Thursday, October 23, 2008

Indie #12 - Flakes

Flakes: I LOVED this little Indie. It's going on my Christmas list. Starring Aaron Stanford (who was simply wonderful in "Traveler" though it got cancelled); Zooey Deschanel, and Christopher Lloyd. Directed by Micheal Lehmann.

I keep asking myself: would I love it as much, if it weren't filmed in my hometown of New Orleans? My answer is yes, though location is an important aspect of the eclectic people and atmosphere. In 2002, I went to Oregon. Certain parts of Portland and Eugene, Oregon would work well. Whatever the location, it requires intrinsic beauty and no pretension. Remember the quote from the movie 'Steel Magnolias' - "An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure."

That being said, "Flakes" did something no film has ever done for me: It made me fall in love with my hometown again. Hurricane Katrina broke my heart, and I mourned for weeks for a city I once loved. True, it's come back in many ways, but some things will never be the same. "Flakes" was filmed before Katrina hit, so it has all those local elements still intact; perhaps this is why I connected so strongly.

Meet Neal Downs (played by Aaron Stanford). He's a musician, but he's afraid to put all his effort into his artistic endeavor. To pay the bills and stall the time, he works as a manager at a cereal bar (yes, you read that correctly...a cereal bar). Think eclectic neighborhood coffeehouse that sells rare cereals and those which you can't purchase anymore. Add in a few strange characters--those who purchase rare cereal artifacts on eBay, those who come in daily and order the same custom cereal mix, and those who swap cereal trivia every morning at breakfast.

He's coasting through life, happy with mediocrity. Then his girlfriend (played by an enthusiastic and talented Zooey Deschenel) takes control. When he won't take a week off to work on his music and won't hire her so he can focus on his goals, she struts herself across the ANOTHER cereal bar which just opened. She's going to help the competition if her boyfriend won't help himself.

The rest of the movie is about the competition, the rifts in their relationship, and finding one's purpose in life. All of these delicious themes set against the backdrop of my beautiful New Orleans. Those of you who are locals--and even you tourists who pay close attention--look for the following:

* The scene where they go meet the lawyer: It's the inside of Commander's Palace, one of the top restaurants in the city.

* The scene where they go to a fancy dinner at Antoine's: Yes, it really IS Antoine's. Many movies take a camera shot of the outside, then film the inside within a studio. This one was true, inside and out. When in high school, our yearbook staff went to Antoine's one afternoon (someone's uncle worked there) and we got photos of ourselves laughing and joking amidst Antoine's tables and the bar. This brief scene reconnected me with a happy memory.

* Scene 10 on the DVD--the first few minutes: He walks across Jackson Square in the fog and rain. GORGEOUS camera shot. Gray fog permeating the air, tall black iron gates flanking the French Quarter. I loved this scene, partly for the weather effect but partiy because it wasn't "traditional." The characters weren't getting drunk on Bourbon Street, with the Superdome in the background, while speaking in bad Cajun dialects. This scene was REAL. There's even a camera shot of a garbage truck cleaning up the French Quarter streets. Everyone thinks of the Quarter as party central; no filmmaker ever explored the 'clean up' factor. To the locals, this is normal. Another reason I connected with its realism.

* While filmed in the French Quarter, it's on the outskirts. They have a montage sequence which shows the typical New Orleans sights, but it moves quickly. Lets the viewer know it's New Orleans, but doesn't beat him over the head with it. Hello? New Orleans IS a wonderful city which brings out beautiful connections in people--not all connections happen directly under the Bourbon Street sign. Does Hollywood not realize that?

Speaking of Hollywood and Indies, I find the main difference is that Indies focus on telling a *REAL* story, a realistic story. Hollywood does tell stories--and yes, I like some of them--but Indies have more honesty, more truth, more CORE than Hollywood explores.

There was a brief camera shot of a parade in "Flakes" but it lasted about 2 seconds--a refreshing alternative to the standard movie where parades break out on random streets for no reason. Hello? Who does that? Just to set the tourists straight--random parades do not occur in New Orleans. During Mardi Gras? Sure, let it all hang out. St. Patrick's Day, a funeral of a jazz musician? Absolutely. But otherwise, people do not randomly start playing trumpets in the streets.

Indie movies tell different stories--they shun predictability. So yes, it is a bizarre little film. But it's wonderful, and I encourage you to check it out!

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