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Review: ‘Sound of Metal’

In Darius Marder’s new film Sound of Metal, actor Riz Ahmed begins and ends in two distinct places of stillness. The film opens on him sitting behind his drum set as if in a black void-shirtless, buff and tattooed…. his entire being pulsating with anticipation like a caged animal waiting to strike. And then he does, the stillness broken as he drives a frenzied beat to accompany singer/guitarist and bandmate Lou (Olivia Cook) as she drones the lyrics to their heavy metal/noise sound. It’s probably the happiest he’ll be in the film as his drum beat crescendos and wavers out as the crowd applauds.

The second act of stillness later in the film is just as pure and satisfying, albeit in a much more complex re-framing of the narrative after a lot has happened. Without spoiling anything, it’s a near perfect attitude that captures a moment both heartbreaking and uplifting in a film whose journey is well earned, well acted and dutifully observed.

As Rubin, Ahmed gives a defining performance. It’s not long after that bit of underground-rock stardom opening we see that he and Lou are much more than band mates. In sharp contrast to their loud and metallic music, they live a peaceful (almost boring) life together in an Air stream trailer, traveling the Midwest and performing. They have a tour lined up, have produced several albums, and genuinely enjoy their partnership.

It’s only when they’re getting ready for one of their shows that Rubin experiences a ringing in his ears followed by a muffled loss of sound. He shakes it off, but it happens again during the show and his drum beat becomes erratic and unfocused. It continues to worsen, leaving him suddenly deaf and forced to re-evaluate the purpose of his life. In a brave choice of sound editing, director Marder and editor Mikkel Nielsen crawl inside Rubin’s head, allowing us to experience the curtains of sounds that ebb and flow, until we’re left with nothing, just as distressed as Rubin.

But the loss of hearing is only the jumping off point for Sound of Metal. It’s a a very specific film with strong characterizations and deep attention paid to every single role. Rubin ends up at a disability camp for deaf persons, run by ex-Vietnam veteran Joe (Paul Raci whose biography is just as complex as his role). The real focus of Marder’s film plays out here as Rubin finds his niche in this group of people and the friction that comes with his driving goal to have surgical cochlear implants and reunite with Lou.

Also written by Marder (who also co-wrote Derek Cinafrance’s powerful The Place Beyond the Pines), Sound of Metal is far less sweeping than that film, but just as attuned to the passage of time and how we grow and evolve with unforeseen circumstances. Though the film rests mostly on Ahmed’s shoulders, Sound of Metal populates itself with vivid characters whose presence matches his ferocious honesty. The aforementioned Raci is amazing, as is Cook portraying Lou. Not saddled with the archetype of long-suffering girlfriend, she embodies a character who undergoes her own personal revolution. Even small, one-scene characters like that of Mathieu Almaric as Lou’s father vibrate with aching sincerity. The conversation he has with Ahmed towards the end of the film says nothing and everything about a protective father who understands these two young people need to discover some truths for themselves.

Outside of its stellar casting, Marder’s sound design and choice of images is first-rate. We never think of the passionate sounds that come from a room of people using sign language. In one scene, the group are having dinner, signing and joking with one another. One moment we’re inside Rubin’s head as the sign language flies and then an abrupt cut to the whole group reveals a loud cacophony of hands hitting the table and gasps of recognition as the room communicates. Marder continually re-adjusts our focus from interior to exterior with sharp grace.

Yes, I’m gushing about Sound of Metal. It’s that good. Bookended by two moments of stillness, what makes it an incredibly special film is the chaos of learning to communicate anew in-between those moments. The journey may have been heartbreaking and confusing and maddening, but it’s a film that understands the wisdom that comes from such an experience.

Sound of Metal opens in limited theatrical release on Friday November 20th. It will begin streaming on VOD platforms on December 1st.

Weathering the Storm: Dallas VideoFest33 Returns This Week

Starved cinema fans, Dallas’ longest running film festival returns to the North Texas area this week, despite challenging times. Like many other recent festivals around the world, Dallas VideoFest will resume as a hybrid event, presenting films in person via the Trinity Groves Tin Star Drive-In and virtual offerings through Falcon Events at

As it’s done the past couple of years, this event — called DocuFest — will present only documentary efforts. And getting a peek at the upcoming schedule, this year’s line-up doesn’t suffer from slim distribution, featuring films as diverse as one by artist/activist Ai Weiwei that diagrams the burgeoning COVID-19 virus as it began to alarmingly spread through Wuhan, and another piece of curious cinematic archeology that suggests the possibility that Leeds, England is the actual birthplace of the global film industry.

The drive-in portion of the festival (naturally) looks to curate rollicking good times in the socially-distanced outdoors, featuring a variety of films that explore the influence of Lucille Ball, Chuck Berry, and Del Close. Sprinkles of local flavor are also on tap with the films Texas Trip: A Carnival of Ghosts about some visceral musicians and Proof which follows the arduous process of photographic salvation by Texas historian Byrd WilliamIV.

And if all of this sounds a bit too real for our current times, there’s also CatFest+, which promises plenty of feelgood feline found footage and animation.

Per the VideoFest release, here’s all the information you may need:

Dallas VideoFest to present hybrid
in-person/online viewing format for
33 rd -anniversary festival: #DVF33DocuFest
October 1-4, 2020

As our arts and culture community seeks ways to feel more connected in a time of social
distancing, Dallas VideoFest continues to innovate and broaden its reach

On the heels of its successful real-time, virtual Alternative Fiction festival in the spring, Dallas VideoFest will continue to reshape the film festival landscape with its fall DocuFest. Highlighting dozens of documentary features and shorts over four days, Oct. 1-4, DocuFest, offering drive-in style and virtual viewing followed by real-time Q&A with featured filmmakers.

The drive-in portion of DocuFest will take place at The Tin Star Theater (2712 Beeville, Dallas, TX, in Trinity Groves). The Tin Star drive-in theater is hosting the performing arts and a variety of shows in a socially distanced atmosphere. Please make sure you are following CDC guidelines in your car and on the premises. Masks are a must. With immersive topics centered on current events – including the 2020 presidential election – the festival is especially timely both in theme and content, said Dallas VideoFest Founder and Artistic Director Bart Weiss.

“Documentaries give us greater insight into the world,” said Weiss. “When we see these headlines or view an ad on Facebook, we’re seeing one moment. Documentaries give us a canvas to put things into perspective, to understand these topics in a different kind of way.” Meanwhile, the hybrid drive-in/virtual format offers viewers a way to interact and enjoy the quality and thought-provoking films safely at a time when many are longing for the theater experience.

That sense of connecting together in one space is one reason developing a drive-in experience for DocuFest felt important in 2020, said Weiss. “You can see people in their cars, and go up and say hello,” he said. “And, when people like something, they all honk their horns. There’s something very powerful in that.”

For the virtual viewing component of DocuFest, Dallas VideoFest will again partner with Falcon Events ( Dallas-based event producers, which specialized in producing live online and virtual events, to deploy the latest live online technology via a secure and robust platform to create a virtual film festival experience.

Everyone should bring an open mind and an adventurous spirit.
• A mask or cloth that covers your nose and mouth. Masks when interacting with festival staff or volunteers from inside your vehicle

A debit/credit card (some points of sale will be cashless due to COVID-19).

At the drive-in Please don’t bring: , Bad attitudes, Weapons of any kind, Drugs

Stay tuned to this site for reviews and updates as the festival progresses. Check for information and purchasing information.

Review: ‘Donnybrook’

dfn_donnybrook_poster-300What could go wrong with an underground neo-Nazi sponsored, bare-knuckle cage fight event in the backwoods of America’s hinterland? In the very moody and dark-hearted Donnybrook by writer-director Tim Sutton, it becomes the intended salvation for a trio of lost, downtrodden souls who hope to use the place as a springboard for a better life.

As exemplified in his previous film, Dark Night (2016), Sutton’s penchant for the pervasively oppressive nature of human beings to wreck havoc on others is something that interests him. Using the real life story of a mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater to weave a skeletal fictional tone film about the lives of several disparate people who happen to end up in the carnage felt manipulative and borrowed in the worst possible way.

And Donnybrook employs some of the same free-flowing arc towards eventual destruction. Of the three souls mentioned, Jamie Bell’s ex-soldier Jarhead Earl is the most agreeable of the bunch seeking redemption at the altar of broken teeth and bloody noses. To get to the Donnybrook, he’s forced to rob a pawn shop for the entrance fee and then hightail it out of town with his son in tow.

Also meandering away from something and towards something else is Delia (a wonderful Margaret Qualley). The sister of local meth dealer Chainsaw Angus (Frank Grillo), her relationship with him is vile and hateful. Anytime she tries to get close — with several scenes that belie an even more sinister pull between the two — ends up with him spitting in her face or jerking her head violently and then kissing to apologize. For his part, Grillo plays his character with stunning, methodical rage.

Once Delia decides she’s had enough, she steals his stash and moves towards the “Donnybrook” where she meets up with Earl and forms a broken family looking for atonement in the wretches of modern America.

Or, at least, that’s what the film wants the viewer to feel. Completely conflicted about it, Donnybrook is a film so bleak and dour that even the subplots demand a level of ‘miserablism,’ including a local sheriff (James Badge Dale) who drinks from a flask incessantly and hunts Chainsaw Angus with an aggression that seems right at home in the next season of True Detective. Bracketed by a swelling soundtrack by Phil Mossman and Jens Bjornkjaer, Donnybrook imparts a sense that it’s a grand statement on our divided Here and Now, where the only two things that exist are evil and more evil, whose deliverance can only be found in the pummeling of others.

Yet, outside of its self-important, low-rent Cormac McCarthy wallow, Sutton’s film strikes a chord of underlying beauty in its images and tone. Bell and Qualley embody their damaged-goods characters with vulnerability, although, due to one shocking scene of sadism, one may not identify with Qualley’s Delia quite so easily. And their trek, once they find each other, becomes a sort of mythological trip across the river to an island of desperation whose whiffs of ancient literature lend the film a deeper commentary.

As a whole, the rigorous violence and dampening widespread malaise ultimately make Donnybrook more of a chore to sit through than anything else. It does feature some sparkles of brilliance and Sutton is an interesting filmmaker whose career of America’s hardened edges may still coalesce into something great. With Donnybrook, the hardness is certainly there, but nothing else.

Donnybrook opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, February 15 at select theaters.