Ethan Dizon and Sylan Brooks deliver great performances as Pete and Mister
It’s usually the sign of a good film when it provokes a strong physical reaction, of any kind. So I’m really pleased that everything I saw at last weekend’s Sundance London Festival had that effect on me. There wasn’t a single dud amongst the five feature films and the programme of 10 shorts that I watched during the festival. Still, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete stands way out as the screening that generated the most emotion from me – to the point where I had to take a moment and compose myself after it had finished.
Wonderful, heart-wrenching, touching and anger-inducing, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete is the true-to-life story of two young boys, simply trying to make it through the summer holidays. Living in the projects of Brooklyn, New York, with single mothers who need parenting themselves, if the local bullies and gangsters don’t get them, then their dysfunctional home lives surely will.
Mister is determined to make a better life for himself. He dreams of becoming an actor and, obsessed with the film Fargo, learns and re-enacts a key monologue from the script in preparation for the open auditions that he’s sure will be his route to freedom. This film really brings home the challenges that some children face to do things that others take totally for granted, how hard it must be to stay on the straight and narrow when circumstances are against them and the double life they have to lead to juggle the pressures of school and home. When the odds are stacked so high against you, the daily struggle to lift yourself above them must be soul destroying. Despite that, The Inevitable Defeat is ultimately a story of the power of hope, friendship and love.
Sylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon, as Mister and Pete
I absolutely adored this film. I experienced a roller coaster of emotion throughout and was totally drained by the time it finished, after crying for the best part of two hours. But whilst The Inevitable Defeat is bleak in many ways, it’s also extremely cute and humorous in others. The writer, Michael Starrbury, has captured that beautiful irony of real life – that even in the saddest times, the smallest or most ridiculous things can still make you smile and even laugh.
I admit that I often cry in films but this was something else. And I was competing with the elderly white lady that was sitting next to me. I only mention her colour because in many ways, she and I couldn’t seem any more different, but sitting there in the dark our hearts went out to those boys equally – and at times to their mothers – in a way that doesn’t see race but only people. And in the subsequent Q&A she said the film was a real eye-opener for her, giving her a real insight into a life she previously had no understanding of. She also expressed what I felt – that the characters were so well written and developed that somehow you even have an element of sympathy for the bad guys.
Director George Tillman, Jr. has done an amazing job drawing such convincing performances out of Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon, who play Mister and Pete, respectively. During the Q&A he explained how difficult it was to get the film made in the first place. After all, on paper, who wants to watch a film about a 14-year old black boy and his friendship with an Asian kid? There had also been concern that he couldn’t possibly find a boy capable of carrying the entire movie – which is what’s required. It wasn’t just the financiers who were worried. Understandably, the actors he approached also had their reservations, conveying in no uncertain terms that without the right lead they didn’t want to be involved. But they had nothing to fear, as the boys step up to the plate.
Brooks is brilliant in the role of Mister, despite the immense pressure that Tillman describes him being under – not only is he in every scene but some scenes are him alone. This film may be about young boys but it’s a really adult script and he handles his part with great strength and maturity. Similarly, Dizon is perfectly cast as his young companion, Pete – combining vulnerability and naivety with a dash of street nous. Just as some kids have to do in real life. Tillman explains that, by chance, Brooks auditioned ten minutes after Dizon, so he and the casting agents brought the two boys back in together as they felt their chemistry might work. And they were right. There’s a great supporting cast, too, including the surprise of Jennifer Hudson, almost unrecognisable as Mister’s mother.
As at previous Sundance London Q&As, I was disappointed that the writer wasn’t there to give his perspective but Tillman talked around elements of the script. Michael Starrbury named the character ‘Mister’ because the life he’s been thrown into means he’s a young kid who’s an adult. He looks after himself like an adult and in some ways, he’s the adult to his mother, but in the end he is just a kid. And part of his journey is the realisation that he can’t handle life alone – kids, and sometimes even adults, need help.
I see a lot of really good films. Every now and then I see one that’s really special. One that really touches me. The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete is one of those. And once you’ve watched it, you realise that the film’s title is wonderfully, sadly perfect.
I’m excited that the Sundance London Film and Music Festival has finally arrived for its second year. I totally missed this homage to independent film makers when it was here last year and I’m determined to make up for it now. So far, so very, very good. Yesterday, the festival kicked off with a film so lovely, there can never be too many clichés used to describe it. The Kings of Summer is the Stand By Me of 2013. A feel good, coming-of-age movie with such great characters and dialogue it had me laughing out loud throughout. It’s the story of two 15-year old best friends, Joe and Patrick, who are tormented by their insanely annoying parents. Their summer and lives are changed when Joe and hanger-on, Biaggio, stumble across a beautiful clearing in the woods. It proves to be the perfect plot of land for them to build their own, adult-free house on – providing an escape from their families and setting them on the road to independence and manhood.
Scriptwriter, Chris Galletta, has crafted a wonderful story – touching, funny and full of quirky, random moments. Some elements are so random that they could have fallen flat but director Jordan Vogt-Roberts pulls it all together brilliantly, with the help of his outstanding cast and crew. The subsequent Q&A gave a nice insight into the filmmaking process, including revealing that one shot where a tree falls down in the woods – which I had taken to be symbolic -was actually the work of Mother Nature. There was a powercut on their outdoor set, a moment of panic while lighting was restored – and then the tree started to fall. Totally unplanned but luckily caught on film by the quick-thinking director of photography.
Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias are cast perfectly as the three teenage boys. While icing on the cake is provided by the adults, who include the fabulous Megan Mullally (Karen Walker in Will and Grace) and Nick Offerman (who, coincidently, is married to her!). The great chemistry between the actors helps deliver excellent performances all around. The Kings of Summer is the very definition of heartwarming and a film I’ll definitely want to add to my collection. In the meantime, catch it on the big screen while you can. It’s on again on Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th. If you can get to the 02 in London, don’t miss it.
Best, at Sundance London
And while you’re at Sundance, be sure to check out the short films package. 8,000 shorts were submitted to the original Sundance Festival in the US. Only 65 made it onto the Festival programme and from those, only 9 have been brought to the UK – guaranteeing that we’re seeing the cream of the crop. Additionally, Sundance London ran an online competition for one filmmaker to have their short added to the programme, meaning we’re lucky enough to see 10 great shorts in one go. That online winner - a film called Best, by William Oldroyd, based on a play by Adam Brace - was my favourite by far. An unexpected insight into the life of a man about to get married, it’s a great example of less-is-more – a powerful story, covering an important issue in a light-hearted way. And told in less than three minutes.
Other shorts that stood out include The Date – a humorous tale about pedigree cats being set up to mate – and Irish Folk Furniture – an animated documentary that traces the history of family heirlooms as they’re being reconditioned and returned to their homes. Overall, the programme of shorts features many beautifully shot, intelligent stories from around the world, that are innovative, thought-provoking and funny.
My only disappointment so far is that that the Q&As I saw after the films focused primarily on the directors. I say, let’s get some screenwriters up on stage. After all, no matter how brilliant the director is, without the script there’d be nothing to make.
Yesterday, Yoko Ono tweeted a picture of John Lennon’s blood stained glasses. It would have been their 44th wedding anniversary.
She also tweeted: “We decided that if we were going to do anything like get married that we would dedicate it to peace.imaginepeace.com/archives/1073 20 March 1969″. That link has some amazing audio of her and John.
I’m delighted to have had a sneak preview of Labour of Love‘s Autumn/Winter 2013 Look Book. The new collection is as gorgeous as ever.
The designer and brains behind the brand (and my lovely friend), Francesca Forcolini, has kindly allowed me to post a couple of pictures showing some of my favourite pieces. I’ve no doubt that once you see for yourself just how fabulous the collection is, you’ll be dying to get your hands on it, just like me!
In the meantime, I’m chuffed that my South London homies are coming East Side this weekend – you can catch the Labour of Love pop up shop at the Dalston Department Store, from Thursday 21st – Sunday 24th March. (They keep telling me to move back South, but I know that, secretly, they love my neck of the woods!) Happy shopping!
This hilarious, but touching film set on a New York bus, follows a bunch of high school kids from the Bronx on their journey home after the last day of term.
On the surface it’s just a rowdy bus ride but as we get travel further, it clearly becomes a touching character study. As with most school buses, the stereotypes are evident – the bullies and smart-arses at the back, nerds at the front, with misfits and everyone else in between. But as we weave our way through the streets, we gradually get an insight into their relationships with each other and their lives off the bus. Their hopes, their fears and their dreams.
Directed and co-written by Michel Gondry, using ‘real’ local kids, this is lots of fun, whilst making some really serious points as well.
And not only does it have some great one-liners, but its old skool hip hop soundtrack had me dancing in my seat, throughout.
Set in 1865, just after President Abraham Lincoln’s re-election, this tells of his dogged fight to get the 13th amendment of the American constitution passed, to abolish slavery. At the time, a civil war had been raging for four years, between people of the South, where slavery was widespread, and people of the North, where black people were already free – and where many had enlisted and fought alongside white soldiers, to achieve emancipation for all. 600,000 people had already died in the civil war and Lincoln was under extreme pressure to bring it to an end. However, he was determined to get the amendment passed first, as he knew it would be blocked by the Southerners once peace was restored. So he put himself on the line – and risked many more deaths – in order to push it through.
This is a sobering but ultimately joyous film – due to the obvious outcome.
It’s a little bit too long and also very verbose, which makes it quite hard going in some places, but overall its hugely enjoyable for its fascinating historical insight and its great cast. Daniel Day Lewis is wonderful as Lincoln – easily combining gravitas with a dry sense of humour. But the stand out performance comes from Tommy Lee Jones who’s superb as the outspoken anti-slavery campaigner, forced to hide his extreme liberalism for the greater, long-term good.
Either cynically or commemoratively released within days of Barack Obama taking up his second term as President – coincidently, swearing on the same bible used by Lincoln – it’s a poignant reminder of how things used to be. And yes, I cried at this, too.
This film made my heart swoon with joy, my face hurt from laughing and my body ache with sadness. Based on a true story, it’s the delightfully frank tale of Mark O’Brian, by all accounts a wonderfully intelligent and witty man. When we meet Mark at his college graduation it takes a while to register that he’s lying down. Mark has polio, which leaves him unable to move any part of his body except from his head without assistance, and prevents him from breathing unaided. He spends the majority of his day at home, entombed inside an iron lung. From there, he conducts most of his life – remarkably, working as a freelance journalist and poet, communicating by pushing phone or computer buttons with a pencil held in his mouth. However, for three or four hours a day Mark can survive outside of the lung, on just a portable ventilator, and he certainly makes the most of this precious time.
I immediately liked Mark. Mischievous, feisty and funny whilst pragmatically, living life as fully as possible. His sharp mind and caustic wit, take him far beyond the restraints of his disability whilst, sadly, also emphasising his limitations. At 38, Mark is a virgin – a situation he finds frustrating and wants to rectify, if only to have the experience before he dies. So Mark employs a sex surrogate – a sex therapist named Cheryl who helps him explore not just her body but also his own body for the very first time.
A beautifully touching and unexpected relationship develops, as their emotional connection pushes professionally boundaries.
This is a wonderful tribute to Mark O’Brian. It’s an amazing legacy that, based on his diaries, the issue of disabled sex has made it onto the big screen and in such a heart warming and accessible way. It’s also clear that he deeply touched everyone he met. You feel Mark’s spirit throughout the film, not merely through the story but also through his touching poems which are feature strongly (and which had me blubbing by the end).
I can’t praise The Sessions enough. John Hawkes is absolutely outstanding as Mark. Helen Hunt is moving as the overly-involved Cheryl and the whole film has a great supporting cast. In a nutshell, it’s a must see movie.
Today, President Barack Obama was publicly sworn into his second term as American President. The historical importance of this day – and the positive message that it sends to young people, and adults, of all backgrounds and lifestyles – can not be underestimated.
He used his inaugural address to “issue a powerful call to action, as he embraced an unashamedly liberal agenda and urged Americans to reclaim from conservatives the spirit of the founding fathers… and before a crowd of about half a million he pledged to battle against poverty and prejudice, deliver equality for gay people, tackle climate change and give young undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.”
By fitting co-incidence, it took place on the US’s annual Martin Luther King day. Additionally, one of the bibles used to swear him in was previously used by the great anti-slavery campaigner, President Lincoln, in his own inauguration in 1861. Another bible used had been passed down through his wife Michelle’s family, over the years.
I wish him the best of luck in his fight over the next four years. Sadly, he’s definitely going to need it. For some reason we still live in a world where the idea of equality and justice is too much for some people to bear. And that’s before we even get into the issue of gun control, which he finally started to really tackle last week, after yet another teen shooting. There are many, many people who have a vested interest in seeing him fail. I hope, for all of our sakes, that they don’t succeed.
As a chilling aside, my friend, Chris Abbot, has just posted this image on Facebook. As sad as this image is, it’s a wonderful and important reminder of just how far we’ve come in a relatively short period of time.
The source said: “Here is a Georgia State Trooper in riot gear at a KKK protest in a north Georgia city back in the 80s. The Trooper is black. Standing in front of him and touching his shield is a curious little boy dressed in a Klan hood and robe. I have stared at this picture and wondered what must have been going through that Trooper’s mind. Before the Trooper is an innocent child who is being taught to hate him because of the color of his skin. The child doesn’t understand what he is being taught.”
I was lucky enough to spend Christmas and New Year in Cambodia and Thailand. I experienced everything from the stunning temples of Siem Reap and the eerily tranquil, yet horrific Killing Fields of Phnom Penh; to the gorgeous beaches of Sihanoukville and the relative metropolis of Bangkok. All very different places and very different experiences. And every time I thought I was fully acclimatised and had got a handle on these beautiful countries – from the regular powercuts of Cambodia to its poor drainage system – I’d be hit with a brilliant contradiction, like finding that their public minibuses have wi-fi!
One of the best things about my trip was the truly inspiring people that I met. From the locals, working hard to provide for themselves and their families – and in some cases dreaming of affording a plane fare to enable them to sample travel in the way we take it, pretty much, for granted. To the Western expats who, for a wide variety of different reasons, have left everything behind to start a new life – and often a business – in their adopted home of Asia. All reminded me of how important it is to follow your dreams and work hard to realise your ambitions. I absolutely loved every minute of my Asian adventure and – as much as I love my hometown of London – I was very sad to come home at the weekend. I’d done a pretty good job of ‘switching off’ from my normal life. I was surprised at how easily I’d resisted any urges to stay constantly connected to the world, via social media – OK, I did go online to check and respond to emails and I did do a *few* tweets and Facebook posts, but my activity was comparatively non-existant. And it was liberating. Now that I’m back, I’ve quickly remembered what I love about social media – from the wealth of news and information at my fingertips, to the ease of connecting with friends near and far. But I’ve also quickly remembered how easily it can take over, rather than enhance, your life if you don’t manage it properly.
Smiling Buddha, Cambodia
I realise that if I actually lived and worked in Asia, rather just being there on holiday, I’d be straight back into my usual daily social media habits. But I still want want to hold on – and share – those feelings of freedom and inspiration that I started 2013 with. For me, BALANCE will be key this year. And to achieve that, I need to remind myself of my true business and life goals – what will really make me happy? – and focus on them. So that the other stuff doesn’t bog me down along the way.
Over the next few days, I’ll upload some of the many, many, MANY pictures that I took while I was away.
In the meantime, here’s wishing us all an inspired and fulfilling 2013.