Judgement Day (Special Edition): Atlantic Film Festival 2012 pt. 2

The 32nd annual Atlantic Film Festival here in Halifax, Nova Scotia, came to a close on September 20th! I’ve seen loads of wonderful films and over the next week or two I’ll be continuing to post my thoughts on all of the screenings I took in! Along with a written review of each screening, 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 dreary fogs of Pop Limbo (arguably the worst fate of all, as at least those who go to Pop Hell have made a lasting impression!)

On my second night at the festival, I set out to take in a total of five screenings starting at 2:00pm and finishing up by 2:00am! In a moment of Deja Vu, I totally wussed out of the late night screening yet again due to sheer exhaustion, but I did take in four very different and very cool films. One dark and moody piece from Atlantic Canada, a documentary on the Disco era, a charming coming-of-age piece about acting your age and a somewhat oddball comedy about a gay man and his female best friend trying to make a baby the “old fashioned” way.

More on each of these films, after the jump…

The Disappeared

Directed by: Shandi Mitchell | Official Website | IMDB |

Filmed entirely in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean over 15 days in two tethered doreys, “The Disappeared” is an examination of hope in a nearly hopeless situation.

After a mentioned but unseen shipwreck, six men have found themselves hundreds of miles from shore in all directions, trapped in salt-water limbo somewhere between life and death. They have very limited supplies and are several days away from land even in the most ideal of conditions. Still, most of the men are experienced seafarers and rather than risk waiting for rescue they know that they must make the effort to row back to shore, otherwise the winds of the North Atlantic will see to it that they drift much further from safety.

The group’s initial disposition is confident in their ability to get back to shore should a rescue not come.  As each day passes, we see the men pushed to their physical and emotional limits as they fight against nature – that of the ecosystem that surrounds and threatens to swallow them and that of their own fragile humanity. Thick fog frequently envelops the boats, blocking all view of land or passing ships and in ways, symbolizing the doubt they all carry within but try not to speak. Even common symbols of hope, like the sun, become oppressive as the men suffer from exposure and dehydration while their anger and panic burn beneath the surface.

Some words to describe this film: “stark,” “grim,” “haunting” and “isolated,” but despite the generally negative connotations of these words, my feelings about the  film are near exclusively positive! The feel of the project is distinctly Nova Scotia and the ensemble cast are all amazing in their roles, often having to switch between protagonist and antagonist. All brought an authenticity to every last line of the often tense script. While I don’t want to spoil any of the film, I suspect that it’s conclusion won’t sit well with all movie-goers but I felt it was appropriate.

In closing, I’d love to see “The Disappeared” do big things internationally and get some major awards buzz. (It won the honorable mention for best Atlantic Feature in the festival’s awards ceremony.) While that may be an ambitious concept, I do think that it was strong enough to be deserving. Was it deserving of entry into Pop Heaven? Check the scorecard:

While no official theatrical trailer has been released yet for “The Disappeared,” here is a behind the scenes featurette:


The Secret Disco Revolution

Directed by: Jamie Kastner | Official Website | IMDB |

The central premise of slickly produced, Canadian documentary: “The Secret Disco Revolution” is that the era of mirror balls, platform shoes and four-on-the-floor beats was a carefully concealed political movement that served to liberate three maligned groups in society: women, the black community and the GLBT community. It takes on a decidedly tongue-in-cheek tone in presenting it’s argument however, illustrating the story of Disco with a series of montages featuring the major players in this movement as a shades-wearing trio who skulk around in alleyways or behind closed doors. They draw up a Disco manifesto and pull all sorts of strings to put and keep Disco on the map to serve their political agenda –  unknown to even the artists who were unknowingly spreading their message to the masses.

In addition to these mostly-comedic scenes, “… Revolution” traces the roots of Disco back to the post-Great Depression “Swing Kids” of the 1940’s (Disco came after great economic downturn, much like the club music craze of the early 1990’s and still-happening dance music trend of the first decade of the 2000’s.) It features interviews with music journalists, DJ’s, producers and songwriters of the era, many of whom back up what many would dismiss as a silly premise: that Disco had substance! In contrast, the film also interviews many of Disco’s biggest stars, most of whom deny any political motivations behind the genre while they re-count their experience of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when Disco exploded as the biggest craze in popular music and just as quickly fell to backlash. One of the most memorable scenes features ultimate camp-act: The Village People, denying any actual homosexual subtext in their collective image or musical body of work. This interview is cut with scenes of one of the songwriters who worked with them recounting what the songs were actually written about (“Y.M.C.A. about cruising culture, for example).

Overall, “The Secret Disco Revolution” has a good amount of humor and insight, but manages to inch just a little too far to the humorous end of the spectrum to be taken seriously, and maybe that was realistically the point. Does Disco Heaven translate into Pop Heaven? Yes; just barely.

Check out the trailer below:


Liberal Arts

Directed by: Josh Radnor | Official Website IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes |

Both starring and directed by “How I Met Your Mother” actor Josh Radnor, “Liberal Arts” is a charming film about realizing the importance of acting your age, at any age.

Jesse (played by Radnor) is an admissions officer in a New York City college. One day, he receives a call from Peter, a former professor asking him to come back to Ohio to speak at his retirement party. Jesse, even at 35, still misses his college experience and quickly accepts the opportunity. While reminiscing about his student days, Jesse meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a 19 year old theatre major and the daughter of Peter’s close friends.

A chance encounter with an crazy but charming stoner-like dude named Nat (Zac Efron) leads him to attend an on-campus party where he runs into an intoxicated and flirty Zibby and the two begin an intellectual flirtationship that results in some good old-fashioned letter writing after Jesse returns to New York. Through their exchange, Jesse re-lives his college days while Zibby tries to be the grown-up she’s not quite become just yet. All is well and good as they seem to head towards love, until the illusion is shattered when Jesse visits Zibby and finds young adult vampire fiction in her dorm room. This sounds a bit shallow out of context, but it’s simply a moment of realization (among other cues he receives from other characters around campus) that starts him questioning his own progression as an adult.

We soon find that what most of our characters have in common is this resistance towards the natural process of aging. Zibby feels ahead of the curve while Jesse feels like that moment when you wake up and feel like an adult has never arrived. Peter realizes after retirement that he has nowhere else to go and wants his job back at the college. In one of the films best lines, he later says to Jesse that “Nobody feels like an adult. It’s the world’s dirty little secret”. We also see these same issues mirrored in a couple of supporting characters who help Jesse come to terms with things. (Allison Janney makes an appearance as another of Jesse’s former professors and Jesse also bonds with another student he sees himself in.)

I went in to “Liberal Arts” expecting it to be a typical romantic comedy based on its description in the festival program, but ultimately I wouldn’t classify it as one. The story is much more focused on the journey of it’s individual characters and the central theme of growing up. It was a big surprise for me and both myself and the friend who accompanied me to the film really loved it!

Needless to say, “Liberal Arts” coasted through the glittery gates into Pop Heaven. Check the scorecard!

Here’s the theatrical trailer:


Gayby

Directed by: Jonathan Lisecki| Official Website | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes |

The premise of Jonathan Lisecki’s “Gayby” is certainly not unheard of, two best friends – consisting of one gay man and one straight woman (a la Will & Grace) have said for years that someday if they should find themselves older & single with a biological clock ticking that they would have a baby together. While most people who make such backup plans with their best friends in passing never really mean it, let alone ever have to cash them in, show biz would suggest that these backup plans often become reality and in many cases with hilarious results.

Our thirty-something, babymaking duo are the odd and hilarious Jenn (played by Jenn Harris) and her best Gay friend Matt (Matthew Wilkas.) Matt is a comic-book artist who owns a comic book store and spends most of his time avoiding his ex-boyfriend. Jenn works as a hot yoga instructor and single-life is weighing on her as she realizes that time is running out for her to fulfill her desire to have a child. She goes to Matt and tells him that she wants to have a baby with him like they agreed upon back in college and they agree that in addition to the baby they are both going to amp up their efforts to get out there on the dating scene. The revelation that Jenn wants to conceive the “old-fashioned way” presents only a momentary obstacle when we learn that they had previously knocked boots on a drunken night in their youth.

The rest of the film plays out in a series of hilarious scenes where the two juggle painfully awkward dates, their zany friends, their work life and their obligation to Jenn’s ovulation cycle. Despite it seeming like the baby would be the focus of the film, it’s moreso about relationships and the definition of “family.” The question of whether or not Jenn and Matt will get pregnant takes a back-seat to whether or not Matt will be able to move on from his past relationship failures and whether Jenn can pull her professional and personal life together.

Overall, I enjoyed “Gayby” but based on some previous hype I’d read I found it to be a tiny bit of a letdown despite lots of entertainment value and likeable characters. Jenn Harris’s performance has a certain Kristen Wiig quality about it in it’s over-the-top gawkiness and as a result she really steals the film. With some time and thought, the Pop Gods have decided that the film sits on the line between Pop Limbo and Pop Heaven.

Here’s the theatrical trailer:

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