Tagged: 2016

Closet Monster – review #SydFilmFest

Closet Monster was my final film for this festival and so it ended as it began, on a high. It is a wonderfully told queer coming of age story that apparently is based on writer/director Stephen Dunn’s own experience as a teenager.

There is a lot to enjoy in this film. Our hero Oscar, excellently played by the talented-beyond-his-years Connor Jessup, has a pet hamster called Buffy who provides companionship and dispenses wisdom (via the voice of Isabella Rossellini). Oscar’s interactions with Buffy are a delight every single time. Connor Jessup almost seems born to play this role, but I thought the same about his acting in the second series of American Crime. He’s simply brilliant.

Stephen Dunn brings so much imagination to his story telling. He drops magical moments throughout the film to light up the tale and to bring Oscar’s lingering childhood horror to life. And he perfectly balances the emotional core of the film with his amusing and refreshingly different creative style. This could so easily have failed.

It is all so well done. As well, it is beautifully shot in several memorable scenes that serve to underline Oscar’s journey in life, his relationships and his developing sexuality.

I hope that both Stephen Dunn and Connor Jessup keep making films. Talents like theirs keep us going to the cinema.

My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 4+/5 (Most people would think this to be very special.)

The Endless River – review #sydfilmfest

The Endless River begins by rolling screen credits in almost sepia tones and a typeface that are both reminiscent of most of those old Westerns from Hollywood. I wasn’t sure why. Perhaps because that is where the director, Oliver Hermanus, thinks that South Africa is up to with respect to racial integration and the development of a moral code beyond an “eye for an eye”? It certainly made me think. (Possible spoilers ahead.)

We are soon introduced to the two lead characters: Tiny (Crystal-Donna Roberts) whose husband Percy (Clayton Evertson) has just been released from a four-year prison stint for gang activity; and the Frenchman Gilles (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who suffers the loss of his entire family in a brutal home invasion, rape and series of murders at their farm. Many seem keen to think that Percy was involved in these murders and a local policeman gives Gilles far too much of a tip about the possibility of his involvement, and Percy too is killed on his way to rob the farm that has been isolated as a crime scene.

Things are moving along very quickly in these two opening chapters and just when we are wondering whether naughty Gilles was involved in Percy’s murder as an act of revenge, he and Tiny become involved. I thought it was quite engrossing up to this point.

Disappointingly, it all gets a bit lost and self-indulgent in the third and final chapter, like the film has become bored with telling its own story and more fascinated by the scenery that the two lead characters escape to. This soon became boring to me. There are some short flashbacks to what look like headlights in the rain and Gilles standing over something, but to me it isn’t enough to conclude that Gilles took his revenge on Percy who, it turned out, wasn’t involved in the murder of Gilles’ family.

Then, with Gilles and Tiny still on their escape and processing their thoughts, it all concludes. Without a real ending. DIY. Again. Nooooooo! A cardinal sin in a story like this in my opinion. GIVE ME AN ENDING.

Good in part, but ultimately not at all satisfying.

My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 3/5 (Not especially special.)

Demolition – review #sydfilmfest

Mal: In Demolition, Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his wife in a car accident in the opening scene. We soon learn from several confessional letters written to the customer service department of a faulty vending machine’s company that Davis is an investment banker who works in his father-in-law’s firm somewhere in Wall Street. Not surprisingly, Davis quickly loses the plot, but through the letters he writes it seems that he may not have had a firm grip on it in the first place. He certainly looks the part, wearing fitted shirts, shaving his chest and trimming his eyebrows. He and his wife have a great house in the ‘burbs with lots of space and nice appliances, apart from a leaky fridge.

Frank (an imaginary rabbit): All is not as it seems. I liked the mattress salesman line.

Mal: Davis, however, starts to wonder whether he really loved or even knew his wife, perhaps whether she loved him and questions why they got together in the first place. He seems stuck in the weird-reactions-to-everything stage of his grieving process, starts to notice things he never had before and eventually tells a counsellor that he is numb from his head to his knees and has been so for about the last 12 years (see trailer above).

 Frank: zzzzzzzzzz

Mal: Along the way he eventually hears from the vending machine customer service department he has been writing to in the form of a phone call from Karen (Naomi Watts). Davis eventually tracks Karen down and soon after meets her probably-gay son Chris (Judah Lewis) who uses the f-bomb far too much and gets suspended from school for mixing science experiments with the politics of war in Afghanistan.

Frank: He is definitely gay.

Mal: It was about this point in time that I started to think that Demolition was just a little bit Donnie Darko all grown up. Did Karen and Chris really exist or were they just imaginary friends in Davis’ mind?

Frank: No, that’s a stupid proposition, but at least I now know how I got mixed up in this. Of course Karen and Chris are real. You probably think I am imaginary!

Mal: Unfortunately, father-in-law Phil gives Davis/Grown-up-Donnie some dangerous advice that to repair something (e.g. a human heart): you need to take it all apart, strip it down and then you can put it all back together again. Davis quickly proves interested in and reasonably skilled at taking things apart. When it comes to the putting back together again, not so much.

Frank: He really sucks at the putting back together again, but at least he is proud of his work in the firm’s wash-room.

Mal: The random demolitions soon get ridiculously out of hand as Davis and Chris start dealing with their demons and learning about themselves.

Frank: Yeah and I was particularly fond of their shooting practice scene in the forest with a hand-gun and bullet proof vest. Don’t try that one at home!

Mal: Karen and Chris introduce Davis to other elements of life, including the music of Heart (Crazy on You), and his road to recovery begins.

Frank: Karen, Karen, Karen. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.

Mal: I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice to say that we do get one. This is not common these days and I for one really appreciate not having to make up my own or phone a friend.

Frank: You tiny brain. Have you no imagination at all?

Mal: Demolition is billed as a darkly comic drama, but I don’t think it is that dark and it isn’t all funny. It is very entertaining and refreshing.

Frank: I don’t know, I found that Republican Party convention in Phil’s house a bit dark.

Mal: I liked it a lot. I’m sure it’ll be successful at the box office and Jake will probably win some kind of award for his performance. It is good to see that the US can still make films like this. Go away Frank.

My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 4/5 (Most people would think this to be special.)

 

Rosita – review #sydfilmfest

This is a gentle film about Ulrik, a father, played by the wonderful Jens Albinus, longing for love after the death of his wife. Like many in his small village in Denmark’s Jutland he goes for an arranged marriage with Rosita, a much younger woman from the Phillipines, played well by Mercedes Cabral. Ulrik has two sons and the younger, Johannes (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) still lives with him at home. Johannes is a bit of a local lad, a fisherman and has a girlfriend who clearly loves him a great deal.

Rosita is ultimately a film about whether we accept the cards we are dealt in life or make some difficult choices and it is also a film about hope and love. Johannes certainly isn’t happy with his lot and when Rosita comes along he soon thinks he has found the love of his life and wants to escape with her. Ulrik, however, is having none of this and the older lion still has the smarts to run his pack.

Johannes has to decide what he really wants and whether this choice will include the burning of some bridges to his family. A few words from his father right at the end of the film soon sort that out and I am reminded of the words of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards:

Oh, you can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need

My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 3+/5 (Somewhat special.)

 

Goat – review #sydfilmfest

I wasn’t expecting a great deal from this film, but it is actually quite powerfully disturbing. Goat is about the hazing rituals in US colleges that happen in frat houses. On the surface it presents the sheer physical danger of these stupid rituals, but at a deeper level when you understand how much of a long standing tradition and how widespread these things are, Goat makes you wonder about the decision making of all these people later in life when they are running so much of the US government, its military, the media, business and industry and even the legal system. Given the influence of the US and what it does on the rest of the world, it is a real worry.

I saw a review that dismissed or discounted this message as the reviewer thought everyone already knew all of this, but I don’t think those of us in the rest of the world do and nor do we think it to be a harmless rite of passage towards “manhood”.

I think it certainly helps to have big names like Nick Jonas and James Franco in the film to help with this exposé.  I haven’t seen Ben Schnetzer, the lead actor, before but he does a great job in looking both vulnerable, and still determined to be part of this brotherhood that he clearly sees as meaningless.

Surprisingly disturbing and powerful.

My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 3+/5 (Somewhat special.)

Land of Mine – review #sydfilmfest

Land of Mine is a very grim and sobering film. Set in 1945, it tells us a little known story of the de-mining of the coast of Denmark immediately after the Second World War. After Germany’s surrender we follow a group of teenage German boys, obviously conscripted late in the war, who were sent to Denmark to remove mines from its coastline. Apparently some 2,000 German ex-soldiers were forced to de-mine these beaches and over 1,000 of them died or suffered debilitating injuries as a result.

From the very beginning this film is brutally realistic in its approach. Perhaps it is necessary if the anti-war message is ever to be widely understood. So we are introduced to the consequences of war with an abundance of violence, destruction, revenge, loss of life, waste, blame, guilt and victimisation. Very little is held back and there are many graphically realistic scenes of sheer horror.

One of the keys to the power of this film is that the cast look and act so authentically, making in even more shocking. The Danish sergeant in charge of the group of the boys, played by Roland Møller, has obviously either seen the results of German excesses during the war itself, but we are not given any details. All of the young German boys look so innocent and somewhat ashamed of their country’s role in the war. It is so effective and powerful because I think they actually are teenagers, not 24 year olds playing teenagers as is so often the case.

As the film develops, it slowly introduces and explores other emotions and the consequences of war: loss, grief, empathy, friendship, love, sympathy and perhaps forgiveness.

The film is beautifully shot, from the scenery of the Danish coastline to the close-up shots of the boys nervous hands removing detonators from the mines.

It is such a powerful film that I wonder whether it should be compulsory viewing for any politician wanting to send young people off to war or willing to spend more money on the awful industries that manufacture these horribly destructive weapons.

My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 4/5 (Most people would think this to be special.)