Now that all the Oscar ballyhoo is fading away as fast as THE DESCENDANTS' early lead for Best Film did, let me tout a small but powerful movie that actually deserved its Best Actor nomination--A BETTER LIFE. It's the story of an illegal Mexican immigrant raising his middle school son in the LA barrio and desperately trying to start his own gardening business and keep his son from sinking into the gang culture. Sounds familiar, right? True, but director Chris Weitz infuses this familiar plot with warmth, humor, and suspense. The father is played by Mexican actor Demian Bichir. He carries the film with dignity but never sinks into laychrymose appeals to liberal guilt. A BETTER LIFE puts us into the lives of immigrants and helps us understand what the governor of Arizona never will.
In theaters now is a strange little movie called CHRONICLE about three teen boys who somehow (sketchy plot point) get zapped with telekinectic powers. At first their reactions are comically charming and so typical of boys their age, but as their powers increase, things become intense and deadly. There's a bit of SUPER 8 here, since the guys are looking for their true selves, and the main character escapes his life through toting his video-camera everywhere (and finally he controls it through telekinetic powers). Although the last twenty minutes are formulaic, the rest of CHRONICLE captures the teen world of hazing, bullying, and scariness with authenticity. References to the classic CARRIE are obvious, but deserved. Both deal with the effects of social ostracism in the teen world, one we saw only this week with the school shooting in Ohio.