I was not aware of the filmmaker Ramin Bahrani until this past weekend when I saw his small masterwork Good Bye Solo (A). Again, this is another work where you should know as little as possible before checking it out; it's a quietly powerful film with two absolutely astonishing performances from its leads. Bahrani, whose two previous films Chop Shop and Man Push Cart are now must views for me, is a naturalist filmmaker with a style similar to Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy); deliberately slow pace, simple but effective camera set ups, limited artificial musical score, slow-burn dramatics. Good Bye Solo is about a North Carolina cab driver named Solo (the amazing Souleymane Sy Savane), a Senegalese immigrant, whose girlfriend is about to have a baby. One day, an old, sad looking man named William (Red West, incredible) gets in his cab and makes him an offer: in one week, for $1000 cash, Solo will drive William to the highest point in a nearby mountain range, drop him off, and never look back. What develops over that week is an unlikely but incredibly moving friendship between the two incredibly different men. Bahrani's emotionally riveting screenplay gives West and Savane some powerful scenes to play off of each other in, with a climax that is perfectly understated but deeply felt. I was taken back by the honest and natural performances of both West and Savane. West is a guy who has been doing bit parts in movies for years (his personal story is fascinating, do a google search) and he's got one of those made-for-the-cinema faces that dispenses with back-story without the necessity for any words. It's a face that's seen a lot throughout the years, and because of West's grizzled look and feel, he brings an intensity to William that remains present throughout the entire picture. Savane, an actor of limited experience, is the perfect antidote to West's hardness; Solo could give Happy-Go-Lucky's Poppy Montgomery a run for her money in the eternally optimistic sweepstakes. Always trying to help, always thinking with his heart (when sometimes he should be thinking more with his head), Solo is determined not to let William do himself in, even if it means sacrificing things that he holds dear. Bahrani has been hailed by Roger Ebert as "America's next great filmmaker" and it's not hard to see why. Good Bye Solo is a great film, one that will make you think long after you've finished watching it. It's available via VOD and on DVD right now and I highly recommend it.
Monday, August 31, 2009
SEEK THESE OUT
I was not prepared for how dark and how hysterical Bobcat Goldthwait's World's Greatest Dad (A) was going to be. Available via Video On Demand (VOD) and playing in extremely limited theatrical release, this scalding, deeply perverted, and oddly touching little comedy is the sort of film that's destined to find a huge cult following. The less you know about the story the better, so here's a small summary: Robin Williams (brilliant here) is high school teacher and failed writer Lance Clayton, a single dad who is raising his punk-ass teenage son Kyle (the amazing Daryl Sabara, who gives one of the best performances I've seen all year) and carrying on a secret relationship with fellow teacher Claire (the cute Alexie Gilmore). When Kyle accidentally (and embarrassingly) dies, Lance decides to write a suicide note on behalf of his son. That's when all hell breaks loose. Again, know as little about this movie as possible before you check it out. If this is the first review that you've read for the film, stop here -- you don't want anything ruined. All I will say is that it's one of the sharpest high school satires since Election, and overall, the film has a nasty streak of diseased humor running through its cinematic veins that is extremely refreshing. It's an audacious, unsafe comedy, unafraid to go to some truly dark places, and always succeeding because of Goldthwait's ability to cull humor out of the perverse. Williams gives a terrific performance, on par with his career best work in stuff like Insomnia, Death to Smoochy, and One Hour Photo; when he wants to knock it out of the park, he really crushes it. I was hesitant to watch Goldthwait's previous feature, Sleeping Dogs Lie, because of the content (it's a comedy about a college girl who sexually services her pet dog thus ruining her psycho-sexual outlook for the rest of her life). But now I will definitely be Netflixing it. World's Greatest Dad is not only the funniest movie of 2009 (yes, funnier than The Hangover), but it's one of the best.