Blu-Ray Review: The Creeping Garden

Directors: Tim Grabham, Jasper Sharp
Starring: Mark Pagnell, Heather Barnett, Bryn Dentinger
Country: UK
Running Time: 84 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: E


Although they’re both documentaries, I couldn’t have picked a more different film than The Creeping Garden to follow up Gleeson to watch and review. Where the latter was a moving, very human film made up from raw, home movie style footage, The Creeping Garden is an unusual, cerebral and stylish affair. As such it was a bit of a shock to the system, and I still haven’t quite settled my thoughts on it in my mind. I’ll give it a go here though as I write my review.

Co-directed by Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp (who I’ve met a couple of times through a festival I help organise), The Creeping Garden is a documentary that explores the study of plasmodial slime mould. It sounds like an unusual and dull subject for a feature length documentary, but although I’d agree that it’s unusual, there’s more to slime moulds than you might imagine. Although they look like and were originally classified as fungi, they are in fact organisms which can move, eat and have a surprising level of intelligence for their appearance.

The film interviews and looks at the work of a number of scientists, amateur enthusiasts, musicians and artists who all deal with or take inspiration from slime moulds. As such, the film is almost about them as much as it is about slime moulds. A little like Room 237, part of the hook of the film is how unusual the work is from this incredibly niche group of people and how deeply they delve into it. The studies here are less crackpot than those of Room 237 though of course, so the filmmakers are in no way poking fun at or exploiting the strange habits of these slime mould experts. In fact Grabham and Sharp seem as interested and obsessed as they are, as the camera thrives on shots of the organisms.

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Review: Gleason

Director: J. Clay Tweel
Screenplay: J. Clay Tweel
Starring: Steve Gleason, Michel Varisco-Gleason, Mike Gleason, Scott Fujita
Country: USA
Running Time: 110 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


About a year ago I guested on the LAMBcast for one of their Roll Your Own Top 5 episodes and I presented my list of the ‘Top 5 Films to Make a Grown Man Cry’. It consisted of five films I found particularly emotional, spurred on by the fact that since becoming a father three years ago I’ve found myself crying during films a lot more than I used to. Since making that list I haven’t got any less soft, but I have seen a couple of films that would easily muscle their way onto it. One was A Monster Calls, which had the whole cinema sniffling away from start to finish, and the other was this, J. Clay Tweel’s documentary Gleason.

Gleason tells the story of Steve Gleason, a former professional American football player who found fame for blocking a punt in the team’s first home game after Hurricane Katrina, a game that became a symbol of recovery in New Orleans. In 2011, a couple of years after he retired from playing professionally, Steve was diagnosed with having amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a brutal disease that causes the death of neurons which control voluntary muscles. This results in difficulty in speaking, swallowing, and eventually breathing, meaning that sufferers’ life expectancy is usually around only 2-5 years.

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Trailer: The Lure

One of my favourite films on the festival circuit last year, from Sundance to Toronto After Dark, was the debut feature from Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska. It is a thoroughly unorthodox adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, retold as a 1980s period musical, with a healthy dose of blood and drugs and sex.

A literal, fish-out of water tale, set it in a burlesque club in 1980s Warsaw. A family of musicians, whose main gig is to play back-up for the strippers at a night-club, discover two mermaids in the water while drinking and singing on the beach. They bring them aboard as part of their act, sort of like adopting two new children, and drop them right in to soft-core sex trade. What could possibly go wrong?

My review is here. Check out the trailer below.

Trailer: I Am Not Your Negro

One of the most acclaimed documentaries on the 2016 festival circuit was Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro. Along with OJ: Made In America, you have probably seen it pop up on many Top 10 lists. After seeing the trailer, I can certainly see why. Immediately engrossing, confrontational, and very, very sharp, I am eagerly anticipating February 3rd, when it gets its full theatrical release.

Based on American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic, James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript “Remember This House,” (written through 1980s prior to his death in 1987) and narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, the film explores the history of race relations in the United States through Baldwin’s reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. The film premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award in the documentary category.

Trailer: Beauty & The Beast

Disney is hard at work grinding out live action version of all their animated features. Emma Watson, Luke Evans and Dan Stevens do exactly what you expect them to do with lots of CGI and flowery movie sets, in this very familiar looking 2017 Beauty & The Beast directed by Bill “Kinsey” Condon. While I have certainly enjoyed Branagh’s Cinderella and Burton’s Alice In Wonderland (I missed Favreau’s Jungle Book, but by all accounts it is serviceable), fair warning that Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid are all on the assembly line for handsome-but-forgettable consumption.

Trailer: Fraud

This trailer is for a curious film-object I managed to catch during its World Premiere at Hot Docs in May. Kind of a found footage film, kind of a ‘constructed collage,’ and very much a fake narrative. Filmmaker Dean Fleischer-Camp took hours and hours of public uploaded You Tube video from an American family, and re-edited as a feature film, Fraud which considers the dark, disturbing side of credit, consumerism, and the American Dream. The execution is not without its flaws, but it deserves a serious consideration because of the way that it further pushes out the documentary-form, and even more significantly, the experience of watching Fraud is beyond fascinating. Check out the trailer below.

Review: Tickled

Tickled

Tickled is a documentary about power when one is the ‘tickler.’ Tickled is a documentary about the sudden whiplash from silly to terror when one is the ‘ticklee.’ Tickled is David Farrier’s investigative reporting magnum opus, a deeply engaging ride-along that is darn near impossible to properly review without spoilers. In fact that last sentence, and the two preceding it are probably spoilers to those sensitive about such things.

We will proceed with caution, but if you wish to go into Tickled as clean as possible (at this point), read on at your own risk, I will attempt to tread lightly.

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Trailer: Tickled

We have talked about Dylan Reeves and David Farrier’s investigative documentary Tickled several times on this site. I caught it at Hot Docs and loved it. Magnolia have cut a very minor spoiler-ish trailer for the film that gets you to the mouth of the ‘tickling rabbit hole’ that the film takes you down. It’s not the best trailer in the world, but the film presents unique challenges in how to cut a trailer to get bums in seats without spoiling all the surprises. Watch at your own risk.

Tickled will be in theaters June 17, 2016.

Hot Docs 2016 Review: Beware The Slenderman

Slenderman

If you have not heard of the Slenderman at this point, trust me that your kids have. He is a tall think man in a suit usually seen looming in the background of locations where children play or blending into a sparse forest of tall trees, that came about from unconscious desires of the internet to create its own digital folklore.

The opening minutes of Beware The Slenderman promise an experience along the lines of The Blair Witch Project meets Seven. It begs the question on whether HBO contractually mandates swanky opening titles on the various properties they develop for broadcast. The former mock-doc was made famous through savvy use of the internet in building its own mythology, and the latter was a cold thriller featuring sensationally violent murders as the mission statement of warped ideology of a mysterious John Doe.

The actual content of the documentary is far more interesting than what the credit sequence (or poster) pledges. Director Irene Taylor Brodsky goes deep into the specific case of two Wisconsin preteen girls who brutally stabbed one of their friends, nearly 20 times, and left her in the woods to die of her injuries. The victim, Peyton, (somehow) survived, and the perpetrators were were caught in short order. It is one of those stories you might have heard on the news in a couple years ago, registered the shock of it, that they did this due to belief in an internet meme, and then went on about your life. Documentaries like this one serve the place of an increasingly neutered long-form print journalism in that they allow a focused look at the context and consequences, well beyond national headlines.

Featuring extensive courtroom footage, candid interviews with the family members of the accused girls, and the online origins of the crowdsourced boogieman, Beware The Slenderman, plays like bizzaro world version of Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills, the superb West Memphis Three doc released by HBO in the 1990s (followed by two sequels). In that film, three teenage boys were convicted of committing gristly murders in Arkansas, and convicted mainly on the grounds that they listened to Metallica and read books by Aleister Crowley (coupled with unreasonable coercion by the police to confess.) The questionable idea that heavy metal music and satanic books could induce impressionable teens to murder was taken seriously to the point of putting blinders on due process.

Here in 2014, via videotaped interrogations which provide the through-line for the film, Morgan and Anissa, separated, both freely admit that their belief of an internet meme made them do it. One of the key, but unspoken messages of Beware The Slenderman is that even in a case where pop culture actually did made the girls do it, the legal system is still utterly broken when it comes to youth. Deeply disturbing to a bleeding-heart-Canadian such as myself, was fact that neither of the accused 12 year olds could have any body contact with their parents during the trial period (now in its second year) and were tried by adults by a tough-on-crime Wisconsin court. No hugs. Morgan’s mother has theories, but no answers because she has been prevented from speaking to daughter since the arrest. The girls were not given phone calls. Both fathers spend much of their on-screen interviews in tears. One gives an impassioned, but pragmatic, monologue on technology, parenting, and the punishing stress of trying to move forward with any sense of normalcy.

We have no idea what kinds of lives our children live inside their heads, and increasingly, the internet allows to magnify and participate the collective imagination, in ways that the brothers Grimm (or Metallica) could never have comprehended. Morgan’s mother thinks back to the time where her daughter had no empathic reaction to the mother die while watching Bambi. It is a powerful anecdote, but one wonders if this experiment were conducted formally on hundreds of children, if Morgan’s reaction is more common than we intuit. Perhaps from a lack of media comprehension or simply the universal built-in-narcissism of those who are so very young.

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