THE FILM YAP » 2011 Heartland Film Festival We Never Shut Up About Movies Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:48:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Romantics Anonymous Wed, 19 Oct 2011 05:37:09 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I love French films. Love love love them. Every time I feel it’s silly to group a whole country of films together, another one charms me yet again. These films have a way of never letting you know how the story is going to end. Too many movies pull back, and it’s easy to see what the full story is. It’s never fun when you know how the movie is going to end or what the message of the movie is before it’s had a chance to sell the point.

The best way to accomplish this is to create a set of completely realized characters who may not succeed. “Romantic Anonymous” is easily one of the best romantic comedies I’ve seen in years because by the time it was halfway through, I was cheering for the leads to get together and wincing when they messed it up for each other, yet again.

The two poor unfortunate souls are Angélique Delange (Isabella Carré), who looks like the French Maria Bamford, and Jean-René Van Den Hugde (Benoît Poelvoorde), who looks like the French Peter Davison. Peter Davison played the fifth Doctor Who. “Doctor Who” is this … have I really not encouraged you readers to watch this show yet?

Anyways, Angélique goes to an emotional relief group where she talks about her overwhelming insecurities. Jean-René talks to a therapist about his fear of women. The two of them meet when she enters his struggling chocolate shop searching for a job. She accidentally gets a position as a sales rep instead of a chef.

The neurotic duo continues to interact under the most awkward circumstances. Their first dinner together is so painful to endure that more people will cover their eyes from embarrassment than they would being scared by a “Saw” flick. The reason why all of the scenes feel organic is because they never stray from the characters’ capabilities.

It’s never clear where the story goes next. Secrets are revealed earlier than expected, brilliant new ideas are introduced, and then it all ends in a place where it was always supposed to go. Every good story should let the characters drive it to its organic destination. The best ones are when you want to revisit the characters years later to see how their lives have changed. “Romantics Anonymous” is how to do the genre right.

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My Last Day Without You Wed, 19 Oct 2011 05:24:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

He’s a German businessman who flew to New York City to lay off a company. She’s a beautiful secretary fired from the company who writes beautiful music. They meet by chance and spend the day together before he has to fly away. What sort of day will they have?

A rather lousy one, it turns out. That would make for an unexpected story, but the movie insists that this day is incredible — from the chauffeur who won’t stop ranting about how this is the greatest romance he has ever seen to every new character the German meets insisting he needs to change his life. Instead of letting the characters speak for themselves, the film constantly places judgments on them.

Niklas (Ken Duken) is criticized from beginning to end. He is not laughing like a Bond villain when he has to close a business; he is not obsessed with his expensive watch. All he has is a certain work ethic that placed him into a higher society, but this makes him an evil man. Even when he says that he doesn’t believe in the souls of the dead moving on, he is criticized.

Leticia (Nicole Beharie) starts off as a really sympathetic person. Her music is inspiration to the neighborhood, and she has a loving relationship with her pastor father (Reg E. Cathey from “The Wire”). She’s so unnecessarily cruel to Niklas for most of the movie that she lost my support — this despite “My Last Day Without You” being the greatest romance ever witnessed despite no romantic scenes, only romantic shots.

Despite having a number of problems with the core relationship, the film shows New York City in a way rarely seen. The filmmakers avoid all of the typical cinematic visuals and focus on a smaller community. Churches and streets have a more homely feel that separate themselves from the busyness of the city. Co-writer/director Stefan C. Schaefer avoids using grand romantic gestures by allowing circumstances to be more intimate between his lead characters. It allows the world to stay within a more realistic grounding, but the structure betrays it at the end.

There are a number of ways their paths could have crossed and affected each other, leading to a number of different endings. This conclusion doesn’t seem to connect with where the characters were heading. It goes for a more topical version of “Before Sunrise,” but it just doesn’t get there.

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Love Birds Tue, 18 Oct 2011 00:13:07 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

As a cynic, there are a million things not to like about “Love Birds.” It is the most formulaic romantic comedy where it feels more like a game of Mad Libs than an actual story. The CONSTRUCTION WORKER who doesn’t believe in himself gets dumped and meets a beautiful BIRD EXPERT after he randomly ADOPTS A DUCK and learns how to love again. Add in a few ethnic best friends and a subplot or two, and you have an instant movie.

Everything happens at the right calculated moment. They fight at the end of the second act, and the kid comes around to the lovable hero right when everything fits. Even the duck is a reminded metaphor for what’s going on.

And yet … this movie works. It works as much as it wants to. It’s a sweet, unambitious movie that will make you smile for 100 minutes. Almost all of that is due to the two lead actors. Rhys Darby is best known for the scene-stealing inept manager from “Flight of the Conchords.” After he shaves his face and wears cooler clothes, he looks 10 years younger and a proper romantic lead.

His counterpart is the delightful Sally Hawkins (“Happy-Go-Lucky,” “Never Let Me Go”). Even though all of their scenes are too familiar, they bring great emotional strengths to the characters. The way they handle loneliness and regret are the most powerful moments of the movie.

Most of the humor is silliness with the duck. People react with surprise to see a duck at a store/bar/cricket game. A dog has more personality to work with than a duck, but its silly presence works because Darby completely sells it. He shows great affection as he cares for the duck and brings it with him in a little bag.

This is a safe recommendation for Heartland. Whenever it comes out on DVD, it may not be the same because their soundtrack choices are really expensive songs — a lot of Queen and Elton John. When a film is described as cute, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do.


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An Ordinary Family Mon, 17 Oct 2011 15:16:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Family shenanigans run amok in the drama “An Ordinary Family,” a solid family drama from director Mike Akel.

Seth (Greg Wise) comes home for a family gathering and brings his partner “Seth (Greg Wise) comes home for a family gathering and brings his partner William (Chad Miller), whom virtually no one in his family knows about.

It takes Seth’s older brother, Thomas (Troy Schremmer), by surprise, and soon there’s conflict. Thomas is uncomfortable having to explain things to his children, and for good reason; Thomas is a priest.

The most effective thing about “Family” is its tone; it’s light and whimsical and doesn’t take itself too seriously. William is uninhibited, and Seth and William find out most of the rest of the family is, too, openly discussing their sex lives and making jokes with each other.

It’s a mostly relaxed atmosphere, so much so that it often feels improvised but never awkwardly so. The acting is natural and strong, and the characters are well-defined, bringing context without a lot of exposition; the main thing we know about any of the characters is that the family’s patriarch has passed away.

Even Thomas feels bad about his initial reaction, but cannot broach the subject mostly because Seth won’t let him.

Akel hits all the right notes, and his and Matt Patterson’s screenplay bleeds out small but telling revelations that shed light on the various relationships. There are also smaller arguments that broach conflicts of religion and forgiveness, and this brings a richness to the film that goes beyond the narrative.

“Family” is an interesting spin on the tell-the-family-I’m-gay drama — one that, if anything, takes the side of the disapproving family … or in this case, the disapproving family who isn’t disapproving, as some of the family questions why he just didn’t say something sooner.

“Family is a nice, airy change of pace — a relaxed, engaging and interesting film that avoids melodrama and hits all the right notes. It’s a fun dip in the family swimming pool, with characters we feel we’ve known all our lives, and we don’t even have to bring any bean dip.

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Little Red Wagon Mon, 17 Oct 2011 05:58:41 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Based on an inspiring true story, “Little Red Wagon” is the type of movie the Hallmark channel highlights and plays over and over.

“Wagon” is the story of Zach Bonner (Chander Canterbury), a Tampa, Fla. boy who, in the wake of a devastating hurricane that left thousands without homes, tells his mom (Anna Gunn) that he wants to put together a few things to help them. You know, the usual — bottled water, nonperishable food, old toys. She shrugs and says “sure,” unaware that by the end of the day little Zach will have filled their garage with supplies.

Zach finds his calling, and soon he’s established himself a full-fledged charity, collecting emergency supplies on a large scale and helping thousands recover from their devastating loss.

He finds that charity is its own industry, full of politics and red tape just like any other. The Bonner family struggles to understand the complexities and play the game; they’re just looking to help people out and run into bureaucrats who are too busy with red tape to get anything done.

There’s an odd subplot about another single mother (Frances O’Connor), a single mother who loses her job and is forced into homelessness with her young son. It’s designed to be a parallel story to the Bonners, but it’s a bit melodramatic.

It’s a nice story and is a prime inspirational example for young kids, but the characters are two-dimensional and stock. The heroes are wholly good, sacrificing their lives to to help the homeless, with only Zach’s sister Kelley (Daveigh Chase of “Big Love”) allowed to have mixed feelings on what they’re doing.

In the end, “Wagon” chokes on its own wholesomeness and can’t see far enough past the act to show us the people underneath.

“Wagon” is a sanitized, generically inspiring film — not a particularly great one, but it’s the type of thing that will probably find an audience somewhere.

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Where Soldiers Come From Mon, 17 Oct 2011 03:24:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“Where Soldiers Come From” is a bold look at three small-town guys from Michigan who join the National Guard but realize that promises are only as good as the paper on which they’re written.

The documentary begins by introducing our three main subjects — Dom, Cole and Bodi. All three of these young men have grown up together in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Out of high school and in need of money, the boys all join the National Guard. They figure that one weekend a month, two weeks a year is worth the money for school.

The documentary begins with the introduction of Dom, and he is probably the person that gets the most attention. He is an extremely talented artist. An abandoned loft is his canvas, which Dom is continually wiping clean to create something new. Cole is Dom’s longtime friend, who decides to join to be with his friend but to also pay for school, while Bodi, a younger member of the group, decides to join because of dedication to his friends.

Finally the boys are deployed to Afghanistan, and this is when the film feels like a lot of other war documentaries. At first, the boys really enjoy their time there but their enjoyment quickly wanes as the distance from home takes its toll along with being plagued by injuries and sickness. All sense of patriotism that the boys arrive to quickly goes away after the time spent overseas.

The second half of “Where Soldiers Come From” shows a different side of the military than most documentaries because you see how these small-town kids have changed for the worst and have nothing to show for it. Bodi has had so many TBIs (traumatic brain injury) that the doctors say his brain looks comparable to someone who has been playing football for 20 years. Cole has come home to a large debt to his university after the National Guard denies payment because he “didn’t” turn in his paperwork. Dom shows the most change. A once happy kid is now an irritable person. He tells the camera that he has no idea why. The littlest things could set him off, where before nothing ever bothered him.

It is heartbreaking to see that these kids have given their happiness and health to protect our nation and are then ignored by the very government that they have protected. I have to give it to the filmmakers for showing a different side to the story. If you have the chance to make it to the Heartland Film Festival, this is a solid film to see.

3.5 Yaps

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Becoming Santa Sun, 16 Oct 2011 19:32:15 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“Santa” follows Jack Sanderson, who, upon finding a photo of his father dressed as Santa, decides to become a Santa for a holiday season, fully immersing himself in the culture.

He starts by growing out his beard and bleaching it white, buys a suit, and he’s ready, right?

Wrong. He goes to Santa School — a fully immersive subculture of mall, sidewalk, and department store Santas — and gets a full crash course on how to be jolly old St. Nick.

And he finds it’s not as easy as sitting on your duff and handing out candy canes. Jack and the other Santas fend off difficult questions from children (in a test session, their teacher, as a child, asks Santa to find and kill Osama bin Laden, among other things), and learn the rules of being Santa — including that Santas cannot call children “kids,” have nonthreatening, easy, but vague answers to any question they’re asked, and can “ho” only three times.

There are some interesting historical tidbits about the origins of Santa and how he came to be such a cultural icon throughout western civilization, as well as the various benevolent (and not so nice) versions of Santa throughout the world — including the interesting (and racially incendiary) story of Black Peter, whom, in some civilizations, is Santa’s more sinister sidekick who punishes the bad children while Santa rewards the good ones.

An interesting side note to this film is that there is never any talk of Santa’s authenticity. We get the occasional tidbit about “believing” in Santa, but that’s as close as we get to dealing with that little roasting chestnut.

“Becoming Santa” isn’t a hard-hitting social justice documentary, but it’s a fun change of pace to much of Heartland’s more serious content. It will certainly lift your spirits and make you appreciate the plight and the life of Santas all over the world.

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Nathan and the Luthier Sun, 16 Oct 2011 12:48:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

For showtimes and more information, click here.

The first film by Indiana University student Jacob Sherry, “Nathan and the Luthier” focuses on the relationship between Nathan (Jeff Grafton) and his mother (Kate Braun) following the death of his abusive father.

Nathan returns home and finds his mother despondent, not knowing what to do with herself after more than 35 years, and finds himself an old violin, which, as a child, he begged his mother to buy him but that his father crushed in a rage.

He takes the violin to a shop and asks the grizzled, cantankerous shopkeeper (David Wierhake) to repair it. Unable to pay, he offers to clean and do odd jobs around the shop as payment.

The two forge an unlikely bond over the violin, but Nathan continues to neglect his heartbroken mother, who seems equal parts relieved and heartbroken that her husband is gone; mostly she just doesn’t know what to do with herself.

Technically “Nathan” is a strong film, using music, editing and sound very well for a debut film from a college student. The cuts are crisp, the music is well-integrated, and Sherry shows a talent for telling a story visually.

The acting and characterizations are a little stilted; we get almost no background on Nathan, other than he is somewhat estranged from his family; we don’t even know if he has a job or a relationship.

Alexander the shopkeeper is generically cantankerous and seems awfully crotchety for no good reason (at least not one we’re given). I think we’re supposed to believe he becomes a father figure to Nathan, but it never really comes through.

Of course, the violin is a metaphor for Nathan’s fractured childhood and the life ruined by his father. It’s not subtle, but it gets its point across.

“Nathan” is a solid debut from Sherry, worth catching if you’re heading to the Heartland Film Festival. It’s a well-made Hoosier film that espouses Hoosier values effectively enough.

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Family of the Wa’a Sun, 16 Oct 2011 02:25:41 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“Family of the Wa’a” is a beautiful story about not only keeping family traditions alive but overcoming all obstacles to complete a goal. It is a story of friendship and teamwork.

The film begins with Kimokeo telling the story of a promise that he made to his uncle Kavika.  Years before Kimokeo began his journey, his uncle Kavika sailed from Hawaii to Tahiti in a double-hulled canoe. He did it as a continuation of an ancient Hawaiian tradition of canoe paddling. Before he died, he asked Kimokeo to take up his mantle and to continue his trip, and thus the story begins of Kimokeo bringing together a team of long-distance rowers to complete the journey.

“Family of the Wa’a” is a great story not because of the journey but because of the people that are taking it. On the surface, each member of the team is doing it because Kimokeo has asked them to do. But by the end, each one of them continues the journey for their own personal reasons. That is what makes this documentary so interesting because it is so relatable.  Anyone and everyone can think of a time that they started something for nothing but found finishing the task to become something more.

Kendall, one of the crew members, was actually battling cancer as he prepared for this journey, and his story is one of the most interesting. One brief scene is probably one of the strongest of the whole film. Before the beginning of their journey, he goes to his doctor to collect his treatments and he tells his doctor, “I know you told me that I shouldn’t row, that I should save my energy to fight the cancer unless it’s something I want to do before I die.” This state of mind shows how important this trip is to this crew.

This film is a great film to watch and really shows that the human spirit can conquer anything if we just put our minds to it. I think anyone who watches this film will get the confidence to try and finish his or her own goals.

4.5 Yaps


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YERT: Your Environmental Road Trip Fri, 14 Oct 2011 21:36:59 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

A documentary feature that brings new meaning to the term “mockumentary,” “YERT: Your Environmental Road Trip,” is perhaps the most lighthearted documentary you’re likely to see.

It’s a bizarro “An Inconvenient Truth,” if Stephen Colbert kidnapped Al Gore and took the show on the road.

In 2007, documentarians Ben Evans and Mark Dixon, along with Ben’s wife, Julie, went around the country with the goal of saving all of their trash on a yearlong road trip. They travel around the country and, along the way, make some rather salient points about society, not just from an environmental perspective.

As they drive through Iowa, Ben endeavors to eat only corn and corn products, while his wife tries to eat no corn or corn products whatsoever. What they find is that Ben can eat, as they say, about 90% of the items in the grocery store, while his wife fails the first morning when she picks up her morning yogurt. (It has corn syrup and corn starch in it.)

Interspersed are environmental lessons about the vaunted heartland, whose cornfields are rife with degraded topsoil, and a port in Washington famous for its salmon fishing has only 5% of the salmon population it had 20 years ago due to overfishing.

“When you begin to see nature as a mentor rather than a warehouse, your emotions toward the rest of the natural world become a matter of respect,” says one expert.

When Ben and Julie announce they’re pregnant, their quest becomes endangered when she refuses to deny her “zygote” the food it makes her crave. We also get tutorials on solar energy in the desert, greenspace roofs in Chicago that reduce energy costs, and the Dobson House in Taos, New Mexico, a naturally sustained structure that heats and cools itself, uses solar and wind energy, and uses wastewater to grow its own crops.

There are some cautions, though — such as a visit to the shores of the Arctic Ocean that observes the ice caps melting and gets first-person accounts of how they’re melting — as well as a variety of environmental issues, how they’re caused, and, often, how they can be solved.

It’s a fun, informative, light documentary that talks about what the United States is doing, rather than what it’s not. It’s a more hopeful, entertaining look at the environment and a breath of fresh air. This is the kind of documentary that can inspire real change and catch the eye of the people rather than be more white noise, as many of those doom-and-gloom documentaries have become.

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