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This Week's Film Reviews (Jun 22, 2018)

22 Jun 2018

Jurassic World opens this week.  This reviewer is vacation this week in France and therefore unable to review this hit.

 

BEST FILMS PLAYING:

 

 

Best Animation:

The Incredibles 2.

 

Best Crime:

American Animals

 

Best Documentary:
The Quest of Alain Ducasse

 

Best Foreign: 

C’EST LA VIE (LE SENS de la FETE)

 

Best Horror:

Herditary

 

Best Drama:

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

 

 

FILM REVIEWS:

 

AMERICAN ANIMALS (UK 2018) ****
Directed by 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

 

THE CLEANERS (Germany 2018) ***
Directed by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck

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

THE LOCKPICKER (Canada 2016) ***
Directed by 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

 

PAPER YEAR (Canada 2017) **
Directed by Rebecca Addelson

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 New 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

PRESSING ON: THE LETTERPRESS FILM (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Andrew P. Quinn and Erin Beckloff

What is a letter press?  As explained in Andrew P. Quinn and Erin Beckloff’s documentary PRESSING ON:  THE LETTERPRESS FILM, it is a machine that presses letters on to paper using ink so as to make print.

The modern world was born on a printing press. Once essential to communication, the 500-year-old process is now in danger of being lost as its caretaker’s age. From self-proclaimed basement hoarders to the famed Hatch Show Print, PRESSING ON: THE LETTERPRESS FILM explores the question: why have 500 year old letterpresses survived in a digital age?

People are fascinated by the past.  As the old adage goes: the past helps humans understand the present and who they are.  With those thoughts come a film that provides insight on what the voiceover informs is an old art form.

Why has letterpress printing survived?  Irreplaceable knowledge of the historic craft is in danger of being lost as its caretakers age.  Fascinating personalities intermix with wood, metal, and type as young printers save a traditional process in PRESSING ON, a 4K feature length documentary exploring the remarkable community keeping letterpress alive.  The film begins with shots of presses at work.

It is hard to get people interested in letterpress machines or letter pressing - a thing of the past.  This remains therefore a dauntless task for directors Andrew P. Quinn and Erin Beckloff to get the audience interested less making a compelling documentary.  But maybe they can teach us a bit about history or about the technology of the invention.

The film introduces the audience to one letterpress maker who claims his lifelong task as the restorer of these machines, saying that he could only preserve 50 or so in the rest of his life time, adding that only a minuscule few new ones will be made.  “It is a fun machine to watch - to see all the parts moving around,” says he.  The film goes on with an enthusiastic graphics designer, Stephanie Carpenter who informs (as well as providing insight) of the 3 stages of letter pressing and how she learnt graphic design through this process.

Worlds of each character are portrayed as unusual narratives - in various states of human emotions of joyful, mournful, reflective and visionary stats, each punctuated with on-screen visual poetry, every shot meticulously composed.  Captivating personalities blend with wood, metal and type as young printers strive to save this historic process in a film created for the designer, type nerd, historian and collector in us all.

PRESSING ON ends up not too bad a documentary (yes, quite nostalgic, romantic and as oddly entertaining as its subjects) subject nor too bad a documentary either.  What can be more romantic than a married couple letter pressing in the garage together?  There are little messages imbued in the doc together with some light humour making it light entertainment and a good quiet watch on the smaller screen.

The doc is available On iTunes, DVD/Blu-ray and On Demand Tuesday, June 19 worldwide.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/269373025

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