Saturday, June 28, 2008
I sheepishly admit that I rarely take advantage of the Los Angeles Film Festival. Mostly because I get overwhelmed by the plethora of choices without knowing what's wheat or chaff and end up just throwing my hands up. But this year I was determined to make an appearance. So I hopped around the LAFF site, reading synopses at random, and found two solid selections—a documentary about troubled kids at a last-chance UK boarding school called Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go and the upcoming indie release, American Son, which I chose after seeing it on Mike D'Angelo's 2008 top ten list—a cinematic superdelegate vote if there ever was one.
Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go
Unfortunately, I kept comparing Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go to the much more satisfying 2003 student/teacher documentary To Be and To Have. That comparison aside, Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go is a terrific and touching inside look at how emotionally traumatized kids find hope in the care of amazing teachers. Guaranteed to induce cringing and cheering.
American Son is a beautifully made film told and shot with a naturalistic grace that is all to rare on the big screen. Director Neil Abramson did a Q&A after the screening, along with cast members, and there was an air of gentle wisdom about him that came across in his work on-screen.
Mr. Mariah Carey, Nick Cannon, gives an irresistible performance as a young Marine named Mike who is about to be shipped off to Iraq from his rundown town. The equally charming Melonie Diaz (Raising Victor Vargas) hits just the right notes of sweetness and sadness in the role of Mike's new love.
Screenwriter Eric Schmid deserves accolades, as well, for keeping what could've played like a movie-of-the-week feeling very unaffected yet very emotional. Cinematographer Kris Kachikis brought another layer of honesty to the story with an easy grace of his own. I keep recalling one breathtaking shot where Mike and his friend are competing in a junkyard shooting range as the glare of the Bakersfield sun flares behind their lanky silhouettes. The film's original music by Tim Boland and Sam Retzer offered its own unobtrusively perfect punctuation to the tale.
During the Q&A, I raised my hand too late to get my compliment in, but what I wanted to express to Abramson and his actors was my appreciation for their success in making good storytelling seem so elegantly effortless. Bravo.
When a quiet, one-word line—"Pressure."—brings the house down, you know you've got something magic going on.