L.A. Film Fest Reviews: Songs by Animal Collective & Bon Iver Can't Save 'The Dynamiter'

by James Rocchi
June 25, 2011 12:58 PM
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Plus Iranian Indie 'Please Do Not Disturb'



"The Dynamiter" opens in the fields of the South with two young brothers (one fourteen, one eight) throwing sharpened sticks they've made at a pile of hay. We keep seeing wannabe Malick-like cuts and shots as the older brother is telling a joke, the sky is an amazing blue, and "Banshee Beat" by Animal Collective plays in the background. This sets the tone for the rest of the film; one of shallow cliches, disingenuous nostalgia, and a coldly calculated style.

The story has to do with a summer in the life of Robert (William Ruffin), the fourteen year-old. Robert talks in a husky voice and barely betrays any emotions, caring for his younger half-brother, his grandmother, and their old dog. Through all this, he holds on to the belief that his mother, who abandoned them, will be coming home one day. On the last day of school, he's caught stealing from the lockers of his middle school. His guidance counselor lets him off the hook if he agrees to keep a journal over the summer creating a narrative device that director Matthew Gordon only halfheartedly returns to two or three times throughout the movie.

The best moments of the movie have to do with his older brother Lucas (Patrick Rutherford in the film's best performance), a former football star kicked out of his university for bad grades. He spends his time smoking cigarettes, lying on the couch, and having sex with older married women -- some attractive, some not. He helps Robbie out with getting girls but stiffs his younger brother because he's a "half-breed." In what should be the dramatic apex of the movie, Robert calls the police on his brother who he just witnessed stealing money from a girl he'd brought home (she's out of it for one reason or another). Lucas, unaware that Robbie's just made that phone call, offers to take him away from here. There's so much love, tension, and regret in this scene -- or at least there would've been if the director had trusted his material and actors enough to play the scene naturally. Instead there's Avey Tare making animal sounds while Panda Bear does the harmonies in the background completely distracting from the matter at hand.

The movie is wall-to-wall soaked in indie soundtrack. When Animal Collective can't do the movie justice, Bon Iver steps in to do the trick. This shows a real distance between the creator and the characters: Robbie would laugh this music off. In fact, he would barely be able to watch this film. You get the sense of a private school film student lying in bed listening to Sung Tungs and clutching his DVD of "Badlands." It becomes increasingly clear that this is not his story. This is his self-satisfying image of a Southern coming of age story. It's not about real people, it's about making the director look like an artist. [C-]

"Please Do Not Disturb"
Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Abdolvahab paints a naturalistic, humanist picture of modern-day Tehran. Using the indie slacker technique of following a particular narrative thread until we're passed off to another one that's taking place in the background, "Please Do Not Disturb" has three stories. The first follows a television personality trying to reconcile with his wife, who he beat; the second centers on a clergyman who is negotiating with a man who has stolen things on the subway; the last and the longest has to do with an untrusting landlady making it very difficult for a TV repairman to do his job.

Each segment does a good job of giving the characters layers and depth. If you're paying attention, you'll be mildly rewarded, but the almost-too-subtle execution keeps the film back from gaining any larger momentum. The film's use of only diegetic music makes for a dry atmosphere, and the ambiguous resolutions may disappoint some viewers. Abdolvahab shows promise, and a good instinct, but "Please Do Not Disturb" displays a filmmaker still getting a handle on his talents. [B-]

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