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2017 GIFF Movie Diary: Entry #1-3

Between the movies, industry panels, and late night parties, it’s almost impossible to stay on top of everything a film festival has to offer. Once you factor in all the late nights scrambling to write film reviews, in-depth coverage of most festival films is near impossible. I’ve put together a Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF) movie diary to offer quick rundowns on the films I would normally devote more time to.


1 – Dean

Gillian Jacobs in Dean

Demetri Martin is one hell of an interesting guy. He’s an actor, writer, director, artist, and comedian. Watching Martin, you get the impression that there are a million fascinating thoughts running through his mind. In Martin’s latest picture, Dean, he attempts to channel his disparate creative impulses into one narrative feature. Does this artistic diaspora work? Sometimes.

Martin plays the titular character, Dean, a young-ish Brooklynite artist, coasting through life. Sound familiar? The film wades through familiar indie-film waters: a millennial stuck in life spinning his wheels, struggling to move on after suffering loss and heartbreak. Interspersed throughout the film are simple drawings (Martin’s own work) that express Dean’s emotional state, namely death’s looming presence. The unconventional drawings reflect Dean’s idiosyncrasies and offer some of the film’s funniest bits.

I believe that run-of-the-mill films are harder to watch than interesting films that fail. Dean is by no means a failure; it’s quirky, charming, earnest, and thought-provoking. The trade-off is an uneven movie. Despite the unevenness, Martin’s cinematic exploration of empathy, loss, and father-son relationships makes for compelling viewing. Bonus points go to the film for Klein’s performance as Martin’s techno-boob father. Whether he’s bumbling with a smartphone our pulling on our heartstrings, Klein always makes the most out of his screen time.

Dean is an enjoyable film that cycles between OK and really good. The cast is solid, there are some great laughs, and a poignant conclusion that packs more punch than your average mumble-core flick. Some jokes fall flat and certain overused plot elements are long past their best-before date, but the giant beating heart at the center of the film will leave audiences walking away with the warm fuzzies.

2 – So B. It

Bateman and Woodard in So B. It

We all lose ourselves in cinema for different reasons. Some of us go and sit in large dark rooms to escape life’s drudgery. Others go to experience blockbuster movie spectacle on giant screens. And for some, movies offer windows into the past, future, and even distant cultures. If you seek out movies in hopes of riding an emotional roller coaster, So B. It is the film for you. Just prepare yourself to shed a few tears.

Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal, So B. It is the story of young girl named Heidi (Talitha Bateman). Heidi spends her days looking after her mentally challenged mother (Jessica Collins) and getting schooled by her agoraphobic neighbour/caretaker, Bernadette (Alfre Woodard). Heidi’s past is shrouded in mystery until she comes across a clue that may reveal where she came from. With an indomitable spirit, Heidi sets out on a cross-country journey to discover her family’s past.

So B. It is a little movie with a huge heart. The small-scale film isn’t the most cinematic experience, which isn’t a bad thing. Instead, So B. It feels warm, personal, and earnest, and resonates with the intimacy of a play. Chalk this up to the stacked cast. Veteran actors John Heard, Dash Mihok, and Alfre Woodard surround Bateman, who turns in a solid performance of her own. When cast as leads, many child actors’ limited range and lack of nuance come off as grating. Fortunately, Bateman conveys the right mix of childish whimsy and emotional heft.

Despite its charm, So. B. It isn’t an easy watch. There are some gut-wrenching moments that will leave many an viewers emotional wreck. Tears aside, So B. It is an optimistic movie with a positive message.

3 – Queen of the Desert

Kidman and Pattinson – Queen of the Desert

Sometimes a film comes along that just blows you away on every level: the performances, cinematography, score, editing, and production design. Queen of the Desert is the Bizarro version of that film. You know you’re in trouble when the opening credit’s font looks like it’s ripped from a bootleg version of Microsoft Paint.

So what doesn’t work? Too much of the plot is told through exposition. There are way too many instances of people standing around in dark rooms discussing more interesting events that happened somewhere else. The constant jumps forward in time add to the narrative dissonance. Making matters worse, some of the performances feel as though they’re ripped from a telenovela (with the campy dialogue to match). Even the film’s most compelling aspect, the gorgeous cinematography and production design feel flat. Many of the epic desert shots feel cheap, as though they were all shot in one day and interspersed throughout the film.

Queen of the Desert tells a fascinating story that should be heard. It’s a shame that it’s told in such an unappealing manner. Director, Werner Herzog, is a Hollywood legend with nearly 70 directing credits under his belt. Herzog’s career is so expansive that his filmography is larger than the work of several average directors combined. When you’re that prolific you’re going to put out some stinkers, and man, is this one a stinker. Put it this way, for the review, I considered saving time by entering the poop-with-eyes emoji 300 times. The lesson here? Even the legends whiff every now and then. You’re better of skipping this one.

Written By

Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based pop culture writer and film critic who enjoys covering the city's biggest (and nerdiest) events. Victor has covered TIFF, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada for publications all over the internet. You can find his latest posts on Twitter and Instagram.

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