"Short Term 12" One of the Best of 2013!


One of my favorite films of 2013 was the indie film "Short Term 12" directed by Destin Cretton based on his previous short film of the same name.  It's the story of a group home for wayward teens and the counselors who work with them, but words and labels can't do it justice.   It's simply a perfect film with deeply felt performances throughout.  The filmmakers bring such authenticity to it that it feels like it could be a documentary.

We follow Grace, played by Brie Larson, an early twenty-something girl, as she leads most of the groups' activities.  She is in a relationship with fellow counselor Mason (Peter Gallegher Jr.) that they try to keep on the down low in front of the others, but everyone seems to know.  We are also introduced to a new counselor named Nate (Rami Malek) who like most people initially has a rough time fitting in.  Trying to make a good first impression on these kids is nearly impossible and when he calls them "underprivileged" Marcus, the eldest of the group is deeply offended by the term.  It really is like a slap in the face to all of them.  Although Nate didn't mean anything by it and is a good guy at heart he has a lot to learn.

Short Term 12 offers these kids unconditional love and support and a safe place for them to just be themselves. All of the residents, through no fault of there own, have ended up at there and must wait out their time until fate reveals itself or they turn eighteen and must leave.  All of the teens are well crafted multi-dimensional characters as complicated and real as it gets.  Sammy, Luis, Marcus, and the new girl Jayden are the main teens we follow throughout the film.  Through their struggles, they've built up these thick walls in order to keep everybody out and It's the counselor's job to slowly but surely chip away at these walls and try to make a connection.  Sammy is no more than 10 or 12 years old and has lost his only family in his younger sister.  He might either be autistic or depressed but is really battling through some tough times for such a young age.  Like all of the residents Luis is a good kid but a victim of circumstance.  Marcus is a deeply complex man who soon turns eighteen and still fighting through some fierce emotional issues.  The abuse by his mother has left deep emotional scars, but he seems up to challenge to reclaiming his life.  Jayden is the new girl and almost a carbon copy of what Grace was like when she was her age.  Jayden sparks something inside Grace that forces her to deal with her own brutal past.  Life is now pushing Grace to a boiling point as her past, present and future all collide and she must make a decision that will affect her life forever.

"Three Kings" David O. Russell's Gulf War Film from 1999


Over the past two years, Director David O. Russell has struck Oscar gold with "Silver Lining Playbook" and "American Hustle".  Attaching rising megastars Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper to both hasn't hurt either.  Back in the late 90s, Russell's first commercial hit was the Gulf War action/satire/adventure "Three Kings" starring a platoon of rising stars including George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube.  Obviously, they were all known but Clooney was coming of TV's "E.R." and Wahlberg and Ice Cube we're mainly known for their music careers.

The story is stationed in Kuwait at the end of the Gulf War in '91.  Saddam and his forces have been sent packing.  With no major fighting, the American troops are painted to look like a bunch of bored teenagers looking for any action they can get into.  Many wondering why were there in the first place.  Here's a not so subtle hint, they have a lot of oil, and the first President Bush was protecting his investments.  American forces are preparing to get the hell out of the desert when Barlow (Wahlberg), Vig (Spike Jonze) and Elgin (Cube) find a map to one of Saddam's stolen gold bunkers hidden in a surrendering Iraqi man's ass.

Clooney plays Archie Gate a special forces guy who when not screwing the media, literally, is just waiting out the war so he can retire from active duty.  Gates come across the guys and the map and decides they can make a quick and quiet in and out strike to snatch the gold.  But of course things happen and they underestimate the danger of their secret operation. 

Their plan to just grab the gold and run hits a snag when they witness Saddam's Republican Guard soldiers brutalizing and killing civilians.  They can't help but get involved in their struggle, but being only a small unit they quickly get in over their heads.  They eventually find the gold, but gold is really heavy and can be quite cumbersome to transport.  Things get serious were Barlow is taken hostage and Vig is hurt.  They get help from the locals but it's going to cost them.  The action is amazing as well as the visual style from overly bright and bleached out colors of the desert to the sound design.  There is also a dark satirical thread throughout as well as more overt humor.  It's a fun film all around.

"Three Kings was the pinnacle of the first part of David O. Russell's career as his next film was the unbelievably awful existential film "I Heart Huckabees".  It took six years for his next film and a return to form with "The Fighter".  Russell is an extremely talented director and will always be interested in his upcoming films.

Top Films of 2013 - Matthew McConaughey, James Wan, and Great Documentaries

The Top 5 of 2013

Last year was the year for horror, Matthew McConaughey, James Wan, and great documentaries. the following is my annual list of must-see movies and people to watch in the coming years.

Top 5 or 6 Films (in no particular order)

Stoker - Director Chan-wook Park's English language debut stars Mia Wasikowska in a deeply disturbing drama. See my review here

Gravity - The most amazing 3-D effects since Avatar.

12 Years a Slave - Pretty heavy stuff but absolutely amazing. Director Steve McQueen has yet to disappoint.

Dallas Buyers Club/Mud - McConaughey was also in "Wolf of Wall Street"  He has been on fire for the last few years, with "Killer Joe" making my list in 2012. Those romantic comedies are hopefully buried and gone for good.

Short Term 12 - A film with heartbreaking authenticity and acting. It's a perfect film from begging to end, that never lets up.

The Year in Horror

"You're Next", "Mama", "Sinister", "Evil Dead" (remake), "The Conjuring", "Insidious 2", "Maniac" (remake). All amazing movies. There was the usual bunch of crap, but for the most part, everything was pretty good.

Director James Wan directed two of the highest grossing horror films of the year in "The Conjuring" ($137 Million) and "Insidious 2" ($83.5 Million). With both films heading for sequels. and the Saw Franchise under his belt, Wan can seeming do no wrong. Although he has expressed his desire to quit horror and move on to something else (booooo!).

Top Docs

"The Act of Killing", "Blackfish", "Room 237", "Cutie and the Boxer", "The Stories We Tell" lead the list of several amazing documentaries from 2013.
 Many are streaming on Netflix now so check 'em out

"In Her Skin" is a Movie That Will Get Under Yours


The 2009 Australian film "In Her Skin" is based on a true story of a mentally unstable woman and her obsession with a neighbor girls perfect life.  Its a story of two families dealing with heartbreak, class structures, self-esteem and who is to blame.

Guy Pearce and Miranda Otto play Mike and Elizabeth Barber the upper middle class parents of Rachel, a 15-year-old Dancer, who goes missing after accepting a job from an estranged older friend named Caroline, played fearlessly by Ruth Bradley.  The girls exist at opposite ends of the class and popularity spectrum.  Rachel is young and beautiful with an equally beautiful boyfriend.  She has two loving parents and a normal home life.  While Caroline, who is in her early to mid 20s, lives alone in an apartment always on the brink of some kind of mental breakdown.  Her parents are divorced and her father has long given up hope of having a "normal" daughter.  He has had to learn to just deal with her craziness after having to bail her out of situations her whole life.  Caroline works a dull and dreary office job with little to no motivation to do anything more with her life.  Rachel has been a sort of obsession and role model of hers ever since she babysat for her years back.  An idealized version of what she wishes she could be.  Caroline feels trapped and cursed to roam the earth in her overweight and unattractive body.  She is unloved and unwanted. We can only watch as the clock ticks forward to an enviable breakdown. 

After Rachel doesn't return home one afternoon.  Her parents start to worry and call her friends and the  They go to the police but are devastated to be told that Rachel must have run away or is just out on a bender and will probably show up in a day or two. With all of the other more important cases, they can't be wasting their precious recourses on a missing teenage girl.  Mike and Elizabeth do eventually find an investigator dedicated to finding what happened to Rachel and it all leads back to Caroline.

The film is uniquely structured in that it is split up into three sections dealing with the individual characters viewpoints and personal struggles.  After a brief intro we start with a title card "Mike and Elizabeth", Then go on to "Caroline", then finally "Rachel".  The resulting story is raw, honest, and heartbreaking.  It is superbly acted by all involved and unlike most Hollywood studio movies doesn't offer any easy answers.