Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: Horse-mounted gangsters and California cults at the film festival

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Dominic Corry takes in some highlights from the film festival.

Jack Reynor in 'What Richard Did'.
Jack Reynor in 'What Richard Did'.

We're on the home stretch of the film festival now, here's what I've caught since my last update:

The deceptively intense Irish character study What Richard Did does an admirable job of establishing a tangible world for the lead character to inhabit.

Richard (Jack Reynor) is an archetype perhaps slightly more familiar to New Zealanders than many - he's a golden boy rugby star graduating high school and headed for bright things. Idolised by the guys and desired by the girls, he's also very comfortable amongst the grown-ups. But he's not beyond a little teenage tomfoolery.

It all seems very charmed until a moment of violence causes Richard's world to unravel.

What Richard Did is a gripping watch that had me transfixed from start to finish. The title creates a sense of foreboding that the film very much lives up to.

Nothing out of the ordinary happens for at least forty minutes or so, but impending doom is always present amongst the well-observed teenage social dynamic.

Then when the bad stuff goes down, the graveness of the characters' situations comes through loud and clear.

Reynor is remarkable in the lead role - he's in practically every shot, and commands the camera like an old pro. It's not hard to see why Michael Bay chose him to star in the fourth Transformers movie after seeing What Richard Did.

The scenes between Richard and his father (played by Lars Mikkelsen, Mads' older brother) are amongst the most powerful I've seen at the festival this year.

What Richard Did is screening once more, this Saturday night at the Academy. I really dug it.

I am a sucker for all things cult-related, so I was very much looking forward to
The Source Family, a documentary about a spiritual cult that grew out of a Los Angeles vegetarian restaurant in the late '60s and early '70s.

With access to remarkable archive photos; footage and audio, and the willing participation of many central figures, The Source Family paints what feels like a very complete picture of its subject.

The cult was centered around a guru named Jim Baker - later to be known as Father Yod, then Ya Ho Wa - a successful hummus-peddler with a violent past who had embraced the Eastern spiritualism movement that hit California the '60s.

His 'family' was a natural extension of the incredibly successful vegetarian restaurant he owned on the Sunset Strip in LA, and many members gave up professional lives to work there as waiters and waitresses while enjoying Father Yod's spiritual guidance.

The family thrived for a while - a band was formed and several psychadelic albums were released. But like in pretty much all of these situations, things inevitably went awry.

Although a lot of what transpires confirms to the standard cult-gone-wrong playbook (oversexed leader; problems with minors; partner-swapping conflicts), seeing the tropes applied to people we get to know throughout the film makes them all the palpable. Plus there are genuine surprises thoughout - hello graphic home birth footage!

While The Source Family may confirm many negative stereotypes about these kinds of groups, it also shows how some members went on to achieve remarkable things, suggesting some possible positive associations. It's unflinching about the problematic nature of the situation, but maintains an open mind about the individual participants. Plus there's a mental bit involving a hanglider.

As an insight into a specific time, place and mood, it's very successful. If you're remotely interested in these sorts of things, I highly recommend you check out The Source Family, which is screening once more, on Saturday afternoon at the Rialto.

Zoe McIntosh's one-of-a-kind, only-in-New Zealand docu-omedy The Deadly Ponies Gang is definitely the most mirthful experience I've had at this year's film festival. It's the kind of film that could force a smile onto the face of even the most hardened cinematic cynic.

The titular outfit is a gang of two - Clint and Dwayne, rural pals who tackle life atop their beloved horses, which tend to be blinged out with gold chains; giant sunglasses and pink spray paint. Clint is the more verbose of the two - his rambling metaphors and jumbled articulations provide many of the film's funniest moments. But Dwayne is just as committed to the Deadly Ponies cause. This pink bandana-sporting duo project a kind of earthy swagger that is difficult to picture existing anywhere else on the planet.

Clint wants a girlfriend, and Dwayne wants some teeth. These two concerns form what could only tenuously be described as the plot of the film, which is less a traditional journey than a cinematic portrait of two unique (and uniquely cinematic) souls. Who sometimes sell tinnies.

It's also a beautiful ode to the power of friendship - of both the human and equine variety.

Filling out the edges of the film is the very camera-ready Kody, a twelve-year-old fellow horse-enthusiast who wants to join the gang. The scenes between Kody and his pony take on an almost Mister Ed-like quality as the film progresses.

I was never distracted by trying to determine what was contrived and what wasn't in The Deadly Ponies Gang - it's a film that sidesteps such questions by being so generous spirited and big hearted. I can't wait for the rest of the world to see this.

Have you seen any of these? What has impressed you this year? Comment Below!

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