The Boy Who Sold the World

Directed by Adam Barton

Rating: 2 out of 5.

It doesn’t matter what idea you come up with, just so long as you can sell it. The thirsty fangs of capitalism seek to draw talent from any source, but if you want to plant your feet in its home territory, then America is the place to be. Ben Pasternak, “The Boy Who Sold The World” (2020), an undeniable person of brilliance, with a knack for technology, digital applications, but at the heart of it – marketing, seeks the opportunity of a lifetime. Moving to the states, with investors & financiers snapping at his heels for a chance to support him can Pasternak follow in the footsteps of high-school dropouts, who rise the ladder quickly, or are the stresses of money, success and being away from home too heavy a burden? Oh, did we mention he was fifteen during this?

By and large, the principal issue with Adam Barton‘s documentary is its framing, specifically Barton’s manoeuvres to humanise Pasternak, raising concerns to the film’s agenda. It attempts to find balance but offers much leeway for Pasternak to flaunt or to showboat, rather than posing questions or seeking answers. Barton structures the documentary with a fly-on-the-wall technique, relegating the camera to the side-lines and refraining from having an active presence. The predominant issue? A lot of this is smoke, mirrors and staging on the part of Pasternak, and given his age (between fifteen – nineteen throughout the filming) doesn’t feel authentic. Perhaps not premediated, but instead someone ‘hyped’ at the attention of filmmaking, Barton’s film doesn’t feel credible, its cinematic style is hands-off, but its storytelling is manipulative.

No doubt a marketing marvel of our times, Pasternak behaves less like a Zuckerberg, and far more like a kid out of his depth. There’s an eerie reflection of our societies gluttonous need for ‘likes’, ‘retweets’ and shares, rather than substance. Pasternak’s drive to push his creations to the peak of the app stores comes not out of pride or business ambition, but a disturbing ‘collection’ of sorts, for the thrill over success. Sam Mink’s editing results in an inability to inject much momentum into the dynamic, difficult given how much of the film is simplistic shots of Pasternak or his team on their phones, but there’s next to nothing in the way of visuals stimulation.

Quite shallowly, the film focuses its attention on the achievements of Pasternak, and when questions arise to the help he may have received, does little to counter his protestations that he managed this alone. Questions relating to teammates, previous employees and designers focus on their opinions of Pasternak, neglecting the work they have put into these ventures. Even after we hear audio-conversations with his mother, who argues that without their financial aid he would never have been able to start these ventures, the audience may be left to form their opinion, but the film still offers nothing as a rebuttal to Pasternak’s assertions.

Barton’s film, therefore, pedestals Pasternak, suggesting a large body of the work was his own, when in reality it’s quite evident there was help. In the film’s blind attempt at neutrality, it allows Pasternak to weave his own narrative, a self-made genius, who really, has had opportunities many would dream of. The lacking depth of the film struggles to engage, and while, correctly, encouraging the audience to form their own opinions on Pasternak as a person, much of the documentary feels empty. At under an hour and a half, much is glossed over, swept aside, and Barton places heavy emphasis on aspects which, to be blunt, are utterly meaningless and feel like a preamble.

The Boy Who Stole the World” won’t be stealing any hearts, nor minds, failing to capitalise on a tremendous opportunity to dive into a potential rising entrepreneur. Troublingly, perhaps the documentary reflects Pasternak’s early career, with a stratospheric rise, followed by a swift, plunge back into obscurity awaiting a future project.

A maestro of marketing, Pasternak can rest assured that despite an effort to balance opinion, “The Boy Who Stole the World” doesn’t do much to act in the way of negative PR, but then again, it doesn’t manage to do much of anything. This is a tremendous story, an authentic coming-of-age experience of a rising entrepreneur balancing the harsh world of business as it melds with an angsty, hormonal teenage mindset, the real shame is how mundane Barton’s film makes the experience: ineffective, but harmless.

Review originally published for In Their Own League:

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh enters ‘hibernation’ period

Having closed its doors on March 16th this year, The Royal Lyceum Edinburgh is now postponing all shows until at least Spring 2021. Making it clear they would not announce their season until they secure information for when audiences will able to safely attend. Suffering a loss of £700,000 in income due to the pandemic, with evident measures of social distancing likely to last until the year’s end, the theatre is facing the dire choice of entering redundancy discussions with unions, losing members of its theatrical family, or complete closure before Winter.

An icon of the city, The Lyceum is a lifeblood for the arts community and has been since 1883. Home for much of the Edinburgh International Theatre’s productions, with massive support from locals, it has endeavoured to sustain itself through austerity – where a vast number of its increasing income is earned through ticket sales. As a grant-aided company, this, unfortunately, means that as steady income halts there is no longer an inbound revenue. Sustaining itself thus far thanks to generous donations from the public, and continuing support from Creative Scotland and City of Edinburgh Council, the theatre’s board have made financial projections that, without intervention, the Lyceum will empty its funds in November this year.

Speaking directly on the issue, the Lyceum’s artistic director David Greig said:

To protect The Lyceum from closure we have to act now to preserve the theatre company and our ability to create theatre in Edinburgh in the future. Sadly, to do this we have to reduce the wage costs which make up the vast majority of our expenditure…

…This will mean losing friends from our theatre family – people I am in awe of, who make the magic happen on our stage and who are much loved and valued. Very sadly, with our principal income stream removed during this epidemic, the stark choice we face is between a redundancy process now to reduce our expenditure, or total closure before Christmas – an alternative that would leave the Lyceum shut long after the pandemic has passed.

Entering this period of hibernation will allow us to conserve the limited resource we have through the dark winter of Covid-19 and emerge, hopefully in the spring, with enough capacity to make theatre again with the brilliant theatre-makers of Scotland for the people of Edinburgh”.

Previous high-selling shows, such as the theatre’s annual Christmas production will be pushed back until 2021. Ticket holders for rescheduled shows will be contacted in due course. Meanwhile, it has been made clear that there will be continuing support for the city, as the Lyceum will maintain to operate community engagement and creative learnings.

With glimmers of hope, and re-schedules occurring, the theatre is working with producers and artists for a re-opening, but as of right now the focus is to conserve the minimal resources remaining. Our thoughts go to staff, colleagues, producers and cherished friends working towards a dawning era of post-COVID 19 theatre for the people of Scotland.

Further information, donations and contact details can be found on The Royal Lyceum’s website:

Photo credit & copyright – Royal Lyceum Theatre

We Summon the Darkness – Review

Directed by Marc Meyers

USA/ 2019/ 91 mins

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Satanists get a bit of a bad reputation, don’t they? Whether it’s John Carpenter’s hideously underappreciated Prince of Darkness, or the more recent The Blackcoat’s Daughter, the blurring of humanity and its association with the Devil is as ancient a narrative tool as possible. Then there were the slasher films of the late seventies through to the early nineties, a genre which gluttoned itself with zealous-religious killers. Marrying the two together made just about as much sense as it does now, as We Summon the Darkness begins with news reports of satanic cultists slaughtering innocents across eighties America, just as three young women embark on their road trip to the biggest ’80s metalhead gig around.

Unfortunately for our lead, Alexandra Daddario once more showcases her inscrutable taste in film choices. It’s by far the most cohesive performance in the film, principally for how out-there Daddario pushes the character, plunging headfirst into the eighties schlockfest of video nasties and cultist slasher flicks. Continuing this, Daddario’s co-stars Maddie Hasson and Amy Forsyth are giving tremendous energy to the film – Forsyth as a young runaway, who turns to the girls for support, brings an unexpected dynamic to the film. The imbalance between performances occurs with the men, where attempts are made at gender reversal and a comment on the ‘lamb to slaughter’ nature of women in preceding slasher films. The execution fails to convey this naturally, stemming from the meek direction, flimsy writing, and vacant performances. While the women can capitalise on their antagonism, the guys just aren’t bringing anything memorable to the table.

This gender reversal is almost well-constructed, exhibiting an otherwise unexpected depth. Placing the men as powerless, now-stripped pieces of gaze material to be massacred is a clever aspect to take, but the film doesn’t run with the concept for long. The revelation that a patriarchal cultist is manipulating these young women removes the agency they have, going against what has been set up.  While the notion of a female killer is far from original, the trio had potential as a unique force, particularly in the droning era of post-modern slashers where remakes from the golden ’80s era are cycling the motions. There’s a small, niche territory of genuine pieces which distort the conventions such as The Guest orIt Follows, and We Summon the Darkness had the promise to join these and reclaim the genre from television, which seems to have taken up the mantle. 

Giving Marc Meyers credit, We Summon the Darkness superficially achieves what it sets out to in capturing a distinctly cult/slasher flair. Ridiculous, and borrowing heavily from more engaging films, We Summon the Darkness drapes itself in attempted pastiche but fails to cover itself in much bloodshed. For a script that has glints of wickedness, it plays it remarkably safe. The threat posed to the trio is almost immediately doused by the inadequacies of the cultists, whose ineptitude and inexperience, while a plot point, serves little in the way of horror. An inexperienced killer should be terrifying, their motivations clouded, but instead, it strips any power from the points the film is attempting to make.

Beneath the slasher homages and incessant borrowing from the horror library, We Summon the Darkness wastes rich potential as it falls victim to its execution. Leaning on the angle of nostalgia, suffering from tedious performances, and a substantial lack of terror means any attempts at a neo-slasher going for the throat of misogyny is all but put to rest by Meyers’ inability to brandish these weapons effectively.

We Summon the Darkness is available on Video-On-Demand Now

Review originally published for The Wee Review: