Film Review “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”

Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke and Ronald Cyler II
Directed By: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 105 minutes
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Depending on how well you pitch it, self-loathing can be quite comical. Pointing out your own faults to elicit a laugh can work out well. I do it all the time with people I know because it allows me to show to them that I’m human, that I understand my flaws, and that I’m comfortable with my shortcomings…kind of. Then of course, across the way, there’s that thin line of self-loathing. It’s not too far and if you cross it, you find yourself in actual self-loathing territory. It’s a self-loathing that spins off into depression and depressing other people. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” beautifully blends a coming-of-age story and the tricky subject of youthful enmity.

When we first meet Greg (Mann), he’s socially awkward, but has mastered the art of fading into the background. Despite this, he’s maintaining a stable acquaintanceship with everyone in his school. He divides the cliques like world leaders divide their countries. He has it in good with the people of each land, but he maintains his own invisible island that has a unique identity, but he conceals it. The only person, who knows his interests, likes and dislikes, is Earl (Cyler). Like a lot of best friend stories, their meeting as elementary school students isn’t spectacular, but being young and impressionable does help build a firm basis friendship.

That young susceptible brain of theirs falls prey to Greg’s father, played by Nick Offerman, who is perpetually stuck as the bizarre and sage father in indie movies. Through his father’s influence, the two find a love for trashy, poorly made movies. Through that mutual admiration, they create their own parody movies of well-known movies like “Apocalypse Now” and “A Clockwork Orange”. This is Greg’s basic existence. It doesn’t seem like he wants to be bothered to do more nor does he want to attempt to do more, but that’ll quickly change.

At the request of his parents, he visits a former childhood friend, Rachel (Cooke). Everyone views the hangout time as beneficial for Rachel because she needs someone in her time of need. Technically, like everyone, she does. But Rachel is also someone that seems to be confident in her own minimalistic self-preservation. She doesn’t want to burden other people with her upsetting diagnosis, much less tell that to Greg, whom she barely talks to. Despite his awkwardness and many in-poor taste jokes, she finds his goofiness charming and sees the kindness in his soul.

Throughout, we’re reminded that this isn’t a movie where the two inevitably fall in love and have a cliché passion scene. That, in itself, is absolutely refreshing. It would cheapen what’s happening if she were to fall in love with the first boy to acknowledge her illness and be there in her time of need. It would feel cheap if he made a move as she goes through chemotherapy. They both care about each other, but not like that. They don’t need to. The love they feel for each other is completely platonic, but still very heartfelt.

At an integral point in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”, the movie turns on a dime from a comedy into a drama. It’s a very smooth, but sudden transition. Up until that point, Greg has been adorkable, but at that point, his darkness is revealed. Despite the minutes, hours, and days of concern he’s shown, this selfishness blooms and takes over. The situation and the muddying of his perception and the audience’s perception are done elegantly.

Coming-of-age stories have the inevitable growth, or at the very least a melancholy ambiguity haze hanging over them, at the end, and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” isn’t any different. It’s the filming and editing style, as well as the realism in our characters that helps propel this one into the top tier of this genre. It’s also great to see to see leads that aren’t impervious to emotional flaws and growing pains.

Justin Eugene Evans Talks About His Film "A Lonely Place for Dying"

Former NYU student Justin Evans has been making movies since his school days, his latest inarguably his biggest feature to date. His latest film, “A Lonely Place for Dying,” stars Oscar nominee James Cromwell and “Hitchcock’s” Michael Wincott and will be released in the U.S. via iTunes on February 12, 2013. While preparing for this interview I learned that the film, a cold-war era thriller set in the 1970’s, has recently been banned from playing in Russia. Though Evans, who both wrote and directed the film, has received no official reason for the ban he assumes it’s because of his film’s controversial storyline. While preparing for the film’s release Evans took the time to answer some questions for Media Mikes.

Mike Smith: You co-wrote the script for “A Lonely Place for Dying.” What was your inspiration for the story?
Justin Evans: I’ve always been fascinated by the Cold War. It was a dirty, grimy, ethically confused game of global chess that somehow has a sense of romance and nostalgia for me. I have a particular affinity to the subject because I’m a Volga German. Our family immigrated to Russia in the 18th century and turned the Steppes into farm land. Russia made us two promises; the land would be ours forever and since we were not Russian we could not be forced to serve in their military. The Bolsheviks broke both promises with our people and my great-grandfather immigrated to the US in 1918. With a personal history of that scope I think it’s obvious why I’m obsessed with the Cold War.

MS: Not only does James Cromwell appear in the film he’s also a producer. How did that come about?
JE: We asked Jamie to be one of our producers. He said it was contingent upon our craftsmanship; if he liked the movie he’d give it his stamp of approval and be one of our executive producers. I guess he liked the movie!

MS: Even though the film was modestly budgeted it is well crafted, especially the special effects. How were you able to achieve this?
JE: Old fashioned hard work. I’d served as a visual effects supervisor on other projects. I found two VFX artists on the Internet and the three of us worked together for about four months. They completed about 250 visual effects shots. Most of them are hidden; the sky replacements, the sub-frame editing, digitally enhancing fake blood that was used on set..all of that work disappears into the background but provides a level of polish that is absolutely necessary in professional filmmaking. The glitzy stuff is the B-52 bombers and Washington DC street traffic. However, some of the invisible stuff was far more complicated. We did the work remotely. Occasionally, one of the artists would come to my house and we’d polish a shot on our Macbooks. We’d just hang out in my living room, drink some Red Bull and power through some shots while leaning over my ottoman. The tools are cheap. Its simply a question of how hard you’re willing to work. I’m lucky that I found two guys, Daniel Broadway and Marc Leonard, who have old-school work ethics and truly love their craft.

MS: In your opinion, does the continued quest for studios to have the all important opening weekend high gross make it hard for someone like yourself to get your stories told?
JE: That’s not what’s stopping us. Its more subtle and more pervasive than that. Its an intellectual laziness that says “I’ve never heard of you therefore you can’t possibly be talented.” We were told by a VP at Warner Brothers that he wouldn’t look at the movie “because if it were hot someone else would have looked at the movie and I’d have heard about it.” I released 22 minutes online and it was downloaded over 1.5 million times…and agents at Endeavor said “If this mattered it would be reported in Variety.” An ex-executive from Universal told us “I don’t understand your film. It’s a mainstream movie. It’s smart and its a popcorn film. But you don’t have big stars in it. You should have made something weird or cast Tom Cruise. Right now, you got nothing.” We were in 46 film festivals, nominated for 53 awards, won 29 including 18 for Best Picture. No one in the industry cared. Our trailer was downloaded 2.5 million times from iTunes Movie Trailers. No one in the industry cared. And no one ever said “I saw your movie and I don’t like it.” They said “I’m not willing to watch your movie because you’re not famous.” You can’t catch a break because the intellectual laziness creates a negative feedback loop.

MS: You did pretty much everything on this film except run the catering truck! Do you eventually want to narrow your career to one vocation, be it directing or writing, or are you happy having a hand in pretty much everything?
JE: I don’t know how to not be involved in everything. I know Photoshop so well that I can do the graphic design myself faster than if I had to explain my ideas to someone else. I’ve designed lighting and lenses and projectors so unless I can afford the world’s most expensive cinematographers I might as well do it myself. I interviewed a cinematographer for “A Lonely Place For Dying” and as I showed some of my storyboards the person wanted to know the mood of a particular shot. I said we’d have huge beams of god light coming in through these basement windows. The cinematographer blanches and says “That can’t be done unless you have 10K HMI’s.” I said “That’s not true; volumetric lighting is a matter of particle density, not light intensity. I can make a volumetric light with a flashlight if I have enough smoke in the air.” The cinematographer insists I don’t know what I’m talking about…and after awhile you get tired of those kinds of debates. Its just easier to do it yourself. I’m not trying to. Part of it is that I’m an Aspie and I really struggle with rephrasing things with the social lubrication people need so the truth can slip past their defenses. Its even worse if you can’t here my vocal tone or see my facial expressions. My communication style, when stripped of these nonverbal queues, makes me sound like an asshole to a certain type of person. I’m just stating facts; I willingly give up control when I find competent people. If I can’t…then I might as well do it myself. Hopefully I don’t sound like too much of a jackass saying that out loud. That being said, there is plenty I didn’t do. Brent Daniels did all the sound. Alone. By himself. He built the 5.1 mixing facility in his home and he put close to 1,500 hours into the dialogue, sound effects, music and mixing of this film. Ginger Ravencroft is a dear friend and a hell of a still photographer. She’s the reason we have 12 gorgeous theatrical posters. Daniel Broadway and Marc Leonard did 250 visual effects shots for the film. Without those people the movie would not be as good. So, I think the most accurate thing to say is while I wear many, many hats so do the people I trust the most.

MS: Are you planning anything currently?
JE: I’m the president of BryteWerks. We’re about to release our flagship digital motion picture projector. We have about 5 employees and an additional 25 contractors working on various engineering projects. I can’t go into the details of everything we’re doing but we’ve got some really cool products coming down the pipe. And I will get back to directing…but not until we finish our motion picture projector. We have pre-order customers to satisfy and this is a chance to really shake up the world. I’m already writing my next project. The rest is a secret.


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Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Rickey Medlocke chats about band’s latest album “Last of a Dyin’ Breed”

Rickey Medlocke originally joined with Lynyrd Skynyrd back in the early 70’s before forming the band “Blackfoot”.  He re-joined Skynyrd in 1996 and has been rocking out since.  He is one of the bands guitarist along with Garry Rossington and Mark Matejka.  Rickey took out some time to chat with Media Mikes about the band’s latest album “Last of a Dyin’ Breed”.

Mike Gencarelli: What was the driving force inspiration behind “Last of a Dyin’ Breed”?
Rickey Medlocke: I feel like we are the last of a dyin’ breed. Along with our band and others like The Stones, AC/DC, ZZ Top, Aerosmith and The Allman Brothers, we all are the last of our kind. Even by the way we recorded this album was a great approach. After it was written, we setup in the studio live and recorded it.  Just like the way you hear it is the way it went down. It has really been a great experience.

MG: I’ve been a member of the Skynyrd Nation for 20 years and now I can’t wait to introduce my daughter to you as well; How can you reflect on Skynyrd being so multi-generational and still relevant today?
RM: First of all the bands fan-base is definitely multi-generational. Our fans span three generations and our fans are anywhere from 15 to 70. It is pretty cool when we you get to see fans that love your music and just enjoy listening to the songs. It goes to show what music represents. That is one of the key secrets in making new music to give fans something new to listen to. I guess we could sit back and rely on our classic tracks but if we can put out new music and material, it will keep things from getting stale.

MG: Tell us about the fierce use of guitar on these tracks?
RM: When we started this album, Garry (Rossington), Mark (Matejka) and myself had decided that we were going to try and bring the guitars out more. We wanted to make it more of a guitar based record, since the band is a guitar band. I believe what we have done is created a solid foundation of all three guitars. Each guy has his own place within each song. Everyone stepped up when they needed to take lead. You know what man, I think worked out really great. I for one am very happy with work that I did on it. Anyone always look back at their own work and think maybe I could have done better here or there but I think we nailed it. There are some guys that strive for perfection but hey man it is rock ‘n roll and rock ‘n roll is not perfect. It came out the way it was suppose to and we couldn’t be happier.

MG: You are working again with “God and Guns” producer Bob Marlette, how does the collaboration on this album differ?
RM: We decided way before this record that we were going to go out with Bob again. Bob is a really good director and producer. We are able to go off and do what we do. He is not one of these guys that it has to be his way or no way. With Bob on board, we planned to get into the studio and setup it up old school like. We wanted to record this live as we were performing it. We loved working with Bob and we are all the better for it.

MG: Love your vocal track on “Mississippi Blood”, how did that come about?
RM: Johnny (Van Zant) and I throughout the last several records have tried to do a duet. I like being a part of a song vocally, it is always a lot of fun. With that particular tune, the way it was written it fitted what Johnny and I wanted to go after. I really enjoyed it.

MG: For me it would be “Simple Man” and those opening cords, what is the one track that when it goes on you completely jam into it?
RM: There are a lot of songs in the Lynyrd Skynrd catalog. Right now in the shows, we are doing a melody of songs. We got “Needle and the Song” leading into “Tuesday’s Gone”. I really get off on those and love doing those two together.

MG: With each track omitting gold, which ones do you foresee becoming part of a must play list during touring?
RM: As far as the new stuff, we are doing “One Day at a Time”, “Last of a Dyin’ Breed” and “Good Teacher”. We wrote “One Day at a Time” we Kid Rock’s guitar player and writer Marlon Young. I really like doing “Good Teacher” because it has this Hendrix-style Wah-Wah. I broke out my ole Cry Baby for that tune when we recorded the track. I really enjoyed doing that. I also think that “Homegrown” is a great track to play live also. It has that Drop C that I really like. And of course, I also love “Mississippi Blood”, it has got some really great elements in it. Jerry Douglas played a great lap steel lead in that. This album overall is just loaded with good songs.


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