American Animals

June 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Jared Abrahamson
Directed by: Bart Layton (“The Imposter”)
Written by: Bart Layton (debut)

In the 2012 true-crime documentary “The Imposter,” filmmaker Bart Layton tells the bizarre story of a French conman who manages to infiltrate the life of a San Antonio family by making them believe he is their kidnapped son. It’s one of those stranger-than-fiction yarns that is as baffling as it is fascinating. Now, with “American Animals,” Layton’s first feature narrative of his career, the director/writer identifies another unusual, headline-worthy tale and constructs an unprecedented type of film that blends genres in an extremely effective way.

Based on true and possibly true events, “American Animals” follows four college students who planned to carry out a high-dollar heist inside the library of their school, Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. The score: an assortment of rare books and manuscripts, including John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” and Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” The players: Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) and Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan), two friends who are dissatisfied with their lives and want to do something to flip the script. When Warren and Spencer realize the job is bigger than a two-man operation, they recruit fellow students Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas Allen (Blake Jenner) to round out what they, in their eyes, see as a foolproof scheme.

While this might sound like your run-of-the-mill heist movie, Layton makes sure it is not by formatting the picture in a way that hasn’t been done since 2003’s “American Splendor” experimented with the idea. Along with recreating the story, he also includes interviews with the real people who were involved with the crime and gets into their heads. Layton even injects his real-life subjects into the film alongside the actors who are playing them. In one scene, Peters, playing Warren, turns to the real Warren and asks, “So, this is how you remember it?”

These documentary elements work perfectly as we watch the boys attempt to meticulously plan out the robbery like they actually know what they were doing. There’s one fun scene where Layton depicts what it would be like if the guys actually pulled off the caper without a hitch — a slick, “Ocean’s 11”-style theft where books slide across countertops and everyone does their job flawlessly while Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation” plays in the background.

The conversations Layton is having with the real Warren, Spencer, Eric and Chas, however, are what make “American Animals” stand out in a film genre that can be diluted at times. Without the documentary components, the film would still be more enjoyable than a lot of movies where Hollywood assembles a crack team of beautiful misfits to steal a bag of bling. With them, Layton has discovered a new and extraordinary way of storytelling.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

November 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan
Directed by
: Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”)
Written by: Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”) and Efthymis Philipou (“The Lobster”)

With his 2015 film “The Lobster,” writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos established himself as a creative force. With a fascinating premise and surrealist world building, the script was nominated for an Academy Award and firmly put him on the radar of film fans yearning for something cerebral and exciting. With another great premise, Lanthimos’ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” continues the trend of high-level creativity and firmly plants him as a true talent to watch.

As a skilled cardiologist, Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) has a successful career, an ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and two great kids. But there is something lurking in his mostly hidden relationship with an odd, but seemingly harmless teenager named Martin (Barry Keoghan). As their relationship comes to the surface, Martin reveals earth-shattering information that may change the course of Murphy’s life, along with the rest of his family.

One of the things that Lanthimos did that made “The Lobster” easy to crack into despite its outlandish premise is create a universe in which its idiosyncrasies were the norm. Everyone talked in stilted speech with quick basic sentences and an underlying level of social awkwardness. The same technique is employed with “Sacred Deer,” which allows the film to be rooted in somewhat of an alternate universe where everyone talks differently and really strange things happen.

It’s easy to see how some audience members may confuse Farrell’s performance in both films, for example, to be simplistic and odd. In reality, Farrell is giving a fantastic performance that helps establish the setting. The revelation in this film, however, is Keoghan who gives a super creepy and darkly funny performance.

The narrative itself, while not as creative as “The Lobster,” still works pretty well as an updated take on a classic tragedy, provided you are able to buy in. It may not have a terrible amount to say metaphorically but it is well paced, features great tension and is fascinating to watch play out, even if you have an idea of where the story is going.

With the amount of by the numbers, run of the mill storytelling that happens every week at the theater, anyone doing something different is a breath of fresh air. Lanthimos clearly has a warped sense of humor and a keen eye for story telling that is absurd and fantastical while remaining intimate and grounded. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” may not be one of the better films of the year, but its certainly one of the purest forms of an artist distilling his singular vision into a unique movie going experience.