Sundance Recap: “As You Are”


LOUISA:  3.5 STARS     MATT:   3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

It’s always exciting to see a film where you instantly know the director and cast are “ones to watch,” and this is one of those movies. “As You Are” is loaded with so much talent and originality that it’s shocking to learn this came from a first-time writer / director, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte.

The real star of this 1990s-set mystery are the young actors (super talented Owen Campbell, Charlie Heaton and Amandla Stenberg), all fantastic and believable as a trio of angsty teens with some pretty serious problems of their own. Their relationship feels so real and rich and honest.

The director’s skills of working with his actors far exceeds his slow storytelling style, and he is able to get strong performances from each of them. I think we can expect some great things from this director as he hones in on his craft (the storytelling style on display here is very effective; the movie starts out with a gunshot in the woods and then is told in various flashbacks from different points of view — all interspersed with VHS police station interviews). We know something horrible has happened, but we don’t know what or to whom.

This movie isn’t perfect but it’s an engaging take on the classic coming of age story, and it had me fully immersed through the end credits.

MATT SAYS:

Set in the 1990s, “As You Are” is a coming-of-age movie that tells the story of two teenage boys growing up in upstate New York. While not polished, “As You Are” is a solid film. Supported by strong performances from its leads, the movie effectively channels the feelings of adolescent outsiders who are struggling to find their place in the world and amongst their peers. This is a great example of what independent filmmaking should be: a simple story, written well and supported by solid acting, told honestly.

Sundance Recap: “Operation Avalanche”

LOUISA:   2 STARS    MATT: 1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I wanted to give “Operation Avalanche” a higher star rating because at its core is a really fun and smart and cool idea, but I spent a good chunk of my time looking down at my watch to see how much longer I had to sit in the theater. It’s never a good sign when I’m already getting antsy 15 minutes in.

This is a fake documentary about the CIA making a movie to fake the NASA Apollo moon landing. The cool conspiracy theory themes work well with the found footage shooting style, but I feel that this mockumentary stuff is so overdone and has become dreadfully boring, especially in the hands of a new filmmaker who hasn’t quite yet honed in on the craft. Director Matt Johnson is also the co-writer and star of the movie. Maybe this film would’ve worked better if he hadn’t insisted on playing the lead; he was awfully distracting and very unlikeable.

A very clever idea that’s stretched too thin, leading to a disappointing conclusion.

MATT SAYS:

A new a different entry into the found footage genre, “Operation Avalanche” tells the (fictional?) story of the CIA conspiracy behind the Apollo 11 moon landing. While that sounds interesting on paper, the execution was lacking.

Oftentimes I feel that using a found footage style is an effective but obvious ways to camouflage flaws in the filming and style; it’s essentially the lazy-man’s way of making a movie. “Operation Avalanche” is no exception to this rule. A clever story is the only thing that propels this movie. Otherwise, this is a fairly conventional and run-of-the mill example of a tired format.

Sundance Recap: “Brahman Naman”

LOUISA:   4 STARS    MATT:   4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

In what will inevitably be compared to teen classics “American Pie” and “Napoleon Dynamite,” Indian import “Brahman Naman” is a worthy addition to coming of age comedies. It’s a fun premise: a group of loser quiz team nerds in 1980s India are obsessed with sex and girls; the hugely likeable cast, including Shashank Arora (Naman) and Tanmay Dhanania (Ajay) makes this movie soar.

This funny film is part raunchy sex comedy and part educational documentary about the caste system in India. Interspersed with brilliant animated sequences (I wanted more), unusual trivia questions (look for the answer key in the closing credits), and explicit sex jokes involving randy college boys, this movie is simultaneously strange and delightful. There’s lots of smoking, drinking, singing (the story is told partially in classic 80s songs), misogyny, and of course, lots and lots and lots of solo sex (we are introduced to the hero when he appears in the opening scene having sex with the family’s refrigerator).

This movie isn’t for everyone but it’s a fun, refreshing voice from director Qaushiq “Q” Mukherjee. You can find “Brahman Naman” on Netflix.

MATT SAYS:

In the grand tradition of movies like “Weird Science” and “American Pie” comes a teenage sex comedy with a message. “Brahman Naman” follows a trio (and sometimes quartet) of Indian upperclass sex-obsessed nerdy college boys as they drink and fantasize their way through their last year of university.

This movie is not for the conservative or prudish. Let’s just say Jim from “American Pie” — he with his creative use of pastries — has nothing on Naman, who is much more imaginative in his efforts at self-stimulation, to often hilarious effect.

But for all of its lighthearted comedy, there is also a serious political message behind “Brahman Naman.” The underlying criticisms of the caste system in India are hard to miss here, as is the flagrant sexism that informs the way these boys view and treat women. I both laughed and learned while watching this movie, which is not something I can say about the typical sex comedy.

Welcome to Screen Zealots!

It’s no secret that we love movies. For the last 8 years, we have shared our year-end Top 10 best and worst lists with our friends and family. And every year, we get the same question from them: “why don’t you guys have a movie review blog?” We do now!

On this site, you’ll find our mini reviews of every single movie we see during the calendar year, starting in January 2016. Most of the early reviews we will post are from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival (which we attend every year). We have devised a simple star rating system: one-half star is the worst rating, and five stars is the best.

These are not full-length reviews; we both have day jobs and simply don’t have time to write full articles for every movie. We see movies on our own time and on our own dime.

If you follow us as a regular reader, you’ll find a few surprises sprinkled in here and there. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Google+ and Pinterest. The best way to keep up to date with our reviews (besides checking out this site every day) is to sign up for our monthly review e-newsletter.

We’ve also archived all of our Top 10 lists back to 2009 so you can take a look at the movies that we loved and hated over the years.

Oh, and about the name: we are huge movie fans and movies really are like our religion. Screen Zealots seemed like the perfect fit since we truly are “Fanatical About Film” (our official tag line).

Thanks so much for reading, and welcome!

Matt & Louisa

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