Filtering by: Focus: American Indies

WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE (1996)
Nov
3
7:00 PM19:00

WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE (1996)

Barbie Never Had It This Bad

They still torture the old way in junior high. They call you awful names. They tease and torment the weak. The awkwardness is unbearable, the hopelessness unrelenting. It's enough, Todd Solondz says, to make you laugh.

This alchemist's ability to turn misery into something bitingly funny defines "Welcome to the Dollhouse." Written and directed by Solondz, "Dollhouse" won the Grand Jury Prize at the last Sundance Film Festival for its daring double vision, its mirroring of junior high agonies combined with a willingness to step aside and see everything from a darkly humorous perspective.

For 11-year-old Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo), a.k.a. Wiener-dog and Dogface, suburban Benjamin Franklin Junior High is no laughing matter: It's a near-death experience that has to be endured every day. With too-big glasses on top of a dour face, Dawn has the dazed look of the permanently overmatched, an ugly duckling too intense to ever become a swan.

Dawn is glimpsed in Ben Frank's central torture chamber, the cafeteria, where one false move, like sitting next to Lolita (Victoria Davis), the reigning queen of mean, can lead to a lunch period of harassment by cheerleaders who chant "lesbo, lesbo, lesbo" at anyone who looks vulnerable, no matter what their sexual orientation.

In fact, life at Ben Frank is an escape-proof nightmare. Try as she might, Dawn never gets a break, not from irritable teachers who deny her the benefit of the doubt, not even from other victimized students, eager to take their own frustrations out on her.

Things are bad at home, too. Dawn's "king of the nerds" older brother Mark (Matthew Faber) ignores her in his humorless quest to get into a good college, and their vindictive mother (Angela Pietropinto) clearly prefers Dawn's perky younger sister Missy (Daria Kalinina), a self-centered baby ballerina who spends all day prancing around in a tutu.

The sole friend Dawn can muster is the unsatisfactory Ralphy (Dimitri Iervolino), a younger kid who is the only other member of the Special People Club that meets in a rickety shack in Dawn's backyard.

Still, Dawn is stubborn and resilient, gifted with the ability to struggle against reality. She never gives up, not even when class bully Brandon McCarthy (Brendan Sexton Jr.) selects her as his special torture victim. And when she meets older guy Steve Rodgers (Eric Mabius), the hunkiest and most popular of high school seniors, she gets an intense crush on him that is as ferocious as it is out of the question.

With his ability to understand and convey these absurdist scenarios in both adult and preteen terms, writer-director Solondz catches the unlooked-for humor in poignant, hurtful situations. His cast is a major asset, especially Matarazzo. Her portrayal of Dawn's deadly serious determination and dogged conviction that she can become a sex object even if she's not exactly sure what that requires leaves us uncertain whether to laugh or cry. Which, of course, is the point.

Both rueful and a cause for laughter, "Welcome to the Dollhouse" understands the unfairness of being on the bottom of the food chain of junior high humiliation, the intense frustrations of a time in life when every single thing you do is wrong. It wasn't fun to live through, but at least this film gives us the release of laughing at it now.

- Kenneth Turan, LA Times

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KICKING AND SCREAMING (1995)
Oct
27
7:00 PM19:00

KICKING AND SCREAMING (1995)

Truthfulness doesn't preclude unpleasantness, a point ably established by the films of Noah Baumbach, which reap dividends both engaging and grating from their upfront autobiographical authenticity. Beginning with his debut Kicking and Screaming and continuing throughout the uneven Mr. Jealousyand last year's superb The Squid and the Whale, Baumbach has used his work to tackle the highly personal doubts, fears, and disappointments with which he's currently struggling. Certainly, the director's first feature-length effort, shot when he was only 25, feels torn from recently concluded experiences, charting the aimlessness and ennui of four insufferable, maturation-adverse college grads with a relaxed realism and sharp ear for the sarcasm and pop culture-infused dialogue that came to define many mid-1990s breakout indies (ClerksReality Bites, Whit Stillman's Metropolitan and Barcelona).

As in his later, equally literate output, Baumbach's preoccupation is with the frustrations of those whose higher education affords them no greater insight into themselves or the larger world, a situation that his characters respond to in generally ill-advised ways, their discussions' intermingling of the erudite (Kant, Keats) and the insignificant (Josie and the Pussycats, Friday the 13th) reflecting their central conflict between living up to the lofty expectations of their (upper-middle) class position and shunning such obligations in favor of wallowing in minor day-to-day and societal minutiae. Whereas Kevin Smith's convenience store slackers talk about such TV and movie trivia because it's the primary thing—nay, the only thing—they truly care about, Baumbach's protagonists are too smart not to realize the avoidance games they're playing, their self-analytical awareness making them more pitiful and, supposedly, more charmingly pathetic. Kicking and Screaming's twentysomethings sidestep confrontation whenever possible: the guys cowardly lying on the floor to avoid a door-to-door cookie salesman; Max's (Chris Eigman) advice that his teenage girlfriend should not piss off a redneck gentleman whose bumper sticker indicates that he'd rather be bow hunting; Otis's (Carlos Jacott) decision to drink a beer with unidentifiable food floating on its surface rather than complain to the waitress.

Noah Baumbach’s gift for crafting characters out of flesh and blood gives the film an associative realism.

Their fundamental aim, however, is to evade the future, an undertaking that goes hand in hand with a desire to canonize the immediate, as articulated by Max's confession that “I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday.” The second of these two objectives also drives Kicking and Screaming itself, though Baumbach's interests extend past simply immortalizing the laidback vibe of hanging around with friends who should be doing something more productive, moving on to the more fertile ground of depicting the anxiety and anger of failed love, a topic plumbed via Grover's (Josh Hamilton) anguished attempts to deal with the end of his relationship to Prague-bound ex Jane (Olivia d'Abo). The consciousness of their decision to postpone growing up eventually makes Grover and company infuriatingly obnoxious, their blasé-intellectual appeal nullified by either woe-is-me mopeyness (Grover, Otis) or cooler-than-thou arrogance (Max), the latter of which is compounded by the fact that Eigman—the decade's poster boy for haughty surliness—remains one of the most singularly self-satisfied screen presences in the medium's history.

Yet Baumbach's gift for crafting characters out of flesh and blood (such as Eric Stoltz's perpetual student Chet) gives the film an associative realism, an I-know-these-people familiarity, which helps partially offset their irksomeness. And though his dialogue is often too pleased with its own cleverness, his script's marriage of the literate and the lowbrow never comes across as excessively contrived and, such as with a background chat regarding a theoretical fight between Freddy and Jason, seems prophetic about mainstream movie culture's Tarantino-accelerated devolution into solipsism. More remarkable about Kicking and Screaming, however, is Baumbach's directorial minimalism, his long, graceful takes and sly employment of rock and country music bestowing the comedic and romantic proceedings with subtle sophistication, as in an emotionally well-calibrated scene between Grover and his maritally separating father (Elliot Gould), as well as a final, hopeful image whose heartfelt poignancy is—after the preceding onslaught of smart-alecky gibber-jabber—all the more powerful for being so unexpected.

-Slant Magazine, Nick Schager, 1995.

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SAFE (1995)
Oct
20
7:00 PM19:00

SAFE (1995)

An unsettling work (1995) by subversive American independent Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven), his first film in 35-millimeter and best film overall. It's been described as a movie about "environmental illness," but don't let that fool you: the alienation of one suburban housewife in southern California, effectively captured by Julianne Moore, may take physical form, but its sources are clearly spiritual and ideological. Haynes does a powerful job of conveying his hatred for the character's Sherman Oaks milieu (where he himself grew up) through his crafty and at times almost hallucinatory layering of sound and image. (Though Haynes's methodology is his own, you may be reminded at times of Michelangelo Antonioni and Chantal Akerman.) He also offers a scathing (if poker-faced) satire on New Age notions of healing. This creepy art movie will stay with you.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

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MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991)
Oct
11
7:00 PM19:00

MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991)

Calgary Cinematheque is co-presenting with the Calgary Gay History Project, the 25th anniversary of Gus Van Sant's breakthrough indie sleeper MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991). As the third installment in our focus on American Independent Cinema of the Nineties, this film is an exemplary and loose adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry IV.

For advance tickets, please click HERE.

Gus Van Sant's 1990 feature, his best prior to Elephant, is a simultaneously heartbreaking and exhilarating road movie about two male hustlers (River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves) in the Pacific northwest. Phoenix, a narcoleptic from a broken home, is essentially looking for a family, while Reeves, whose father is mayor of Portland, is mainly fleeing his. The style is so eclectic that it may take some getting used to, but Van Sant, working from his own story for the first time, brings such lyrical focus to his characters and his poetry that almost everything works. Even the parts that show some strain—like the film's extended hommage to Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight—are exciting for their sheer audacity. Phoenix was never better, and Reeves does his best with a part that's largely Shakespeare's Hal as filtered through Welles.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

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TRUST (1991)
Oct
6
7:00 PM19:00

TRUST (1991)

The second film in our focus on American Independent Cinema of the Nineties is Hal Hartley's stunning TRUST. One night only, October 6th, 7pm at The Globe Cinema. For advance tickets, please click HERE.

Popularly regarded as one of the essential American independent films of the 1990's, TRUST is a romantic comedy told with Hartley's characteristic verbal dexterity and mordant wit - an hilarious and moving analysis of family violence and the moral courage it takes to defeat it and assume faith in others.

HitFix states: Over a career spanning three decades Hartley has been an amazingly prolific filmmaker, directing a total of 15 features and 18 shorts. Unlike many of his late '80s/early '90s indie contemporaries (Quentin Tarantino, Gus Van Sant, Richard Linklater, et al), he has never catered to mainstream tastes, and his work has been greeted by the public in kind. He is known for creating stylized worlds that feel somehow hermetic and worldly, stilted and soulful, in films ranging from 1992's "Simple Men" to 1997's "Henry Fool," and its a mixture that doesn't appeal to every palate. "Trust" was Hartley's second feature after 1989's "The Unbelievable Truth" (also starring Shelly), and it won him the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival.

"cool, strikingly original" Hal Hinson - Washington Post
"an exceptional film" Peter Travers - Rolling Stone

FEATURING:
Adrienne Shelly, Martin Donovan, Edie Falco
Rebecca Nelson, John MacKay, Gary Sauer
Originally Released: 1991
Language: English (English subtitles available)
Running Time: 105 Minutes

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RIVER OF GRASS (1994)
Sep
14
7:00 PM19:00

RIVER OF GRASS (1994)

Calgary Cinematheque invites you to join us as we launch our 2016-17 Season and our 10th Anniversary season-long celebration!

Pre-reception is open to INVITED GUESTS ONLY. We apologize for the restriction, however, the space is limited.

At 7:00PM, as the last attendees take their seats, the main event will begin! Calgary Cinematheque is pleased to present River of Grass (1994), written and directed by Kelly Reichardt, as part of the 2016-17 FOCUS Series: AMERICAN INDEPENDENT CINEMA OF THE NINETIES.

The 1990’s was a high point for American independent film and many of the directors who entered with a bang, like Kelly Reichardt and Todd Haynes, continue today to create works that stand out at Sundance and Tribeca. This series spotlights the breakout films that pushed against mainstream norms and first brought attention to these unique voices.

With a tagline of "A girl, a gun, and nowhere to go", this smart, beautifully shot, debut film from Reichardt captures her first foray into "what would be become her specialty: the transformation of cheerless wastelands into backdrops for journeys of the parched soul" (Ella Taylor, NPR). It was nominated for the Sundance Grand Jury Prize in 1994 and three Independent Spirits awards later in 1996 including "Best First Feature" and the "Someone to Watch" award.

Steven Holden of the NY Times wrote: "River of Grass, a no-budget film about a deadbeat couple who are too enervated to go on a Bonnie and Clyde-like crime spree, is a pointed antidote to the hyperbolic romance of violence evoked by such movies as Natural Born Killers and True Romance."

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