Quick Picks brings you short reviews of movies available to rent, buy or stream now. Settlers (2021), Words on Bathroom Walls (2020) and The True Don Quixote (2019) are available to rent or buy now on all major digital platforms.
For decades, cinema has attempted to reflect the possible colonisation of our nearest planetary neighbour Mars, with mixed success. And while some movies have opted to explore the isolation of the red planet, others have focused on our realisation that while you can take the human away from earth, you can’t change their behaviour. Wyatt Rockefeller combines both these themes in a confident and beautiful movie rooted in isolation, fear and human fragility in his debut feature. The desolate Martian landscape, stunningly recreated in South Africa’s Namaqualand desert. However, despite solid performances throughout, and visual flair, Settlers struggles to identify its core messages. The tension of the opening half ultimately falling flat as we reach our conclusion.
Ilsa (Sofia Boutella), Reza (Jonny Lee Miller), and their nine-year-old daughter Remmy (Brooklynn Prince) inhabit an isolated small farm surrounded by mountains. Their strange, desolate facsimile of home, stark, dusty yet comforting as they stare into the night sky and recall stories of Earth. But, this is no harmonious farm free from aggression and fear. No, this is a fortress fought over and won through violence. And as Remmy cares for the crops and animals, mysterious outsiders watch and wait. Their mission, to reclaim a farm that offers survival and hope.
Although striking and beautiful in the hands of cinematographer Willie Nel, with a cracking score composed by Nitin Sawhney, Settlers biggest flaw is its screenplay. The story never quite rising to meet the ideas surrounding it. But, despite that, Settler’s is a solid slice of science fiction that reminds us all that no matter where humans go, darkness, hope, and a fight for survival at any cost will follow.
Settlers is available to rent or buy from 30th July.
Words on Bathroom Walls
For many years, Hollywood demonised various mental health conditions ranging from schizophrenia to personality disorder and bipolar. These conditions would often be linked to characters who would murder or harm others, enhancing fear in the public imagination. While the genres in which these characters would appear were primarily horror, psychological thrillers or tragic dramas. Here, dangerous perceptions of abnormality, fear and immorality surrounded mental health as film embraced public distrust and discrimination.
However, in recent years this has begun to change with filmmakers embracing a more accurate, delicate and informed view of mental health on screen. In many ways, this modern cinematic shift began with Good Will Hunting in 1997 and, therefore, it is no surprise the Williams, Damon movie finds reference in Words on Bathroom Walls. However, Thor Freudenthal’s movie is very much its own unique and beautiful creation. With its assured, sensitive and engaging screenplay based on the equally impressive young adult novel by Julia Walton.
The film opens with young Adam (Charlie Plummer) explaining that his doctors first viewed his condition as a visual defect. His deep green eyes tricking him into seeing swirling mists, shadows and objects. But, as time progressed, Adam began to realise his visions were far more than a deficit in his eyesight. However, initially, Adam learns to control the figures and voices that swirl in his mind through his passion for cooking. The kitchen, not only a refuge but a fortress of solitude, creativity and invention; his dream, to become a chef. But, how long can Adam hide the increasing severity of the visions and voices surrounding him from his mum? And how long will it be before his school life falls victim to the new world his mind is creating?
Plummer’s outstanding performance alongside an equally strong supporting cast ensures Words on Bathroom Walls transcends the boundaries of young adult fiction on screen. While at the same time remaining rooted in a teenage aesthetic that encourages debate and discussion among young people watching. The film’s creative, engaging, and scary visual representations of Adam’s thoughts stunning in both design and construct. And while there are moments where Words on Bathroom Walls falls prey to the usual tropes of young adult fiction, the core messages of the movie remain fully intact. Here, Adam’s own words define the importance of the film and its conversations on mental health, “It’s hard to let someone find you in all the dark and twisty places inside, but eventually, you have to hope that they do, because that’s the beginning of everything.”
Words on Bathroom Walls is available to rent or buy now on all major platforms.
The True Don Quixote
Over the years, many directors have tried and failed to bring Don Quixote to the big screen. Their efforts mired in problems on how to adapt Miguel de Cervantes’s novel for a modern audience. As a result, I think it’s fair to say I was unsure about The True Don Quixote before my viewing, with little hope of finding anything new or creative. Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when Chris Poche’s first feature managed to do exactly that; his self-penned movie, full of creativity and difference. Its heartwarming mix of self-created fantasy, social fragility and mental health, both engaging and unique as we enter the imagination and world of Danny Kehoe (Tim Blake Nelson). An unemployed ex-librarian living with his niece Janelle (Ann Mahoney).
Poche smartly brings Cervantes’s novel into a modern-day setting, a town that’s lost hope in a society where we no longer communicate and care. Here, our brave hero Danny Kehoe desperately tries to save the books he loves as the local mobile library is removed. His mind slowly merging with the texts surrounding him as he suffers a mental breakdown. Meanwhile, his niece, fearing for his health, burns the books as he sleeps. Her misguided belief that the stories in his possession are the problem only furthering his mental break from the world around him.
READ MORE QUICK PICKS HERE
As Danny wakes from his slumber, the books that were a part of his soul gone, he finally departs from the real world and becomes the medieval knight of his dreams. His mission, to save the town and defeat injustice wherever it may reside. And as he battles his first dragon (an oil pump to you and me), Danny meets Kevin (Jacob Batalon), an unemployed young man desperate for escape. Of course, Kevin is soon renamed “Sancho” and promised money to act as Danny’s squire. The result, a mythical, tender, and loving quest as Danny and Kevin step forth into town, both desperate to find love, connection and meaning in a community that has lost all three.
With superb performances from Tim Blake Nelson and Jacob Batalon, the journey that ensues is tender and intimate. Moments of laugh out loud comedy coupled with deep emotion as one man redefines a community through the lens of his fantasy world. And while the resulting film may not answer all the questions it raises around community decline and socio-economic inequality, it does reflect the need for escape and hope inherent in many small towns. Equally, The True Don Quixote asks us all to reflect on the social stigmas associated with a mental breakdown.
Danny’s journey reminds us of just how fragile life can be. Our notions of reality and fantasy, narrowing as we become more and more isolated from those around us. The True Don Quixote undeniably wears its heart on its sleeve while joyously bathing in its creativity. Here, Poche’s film is funny, sad, loving and unique. And while it may not win the hearts of everyone watching, it quickly won mine.
The True Don Quixote is available to rent or buy from 2nd August.