Nesting, written and directed by John Chuldenko is screening at the Prescott Film Festival on Friday, August 3 (9:30 am) and Saturday, August 4 (5:00 pm).
“Nesting” felt like the movie that might be made if we revisited the life of Russell Hammond (Almost Famous) in his early 30’s. What happens when we move out of those spontaneous days of our teens and twenties and begin to deal with mortgages and careers and negotiating a relationship in the grown up world. Those are some of the questions that Neil and Sarah are struggling with in this delightful and thought provoking film. They both know that something is missing in their marriage. They met when she was a budding photo-journalist and he was a hipster rock and roller. They had a passionate romance that led to marriage, but now things have settled into a rut. But they struggle to even talk about it without it feeling like one of them is blaming or complaining. So they embark on a vacation to try and recapture some of what they think they’ve lost by retracing their steps.
Todd Grinnell and Ali Hillis give engaging performances as they seek to rekindle their relationship. With so many modern comedies I find myself asking “who are these people and why do I care what happens to them?” But I liked and cared about Neil and Sarah from their first conversation over fast food chinese food at the mall. John Chuldenko’s script is intelligent and aks real questions about what it means to grow up and the trade-offs of responsibility and spontaneity. Chuldenko said, “I wanted to make a film free from cynicism, and with a lot of heart” and he succeeds with “Nesting.”
When Neil buys an old Volvo like the one they drove when he and Sarah fell in love it becomes the catalyst for a journey back to their romantic roots. They visit the old neighborhood, break into their old apartment and begin to reignite the passion of their relationship. I appreciated that the circumstances that they land in and the steps they take to deal with them all made sense. There is a believability about “Nesting” that I enjoyed and that made the whole film more engaging.
The performances don’t stop with Grinnell and Hillis, Chuldenko has populated this movie with a cadre of intriguing characters that I found myself wanting to know more about. Erin Chambers is especially interesting as Katie, Neil’s ex who is still a tried and true friend. Kevin Linehan turns in a great performance as Neil’s buddy and attorney, who is not much help, but is good for a laugh. It was also fun to see Erin Gray (the mom on “Silver Spoons” and Colonel Wilma from “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”) in a small roll.
Nesting is an excellent independent film that boasts engaging performances, excellent dialogue and a believable plot. It also has one of the most enjoyable bicycle riding montages I’ve seen. Usually the obligatory montage scene in most romantic comedies is a chance to slip out to refill the soda, but I enjoyed following this couple as they toured their old neighborhood on a vintage BMX bike with Laura seeming right at home on the rear pegs.
John Chuldenko sites John Hughes and Cameron Crowe as two of his filmmaking influences and you can feel it in this film. Sarah even mentions feeling like she’s in a John Hughes movie at one point (eliciting a blank stare from the girl in her early 20’s she’s talking with). Both directors excel at creating characters that are interesting and that we can relate to at some very essential levels. They also aren’t satisfied with cardboard stand-ups for their supporting characters. Chuldenko follows nicely in these footsteps in building the characters in “Nesting”. There is a delightful moment towards the end of the film when we learn about an unexpected skill of one of the shirtless hunks that is just a delight.
“Nesting” is just one of the many outstanding films that you can enjoy at the Prescott Film Festival, August 1-8. For more information on individual films go to PrescottFilmFestival.com.
An old friend from my childhood returned to the screen this month and he is back better than ever. In The Amazing Spiderman, Marvel reboots its most successful superhero character with Andrew Garfield in the title role. The result is a movie that has much of the feel of the original comic in both its tone and Garfield's portrayal of Spidey. Spiderman was my favorite comic as a child, so I'm always game for another round of webslinging.
There are a few things we should get out of the way right from the start. The issue of whether Marvel should have done a full reboot of the franchise a mere decade after the original movie trilogy is up for debate. I think we could have done without a full rework of the origin story, especially since they decided to take some liberties with the webslinger's origin. But I would also argue that the origin story is done well and gives us some of Garfield's best scenes. His hallway encounter with Gwen Stacy (perfectly portrayed by Emma Stone) was a marvel of teen awkwardness by both actors.
Purists will take fault with some of the ways in which the origin is reworked, but will also cheer at the return of mechanical web shooters! I also appreciated the way they amped up the Spidey attitude in this one. Garfield's Webhead is that smart-mouthed teenage superhero that I loved from the comics. The one-liners are delivered with just the right amount of attitude. Another feature of the comics was that Spiderman generally got beat up pretty good by his opponents before eventually defeating them. Peter spends much of the second half of the movie hiding one form of injury or another from Aunt May.
No superhero movie is complete without a good villain and Rhys Ifan (you may remember him as Xenophilius Lovegood from Harry Potter) gives a great performance as Curt Conners aka The Lizard (who first appeared in The Amazing Spiderman issue 6). Ifan does a nice job of giving us the Jekyl & Hyde nature of Curt Conners. Definitely a man with something to hide, he is equally believable as the tortured scientist and the vicious monster.
The rest of the supporting cast are also excellent. Martin Sheen and Sally Field are excellent as Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Dennis Leary gives us a great George Stacy and deftly show us both the tough cop and embarrassed father (when his daughter tries to explain her monthly discomfort) equally as well.
Finally, the web slinging and swinging was superb in this movie. It just felt right and was a treat to watch. The fight scenes were well choreographed and visually stunning and entertaining. Overall this is an excellent restart for the Spiderman franchise and bodes well for the future.
Cookie Jar: There is a brief credit cookie about midway through the credits (but nothing more at the end of them).
I'm a little disappointed that they seem to be setting things up for a return to The Green Goblin story line. That ground was covered pretty well in the first go around and there are so many great villains (The Vulture, Doctor Doom, Electro and Kraven just to name a few of the early foes). On the other hand, you can hardly do the Gwen Stacy storyline without Green Goblin. Are we marching towards the most controversial scene in Spidey history?
Super Spoiler Alert (if you don't know Gwen's history read no further):
Gwen Stacy's death in The Amazing Spiderman #121 is considered to be one of the most important events in comic book history. It is considered to mark the end of the Silver Age of Comics.It also has a significant impact on the subsequent history of Spiderman because of the unanswered question of what caused her death. It will be very interesting if they decide to go down this route and bring this key moment to the screen.
...with great power there must also come -- great responsibility - Some may trouble over the absence of this line from the movie and especially from the words of Uncle Ben. In reality, this was never a line from Uncle Ben in the original story. Here is the final panel from the original Spiderman appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15. While it is true that later issues of Spiderman retroactively put these words into the mouth of Ben Parker in flashbacks, originally these were the words of the narrator.
The Way is a quiet and contemplative film about life, family and companionship. It is not a pretentious film and avoids many of the pitfalls that could have made this just another message film. It doesn't preach and it doesn't force feed a pre-digested philosophy or point of view. But at the end of the film I felt good about the time that I had spent taking this journey with Tom and his fellow pilgrims.
Tom, in a rich performance by Martin Sheen, is a successful ophthalmologist in California who learns that his son has died while walking The Way of St. James, an 800 kilometer pilgrimage from St. Jen Pied de Port in France to Santiago, Spain. He comes to collect his son's body but then makes an impulsive decision to take the pilgrimage himself and scatter his son's ashes along the route. Sheen shows us why he is one of the best actor's of our day. He play's Tom with a quiet understated manner that says as much in his face and body as he does with his words. Sheen is comfortable with silence and that is an essential element for this film.
Sheen's son, Emilio Estevez, wrote and directed this film and also appears in various scenes as Tom's son, Daniel. There is a warmth in Estevez' direction that drew me into Tom's trek. He avoids so many clichés and is satisfied with letting us tag along with Tom and the companions that join him. The beautiful scenery fills this movie without overwhelming it and becoming a travelogue. Some may feel that the film is a bit long, but it felt right to me, like a long walk should feel.
On the journey, Tom, who really wants to make this journey as a solitary pilgrim, finds himself with a growing cadre of fellow travelers. He first meets Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), a seemingly happy Dutchman, who is taking the pilgrimage to lose weight and provides a welcome levity to the group. Try as he might, Tom must can't seem to rid himself of this new companion. He will meet several others along the way, but Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) and Jack (James Nesbitt) become his little pack.
The inspiration for this film came from Martin Sheen and Taylor Estevez (Emilio's son) taking this same pilgrimage when Taylor was 19. It had a huge impact on Taylor's life who returned to Spain a few years after and married the woman he fell in love with on the trip.
The Way is available on DVD, iTunes, Netflix (DVD and streaming) and other services.
Moonrise Kingdom is a visual smorgasbord. Every scene, every shot had something visually interesting or strange to see. It is a delight for your eyes. In fact it was so visually appealing that at times I had to fight my desire to just examine the content of every scene. I can't wait to get this home on DVD where I can use the pause button and have the opportunity to examine the canvas more closely.
Director Wes Anderson paints this film with a very interesting color palette both visually and emotionally. The visual contrasts in the movie are very pleasant to look at. Against the browns of the Khaki Scouts and the greens of nature stand many vivid reds that highlight significant moments and locations. Emotionally, the colors seem muted. The emotion is there and very deeply felt but the volume has been turned down. It is a love story on Prozac where emotions are spoken and acted upon more than experienced with strong outward expression. I found myself wondering if Sam and Suzy (played wonderfully by Jared Gilman amd Kara Hayward) were experiencing their emotions or studying them. But either way I cared about these characters and wanted them to find happiness.
The dialogue is equally unique. The words that come out of character's mouths are rarely what you might expect. Such as this exchange after an unfortunate incident with the camp Dog:
Suzy: Was he a good dog?
Sam: Who's to say.
But he didn't deserve to die.
It is a funny line, but it also instructs our understanding of these characters. Suzy who has had behavior problems and struggles with anger issues seems sincerely interested in this dog's life. Sam who has been rejected for no good reason by his fellow Khaki Scouts doesn't feel qualified to pass such a summary judgement on the dog. That is the way dialogue goes in the movie. At times the words feel disconnected and yet they are profound statements to the characters.
Moonrise Kingdom is a very unique movie. It is a movie that is hard to classify. A love story between two twelve year olds. Acoming of age movie for not just this couple but a whole scout troop and it's leader. It sports a relationship triangle and a wilderness chase that turns surprisingly vicious. Wes Anderson has brought us some very unique movies in the past including The Royal Tannenbaums and Rushmore. Moonrise Kingdom is no exception.
This movie is not for everyone! I'm sure many will just find it odd. And they will be right. But it is the right kind of odd. So if you'd like cleanse your movie palette from the action packed extravaganzas af the summer for a unique change of pace.
Final thought: This movie has a cast filled with A list actors who usually dominate the screen. In Moonrise Kingdom they simply inhabit their characters. They bring their considerable talents to the story without overwhelming it. I usually worry about a movie when the number of name actors begins to swell. Like a basketball team with too many shooters - there is only one ball! Wes Anderson seems to have a gift for bringing talented ensembles together and getting them to buy into telling the story rather than creating one more star vehicle for their brand.
Notes: There is no credit cookie but a delightful credit sequence and music held my attention. For my friends in the Prescott area, it appears that the powers that be are not bringing Moonrise Kingdom to our neck of the woods, so this will require a trip to the valley. I saw this in a beautiful theater in Palm Springs, something out of the 60's when big theaters were still common. The movie filled the space very nicely.
Suzy: Kara Hayward
Capt. Sharp: Bruce Willis
Ward: Ed Norton
Mr. Bishop: Bill Murray
Mrs. Bishop: Frances McDormand
Social Services: Tilda Swinton
Cousin Ben: Jason Schwartzman
The Narrator: Bob Balaban
Pierce: Harvey Keitel