Not since January have we had the pleasure of a documentary claiming the title of film of the week; here the top three titles are all of the factual variety. A limited batch, the latest releases provide little of any great interest in fiction terms, though it’s nice to see such an international spread across pros and newcomers alike. Bigger and better things to come next time.
Comparisons to Platoon and Full Metal Jacket appear to abound in most coverage of 9th Company, a Russian war film examining the evolving mentality of soldiers sent to Afghanistan in 1989; much as that war be referred to as “the Soviet Vietnam”, it’s in concept alone that any similarities can be seen. In execution, Fedor Bondarchuk’s distinctly amateur directorial debut is little more than a haplessly histrionic emulation of such narratives. Permeated by certain handsome shots of the unlikely beauty of this unforgiving terrain, the film otherwise fails consistently on every cinematic level, its agonisingly overwrought score and wildly unstable movement from action epic to intimate drama betraying a movie that simply can’t decide what it wants to be, or how it might go about being it. Covering the same ground as Rambo III, it’s 9th Company’s biggest issue that it somehow makes that film seem positively down-to-earth and balanced by contrast. AVOID IT.
Rooted in the real-life story of Montreal’s thriving disco scene in the tail end of the 1970s, Funkytown casts the burden equally on English and French with dialogue duly split between both languages. It’s this bilingual flair and the evocative production design that ties the film to its era so concisely, capturing the frenetic energy of the scene and allowing it a firm grip on the dominant issues of the time, chief among them sexuality. Patrick Huard heads the impressive ensemble as a celebrity DJ as addicted to adultery as he is to drugs, while the strongest support comes from Justin Chatwin as a young dancer coming to terms with himself in the midst of this scene. It’s these strong performances that forgive the excess of Funkytown’s sprawling length; adorned with several subplots too many, it’s a film more ambitious than able. Its failings, though, are noble, and pale beside the impression left by its many successes. WORTH WATCHING.
In Another Country
Fans of South Korean auteur Sang-soo Hong need not have worried that the director was moving away from his trademark territory of languorous pacing and improv-heavy dialogue when he announced a partnership with Isabelle Huppert for In Another Country. Starring Huppert as three iterations of the same French woman visiting a seaside town, it’s a film less accessible than—for instance—Hong’s last work, The Day He Arrives. Amusing in its playful twists on the same repeated scenarios, it’s a strange movie that may frustrate the uninitiated: there’s a particularity to Hong’s style of filmmaking that perhaps rewards the familiar viewer, his cinema one—by all accounts—built of repetition and renovations of themes and scenarios. Much as it may reflect the film’s core ideas, Huppert’s broken English lacks conviction, rendering her performance—and the film’s exploration of identity with it—more a lightly comical curio than a particularly compelling cinematic experience. SO-SO.
Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet
As the title of Jesse Vile’s documentary so abruptly attests, most would be surprised to learn that Jason Becker—the speed metal guitar prodigy who landed one of the industry’s most sought-after jobs when he was just 20—is still alive. Rapidly robbed of motion by Lou Gehrig’s disease, he barely managed to finish his first album with David Lee Roth before losing all ability to play guitar, and eventually to move at all. That was in 1991, when he was given a maximum of five years to live. A remarkable story of devotion and dedications, Not Dead Yet focuses as much on Becker’s parents as on him, highlighting their unyielding efforts to support their son and continue to make his dream a reality. Vile is fortunate to have the benefit of so inherently emotional and intriguing a tale to tell; a debut director, his teething issues with structure and pacing would derail a lesser subject. RECOMMENDED.
Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist
No stranger to difficult subject matter, documentarian Kirby Dick landed his second Oscar nomination last year for The Invisible War, a challenging look at the epidemic of military rape. Though every bit as dark, his subject matter in Sick is handled rather more comically: focusing on the last years in the life of cystic fibrosis sufferer Bob Flanagan, who lived to the highly unusual age of 43 with the disease, the film channels his peculiar worldview as it documents his masochism-driven performance art. As fascinating as it is—in all its graphic detail—repulsive, Sick is at its heart an unlikely love story between Flanagan and the caring girlfriend to whom he happens to sexually submit. Touched constantly by the spectre of the death toward which it inevitably moves, Sick is as insightful a biographical documentary as you’re likely to see, as affectingly universal as it is startlingly particular. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
For all the benefits it gives us, the proliferation of digital effects in modern cinema also robs us of a lot. With even the most modest of budgets now able to conjure gruesome creations to populate monster movies, the days of inventive practical effects seem all the more romantic. The sheer falsity of the alien adversary in Storage 24 proves the final nail in the film’s coffin, adding the insult of a generic computer-generated foe to the injury of leaden dialogue, stale performances, and an exhaustingly overbearing romantic conflict. Johannes Roberts is not an untalented director—2010’s F, for all its later failings, created a creepy atmosphere early on—and his manipulation of the titular setting is often impressive, but he faces an uphill battle to overcome the innumerable drawbacks of a script bathed in cliché. Particularly in the wake of the not-dissimilar Attack the Block, it’s unforgiveable for a film of this potential to be quite so dull. AVOID IT.
The second Kirby Dick documentary of the week sees the director treading similar ground to the first, albeit in altogether more straightforward fashion. Hospice patients are the subject of The End, which proposes to examine death through the eyes of those sure to soon face it, and those who do on a daily basis: the nurses and doctors. Visiting five cases one-by-one, the film’s structure imposes an episodic feeling—unsurprising given its origin as a TV documentary—that, at worst, contributes a procedural quality to the process of death. Not quite so assured as Dick’s better work, it struggles in one particular misjudged sequence and strives to create a poignancy that it never quite achieves. Nonetheless, this is the stuff of undeniable emotion, and to be caught up in these lives and deaths—even if only briefly—is to feel some share of their pain and heartbreak at unduly facing the end. RECOMMENDED.
It’s with the best of intentions that Pascal Franchot’s drama Triple Dog uses the recent apparent suicide of a young student as a framing device for its story of teenage girls who dare each other to conduct increasingly dangerous actions during a birthday slumber party; it’s the worst of exploitation, however, that it does so to play emotional cards it never earns the right to. Eliciting promising performances from his young cast, Franchot does what he can with a fundamentally flawed script, which sees the gradual lesson these teens learn as far more profound and redemptive than really it is. The resultant film is as didactic in tone as it is destitute of theme, its standpoints confused and convoluted beyond comprehension, either of the viewer of the characters themselves. Much as the ending, in all its revelatory flourishes, may try to suggest otherwise, neither we nor they take a thing from the story. AVOID IT.