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On DVD/Blu-ray: GENERATION UM... (2013) and LORE (2013)

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GENERATION UM...
(US/Luxembourg - 2013)

If you stumble upon the largely-improvised GENERATION UM... in its last ten minutes, you might think you're catching the tail end of a very good movie.  Until then, it's an insufferably self-indulgent, pretentious, meandering mess that exhibits every possible pompous, smug caricature that the average Joe Multiplex moviegoer hates about art-house cinema.  It's the kind of movie where the director plants the camera in front of Keanu Reeves as he sits on a bench outside a bakery and eats a cupcake in real time.  Reeves has only been working sporadically the last few years (though to be fair, a lot of that time has been spent on the troubled and long-delayed 47 RONIN, due out later this year), and for those who hear his name and immediately picture Ted "Theodore" Logan, Johnny Utah, Neo, or a speeding bus, it seems impossible to believe he's pushing 50 these days...at least until you see him here.  Gaunt and disheveled, Reeves is underachieving John, a Lower East Side denizen who shares a rat-hole apartment with his annoying younger cousin Rick (Jonny Orsini) and works as a driver for a pair of escorts, Violet (Bojana Novakovic) and Mia (Adelaide Clemens).  Following John and the girls over a 24-hour period, director Mark L. Mann includes several sequences shot guerrilla-style as John wanders the streets of Manhattan--getting that cupcake, stopping for coffee, watching some hula-hoop performance artists dressed as cowboys--but the people gawkishly looking at the camera only serve as a distracting reminder that we aren't observing a gritty slice-of-life look at the Lower East Side but rather, a bunch of people watching some guy with a handheld follow Keanu Reeves around.  John steals a camcorder from one of the cowboy hula-hoop performance artists and turns into an amateur documentarian, filming squirrels and water fountains in the park, then interviewing the coke-snorting Violet and Mia about their lives and what drove them into their profession before taking them to their appointments for the night. 


Reeves, Novakovic, and Clemens are capable actors, but they struggle in these endless, laborious scenes that feel like outtakes from an unsuccessful acting workshop (Novakovic, in particular, is especially grating), and only at the end, after the girls take turns servicing the douchebag groom at an unpleasant bachelor party and John drives them home as all three ponder the choices they've made in their lives, does the film finally feel effectively authentic (and, it should be pointed out, nobody's talking).  Unfortunately, it's far too little, far too late, as the preceding 85 minutes are an absolute endurance test.  Sometimes movies just get lost in the shuffle and sometimes they get buried for a reason: GENERATION UM... (what a terrible title) debuted on VOD and got a two-screen US theatrical release earlier this month after two years on the shelf.  Draw your own conclusions.  (R, 97 mins, also streaming on Netflix)


LORE
(Germany/Australia - 2012; 2013 US release)

Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland, who received accolades for her 2004 debut SOMERSAULT, directed this powerful German-language drama set in the days just after Hitler's death and the fall of Nazi Germany.  When her cowardly father (Hans-Jochen Wagner), a high-ranking Nazi official, and mother (Ursina Lardi) abandon the family for fear of arrest by the Allies, 14-year-old Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) is left to take care of her four younger siblings: Liesel (Nele Trebs), fraternal twins Jurgen (Mika Seidel) and Gunther (Andre Frid), and infant Peter (Nick Holaschke).  With just the belongings they can carry and their mother's jewelry and silverware their only currency, Lore leads the children on a 560 km trek to their grandmother's house in Hamburg.  She quickly steps into the role of parent, taking charge and doing what needs to be done, even if it means lying to the other children and promising them that their parents will be waiting for them.  They're joined by Thomas (Kai Malina), a young Jewish man who escaped from a concentration camp and becomes an unlikely protector to the children--and possible object of Lore's awakening sexuality.  Her womanhood isn't the only thing to open Lore's eyes--living a sheltered bourgeois life with her parents, she was led to believe that the world had fallen in line with Hitler's vision, that Nazi Germany was victorious and that Der Fuhrer was respected worldwide as a leader and a hero.  She's quite surprised to find that isn't the case and her whole life has been a lie, though she still struggles with the indoctrinated beliefs instilled by her parents.  When Thomas ultimately resists her blunt advances in a frank but discreetly-filmed scene, she immediately resorts to an ignorant statement about "you filthy Jews are all alike," and never really understands why she's saying it, only that she's supposed to think it.


LORE drags a bit in spots and Shortland sometimes channels a little too much of an inner Terrence Malick, but its slow build leads to a heartbreakingly angry finale where she finally rejects everything she's been taught and told to believe (note the symbolism of the ceramic figurines) and it's an interesting perspective on the immediate post-war Germany, seen entirely through Lore's eyes.  While the entire ensemble of child actors does exemplary work (even the baby seems to be a natural actor with an ability to cry on cue), it's largely Rosendahl's film and the debuting actress--17 when she was cast and 18 at the time of filming--convincingly establishes herself as one with a promising future.  While Rosendahl received--and deserved--the lion's share of the acclaim, it's unfortunate that 12-year-old Trebs got somewhat lost in the shuffle:  she has a significantly less-showy role and her Liesel doesn't say much, but Trebs speaks volumes with her facial expressions, and with these and other subtle touches, this equally impressive young actress succeeds in showing her character's maturity over the course of the film. (Unrated, 109 mins)

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