Reviews

SXSW Film Review: Run This Town (Ricky Tollman, 2019)

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Reviews | Leave a comment

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Run This Town is a re-enactment (or re-imagining) of the “fall from grace” of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford. From a journalists’ perspective, it is not quite the Spotlight scoop. Smoking crack is nowhere near as emotionally hard-hitting, socially explosive, nor satanically intricate as the Catholic Church’s cover up. Plus, everyone knows the ending now. So from a filmmaker’s point of view, why was this a good subject?

The film didn’t have a solid or novel reply. That lack of confidence hampered it from going beyond where typical news reporting had been years ago. While Run This Town is effective, it is not long-lastingly interesting. This was also reflected in subtle presentation choices. The split panel window graphics weren’t always used to the full advantage to create tension of a simultaneous event, nor a cubist way of looking at the same feature from multiple angles. It was just there sometimes to give a chicness the film needs to fit in a 2019 climate.

What made me feel a little sad for this effort is the Molson Canadian message hidden throughout the film. From the subject itself to the insecure millennial trope right at the end: to constantly remind ourselves of a “civic duty” to be second-class at every level, to always be late to the party and content with the consolation prize that signifies some deficiency. Rob Ford’s scandal does embarrass; “but for Gods sake, we can’t even hide a scandal properly, even against a second-rate journalist”. It isn’t just tiring – it’s self-defeatist – and not even remotely true of Canada or Toronto. The “fuck you police officer” scene with supposed resonance with #MeToo is such a misstep in terms of its actual impact, it left me double-taking to make sure this was not 1919. As a Chinese saying preaches: the first is genius, the second a copycat, and the third a moron. The fact that people elected Rob’s authoritarian brother to an even darker Premiership may be a side-effect of our ignorance of the preceding years, and our failure to contrast it in the proper light. Next time, please just frame the whole ordeal as the royal real-life buffoonery that it was: Torontonians were fooled into trusting a Jackass bit actor, and were equally clueless in how to cope.

SXSW Film Review: Greener Grass (Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe, 2019)

Posted on by Gary in Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

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Greener Grass is completely brilliant at what it does. There aren’t many other ways to get this across without spoiling the film. The brainchild (brainchildren?) of directors and actresses Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe has a loose story, but Greener Grass is really an experience brewed from the organic roasted snapshots of suburbia. An absurdist satire on hyper-politeness marinated with envy that so permeates our, and in bold emphasis, white American society.

To give you a scenario that stabs at reality as the film opens: the protagonist trades away her newborn baby based on a comment, and finds her other son transformed into a dog. But of course from there the situations become ever more perverse. Even though everything is clearly caving in around the protagonist, she and her cohort remain hopelessly entrenched in a fixed role, far beyond rescue. And perhaps in a sick, metaphysical way, they ARE the boundaries: it is physically impossible to step out of bounds no matter how poignant the reminder, or however hard they try.

Even in the Q&A after the film, I wasn’t sure if the directors were completely out of character yet. The over eagerness belies some type of dysfunction that you just know isn’t normal nor wholesome. As George Carlin used to point out about one American aphorism: how can anyone be “more than happy”? Perhaps more pressingly: what happens to your life if you must always be happy? It is the symptom of the Facebook and Instagram generation (regardless of age), cheapening our values into superficial facades that you can rent, buy, sell and promote. Greener Grass doesn’t pretend it has a reply, or a solution. But it does paint a 70 foot tall picture of that farce so one cannot fail to see the laughable and meaningless corners we drive ourselves into.

SXSW Film Review: I See You (Adam Randall, 2019)

Posted on by Gary in Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

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As Jackie, Helen Hunt leads a cast of secretive characters in their pursuit of a privileged, suburban American dream in Adam Randall’s I See You. That idyllic existence was recently disturbed by Jackie’s infidelity with her high school sweetheart, but this new dynamic also seems to have stirred up something much more evil, which begins to tear at the family’s life more fiercely than anyone could imagine. Bizarre and inexplicable things began to occur around the house. And it does not stop at their household. The eerie presence seems to spill into their community as a 10 year old boy goes missing on a bike ride in the woods. Under pressure to deliver results both at home and at work, Jackie’s police detective husband Greg must resolve the mysterious evil once and for all.

The soundtrack in Psycho famously made people jump out of their skins in discomfort. The music in I See You likewise brought a disquiet to the theater, but in a far more forceful and blanketing manner. As I am sure it was intended, it really did bother me. There was a malignant, pervasive dominance to it that gave the feeling that it could not leave anyone unscathed. The drum rhythm pushes the plot ahead, and the discordant score dissuaded me from being curious about what the disfigured instrument which produced the sound looks like.

As the film unfurled towards the inevitable end, like a red carpet rolled up with skeletons from the closet, the audience is forced to confront both the characters and their own expectations. As a midnighter, I See You is an excellent horror/thriller. As a matinee, you would be too alert to forget what you see. Either way, easily recommended.

SXSW Film Review: Snatchers (Stephen Cedars, Benji Kleiman, 2019)

Posted on by Gary in Movies, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

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You can never have too much blood said Snatchers directors Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman with a glinting of the eyes and a rolling of the sleeves. While that is a solid slogan for the Red Cross, truth be told, having buckets of the red stuff plastering the walls doesn’t otherwise give you a good slasher film. What does is the concomitant ritual sacrifice and lampooning of a social trope that we have all agreed should die over and over again until the rewind button breaks. Enter horny teenagers who can’t wait to have sex. Where Snatchers diverges from other direct-to-VHS scripts is its excellent pacing, acting, and imaginative (to put it mildly) set up.

The story, which isn’t the star here, goes like: teenagers f$&@, girl gets pregnant, guy runs away, mom freaks out, cool kids fold and wilt while nerdy Magic-playing ex-BFF steps up. Also Mayan Aliens wreck everyone. This is basically Juno with heartfelt character growth ripped out and transplanted with headless corpses and dismembered limbs.

It is of course the aliens from Mexico (space aliens, that is) that are the cornerstone of every joke here. From vag-cannon to blender/mulcher, stop-signs to cat flights, the directors pay tribute to touchstones like Evil Dead and Shaun of the Dead but create fresh and hilarious scenes of the their own. They rightly chose to do everything with animatronics – not that the head chomping aliens were extremely well built, but as the actors testified, the physicality lends itself to more believable acting than green screen and tennis ball. The best part is that you barely get any breathers over the course of the film. One can clearly see what six years of script and screen-writing does to economize even a wild slasher run. Sure, it is not a slugfest a la Marx Brothers where the next joke hit just as hard as your brain was still reeling from the last comedic concussion. But aside from a momentary lull in the fridge, the film unfurls in a highly efficient but natural pace. Basically, go watch this if you are at all interested in a good late night slasher. Or a daylight slasher. Cuz aliens don’t wait until it’s dark.