Arts + Scene » Screens

The Old You

Donald Cried and Ghost in the Shell




DONALD CRIED. For a small group of us who began refining — or at least establishing, as refinement may or may not have anything to do with it — our cinematic palates in the 1990s, this movie will carry with it some familiar modes and tones. Borne of the same non-movement that would eventually give rise to the non-genre of mumblecore, Donald Cried is an unassuming two-hander, a character study with a thin narrative that emphasizes immediacy before any formal style or technique. Because its characters are firmly in place and because the lack of visual design never slips into laziness, it works surprisingly well. There are moments of intense awkwardness, a general feeling of dirty, nervous snowbound malaise and an undercurrent of personal betrayal; it goes a long way toward bringing back the feel of the indie '90s.

Peter Latang (Jesse Wakeman), returned from New York City to the semi-squalid New England small town of his youth to settle the affairs of his recently deceased grandmother, has lost his wallet. The battery in his grandmother's unused car is dead, of course, so Peter is stuck in the old neighborhood (which, incidentally, is covered in feet of snow). He meets briefly with the realtor he has hired to sell Nona's house, then ventures out. Across the street he finds Donald Treebeck (Kris Avedisisan), who will we come to learn was Peter's best friend throughout childhood. But years and decades have come between them, with Peter having tried to put as much distance between himself and his hometown as possible, and with Donald having stayed in very much the same place.

After a brief reunion, Donald agrees to shuttle Peter around town on his errands. As they make the rounds, the dynamic between them alternates between various frequencies of social discomfort: Peter can in one moment seem grateful and genteel and then show an impatient, mean-spirited side; Donald starts out as goof who can't read social cues but loves his old friend, eventually demonstrating a manipulative, vengeful streak. As their day wears on, the movie rides the ever-changing waves of their interaction, creating an uncomfortable but not unpleasant feeling that almost anything could happen if the two of them are together for too long.

Ultimately very little actually happens, although there are a couple of dramatic turns in the final act. Donald Cried succeeds, though, because the two leads immerse themselves so fully in the lives of the characters they play. It isn't hard to believe that Peter and Donald were childhood best friends, even as we watch them treat each other so poorly as adults. And I suppose therein lies the truth at the heart of the movie's storytelling: Childhood best friends often treat each other like shit and most often recover from it almost too quickly, but those interactions can also create lasting damage that may or may not manifest in everyday life. Donald Cried gives us a day outside of the everyday, where the victims of that damage are reunited, so many years later, with their mutual confidant, conspirator and co-tormentor: each other. It becomes clear that feelings were deeply hurt and that the friendship at the center of the story was/is an unbalanced and unfair one. But it was and continues to be a real friendship nonetheless, a vital source of warmth and shelter, despite its many and substantial failings.

Directed by Avedisian, from a script that he developed with Wakeman and Kyle Espeleta, Donald Cried harkens back to the salad days of independent moviemaking. It uses its own practical limitations as guidelines, opportunities to establish style in the absence of a large budget. There are no popular songs on the soundtrack (the movie in fact uses mostly diegetic sound), no big production numbers, very little stunt work and no intricate camera moves. To his credit, Avedisian even resists the tendency to let the shakiness of the camera become its own stylistic crutch. Instead, the story comes to the fore, with the lens present mainly to document it. This is throwback cinema in an unexpected and welcome way: It speaks to an era the influence of which is present everywhere but the simplicity and drive of which are increasingly absent in mainstream releases.

GHOST IN THE SHELL. More '90s throwback stuff here, although I have to assume director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman, 2012) et al would rather actually have us forget the source material than return to it.

We are initially to believe that Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: a robotic body housing a rescued human brain, a true sentient cyborg. This is patently untrue, of course; she is simply the most successful example to date, but no matter. In the near future, Major is part of an elite counter-terrorism unit, a commando and a computer in the same body. In the course of investigating a shadowy figure called Kuze, who is systematically destroying the minds behind Hanka Robotics, the company pioneering the field of human cybernetic enhancement. As Major and her team draw ever closer to Kuze, she begins to question her own notions of identity and origin.

In fairness, it must be said that there are breathtakingly beautiful shots and sequences within Ghost in the Shell. The fact of the matter, though, is that they succeed because they so painstakingly copy the visual language, the tone and the atmosphere of dystopian anime; I fail to see what this remake adds, aside from reaffirming that Beat Takeshi is the biggest badass of all time. PG13. 107m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

— John J. Bennett

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.


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SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE. For those adults about to take children to this animated movie, we salute you. With Ariel Winter, Michelle Rodriguez and Joe Manganiello. PG. 89m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

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BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. The cast, style and scale are impressive, but the moody darkness and slow pacing of this live-action/CG fairytale reboot seems tailored for nostalgic grownups more than kids. Starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. PG13. 100m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

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— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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