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Dave is down. His wife lives in Washington, D.C.; his restaurant, the Auk, in an out-of-the-way Newfoundland inlet, is a bust; a drink is rarely out of reach. An odd-duck of a neighbor, Phonce, who has found ten kilos of cocaine and wants Dave's help selling it, contrives to keep Dave in town by faking and reporting the sighting of a rare bird. Soon birders descend from everywhere, and the restaurant is a success. Dave is snorting the cocaine and falling for a young visitor who helps him out at the Auk, Phonce is launching his recreational submarine, and various men who don't look like birders are poking about. When the chickens come home to roost, will Dave and Phonse have a Plan B? Written by
The film had expended most of its modest budget, but producers from The Shipping News (2001), also filmed in Newfoundland, contributed the equipment and crew to complete the final shot. See more »
Level of wine glass when Dave and Phonse are eating in the kitchen. See more »
There's a phone booth down by the baseball diamond. Now nobody will see you there and it's nice and quiet.
Why can't we make the phone call from here?
Because, sir, we've got to cover our backs. Alright, Dave? They've probably got some sort of a call-tracing mechanism down at the CBC just in case some lunatic calls in and says he's planning on skullfucking the premier.
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I'm a Newfoundlander, so of course I enjoyed "Rare Birds"! There aren't that many movies made in, or about, Newfoundland, and when one does appear, I dash off to see it, regardless of the reviews. I can report, though, that I enjoyed this film, frequently laughing out loud. For some of the laughs, though, you have to know the place and the jargon, and some of the humour might be lost on the average Canadian or American.
(In much the same way, one can feel left out in a foreign-language film - including some British films - when those viewers who actually speak the on-screen language are laughing, and one doesn't get the joke.)
The story is slight, but it more or less works. The main plot involves a chef, David (William Hurt), whose haute-cuisine restaurant, The Auk, near Cape Spear (some 8 miles south and east of St. John's, the capital city) is going fish-belly up, to coin a phrase. According to David's friend Alphonse (Phonse in the local shorthand, and played by Andy Jones, a Newfoundland writer/actor/comic) it's because David hasn't done a proper marketing job, because certainly he has the gourmet skills, as well as a fabulous wine cellar. To revive interest in the restaurant, Phonse hatches (almost literally) a scheme to attract bird-watchers to the area by claiming a sighting of a duck long thought to have been extinct - putatively the "rare bird" of the title, although one suspects that the real "rare birds" are Phonse and David themselves.
(Most Newfoundlanders, and a few others, will know that the Great Auk, the bird for which David's restaurant is named, was hunted to extinction on the Newfoundland coast more than a century ago.)
There are several comic sub-plots in the film, the best of which is Phonse's RSV, the "recreational submarine vehicle" that he has constructed in his shed and which he recruits David to assist him in dive-testing. There is another sub-plot about a 26-pound cache of cocaine that Phonse has found on the shore, and yet another about a bizarre lighting invention from a Bulgarian scientist who was once Phonse's partner. The local RCMP also get into the picture, doing a sort of Atlantic-coast Keystone Kops routine. It's a fragile effort and totally silly, but no-one should really mind seeing Canada's finest portrayed as something like the back-ends of their justly famous steeds for the brief time they're on screen.
The love interest in the film, Alice, who is introduced to the married but separated David by Phonse, is played by the talented and lovely Molly Parker ("Sunshine", and the soon to be released "Hoffman"). She and William Hurt generate very good chemistry, and I came away wishing that the film had made much more of them than it did. (Interestingly, Hurt and Parker were both in "Sunshine", a Canadian co-production, although they never appear on-screen together.)
The story-line of "Rare Birds" is slight enough, and the dialogue is a bit wanting. So, to a very large degree, the film is carried by the hugely talented and accomplished Hurt. He does a kind of "loaves and fishes" miracle with the material at hand, making a near-banquet out of a box-lunch. For the other principals, I was left with the sense that, talented though Andy Jones certainly is, film is not really his medium, although he does well enough. In Molly Parker's case, I didn't feel that she had quite enough opportunity to shine, but when she does have the chance, she is, as always, incandescent.
As expected, the Newfoundland topography, a Rock within a sometimes violent sea, takes a starring role. The rugged landscape, the roiling surf hurling itself against the jagged shore-line, is irresistible. Of course, I'm from the place, and almost any glimpse of the island sets my heart thumping. But
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE!! - will somebody, someday, make a film in
Newfoundland that depicts a sunny day. The winters there are long and harsh, spring is not much more than a fond hope, the summers are almost always too short, and the wind blows a great deal of the time. But the sun really does shine, and quite a lot of the time, in all four - alright, three-and-one-half - seasons. Really, it does. You have my word on it. It would be so nice to see a film that actually showed that. Just once.
Go see "Rare Birds". It's worth it, and it's good, clean fun.
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