Day three of the North Bay Film Festival was easily the most jam-packed, featuring a solid lineup of five feature films, a workshop event, a talk from industry professionals, and a vinyl-only after party. While the day was long and exhausting, it absolutely flew by with the help of some excellent films. The lineup included documentaries How to Build a Time Machine and Weiner, and narrative films Into the Forest, Morris from America, and Anthropoid. Below is how I felt about day three of the first relaunched North Bay Film Festival:
How to Build a Time Machine (2016)
Directed by: Jay Cheel
Written by: Jay Cheel
Starring: Ronald Mallett, Rob Niosi
Canadian documentarian Jay Cheel’s beautiful and intimate look at the lifelong passion of two men who were introduced to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine at a young age. Both men have two completely different motivations for their exploration into the world of time machines, and both are developed and delivered to the audience masterfully. Dr. Ronald Mallett hopes to send a message to his late father that would see him getting medical help before the massive heart attack that would lead to his untimely death. Rob Niosi, even more interested in the work of Wells, wants to build a scale replica of the time machine found in the popular 1960 film.
What I Liked:
- Both Ron Mallett and Rob Niosi are treated with the utmost respect that they deserve. A less talented filmmaker would have made them out to be “weirdos” from the get go.
- The structure works perfectly, exploring the lives of both men for short bursts, alternating between them before things can get stale.
- Interviews are often hilarious, heartbreaking, and insightful. There’s so much heart and passion in both men, and that makes it impossible for me not to adore them both.
Cheel’s How to Build a Time Machine could have easily been a disposable fluff piece or a lame special interest documentary that we’ve all seen a million times, but it’s so much more than that. It’s clear that Jay Cheel sees how special what he has captured is, and he just lets things flow naturally. This isn’t a film about obsession as some have suggested, but rather extreme, at times misguided, passion. I smiled for 90 minutes straight, and that doesn’t happen to me often. How to Build a Time Machine is my pick for best of the festival, and earns my highest recommendation.
Into the Forest (2016)
Directed by: Patricia Rozema
Written by: Patricia Rozema, Jean Hegland
Starring: Ellen Page, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella, Callum Keith Rennie
I thought that maybe I had missed something on my first viewing of Patricia Rozema’s Into the Forest, but after the festival showing I’m much more comfortable saying that the film just isn’t for me. Into the Forest sees sisters played by Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood surviving in the forest after an unexplained event takes out the power in the continental United States. They dance, forage, chop wood, and try their best to brave the elements until something happens or some answers are given.
What I Liked:
- The film is beautifully filmed and the atmosphere is always thick with a lurking dread.
- The sisters are both likable characters in their own rights, with both of them getting to play the role of the stronger sister an even amount.
- Some of the more visceral moments are very memorable and could make even the most seasoned moviegoers a little squeamish.
What I Didn’t:
- Into the Forest never really goes anywhere. Whether it’s a budgetary limit or a poor screenplay is unknown to me, but it always felt like we were waiting around for something to happen, much like the girls. Unfortunately 90% of what they do on screen is uninteresting and not really worthy of a near two hour film. It’s just very, very dull.
- Certain scenes feel like they’re completely unnatural and only there to push the story along a little further, whether or not they actually work in the context of this universe.
While it’s not a terrible film by any means, it feels like literally every other VOD movie of the month about an apocalyptic event taking place. We watch two talented actresses sitting around in their beautiful home while the world around them is presumably falling apart. Unfortunately for Into the Forest, this premise sounds a lot more interesting than the actual execution of the film. Into the Forest is not recommended.
Directed by: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg
Written by: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg, Eli B. Despres
Starring: Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin
My second viewing of Weiner. Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s documentary hilarious recounts the sexting scandal of Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner. The film picks up a few years later, where Anthony claims to be a changed man, and has decided to run for mayor of New York City. Along the way he has to convince the people of New York, the media, and his own wife (Huma Abedin) that what happened in the past will not be repeated. Until it happens again. And again. And again. Never has the downfall of one man been so widely covered and so hilariously poetic.
What I Liked:
- The pacing of Weiner is perfect, never feeling like it’s overstepping or wearing out its welcome. The filmmakers are never afraid to bring archival footage into the mix for laughs, which certainly helps things.
- Kriegman and Steinberg manage to capture some incredibly intimate moments between Anthony and Huma on camera, almost as if both of them are oblivious to the fact that cameras are running.
- The film does a great job of getting the audience to believe that maybe, just maybe, Anthony Weiner is going to live up to his promises and his potential and be a changed man.
- We simultaneously root against and for Anthony, alternating between disliking him and hoping that he succeeds, which is a true sign of an effective documentary.
- Rather than mocking him or cutting him down, the director’s let their cameras roll so that Anthony’s actions and words speak for them. He does a great job of making himself look bad.
What I Didn’t:
- The documentary doesn’t seem to have any real purpose other than serving as a kind of morbid sideshow act. We never learn anything new about Anthony or Huma, nor does the ending provide any sort of revelation. When the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but feel a little deflated.
It may not be wholly satisfying or revelatory, but Weiner is a masterclass in documentary filmmaking. It brings to light a subject many of us had long forgotten about, and really tries to humanize him whether or not it agrees with his actions or politics. It’s funny, it’s infuriating, and it’s incredibly entertaining. Weiner is highly recommended.
Morris from America (2016)
Directed by: Chad Hartigan
Written by: Chad Hartigan
Starring: Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson, Carla Juri, Lina Keller
Chad Hartigan’s latest film Morris from America is the only film of the festival to really take me by surprise. I had no knowledge of the film at all previously, and expected it to be at best a Sundance-worthy coming of age flick. What I got was a stylish, hilarious, and very touching comedy that really resonated with me. Starring young Markees Christmas as Morris as he navigates his way around his new home country, Germany. He writes raps, bonds with his dad, learns the language with his cool tutor, and falls madly in love with a beautiful German girl. What more could a boy want?
What I Liked:
- Craig Robinson shines as Morris’ father, acting as both a friend and a parent to the young Morris. He’s cool as hell, and adds a great deal of much needed gravity to the film. Robinson’s never been better.
- For young, inexperienced actors, both Markees Christmas and Lina Keller stole the show. They were believable in their roles, and both had excellent comedic timing. Their chemistry was lacking as certain points, but that’s kind of the whole point of their unrequited romance.
- Hartigan’s script is everything it needed to be. It’s incredibly funny, moving, and quite insightful about growing up and interacting with the world, even when you’re somewhere you don’t want to be.
- It felt natural and real, and at times I could really relate to what young Morris was feeling. It’s not easy to feel left out in a place where you don’t know anybody, and he makes the best of it in a very real way.
- The soundtrack is incredible, mixing some tremendous rap with techno and house-influenced beats.
What I Didn’t:
- Like so many other coming of age films, Morris from America is not immune from the many cliches of the genre.
- Certain elements are introduced into the film and never given a proper send off, the biggest example being Morris’ father mourning his wife and at the same time yearning for affection. I really would have loved to explore that dynamic.
Morris from America doesn’t reinvent the coming of age wheel, but what it does right is serve up a hilarious and touching story that is probably relatable for a lot of viewers. Chad Hartigan’s script is very strong for the most part, and his direction is both energetic and focused enough to deliver a compelling and really fun narrative. It exceeded my low expectations, and left me buzzing. Morris from America is highly recommended.
Directed by: Sean Ellis
Written by: Sean Ellis, Anthony Frewin
Starring: Jamie Dornan, Cillian Murphy, Toby Jones
Sean Ellis’ followup to his excellent 2013 film Metro Manila didn’t quite meet my admittedly high expectations. Anthropoid chronicles the top secret Operation Anthropoid, which saw Czech rebels attempting to assassinate a high-ranking SS General, the man responsible for the idea of the Nazi’s Final Solution. Ellis is very respectful to the important true story, and brings a lot of talent to the film, including leads Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy, both whom do an admirable job as leads. While the film moves at a very slow and deliberate pace, there’s enough here to chew on to get some measure of enjoyment out of.
What I Liked:
- Anthropoid is extremely tense and atmospheric throughout, never letting us forget just how important their mission is, and the fact that Jan (Dornan) and Josef (Murphy) can’t really trust anybody for fear of compromising their mission.
- The moment that launches the chaotic last half of the film is incredibly tense and effective.
- The film’s last act is action-packed and extremely well-directed, giving the audience a real feel of the layout of the massive cathedral, where the enemies are located, and where our leads are at all times. If nothing else, Ellis is an incredible director of action.
What I Didn’t:
- Both Jan and Josef are never truly developed past the point of “we need to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich”, which makes it difficult to care at times. Unfortunately for Anthropoid, just being resistance fighters isn’t always enough.
- There are two love stories in the film that feel incredibly forced and unnatural, and it completely kills the pacing of the film. It was unecessary in every way, and did nothing to move the plot along. Ten minutes of bad romance could have been shaved off and Anthropoid would have been that much better for it.
- The SS General Reinhard Heydrich is never really featured in any grand way. Instead of seeing first-hand what this man is doing that makes him such a force to be reckoned with, we’re only told that he’s a bad dude. It felt like a huge missed opportunity to not feature Heydrich at all, and once again made it difficult to care about the film.
Anthropoid is not a bad film, but rather a tremendous missed opportunity from Sean Ellis. The problem lays in the script rather the filmmaking, which is solid and inventive. Characters are left undeveloped and story elements are left vague, and as a result the audience is left wondering why they should care about the events taking place. It’s a real shame because of the immense importance of Operation Anthropoid and the consequences it had. It’s not awful, but you might have difficulty caring, so I’d say view it at your own discretion.