Film Review: AMERICAN ANIMALS (UK 2018) ***

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American Animals Poster
Trailer

Four young men mistake their lives for a movie and attempt one of the most audacious heists in U.S. history.

Director:

Bart Layton

Writer:

Bart Layton

 

Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan), Warren Lipka (Evan Peters), Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas Allen (Blake Jenner) are four friends who live an ordinary existence in Kentucky.   They plan, from watching old crime movies, to to steal the rarest and most valuable books from the university’s library that are worth $12 million or so.   The film unfolds, documentary style with the real men (other actors) re-telling the stories in flashback.  Writer/director Bart Layton, redoes the similar style of his hit 2012 documentary THE IMPOSTER which had won him a BAFTA Award.

“We must suppose that AMERICAN ANIMALS  – slowly migrated by successive generations from the outer world to the deeper and deeper recesses of the Kentucky caves.”  These words inform the audience right at the start of the story.

One can tell from the film’s start AMERICAN ANIMALS is not going to be the ordinary run-of-the-mill heist film.  It begins with the word “Based not on a True Story” followed by the fading out of the words followed by the word ‘not’ faded out.  Which implies that this fictional tale cold very be a true one.  Or a true tale that could be fiction.

“There was nothing in that background that would suggest something like that might happen.  They were pretty good kids.”  says the teacher at the start of the film, as a teen puts up blue make-up around his eyes, for a disguise to commit a heist.

There is a segment in the film when the director demonstrates a textbook example on how to life the spirit of an audience.  This includes arousing music, dancing and other scenes involving throwing caution to the wind.

Well written with lots of movie references, the film’s best line after they discover the enormous value of their loot: “We need  a bigger boat.”   Another involves Eddie trying to convince his friend to decide whether to be in or out of the venture without disclosing any details of the it: “This is your red or blue pill moment.”   The RESERVOIR DOGS nod is also surprisingly funny.  Another well-written set-up involves Eddie being bright into the Dean’s office for a pep talk which turns around once Eddie turns the tables on the talk.

As one character, the professor talks about the robbers in his classroom, the chalk scribblings on the board in the background make intriguing details that might give some additional insight into the film.  These are the details and little nuances that make AMERICAN ANIMALS stand out from the many heist films.  Needless to say, the film is often smart, funny and fresh.

Barry Keoghan plays Spencer, one of the robbers.  Keoghan was discovered by director Yorgos Lanthimos in THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER and was last seen in Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK.  He has that special look of a disturbed youth.  I would see any film Keoghan is in, he being one of the brightest new presence in films.  Actor Udo Kier who is fond of playing odd characters has a cameo as a ‘fence’, the person who guys valuable questionable goods.

AMERICAN ANIMALS is funny, fresh, smart and original while still playing homage to classic films.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKvPVvy2Kn8

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Film Review: OCTAVIO IS DEAD! (Canada 2018

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Octavio Is Dead Poster
Tyler tries to discover the father she never got the chance to meet in this stirring psycho-sexual ghost story, exploring themes of gender and sexual identity.

Director:

Sook-Yin Lee

Writer:

Sook-Yin Lee

Sook-Yin Lee, best known as the actress in the hit HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH directs this odd film produced and starring Sarah Gadon who broke into fame with David Cronenberg’s COSMOPOLIS.  Gadon plays,

Tyler the daughter of an obsessive over-spirited mother (Rosanna Arquette).  She decides to leave her mother for Stelton City (Ontario’s Hamilton standing in for the city) to learn about the father she never met.  She discovers his ghost, trapped and unable to escape his apartment. They forge an uneasy bond, but by communicating with him, and learning about his tumultuous and secret past, Tyler discovers new ways to engage with the world, to seek love in unexpected places, and to explore life in new and unfamiliar territories. 

 Love is discovered in death!  She falls for the cute blonde student that had an affair with his father, who she learns left both her mother and her because he was gay.  The supernatural angle fails to blend with the coming-of-age drama.  Nicely shot, but the film fails in that it leads nowhere and turns terribly annoying with Lee’s attempt to create a moody atmosphere.  

 

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Full Review: LES GARDIENNES (France/Switzerland 2017) ****

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The Guardians Poster
Trailer

Women are left behind to work a family farm during the Great War.

Director:

Xavier Beauvois

Writers:

Xavier Beauvois (screenplay), Marie-Julie Maille (screenplay) | 2 more credits »

 

(Spoiler Alert: Last paragraph in bold italics.  Skip this last paragraph though reading it will not spoil the film’s impact.)

Director Xavier Beauvois (director of DES HOMMES ET DES DIEUX, 2010 last seen as an actor playing Vincent in Clare Denis’ LET THE SUNSHINE IN) returns with a World War 1 historical drama about women looking after the farms when the men are send out to fight during the great war.  It stars Nathalie Baye in a dramatic but controlled performance as Hortense, a strong willed woman and matriarch of the Pardier family who manages the family farm.   The film is based on the novel by Ernest Pérochon and written by Xavier Beauvois, Marie-Julie Maille and Frédérique Moreau.                     

Beauvois’ film like his previous film moves at a leisurely pace with an authentic period atmosphere of rural France.  The film plays out like the waiting of the war to end.  The farm chores like ploughing the land, harvesting the crops, milking and driving the cows help in the creation of rural farm life.

The story is told from the points of view of both Hortense and Francine (Iris Bry), the new female farmhand (known eventually as the best farmhand in the region) that Hortense hires to help in the harvest who she eventually keeps on. 

The film is a handsomely mounted period piece of World War I told during the period from 1916 the war’s start to 1919 the year after it ended.   It is a story that needs ti be told – of

the devastation of war as examined from many angles

the absence of men

– the change of characters of the fighting men when they return from war (I do not recognize him: says one of the women of hr husband)

the hardship of those fighting and also of those not fighting in the war

shortage of the essentials like food  (as the camera pans a field of corpses in the film’s first image)   

as well as modernization had on a typical farm family in France. 

The women of the Pardier farm, under the deft hand of the family’s matriarch, Hortense must grapple with the workload while the men, including two sons, are off at the front.  Her husband, daughter and grand-daughter remain with her.  Romance and trouble brews when Francine and the grand-daughter fall in love with the same man, Georges (Cyril Descours).  Director Beauvois also shows the erotic sex scene is necessary to show the passion between the two lovers.

Beauvois use of close ups and editing especially the switching of the camera shots of the different faces (Hortense, Georges, the Americans, Francine) is masterfully demonstrated in the film’s best segment after harvesting.

The film is also quick to point out that there are equal casualties on both sides.  Clovis (Olivier Rabourdin) returning from furlough to the farm points out that Germans are like the French at war – ordinary men.  One nightmare segment has Georges screaming in the middle of the night when he dreams of killing an enemy with a knife, only to pull of the dead man’s h]gas mask to find himself looking at his own image.

The film also benefits from Michel Legrand’s grand musical score. 

LES GARDIENNES proves (like CASABLANCA and LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG) that not living happily ever after with ones true love can also make an unforgettable love story.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsdDm-mcczQ

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Film Review: THE LOCKPICKER (Canada 2016) ***

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The Lockpicker Poster
A teenage thief tries to leave town to escape the violence that threatens him and he people he loves.

Director:

Randall Okita

Writer:

Randall Okita

 

THE LOCKPICKER is the low budget multi-award winning feature debut of director Randall Okita, arriving at big screens in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary for special screenings this week.  

THE LOCKPICKER was shot in actual Toronto classrooms over a span of two school years with a cast of non-professional teenagers in key roles.   This intimate coming-of-age drama follows high school student Hashi (unknown and newcomer Keigian Umi Tang) as he struggles to maintain a state of calm in the wake of the sudden suicide of his friend.  When people close to him are victimized by violence, he is forced to choose between fighting back and becoming what he fears, or leaving behind everyone and everything he knows.

Tang inhabits his role as the restless student with relative ease.  This is not an actor’s but director’s film.  There are no extensive monologues or other acting demands required of Tang.  Much of the character’s personality is established by the director.  For example when Hashi steals money from the jackets hug outside the classrooms, he only takes the small notes and not the larger twenties.  The director intends to show Hashi as a thief but with some conscience.  He takes only what he needs for the moment.  Hashi is displayed as the normal teenager at school, easily distracted with hardly a thought of his future.  Hashi  smokes weed, crashes parties and badgers adults to buy him liquor.  He is distracted enough not to complete the assignments necessary for him to quality for a sailing outing,  He goes around constantly distracted with a head set on.  Hashi is a fairly good-looking and fit kid who works occasionally at a shoe store.  Director Okita does not have Hashi commit acts that determine his character to be a likeable or unlikeable one.

As a first feature, THE LOCKPICKER looks sufficiently fresh.  It appears that Okita experiments quite a it with lighting, cinematography and camera placement.  The film is also variedly shot with steady cam and hand-held camera.  His eye for natural landscape and surrounding architecture is alas apparent when Hashi travels around the icy winter by transit or waiting at a bus stop  with the transit map in the background.  The Toronto winter is revealed to be a cold one with dirty snow and litter blowing across the snow and ice.  The film contains a comfortable mix of staged and free flowing improvised parts.

In Toronto, THE LOCKPICKER will be screened with a special Question and Answer a with Okita discussing the film’s powerful themes and its deeply personal connection on June 22 at 6:45 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox.The film won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Picture in the Discovery Section.

It should be noted that Okita was the recipient of the Toronto Film Critics Association’s (of which the writer is a member and involved) Technicolor Clyde Gilmour Award with a cash prize of $50,000, which made the production of The Lockpicker possible.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/181642231

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Film Review: THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY (UK 2018) ***

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Poster
Trailer

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a movie starring Lily James, Glen Powell, and Matthew Goode. A writer forms an unexpected bond with the residents of Guernsey Island in the aftermath of World War II, when she decides to write a book about their experiences during the war.

Director:

Mike Newell

Writers:

Kevin Hood (screenplay by), Thomas Bezucha (screenplay) |3 more credits »

The film’s trailer and film’s beginning establish the origin of the name of a book club in the Island of Guernsey.  It all began in 1941 during the World War II when a group of four English people, two men and two women, are walking at night-time in German occupied Guernsey.  They are stopped by Germans for breaching curfew.  When asked for their reason, one of the women notices a book in the pocket of one of the Germans and says that they were at a book group. Collectively they improvise the book group’s name: the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and avoid arrest when one of the men throws up on the soldiers’ boots.

This film is the second film (the other being BEAST set on Jersey Island) to open this month that has a setting on a United Kingdom associated island in the sea between Britain and France.  It is beneficial to know a bit that Guernsey like Jersey Island in order to better appreciate the film.  Guernsey is is not part of the United Kingdom though the populace share a lot in common with the British including the currency of pound sterling  The island is self governing though protected by Britain’s Military.   The island’s landscape is stunning, especially the beaches and rocky cliffs, much like Wales, west of Britain.   The film is shot in England and at Ealing Studios and not on Guernsey though the film would definitely aid the Guernsey Tourism Board in efforts to promote visits to the island.

The film has a strong female slant, understandably being based on the 2008 novel of the same name by two female writers Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, with a female protagonist at the heart of the story.  All the males have secondary importance in the story, serving the purpose of the females.  One could suitably classify this WWII historical drama as a chick flick.

The story, set in 1946 on Guernsey Island, concerns an author Juliet Ashton (Lily James) invited to the island to address the local book club.  She learns of the story of  Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Finlay) who has a daughter with a German soldier during the German Occupation of the island.  The message of the film is show how books can affect human lives.

Lily James (Kate Winslet was originally slotted) delivers a sufficiently fine performance while her co-star Dutch Game of Thrones actor, Michiel Huisman was chosen for her main love interest likely for his resemblance to Alan Bates who has a similar scruffy look in FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD.  Matthew Goode has another gay role as Juliet’s publisher while British TV actress Penelope Wilton steals the show as Amelia Maugery.

One would naturally expect a whimsical female fantasy from the FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL director director Mike Newell.  The film succeeds with regards to this respect.  Commercial filmgoers would be more likely entertained by this film than the serious film critic who would be quick to shrug at the beleaguered dialogue and identify the plentiful clichés.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTDNGv61-Dk

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Film Review: PAPER YEAR (Canada 2017)

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Paper Year Poster
Young newlyweds encounter a series of challenges during the first year of their marriage.

Director:

Rebecca Addelman

 

Two newly married young lovers with no money face life’s challenges.

The film’s premise sounds like many a newlywed’s demise. Which means that either the story might tend to be very relevant or too boring to many.

PAPER YEAR opens with an old romantic tune (“Young Love” by Sonny James) played on the soundtrack as the lovers run around kissing.  It is revealed that there are just married.  Dan (Avan Jogia) and Franny (Eve Hewson) are happy but poor.

However, the marriage is a paper one – one that has taken place in court but without a full wedding reception.  Franny does not truly believe that a real wedding (if there is no big ceremony) has taken place though the couple is legally married.  Hence, the title of the film – PAPER YEAR.

As it goes, Franny gets a job on some production company of some silly sports reality show called “Goosed” where she meets the boss Gavin (Brooks Gray) and Noah (Hamish Linklater), the head writer, who both try to make the moves on her.  Franny has the sexual hots for Noah.  When Franny’s friend advises Franny to remember that Noah is ‘not special’, the audience immediately knows that Franny is gong to be unfaithful to her husband with Noah.  Dan is no angel either.  When alone. he watches porn or goes on on-line chatting sites.

The cast is made up of unknowns with only Andie MacDowell as the only recognizable name playing Franny’s mother Joanne.  The unfamiliar cast give the film a fresh look, at least, where the audience do not have any preconceived notions of past characters.  The supporting cast like Gray and Linklater have got some minor roles on TV and little films.

The question that obviously comes to mind is the purpose of the film?  The fact that despite all the problems the couple could face (in-laws, kids, money, friends), it is infidelity that is chosen as the couple’s main life challenge after marriage.  Franny finally gives in to her temptations to her attraction for her co-worker Noah after a dinner party gone awry.  This occurs around two-thirds into the film, so that the film just meanders initially.  Then now wonders where the film will be leading after the problem arises.

PAPER YEAR is one of those Canadian films that pretends to be American with references to cities like Nye York and Arcadia, even though it does not come across very convincing.  It would have worked better if the film remain fully Canadian despite having a smaller target audience.  

Written and directed by a female, Rebecca Adelson. the film takes the female point of view though making the female also the one at fault or the one causing the rift in the couple’s relationship.  It is Franny that gets into Dan’s diary and she that cheats on Dan.  The female is the main breadwinner, with the steady job while the man is just a dog walker.  The film also takes a pessimistic view of life.

PAPER YEAR moves at a leisurely pace with not much but little happenings, making the film light entertaining drama with a few light touches of comedy.  The twist ending (not to be revealed in this review) is what is supposed to make this film special.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6hZxo4jXhs

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Film Review: THE CLEANERS (Germany 2018) ***

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The Cleaners Poster
A look at the shadowy underworld of the Internet where questionable content is removed.

 

THE CLEANERS, the new doc that premiered to sold-out performances at this year;s Hot Docs brings the audience into the hidden third world shadow industry of digital cleaning, where the internet rids itself of what it doesn’t like.

The new documentary THE CLEANERS unashamedly touts the all importance of ‘cleaners’ at the very start of the film.  Words (titles) on screen emphasize the millions of tweets, posts on youtube and the millions of people connected on social media going to say how much the internet would be a mess without THE CLEANERS. The Cleaners delete images, videos and texts that violate the rules of social media. his is none from, (surprise! surprise!) none other than Manila in the Philippines.  It is revealed that there are other smaller centres too, given this dauntless task, but Manila is the main one.   “Delete, ignore,” these are the words often spoken by the workers (in a Filipino accent) as they work their jobs.

Yes, the film has got the audience’s attention.  The question then would be whether the doc would be able to keep it a compelling watch from start to end.

The film introduces five “digital scavengers” among thousands of people outsourced from Silicon Valley whose job it is to delete “inappropriate” content off the net. In a parallel struggle, we meet people around the globe whose lives are dramatically affected by online censorship. A typical “cleaner” must observe and rate thousands of often deeply disturbing images and videos every day, leading to lasting psychological impacts. Yet underneath their work lies profound questions around what makes an image, art, or propaganda, and what defines journalism. Where exactly is the point of balance for social media to be neither an unlegislated space nor a forum rife with censorship. The Cleaners struggles to come to terms with this new and disconcerting paradigm.

The high executives of the high-tech companies like Facebook appear sincere in doing what is right – to seem out inappropriate content that will promote hatred and ignorance  But it is an impossible task.  The film goes deep in the last third to demonstrate how hatred is promoted through Facebook against the most prosecuted minorities  (The Rohinghas in Burma)  in the world.

The film is even more shocking when it shows glimpses of a few of these deleted images.  The directors cannot resist sensationalization from their film.  There is a disturbing segment which shows an image of a beheading done with a dull knife (like  kitchen knife) resulting in a crooked cut with lots of blood.

The film lacks a proper conclusion for the reason that problems presented in the film have no clear resolution.  Promises by the high tech giant executives are difficult to keep despite good intentions.  One thing the film clearly shows is the evil that reside inside human beings.  The question still remains that social media like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube will continue to exist despite uncontrollability.  But accountability has at least reared its ugly head.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA1DxRdT2hA

 

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