Author: David Rudin

Inside Out 2015 Review: That’s Not Us

Vacations allow couples to escape their day-to-day routines, which is all well and good so long as these routines aren’t keeping said couples together. Therein lies the problem for the three couples—one gay, one lesbian, and one straight—in director William Sullivan’s improvised romantic comedy That’s Not Us. Their problems are relatively mild: not enough sex; having nothing other than sex; the prospect of being separated by grad school. During a weekend in a cabin on Fire Island, however, there is little for these pairs to focus on other than their problems. Clearly they should have packed more beach reading. That’s Not Us uses its vacation setting as a sort of relationship horror show. There is no possibility of escape. The traditional vacation refrain of “Are we there yet?” gives way to a silent “Is it time to go home?” Once raised, issues fester. In that respect, That’s Not Us is well served by its improvised dialogue. Instead of building towards neat conclusions, its scenes amble onwards. Resolution will come in its own time. There is not all that much to That’s Not Us. It is a story of small arguments amongst relatively privileged individuals that does not pretend to be about much more. Sullivan wisely avoids drawing too many overt parallels between the three couples. Suffice it to say that no matter whom you love, you can have mundane difficulties....

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TJFF 2015 Review: Mr. Kaplan

As writer-director Alvaro Brechner’s Mr. Kaplan first finds its titular lead, Jacob (Hector Noguera), the seventy-six-year-old has already lived through his fair share of crises. Hardships, however, are rarely distributed equitably. Thus, the old man who was sent to Uruguay from Poland by his parents on the eve of the Holocaust, is about to experience one last crisis. Having lost a good deal of his vision and wits, Jacob feels that he has been reduced to playing the role of an old clown. Thus, inspired by perceived slights and a documentary about Nazi fugitives in Latin America, Jacob decides that an elderly beach-goer with a German accent is a war criminal who must be brought to justice. To that end, he persuades Wilson, a former cop hired by Jacob’s children to look after their father, to help bring the old German man to Eichmann-esque justice. In spite of its comedic moments, Mr. Kaplan is not a buddy comedy. Rather, it is a film about two men who need to live out some elements of the genre to distract themselves from the sadness of their lives. Brechner’s grasp of this subtle distinction ensures that Mr. Kaplan doesn’t fall into the trap of ill-advised Holocaust comedies such as Train de Vie. Wilson and Jacob, though they come from different class and religious backgrounds, both need a win to drown out the...

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Review: Ride

In Ride, Jackie (Helen Hunt, also the film’s writer and director) is both a helicopter parent and a no-nonsense fiction editor at a New Yorker-esque magazine. That, the movie is at great pains to stress, is all there is to Jackie. As a particularly fastidious editor, she would probably point out that the term ‘helicopter parent’ does not do justice to the smothering closeness of her relationship with her son, Angelo (Brenton Thwaites). An aspiring writer under his mother’s sometimes-unsolicited tutelage, Angelo will be starting his studies at NYU in a couple months. Or at least that was the plan. Angelo waits until he is in California with his divorced father to tell Jackie he is dropping out to become a professional surfer. What can she do in this situation other than follow him to California and learn how to surf? The great irony in Ride is that Jackie, of all people, should know that she is stumbling headfirst into a series of clichés. Every bit the archetypally confident New Yorker, Jackie thinks she can master surfing without the help of the flip-flop wearing locals. Inevitably, she finds herself requiring the help of a handsome surfer (Luke Wilson) and discovers that he can help with other things as well. In spite of her phone’s maniacal ringing, Jackie also learns that there is more to life than her job. For...

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Instrument of accountability: Anas Aremeyaw Anas and Ryan Mullins on Chameleon

“Journalism,” says the Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, “is defined according to your jurisdiction and according to the development that happens around you.” Anas’ journalism is defined by complex undercover investigations that often end in coordinated arrests by law enforcement officials. To that end, Anas seeks to keep his likeness a secret. In 2010, The Atlantic’s Nicholas Schmidle reported that he owned thirty wigs. He wears bucket hats or hoodies during public appearances, his face further concealed by woven curtains. He appeared at TED2013 behind a veil of red and white wool, telling the assembled audience, “My kind of journalism might not fit in other continents or other countries, but I can tell you, it works in my part of the continent of Africa.” Anas is on another continent now. It’s the day before the Hot Docs premiere of Chameleon, Canadian filmmaker Ryan Mullins’ documentary about his work, and the pair is sitting in the fifty-first floor recreation room of a Toronto high-rise. Anas is wearing a blue bucket hat. Black and blue tassels hang from its brim and cover his face. In Chameleon, Mullins films Anas from behind or through similar disguises. The movie captures the organization and execution of stings against sex traffickers and an abortionist who tricks patients into having sex with him. Chameleon is not a film about disguises; it is a film about a disguised journalist....

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Hot Docs 2015 Review: On the Rim of the Sky

The human disaster in On the Rim of the Sky follows a natural one. In 2008, an 8.0 magnitude earthquake hit China’s Sichuan province. Gulu had previously been a remote mountaintop idyll. Shen Qijun had been the village’s sole primary school teacher for decades but was still classified as a substitute because he had only completed high school. The earthquake changed everything. Money and volunteers flowed into Gulu, including a university-educated voluntourist named Bao Tangtao. Xu Hongjie’s stunning documentary chronicles Bao and Shen’s battle for control of Gulu’s school. Cleverly edited and candidly filmed, On the Rim of the Sky proceeds at a breakneck pace. Its characters differences initially appear surmountable. For Shen, Bao is a reminder of society’s obsession with degrees, an obsession that has cost Shen his rightful title and recompense. Bao, meanwhile, considers Shen an impediment to progress. Like tectonic plates, however, their coexistence is short-lived. By the film’s second act, Bao and Shen are making public accusations, rallying villagers, distributing petitions, and lodging official complaints. The film effectively conveys that this pattern of escalation, while shocking in its ferocity, is the logical endpoint of their worldviews. Xu’s evenhanded direction stands out amidst this deluge of recrimination. The film never takes sides. Xu understands—and even sympathizes with—these two men’s positions but is clear-headed enough to understand that no good can come of their conflict. Indeed, what the earthquake could...

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Hot Docs Review: Every Last Child

As Tom Roberts’ Every Last Child opens, a band of heavily armed men are congregating at police headquarters in Peshawar, Pakistan. They have been specially selected to wage holy war. Their enemy: Polio. Due in large part to the Taliban’s opposition to vaccination campaigns, Pakistan is one of the few countries where the infant-paralyzing disease remains endemic. As recently as 2014, 80% of the world’s polio cases were in Pakistan. Roberts’ documentary examines the various strategies Pakistani authorities and WHO officials have implemented in an attempt to eradicate polio once and for all. It would be tempting to view Pakistan’s polio vaccination problems through the prism of Western anti-vaxxer controversies, but Every Last Child proceeds with commendable nuance. The concerns of parents who resist vaccinations are treated as sincerely held beliefs. Fears that vaccination campaigns are conspiracies to make children infertile or that they are Western ploys are serious problems for health officials, even if they have little factual basis. Every Last Child offers a sprawling look at efforts to root out a curable disease. There are volunteers who go door-to-door after losing their children, police officers attempting to stave off more attacks on vaccination campaigners, and public officials seeking to re-brand the effort to eradicate polio. Every Last Child is ostensibly about a medical problem but the sheer scale of the task at hand guarantees that it cannot...

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Refusing to be corrupted by power: Alex Garland on Ex Machina

Ex Machina, the directorial debut of novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland, is a film about interrogations. It follows Caleb, a young programmer who is summoned to his employer’s home and asked to administer the Turing test on an artificially intelligent robot named Ava. Caleb finds her confined to a glass chamber. He sits on his side of the partition and peppers Ava with questions, hoping to determine that she is sentient. These interrogations give Ex Machina its structure as well as its narrative thrust. Title cards bill them as “sessions”: Session one, session two—seven sessions in all. On a rainy Monday afternoon, Alex Garland walks into a suite at Toronto’s Trump Hotel and settles in for his latest session. Ava’s pen was also filmed in a hotel: the Juvet, in Valldalen, Norway. While the desperate opulence of the Trump is a world apart from the Juvet’s crisp lines and penal austerity, the suite’s layout establishes a similar interrogator-interrogatee dynamic. Thus, Garland makes a beeline to the hot seat. He sits in front of one Ex Machina’s promotional posters in such a manner that Ava—Alicia Vikander’s face alloyed with a body made of glass, mesh, and textured silicone—is looking over his shoulder. On the poster, she’s not in her enclosure. She’s not the one being interrogated today. We’ve got a lot of reason at the moment to be paranoid as...

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