, or worse, trying to concoct a scene of actual infidelity.

Selma one sheet.jpgDaytime scenes largely focus on interactions between people and the advance of the movement overall. Aside from the technical issue, authenticity is displayed exceptionally convincingly. The screen in awash in oranges and almonds, lime chiffons and mustard yellows, terrazo and formica, and lots and lots of chrome and oval. If you remember these from your childhood, Selma actually makes you miss them.

Some will note a few factual inconsistencies in the film. Most important, many historians disagree with the portrayal of LBJ. Specifically, they argue he was deeply committed to King's agenda, but wanted to strategize. In particular, he felt Congress and the American public could only take change in small doses, and Johnson's War on Poverty could become policy more easily - and make the Voting Rights Act more palitable relative to the resulting political climate. King's agenda wasn't at loggerheads with LBJ, but rather, just unfortunately timed. Also, it's factually incorrect to show LBJ authorizing wiretaps on King and others in the movement, as Kennedy was responsible for that.

In fact, Robert Kennedy was taping King's offices to keep track of known Communist party operatives planted around King. His interest in King spiked after King secretly retained counsel with one of the Communist agents after Kennedy asked King to fire the man and break off all contact. (Kennedy feared if MLK were publicly outed for knowingly affiliating with communists, there'd be blow-back on the White House.). Further, the tape recordings of King's infidelities were delivered to King before his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 - an event portrayed at the beginning of the film. And there's nothing to suggest Johnson had anything to do with this. It's also widely accepted fact that Hoover was a power-fiend, virtually impervious to external influence - unlike the executive lapdog Dylan Baker plays in Selma. There's a great article at The Atlantic recounting historical perspectives and that favored by Selma (and the similar portrayal in Leonardo DiCaprio fronted Clint Eastwood film J. Edgar) and it's well worth the read.

Oh, and that confrontation between Coretta and Dr. King regarding his infidelity? In truth, it began over the phone, in very animated, angry tones. And when Dr. King listens to the tapes with her, several advisers are also present. But these are technical omissions and would distract from the emotional themes the film intends to highlight.

Early in the film, the director stages the first meeting between King and Johnson with Johnson standing back. He introduces King to one of Johnson's advisers, Lee White. With symbolism bashing viewers over the head, White and King shake hands, facing off like boxers just stepped into the ring.  But it's also true Johnson maintained an 'outside man,' who was black, for regular communications with civil rights leaders, and White has been quoted as naming his counsel to Johnson on development of the Voting Rights Act as his most important work at the White House. The film omits or alters these elements, again to enhance dramatic tension.

Let's be honest, it's a phenomenal speech - until the 20 min mark or so.

The film vacillates between portraying LBJ as an obstacle and a sympathizer, and it sometimes feels manipulated for increased drama. In fact, the two African American members of Johnson's advisory staff, and others, dispute his portrayal and that of supposedly contentious meetings with King (and others), and recount many other notable civil rights related actions on Johnson's part (including nominating minorities for various posts) - as described in an article on

Despite these and other criticisms of artistic liberties, Selma director Ava DuVernay has vociferously defended her vision. Her portrayal of Johnson's two personalities isn't entirely unfair, given the sometimes deeply racist habits Johnson biographers recount. 

On authenticity, it might come as a shock, but King's speeches in Selma aren't real. They sound real. They sound great. But like all great and authentic things, King's legacy eventually became intellectual property to be sold at great profit. Sadly for the producers of Selma, the rights to the relevant speeches here had already been licensed to other films. As a result, what you hear in Selma are rewrites that approximate the style, tone, and passion found in King's words, but these are not true originals. Unlike some other great writing (ahem, The Hobbit, <cough, cough>), the result is rousingly effective. Alternately, the actors' sense of the importance of the film is often palpable, bordering on distraction. David Oyelow's King, for example, speaks at home the same way he delivers his speeches. (Most people leave work at the office). Even so, with such compelling material, it never really matters.

Ultimately, this is a story of themes and significant moments, and softening the details allows Selma to distill out the totality of relationships and final outcomes of the protests, so DuVrays' arguments are valid. This is an artistic exercise as much as a documentary and biography.

One more interesting fact about the film: how quickly it went from production to theaters. Maybe this is becoming the norm, but principal photography began on May 20th of last year. Filming concluded, it was edited, and the film first screened at the AFI Film Festival on November 11th - less than 6 months later. Though rushed, this isn't necessarily coincidence: 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the events, including the night-time march of February 18th, 1965, and the enactment of the Voting Rights Act, which Lyndon Johnson signed on August 6th that same year. It also doesn't hurt to have achieved a limited release to theaters by December 25th, making it eligible for Oscars consideration this February 22nd - right in the middle of the 50th anniversary of those events.  

The furious work to make it happen pays off, delivering a simultaneously cinematographic and informative portrayal of gripping drama, intimate introspections, horrifying tragedy, and uplifting victories - made all the more invigorating in the knowledge that the themes, the people, and events depicted are real. And they manage to fit it all into a 2 hour docudrama- only slightly stretched at the seams. Selma deals with extreme violence and intense bigotry that would normally be reserved for the over 17 crowd, but given this is our American history, it's the sort of material that any mature young person should be taken to see. 

 Materials copyright Paramount Pictures, 2014 



You can't get rid of the Babadook.

Occasionally I like to watch scary movies late at night which is a highly intelligent thing to do (that's sarcasm, friends). After hearing several online friends rave about this film, I decided to face potential night terrors head on and check out Jennifer Kent's first full-length directed film. 

The movie begins with a flashback of Amelia, played by Essie Davis (of Girl with a Pearl Earring and Matrix films), and her husband on their way to the hospital to give birth to their son. After an accident that kills her husband, we are brought forward years later where Amelia is still quietly dealing with the depression from the loss of her husband and the pressures of raising a rambunctious son.

Samuel is a spirited and active child with a highly developed imagination, clever in building homemade contraptions to fight off imaginary monsters as well as a talent for magic tricks. While putting Samuel to bed one night, Amelia discovers a book in her sons room titled "Mr. Babadook" and starts to read what appears to begin as a simple children's pop-up book. As she turns the pages, the story of a night shadow that terrorizes a young boy, it becomes more sinister and disturbing, as do the illustrations of The Babadook until the final page threatens "you'll wish you were dead."

Amelia's son, fantastically characterized by Noah Wiseman, begins to exhibit increasingly violent behavior, towards others and herself. In the beginning his behavior forces Amelia to take him out of school where she relies on a kind and emotionally supportive neighbor to watch her son. When teased by a girl for his lack of a father, he pushes her out of a tree house. When Amelia tries to take his back pack catapult away, he lashes out at her. 

Amelia is losing sleep. Sounds start occurring throughout the house that Samuel blames on the Babadook. Knock knock knock. She sees hints of the Babadook in the shadows. At one point Amelia tears up the book, and it reappears on her doorstep reassembled. As she incredulously flips through the pages of the book it has changed to show the night shadow terrorizing a cartoon effigy of the mother instead and shows the mother committing horrifying acts. She then burns the book. I don't blame her. 

But you can't get rid of the Babadook. Its presence becomes increasingly menacing until it seems to corporeally manifest into an actual monster. Amelia's sleeplessness lends itself to hallucinations, impatience with Samuel culminates in abusive behavior. Amelia loses it in an almost Jack Torrance-like episode as she chases Samuel around the house. 

The movie was filmed on a modest budget but what they did with it was superbly crafted to create an environment of suspense and terror. The cinematography was beautiful in its way, using Amelia and Samuel's home as a representation of her depression over her husband's death with its varying shades of grey and beige. 

The Babadook itself is a metaphor for problems that we try to ignore in our lives. Amelia tells a friend that she's over her husband's death, that she doesn't even mention him, but its a lie that she tells herself. When you try to suppress your feelings instead of dealing with them directly, they will sometimes continue to haunt you until they become our own real-life monsters. It's only until Amelia confronts the monster directly that she's able to get a handle on it. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. If you're looking for a good thriller to give you a jump start, I highly recommend this one.

Laggies_Final-Poster_OneSheet.rgb (Medium).jpgThere's a lot to be said for taking chances, and A24 Films continuously proves it. If you've overdosed on Hollywood spectacle, they always have something a bit off-kilter to offer. A24 released Kevin Smith's outlandish horror film Tusk last month - a film I wasn't sure what to make of at first, but have often thought of with great fondness since. This month, they offer us Laggies, a quasi-mumblecore exposition on the 'quarter-life crisis' of Megan, played by Keira Knightly, who runs away for the week before her planned elopement to try and get her head straight.

Written and directed by women, Laggies is the third film this year distributed by A24 that features female leads with males in supporting roles and centers on the topic of a young woman trying to ground herself. Jane-of-all-trades Lynn Shelton, who directed indie darling Mark Duplass in Humpday, as well as directing several New Girl episodes, fills those shoes here as well. Andrea Seigel, who's published three novels, wrote the screenplay. Other A24 release Under the Skin, with Scarlett Johansson is an absolutely fantastic sci-fi effort that ultimately resolves to the same basic issue, while Obvious Child, starring SNL alum Jenny Slate, delivers a foul-mouthed contemplation on an unexpected pregnancy. A24 deserves a great deal of respect for their willingness to support these less mainstream projects.

Now they bring us Laggies: Approaching 30, Megan still works as the sign girl outside her father's tax preparation business. Few tax businesses have Keira Knightly silly-dancing out front, but if they did, business would be booming. Anyway, she's part of a cool girl clique who've all found husbands and careers, and are all maturing responsibly - except Megan. Her friends find trivialities to criticize, attempting to subtly nudge her in the right (meaning 'their') direction. Megan's boyfriend of the last decade is seemly perfect - nice, handsome, career minded - but she isn't so sure this is the life she wants. When nice-guy Anthony attempts to propose to her (at her best friend's wedding), Megan's dilemma comes to a head, and she not-so-delicately makes an exit, as the narrative's implausibly convenient situations allow her to execute a series of increasingly irresponsible decisions.

20130626_laggies_0256_Tax.rgb (Medium).jpgAnnika (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz), recognizes Megan's stunted mana after Megan impulsively agrees to buy her beer. Unsettled, as many teenagers are, finding this kindred soul compels Annika to adopt her into the home, and Megan finds herself sleeping over at a teenage girl's house, where father Craig, played with the expected charm Sam Rockwell seems to have a limitless supply of, suspiciously tolerates her perplexing antics. The film then splits time between Megan finding a bit of maturity while helping Annika deal with some emotionally gripping teenage issues, Craig's attempts to patiently unravel Megan's real story, and Megan confronting her uncertainty regarding the marriage.

20130626_laggies_0446_Couch.rgb (Medium).jpgUnlike Obvious Child, where the supporting cast seemed little more than props, Laggies succeeds in creating a full dimensionality to everyone in Megan's life. As mentioned, Sam Rockwell is expectedly well cast. His irreverent charm provides the right dose of needed informality Megan's claustrophobically   structured life needs. Based just on interviews, Keira Knightly represents herself as a very down to earth, jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, and suits Megan well. Their, and the other actors solid work smooth over a noticeably thin script, adding emotional depth and charm. This includes Moretz, Gretchen Mol as Annika's erstwhile, underwear model mom, as well as Ellie Kemper, Jeff Garlin, and the rest of the cast. Even the actors playing Annika's teenage friends deliver convincing performances in typical-for-teenagers heartrending situations.

Some technical elements in Laggies conform to usual independent film tropes, and some reveal how technological advances may be expanding the tools low budget projects have access to. Already, digital cameras have cut production costs enormously. And, Laggies is shot entirely on location in middle-class and upper middle-class areas of Seattle, while scene transitions are interrupted with fly-overs and city-scapes.

20130616_laggies_0337_Turtle.rgb (Medium).jpgThe location shots in neighborhoods are equally perplexing and interesting. The walls and counters of each house are practically bare - either admitting to an anemic budget, or telling us more about the characters. The house Megan lives in with her too serious boyfriend drowns us in a sea of beige, while other domestic locations offer little more - but maybe this is to drive home the point that this is real life - 'the grass is always greener,' so to speak. Craig and his ex-wife's houses are similarly sparse, though with slightly better palettes, and each has the same turtle/butterfly motif - perhaps suggesting no one character is particularly better or worse than another, just different in some ways, largely the same in most - and each is just trying to find a place to fit in.

20130706_laggies_0313_Boyfriend.rgb (Medium).jpgOne aspect of the film's tone works in concert with these technical elements, while defying typical Hollywood storytelling. In particular, Megan and Anthony are both very nice, likeable people who have absolutely zero chemistry together. This is important because we need to feel how mismatched they are, but it's so severe it can put viewers off. Mainstream films want a viewer to root for the protagonist - even identify with her. But here, she's not being very nice to this nice guy. Anthony is a different sort of person than Megan, but nothing's really wrong with him. As a consequence, we often feel anxious in ours seats as Megan seems to make one poor, but ultimately disposable decision after another.

The technical decision to use fly-overs during transitions reveals some intention in those scenes. It seems very possible the inexpensive availability of drones allowed the filmmakers to do these many fly-overs. Images of highways full of cars, the sprawling Seattle sky-line, and even the amusingly obvious symbolism of an airplane leaving the hangar all litter the film. The images, which interrupt the usual cuts between scenes, blend an almost schizophrenic use of the most encyclopedic library of happy 'elevator music' ever funded by an independent film. The only song missing might be "Mahna Mahna" from The Muppet Show.

These intercuts seem not to fit given the seriousness of Megan's inner dilemma, and many scenes often feel ham-fistedly spliced together, but ultimately we can see how the overview transitions work: Megan's stuck, and life's going by without her. Thank goodness Annika and Craig are there to show her she's not unusual. And, not alone.

Even if Laggies isn't a sugary crowd-pleaser like the annual Nicholas Sparks offerings, props to A24 nonetheless for always taking chances on daring independent fare. If you miss it in theaters, on a day stuck at home down with the flu, Laggies would go nicely with a hot bowl of chicken soup.

Materials copyright 2014 A24 Films.


The Reel Deal Contributors:

Tracy Fears is a Capital Region resident since 2001. A foodie who enjoys pickles with peanut butter on occasion (don't judge), she makes her own creme fraiche, and will make you banana bread that'll change your life. She loves dogs but is owned by a handlebar-mustached cat. Tracy has discriminating movie tastes but loves campy B-movies with a passion.

Jay Matthiessen is a native local, with a family immersed in the arts (a respected photographer grandfather, a grandmother and aunt professional dancers, a film producer, music teachers, a set designer, and dress maker/costume designers), it would have been no surprise to eventually work in the field. Yet while young, with a few years training under Vladimir Dokoudovsky, at the New York Conservatory of Dance, and a few minor attempts performing, it became clear some can best serve the arts by appreciating it. While majoring in more mainstream subjects, all free college coursework was dedicated to the arts: short story writing, script writing, science fiction film, photography, journalism, communications, and even three dimensional design, as well as writing for the college newspaper and membership in film club. Like his grandfather, though primarily working in a technical field, Jay has spent decades working in his spare time as a photographer, and has worked for a small newspaper. While a massive fan of blockbusters, thrillers, and science fiction films, his formative years have fostered a profound appreciation for the arts in all it's forms. :: Your Official Guide To Albany NY & The Capital Region

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