This week in movies you missed:
Two young graffiti artists scheme to pull off the score of a lifetime: "bombing" the New York Mets' Home Run Apple at Citi Field.
Local note: The film's editor, Morgan Faust, is or was a part-time Brattleboro resident. I wrote about her own Vermont-shot film project here.
What You Missed
Sophia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson) work well together. She's tough and surly, he's gangly and wistful — and they're both good at lifting spray cans from stores and leaving their mark on city buildings.
Fed up with the Mets fans who keep defacing their art, the platonic pair plot the ultimate revenge: defacing the Mets Apple. Footage from a vintage cable-access show informs the viewer that this seemingly undoable stunt has been the holy grail of NYC graffiti artists for the past 20 years, putting the fictional characters in a real context.
Malcolm has an in, a friend who works at the stadium — but the price of his cooperation is high. The two friends split up to pursue possible cash sources, and the result is a comedy of errors — along with a freewheeling tour of the city.
Why You Missed It
This 2012 first feature from writer-director Adam Leon picked up honors at South by Southwest and the Independent Spirit Awards, and a nomination at Cannes in Un Certain Regard. Released in 10 U.S. theaters; now on Netflix Instant (where it may soon expire) and Amazon Instant, as well as DVD.
Should You Keep Missing It?
It's rare to see an indie movie, especially one about inner-city culture, that is just fun
. Gimme the Loot
is that movie. It reminds me of NYC-shot movies from the '70s.
My 20-point, highly scientific scale for the assessment of indie films:
1-4 points: Does it look pretty?
3/4. Gimme the Loot
was shot cheap and dirty (for $65k), but I thought it made the most of its biggest asset: the city. A tracking shot of Malcolm and Sophia as they move through a park; a long shot of a city block at twilight — visuals like these, soaked in atmosphere, triggered my own memories of stinking-hot New York summers.
The movie has as much ambience as a Woody Allen film (Leon worked on Allen's Melinda and Melinda
, as it happens) without the nostalgia for a "simpler time." Or perhaps the era Leon looks back to is simply more recent. Where Allen would use jazz standards, he scores his film with vintage R&B.
1-4 points: Does anything happen?
4/4. Do not come expecting a Hollywood ending where the underdog triumphs. Gimme the Loot
is actually a shaggy-dog story. But enough happens along the way — at a steady, energetic pace — that I was thoroughly entertained.
1-4 points: Does what happens make sense?
3/4. Pretty much so, yes. Don't come expecting documentary realism, either, because this is a very scripted film, but it follows its own logic to a thoroughly plausible endpoint.
1-4 points: Do the characters seem like real people? Failing that, do they look pretty?
3/4. Initially, I thought Leon had failed to give Malcolm and Sophia a compelling motivation for wanting to bomb the Mets Apple. We know very little about these two teenagers, especially their lives when they're not together; the only "work" we ever see them do is small-time crime. Do they go to school? Do they have long-term dreams? Who knows?
Then I realized I didn't care. The two performers were likable, and somehow they convinced me that, for kids at their stage of life, bombing the Mets Apple made perfect sense. As in a caper film, you don't have to condone these characters and their goals to take great pleasure in the execution (and how it repeatedly goes awry). The plot's simplicity is its strength.
One character did add layers of complexity — and potential problems — to the film. Desperate for cash, Malcolm steals some weed from his dealer employer (who has just fired him) and runs to sell it to a wealthy bohemian named Ginnie (Zoë Lescaze).
Lazing around her mom's gigantic apartment, flirting with Malcolm for her own amusement, Ginnie is basically a refugee from "Girls" or a future Samantha from "Sex and the City." Her whole subplot could be taken as a commentary on the blinkered (white, upper-crust) nature of those shows' view of NYC. As a result, she initially feels stilted and cartoonish. But as Ginnie's story with Malcolm evolves, it starts to feel richer and more real. Ultimately, she's less a straw woman than a device to test Malcolm and Sophia's loyalty to each other — the film's true stealth subject.
1-4 points: Does the movie give us a reason to care about anything happening on screen?
3/4. See the discussion of motivation above.
This isn't a hand-wringing movie about urban social problems. Malcolm and Sophia never receive punishment for their criminal behavior (unless the constant backfiring of their schemes counts as punishment), and nobody is educated or inspired.
These are just two characters whose adventures and tribulations are fun to watch, and maybe they learn a bit more about themselves and each other by the end. I was happy tagging along.
16/20. Check it out — quickly, if you have Netflix Instant.
In Theaters This Week
At the Palace: The Drop
, with Tom Hardy as a Brooklyn criminal small-timer, from a Dennis Lehane script.
At the Roxy and Savoy: The Trip to Italy
, sequel to the Brit comedy The Trip
Elsewhere: That dolphin who needed a prosthetic tail is now clinically depressed in Dolphin Tale 2. Taraji P. Henson lets Idris Elba into her home (because what woman wouldn't?) and regrets her decision in No Good Deed.
This Week in Your Living Room
Brick Mansions, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Fed Up, God's Pocket, Words and Pictures.