F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 15, 2017)

15 06 2017

We all know the stereotype: the quirky indie movie character who’s got some social anxieties and manages to perturb the calm facades of more well-adjusted peers. It’s a stock character by this point. But back at the turn of the millennium, it was probably quite novel – and maybe even a little radical. (I wasn’t watching indie films then, so I do have to guess.)

So I can only imagine what it would be like to watch “Chuck and Buck” when it premiered in 2000. Even for a first viewing in 2017, it still resides in “F.I.L.M. of the Week” territory. In a pre-“Brokeback Mountain” era, director Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White dove head into an unrequited homoerotic love story of an awkward man (White’s Buck) and the childhood friend (Chris Weitz’s Chuck) who outgrew him.

That might count as a bit of a spoiler because the nature of their relationship comes as a slow reveal. Their nature of their past relationship begins in barely perceptible undertones but gradually begins to come to light. When Buck is planning for the funeral of his mother, who he cared for well into adulthood, he calls Chuck out of the blue to attend. It seems like a reasonable action for someone reeling through tragedy at the time, and Chuck (along with his girlfriend) are decent enough to come and comfort him.

But then the film continues. Buck decides to pack up and head to Hollywood, where Chuck lives and works. After awkward hangouts don’t result in the rekindling of their friendship to adolescent levels, Buck strikes out with a strange act of attention-grabbing desperation. He stages a play at a community theater that’s a very clear allegory of he and Chuck’s relationship and the resulting feelings stemming from their estrangement.

Many a moment in the film is utterly cringe-inducing as Buck runs amok of so many social niceties and norms considered necessary for social interactions. Yet they are also tinged with the sadness, loss and confusion of a gay man stuck in a society and a self that could not accept such a thing. Where other filmmakers might try to dull his edges, Arteta and White do no such ting in “Chuck and Buck.” The film is all the more remarkable for it.

REVIEW: A Better Life

4 04 2012

If Washington can’t overhaul border security for the safety of our nation, they should at least pass some legislation that will discourage Hollywood from making me sit through another self-righteous movie about illegal immigrants like “A Better Life.”  It’s the same problem I had with “Like Crazy” – how are we supposed to feel sorry for people who have willfully broken the law and then complain when the world isn’t working for them?  There are plenty of channels for legal immigration into the United States, and merely crossing over the border does not entitle anyone to all the benefits of being an American.

Full disclosure, I am from Texas and do have strong views on the issue.  Nonetheless, director Chris Weitz does little to turn the odds in his favor by conveying the story with a total lack of vehemence, urgency, or feeling.  It’s a frigid, understated tale of a harsh world for a man, Carlos Galindo (Demian Bichir) just trying to squeak out a living for his son Luis (Jose Julian) and squeak by the police.

Bichir is fine, but the Oscar nomination was surely more of a political statement than an artistic statement.  He conveys Carlos’ pain in watching his business collapse under the weight of Murphy’s Law as well as the concern for Luis to make something more out of his life than selling drugs.  Yet what could have been a tour de force in an appeal to pathos just feels rather lukewarm.  It’s a fairly interesting watch, but ultimately “A Better Life” could have been a better movie.  B-