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Simon Jablonski's Latest Independent Film Reviews
Simon Jablonski , December 6th, 2010 04:43

This time, Simon casts his eyes over exploration of religious duty Of Gods And Men, sex and socialising in the age of communication with Easier With Practice, and The Be All And End All... which, he says, very much isn't

Of Gods And Men

It’s often difficult to become embroiled in a story surrounding religious tensions without the trickling frustration that the whole condition stands on a foundation of futility. Like a bad comedy where the protagonist finds themselves in some unthinkably ridiculous situation of their own demented construction, you can only gaze in from behind a pane of absurdity, exasperation and bafflement.

Yet amongst the Algerian mountains, the story of the selfless Cistercian monks who work laboriously for the poverty stricken Algerians as well as spiritual fulfilment is humanising and incredibly moving. Of Gods And Men is simply sublime cinema. Set in the early 1990s at the beginning of the wave of atrocities carried out by radical Islamist groups, which resulted in the genocide of innocent people, the plight of the monks is a stark example of this tragedy.

Guided by their elected leader Christian, the monks’ days of ploughing fields and serving the community are threatened when reports start streaming in of militia moving in closer to the area and targeting foreign workers. When they are advised by the government to flee back to France, the reluctant monks cast votes as to whether they should stay or not. Their resilience isn’t played out as a battle of good versus evil, rather they are moved by their sense of duty to carry out their good work in the face of adversity.

Through the individual turmoil and challenge of social justice, Of Gods And Men covers everything honourable, moronic, beautiful and devastating about religion. In its attempts to avoid making the battle a religious one, the film always aims to enunciate the distinction between the radicals and commonly practiced Islam. The potency of the story, however, is its attack on basic human values, with the religious scripture being used almost poetically.

With the film’s ending hanging like a quietly thundering black cloud throughout, each shot of optimism is weighted with measurable mourning. Though Of Gods And Men might not have the character and colour of Black Narcissus, Powell and Pressburger’s classic in which a group of determined nuns lose their footing up in the Himalayas, it more than equals its sublimity and doubles its pathos.

Easier With Practice

What will no doubt go down as Catfish meets The Crying Game, Easier With Practice follows two brothers as they set off on a Kerouac fantasy of literature and the open road. Inspired by Davy Rothbart’s autobiographical essay, Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s debut feature is a sharp and uncomfortably hilarious account of one man’s desperation to achieve a human connection with the opposite sex in the face of stuttering social ineptitude.

With a number recent films finding gold in veins of the social media revolution, it’s mildly refreshing to see a film that takes a step back to when the mobile phone was the most liberating form of electronic communication.

Davy (Brian Geraghty), a writer with ever-greater ambitions of literary grandeur, sets off on a tour with boxes of his booklet of short stories and socially active brother, Sean. While alone in their motel room one night, Davy gets a call from Nicole, a bored phone-sex hussy.

With the power of sexy talk, she manages to rouse him from his introverted clam, for five minute at least. Piling some sort of saviour power onto the mysterious caller, Davey becomes obsessed with Nicole, with his mobile phone acting as her physical representation, taking the brunt and affection of his shifting levels of affection.

Between the tiny, threadbare, people-bare bookshops in which he gives his po-faced readings, Davy neurotically waits for Nicole’s calls, and so to make some slight semblance of human connection. To her well-positioned words, Davy spends the entire trip in the privacy of his car creating what must have been a cocoon of semen by the end of their trip.

Davey’s obsessiveness causes him to retract further into his fantasy world and away from the people around him, peaking at an intensely awkward attempt at old-fashioned physical sex. Clearly seeing the voice at the end of the phone as a lifeline to lift himself from his neurosis and glumness, Davey desperately tries to meet up with Nicole, yet her evasiveness pushes him further into despair.

Brian Geraghty is brilliant as the self-inflicted social outcast, and pretty much carries the rest of the cast and the film along with him. Aside from being beautifully shot, the only possible reservation might be that very little happens. All that really comes from his curious relationship is that he has a few less beers with his brother and he’s left with a lot of pairs of odd socks. Events that do happen, though, are well captured, funny and make the oddball Davey tremendously endearing. And so the aptness of the Kerouac road trip is not wholly without comparison: moments of brilliance amongst occasional meanderings.

The Be All And End All

As a premise The Be All And End All seems pretty amusing, but as a premise it probably should have remained. A fifteen year-old boy discovers he has a terminal disease and sets his friend about trying to get him laid before he dies a virgin. Well, perhaps not amusing exactly. But when this idea is stretched over an hour and a half, what’s left is a thinly worked drama that lacks a sense of its own absurdity.

There’s potentially quite a bit of mileage in the idea as sort of dryly spoken dark comedy, but this was shot like a grating, cliché-strewn soap opera. Scenes of shouting matches and tiresome falling-outs possess none of the grit or poignancy they are obviously supposed to have. Rather they play more like a test to see just how much pained chewing your fist could take.

As if lifted from a cancelled British comedy of the 1970s, there are far too many scenes whose head-shaking endings seem curiously incomplete without the natural resolve of a ‘you cheeky so-and-so’, or a ‘wah wah waaahhhh.’ The unpleasant nostalgia isn’t helped by the appalling soundtrack, which, with its fairground jolliness, could believably have been thrown together from music lifted from Grange Hill.

What might cautiously be described as the main problem of the film’s soap opera styling is that getting a girl to sleep with a fifteen-year-old boy on the basis that he is going to die any day, is actually pretty messed up. It’s not necrophilia, but it’s not far off. What did work as genuinely funny is Ziggy approaching various carefully selected candidates to ask if they would do the honours. But the twisted humour and soap-opera aesthetic clang together awkwardly.

The Be All And End all slogs out like an overly long episode of a TV series: too much talking, far too much over dramatic shouting, not enough atmosphere or charm. You could imagine David O. Russell or Todd Solondz having a ball with the basic premise and creating a world in which this would be humorous and touching. Instead we’re not given a world where such things might happen, and we’re left with a bland and uncertain stab at drama.