DVD/Stream of the Week: SHORT TERM 12 – compelling and affecting, in the world of foster kids

SHORT TERM 12

The compelling and affecting Short Term 12 is set in a foster care facility unit named Short Term 12; since the kids can live there for years, it seems pretty long-term to me. These are kids who have suffered abuse and neglect and who act out with disruptive and dangerous behaviors. Runaways, assaults and suicide attempts are commonplace, and some of the kids thrive on creating drama.

The gifted lead counselor on the unit is Grace (Brie Larson), who isn’t much older than the kids. She’s kind of a Troubled Kid Whisperer who, in each impossible situation, knows exactly what to do to defuse or comfort or protect. But while she is in total command of her volatile and fragile charges, she is profoundly troubled herself. She and her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), who also works on the unit, are themselves survivors and former foster youth. Mason seems to have resolved his issues, but Grace’s demons lurk just under her skin.

In Short Term 12’s taut 96 minutes, we watch Grace navigate through crisis after crisis until she must face her own. We share many of the most powerful moments in 2013 cinema, particularly one kid’s unexpectedly painful insightful and sensitive rap, another kid’s authoring a wrenching children’s story and Grace’s own outburst of ferocity to protect a kid from a parent.

Brie Larson’s performance as Grace is being widely and justifiably described as star-making, and I think she deserves an Oscar nomination. I noticed her performances in much smaller roles in Rampart and The Spectacular Now , and I’m really looking forward to the launch of a major career. Think Jennifer Lawrence.

John Gallagher Jr. must be a superb actor, because nobody in real life can be as appealing and sympathetic as his characters in Margaret, Newsroom and Short Term 12. I’ll watch any movie with Gallagher in it, and he’s almost good enough to help me stomach Newsroom.

In his debut feature, writer-director Destin Cretton has hit a home run with one of the year’s best dramas. Some might find the hopeful ending too pat, but I say So What – I have met many former foster youth who have transcended horrific childhoods to become exemplary adults.

Short Term 12 is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, GooglePlay and Xbox Video. It was high on my Best Movies of 2013.

DIGGING FOR FIRE: a couple goes wild, then looks inside

Rosemaire DeWitt in DIGGING FOR FIRE
Rosemaire DeWitt in DIGGING FOR FIRE

The romantic comedy Digging for Fire is a reflection on that moment when two people who have loved each other have become so consumed by day-to-day child rearing that they have lost heir way as a couple.  She’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) fed up and drops the three-year-old with her parents, hoping for a wild weekend with girlfriends while he (Jake Johnson) does the taxes. Of course, he invites his guy buddies over for a bro-bacchanal. Things don’t go exactly as planned for either of them, and their separate weekends morph into adventures that challenge their marriage and trigger some self-examination.

Writer-director Joe Swanberg has a gift for creating characters that act like real people – and NOT like they know they are characters in a romantic comedy.   Swanberg created the 2013 Drinking Buddies, a film I found to be “an unusually genuine romantic comedy” and the first Mumblecore movie that I’ve ever liked.

DeWitt and Johnson are very good, and Brie Larson is outstanding as a good time girl who is more – and looking for more – than she seems.  Digging for Fire also features Anna Kendrick (against type as an uninhibited party girl) and Sam Rockwell (who has made playing an unreliable character into its own art form).  We also see almost everyone who has been in an independent film: Mike Birbiglia, Chris Messina, Melanie Lynsky, Sam Elliott, Judith Light and Jane Adams.  Orlando Bloom even drops in as a boor at a bar (albeit an upscale bar).

Two thing for sure:  Joe Swanberg’s characters are never predictable and he is definitely a romantic.  Digging for Fire is available for streaming  from Amazon, Vudu, You Tube and Google Play.

Short Term 12 Now on Netflix Instant

SHORT TERM 12

The powerful drama Short Term 12 is now available streaming on Netflix Instant. It ranked as number 7 on my Best Movies of 2013. The compelling and affecting Short Term 12 is set in a foster care facility unit named Short Term 12; since the kids can live there for years, it seems pretty long-term to me. These are kids who have suffered abuse and neglect and who act out with disruptive and dangerous behaviors. Runaways, assaults and suicide attempts are commonplace, and some of the kids thrive on creating drama.

The gifted lead counselor on the unit is Grace (Brie Larson), who isn’t much older than the kids. She’s kind of a Troubled Kid Whisperer who, in each impossible situation, knows exactly what to do to defuse or comfort or protect. But while she is in total command of her volatile and fragile charges, she is profoundly troubled herself. She and her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), who also works on the unit, are themselves survivors and former foster youth. Mason seems to have resolved his issues, but Grace’s demons lurk just under her skin.

In Short Term 12’s taut 96 minutes, we watch Grace navigate through crisis after crisis until she must face her own. We share many of the most powerful moments in 2013 cinema, particularly one kid’s unexpectedly painful insightful and sensitive rap, another kid’s authoring a wrenching children’s story and Grace’s own outburst of ferocity to protect a kid from a parent.

Brie Larson’s performance as Grace is being widely and justifiably described as star-making, and I think she deserves an Oscar nomination. I noticed her performances in much smaller roles in Rampart and The Spectacular Now , and I’m really looking forward to the launch of a major career. Think Jennifer Lawrence.

John Gallagher Jr. must be a superb actor, because nobody in real life can be as appealing and sympathetic as his characters in Margaret, Newsroom and Short Term 12. I’ll watch any movie with Gallagher in it, and he’s almost good enough to help me stomach Newsroom.

In his debut feature, writer-director Destin Cretton has hit a home run with one of the year’s best dramas. Some might find the hopeful ending too pat, but I say So What – I have met many former foster youth who have transcended horrific childhoods to become exemplary adults.

Short Term 12 is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, GooglePlay and Xbox Video.

DVD/Stream of the Week: Short Term 12

SHORT TERM 12

Here’s number 7 on my Best Movies of 2013. The compelling and affecting Short Term 12 is set in a foster care facility unit named Short Term 12; since the kids can live there for years, it seems pretty long-term to me. These are kids who have suffered abuse and neglect and who act out with disruptive and dangerous behaviors. Runaways, assaults and suicide attempts are commonplace, and some of the kids thrive on creating drama.

The gifted lead counselor on the unit is Grace (Brie Larson), who isn’t much older than the kids. She’s kind of a Troubled Kid Whisperer who, in each impossible situation, knows exactly what to do to defuse or comfort or protect. But while she is in total command of her volatile and fragile charges, she is profoundly troubled herself. She and her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), who also works on the unit, are themselves survivors and former foster youth. Mason seems to have resolved his issues, but Grace’s demons lurk just under her skin.

In Short Term 12’s taut 96 minutes, we watch Grace navigate through crisis after crisis until she must face her own. We share many of the most powerful moments in 2013 cinema, particularly one kid’s unexpectedly painful insightful and sensitive rap, another kid’s authoring a wrenching children’s story and Grace’s own outburst of ferocity to protect a kid from a parent.

Brie Larson’s performance as Grace is being widely and justifiably described as star-making, and I think she deserves an Oscar nomination. I noticed her performances in much smaller roles in Rampart and The Spectacular Now , and I’m really looking forward to the launch of a major career. Think Jennifer Lawrence.

John Gallagher Jr. must be a superb actor, because nobody in real life can be as appealing and sympathetic as his characters in Margaret, Newsroom and Short Term 12. I’ll watch any movie with Gallagher in it, and he’s almost good enough to help me stomach Newsroom.

In his debut feature, writer-director Destin Cretton has hit a home run with one of the year’s best dramas. Some might find the hopeful ending too pat, but I say So What – I have met many former foster youth who have transcended horrific childhoods to become exemplary adults.

Short Term 12 is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, GooglePlay and Xbox Video.

2013 at the Movies: breakthroughs

Adèle Exarchopoulos in BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR

The year’s biggest breakthrough has to be 19-year-old actress Adèle Exarchopoulos, who delivered the year’s best cinematic performance in the year’s best movie, Blue is the Warmest Color.

American actress Brie Larson‘s star-making performance Short Term 12 showed her to be a big-time talent, possibly another Jennifer Lawrence.

Other remarkable breakthrough acting performances:

  • Elle Fanning in Ginger & Rosa (in which she, at her actual age of 14, played a 17-year-old).
  • Michael B. Jordan, thoughtful and charismatic in Fruitvale Station.

And here are the filmmakers whose work showed special promise:

Short Term 12: powerful and satisfying

SHORT TERM 12

Here’s the first MUST SEE of the fall movie season.  The compelling and affecting Short Term 12 is set in a foster care facility unit named Short Term 12; since the kids can live there for years, it seems pretty long-term to me.  These are kids who have suffered abuse and neglect and who act out with disruptive and dangerous behaviors.  Runaways, assaults and suicide attempts are commonplace, and some of the kids thrive on creating drama.

The gifted lead counselor on the unit is Grace (Brie Larson), who isn’t much older than the kids.  She’s kind of a Troubled Kid Whisperer who, in each impossible situation, knows exactly what to do to defuse or comfort or protect.  But while she is in total command of her volatile and fragile charges, she is profoundly troubled herself.  She and her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), who also works on the unit, are themselves survivors and former foster youth.  Mason seems to have resolved his issues, but Grace’s demons lurk just under her skin.

In Short Term 12’s taut 96 minutes, we watch Grace navigate through crisis after crisis until she must face her own.  We share many of the most powerful moments in 2013 cinema, particularly one kid’s unexpectedly painful insightful and sensitive rap, another kid’s authoring a wrenching children’s story and Grace’s own outburst of ferocity to protect a kid from a parent.

Brie Larson’s performance as Grace is being widely and justifiably described as star-making, and I think she deserves an Oscar nomination.   I noticed her performances in much smaller roles in Rampart and The Spectacular Now , and I’m really looking forward to the launch of a major career.  Think Jennifer Lawrence.

John Gallagher Jr. must be a superb actor, because nobody in real life can be as appealing and sympathetic as his characters in Margaret, Newsroom and Short Term 12.  I’ll watch any movie with Gallagher in it, and he’s almost good enough to help me stomach Newsroom.

In his debut feature, writer-director Destin Cretton has hit a home run with one of the year’s best dramas.  Some might find the hopeful ending too pat, but I say So What – I have met many former foster youth who have transcended horrific childhoods to become exemplary adults.

DVD of the Week: Rampart

In a sizzling performance, Woody Harrelson plays a corrupt and brutal LA cop trying to stay alive and out of jail.  Woody’s Dave Brown is always seeking control.  He manipulates his superiors.  From behind his badge, he unleashes sadistic brute force on every other unfortunate within his sight.  Yet he is a man out of control, whose impulses to bully,  to drink and to seduce increasingly endanger his job security, his finances and what is left of his relationship with his family.  He is already skating on the edge of self-destruction when one brutal incident is caught on video and goes viral a la Rodney King.

Rampart benefits from the one of the best large supporting casts – less an ensemble than a series of great single performances as individual characters tangle with Dave Brown.  Ben Foster (The Messenger) is brilliant as a homeless man with too many drugs and not enough meds.  Robin Wright is also superb as an emotionally damaged lawyer who sleeps with Dave until his paranoia takes over.   Sigourney Weaver and Ice Cube are two LA officials who see Dave as a walking, talking threat to public order and the City treasury.  Ned Beatty is the retired cop who has kept his finger in the police corruption racket. The Broadway star Audra McDonald plays a cop groupie that Dave meets in a bar.   As one would expect, Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon are excellent as Dave’s two amiable but bullshit-proof ex-wives.  Brie Larson and Sammy Boyarsky are especially effective as the daughters, who figure in Rampart‘s most breathtaking scenes.

Rampart is a singularly visual film – we always know that we are in the sunwashed, diverse, sometimes explosive anarchy that is LA.  The movie is structured and shot to heighten the experience of both the chaos that Dave causes and that the chaos that he feels.  This is Oren Moverman’s second effort as writer-director, the first being the searing The Messenger, also starring Harrelson and Foster.  Moverman keeps Rampart spinning along wildly as we wonder what will happen next to unravel Dave Brown’s life.

If you need some redemption to leaven a very dark story, this is not the movie for you.  Rampart reminds us that not everyone finds redemption.  It made my list of the Best Movies of 2012 – So Far.

Rampart: a sizzling portrait of a man spinning out of control

In a sizzling performance, Woody Harrelson plays a corrupt and brutal LA cop trying to stay alive and out of jail.  Woody’s Dave Brown is always seeking control.  He manipulates his superiors.  From behind his badge, he unleashes sadistic brute force on every other unfortunate within his sight.  Yet he is a man out of control, whose impulses to bully,  to drink and to seduce increasingly endanger his job security, his finances and what is left of his relationship with his family.  He is already skating on the edge of self-destruction when one brutal incident is caught on video and goes viral a la Rodney King.

Rampart benefits from the one of the best large supporting casts – less an ensemble than a series of great single performances as individual characters tangle with Dave Brown.  Ben Foster (The Messenger) is brilliant as a homeless man with too many drugs and not enough meds.  Robin Wright is also superb as an emotionally damaged lawyer who sleeps with Dave until his paranoia takes over.   Sigourney Weaver and Ice Cube are two LA officials who see Dave as a walking, talking threat to public order and the City treasury.  Ned Beatty is the retired cop who has kept his finger in the police corruption racket. The Broadway star Audra McDonald plays a cop groupie that Dave meets in a bar.   As one would expect, Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon are excellent as Dave’s two amiable but bullshit-proof ex-wives.  Brie Larson and Sammy Boyarsky are especially effective as the daughters, who figure in Rampart‘s most breathtaking scenes.

Rampart is a singularly visual film – we always know that we are in the sunwashed, diverse, sometimes explosive anarchy that is LA.  The movie is structured and shot to heighten the experience of both the chaos that Dave causes and that the chaos that he feels.  This is Oren Moverman’s second effort as writer-director, the first being the searing The Messenger, also starring Harrelson and Foster.  Moverman keeps Rampart spinning along wildly as we wonder what will happen next to unravel Dave Brown’s life.

If you need some redemption to leaven a very dark story, this is not the movie for you.  Rampart reminds us that not everyone finds redemption.