EIFF 2013: C.O.G. Movie Review 0 131

Based on the autobiographical essay by humourist David Sedaris, C.O.G. centres around an enigmatic and sensitive young grad student called David (Jonathan Groff) who one day decides that instead of continuing with his studies or getting a regular job to drop everything and go live and work like “real people” picking apples. Along the way he meets a variety of individuals who shape his newfound life including friendly forklift driver named Curly (Corey Stoll) and Iraq War veteran and born again Christian named Jon (Denis O’Hare) who sets up him up working as his stone-carving apprentice.
The film starts off strangely with a series of encounters that David (now calling himself Samuel) has on the bus to his destination before settling into a meandering and rather aimless path that seems to be frustratingly going nowhere. On a job collecting gasoline for his boss (Dean Stockwell), he is approached by Dennis O’Hare’s character who is handing out flyers. Immediately the film has some life breathed into it and his presence lingers as the movie gets back to doing nothing.
Luckily that’s not the last we see of him and once he becomes a permanent fixture the movie then has a purpose, as he brings not only a more meaningful working life for David as a stone carver but introduces the idea of how religion – specifically the mysterious C.O.G. of the title – could make him a better man. The film is keenly observant about the power of religion and how it can be used as a source of personal gain and the exertion of influence as much as helping someone spiritually.
Groff is excellent in the lead role, taking an entitled and potentially unlikeable character and making him somehow relatable – his character goes on a quietly moving journey and the effectiveness of that is down to Groff. O’Hare is also fantastic, bringing an uneasiness to a character that might have seemed like a caricature in the wrong hands. There’s also nice work from the likes of Dean Stockwell as David’s boss and Corey Stoll as his welcoming new friend Curly, although he is rather wasted on a thin subplot about David’s questioned sexuality that the movie never really has the means to fully explore.
Writer/director Kyle Patrick Alavarez (Easier with Practice) delivers an intimate, contemplative film about early adulthood and figuring out what you want to do with your life, all the while highlighting the stark differences between rural and urban American life and how difficult it is for someone used to one way of life to make the direct jump to another. It takes a little while to find its purpose but once it does its filled with effective moments that resonate with the added bonus of some great performances.
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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Killing Ground 0 639

This review was previously published at The National.

This audacious and especially gruelling Aussie horror-thriller from short film-turned-feature director Damien Power centres on a young couple, Ian (Ian Meadows) and Margaret (Maya Stange), who take a camping trip with their baby to a remote and idyllic spot in a national park.

Once there they discover another group’s camping gear, however the people are nowhere to be seen. Upon some investigation they find themselves a part of a gruesome crime perpetrated by a couple of unknown assailants who appear to be hunting them down.

This impressive debut exemplifies the horror genre’s unique ability to unnerve an audience, lulling us into a false sense of security as so many horror films do with a pair of amiable leading characters and a sunny prospect of a calm holiday retreat before slamming home the horrific truth of the matter.

Using a very clever narrative structure of flitting back and forth between the present couple’s predicament and what exactly happened to the group that set up camp before them, the film drags us by the scruff of the neck down a gruesome and astutely disquieting road that makes for equal parts compelling and shocking viewing.

The horrifying events are amplified by Power’s decision to shoot them with a serene passivity. He allows the unfolding threat and repulsive violence to occur in an almost matter-of-fact manner, utilizing stillness captured by the beautiful cinematography to offset the horror. It conjures a deeply uncomfortable sense that, adding to the film’s largely cynical disposition, bad people exist in the world who commit terrible acts and there’s often nothing we can do about it.

Killing Ground effectively continues the line of grizzly Aussie horrors like Long Weekend, Wolf Creek and The Loved Ones, as well as particularly evoking the Brit gem Eden Lake. This is an example of cinema that knows how to ramp up the tension by never being afraid to show the brutal reality of a scarily believable predicament – in every way it’s unapologetically not for the faint-hearted.

7.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Home Again 0 621

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10