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I have just returned to the UK after ten days in North America, where I went to a lovely wedding on Martha’s Vineyard and met up with my parents and sister for an absolutely overdue reunion.  But at the moment I’m reeling from the in-flight movie offerings, which included an incredible selection of indie movies that I’ve actually been really keen to see. There and back I watched:

– Your Sister’s Sister
– Take This Waltz
– Safety Not Guaranteed

I also watched Brave, The Big Year and The Artist, but I was more interested in the independent films.  As it happens, all three are just about to be released on DVD, or have been released recently, and so if you’ve been thinking about adding them to your LoveFilm or Netflix queue keep reading:

Your Sister’s Sister

I’ve decided that I’m a huge Mark Duplass fan.  I saw “The Puffy Chair,” one of his earliest projects, in 2006, loved it, and then forgot about it until he resurfaced in Your Sister’s Sister and I saw the trailer last year.  The movie revolves around Jack, played by Duplass, whose brother died a year ago and who is still struggling with the loss.  After he makes a scene at a party, his friend Iris offers her family’s cabin as a place where he can find solace and, as he puts it, “take a sabbatical.”

(this summary from Rotten Tomatoes.com:) Tom’s best friend Iris (Emily Blunt) offers up her family cabin on an island in the Pacific Northwest so Jack can seek catharsis in solitude. Once there, however, he runs into Iris’ sister Hannah (Rosemarie Dewitt) who is reeling from the abrupt end of a seven-year relationship and finds solace in Tom’s unexpected presence. A blurry evening of drinking concludes with an awkward sexual incident, made worse by Iris’ sudden presence at the cabin the next morning.

The rest of the movie revolves around the three characters and the painful, real-life stuff they have to go through.  The initial meeting between Jack and Hannah feels authentic and plausible, and their awkwardness and panic when Iris shows up the next day is eminently believable.  A movie with only three characters allows for a nuanced and intimate character study of each.  Your Sister’s Sister lives up to the challenge.  I am certainly a member of the movie’s target demographic – one of the things I liked most about the movie is that the people in it felt like my friends, or people I’d want to hang out with – but I think that it paints a portrayal of losing and finding that will appeal to many (I recommended it to my parents, for example).

I also loved the sweet relationship between Hannah and Iris – the movie highlights the best and worst parts of being and having a sister.  While the end was a bit of a cheap shot, I finished the film feeling satisfied with the broad strokes if not with the particulars.

Safety Not Guaranteed

This is another Duplass joint.  Jason Segall has been my favourite actor for a while, but with this one-two indie movie combo, Duplass is definitely in contention for the #1 spot.  This movie originates from a (true) classified ad that someone placed in 1996, looking for a partner in time travel but warning: safety not guaranteed.

The ad is picked up by a bored writer, who recruits two interns to do a story on the person who thinks he can time-travel – Kenneth (played by Duplass), a paranoid check-out clerk at the local grocery.  One of the interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza), is sent in as the prospective partner.

The movie is quirky, to say the least, but it portrays its characters (a narcissistic slacker boss; a depressed, sulky intern; and a probably-insane would-be time traveler) with sympathy and grace, allowing them each room to breathe.  In the end, you’re rooting for all three of them, somewhat in spite of yourself.  The best part of the movie is the relationship between Kenneth and Darius; the scene where Darius first approaches Kenneth, and their awkward yet magical repartee, sets up the entire rest of the movie, allowing the viewer to be taken in by the ridiculous twists and turns along the way.

The side-plot with Darius’ boss and intern #2 is a little clunky; Intern #2 is the only character who never becomes three-dimensional.  The production values are not Hollywood standard (although that didn’t really bother me). And there were a few things that were not satisfactorily explained, even by the standards of an open-ended movie.  But all in all, I loved this movie.  And as a bonus, I’ve been listening to the theme song, “Big Machines,” pretty much on repeat since I saw it.

**note: video doesn’t work in Canada, but I would still recommend you find another version. It’s lovely.

Take this Waltz

This is another movie I’ve been keen to see for a while.  It came recommended by a friend, had an incredibly alluring trailer, and starred Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman – a seriously good cast.  The film has a hazy, late-summer feel, with lots of sunlight, and is set in Little Portugal, a picturesque neighbourhood of Toronto, with a beautiful, lazy soundtrack to match both the bohemian setting and the time of year.

And yet – I hated it.  This movie actually made me angry.  It centres on Margot, played by Michelle Williams, a writer who falls for Daniel (Luke Kirby), the artist across the street. Her dopey husband (Rogen) is too absorbed in his cookbook project to notice.  There are several problems with the premise, but the most noticeable one is that Margot is annoying and cloying, and her extramarital dalliance is as unlikely as the idea that Rogen would have married her in the first place.  What is meant to feel like sexual tension just feels like navel gazing, and the scene in which Daniel makes his intentions toward Margot clear was creepy and pornographic rather than sweet or sexy or… remotely appealing.  Margot is ponderous and unlikable almost from the very beginning, when she meets Daniel on an airplane and tells him that she’s scared of “connections….in airports.”  I actually thought, as I watched it, “who would go for this girl?” – she speaks in babytalk throughout the movie, with both men, and harasses Rogen for sapping her confidence moments before she dumps him.

While I don’t want to give too much away, the conclusion of the movie was deeply unsatisfying.  It brought to mind Lost in Translation, if that movie had sucked.  The movie received mostly positive reviews, so I’m clearly in the minority, but I found the “sexual tension” to be tedious and the main characters to be mostly unlikable.