First up, R U THERE, a drama about the dichotomy of real life and online life. Jitze is a gamer from the Netherlands, in Taiwan for a tournament. Online he's a kick-ass soldier, and commander of his team, leading a blood-soaked life without fear. But when he witnesses a little blood in real life, things change--or rather, he changes. He wakes up with a sore shoulder, and starts losing at games, eventually being replaced on his team. So he starts talking to Min Min, a prostitute whom he pays to...massage his shoulder. In real life, they become sorta friends although he's way too withdrawn and tense (as an acupuncturist says, he lives to much in his mind, he has to remember he has a body, too). In Second Life, however, he opens up a bit more, although he still has problems loosening up. I suppose there are interesting comments here about the dual nature of modern life, and the movie has some moments. But mostly I was pretty bored.
And then, after about a 40 minute technical delay, I saw GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY, which I saw at it's world premiere at Cinequest last year. The delay meant I would get home (on BART) very late, and I had seen it before, but as I recall it would be worth it to see it again. And I was right. Here's what I said last March at Cinequest:
Sam (director-writer Lawrence Michael Levine) lives in New York, and is the responsible one among his roommates. At least, he's the one who pays the rent, when he can. He's not that responsible at returning phone calls, since his cell phone won't hold a charge. His sister Gabi (Sophia Takal, who is not actually Levine's sister, she's his fiance) is visiting for the summer. She's a wild, hilarious free spirit. While they're both artists, he wants to get his paintings into galleries while she eschews that scene for more wild experience pieces. Oh yeah, and her art often involves getting naked, which is a nice little treat for the audience (twister and whipped cream, very nice!). In fact, it was appropriate that GABI featured "Naked Day," since it actually was the start of "Naked Night" at Cinequest. This and the next two movies I saw featured full frontal nudity. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Sam's life gets extra complicated when his ex comes back to town (from San Francisco) with an offer to buy some of his paintings for a gallery show. Problem is, his current girlfriend is more than a little jealous and kind of freaks out (I have to admit, I was waiting the whole movie for them to break up. I didn't like her character). Bigger problem, it looks like Sam might just want to go back to his ex, and dude, that's just not cool. Nobody in this movie is perfect, though. As much as I kinda fell in love with Gabi, she is naive and she does make a poor decision that ends with her getting hurt. And sometimes her "free spirit" is really more childish (like the job interview scene. Funny the way she pulls it off, but I don't know any 5 year old who hasn't played that game).
I'll stand by that review. And I'll mention that Indiefest hasn't had a good "naked day" like Cinequest did (get on it, Indiefest). And most importantly I'll add a new observation about the tone of the movie. It's full of scenes where one person is joking and another person absolutely hates it. It's about jokes use as weapons, and the cruelty of humor. Thinking about that, now I like it even more.
Besides being very funny, GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY also has a very real, very free-flowing energy to it. In the Q&A, they talked about endless rehearsals where all the character's back stories were completely explicated, even if it wouldn't show up in the movie. Well, that effort payed off. And by the way, as much as it might look improvised, they claimed all but a few lines were actually scripted (they just shots after months of improvised rehearsals).
Total Running Time: 192 minutes
My Total Minutes: 222,520