Reports by Viktória Rácz
“I wanted it to be subtle,” says the main character in Columbus, when her mother complains about the lack of spices in the soup. The reason she tried to make it that way is that she wanted it to have a different aftertaste. Columbus is just like the soup in it, subtle with an aftertaste.
South Korean academic-turned- director has a history of making video essays about acclaimed directors and Columbia is exactly a kind of movie you would expect a cinephile to make – beautifully shot, with a simple but emotional story.
Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) has finished university, and now spends time working in the library or hanging out with her mom. She doesn’t want to leave Columbus like everyone else. As an architecture buff, Columbus is the perfect city for her, being filled with beautiful modernist buildings. Jin (John Cho) arrives in the city due to his father’s condition. He should visit him is the hospital, but he can’t find enough strength in him to do it. Casey and Jin meet by an accident, and start to develop a friendship.
If this movie was a person, it would be a soft-spoken, witty artist, who doesn’t want to be big and successful, he just likes to observe the beauty in the world. Watching Columbus feels like a meditation – it is without any huge catharsis or overwhelming emotional scenes. Almost every frame is a painting, the architecture is not only important to Casey, the visuals of the film also revolve around it. Most shots are composed in a symmetric way and the focus is almost always on the buildings and interior designs, not on the people. During the movie, you slowly start to appreciate architecture, and it becomes easy to understand what Casey sees in these buildings.
The chemistry between Richardson and Cho works perfectly, even though it is not a romantic movie. Cho is a charismatic actor who deserves more main roles and Richardson is authentic in the role of the witty, loveable teenager. They hold the attention even when they are just wandering around. The loneliness is on the screen and in the heart of the characters, but the movie is not pessimistic. Columbus is tragic and funny in an understated way, which makes its aftertaste memorable.
A Movie With a Heart As Big As a Bear
What better way to illustrate the idea that “creating something with your loved ones is the best thing in life”, than by making a movie about it with your buddies? Three childhood friends came together to make Brigbsy Bear which, even if its tone is almost too childish in comparison to its plot, gets away with it by being entertaining and heartwarming.
Knowing the basic history of the production of Brigsby Bear helps you to appreciate it more. Director Dave McCary and screenwriters Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello grew up making short films together. McCary and Mooney later became members of acclaimed US sketch show Saturday Night Live, proving their comedic talents to a wide audience. That led to them getting the chance to make their first feature movie together, with some high-profile actors like Mark Hamill and Greg Kinnear, and many former and current SNL members, including Andy Samberg and Beck Bennett.
The movie was produced by current movie comedy kings, Chris Miller and Phil Lord (The LEGO Batman Movie, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs) with the contribution of the comedy trio called Lonely Island (Akiva Schaffer, Samberg and Jorma Taccone), who also became friends while they were at school. The result is a movie which makes you feel sorry that you weren’t part of making it.
The plot revolves around James (Mooney) who doesn’t realise that his childhood is a tragedy. After 25 years, he is shocked to find out that his favorite educational television show, Brigsby Bear, was produced only for him. But the show left him without an ending, so he decides to finish it, by making a feature film about the last adventure of Brigsby. He finds support from his new friends and family, and together they start to make this amateur film that can help James to have a closure of his past and to start a new life. This sounds confusing, but the filmmakers have left the story hidden in the trailers, so I don’t want to be the one to spoil it.
Brigsby Bear is a crowd-pleaser, mixing irony with deep emotions. The awkward humour that is so popular nowadays in indie movies is the strong suit of this one too. It is filled with every kind of jokes, from deadpan dialogue to slapstick comedy, except dumb ones. Mooney is charmingly weird with his Napoleon Dynamite-like perm and glasses, and the years spent in SNL undoubtedly helped him learn the hard craft of comedic timing. The whole cast works well together and Greg Kinnear is the Obi-Wan we didn’t know we needed – but the focus is on James, and everyone else is just assisting his unlikely coming-of- age story.
You can read a pro-fandom message in this movie, considering it is about a nerdy guy, whose life revolves around a fantasy television show and that fanaticism helps him find friends and contribute to popular culture in his own way. There are some criticisms in it about excessive merchandising and trash culture, but the loving is stronger than the frowning.
The nostalgic vibes will satisfy the 80s buffs – the many VHS tapes, the Star Trek T-shirt and the Tron poster on the wall are just a few example of the not-so- subtle references in the film. Of course, the biggest 80s reference is the Brigsby Bear show itself, which is familiarly lame yet somehow addictive.
There are some flaws in the dramaturgy, important story details are missing (especially about James’ childhood), the character developments are too unreal (even for an absurd movie like this), and the whole thing is a sugar-coated fairy tale that may prove too sweet for some teeth, but its hard not to want to reciprocate a bear hug.
The Devil in God’s Clothing
A new reverend arrives in a little town in the middle of nowhere. He starts his first mass bysaying that God will punish every person who had sinned. Later we realise that thisservant of the Lord feels obliged to do God’s job himself by terrorising the town’s midwife. Writer/director Martin Koolhoven wants you to suffer and be outraged by his two-and- a-half- hour long story,but in the end, it is hard to decide whether he wanted to make an epic western thriller or a dumbtorture horror.
Dakota Fanning plays Liz, the tongueless midwife, who suddenly faces the hatred of thecommunity, after she has to kill a baby during childbirth in order to save the mother’s life. Needless to say, in that period of history, making the decision of who lives and dies is a seriousact of crime against God. Rather than help, the reverend (Guy Pearce) pours gasoline on the fire, because the woman is the subject of his personalvendetta. The movie has four big chapters, that refer to the Bible: Revelation, Exodus, Genesisand Retribution.
Brimstone is a harsh movie, filled with explicitly violent and bloody scenes, which fits the era, but these images are annoyingly overused. This would be acceptable if it was a simple horror movie, but the problem with Brimstone is that it is clearly wantsto be more of that. The whole premise of the movie is about how religion can be used to oppress women. It is not uncommon for a piece of art to deal with this topic, for example The Handmaid’s Tale, this year’s acclaimed dystopian television show is about a future society where the women are forced to fulfil their biblical role, that is to have children and serve their husbands. Both in the television show and in Brimstone, the oppressors use direct quotes from the Bible, to prove their points. But there is a huge difference, becausewhile the feminist tone of The Handmaid’s Tale works perfectly, Brimstone becomesridiculous when it tries to be women- empowering.
The movie cannot be epic, because parts of the screenplay feel like they were written 50 years ago. Brimstone uses visual clichés, such as lightning illuminating the evil face of thereverend, while he stands in the dark watching his victim, or the hero kicking the door out tosave the damsel in distress, looking god-like while the sun shines on his heroic body. Koolhoven wants these scenes to heighten your emotions but the result is laughable. Not to mentionthe reverend’s last sentence in the movie, which I hope was meant to be a joke.
Despite having major flaws, Brimstone is not unwatchable. The movie is visually stunning, the tragic story of Liz is mesmerising andthe ongoing holds he attention. Pearce is having thetime of his life playing an almost ridiculously horrible human being, and both the young (EmiliaJones) and the older Lizes are perfect choices for playing the big-blue- eyed-blondes in trouble.With a slightly bit smarter screenplay, and less unrealistic action (the reverend must be the devilitself, otherwise there is no explanation for his abilities) Brimstone could have been a westernthriller worth talking about.
All the World’s a Stage
Everybody wants a glimpse behind the curtain, and theatre has always been a popular topic for comedy movies. It’s glorious mess, full of politics, drama, betrayal, and most of the time what’s happening in the dressing room is more exciting than a Shakespeare play. Behind the Column is a funny story about a little theatre company, but the jokes are not sharp enough for it to become a satire.
Gergely Bánki plays Miki, who has been a theatre extra his whole life, but after an unexpected turn of events, he gets a chance to direct his own Dadaist play. It is a play meant to flop, therefore all the actors hatehim for making them look like fools. This is not the story of a little man, who overcomes every obstacle and proves himself to be the best in business. Instead, Behind the Column reminds us of the eternal truth, that loving theatre is not about the amount of applause. What is missing, is the dark and ironic sense of Hungarian humor, which would’ve fit this story perfectly, and could have revealed something more about the state of theatres in the country.
Csaba Vékes is the first filmmaker to have his movie idea selected by the Hungarian National Film Fund’s Incubator Program, which is designed for first-time directors. There are many creative ideas in the script andit is a fine debut of Vékes, although the plot bears too much resemblance to the movie and Broadway show The Producers. Speaking of producers, Behind the Column has several of them, including Gábor Herendi, one of Hungary’s biggest names in the business, but the movie still feels like it was made without proper supervision. The first movie of the Incubator Program could have been a smart satire about the crazy life of theatre, but without great jokes, a comedy is nothing but a forgettable story.
© FIPRESCI 2017