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.

Everybody Wants Some!!

May 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, Zoey Deutch
Directed by: Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”)
Written by: Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”)

On the heels of the Academy Award-winning masterpiece “Boyhood,” Austin-based writer-director Richard Linklater ventures back to his roots, crafting a spiritual sequel to his breakout film “Dazed and Confused” in “Everybody Wants Some!!,” a Lone Star Beer-soaked Texas hangout shot in and around Austin, Texas with a gaggle of 1980s baseball bros over a long weekend before the start of a new college semester.

The plot, which there isn’t much of, kicks off when freshman pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner) arrives at the shared off-campus home of the Southeast Texas University baseball team, a group of fun-loving, prank-playing, beer-drinking guys out to get as drunk and as laid as they can. Over the course of the weekend before classes start, the guys, well, have fun, play pranks, drink beer, and get laid. They disco dance, kick to “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” and invade a theater party. Meanwhile, Jake falls for Beverly (Zoey Deutch, a much-needed female presence in a sea of dudes), an artsy girl that doesn’t give in to hormones and beer like the rest of the girls that orbit around the STU baseball team.

Where “Boyhood” overcame its gimmicky-on-paper premise to tell a story of how parents grow with their children in an engrossing, easy, almost three-hour run time, “Everybody Wants Some!!” wears its shagginess on its baseball shirt quarter sleeve, unashamed of running just under two hours with not a whole lot going on, for better or worse. Linklater makes no apologies for wanting to hang out with these characters – particular standouts being Glen Powell’s wiseacre ladies’ man Finnegan, Wyatt Russell’s stoner shaman Willoughby, and Temple Baker’s dimwitted Plummer – through the eyes of Jake. A bit of claustrophobia sets in from time to time, though, since we only spend time with one like-minded group of people – a bunch of good looking jocks – instead of bouncing between the different social stratum (and genders) that have made up any high school since the beginning of time as “Dazed and Confused” pulled off brilliantly. These guys are fun to party with, sure, but where’s the shy nerd’s point of view? And where are the girls? Asking for a friend.