Brian's Burn Notice: Indie movies offer alternatives to traditional summer fare; Low-budget films feature quirky and creative takes on favorite blockbuster genres

by Brian Burns
While sequels and superhero movies clog mainstream cinemas, independent summer movies are quietly flourishing.  These films make up for their lack of big budgets and special effects with interesting characters and realistic situations.
Unlike cookie-cutter blockbusters of today, independent films take risks with their storytelling. While they feature every genre of mainstream cinema, independent films offer a unique outlook on traditional stories.

The Romance
The Spectacular Now is a romance between a geeky girl and a popular guy, but with more depth than the typical She’s All That – style teen flick – most notably, the boy’s drinking problem and his absent, alcoholic father.
Stars Shailene Woodley (freshly sprung from The Secret Life of the American Teenager on ABC Family) and Miles Teller (Footloose) have received rave reviews for their accurate portrayal of teens wavering on the precipice of adulthood.
The Spectacular Now portrays the blush of first love, inviting comparisons to another movie that premiered in the summer, 2009’s (500) Days of Summer.  However, unlike (500) Days it always keeps a foot firmly planted in reality without the escape of the protagonist’s fantasy sequences.          The Spectacular Now premieres on Aug. 2.
The Heist Film
The Bling Ring is based on the true story of a group of young adults living in Hollywood who burglarized  the homes of celebrities such as Paris Hilton.
Directed by Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), the film stars Emma Watson with a pitch-perfect valley-girl accent as a member of the eponymous “ring.”
Unlike more traditional heist films like Ocean’s 11, The Bling Ring is less about the actual crimes than a biting commentary on America’s idolization of celebrities.
The thieving protagonists are also portrayed less as heroes and more as airheads.  For example, at a press conference Watson rhapsodizes over how she “may lead a country one day” for all she knows.  The Bling Ring is a rare heist film in that it finds the comedy in its subjects’ superficial nature. The Bling Ring  debuts in theaters on June 14.
The Thriller
The East is as taut a thriller as last year’s Argo, but with a fraction of the budget. It is also told from the perspective of the obstinate “bad guys” – eco-terrorists who set out to punish big business moguls for their crimes.
The unconventional leaders are Juno’s Ellen Page and True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgård, while Brit Marling portrays an ex-FBI agent who infiltrates the organization.  Marling’s character, Sarah, comes to have sympathy for the supposed “terrorists,” with a romance forming between her and Skarsgård.
The East came out in theaters on May 31.
The Coming-of-Age Story
The Way, Way Back is a coming-of-age story that focuses more on the issues of adults than on the kid at its center.  When the teenaged Duncan vacations at a water park, he is taken under the wing of manager Owen (Sam Rockwell), a man child who is also struggling to grow up.
Like fellow Sundance hit Little Miss Sunshine,  The Way, Way Back features eccentric characters set against a bittersweet backdrop of the boy’s struggles to both mature and accept his mother’s new boyfriend.
Steve Carell plays against type as said boyfriend, the film’s stoic antagonist who classifies Duncan as a “three out of ten” at the movie’s onset.  He epitomizes the focus of the film: the issue of adults accepting kids.
The Way, Way Back opens on July 5.
The Sex Comedy
The To Do List would give The Hangover a run for its money with its R-rated content.  However, in a break from traditional sex comedies it depicts the woman’s perspective.
In addition to being written and directed by a woman (Mary Carey), it stars Parks and Recreation actress Aubrey Plaza.  Plaza plays a valedictorian desperate to lose her virginity in the summer before college, showing that women are just as capable of handling raunchy material as men.
She is supported by an all-star comedy cast that includes Bill Hader, Donald Glover and Clark Gregg.
The To Do List opens July 26.
The films may be available on Video on Demand or at the local Digiplex Cranford Theater.