Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film or series available on DVD or an instant-streaming service.
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Girl Asleep (2015)
This gem comes to us from Australia and first-time director Rosemary Myers. It tells the story of Greta, a 14-year-old girl on the cusp of her 15th birthday. She and her best/only friend Elliot are outsiders in their teenaged world, yet Greta is reticent about leaving her childhood behind as she gets older. When her parents throw a surprise party for her, the film turns: she enters a parallel world that is at times scary, odd, and even disturbing. Rarely in movies do we get the portrayal of interesting and thoughtful teenagers; too often we see caricatures of reality that demean the characters and play into banal stereotypes. Girl Asleep goes beyond the banality and speaks to the true inner world of the teenager. Step in to the forest if you dare.
The setting is ’70s suburbia, and the production design captures the drab era perfectly in its palette of browns, tans, and muted warm colors. The cinematography toggles between the long takes and deep focus of the realistic scenes to a highly formalist surrealism in the parallel world—splashes of color, faster editing, and symbolic imagery that speaks to the inner world/imagination. The entire package from director Myers shows a highly skilled director who has a bright future ahead.
Her skill shines through in many ways. The material comes from a recently staged play written by Matthew Whittet (Greta’s father in the film). Adapting a play to the screen is problematic for several reasons: plays are dialogue heavy and visually static where films must do the opposite and tell the story through images. Myers infuses those images with a magic realism that lends itself to an otherworldly experience.
The whole film is quite the trip. It starts out as a coming-of-age story and then midway through it turns into a very different film—one that becomes darker, more menacing, and even uncomfortably erotic. The mind of the teenager is certainly a dark and mysterious place, and the pivot to that portion of the film mirrors the quick mood swings of a teenager. If you were ever such a teenager, or (gasp!) the parent of a teenager, you understand the dynamic. Girl Asleep allows us direct access into that mind. Beware.
You will like this film if you enjoyed Little Miss Sunshine, Muriel’s Wedding, and/or Clueless.
Opens at the Sie Film Center on 10/7.
Better Call Saul (AMC/Netflix)
Breaking Bad is considered one of the best TV shows to ever grace the small screen. It ran for five seasons beginning in 2008, concluding in 2013. It told the story of high school chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who finds out he has cancer and subsequently transforms into a meth-maker/dealer. It won a Golden Globe for Best Television Drama in 2014, and it also won multiple Emmys—taking home 134 awards and 218 nominations during its run. One of the recurring characters on the show was White’s lawyer, the unscrupulous and enigmatic Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). In one of the more anticipated spinoffs in recent memory, Saul was given his own show—Better Call Saul. It debuted in 2015 on AMC and just finished its second season. Rarely do spinoffs ever come close to their older sibling’s aura, but Better Call Saul does just that. It exceeds expectations.
The show follows Saul Goodman before he became Saul Goodman, when he was simply Jimmy McGill, a mailroom worker in his big brother’s law firm. Over the course of the show, Jimmy finishes his law degree and sets up his own practice. It covers the years before Saul meets Walter White, so it effectively serves as a prequel that focuses on just a few of the characters we knew from Breaking Bad. In addition to Saul, we also get the story of Mike, the enforcer/cleaner from Breaking Bad.
The hallmarks of Breaking Bad are all here: the quirky and lush cinematography, the interesting and dynamic characters, the non-linear storytelling, the excellent writing, and the superb acting. Odenkirk is sensational as McGill/Goodman, bringing a vulnerability and quiet intelligence to the role that was missing in his limited Breaking Bad scenes. As we get to know the character more, we grow to like and respect him. The same is true of Jonathan Banks as Mike—we learn his entire backstory, and we come to understand his motivations and actions.
Overall, the series is both heartwarming and endearing, even as it moves from brutal action to sheer drama. There is quietness to the whole that seems to build from the charisma of the parts—the writing, the acting, and the filming. All work together to provide a unique landscape of stories that never pander to its audience. This is intelligent drama that is so rare on the little screen. Thank goodness.
You will like this show if you enjoyed Breaking Bad, House of Cards, and/or Daredevil.
Seasons 1 and 2 are available at Amazon; Season 1 is on Netflix as well.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.