Film Review: An American Dream: The Education of William Bowman (2016)

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anamericandream.jpgA cheerfully gullible college graduate embarks on a journey into adulthood that whisks him into the insanity of 21st century America, where he is beset by a parade of gun-crazed zealots.

Director: Ken Finkleman
Writer: Ken Finkleman
Stars: Diana Bentley, Shiloh Blondel, Jan Caruana

Review by Gilbert Seah

With its American theme and setting, this Canadian film #ANAMERICANDREAM
that was first screened earlier this year at the Canadian Film Festival is quite the gem of a movie. It is original, hilarious, current, absurd, Kafkai-ish but mostly frighteningly entertaining.

The unlikely hero of the film is William Bowman (Jake Crocker) a 17-year old footballer, who when knocked unconscious during a game, is sent to the future, one that is as weird if not similar to the Australian film BLISS where the protagonist, who when suffering a heart attack witnesses odd things going on around him.

The education of William Bowman as the film calls it, takes Bowman through several amusing set pieces on life. The first has him doing internship for the Payne Financial Company where he learns that lying is more acceptable company culture than telling the truth. The second has him working for a born-again Tally Pepper who sets him up as a travelling salesman. The third has him running from the police and government. But there is no escape, as they can see everything he sees, due to a transplant of a camera in his eye.
Writer/director Finkelman takes the audience on a journey through America from Bowman’s point-of-view while satirizing everything from TV, corporate culture, school, the future, the second amendment to the country’s beliefs of the future.

Despite the film jumping from one set-up to another, Finkelman transits from one segment to another smoothly and hilariously. Bowman enters his office, the Payne building one morning to suddenly realize that every employee he sees is Asian. When he sees another Asian at his desk, he is informed that his company has been taken over and that he is out of a job. This takes him to the next segment.

Newcomer Jake Crocker is excellent in the role of a confused man tying to make sense of the craziness. Crocker is sufficiently good-looking that the audience can believe that most women will want to have sex with him. Or most men would want to punch him in the face. Both happens. The film includes some quite steamy sex scenes, showed in blurring images, but still sexually arousing.

The film goes into futuristic sci-fi mode at the end, when Bowman is being chased after becoming the most hunted man in the country. This segment gives Bowman the chance to meet a wide range of Americans from sexy teen babes to an old codger who ends up shot after helping him.

Finkelman’s film is full of surprises with a new one coming round every corner. The dialogue is also razor-sharp in observation and wit.
#ANAMERICAN DREAM is that rare Canadian film that is set in the United States not to be more commercial but because the story is set there. The film is also one of the sharpest Canadian films I have seen this year.


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the_other_half_movie_posterDirector: Joey Klein
Writer: Joey Klein
Stars: Tatiana Maslany, Tom Cullen, Diana Bentley

Review by Gilbert Saeh

THE OTHER HALF is a Canadian romance drama between one grief-stricken man and a bipolar woman suffering from Rapid Cycling Bipolar 1 Disorder.

Chosen to open the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival in Toronto this year, which serves as a warning that the film is not an easy watch, the film shows no attempt at easing the audience towards its subject. The result is therefore, yes – a film that is not an easy watch.

The film features two prominent TV actors, Tom Cullen (2016 SAG winner/ensemble cast – TV’s Downton Abbey) and Tatiana Maslany (2016 Emmy winner/lead actress – TV’s Orphan Black). The two actors also serve as executive producers which implies the film being a love project for the two. The film’s simple story follows the couple, Nickie (Cullen) and Emily (Maslany) from the time they first meet (it is love at first sight), to their brief separation to the romance at the end where something happens (not revealed as would be a spoiler). They meet at the same time as another couple (Mark Rendall and Deragh Campbell), who interesting enough, face problems as well but for other reasons. The romance is not helped by Emily’s parents (Henry Czerny and Suzanne Clement). They believe the couple should separate and perhaps try again once Emily is normal. Clement is the actress featured in many of Xavier Dolan’s mentally disordered dramas (LAURENCE ANYWAYS, I KILLED MY MOTHER, MOMMY).

The film’s message is simple enough. Love conquers all. But as it is a fiction film, anything goes.

In a way too, THE OTHER HALF is a personal film with the director’s friends and family helping out. Klein’s father, a doctor with a background in English literature, advised on the script. Klein’s sister, a psychiatrist, helped prep Maslany before the shoot. His brother did Emily’s paintings.

The film, shot in Toronto, feels like Toronto from the familiar streets and the signature streetcars that often come into the frame.

For a film featuring mental disorder, the film contains many disturbing club scenes, shot in dim lighting with strobe lights, lasers and annoying sounds and music.

For a couple with disorders (Nickie also loves to fight), it is surprising that the couple never gets into any heated fights – only into minor arguments that are easily resolved. The one scene in which Emily freaks out at home and has to be handcuffed by a cop is the most effective one showing realistically, the mental anguish. Other than that, the film falls into the same story line about troubled couples – the parents refuse to help, the couple struggles on their own, and final survives.

THE OTHER HALF is an ok film with performances and everything passable in all departments. Yet, there is nothing that will draw a crowd to see the film. Who really wants to watch a film of a a troubled couple with mental disorders? The film also provides no insight about the disorder or how a couple can manage through the difficulties.



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