NBFF Reviews: Wasteland, Fruit Of Labor, And Gus

wasteland 1Monday night at the 2013 Newport Beach Film Festival put me right back on schedule for viewing two films a night for the remainder of the week, possibly seeking a bit of solace (and food) at the wonderful after parties, and then stationing myself back at home, where I can deliver my thoughts on the various films I had a chance to view amongst audiences.  On this night, I was able to see two movies and a short film.  The films were Wasteland, which was preceded by the short film Fruit of Labor, and Gus.  Each film was decidedly different from the other, but I would say I ended up having a good time overall, with Wasteland serving as the standout of the night.

Wasteland (Movie Review)

Wasteland was a hip take on a gritty British heist film.  Here is the NBFF description of the feature:  Battered and bruised, Harvey (Luke Treadway) sits in a police interview room facing interrogation.  Clutching a stack of eyewitness statements, the detective on the other side of the table (Timothy Spall) has no doubt about Harvey’s part in a foiled robbery and his subsequent attempted murder of a local businessman.  Denying everything, Harvey agrees to tell his version of events in full.  What unfolds is an exhilarating, moving and hilarious story of loyalty, jealousy, friendship, revenge and the pursuit of happiness.

I am not sure if every one of those adjectives is delivered upon in Wasteland, but I did find the film to be a strong effort with a lot of energy to make it a worthwhile feature.  The best thing about it was how it kept getting better as it went along.  The film is at first trying to find its footing by establishing what kind of film we are in.  It then does its job of setting up the characters.  Then the film begins to pay off the story beats it has set up.  I have continued to describe the heist film plot as one of the easier ways to get an audience excited about how everything will work out, because even if you are not too invested in the characters, there tends to be an inherent need to see the plan succeed, rather than watch everyone get caught.  Wasteland manages to pull that off quite well, due to its very entertaining third act, with the added bonus that the four main friends are a fun group of guys to watch.


In the lead role, Luke Treadway (who co-starred in Attack the Block, one of my favorite films of 2011) does a very nice job as Harvey; presenting us with an everyman character that was wrongfully imprisoned and is now seeking justice.  He has the most work to do here and he does a good balancing act of showing us who this character is, what he is holding back, and what he wishes he were capable of.  It was also nice to see Harry Potter’s Neville Longbottom, Matthew Lewis, get his own role in this film, as he continues to be a likable presence whenever I see him.  Iwan Rheon was quite entertaining too, as Harvey’s best friend.  And it was also quite nice to see Timothy Spall in a contemporary film, as I practically did not recognize him without having some kind of period attire or makeup on.

The film was written and directed by Rowan Athale, who did a fine job with balancing out the various characters, setting the stakes for the film, and keeping the script fairly tight.  Wasteland moved at a pretty zippy pace and I was pleased with how it treated the characters as real people, meaning that the heavy accents and camaraderie added to the film, with only a few moments of dialogue that felt a bit precious (mainly in the use of voiceover).  Still, in terms of filmmaking, I enjoyed the way the film came together, without utilizing too much in the way of stylish camera tricks, but enough to give the film its own identity.  The fact that it was also quite humorous at times only went further in making this work better as an enjoyable comedic crime thriller.

Wasteland is essentially joining the ranks of the many British crime films, without breaking a whole lot of new ground.  With that said, the likable cast, well-managed scripting, and overall successful mood in capturing the spirit of the heist genre, made it a worthy feature to join said ranks.  It may not be as auspicious as something like Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but it is still a fun flick.

Check out the film’s trailer here:


Fruit of Labor (Movie Review)

I should say something about the short film, Fruit of Labor, even though I generally do not like to expand too much on these types of features.  The film stars Vincent Kartheiser as Alfred.  Alfred desires to be taken seriously as a fashion photographer and, with the assistance of his homicidal wife (Erin Cummings), pushes his would-be-models to the brink of hysteria in order to capture the perfect photo.

fruit of labor

The film only lasts 19 minutes, but it is a neat little experience with a surprisingly strong cast.  Along with Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser, Chi McBride also pops in for a small role.  Fittingly, the film was written and directed by La Monde Byrd, who once had a recurring role on Mad Men.  Byrd does well with providing an interesting setup for the film, delivering some neat visual tricks, and getting a lot of good work out of Kartheiser.  My only real fault is that the ending does not quite deliver.  I can see what the film was trying to go for, but I do not feel that the execution was as effective as the middle portion of the film that built up to it.

Not wanting to discredit short films that I did find to be interesting, I will say that Fruit of Labor is an interesting experience and not at all too lengthy (hence my vague descriptions, as one could easily view the film for themselves and learn what I am referring to).  Given that filmmakers often start out with shorts such as these, it is indeed worth watching this feature just for the sake of supporting talented young writers and directors hoping to make more films in the future.  Fruit of Labor may not have ultimately won me over, but I found the effort to certainly be there.

Check out the film’s brief trailer here:

fruit of labor poster

Gus (Movie Review)

The other full-length feature I was able to see on Monday was the comedy-drama Gus.  The NBFF description is as follows:  Unable to conceive, Lizzie (Radha Mitchell) desperately longs to start a family with her husband Peter (John Dore) and gets the chance of a lifetime when her single best friend Andie (Michelle Monaghan) gets pregnant from a one-night stand and offers to give Lizzie the baby. Reluctantly, Peter agrees to be the child’s father, and before he knows it, Andie has moved into the guest room for the duration of her pregnancy.  When Peter also invites his ne’er-do-well brother (Michael Westin) to the house, chaos ensues, testing the limits of friendship, family and a marriage.

There is not a whole lot of new to be seen in a film like this.  I have seen many features, large and small, that are based around the idea of a lead character acting as one who is willing to give up their child to someone else, with varying levels of success to follow through on that promise.  Gus does get some credit for having an eventual conclusion that was messier than some of the more average attempts at this story, but it does take its time getting there.

Following my screening of Gus, my friend describe the film as “emotionally wrought” and I have a hard time disagreeing with that notion.  This felt especially true in the case of Mitchell and Dore’s characters who constantly argue over the concept of children, their adorable dog Joyce, their responsibilities at home, and the presence of other people living with them.  That is not to say that either of these actors are bad, although while Mitchell is quite good, Dore is a bit of a dud from a character standpoint, but it does present a challenge for the actors, given that the script relies on old tropes to get through many of the emotional beats in the story.

gus movie

Written and directed by Jessie McCormack, the film is structured to have us follow along with the story, based on the progress of the pregnancy, but the stops along the way work best (or at least is most entertaining) with the single characters.  Both Monaghan and Westin are very good in this film.  Monaghan is a wonderful ball of comedic energy, who delivers lots of great comic dialogue throughout and brings a sense of humor that I have seen her display before quite effectively here.  Westin gets points for playing a character that has been in and out of rehab, only to seem like the most balanced person in the cast, and not making it stand out as such.  That is the idea with this character, but I like how the film uses this character and addresses his past issues.  For the most part, it is a credit to the film that the humor was able to fit the tone as effectively as it did.

As I wrap up, I do have to shout out the overall production of the feature.  Not a lot is going on, but Gus does make good on its small budget by using its LA locations effectively and sporting a solid soundtrack (complete with backing vocals by Mitchell in some cases) that really puts a nice bow on the feature.  A good score can go a long way and for Gus to have the feeling of a lightweight drama with some very familiar story elements, I was pleased enough to go along with it.

The film does not yet have a trailer, but I did learn that it was picked up for
distribution, which is good news for any independent filmmaker.


Click on the poster to visit the Newport Beach Film Festival website,
and be sure to check back to Why So Blu throughout the week
for more of my coverage of the festival!


Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.


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