Sunday, July 31, 2016

Traverse City: and three for the road

My final three films at this year’s Traverse City Film Festival were Life, Animated (Roger Ross Williams, 2016), Trapped (Dawn Porter, 2016) and Sing Street (John Carney, 2016)……The first two are documentaries. Life, Animated, is a film about understanding autism, or at least providing a possible doorway into how people with the mental condition might be able to better communicate with the rest of the world. We meet Owen Suskind (photo left), who develops seemingly normally until the age of three, when he starts to show atypical behaviour. But, as he grows into childhood, his parents inadvertently discover he can communicate through the dialogues of cartoon characters, in this case those of iconic Walt Disney films. Suskind grows into a somewhat independent adult and his innate intelligence makes him a leader among others with autism, in a chronological film that is at once absorbing and enlightening, and bonds the audience to a cheerful and indeed witty human being…..Trapped is a searing account of the kind of TRAP (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) laws that increasingly are restricting women’s access to abortions, mainly in southern states like Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. As “pro-life” or anti-abortion legislators seek to increasingly restrict abortions, numerous clinics have closed because they can’t meet stringent regulations governing how their facilities operate, endangering women from obtaining safe therapeutic abortions. These are not controls over clinical procedures but extremely detailed rules over such irrelevant matters as hallway widths, even how high the lawn on the clinic property can be. Still, a few clinics forge on in the face of legislative mandates and ongoing protests outside their doors by anti-abortion activists, one of whom tells a black woman considering an abortion that “black lives matter,” which evoked audience laughter given the general context in which that phrase is used these days ……Finally, Sing Street is a feel good drama about a bunch of 1980s Dublin school boys who form a band, initially imitating their heroes of the era like Duran Duran and The Cure. The movie comes from the same director who made Once (2007), about a busker (Glen Hansard) who teams with a Czech woman (Markéta Irglová) and make beautiful music together. But whereas Once was extraordinarily charming because of the chemistry between the two actors and the genuinely glowing music they made, Sing Street suffers from a plot that takes a long time to get going with characters and theme that fall a little too much into cliché…..The festival – the 12th annual in beautiful Traverse City, MI, at the height of the summer tourist season - ends today.

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