Month: March 2017

Uncertain (2017)

Written for RAF News March 2017

Uncertain, Texas: a marshy borderland town with a dwindling population of 94, forced out by the lack of prospects. There isn’t much going on here despite the beautiful Caddo lake, but even that is being destroyed by an aggressive weed.

This wondrously shot documentary follows a few residents of Uncertain, two ex-convicts, a young hopeless boy and a biologist intent on finding a solution to the vegetation problem that so threatens the livelihood of the community.

Henry spends most of his time on the water fishing, or as a tour guide, ruminating on the relationship he had with his late wife and the choices that led him here. We see glimpses of his family and the man he once was.

Wayne is a man on a mission to hunt down a large bore that he sees as his own masterful adversary, Mr Ed: the hog with the horses head. A recovering addict, Wayne seems to have developed more of a bond with this ‘super-aggressive monster’ than his own son.

These men are not running from their past, rather they are forced to ponder them here. Hunting and fishing, they spend long stretches of time out in the woods and in the swamps, meditating on their former lives and what they could have done differently.

It is only the young Texan Zach who finds himself lost in this ghost-town, needing to escape. Since his mother left he lives with his cats, Xbox 360 and his waffle-maker, passing the time by playing Minecraft or drinking to excess at one of the empty bars in town.

The lack of activity in this dead-zone sets the pace of the film, as we listen to intimate and revealing stories against the sounds of an ever-encroaching wildlife. But as we sail down the river and through the fog, we see more glimpses into the the dark past of both Henry and Wayne. It begins to feel less like a romantic Terence Malick film and more like Apocalypse Now.

The town is described at one point as Mother Nature’s favourite place: ‘Heaven, home and little bit of Hell too.’ Or maybe it’s Purgatory, a place for these men to see out the rest of their lives whilst shouldering grief and deep regret. Uncertain is a truly hypnotic documentary with a dark artistic edge.

 

Another Mother’s Son (2017)

Written for RAF News March 2017

Another Mother’s Son is based on the true story of Louisa Gould, a Jersey resident who took in a Russian prisoner of war during Nazi occupation.

The Channel Islands were the only British territory to fall under Nazi rule in 1942 and it is here that we are introduced to Louisa, played by Jenny Seagrove, a bold as brass shopkeeper in charge of distributing rations among the close-knit community.

Louisa and her friends are somewhat outspoken despite their home island being turned into a prison for mostly Russian POWs. When she receives news that one of her sons has been killed in battle, her maternal drive and sense of moral injustice lead her to house an escaped prisoner. Though they share very little language – she christens him ‘Bill’ after failing to pronounce his given name – they develop a bond that transcends their surroundings, and soon he finds himself part of the family.

John Hannah (Four Weddings and a Funeral) features as a postal worker left with the conflicted decision of defying Nazi-rule and passing along letters that incriminate Louisa. Ronan Keating makes an unexpected appearance as Louisa’s brother Harold Gould – given a moment to shine and sing on screen – nothing from the Boyzone catalogue mind.

Slow and sentimental at times the film has has a dreary quality about it and the moments intended to build tension simply don’t work. Though Lou is resilient she is never vengeful or violent. By comparison both Bill and the patrolling guards have a boyish naiveté that makes them appear constantly frightened. Another Mother’s Son looks to this hero in the shape of a normal working class woman who stood by her morals and tried to help those in need.

Whilst the film itself is rather unremarkable, this account by Louisa Gould is one worthy of admiration – showing how ordinary people need not be overlooked when in search of a hero story.

magic

Went paintballing tother day and suffered no bruises, just exhaustion from my severe lack of fitness. This left me stiff for a couple of days, my thighs (quads?) tight and burning. Home with the boy I tried as best I could to play and wrestle like normal – but even getting to the ground I had to moan out loud.

‘What’s wrong Daddy?’

I told him that my leg hurt. He upped and moved over to me and kissed my leg in an attempt to heal it, a remedy we have prescribed him on occasion that actually works really well. Now who am I to disprove this treatment? I was then forced to pretend I was better, purely to keep the magic of kissing better, grimacing as I do myself damage. The lovely bastard.

Gleason (2017)

Written for RAF News March 2017

When NFL linebacker Steve Gleason was diagnosed with ALS, the motor-neurone disease that has a life expectancy of 2-5 years, his wife Michel had just fallen pregnant. This was when Steve began keeping video diaries with the intention of sharing them with his son, should he not be around at the time of his birth.

This is how we are first introduced to Steve, talking to camera and delivering a message to his unborn child. This is a tragic premise for a documentary and one that seems unfairly saddening, but there is a lot more to it. Rather than provide a glossy overview in these diaries he attempts to delve into the reality of life, including talks of anxiety, divorce and therapy.

Clearly someone who thrives from being active and conquering his fears, Steve is determined to stay fighting while he is able, and even once he becomes near paralysed, he keeps fighting still. In fact Steve sets up the charity Team Gleason whose tag-line is ‘No White Flags’, providing aid to those who share his diagnosis, and helping to pursue their dreams and adventures in spite of their condition.

What might seem at first to be a documentary with the spirit of Americana, courage and positivity winning the battle, is quickly dispelled by the reality that is captured on camera. We see how Steve gets caught up in his charity work and neglects Michel, how he is attempting to have an honest relationship with his own son because he feels distant from his own father, a ‘wacky fundamental’ Christian who quotes scripture and always has a Bible on hand. There is one hard-to-watch scene that takes place in a faith-healing church that ignites the fear in everyone.

These conflicts are all set against the back drop of Steve losing his ability to function physically and the looming threat of death. Often the footage cuts through time, noticeable through the physical transformation of Steve. Needless to add that this documentary is deeply personal and emotional, and yet it is balanced in part by the humour of Steve and Michel. Gleason is an inspirational documentary, but not in the way you would expect.

roberts

Having just watched HBOs Westworld myself, I found Sam Harris’ latest podcast Living with Robots to be of great interest and I highly recommend it I does. Gets into some similar territory below, but more into moral and ethical ramifications.

Whilst the singularity is something that fascinates me, it follows that I have written some analysis on the overlooked SF film Transcendence, which tackles some interesting questions that have too been pondered by Ray Kurzweil. The documentary Transcendent Man is well worth your time, if not simply as a character study of this strange man and his paralysing fear of death.

Then also there’s this recent beaut of a podcast from Duncan Trussell with the fascinating Dr Bruce Damer, who gets into all manner of subjects, but gets right involved with Virtual Reality. Get it in your brainspace.

Though Boston Dynamics have unveiled their latest push toward creating the T1000 in Handle, here are some great videos of little roberts destroying eachother and repairing fruit. Meep Moop.