Fantastic Fest 2018 Recap - Day 7

(Welcome to The Fantastic Fest Diaries, where we will be chronicling every single movie we see at the United States’ largest genre film festival.)

Welcome to Fantastic Fest, day seven. In this diary entry: a hilarious and tragic examination of what happens when your 15 minutes of fame are up and a brutal, shallow look at the American nightmare.

After the Screaming Stops is a Hilarious and Heartbreaking Music Documentary

In the 1980s, twin brothers Matt Goss and Luke Goss had an exceptionally loud 15 minutes of fame as the figureheads of the British pop band Bros. And when those 15 minutes ended, both went their separate ways (Matt became a Las Vegas staple, Luke a busy actor) and grew apart. So when they return to London for a reunion concert 28 years later, these two very different men clash and bond and clash and heal and clash some more as they try to recapture that old magic.

And thankfully, cameras are rolling the entire time. After the Screaming Stops is no hagiography, no attempt to convince us that Bros is some kind of lost work of genius (the songs are terrible in both the archival and modern footage). It is, however, a powerful, moving and unexpectedly hilarious portrait of brotherhood. When you’re not fist-pumping at these brothers finding common ground, you’re tearing up as they share stories of their late mother. When you’re not cringing when they interrupt a rehearsal to bicker over the pettiest shit imaginable, you’re laughing really hard because every other sentence out of Matt Goss’ mouth is unintentionally hilarious nonsense and Luke Goss is literally his natural born straight man.

Quite frankly, I had not heard of Bros before watching this documentary and you couldn’t pay me to listen to their albums after. But that’s what makes After the Screaming Stops such a memorable film and such a valuable document: even the people behind the art you dislike are human beings whose complexities are worth exploring and caring about. The Goss brothers may be real, but they emerge from this film as two of my favorite “characters” of the year, subjects so real and warm and petty and funny and heartbreaking that I could have spent another hour with them. I may not want a Bros album in my music library, but I sure as hell want a desk calendar full of Matt’s best/worst quotes, especially if each one can be accompanied by an image of Luke looking utterly exhausted.

Donnybrook is a Well-Made But Shallow Descent Into the American Nightmare

Early and often, Tim Sutton‘s Donnybrook makes its message clear: the post-apocalypse is now, and it’s the American Midwest. In this seemingly lawless land, where everyone is armed and everyone is on meth and everyone seems to be aware of the underground bareknuckle brawling competition of the title (the winner walks away with $100,000), the American Dream is has mutated into something dark and ugly. It’s no longer about working hard – it’s about finding a way to stay alive.

However, it quickly becomes clear that Sutton isn’t interested in providing commentary or elaborating on these ideas as much as he wants to hammer them home over and over and over again. Everything is shit, Donnybrook says. Everything is fucked, America is broken, people are monsters. And? Well, there is no and in Donnybrook. Just two hours of your nose being rubbed in what any American alive in 2018 already knows. There’s nothing wrong with a dark film and we’re living in an age where nihilism sometimes feels like the proper response, but some kind of nuance, some kind of anything would be welcome beyond the reminder that we’re all screwed.

Credit where credit is due: Jamie Bell is excellent as a former soldier using the last of his (stolen) cash to get to the Donnybrook, letting his wide eyes sell the desperation his confident body rarely suggests. Also trying his damnedest is Frank Grillo, an incredible actor saddled with a villain who is essentially a dime store Anton Chigurh, a bad guy who feels like he walked out of a lousy B-movie. The film’s insistence that he’s not ridiculous leads to unexpected hilarity, as he finds new ways to top how eeevil he is with every scene, including a sequence where he hitches a ride with a chipper old man who dooms himself the moment he opens his mouth and reveals how gosh darn great his life is.

There’s a grungy polish on Donnybrook that one can’t help but admire and it’s effective enough in its most harrowing moments. And yet, the whole thing is shallow, monotonous, and vague. America is failing. Yes, but what else? The film thinks the question is all it needs and in a year where so many other films try to answer that question, to elaborate, to explore, that’s not enough.

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