Daily Film Thoughts: The Smaller Things (part two)

This will be my final post not related to TIFF for two weeks or so. I promised I’d do a write-up on these films, so I’ll do them now. Nothing too deep, as I’ve got to do my first TIFF review post tonight. Alright, here we go (in alphabetical order)

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First up is Eldorado, a multifaceted Belgian film about the hindrance that comes with the territory of life. Bouli Lanners wrote, directed and stars in this minor film and it has recently been acquired by FilmMovement for their monthly selection.

The film kicks off with Yvan (Bouli Lanners), a working class man walking into his home to find it a mess – he, like the audience, assumes burglary – but it isn’t. Instead he goes upstairs and finds a rather young man hiding underneath his bed, claiming that he has a knife. Yvan thinks wisely and weighs the options at hand; call the police or let the kid go free? As befitted with the gentle giant looking man, Yvan gives the man under his bed a pass and allows him to leave – however, the man won’t leave without the coin box he’d taken while scouring Yvan’s home. Yvan says no, both men argue a little and both eventually fall asleep.

The next morning Yvan wakes up to the young man trying to leave with the money – he trips him on his way down the stairs and does some damage. Again, as a kind man would, Yvan tells the young man that he’ll help him out. This leads into the main plot of Yvan taking his new ‘friend’ to the French border where the young man will see his parents. Through conversation, we learn the young man’s name to be Elie (Fabrice Adde) and his shtick to be that of a junkie’s.

On their road to Elie’s home, the elder man and the younger man begin to bond. Yvan isn’t much older than Elie – not even old enough to be a father figure, so why does he insist on helping him out? Why didn’t he just arrest him at the beginning? These questions are all answered much later on in an intelligently plodded fashion.

On the beautiful journey – similar to the Aztec’s Eldorado – the two men encounter strange situations and learn from one and other. In a progressive scene that supports the spiritual sub-theme Eldorado places on a pedestal, the two men are helped by a strange mechanic with a fascination for death and fortune telling. In the scene, the man foretells the future of Yvan in a very mysterious way – the same cannot be done for Elie because he’s been clinging to his past for too long. This is one of the most absurd yet truthful scenes of the year – the same should apply with you if you can suspend your disbelief for the entirety of the feature.

What I like most about Eldorado is how that, in only 80 minutes, the film comes full circle with plenty of emphasis and care for its characters than most other road trip films (if you can even classify this in that category). A revelation is made in the final act that really opens up the viewers imagination to what had just occurred, which will keep audiences pondering the purpose and importance of the story for days on end. It isn’t a flawless movie as the humor tends to fall flat, there is a really unnecessary segment in which Lanners gives no respect for his material to insult Alain Delon for a few moments and there is far too much build up to the weak climax (although this would tie in more symbolically with the entire El Dorado story – but it didn’t seem intentional enough to convince me).

Strongly with its characterization, well paced, interestingly intentioned – Eldorado is a trip that rarely utilizes shortcuts on its path to solacing the soul. [7/10]

Julia

Next up is the almost insufferably simplistic Julia – a film that has somewhat won critics over thanks to Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton’s generally drunken lead performance.

Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours, you’d expect a well-reviewed film about kidnapping to be at least somewhat interesting – and it is, but somewhat isn’t constantly and the film runs out of steam at about the 105 minute mark. And everyone knows that the third act isn’t the best place for a film to die down at.

The story is about Julia (Tilda Swinton), a recently released criminal who has problems with her alcoholism – so much to the point where she has debts all over town and has to sleep with random men just for a place to sleep at night. Of course, the writers decided to make the protagonist unlikeable on the verge of sympathy, but this manipulative plan doesn’t flesh out as well as the four co-writers would’ve wished. Anyways, with this mentality, Julia’s daily routine consists of going to clubs, acting like a slut, getting free drinks and having sex with these men – effective, but not ideal.

One day, she attends one of her mandatory AA meetings and in classic simplistic writing, she is afraid of confronting her problems. Opposed to listening to stories similar to hers, she leaves the room and gets some coffee – here she meets Elena (Kate del Castillo), who seems to have a chemical imbalance in her brain because she’s always smiling to the point of strain and talking erratically. The next evening, she takes a drunken Julia into her home in hopes to coax her into a plan to steal back her son, Tom (Aiden Gould). She promises a big reward and after weighing the options in her mind, Julia decides to take the offer. Then in inimical Julia fashion, she double-crosses the one person trying to help her (even if it’s only slightly) and kidnaps Elena’s son for herself so she can blackmail both Elena and the people taking care of Tom.

The first bit of the film gives the viewer a bit of insight into Julia’s daily routine, but not enough into the mind of her psyche; unless the writer’s truly believe someone so one-track minded can effectively execute such a plan. Her intentions are clear, but the filmmakers never take a definitive stance on the character – flip-flopping to the point of annoyance. Julia hardly seems as conflicted as the story suggests – it’s just a mess of a character study.

In the final act, the story takes a conspicuous turn that will leave even the lesser experienced cinema-goers sighing. Nothing is resolved, nor does it try to be – which is bad with such an ambiguous conclusion. Honestly, the first two-thirds of the film are mildly interesting despite the recklessness of lacking characterization for everyone but Julia (and in most cases she’s included), but the final act plunges the film into terrible, unintentionally hilarious depths.

Apart from Swinton’s great (not masterful; not “Oscar worthy”) performance, I’d suggest you avoid this film. It’s lousily molded, there are too many questions raised and it draws out its Hispanic characters so poorly that it’s almost racist. Take it or leave it.
[4/10]

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Next up is also among the plethora of small foreign films getting brief releases/small audiences thanks to FilmMovement. It’s Lee Issac Chung’s Munyurangabo and its perhaps the only legitimate film about the Rwandan holocaust to date.

Rather than exploiting the story through Hollywood, Chung (a native of Colorado) decided to take his story to Rwanda and authenticate it by taking the film across Hutu and Tutsi territory and making the story about the emotions by those affected as opposed to those viewing the massacre from a distance.

The story is about two young boys – Ngabo (Jeff Rutagengwa) and Sangwa (Eric Ndorunkundiye) on a quest for vengeance. Ngabo witnessed his father’s death at the hands of a Tutsi man a few years back and has been plotting his revenge since. Now that he’s old enough to wield a machete, he goes hunting for the man who ruined his family. Sangwa is a friend of Ngabo’s – a teenager much like himself who empathizes with Ngabo’s past and who also has nothing important to do in work famished Rwanda.

They walk and walk in the scorching heat looking for brief hitchhikes with only murder on their mind. In this time the begin to form a brotherly bond. It is at the peak of their friendship that Sangwa decides to go back to his hometown to visit the family he left three years prior in look for work. His mother is, of course, ecstatic at her son’s arrival, but his father is much more angered. He feels betrayed and feels his son is extremely selfish for not thinking about his family before he left. While Sangwa pursues rekindling his family roots, Ngabo is watching and feeling betrayed himself. Not only does he have to put off getting his revenge, but he has to watch someone else’s life come into fruition as his is beginning its descent.

There is an unspoken hatred for Ngabo that is seen through the eyes of the Sangwa family – they are of different tribes; Ngabo’s people are Hutu’s while Sangwa’s are Tutsi’s. This causes a bit of conflict, but its conveyed in the most sincere form – through the innocence of youth.

On a whole, Munyurangabo is as emotionally affecting as it is morally conflicting. There is an anemic aura about living in poverty that the Lee Issac Chung delivers without an added pressure of sentimentality. Natural, sorrowful, loving and sincere – Munyurangabo is among the top films about youths finding their purpose; whether it be through solidarity or care, Chung’s vision will undoubtedly gratify those willing to track it down. [8/10]

Concluding this post will be indie dramady World’s Greatest Dad – a comedy as dark as it is harrowing. Starring Robin Williams, the story follows Lance Clayton – an English highschool teacher that it knocking at the door of his elder years. He’s also an unpublished writer whose written four novels and a bunch of articles – none to any avail. With an antagonistic, perverted annoyance of a son in Kyle (Daryl Sabara) and a dooming notion that the class he teaches is set to be shut down due to lack of attendance, Lance is in a state of peril. He has no one and is soon to lose everything that resembled a normal life in his occupation. Even his “girlfriend” doesn’t like to be seen with him out in public for reasons more insulting than the ones she panders to him with. He’s without solace, his thirst for living has gone unquenched for long enough.

On the other side of the spectrum, we get a little bit of perspective from Lance’s son – the typical outcast with a weird turn as a sexual deviant. Although a virgin and remotely friendless, Kyle insists that he’s cool, that ‘nothing bothers him’ as he slings insults across the school hallways after speaking about disturbing porn trait after another to his only pal, Andrew (Evan Martin). When Andrew sees Kyle speaking to his father with utmost resentment, Andrew empathizes with Lance and begins to feel detached from Kyle. Andrew’s mother is an alcoholic and he has no father – to see Kyle treat a caring, pitiful man such as Lance the way he does bothers Andrew deeply.

Midway through the feature, World’s Greatest Dad changes its formula up and becomes a dark satire/character study about a man having his world spin out of axis. It becomes less funny and much more depressing than I anticipated — even after reading reviews claiming this as a sad comedy. However, with the change comes significant problems. Areas that should be divulged into aren’t; there are plenty of montages that play under several sad rock songs, making a few of the efforts seem gimmicky rather than an effective way to solicit depression, and lots of other scenarios are dutifully avoided; all of which add up to a very simple product.

The film isn’t a complete mixed bag – it has more positives than it does negatives. It does have moments of brilliance (see: the dramatic transition all critics are gravitating towards) that comes in rather large bundles. A decent film with a great performance by one of America’s most reliable funny men in Mr. Williams. The character arc of Lance plays out compassionately, and we almost feel this emotional connection – if not for the reckless and tactlessly handled conclusion that almost makes that view feel frustration with the lack of emotional aptitude applied. World’s Greatest Dad isn’t the most noble effort of the year – or even of the month – but it’s an interesting take on convention and the high school condition; as seen from both teacher and student. [7/10]

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