Film Critique

Film Recommendations for Movie Lovers (Part I)

1024 683 Michael Kraabel

Updated: January 23, 2017

Fun and Quirky Films You’ve Never Heard Of

I’ve spent the better part of my life watching movies. My first job was at a small town video rental store. I was paid $5.35 an hour, but I got unlimited movie rentals. Nearly every night I would grab whatever was left on the new releases shelf and bring them home. I would watch between 3-5 movies a night before my next shift in the morning.  I don’t nearly watch that many today (although there are days when I wish I could), I like to share great film recommendations with the world when I can.

The following list is in no particular order. I will not include movies that I think everyone is already aware of, unless it’s one of the “classics” that people put on their list, but generally haven’t made it around to watching.  I will try to put some sort of notes in each one to help categorize by mood or topic, which may help.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

This is a fun date movie, or just a fun story to watch on a Friday night.  It’s smartly written and wonderfully acted.  If you’re a fan of quirky movies that make you smile, laugh, and think about the possibility of time travel, this is for you.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010)

Stressed by adolescence, 16-year-old Craig Gilner (Keir Gilchrist) checks himself into a mental-health clinic. Unfortunately, the youth wing is closed, so he must spend his mandated five-day stay with adults. One of them, Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), quickly becomes his mentor — and protege, while Craig finds himself drawn to a fellow teen, Noelle (Emma Roberts), who just may be the cure he needs to forget an unrequited crush. Great quirky film that makes you laugh and smile.  

City of Ghosts (2002)

This is one of my favorite movies of all time, but I admit that it’s not for everyone. It’s raw and gritty and reminds me of my early travels to Thailand and Cambodia.  This film’s portrayal of this time is spot on.  The characters are amazing and the filming is wonderful.  The movie’s slow burn pace will be respected by lovers of film, hated by those who want immediate action and explosions.

Jimmy Cremming (Matt Dillon) finds himself in Bangkok after fleeing the investigation of an insurance scam in the United States. Having discovered that his partner and mentor Marvin (James Caan) has surfaced in Cambodia, Jimmy sets off to get his promised cut of the action. What he finds, however, is a bizarre, ominous environment where cleverness is bait. The further Jimmy searches for Marvin, the deeper he plunges into torment – and the farther he gets from getting out alive.

Cashback (2006)

The Director (Sean Ellis) of Cashback started as a UK fashion photographer, which shows up in his unique style and attention to cinematic detail.  It also shows up in some of the scenes filled with naked women. But that’s not why I love this movie. I love it because it started off as a short film, won some awards, and then was greenlit to be finished as a feature.  This is pretty much every young filmmakers dream.

Rotten Tomatoes: When art student Ben Willis is dumped by his girlfriend Suzy, he develops insomnia. To pass the long hours of the night, he starts working the late night shift at the local supermarket. There he meets a colorful cast of characters, all of whom have their own “art” in dealing with the boredom of an eight-hour shift. Ben’s art is that he imagines himself stopping time. This way, he can appreciate the artistic beauty of the frozen world and the people inside it–especially Sharon, the quiet checkout girl, who perhaps holds the answer to solving the problem of Ben’s insomnia.

Rocket Science (2007)

I will admit that I was in High School Debate.  I was good at it and I loved it.  Between movies and debate, that pretty much filled my early years.  Maybe that’s why I’m so weird today. I was completely unaware of this movie until a few days ago when it came on as I was leaving the room. As soon as I heard, “Resolved ….,” I did a Risky Business sock slide and immediately turned around and rewound the movie for the opening scene.  Long story short: this movie is about how awesome High School Debate is and how cool the kids were.  Ok, maybe not.

But it is a fun and playful love story, which featured Anna Kendrick in the leading role.  I had no idea until she came on the screen as a young teenager. I won’t spoil the movie for anyone, other than to say (for the debate fans) the topics were farm subsidies and abstinence teaching in schools.

Submarine (2011)

If you love Wes Anderson movies, you’ll love Submarine. Is it a direct rip off?  Or a cinematic tribute?  Who cares … it’s an awesome movie you must watch.

Rotten Tomatoes: Fifteen-year-old Oliver Tate has two big ambitions: to save his parents’ marriage via carefully plotted intervention and to lose his virginity before his next birthday. Worried that his mom is having an affair with New Age weirdo Graham, Oliver monitors his parents’ sex life by charting the dimmer switch in their bedroom. He also forges suggestive love letters from his mom to dad. Meanwhile, Oliver attempts to woo his classmate, Jordana, a self-professed pyromaniac who supervises his journal writing – especially the bits about her. When necessary, she orders him to cross things out. — (C) Weinstein

Films: To Watch List (2017) – Part I

1024 683 Michael Kraabel

How many times have I spent hours looking through the never ending list of movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime trying to remember what movies where on my “to watch” list? I rarely like to re-watch movies, which is what always seems to come up. Perhaps that’s a product of me watching every movie that has ever been made. So, I’m starting this page to keep track of my 2017 watch list and issue short reviews of each film. I’m open to suggestions and debate in the comments section about each film on the list, or ones that should be put into consideration.

Seeking A Friend at the End of the World

The Power of Brand Films: How Stories Stir Our Souls

1024 687 Michael Kraabel

In 1895, two French brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumière, invented and patented the cinematograph—a device that could record, develop, and project motion pictures. The first film ever shot with their creation was a short black-and-white silent documentary that ran a mere 46 seconds , “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory.” Despite it’s diminutive size (800 frames, or 17 meters), and rather banal subject matter, this piece of storytelling would go on to change the world in ways we never imagined. For many, is often referred to as the first real motion picture ever made. For me, it was the first corporate brand film and would provide storytellers with a way to share experiences that excite imaginations for generations to come.

From the days of Lumière to the directors and independents of today, filmmakers around the world have captured our hearts and minds through the universal language of film. One does not have to be a specialist in Cognitive Film Theory to appreciate the way emotions and thoughts patterns interact with aesthetics and characters on the screen. The format of film allows us to activate areas of human emotion that cannot be stimulated during our daily routines or media consumption channels.

The medium of film is a form of escapism for the masses that encourages them to let go and be whisked away into the stories, events, and characters that have been weaved together into a tapestry of experiences. The story and character-directed emotions and feelings such as suspense, love, fear, anger, and curiosity allow us to connect with the subject matter. These feelings, I believe, are derived from our abilities to identify and empathize with the characters, which is the most important element of cinematic storytelling. These same elements can become critical components of brand narratives and filmmakers should consider a more cinematic approach to their craft, rather than traditional docu-style.

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Why Stories Need to Connect


Crafting and Telling Engaging Stories

As our stories move from the silver screen to a global army of mobile-connected content consumers, the battle of emotions needs a new hero. Brands who turn to film making as a means to distribute their message will need to understand media consumption patterns and expectations of the modern consumers – in both B2B and B2C spaces.

As our population spends more time engaging directly with screens rather than other humans, we begin to lose our ability to relate to each other on the more primal levels of emotions. While we may communicate (text, email, phone) and create (photos, videos) more via our technology platforms, it’s important to draw the distinction between consumption and compassion.

MIT Professor of social psychology and author of “Reclaiming Conversations,” Sherry Turkle makes the declaration: “Our rapturous submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy and self-­reflection, and the time has come to reassert ourselves, behave like adults and put technology in its place (NYT, 2015).” Unfortunately, as technology and always-on behavioral issues continue to eat away at the core of our personal relationships, so to does it take away from our abilities to submit ourselves to the escapism of film. Which means it’s even more important that our directors and filmmakers today craft stories that can empower and engage with the audiences.

Turkle believes that “we have now created an environment that will distract us to distraction. (Guardian, 2015)”  In such a world, traditional social and digital channels encourage consumers to lean in and consume at unhealthy rates, which is why  it is important for our filmed stories to empower audiences to lean back to re-connect. Our stories should not follow the formula of instant gratification and short-attention spans. We have an obligation to extend the imaginations of our viewers and help fight against the trends of distractions.


Advice For the Modern Lumière

If the Lumière brothers were to invent the cinematograph today, would a 46 second corporate brand film seem like an eternity for the audience waiting for something amazing to happen to our factory workers? Or, would they have the vision to create something so amazing that it would capture the delight of the audience so well that their lives would forever be altered by the experience?

Absent some revolutionary new way to communicate our visual experiences, we will simply have to work harder to connect with our audiences and tell our brand stories. We engage our audiences through the following guidelines:

  1. Focus on compelling subject matter for your filmed content
    In the case of corporate or brand film that has more commercial applications, try to find the emotional elements of the subject matter and the fundamental “why” of the brand.
  2. Look for a unique angle that has not been explored
    Simply telling the facts will not be enough to hold the attention span of a modern audience. A linear story does not allow the audience to insert themselves into the experience.
  3. Allow the story to dictate length
    Just because your audience has an 8 second attention span does not mean you need to be an accomplice in this crime against storytelling. Allow your story to move at the pace necessary to keep the audience guessing, while allowing enough time for their imagination to fill in the gaps of the story and guess where it will go next.
  4. Use technology as a tool, not a requirement
    A typical iPhone now has more technology and resolution than most film sets had less than 10 years ago. A standard laptop computer has the same ability to edit a story as the largest post-production houses in the world. Use these tools, but know that it is never about the tools or the software. Story always comes first. Telling it in a beautiful way is the best way to inspire the imagination of your audience.
  5. Quality over Quantity
    Producing 10 15 second clips about your brand may seem like the most logical way to approach content production in today’s modern world, but what is more valuable: 10 people watching 15 second clips or one person watching 150 seconds of your story?  Our stories should be designed to connect with the ones that matter, not simply to create reporting numbers that show consumption. If our goal is connection and conversation, focus on the quality engagements.
  6. Create
    Make stuff.  Tell stories. Edit. Revise.  Do it again.  Continue telling stories through film, from the silver screen to the iPhone. If you tell important stories, important people will come to listen … and watch.


Michael Kraabel is a creative director for Bolin and is an avid filmmaker and student of the art of storytelling.