In Theaters and On Demand

What lurks inside our mind? Most of us probably just scratch the surface of what’s there. Some aspects of it would probably delight us, while others would likely be best left unexamined. But we’ll never know exactly what’s there unless we make an attempt to go in and explore the labyrinth of our consciousness. That can be especially tempting if we feel unfulfilled in our lives. However, should we embark on such an undertaking, we’d be wise to prepare for it, particularly when it comes to getting ready for the unexpected. Such is the quest of a melancholic thirtysomething in the unusual new indie release, “Dave Made a Maze” (web site, trailer).

Dave (Nick Thune) is an aspiring artist who never finishes any of the projects he starts. He’s also frustrated that he spends his days working at jobs he hates, making little money and having nothing substantial to show for it. He longs for the experience of creative fulfillment, but it always seems to elude him – that is, until one weekend, when he’s home alone. With his significant other, Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani), out of town, he throws himself into a new artistic venture, the construction of a cardboard maze in his living room.

Aspiring artist Dave (Nick Thune, right) and his significant other, Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani, left), contemplate how to escape from a maze that threatens to trap them in the quirky new indie romp, “Dave Made a Maze.” Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

On the surface, the project probably seems like a fairly simple undertaking. But, the further Dave gets into it, the more he stumbles into a wrinkle that starts out annoying and progressively grows troubling. He discovers that the maze, from the inside, is considerably larger and more complex than from the outside – so much so, in fact, that he can’t find his way out. He feels lost and trapped, not sure how to proceed, especially when he learns that the maze also contains dangers that he hadn’t anticipated. What is he to do now?

When Annie returns from her trip, she’s surprised when she finds the cardboard structure before her and no sign of Dave. But, soon after her arrival, Dave hears her moving about the living room, and he calls out to her from inside the maze. He explains his situation but cautions her not to enter it because of the inherent danger. He asks her to contact his best friend, Gordon (Adam Busch), to see if he can come up with ideas for how he might make his escape.

Before long, Gordon joins Annie with a cavalcade of others in tow, including his friends Leonard (Scott Krinsky) and Jane (Kirsten Vangsness), hipster pals Greg (Timothy Nordwind) and Brynn (Stephanie Allynne), and an indie film crew (James Urbaniak, Frank Caeti, Scott Narver) that, for some reason, is fascinated with wanting to document events as they unfold. Everyone is intrigued by the maze, and they all want to go inside, despite Dave’s cautions. However, this eclectic cadre of curiosity seekers is soon overcome by temptation. They disregard the warnings and go inside, where they quickly find that everything Dave said is true.

As the newly arrived explorers make their way through the maze, they find all manner of strange curiosities, some delightful, some menacing, some deadly. But, thankfully, in the course of their wanderings, they run into Dave, who helps guide the visitors through the structure. In the process, he and the others also discover new aspects of the labyrinth that he hadn’t come across before. At the same time, they also learn that a new danger lurks inside – a ferocious Minotaur (John Hennigan) determined to take out the uninvited strangers who have invaded his turf.

With this new threat now breathing down their necks, Dave and his cohorts are more motivated than ever to find a way out. But looking for a physical exit doesn’t seem to be a viable solution. Dave soon realizes that he must discover what’s preventing their escape, a process that requires him to look within his own mind. Given that the maze has come to physically symbolize the labyrinth of his consciousness, he must try to determine what has given the maze its shape and composition, something he learns rests with his beliefs and outlooks about life, his existence and his reason for being. Understanding those influences holds the key to helping him find his way clear. But the question remains, will he accept what he finds and abide by what he knows he needs to do to be able to get out of the maze?

Creative visual effects using elaborate works of origami characterize the world inside an unusual labyrinth in director Bill Watterson’s debut feature, “Dave Made a Maze.” Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

This film readily brings to mind the principles of conscious creation (also known as the law of attraction), a subject about which I write frequently, particularly from a cinematic perspective. This is especially true where Dave is concerned. If he’s to resolve his circumstances, he must come to terms with what it means to be him, taking a hard look at his beliefs and how they have come to shape the nature and components of his reality. This is most crucial when it comes to his feelings about creative fulfillment and his habit of never following through on his projects. Why do his beliefs in these areas form as they do? That’s something he needs to analyze in depth, even if that means examining aspects of himself and his life that go beyond these considerations. His willingness to take on this task could well determine his fate and that of those who have accompanied him on his odyssey.

There’s more than meets the eye going on in director Bill Watterson’s debut feature. This quirky, fun-filled romp pays an edgy homage to ʼ80s fantasy adventure films like “Labyrinth” (1986), “The Dark Crystal” (1982), “The NeverEnding Story” (1984) and “Explorers” (1985), featuring inventive cinematography and a variety of clever special effects, some involving such unusual elements as puppets and elaborate forms of origami. It also serves up its share of big, sometimes-cheeky laughs. But there’s considerable food for thought here, too, making for an interesting overall mix of influences. “Dave Made a Maze” may be a little hard to find in theaters, but it’s available for on-demand streaming and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc in the near future.

A ferocious Minotaur (John Hennigan) prowls the corridors of an unusual maze, threatening to attack a host of uninvited visitors who’ve made their way onto his turf in the inventive new homage to ʼ80s fantasy adventure films, “Dave Made a Maze.” Photo by Chelsea Coleman, courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

Learning what it means to live out one’s destiny may take some work, some of it internally and not just from the toil of one’s brow. But that part, though intangible, might ultimately prove more difficult, especially if we’re reluctant to do the work. Yet, if we make the effort to comply, we could find that the rest flows freely, providing the sought-after fulfillment that was once thought to be ever elusive. By working through the maze of our consciousness, we just might find our way out – and on to a path of satisfaction beyond expectation.

A full review will appear in the near future by clicking here.

On the Radio This Week

Join host Frankie Picasso and me this Thursday, August 31, at 1 pm ET for the next Movies with Meaning segment on Frankiesense & More radio. We’ll talk about several current film releases and other movie news. Tune in live or listen to the on-demand podcast for some lively movie talk!

FrankieSense & More Radio on The Good Radio Network

The Best of Movies with Meaning – “Our Little Sister”

How we define “family” need not follow traditional interpretations. Indeed, it can take a variety of inventive and novel forms, often working exceedingly well in meeting everyone’s needs. Such is the case in the heart-warming family drama from Japan, “Our Little Sister” (originally titled “Umimachi Diary”) (web site, trailer), available on DVD, Blu-ray Disc and video on demand.

Based on a popular Japanese graphic novel, the film tells the story of three sisters in their 20s, Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika Kôda (Kaho), who share a home that has been in their family for generations in the seaside city of Kamakura. They’ve been on their own for quite some time, their father having abandoned them for another woman and their mother (Shinobu Otake) having left not long thereafter under somewhat unspecified circumstances. But they manage well, self-sufficient and reasonably comfortable.

When word reaches them of their estranged father’s passing, they also learn of a previously unknown teenage half-sister, Suzu Asano (Suzu Hirosu). Upon attending the funeral and discovering that Suzu essentially has no one to care for her (her own mother having previously died and her selfish widowed stepmother (Yuko Nakamura), their father’s third wife, showing no interest in the idea), the Kôda sisters invite their newfound sibling to come live with them, an offer she readily accepts. Before long, the family home in Kamakura has a vibrant new resident, one whom the elder sisters adore.

A bike ride through the cherry blossoms with a friend (Oshiro Maeda, foreground) brings joy to Suzu Asano (Suzu Hirosu, background) in the family drama, “Our Little Sister.” Photo by Akimi Yoshida, Shogakukan, Fuji Television Network Inc., Shogakukan Inc., courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

This scenario thus sets the stage for a family coping with loss and change in a variety of forms. But, no matter what challenges arise, the four sisters have one another for support, guidance and encouragement. This arrangement may not follow the normal conventions of family life, but they make it work in their own way, with joy, love and hope for the future.

As a breezy, pleasant slice of life, “Our Little Sister” delivers many warm fuzzy moments, punctuated by lovely cinematography, fine performances and a palpable chemistry among the siblings. And, for its efforts, the picture earned a Palme d’Or nomination at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, the event’s top award. Unfortunately, despite this honor, the film’s narrative at times is a little too lightweight, keeping the story (and the film) from living up to its full potential, resulting in an occasionally unsatisfying (and somewhat overlong) offering. That’s regrettable, given the talent of a director like Hirokazu Kore-eda, who’s shown through previous releases that he’s capable of better and more substantial work.

Still, despite its shortcomings, “Our Little Sister” definitely has its heart in the right place. Its warmth and goodwill, as well as its unapologetic approach to celebrating the unconventional, are undeniable, inspiring those looking for viable alternatives to traditional family life, especially for tackling life’s thorny domestic challenges. These sisters clearly do it for themselves – and quite well at that.

A full review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.