Category Archives: Jay

SXSW 2021: Recovery

I watched this movie on a whim as the logline hadn’t particularly called out to me. But you know what? A single sentence movie synopsis can’t convey the charm and warmth and quirkiness of its stars.

Two directionless sisters brave a cross-country road trip to rescue their grandmother from a COVID outbreak at her nursing home.

See? It doesn’t sound terrible but I’m not sure I’m terribly invested in another COVID story. They’re already a dime a dozen on the indie circuit and truthfully, we don’t even have enough perspective or even closure on this stupid pandemic to really tell its stories. But in Recovery, COVID quarantine is merely the setting. The true meat is this delightful road trip with two sisters who I wish I knew in real life. Blake (Mallory Everton) and Jamie (Whitney Call) are fun and funny, down to earth in offbeat ways that are interesting and endearing rather than annoying. The actresses each have their own distinct style but their chemistry together is effortless and effervescent.

I loved the writing, I loved the two leads. Recovery isn’t so much about plot as it is a showcase for two talented actresses, and an opportunity to hang out with friends. An actually funny COVID comedy: who saw that coming? Breathlessly paced with an almost manic energy, Recovery will be a fun time capsule some day, but it’s got a humour that transcends the pandemic. I can’t wait to see more from these two.

SXSW 2021: We Are The Thousand

I grew up in a small town where absolutely no concerts that I didn’t perform myself were ever given. NO ONE came to town and of course we didn’t even blame them. I was lucky, though, to live a very drivable distance between several large cities, which means I didn’t miss out on much. I saw tonnes of shows (not in the last year – I miss live music!) but not everyone is nearly as lucky. Take the good people of Cesena, Italy. They were fed up with being passed over for concerts and they did something about it.

Anita Rivaroli’s We Are The Thousand documents Cesena’s attempt to lure the Foo Fighters to perform in their town by staging their own concert – 1000 musicians playing Learn to Fly at the same time. Go behind the scenes to see the year’s worth of preparation that goes into a four minute song as volunteers figure out logistics, equipment, and financing on the fly – after all, this has never been done before.

Watch the thrilling ensemble of 250 drummers, 150 bass players, 350 guitarists, and 250 singers, known collectively as Rockin’1000, on the warm day one thousand musicians learned to play together. Can this many drummers really play in sync? Can that many guitarists be convinced not to engage in musical masturbation? And even if they can, will it work? Will Dave Grohl hear their plea? Will Foo Fighters play their town?

We Are The Thousand is a heck of a great way to find out.

SXSW 2021: Fucking With Nobody

After losing a directing gig to her nemesis Kristian, Hanna teams up with her sister and counterculture friends to create a phony Instagram romance between herself and young actor Ekku. Hanna and her friends have lofty ambitions for their Instagram account; self-described ‘social anarchists,’ this “art project” will challenge the traditional, heteronormative power structures of romantic love. Everyone’s super on board, even Hanna’s and Ekku’s current boyfriends, who are both witnesses and participants.

Of course, what starts as a commentary on how easily intimacy can be faked on social media quickly snowballs into something else entirely as Hanna and Ekku begin to rack up views. With a real following, they have a platform to really say something, but instead seem to lose the thread of their original intent.

In a complicated and complicating meta twist, film director Hanna is played by Fucking With Nobody writer-director Hannaleena Hauru. The part of her boyfriend is played by real life boyfriend (and co-writer, and co-cinematographer) Lasse Poser. Fiction and reality blur and the narrative lines become difficult to parse and perhaps more trouble than they’re worth.

This movie about making a movie (about making a movie?) bites off more than it can chew, and though I normally admire hunger, this kind of gluttony was hard to watch and ultimately unsatisfying.

SXSW 2021: Disintegration Loops

William Basinski may not be a household name, but among avant-garde ambient music composers, there are few who stand shoulder to shoulder with him. Best known for The Disintegration Loops, an elegy to the 2001 attacks, Basinski reflects on his legacy as we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

The music consists of found sound sources, shortwave radio, and delay systems recorded on tape loops that, when played repeatedly as he transferred the sound to a digital format, gradually deteriorated as they passed over and over the tape head, the ferrite eventually detaching from the plastic backing, with increasing gaps and cracks in the music as it played on. The crumbling tapes leave a haunting musical memorial of their own demise. The mournful sound, produced by catastrophic decay, became the soundtrack for the terrible aftermath of the terrorist attacks. A resident of New York City, Basinski watched the towers fall from the roof of his building, and dedicated the album to the victims.

The events of 9/11 are eerily paralleled in the documentary as it is shot during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interviews over Zoom are threaded with shots of a dramatically empty New York City, and Basinski is once again composing music for the time.

SXSW Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America

Racism is bad. Inarguably, unequivocally bad. And yet it’s had a persistent history in the USA (and most other places, but this is about racism in America) and is baked right into its constitution, making it all but impossible to shake.

This documentary doesn’t need to convince you that racism is bad. Jeffery Robinson is a lawyer, which makes sense, because he’s exceptionally good at building a case. America is on trial, and Robinson is the crusading prosecutor with such compelling and relentless evidence you can’t help but convict.

Although Robinson’s approach is very fact-based, his stories add up to something as moving as it is convincing. I could go on and on but the truth is, this is a strong documentary that deserves to be seen, end of story.

SXSW 2021: Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break

Paul Dood (Tom Meeten) is an odd duck, a middle aged man working part time at a second hand shop but a full time dreamer. An aspiring triple threat (singing/dancing/acting), his act has garnered very little attention on social media but this hasn’t deterred him from his ambition of auditioning for a competitive talent reality show, or from live streaming nearly every aspect of his life via a chest cam. His greatest champion, his mother/roommate Julie (June Watson), applauds his every move, despite a glaring lack of talent, and sews all his tacky, out of date, sequined costumes, of which he is terribly fond.

When the reality show is in his town holding auditions, it is of course his top priority to wow the judges and dominate the stage, but his journey there, pushing his ailing mother in a wheelchair, is fraught with bad luck and a series of unfortunate encounters which make him late for the audition, which he leaves humiliated and broken, and that’s before he realizes it’s killed his mother. Used to being disappointed, Paul returns to his dismal life, but one day at work, something in him snaps. Taking an extended lunch break, he seeks revenge on the selfish people who made him late that fateful day.

If Paul Dood wasn’t so pathetically funny, you’d call this is a horror. Five pretty spectacular and fairly graphic murders are about to take place. Yet Paul’s bumbling ineptitude and soul-crushing resilience mean these murders are more slap stick than terrifying. But do remember that Paul’s chest cam is always filming, and if his singing and dancing didn’t get many views, a murder spree sure will, no matter how sloppily executed.

Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break is low-budget and uneven, yet I found as I watched that I was drawn to the character and entertained by his hijinks. It’s not a perfect film but if you give it a chance, it’s warm and silly and I couldn’t help but join in the fun.

The Father

Free hugs. Free hugs for everyone, because I regret to inform you: you’re absolutely going to need them.

The Father is unintentionally the perfect film to have released during a global pandemic which has meant many things to many people, but has put a particular emphasis and burden on caregivers. Sean lost his Granny last spring; though her death certificate doesn’t state COVID as the cause of death, hers is one of many likely hastened by mandatory isolation (not that she was alone: she received wonderful care at her residence, but these have been lonely times, and particularly hard on people living with dementia). My own grandparents moved into a nursing home for the first time not many months ago, my mother unable to cope as their sole carer any longer. My grandfather’s failing health has meant he’s in and out of the hospital quite frequently, and must always be quarantined upon his return. He’s in the hospital right now, in fact, unable to return to his residence which is suffering an outbreak of a variant. His hospital bed is not far from the one in which his younger brother died last week, yet he was unable to go to him for one last goodbye. But it’s his wife, my grandmother, who suffers from dementia, and my mother who has to tell and retell all this news to her, news of a constantly changing world and its new and evolving rules which many of us hardly keep pace with ourselves. My mother’s only break has been courtesy of her own mandatory quarantine, having also been exposed to the variant at their residence.

The Father is a duet between father and daughter; the experience of dementia from both the victim’s perspective, and the caregiver’s. It is impossible to say who suffers more. Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is a charming and vibrant old guy who values his independence even though daughter Anne (Olivia Coleman) judges it no longer sustainable. Anthony is defiant in the face of the carers she presents, resents even their implication, though both the script and Florian Zeller’s direction make their necessity abundantly clear to us. Anthony confuses people, names, faces, conversations, places, time, reality, even his own identity.

The film is of course extremely empathetic to Anthony’s plight, but it allows us to truly know this character, and perhaps even the disease, by donning his slippers and showing the truth, warts and all. As his world tilts and blurs, Anthony reacts variously, sometimes sad and scared, sometimes angry and aggressive. We see him self-possessed one moment, asserting his role as homeowner and head of household, and completely depleted the next, sobbing and unsure. It’s heartbreaking, not just to see a man reduced to such disparate elements, but because so many of us can easily recognize our own loved ones in this man, in his simple needs, his volatile moods, his disappearing self. Anthony Hopkins is doing incredible work in this film. He’s no spring chicken himself, but he’s in complete command, a psychological/emotional contortionist. Give him all the awards.

Caregiver Anne is living in her own hell. Since her father can’t remember one conversation to the next, nor even parse one sentence after the other, reasoning with him and negotiating with him are completely off the table. Often unable to even recognize her, he’s certainly not able to appreciate that these tough decisions are for his own good, his safety, his well-being, and her peace of mind. She has clearly sacrificed much of herself to be his carer for as long as she has, and it is a mostly thankless job, Anthony’s twisted mind more likely to be suspicious or critical than to recognize the time and patience expended on his behalf. He is not a bad person, just a sick one, and his daughter is losing him bit by bit, disguising her grief even though it’s happening right in front of him, as he lives and breathes. Coleman is of course absolutely fantastic, a portrait of anguish under a mask of affection. But Anne isn’t a saint, she’s just doing her best under complex circumstances, and with less support than she deserves.

The film is as ruthless as the disease it describes; it will break your heart. It reminds us not just of dementia’s devastation, but of its humanity. The Father is a damn fine piece of cinema.

SXSW 2021: Kid Candidate

Hayden Pedigo is a 24 year old experimental musician who makes weird performance art videos that go semi-viral. His go-to character is a politician, and he gets just enough attention from these silly uploads that he decides to actually run for city council, as if having played one on Youtube somehow makes you qualified.

Pedigo may have honourable intentions, and he certainly loves his city, Amarillo, Texas. He’s even got a couple of ideas for improving things – almost, though not quite, some policy. But he does not have the heart for shaking hands and kissing babies or giving speeches or raising money or being criticized or talking to people. It’s going to be quite an uphill battle campaigning against an incumbent backed by the town’s elite, not to mention their very influential dollars.

It’s great to want to fight corruption and to unite communities, but let’s be real: Pedigo doesn’t actually stand a chance. And like its subject, Kid Candidate lacks the vision and ambition to really make a go of things. However, film maker Jasmine Stodel does get one thing right. She backs a youth movement that’s attempting to be the change they want to see. Maybe their inexperience and naivete mean they’ve failed today, but they’ve seen how dirty the game is, how rigged the system is, and they know the only way to change it is from within.

Berlinale 2021: North By Current

Filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax returns to his rural Michigan home town after the mysterious death of his two-year-old niece, Kalla. His sister Jesse, the girl’s mother, is a suspect, his brother-in-law David is arrested, Kalla’s cause of death inconclusive, and the family tragedy as a whole is just a lot to process when there are so many eggshells to tiptoe around.

Minax is himself a trans man with a fraught relationship with his Mormon family. As he intercuts present day footage with old home movies of his childhood, it’s easy to see how his sister might have struggled with such an unstable upbringing and addiction issues. Motherhood seemed to have grounded her for a time, but the death of her daughter and her own possible responsibility and/or culpability seems to have both unraveled her but also encouraged her reproduction, replacing one baby with the next before the last one’s out of diapers. Grappling with trauma and depression, Jesse all but refuses to discuss the matter, but slowly their mother starts to open up, but she’s not exactly a great source of comfort to either. In fact, Minax’s mother is quick to point out that she’s lost two girls – Kalla, and the little girl that Minax himself used to be. While Minax’s mother may be entitled to her grief, it’s clear his transition and queer identity are still the family’s biggest challenge – even the murder of one family member at the hands of another is more easily overlooked.

North By Current is a testament of grief, tinted by faith, family, history, and isolation. Spanning topics including depression, domestic violence, motherhood and transgender masculinity, I’m not sure to what extent any true healing or catharsis occurred, but I know Minax, at least, is headed in the right direction.