Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: James Eckhouse, Julia Nickson, Susan Ruttan, Ben Redgrave, Sanoe Lake
Director: Jennifer Phang
Studio: Wolfe Video Release Date: 12/29/2009 Run time: 106 minutes
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True and trustworthy
kimri | 03/13/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Half-Life was a movie that I found *true* and *trustworthy*.
True -- over and over again, in scene after scene, the actors behave like real people. That maybe sounds obvious, but when I saw Half-Life at a screening at the 92YChelsea in New York, what stuck out to me was how real, how genuine the characters felt, and the movie underlined for me how often characters in movies DON'T seem real and genuine. Scenes are filled with nuance and meaning; as good as the dialog is, the direction is better. Particularly convincing was the relationship of the Korean adoptee and his female best friend: affectionate, spirited, complicated, messy, full of all sorts of things unsaid. I felt it was very easy to identify with the characters and read in their glances the complexities of their lives.
Trustworthy -- so often a film starts out being truthful and real, and subverts it all in favor of an easy resolution, or gets away from the film-maker through sloppiness or compromises. Not so here. Half-Life isn't a perfect film, but it's a film with integrity, one in which it's clear that Jennifer Phang has pushed for keeping her film what she intended. It's a film that doesn't take the easy road out, doesn't go for sensationalism, doesn't go for a conventional ending. Its tone and level of craft are consistent throughout, and I left the movie feeling like the director had respected my intelligence and taste.
A few more notes:
- Alexander Agate as the young boy is ridiculously amazing. His eyes seem to contain every meaning of the universe, visible and hidden. Out of control.
- You could describe this movie as being about, variously: LGBT issues, coming-of-age issues, suburban angst, environmental disaster, the end of the world, experimental animation, Asian-American issues, etc. But watching the film, none of these ideas really dominates -- all are actually fairly subtle, as if every movie incorporated all of these things. It's not an "Asian film" or "LGBT film" or "experimental film" -- Phang is too mature to be so heavy-handed (no sense of "look how Asian we are!" from this film). Ultimately, it's just what it is -- a movie that tells a story (or several stories), and a story that's surprisingly universal given the atypical ingredients used."
Great Indie Film
Danny Kim | Hollywood, CA | 01/25/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There aren't many indie films out there that manage to combine witty dialogue, lush photography, rotoscoped animation, and unconventional characters in the way that this film does. I found myself pleasantly off-balance while watching this film. I'd recommend this film to those who like their characters cut out of a slightly different mold."
J. DiNunzio | Henderson, NV USA | 01/17/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Half-Life," Jennifer Phang's first feature film is an impressive debut. A blend of family drama, magic realism and sexual exploration.
Set in the rolling hills of Northern California suburbia, "Half-Life" centers around the lives of Saura Wu (Julia Nickson), a mother of two struggling to keep herself together, her teenage daughter Pam (Sanoe Lake), her 10 year old son Timothy (Alexander Agate) and her live-in boyfriend of five weeks Wendell (Ben Redgrave).
We learn that the family patriarch abandoned the trio some time ago. The aftereffects still resonate and are played out in Saura's hurried relationship with the much younger Wendell, Pam's crush on her gay friend Scott (Leonardo Nam) and Timothy's frequent escapes to an alternate reality. The latter provides the film's fantastic animated sequences courtesy of artists Matt Pugnetti, Catherine Tate and Ryan Schiewe, to name a few, which are sure to be compared to Richard Linklater's 2001 "lucid dream" "Waking Life."
The performances in "Half-Life" are strong and evoke the sense of isolation the characters feel, none more so than young Agate's turn as the imaginative Timothy. Kudos to Phang for educing such a solid performance. Nickson and Lake are also note-perfect as the mother/daughter duo who are more alike than they realize, as they both battle to keep their lives in what little order they have left.
The rest of the cast is rounded out nicely by James Eckhouse and Susan Ruttan as the voluntarily ignorant parents of the attention seeking Scott and Lee Marks as Scott's unassuming boyfriend Jonah.
"Half-Life" moves at a methodical pace reminiscent of Shyamalan at his best. Michael S. Patterson's beautiful score expertly complements, as well as haunts, the piece lending it a quiet calm amidst a canvas awash in turmoil.
Cinematographer Aasulv Austad wonderfully captures the grace and charm and contrasting hustle and bustle of the East Bay Area.
Harkening back to Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia" and the works of the late Robert Altman, Phang possesses a touch for creating relatable characters intertwined in multiple story lines. She's definitely one to keep an eye on.
"Half-Life" is a stunning beginning to what looks to be a promising career.
Dark Underbelly of Society with Dashes of Magic
Christopher N. Buck | Portland, OR | 06/02/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I plucked Half-Life off the shelf at my local video store this weekend, popped it in the DVD player, and couldn't tear my eyes away. This film is for those who love their Donnie Darko, American Beauty, Lawn Dogs, The Fall, Paperhouse, and Where the Wild Things Are mixed together with 100% originality and vision by director Jennifer Phang. I've long been obsessed with stories -- books, movies, visual art -- that capture that magical place between reality and fantasy. Growing up, I was a nerdy bookworm who -- to deal with my parents' divorce, kids bullying me at school, my emerging sense of being gay -- lost himself in realms of the supernatural. At my own making. I think. What's so beautiful about this film is not only the stunning cinematography and editing, the tightly written and profoundly sad story, nor the naturally gifted cast whom work perfectly together as an ensemble, but this sense that sometimes we really don't know where reality ends and fantasy begins. We make up stories to capture meaning, to imbue everyday circumstances with mystery and a connect-the-dots way of thinking. But what if -- mixed somewhere in with all this -- is true magic? Whole other parallel universes and ideas that tie in with ours, that are maybe even drawn to our own realities because of the way we personally see the world?
Half-Life -- a deeply spiritual film -- asks these kinds of questions. Tim, our young protagonist, seeks to understand why his father left and why his mother, Saura, has gotten involved with the handsome yet manipulative Wendell. Tim and his teenage sister, Pamela, struggle with loneliness, friendships, sexuality, trust, and the meaning of family as they fall more and more into the tangled web of Wendell's desire to control theirs. At once haunting, melancholy, hopeful, whimsical, bleak, fresh, and daring, Half-Life is the kind of film that not only tells an amazing story but captures that story through a revitalized and unique vision by its director. This movie is personal. It takes chances. It dares to let you inside Jennifer Phang's mind -- and even more importantly, her heart.
Here's a link to the film:
You should watch this. Now."