SLIFF 2008 Reviews from Day 4

December 5, 2008 at 4:46 pm | Posted in Brian Vacek, Movies, Review, SLIFF | Comments Off on SLIFF 2008 Reviews from Day 4

Day 4: Monday 11/17 (Note: I didn’t see any films on day 3)

All for Free and Special

Title: All for Free
Director: Antonio Nuić
Country: Croatia
Score: 7.0
Review:
After the good luck I had with last year’s “Fine Dead Girls,” I decided to try another shot-on-digital Croatian character study and once again found it to be quite satisfying. This one features Goran, a friendly slacker who spends most of his time drinking and hanging out with his tight-knit quartet of local friends. One night at their favorite hangout, one of his pals shoots the other two dead. Goran is shocked out of his complacent stasis and haplessly scrambles for some meaning in life. With nothing to keep him in town, he decides to sell his house and buy a travelling beverage stand where he’ll give out drinks “all for free.”

Goran’s mellow adventures are full of ironic character observations as the citizens of each new town turn their suspicions upon him. Each customer is sure that there’s some catch or hidden agenda. Nuic’s sense of humor is smart and deadpan, a little like Jarmusch or Kaurismaki, but more incisive. Their isn’t much expectation that anything will happen, and true to form, very little does. The story slowly evolves a romance and rivalry, but it never really abandons its core as an existential reverie.

“All for Free” is probably too slow and too comically sparse for most, but I found it pleasant and thoughtful. It never tries to be anything more than what it is and it’s just wise enough not to outstay its welcome. “All for Free” strikes me as a good example of what a tiny budget and a reflective personality can do.

Title: Special
Director: Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore
Country: USA
Score: 7.51 (to make sure it rounds up)
Review:
Les Franken isn’t exactly happy; he’s just not unhappy. He works as a meter maid, reads comics and watches TV. He has the sensation that his soul is slowly seeping from his body and decides to enroll in a clinical trial for a new antidepressant, Specioprin Hydrochloride.

The medication has unexpected results: Les develops a multitude of superpowers. But while Les acclimates himself to his newfound powers, others see nothing but a young man with a screw loose. The directors strike an inspired comical duality between the world as Les sees it and the sad reality. Thus, while Les believe that he can run through walls (and we watch him do so), we also can’t help but notice that he has a bloody nose and bruises afterwards.

This setup makes for quite a variety of great scenes, like a visit with his clinical supervisor who suggests he immediately cease taking the drug. Les suddenly develops telepathy and believes that the doctor is mentally telling him just the opposite, but to put up the pretense of quitting since an enemy is listening. This enemy turns out to be the suit-wearing financiers behind the drug, who don’t want Les to create a media embarrassment. When they try to kidnap him, Les converses with a version of himself sent back from the future, who advises not to trust them. Michael Rapaport is well-cast in the lead role and is convincingly sympathetic as a deranged nerd whose desperate need to feel special may actually make it true.

“Special” is the type of indie comedy that alternates making you laugh and feel depressed, a combination I happen to like. It deals in the type of quirky irony where dream sequences are painfully normal (like riding in an elevator), and when the protagonist suddenly wakes up, it’s in a much stranger reality. The small budget may be the film’s biggest liability, especially towards the overly-padded, uninspired ending. With a longer, loopier second half and a few more subplots, this could have been a real favorite.

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