Thursday, July 9, 2009

Movie Reviews: The Bonds Between Men


After much time apart, two college buddies -- who couldn't seem more different -- reunite, but will they still connect? Ben (Mark Duplass) is settling into his newly-married lifestyle when Andrew (Joshua Leonard), a free spirit who travels the world in search of adventure, unexpectedly shows up for a visit. On a strange dare at an unconventional party, the heterosexual friends decide to make a gay porno and submit it to the HUMP! film festival, the annual gathering in Seattle that showcases home-movie erotica and amateur pornography.

Every once a while an indie film comes along with no big-name actors to distract you. You only see the characters, not the real-life personalities that often get in the way and make the storytelling somewhat unbelievable. They may not be newcomers -- Leonard was in the 1999 hit, The Blair Witch Project -- but I certainly don't know much about these actors. So I was able to enjoy the exploration of the buddies' different personalities and how they are tested. Maybe Ben isn't so conservative. Maybe Andrew isn't such a huge risk-taker. Maybe none of us are so easy to define and categorize.

For a while, I was completely drawn to the dialogue between the two actors -- as it felt so fresh and unscripted. Too bad the same could not be said of the scenes where Ben's wife Anna (Alycia Delmore) appears. Some of her actions and reactions seem so implausible. Will she find out about the dare? Will the friends follow through? Or chicken out? Too bad the humor stops abruptly, the suspense drags out and the final outcome falls flat. [Rated R, opens July 10]

Grade: B-


Written, directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather trilogy), Tetro marks the Academy Award winner's first original screenplay since 1974's The Conversation. Though fictional, Coppola drew much from his personal life to tell the story of multiple generations of an artistic Italian immigrant family -- troubled by creative differences and strained relationships.

17-year-old Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) travels to Buenos Aires to find his long-estranged, much older brother Tetro (Vincent Gallo), a once-promising writer who is now a remnant of his former self. In the course of staying with Tetro and his girlfriend Miranda (Maribel VerdĂș), the two brothers grapple with the haunting experiences of their shared past. During his stay, Bennie's discovery of his brother's near-finished play might hold the answer to understanding their family history and renewing their bond.

I was actually distracted by the huge age difference between these siblings -- would it be explained? At times, the storytelling felt uneven and sidetracked by the bizarre. But on a visual level, Coppola excels. The cinematography is stunning. Coppola masterfully uses black and white in the present -- and splashes of colored flashbacks -- to grab our attention and draw us into the unraveling mysteries. The beautiful-looking drama is also strengthened by great performances by the always-compelling Gallo, and Ehrenreich -- who is reminiscent of a young Leonardo DiCaprio. Klaus Maria Brandauer portrays the family patriarch, a world-famous symphony conductor. [Unrated; in limited release now]

Grade: B

Note: Click on the movie image above to read a letter from Coppola.

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