Judgement Day (Special Edition): Atlantic Film Festival 2012 pt. 1

While I have yet to post much about my love of film on the blog since starting it last November, I have always wanted PopMessiah.com to be about popular culture at large and not just popular music. In realizing a goal I have had over the last few years (but have yet to actually achieve), I present the first of many posts to come this week reviewing the films I’ll be catching at the 32nd annual Atlantic Film Festival here in Halifax, Nova Scotia (running September 13th to 20th)!

In my first night at the festival, I set out to take in three screenings, but since I’m an old man now it seems I’m not cut out for the late nights like I used to be, so I ended up skipping the midnight screening of Jennifer Lynch’s “Chained.” Along with a written review of each screening I did take in, the Pop Gods will also decide if each film should be allowed passage into Pop Heaven, banished to Pop Hell or forgotten about in the uncertainty of Pop Limbo (arguably the worst fate of all…)

Keep the Lights On

A Film By Ira Sachs | Official Website | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes |

“Keep the Lights On” tells the tumultuous story of Eric and Paul, two men who meet initially for a sexual encounter after hooking up on a cruising hotline. While at first, the potential for anything beyond their booty call seems non-existant (Paul is closeted and has a girlfriend), the two end up in a long term relationship that spans nearly a decade. Their love is fueled by passion, sex and mutual-need (bordering on co-dependance) as the two navigate through a series of personal and professional ups and downs, both being continually tested by their respective compulsions/addictions: Paul to his drug-use, Eric to his love for Paul and seemingly both to sexual gratification.

Well-written and more than effectively acted, “Keep the Lights On” is gritty and realistic, at times evoking a smile and tugging on the heartstrings in others. It blurs the line often drawn in addiction movies between the addict and the supporter. Paul (played by Zachary Booth) is clearly a drug addict, but Eric (Thure Lindhardt) seems to be equally dependent on sex and/or relationships. We hear bits about a past relationship that went bad that seem to suggest that Eric gravitates towards men who need him to take care of them. When the two are together, they see to be either fighting or fucking, and it’s evident in many scenes that Paul feels somewhat smothered. When Paul is not around, Eric’s worry is certainly seen as equivalent to withdrawal and he seeks out alternate ways of release. By the end of the film, it’s unclear whether only one or both of these men is headed towards a happily ever after, but I won’t say any more on that to avoid spoiling the film in case this review has piqued your interest.

One aspect of the film that may divide viewers is pacing. While many films span several years, “.. Lights On” will often skip several months between scenes without indication and it relies on it’s audience to fill in the blanks and not feel resentful about it (i.e. after their first encounter, where Paul says ‘don’t get your hopes up. I have a girlfriend,’ there’s a scene where Eric has another trick and then suddenly he and Paul have been dating for a while and they run into his ex-girlfriend.) Personally, this only jarred me for the first 20-or-so minutes before I was used to it. Otherwise, my only criticism is that little effort seemed to go into visually representing the passage of time in wardrobe, makeup and set design. It didn’t really take away from the storyline for me, but it was something I consistently noticed. (Only one character’s hair changed, and they weren’t terribly important to the plot.)

In the end, on the Judgement Day spectrum, I would say that “Keep the Lights On” was great enough to make it just through the gates of Pop Heaven.

Check out the trailer for “Keep the Lights On” below:

A Liar’s Aubiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman

Directed By: Bill Jones / Jeff Simpson / Ben Timlett | IMDB |

While its initial heyday was, as they say: “before my time,” I enjoyed a brief flirtation with the British comedy troupe known as Monty Python during my senior year of high school. It was 1998. Before then, I’d been a mostly shy and reclusive closet case but I suddenly found myself realizing that my isolation was of my own making. Appropriately, I became a bit of a social butterfly and got myself a group of crazy, like-minded miscreant friends and we spent our weekends cruising around our small town acting liberatingly foolish. It was during this rather formative time in my life that I was introduced to “The Meaning of Life,” one of Monty Python’s feature films that was released in 1983. From the opening lines of “Every Sperm is Sacred” my dirty teenage mind was hooked! While it never blossomed into a full obsession, I spent several weeks watching all of the Monty Python material I could, which was much more challenging in a pre-YouTube society than it would be today.

“A Liar’s Autobiography…” focuses on a single member of the iconic troupe: Graham Chapman. In this film, loosely classified as a documentary, audio recordings of Graham reading from his published autobiography (of the same name) prior to his 1989 death are brought to life by fourteen talented and visionary animation studios. Much like the randomly irreverent nature of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, these scenes are surrealist and run the gamut between comedy and drama. We see stories from his childhood and his beginnings in comedy through a theatre troupe in boarding school, his realization that he preferred the company of men, his ascent into fame and his descent into alcoholism.

My favorite aspect of the film, was the use of many different visual styles. My biggest disappointment in this year’s Atlantic Film Festival program was the disappearance of the Frame x Frame animated shorts program and this film was a collection of animated shorts in a way. By design, each story from Chapman’s life is animated by separate teams in a great variety of styles, perhaps to mimic the very nature of the sketch comedy he and his cohorts were known for.

Where “.. Liar’s ..” faltered just a bit for me is in large part due to its insistence that the story it tells is “un-true.” Perhaps this claim is meant to be tongue-in cheek as many of Chapman’s tales seem entirely believeable aside from the ocassional (and obvious) ridiculous embellishments. So is the fictionalization purely in these moments of whimsy and in the over-the-top visual representations? We know that Chapman was an alcoholic and that he did come out as a gay man in a time when a celebrity coming out wasn’t terribly common, but were the stories used to illustrate this time in his life fact or fiction? Are we not to believe any of what we saw from start to finish?

Completely on passing fad (err.. trend), the film is presented in 3D. While I’m not a fan of 3D movies at all, I did appreciate how 3D can enhance the aesthetic of animation styles that are more experiemental like many of those used in the film. It was never as cheesy and in-your-face as the effects tacked on to most Hollywood films and I appreciated that, though I’d almost always prefer to see any film in 2D.

Admittedly, at the immediate conclusion of the film I wasn’t sure of my overall enjoyment level. It has now been two days since I screened it and with more thought I have to say that I would actually like to have a second viewing of the film and the likelihood is that my opinion would change. “A Liar’s Autobiography” may not appeal to all Python fans but it’s definitely worth checking out for popular culture and animation enthusiasts. It’s visually interesting, rather funny and a fascinating look inside the mind of a man who wanted to make people laugh, even as he battles so many of his own demons.

Check out the trailer for “A Liar’s Autobiography” below:

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