Film Review: Most Likely To Succeed

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“Success” is an abstract word and the measure of it is entirely relative. However, there are a couple of benchmarks that most “success” stories have in common including financial stability and steady employment. In her debut documentary, Pamela Littky (a photographer known for her candid celebrity shots) follows four high school seniors from different backgrounds who were all voted Most Likely to Succeed by their graduating class. Littky checks in with her subjects during formative moments over the course of a decade as their plans shift and their perspectives change and broaden. The result is a thought-provoking meditation on privilege and a compelling case study on what it really means to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps.

Littky’s subjects are two working-class African Americans from Michigan, one white middle-class girl from Florida, and one affluent white boy from Los Angeles. In Detroit, we meet Charles (who goes by Disco), an athlete who was born with a drug addiction and became independent from his adoptive parents his senior year of high school. He looks forward to getting a job and building the family he never had. Quay lives with her single mother who suffers from a heart condition, and all she really wants is to be able to support her family with steady employment. Sarah’s parents are both pastors and her biggest concern when moving into her college dorm is whether or not she brought enough pairs of jeans. Peter worries that his social awkwardness will persist at Brown University. The one thing they all have in common is that they are good people who deserve happiness. For some, it will come easily. For others, it will seem perpetually out of reach…

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Film Review: ANYA

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We don’t see the titular character in Jacob Akira Okada and Carylanna Taylor’s narrative debut until the final moments of the film. ANYA is not actually about the little girl in question, but rather how she came to be, despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Anya’s father, Marco, (Gil Perez-Abraham, TVs Pose) is part of a clandestine race hailing from an island in the Caribbean called Narval. He was actually born in Queens, New York and raised in a tight knit community who blended in with their Latinx neighbors so as to go unnoticed for generations. What follows is sci-fi verité, a genetic mystery, an ethical think-piece and a romantic drama all rolled into one enthralling film.

Libby (Ali Ahn, TVs Supernatural) meets Marco in Times Square the same day that his mother kicks him out of his community for refusing to adhere to tradition. Marco doesn’t tell Libby much about his past, but they are both lonely souls who are drawn to each other and their relationship progresses quickly. Marco’s family always believed in a curse, claiming that anyone who attempted to start a family with an outsider would be rendered infertile. But Libby doesn’t learn about this until after she and Marco have experienced several devastating miscarriages. Libby is a journalist with a scientific mind, and she believes Marco is an orphan, so her first instinct is to enlist her ex-boyfriend, a research scientist named Seymour (Motell Gyn Foster, Marriage Story), for answers. Seymour is a brilliant charmer who specializes in Neanderthal research – a subject that is coincidentally relevant to solving their fertility issues…

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Film Review: The MisEducation of Bindu

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From the Duplass Brothers (a trusted name in film producing), comes Prarthana Mohan’s directorial debut, The MisEducation of Bindu. It’s not exactly a coming-of-age story – there’s simply not that much honest growth that can happen in one narrative day – but 15-year-old Indian immigrant, Bindu (Megan Suri), does make significant leaps in learning how to stand up for herself and navigate public high school in Middle America. She does so with the help of Peter (Phillip Labes), a fellow outcast who is harboring a potentially-alienating secret of his own.

Bindu could have tested out of high school a long time ago were it not for her stepfather (David Arquette, Scream), who convinced her mother (Priyanka Bose, Lion) that she was missing out on an important developmental experience by being homeschooled. At the same time, Bindu’s mother refuses to let her date or attend school dances. So she’s really only getting the worst parts of the high school experience – the condescension from teachers, people whispering about her in the halls and defacing her locker…

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Film Review: Freaks (2019)

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Legion meets 10 Cloverfield Lane in this entertaining low-budget sci-fi film from Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein, the directors of the upcoming Kim Possible live action reboot. Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) plays the hyper-protective father of a 7-year-old girl with supernatural gifts. Hirsch’s character, known only as “Dad”, harbors Chloe (Lexy Kolker, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) in a derelict suburban home. Liberal use of bedsheets and duct tape imply that even a glimpse from an outsider could destroy them. We follow the story through Chloe’s perspective, so the particulars of their peril are hazy at first. When Chloe peeks outside, the view of an idyllic neighborhood and an ice cream truck don’t match the apocalyptic horror Dad infers when he returns from armed-and-desperate trips to the grocery store. Chloe eyes the outside world with longing, especially after Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern) tempts her with a custom illustrated picture book that suggests she’s an imprisoned princess. Choe becomes increasingly suspicious of Dad’s motives, especially during her punitive time-outs in a possibly haunted closet, and hatches a plan for independence.

But the audience knows Dad’s paranoia isn’t completely unwarranted thanks to glimpses of TV news reports about terrorist attacks and drone bombings. Also, Dad is desperate to never fall asleep and occasionally bleeds from his eyes. To pass the time, they play poker with real stacks of large bills and Dad quizzes daughter on her cover story that will come into play if something happens to him. She is to lie about her name, her family, and even her hobbies, and take refuge with a neighboring family. Everything they do together, from games, to drawing, to reading children’s books, is in the service of training her for his inevitable and sudden absence. Dad is clearly keeping something from Chloe, but he tells her enough to give her what he believes to be a healthy level of distrust. There are people out there who want to kill them because they are different. But he also tells her things that are blatant lies, like that Mr. Snowcone’s truck is filled with the bodies of children just like her…

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Film Review: International Falls

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The best comedy (and indeed, most art) tends to come from a place of deep, unrelenting pain. Even someone as family-friendly as Ellen DeGeneres has admitted that she’s tapped into dark places for her bits. But just because pain can birth comedy, doesn’t necessarily mean that comedy will alleviate pain. That is the underlying theme of Amber McGinnis’ debut feature, International Falls, based on a two-person play by Thomas Ward, who also adapted the screenplay.

Rachel Harris (The Hangover, TVs Lucifer) stars as Dee, a middle-aged working mother who is bitter that her husband, Gary (Matthew Glave), has stepped out on her and checked out of their marriage. She works as a desk clerk at a hotel in the titular touristy Minnesota town on the Canadian border. Dee has spent her whole life in the Midwestern-as-hell International Falls, where there are no falls to speak of. It’s so cold that even Smokey Bear has to wear a shirt. The hotel hosts weekly no-name comedians, but the funniest person around is Dee herself, who keeps her co-worker, Ruthie (Jessie Sherman) in stitches during their grueling shifts…

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Film Review: Olympic Dreams

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There are over 200 athletes that compete in every Olympics, and each one has a story. But we only hear about a handful of them, and they’re never the athletes at the bottom of the rankings. Nevertheless, every single person who competes in the Olympics has spent the better part of their lives preparing for it. One of the main aims of the Olympics is to make the audience feel good. We want inspirational stories about people overcoming adversity to achieve their goals. The alternative is almost too much to bare. With Olympic Dreams, director Jeremy Teicher and his muse/co-writer/star Alexi Pappas, seek to find the consolation prize in making it all the way to the most prestigious of athletic competitions, only to lose their event on day one.

Pappas, who collaborated with Teicher on two previous films (Tall as the Baobab Tree, Tracktown), stars as Penelope, a 22-year-old American cross-country skier who, after failing to place in her event, suddenly finds herself with a lot of time on her hands in Pyeongchang, South Korea. We don’t learn why her coach declined to accompany her to the most important competition of her life thus far, but we can feel her crushing loneliness and disappointment as it rapidly morphs into an existential crisis regarding next steps. Should she take the GREs and start a new life, or sign up for another four-year track to the next Olympics?…

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Film Review: Banana Split

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The plot of Banana Split is very simple but, in many ways, the story is revolutionary. April (co-writer Hannah Marks, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency) is a high school senior who is reeling from a breakup with her first love, Nick (Dylan Sprouse). Their 2-year relationship ended because they will soon attend college on opposite coasts. April is gutted when Nick immediately takes up with Clara (Liana Liberato). But just as April’s final summer at home begins, she meets Clara at a party and, instead of battling, they become instant besties. What follows is a touching tribute to the profundity of platonic first loves between young women, colored by the existential angst of that emotional limbo between high school and college.

The Romantic Comedy begs for subversion and Banana Split delivers. First-time director Ben Kasulke, uses a light touch, letting the performances and character arcs effortlessly breathe new life into a stale genre. Both April and Clara’s relationship with Nick takes a back seat to their burgeoning friendship, while the underdeveloped quip machine in an advisory role is a straight white boy named Ben (Luke Spencer Roberts)…

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