MIFF 2012: Reviews of The Imposter and God Bless America

Welcome to day fifteen of my coverage of the Melbourne International Film Festival. You can read previous entries here: Day One / Day Two / Day ThreeDay Four / Day Five / Day Six / Day SevenDay Eight / Day Nine / Day TenDay Eleven / Day Twelve / Day Thirteen / Day Fourteen . Enjoy.

The Imposter

The Imposter

The Imposter isn’t just one of the great cinematic achievements of 2012, its one of the most jaw dropping documentaries of all time. The term ‘seeing is believing’ gets bandied about all the time, but this is a film that truly circumvents your senses: I’ve seen The Imposter but I still don’t believe the crazy shit within it.

The Imposter  tells the utterly batshit crazy, true story of Texas teenager Nicholas Barclay. In 1993, the then-13 year-old Nicholas went missing in San Antonio, Texas. Three years later he re-emerged in Spain. Nicholas was reunited with his family and his escape from his abductors became a national news story. But why did Nicholas look so different? Why was he unable to revert to his American accent? How did he get to Spain without a passport?

To give any more of this story away would be an arsehole move. I can’t reiterate this enough: go into this film blind. The less you know, the better off you’ll be. Even if you have heard a vague synopsis or feel like you know the gist of the story, you don’t. This film bravely dispels it main mystery early on; it’s the events that transpire after Nicholas is found that blow your mind.

Director Bart Layton has created a nigh revolutionary piece of film with The Imposter. This is a tale that could be told in static ‘talking heads’ style and still be riveting, but instead of some dull approach, Layton throws a huge array of cinematic tricks at this story. The Imposter is an uncanny mix of Hollywood-slick re-enactments, straight to camera interviews and archival footage.

Layton structures this film like a thriller and the narrative he has crafted is rock solid. There is a huge element of deception running through The Imposter and we, just like the Barclay family, are drip-fed information piece by piece: the result is never less than engrossing. Layton’s biggest cinematic coup is having the direct involvement of this story’s main player. The film is narrated by Nicholas and he is unbelievably candid, the result is akin to having a magician explain his grandest trick.

If you are a fan of true crime stories or the workings of the human mind, The Imposter will blow you away. I’ve rarely seen a story this fascinating in narrative film, let alone a documentary. Put The Imposter at the absolute top of your ‘must see’ list. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Five Stars

***

God Bless America

God Bless America

Director Bobcat Goldthwait (aka Zed from Police Academy!) has spent the best part of the last decade making sweet-natured films about ragingly taboo topics. After tackling bestiality in Sleeping Dogs Lie and autoerotic asphyxia in World’s Greatest Dad , Bobcat tries his boldest feat yet: making us laugh at mass murder.

God Bless tells the story of Frank (Bill Murray’s brother Joel Murray), an average Joe who is sick and tired of banal reality television and the rapid decline of society’s interpersonal skills. Frank suffers from intense, debilitating migraines, and when he finds out that their cause is inoperable brain cancer, it lights his fuse. Frank is going to go out with a bang, and he is going to take as many arseholes as he can with him.

God Bless is a mixture of red hot satire and confused plotting. Writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait seems to treat his central idea like a literal hot potato: he can’t hold onto it for too long for fear of scalding, so he frequently throws it into the air for respite. The concept at the heart of this film is one that needs to be fully committed to. Our society is awash with horror stories of unprovoked gun violence and if you want us to laugh at the point blank execution of a 16 year-old girl you’d better swing for the fences. Luckily, Goldthwait regularly does. He establishes his cinematic universe as one only slightly removed from our own. Frank’s targets are thinly veiled versions of The Kardashians, American Idol and Fox News. When he plies his vicious trade on theses noxious targets the results aren’t horrifying, they’re cathartic.

This is a truly angry film. Some have argued that it contains too many vitriolic monologues, but I thought they were the best parts. Frank’s appalled reaction to the notion that he would enter into a sexual relationship with a (willing) school girl is hilarious. ‘Fuck Woody Allen and his ‘the heart wants what the heart wants’ bullshit. Obviously what his heart wants is shaved young Asians!’  Murray delivers his most venomous lines with true gusto; it’s a great, cantankerous performance.

The film becomes shaky when it introduces Frank’s enthusiastic partner in crime Roxy (Tara Lynne Bar). Bar is an energetic actress and her insistent goading of Frank produces a lot of the films laughs, but Roxy has no character arc or pure motivation – she is merely a psychopath. Frank is a decent man at his core (no, really) and his retribution is some form of radical societal Darwinism. If Goldthwait had have stuck to Frank’s mission this film would be undeniably darker, but I also think it would have been, arguably, stronger.

I was fortunate enough to have Goldthwait in attendance at my screening. He is a truly sharp man and his Q & A was one of the funniest ones I’ve attended. As was to be expected, the issue of gun control was brought up. Goldthwait said ‘Guns are like lawyers, I like mine.’  He stated that he wasn’t worried about the recent cinema shootings in Aurora  as his film was already completed at the time of the crimes. He said that someone has to be more than susceptible to violent movies in order to commit murder. He was contacted by the press but he refused to even enter a discussion with them as he said he would be mortified if he took the spotlight away from the victims.

God Bless America is a good film with some hilarious sequences. Due to its content it will undoubtedly become a cult classic, I just wish it had a sturdier narrative. But any film that has the balls to show an incessantly crying baby being blown away with a shotgun will always, unequivocally, get my vote.

Four Stars

***

Tomorrow’s films: Undefeated, Ruby Sparks and 100 Bloody Acres

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