Shred is your standard underdog sports movie, pitting the slobs who
play for the love of the game against the snobs who play for the corporate
greedheads. In this case the sport in focus is snowboarding, so the slobs
are a little sloppier than usual, and their coaches are total stoners, but
if you have ever seen any of the lowbrow ski school movies, or for that
matter any other "slobs vs snobs" movie about sports or any other subject, then you've
already seen this one as well. The film's short running time
probably includes close to 30 minutes of actual snowboarding footage in
gorgeous locations in British Columbia, so that may be interesting if
snowboarding is your thing. If you are among the vast majority of people
whose interest in snowboarding is casual, all that filmed competition
looks like the same footage being used again and again, and the sheer
volume of it just means that the film is even lighter than you might
expect in terms of character development. I started to type "in terms of
plot and character development" but immediately realized that my
point was incorrect. It has exactly as much plot - in fact, exactly the
same plot - as every other similar movie. If you're scoring at home, you
can check off the plot points and stock characters one-by-one.
I guess the film was actually made in 2006 because there is a
dedication at the end dated in January of 2007. I am writing these words
nearly two years later and the film is a complete cipher to IMDb visitors:
no votes, no reviews, no comments, no message board. In other words, it
has spent two years somewhere in movie limbo.
And with good reason.
There is a bit of female nudity.
There are various uncredited topless
revelers at a party.
There is a stripper at another party, as played by
The Good Life
The Good Life is an arty indie film about people alienated from
mainstream life. The focal point is a young man named Jason who graduated
from high school in small-town Nebraska and never managed to move away. He
comes from a poor family and his father has recently passed away, so he
can't afford to pay the electricity bills and lives in a freezing house.
He makes the best living he can by working at a gas station. His only real
amusement comes from his nightly visits to the local nostalgia cinema, but
even that pleasure has become more of a responsibility because the owner
of the theater, an old gent who has become his good friend, is gradually
losing his mental functions and needs the younger man to keep everything
The bane of Jason's existence is a former high school football player
about Jason's age who has lost his mind and turned into a vicious bully
who never takes off his old jersey. The redemption of his existence is an
ethereally beautiful young woman who wandered into the theater one night
and just forced her way into Jason's life. She initiates a sexual
relationship with the young man, and seems totally unconcerned by the
total hair loss that has affected him for years.
This film was screened at Sundance in 2007, and if ever there was a
film "made for Sundance," this is it, and not just because of the themes.
There are the snippets from old films. There are the long, quiet scenes
punctuated by melancholy piano chords. There are the rejections of
mainstream American life. There are the lingering shots of desolate wintry
streets in once-respectable neighborhoods gone to seed. There are the
decaying artifacts of obsolete technology like rusted old gas pumps,
manual cash registers, and old-fashioned projectors. There is the run-down
Capitol theater in a neighborhood full of warehouses, boarded-up shops and
razed apartments. Every shot is carefully calculated to present a world
left behind by the glitz and prosperity of modern American life.
Jason is desperate to leave this world, but cannot. His mother is alone
and jobless, so Jason's meager income is their sole support. His old
friend in the movie theater is falling into senile dementia, so Jason's
care is his only connection to normality.
This film has some flaws, the worst of which is "piling on." It seems
that every major character is theatrically tragic in some way, and most of
them have mental illnesses which would typically require
institutionalization. The beautiful, angelic girlfriend turns out to be
deeply disturbed, and her entire background story turns out not to be her
own, but Judy Garland's. The ex-jock is hurting people physically and
obviously represents a danger to the community, but no law authorities
seem to care or notice. The theater owner has lost his grip on reality.
And Jason's recently deceased father turns out to have been the craziest
one of the lot. It may be possible to find so much insanity linked through
one central person in small-town America, but a realistic cast of
characters would also include other people who are completely sane and who
are resigned to or even happy with their lives. There would be waitresses
and police officers and store clerks with upbeat personalities and
cheerful outlooks. There would be loving young mothers who are a bit
bored, but thrilled to be raising their new babies. There would be good
kids having a great time from the final school bell until bedtime. Those
sorts of characters are excluded from this story, which chooses to focus
only on the damaged goods. That sort of exclusion turns what might have
been a poignantly realistic story about America into a archetypal
fairy tale about Neverland, and destroys any credibility or insight it
might have been able to establish as an examination of the American
underbelly. And isn't it enough that the lead character is living in dire
poverty, trapped in a town where he gets beaten up at random times for no
reason? Does he also have to be hairless and surrounded by insanity?
That doesn't mean it is not a good film. The cinematography and score
are consistent and evocative. The performances are delivered by the cream
of the indie scene, like Donal Logue, Mark Webber, Zoe Deschanel and Harry
Dean Stanton. The script is deeply heartfelt and well considered. The main
characters are allowed to develop on screen. The film is a genuine piece
of art. That's not to say it is great art, but it is art nonetheless, not
formulaic commercial filmmaking, and I applaud many things about it,
especially the depth of characterization, the attention to detail, and the
ability of the author to tie so many elements together as artfully as a
composer might wind separate instrumental parts into a symphony. I also
admired the filmmaker's ability to allow us to draw our own conclusions
about some scenes without offering an editorial perspective or an
excessively verbose explanation. I was also impressed by the fact that he
allowed some characters to move toward more hopeful and positive
situations. This film, while a superb effort from a first-timer, is just
too downbeat and poetic to attract much of an audience, but you should
probably enter filmmaker Steve Berra on your list of people to watch,
because the potential on display here, while unrefined, is enormous.
The only nudity is this
"sorta topless but not really" scene featuring Zoe Deschanel.