INDIEWATCH: ‘Tiny’ touts big ideals living in small spaces

Imagine living in a home roughly the size of a big broom closet.
That’s what documentary filmmakers Chris Smith and Merete Mueller dive into as they build a 130-square-foot, fully functional home in “Tiny: A Story About Living Small.”
At the helm of the construction is Chris, who’s set on a Thoreau-esque “fleeing to the woods” experience.
He opts to build a transportable home on wheels that he plans to move into the wilderness, and the hook of this is watching him construct it with dwindling funds and a two-month window. The more piercing question is: why a small home? And “Tiny” digs deep into the roots of this living smaller movement.

Filmmakers Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller in front of the tiny home they built from scratch in the Colorado mountains, as part of their documentary “Tiny: A Story About Living Small.”

“The primary asset that comes with a small house is freedom,” says Jay Shafer, Founder of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.
“The world gets a lot bigger when you’re living small because I can afford to do a lot more things now in both cash and time cause the whole world is now my living room,” he says. And he actually lives the life, sharing a 500-square-foot home with his wife and two kids.
Through cuts of Chris tinkering with saws and power drills, “Tiny” takes us all around the country to others who live in very, very small spaces.

Ann Holley and Darren Macca, two of the characters in TINY: A Story About Living Small in their Tiny House in Longmont, Colorado.

Darren Macca and Ann Holley, of Longmont, Calif., share a 125-square-foot pad which was berthed from the Great Recession. Footage of their bedroom, living room / dining room / entertaining room / office — and “Was that their bathroom?” — was fascinating.
I spent the bulk of this movie with my jaw dropped, naturally wondering how I would “survive” in a tiny home.
“I think we’re encouraged as a culture to consume more, to have more, to feel better about ourselves when we have more and to feel good when you go out and buy things,” says Holley. “We are not encouraged to think about the whole cycle of what that means. So, this house kind of allows us to interrupt that cycle.”
With that, I was way into this film.
Watching how these itty bitty, green structures have blown up since the late ‘90s to today kept me glued to the tube. Tiny House blogger Kent Griswold says he averages 10,000 to 15,000 unique visitors a day. I learned it’s illegal to live too small in some areas, and because of that, it’s difficult to count the number of TinyHousers.
Many interviewees attribute their move to saving money, different life choices and contributing to a safer environment with less waste.
Small houses are “less to heat, less to furnish, less to maintain, less to pay for, no mortgage in certain cases, so all around, you’re kinda beating the system,” says micro-architect Derek Diedricksen.

The interior of the 130-square foot Tiny House built by Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller.

“Tiny” feels more like a side-show act than propaganda, and at the end, I was ready to run off and join the circus.
Though, there were some turns in this film that felt contrived.
The whole two-month deadline thing — when viewers are told a tiny home can take a year to two years to build — felt a bit forced. Chris also hams up his lack of experience, blueprint and funds. Then in the middle of “Tiny,” Merete — Chris’ better half, says she’s NYC-bound.

It felt like unnecessary dram, when this doc’s subject packs all the punch.
That aside, “Tiny” works as a DIYers dreams with clips of Chris working electrical wiring and sowing curtains from YouTube videos, even I was convinced at the end of this that I could Superman some amazing stuff, maybe even a house.
It’s so worth a watch.

Grade: B+

Available: Amazon Prime (to own), Netflix Instant.

10 ways to stream Robin Williams

If you’re like me, you want to bask in Robin Williams’ movies more than ever now that he’s gone. Here are some films you can catch on streaming for the mourning mood that tickles your fancy.

“Popeye” 1980
Available: Netflix Instant

Williams plays spinach addict, Popeye, alongside Shelley Duvall’s Olive Oyl. They bump elbows with Bluto (Paul L. Smith), and if my 11-year-old memory’s correct, there was no better actor to embody this longtime cartoon hero. Though it’s way weird to see Williams with blonde hair, this one’ll take ya back to his more youthful days.

Rating: PG

Time: 1:54

 “Dead Poets Society” 1989
Available: Amazon Prime

I know what “yop” is because of this movie. Williams is a forward-thinking professor at a stuffy prep school. More than Shakespeare and Walt Whitman, he teaches the boys how to thinks outside the box. I imagine this role is frequently quoted and referenced in tight-knit teacher circles, and this movie made me ugly-cry in my sophomore English class. If you haven’t seen this, what are you waiting for? It co-stars Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard.

Rating: PG

Time: 2:08

O CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society.”

“Awakenings” 1990
Available: Amazon Prime

Dr. Malcolm Sayer (Williams) is a genius physician who stumbles across a “cure” for catatonic patients — give them doses of happy juice — or a form of dopamine. Jack (Robert De Niro) is the guinea pig/star patient who goes from a vegetable to a man who walks, talks and crushes on another patient. Between Williams and De Niro, both sets of acting chops are astounding. And bonus: It’s based on the memoir of neurologist Oliver Sacks.

Rating: PG-13

Time: 2:01

 “The Fisher King” 1991
Available: Netflix Instant

This one might be a no-no. Parry (Williams) is a mentally troubled homeless man, who pairs with a former deejay Jack (Jeff Bridges). They form an unlikely friendship when Parry saves Jack after a run-in with some violent thugs. It turns out that Parry’s lack of a living sitch is inadvertently Jack’s fault. This was one of the first movies that I watched Williams do drama. Now, that he’s gone, you’ll cry from his performance, and it won’t be cute.

Rating: R for language and violence

Time: 2:17

Williams as Peter Pan in “Hook.”

 “Hook” 1991
Available: Netflix Instant

Peter Pan (Williams) returns to Neverland after Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps his children. Williams was made for this role, and watching him go from stuffy father figure to embracing who he really is moving. This one might be hard to watch, too.

Rating: PG

Time: 2:24

 “Mrs. Doubtfire” 1993
Available: Amazon Prime

Williams dresses as an elderly nanny to snag more time with his kids after a divorce. And drag never looked more endearing. Watching this decades after I fell in love with it, “Mrs. Doubtfire” gave Williams another platform to shine, in his seamless, back-to-back impressions. Some would argue this was him at his peak. I’d say that this is when he further blew up.

Rating: PG-13

Time: 2:05

“NO, YOU GO…”: Kirsten Dunst, Robin Williams and Bradley Pierce in “Jumanji.”

“Jumanji” 1995
Available: Netflix Instant

Two kids play a magical board game and a hell of jungle-like proportions breaks loose. We’re talking boa constrictors, elephants and an off-his-rocker hunter are in it to conquer and destroy. Williams plays father to the two rascals who threatened the world’s existence. This was a huge deal when I was a preteen, and for you youngins, without this film, there’d be no “Zathura.”

Rating: PG

Time: 1:44

“Birdcage” 1996
Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant

In “Birdcage,” Williams is a drag club owner/gay man who plays it straight to meet his son’s fiancee’s uber conservative parents. It co-stars Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest. This is a Mike Nichols joint (“The Graduate, “Charlie Wilson’s War”), and a bunch of songs were written by Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim. This is sure to make you smile through some tears of mourning.

Rating: R for language

Time: 1:57

ONE HOUR’S ALL HE NEEDS…TO GET CREEPY: Williams as Sy in “One Hour Photo.” I like to this of this movie as his Hitchcockian tranzish into suspense.

 “One Hour Photo” 2002
Available: Amazon Prime

Williams waxes creepy in this thriller about a lonely film processor (remember that?) who lives through the images and lives of his customers. It gets really trippy when Sy (Williams) becomes obsessed and fantasizes about the Yorkins. Haven’t seen this one in about a decade, and at that age, I hated it cause it was too outside Williams’ regular roles. But now, that’s exactly what makes this pick noteworthy.

Rating: R for sexual content and language

Time: 1:36

“World’s Greatest Dad” 2009
Available: Netflix Instant

Williams plays Lance, a failed author whose son dies in an embarrassing accident. Lance covers the shame with a suicide setup and his son’s penned farewell makes him a posthumous hit. Sounds a bit like “Heathers,” and Lance is a less cray version of Christian Slater / Winona Ryder. Added bonus: It’s written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.

Rating: R for language, crude and sexual content, some drug use and disturbing images

Time: 1:39

 Also available on Amazon Prime and Netflix Instant: “Patch Adams” and “Jack.” Where’s “Good Will Hunting”? As as of Tuesday afternoon, neither streaming services offered it.

I know …

INDIEWATCH: Jimi Hendrix doc paints portrait of a ‘wild’ genius

Find out how Jimi Hendrix catapulted into the music scene in “Hear My Train A Comin,” which documents this megastar’s career in the late ’60s through interviews with his father, Paul McCartney and more.

This film looks at his early life, his influences — Chuck Barry and Robert Johnson — and his very first guitar that cost $5.

“Every spare time he had, he’d be working on that guitar,” said Jimi’s dad, Al Hendrix. “So when he got good on that, I went and got him an electric guitar.”

Cut to footage of Jimi ripping up “Johnny B. Goode” juxtaposed with clips of his soft-spoken, velvety voice in interviews.

“He was two different characters. When he was playing he was super confident, he was in total control, his focus was immaculate, but when he wasn’t playing he was desperately insecure,” says Linda Klein, one of his long-time friends. And the change from rock god on stage to gentle Jimi off stage reveals a comforting humanity in this film.

Jimi Hendrix ripping it up in “Hear My Train A Comin.'”

My fave and the most mind-boggling footage in “Hear My Train A Comin ” is of the first time he played in England. The crowd didn’t know what to expect, and here’s this African American man leading a band of Brits.

“You can say the stars were aligned, I would actually say he had everything he needed. He showed up, and he didn’t waste a single bit of it,” says David Fricke, of Rolling Stone Magazine.

Footage of Jimi ripping it up, flipping his tongue and making air love to a ginormous speaker was simultaneously fascinating and blush-worthy. Shots to female audience members show their utter intrigue, and one woman who was in the arena that night says she was way grossed out.

“It wasn’t the sexuality of the show that appalled me, it was what he did to his instrument.”

And if you haven’t seen this clip before, you’re in for a mesmerizing treat.

Hendrix making flame love to his burning guitar in 1967 in Monterey, Calif.

“Here, he was throwing lighter fluid on his guitar and setting it on fire, and I had never seen anything like this in my life,” she said.

Watching it, I couldn’t tell if the whole fiery guitar thing was a gesture of anarchy mixed with devotion or just plain rock n roll, but I knew I wanted more. Modern musician Dweezil Zappa said “Before that day, there was nothing like that that had ever happened in the world.” And I’m pretty sure any guitar torching would be lacking compared to Jimi’s.

This performance rocked England’s socks off, and this film shows that what followed was a huge following by the Rolling Stones and the Beatles — John Lennon tipped a promoter off to Jimi.

And Paul McCartney says of Jimi opening a concert with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” the week it was released: “For me, that is one of my proud moments, that someone that I loved as much as that, that someone who was destined to be one of the greats, would open with one of our songs.” (Totally different world of music.)

“Hear My Train A Comin ” covers most of the goods, Jimi’s changes in musical tastes, his high concert demand because he was too intense for a lot of TV shows and commentary on his stage showmanship.

But “Hear My Train” kinda skirts over some key points like his drug use and his accidental death by sleeping pills.

Chalk that up to I wanted to see more, and this doc will leave you wanting. More footage, more music, more Jimi.

It’s so worth a watch.

Grade: A-

Available: Amazon Prime (to own), Netflix Instant

INDIEWATCH: ‘Last Love’ a bummer of a last act

In “Last Love,” Matthew (Michael Caine) is an English widower living in France. He begrudgingly rises each morning, he resists learning the language and his suicide attempts are sullied by his housekeeper.

Walking through Paris, he imagines holding his wife’s hand and he has conversations with her on a park bench. There’s some poignancy to his heartache, but there’s potential for this to get old real quick.

Enter Pauline (Clemence Poesy).

She’s the fairy who flies to his aid when he trips on the bus. She walks him home, and at that kind encounter, Matthew opens his living room shutters to a breathtaking view.

Welcome back to life, Matt.

HOT DOG! YOU REMIND ME OF MY WIFE: Michael Caine and Clemence Poesy in “Last Love.”

He meets Pauline again in transit, and Matthew ends up crashing one of her dance classes. (She’s an instructor.)

Cue awkward dance floor antics and adorable glances across the ballroom.

On their third or so meeting, Matthew encourages Pauline to consider university and a hop skip and a jump later, they’re canoeing and waxing philosophical about life.

I couldn’t tell if their connection was sexual, familial or out of mutual loneliness, and I think that’s what writer/director Sandra Nettelbeck was going for. And the question seems to remain unanswered until the very end.

Performances were pretty lackluster. Michael Caine feels tired in this film, and it’s hard to figure if that’s part of the performance or if he’s phoning it in. He’s dropped his delicious Cockney accent and sounds like a muddled cowboy.

THERE’S A SCULLY: Justin Kirk and Gillian Anderson in “Last Love.”

Clemence Poesy as Pauline is airy, blonde and light. Her doe-eyed levity is almost too aware of itself, and while we’re given a glimpse of character depth during a hangover, she’s pretty one-dimensionally angelic. Justin Kirk (“Weeds” and “Angels in America”) brings a third heat as Matthew’s son, but it’s pretty lukewarm, unfortunately. He does the furrowed brow look a bit often and never really has the chance to unleash, but I’ll chalk that up to the screenplay.

Writer/director Nettelbeck has a decent list of films under her belt — “Mostly Martha” and American version, “No Reservations” — but “Last Love” shows she may lack the tools to mix comedy with deep, depressive drama. There were a couple of cringe-worthy, post-suicide music selections that really didn’t jive, and these characters weren’t given much space to shine.

In a pinnacle scene, Matthew and Miles (Kirk) are finally grappling some deep-seated family issues, and I was raring for my guys to shine. In the middle of it, Nettelbeck cuts to Pauline wandering around the countryside. When we’re brought back to Matt and Miles, they’re past the meat of it and, as a viewer, I felt severely ripped off.

“Last Love” was based off of novel “Mr. Morgan’s Last Love” by Francoise Dorner, and that had to have been the better medium. This film takes the complexities of mourning, death and redemption and whittles it down to size.

Even for a girl who loves Michael Caine, it wasn’t worth it.

 Grade: D

 Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant

Time: 1:56

Rating: NR (no nudity, minimal swearing.)

INDIEWATCH: Shame looks cool in ‘Mortified Nation’

Imagine reading the diary of your 12-year-old self in front of a packed audience.

That’s what goes down in “Mortified Nation,” a documentary that follows regular people baring the deepest and darkest of their tween selves to complete strangers across the country.

“I do ‘Mortified’ because I think my childhood is relatable. I’m laughing at myself, I’m laughing with myself, so it’s fine,” said participant Amanda. (Last names aren’t issued, understandably.)

In “Mortified,” she reads of her 13-year-old defiance. “I’ll start snorting and popping until I’m addicted, but before I do all of that, I first need to lose some f—ing weight.” The schizo emotional rollercoaster in one thought is uber relatable to anyone who’s survived middle school.

A participant reads an entry from her junior high diary in “Mortified Nation.”

Participants share the embarrassment of getting busted masturbating to their questions about puberty and their first loves. “Mortified” also shows painful entries of a man fighting his sexuality to a woman who ran away from an abusive home.

Everything’s read by the original authors, and some broadcast their comic strips, poetry and musings via a huge screen on stage. Mortified participant Stacy talks her 12-year-old obsession with kissing in front of a full house. She reads diary entries of the first time she held hands during a seance to the life-goal of stripping for an audience and doing “the spaghetti thing from ‘Lady and the Tramp.’”

Her expressions are deadpan, the crowd feeds off of it and I was hooked. Watching “Mortified Nation” was like seeing a rawer version of stand-up comedy.

With more pimples and self-doubt.

Another participant Tynan shares entries that “reveal a lovesick 15-year-old who had the heart of a poet and the vocabulary of Flavor Flav.” His diary jumps from lusting after Kate Winslet to his crush on a classmate. And at the end of each entry, he says what he wore, what he ate and closes with “Peace. One Love.” It’s pretty rough and endearing.

SWEET JAMZ: Tynan drops some sick beats in his junior high journal.

And this whole movement was spawned by one unsent love letter.

“I found it in my 20s, I wrote it in my teens and it’s haunted me ever since,” said Mortified national producer David Nadelberg, who along with Neil Katcher launched this series of live shows.This film dips into the screening process for participants, which looks like a therapy sesh, and how Mortified chapters have popped up across the U.S. including one in Sweden.

Watching this doc made me happy I didn’t throw away my middle school journals. This made me proud I have a past to look back to, and this guy explains it perfectly at the end of the film: “To take what was once your shame — to own it — to laugh at it — that’s essentially what the very nature of mortified is about.”

It makes sense why so many wanna jump on board. This film makes shame look cool.

It’s so worth a watch.

Grade: B+

Indiewatch is a weekly review of independent films and documentaries available on Amazon Prime and Netflix. Reach Lavine at mlavine@duluth or (218) 723-5346, read her blog at

INDIEWATCH: Pregnant on rock ‘n’ roll in ‘Electrick Children’

In “Electrick Children,” Rachel (Julia Garner) is a 15-year-old living on a Mormon colony when she’s introduced to a tape recorder-slash-player. Late at night, she plays a blue cassette, and boom, she hears rock ’n’ roll for the first time.

Her brother, Mr. Will (Liam Aiken), busts her “sinning” and tries to snag the tape. They’re caught arguing by their mother.

Next is a montage of Rachel vomiting and stockpiling feminine napkins, with voiceover of her suspicions about immaculate conception. She shares her thoughts with her mom, and they drive to town to take a pregnancy test.

Julia Garner as Rachel in “Electrick Children.”

Crazy turn: Rachel is pregnant sans the hanky panky.

Her father sets an arranged marriage, and that night, she’s Vegas-bound in the family truck to find and marry the rocker whose voice knocked her up. Mr. Will’s asleep in the truck bed (banished for allegedly impregnating his sister).

After ditching the truck near the strip, Rachel spots a guy holding a guitar and wearing a shirt with a cassette on it. She asks to follow him and his band. He’s just not that into her, but Clyde (Rory Culkin) can tell she’s out of her league, despite his drunken stupor.

Mr. Will needs her recorded confession so he can return to the colony, but Rachel is set on “this is a child of god” thing. To her dismay, Mr. Will follows as she embarks on her zany crusade to marriage.

That night, they bunk at Clyde’s pad. Showgirl friends crash, and they play a G-rated game of “never have I ever.” Rachel’s condition is revealed, and I was waiting for the others’ heads to explode, but no such fate.

Rachel and Clyde develop an unlikely friendship — her innocence having a positive and protective influence on him. And Vegas seems to have the largest effect on Mr. Will, who skateboards, tries rec drugs and canoodles with a showgirl.

MORMON KIDS DO IT RIGHT: Rachel and Clyde (Rory Culkin) in “Electrick Children.”

Julia Garner does innocent curiosity and (somehow) fortitude well.

She’s a sassy Mormon chick, and she’s adorable.

Rory Culkin is fine as intense Clyde, and Liam Aiken as Mr. Will plays straight-on-the-edge-of-sin silently and … fine.

Performances aside (and maybe, included), “Electrick Children” didn’t dazzle.

The most intense feeling I had was worry, watching Rachel meander around the Vegas strip. I was never tied to these characters. There are a couple of fable-like, religious turns toward the end that made me care less about their fates, but I was rooting for them, in the end.

Writer/director Rebecca Thomas plays with music well, and this was a good go at her first feature-length film. I was vaguely charmed, and the film does end on a positive note, but I would half-heartedly recommend it.

Grade: D+

Available: Amazon Prime (to buy), Netflix Instant.

PREDICTIONS: ‘Orange is the New Black’ season 2

Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” premiered in July and follows unlikely inmate, Piper (Taylor Schilling), who’s incarcerated for drug-mule-ing 10 years after her offense. Nearly one hour in the slammer was uncomfortable to watch at first, but this show’s inmate backstories reeled me in.

Season 2 “airs” Friday on Netflix, and here are my predictions.

  • PREDICTION 1: Piper is full-out cray. At the end of S1, she lost her sh*t on methhead Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning), and from the looks of the trailer, she’s a hardened, blonde thug in S2. DO I BUY IT: S1’s cliffhanger/climax says sweet Piper is long gone, and I’m jazzed to see the effects of her transformation.

READY FOR THE DEUCE: Piper (Taylor Schilling) in “Orange is the New Black.”

  • PREDICTION 2: Crazy Eyes (Uzo Abuda) is moving up in the ranks. She was kind of a supporting antagonist in S1 and the butt of a lot of jokes, but methinks, from her strange Shakespearean flip in S1 and the Netflix trailer, show creator Jenji Kohan is gonna take Abuda’s acting chops out for a spin. DO I BUY IT: Yes. As a huge fan of each character, I’m ready to see Crazy Eyes’ backstory revealed.
  • PREDICTION 3: Daya (Dascha Polanco) kicks prison guard/baby daddy Bennett (Matt McGorry) to the curb for his nasty counterpart Mendez (Pablo Schrieber). I suspect this leads to Bennett’s fall from grace that will mirror Piper’s. DO IT BUY IT: Yes. He’s too bright-eyed and dimpled to stay adorably innocent. And on the flip side, this offers a solid insight into how inmates and guards can eventually turn for the worst.

Alex (Laura Prepon) in OITNB.

  • PREDICTION 4: Piper’s ex-lover Alex (Laura Prepon) continues to canoodle with Nicky (Natasha Lyonne), and it fuels Piper’s rage. DO I BUY IT: Yeah. Piper and Alex pretty much cut all cunnilingus ties in S1, and I think show writers will do anything to push Piper to the next psycho plateau. 
  • PREDICTION 5: This is more of a certainty than a prediction, Queen Bee, Red’s (Kate Mulgrew) reign will be challenged by newcomer Vee (Faye Yvette McQueen). Who knows the beef between these two, but I’m raring to find out. DO I BUY IT: Yes. Red sometimes wields her power for evil, forcing Piper to starve because she insulted the jail’s food. And the grocery bin/drug thing was way harsh. I predict this will lead to a showdown of Shakespearean proportions.

Regardless of what goes down this season, I’m in. For those who haven’t watched and those who want a refresher, we’ve got four days.

INDIEWATCH: ‘Mary and Max’ a heavy-hitting claymation delight

In “Mary and Max,” Mary is an Australian outcast with “eyes the color of muddy puddles” and a brown birthmark on her forehead.

Her only connections to the world are her pet rooster, her taxidermist father and her klepto mom — who “tests” the cooking Sherry on the daily.

She’s bullied at school, and her only solace is drinking condensed milk and watching “The Noblets.”

NOM NOM: Mary loves her some chocolate.

Max is a squirrelly New Yorker with Asperberg’s Syndrome. He floats between jobs and chocolate recipes and frequents Overeaters Anonymous meetings.

At the post office, Mary randomly picks Max’s name out of a phone book and her curiosity and longing for a connection prompts her to reach out.

Through childlike type and misspelled words, she asks where babies come from in America. (She thinks dads find them at the bottom of beer pints.)

Because of his condition, Mary’s letter gives Max an anxiety attack. After that settles, his own loneliness moves him to engage with her through snail nail.

Philip Seymour Hoffman voices Max in claymation dramedy, “Mary and Max.”

He answers Mary’s question with what he was told at age 4: “Babies come from eggs laid by rabbis,” he writes, while a claymation rabbi sits on an egg, puffing a cig.

“If you’re an atheist, they come from dirty, lonely prostitutes.”

I laughed out loud at the absurdity and charm in his delivery that is without judgment or prejudice — like that of a child.

But in the same breath, Max says his mother shot herself when he was a kid — and that he loves chocolate hot dogs.

And at that, I knew I would cry at this film’s seamless mix of weighty tragedy and the levity of uncomplicated perspective.

Writer/director Adam Elliot uses clay animation as a storytelling device perfectly — juxtaposing childlike figures with humorous imagery, unpretentious communication and heartbreak.

‘TEERS’ FOR FEARS: Max has Asperberg’s Syndrome, so he doesn’t quite know how to express his emotions. Mary sends him a jar of her tears, so he can know what it’s like to cry.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (rest in peace) and Toni Collette voice the title characters, and way to go. Every crack and rise of the voice further illuminated Mary and Max, their plights and their personal triumphs.

Props to director Elliot, too. I was so taken with this film’s production complexity — the wiry hair on Mary’s head, the detailed claymation water and the deliberate use of color.
Max’s New York is strictly black, white and gray, while Mary’s Australia is muddy, brown and sepia. Their color palettes change as they affect one another.

The only life in Max’s drab apartment is Mary’s self-portrait in crayon and a red pom-pom she made, which he wears on his yarmulke. Max’s black-and-white picture he sends her is a welcomed contrast to Mary’s murky home. And this directorial choice only reinforced this story.

“Mary and Max” is incredibly charming, smart and heavy-hitting. The claymation grabbed me from the get-go, and the story, in its poignant simplicity, held me until the last frame.
And I ugly-cried at its touching conclusion.

It’s so worth a watch.

Grade: A

Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.

IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.

INDIEWATCH: Love hurts — literally — in ‘Charlie Countryman’

In “Charlie Countryman,” Shia LaBeouf flies to Romania at the urging of his mother’s ghost after she dies in a Chicago hospital.

On the flight, he hits it off with Victor, who dies in his sleep hours later. His spirit asks Charlie to deliver a gift he purchased for his daughter, Gabriela.

At the airport, Charlie meets Gabriela (Evan Rachel Wood), and he’s immediately drawn to her. They go their separate ways, but through a couple of chance meetings, he falls in love with her.

I KNOW YOUR DAD’S DEAD, BUT YOU’RE WAY ENCHANTING: Evan Rachel Wood and Shia LaBeouf in “Charlie Countryman.”

Charlie soon meets Gabi’s ex-husband, Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen), who turns out to be the one sadistic hurdle to the girl of his dreams. “Charlie Countryman” leads viewers through his crusade to reach her.

One warning: This movie is not for everyone. There are a lot of brutal fisticuffs and one kind of gross hostage situation, but director Fredrik Bond weaves in the love story well with light touches of humor and music.

Hostel roommates Karl (Rupert Grint) and Luc (James Buckley) aid the levity. And a colorfully psychedelic high-on-ecstasy scene and a ridiculous altercation at a gentlemen’s club don’t hurt.

One solid pro to this film: Powerhouse performances all around.

WHAT I DID FOR LOVE: Broken nose, dislocated jaw and a herniated disc, but it’s all worth it for that smile.

Actress Wood expertly plays hard exterior with a wealth of emotion beneath — and props on a convincing Romanian accent. LaBeouf does vulnerable, eager and uneasily heroic like a champ, and I swear Mikkelsen (of NBC’s “Hannibal”) was made to portray villains with nuance and precision. And while this film was jam-packed with violence and action, I still wanted to see more of supporting players Melissa Leo, Vincent D’Onofrio and Aubrey Plaza.

One issue I had with film is the plot takes off at an almost melodramatic and unrealistic pace. Charlie’s been in Bucharest for two days, he’s inserted himself into a crime ring, he has a slew of henchmen chasing him, he’s getting knocked out left and right and he’s ready for more.

But that didn’t keep me from loving this movie.

“Charlie Countryman” sucked me in and held me with its story, its bright-on-gritty cinematography and its performances. I was completely engaged throughout, and when the closing credits scrolled up — like Charlie — I was ready for more.

It’s worth a watch.

Grade: B

Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.

IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.

INDIEWATCH: ‘20 Feet from Stardom’ puts backup singers front and center

Documentary “20 Feet from Stardom” showcases the sass and soul of backup singers from the doo-wop era to now through interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger and the women whose voices complemented their work for decades.

But more than an inside view, this film takes a common belief — that backup singing is somewhat secondary to leading — and flips it on its head.

Writer/director Morgan Neville introduces The Blossoms, the first group to pave the way for female vocalists. Neville explores the insane list of songs they contributed to, which runs the gamut from Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” to Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash.”

DOO WOP: Darlene Love (middle) of the Blossoms would later rise to fame.

Blossoms standout Darlene Love later worked with and was professionally burned by musically renowned producer Phil Spector. (If they knew then what we know now…)
And that’s part of the allure of “20 Feet from Stardom.” It unfolds like a history lesson on American and British music that you can’t stop watching.

Director Neville interviews Springsteen and Sting, and viewers learn the story behind the Rolling Stones’ hit song, “Gimme Shelter” through Mick Jagger and Merry Clayton, the powerhouse singer whose voice made the song what it is.

At 2 a.m., Clayton got a call from “the Rolling somebodies.” She drove with them to the studio in her pajamas and ripped one of the most paramount hooks in rock history. Director Neville cuts to each artist listening to the song they created.

Merry Clayton and Mick Jagger listen to their harmony in The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”

Watching their reactions — musing the history of a tune I grew up listening to — sent chills down my spine. And this film is full of moments like that.

“20 Feet” also follows background singers who tried, failed and succeeded at going solo and those who prefer to stay in an accompanying role. It offers insights into how they were treated from a dress code that “excites men” in the 60s to the freeing rock revolution of the 70s.

“Everyone was telling us we had to bring everything down, so when the rock ‘n’ roll world came and said ‘No, we want you to sing!’ — it saved us, it saved our lives,” said Gloria Jones. (Her resume includes working with T. Rex, Joe Cocker and Neil Young.)
“20 Feet” also looks at a band’s structural changes of the 90s and onward. While this film shows how the role of backup singing has changed, it doesn’t offer a prediction of the craft’s future.

This documentary covers a lot of ground, and I was engaged completely throughout. It won Best Documentary at the 2013 Oscars, and it’s well worth the nod.
Watch it.

Grade: A+

Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.

IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.