Petting Zoo (2015)

Petting Zoo is an independent film that was funded by Kickstarter (you can view the trailer there), for about $10,000. It was created by Micah McGee.

Layla (Devon Keller) is a 17 year old kid, living in San Antonio, Texas. She’s living with her slacker boyfriend Danny (Kiowa Tucker), who’s more interested in drugs and chilling out with his friends. His life is quite the contrast to hers, as she’s responsible, and an honor roll student in high school. She is fed up, and moves in with her grandmother, her uncle, his wife, and their two children.

Layla manages to get a scholarship to the University of Texas at Austin. She also discovers she’s pregnant, and wants an abortion, but needs her parents’ consent. They are dead set against it, and try to get her to move back in with them, but she refuses.

Layla tries to make a go of things, essentially on her own. Almost everyone is against her, even Danny, who wants no part of being a father. In all the chaos, Layla finds herself.

I didn’t quite make the connection between the title of the film and the story, but that’s irrelevant. Given the amount of funding from Kickstarter (just over $10,000), this is an amazing accomplishment. The budget does not reflect the quality of this film. The realism and the strength of Devon Keller as Layla are what makes this work. I expect to see a lot of Devon in the future. The weight of the story rests entirely on her shoulders, and she wore it well.


Presenting Princess Shaw (2015)

Presenting Princess Shaw is a documentary.  Samantha Montgomery is a life blogger. As her online persona Princess Shaw, she publishes short videos on YouTube about herself, and her attempts to become a singer.

Samantha is an elder care aide, in Louisiana. She’s struggling to survive on her own, but her drive to succeed as a singer sustains her. Her SUV breaks down, and is vandalized. Other awful things have happened to her in the past, and she keeps going. She sings original compositions, and hopes for the best.

Unbeknownst to her, someone in Israel is following her. He goes by the name Kutiman, and is known for taking YouTube videos and mixing them together. His creations are much like what the group Pomplamoose do, but with various musicians instead of just himself. He’s working on a new song, with one of Princess Shaw’s compositions as the central theme.

Samantha dips her foot into the water of celebrity, and well, I won’t say any more, because I rather enjoyed this documentary. It was one of my favorite films screened by the Arthouse Film Festival this session.

Do take the time to check it out.  If you want to see the finished product by Kutiman, visit this link.  I’d say you should see the documentary first, though.  It should be going into a limited release very soon.

Sunset Song (2015)

Sunset Song is an adaptation of the book Sunset Song, by Scottish author Lewis Grassic Gibbon.  The novel is regarded as one of the most important novels of the 20th Century, partially due to its frank depiction of a family’s harsh life. It was adapted to the screen and directed by Terence Davies.

The story follows the Guthrie family, who manage a farm in the early 1900s.  The father, John (Peter Mullan), is dominant, cold, and harsh. Chris (Agyness Deyn), the only daughter, has dreams of being a teacher.  She and her brother Will (Jack Greenlees) help their father, but manage to evoke his wrath from time to time.  Their mother, Jean (Daniela Nardini), manages the homestead, as well as two younger sons. She is distraught when she learns she’s pregnant again, and commits suicide.

Chris has to put her dreams of being a teacher on hold, to manage the farm in her mother’s place. Will, desperate to remove himself from under his father’s thumb, finds work elsewhere, then a wife, and announces they are moving to Argentina. John takes on a farmhand, and Chris manages to find a beau, Ewan (Kevin Guthrie).

There is much more to the story, but I’ll stop there. This film is very pretty, and pleasant to watch, for the visuals. The realities are a lot more brutal, and I’ll leave them for you to discover. The story plods along, and the movie itself runs 2 hours, 15 minutes. That’s OK, because it comes to a mostly satisfying conclusion. Recommended.

The Scottish dialect is pretty heavy, and would be hard to follow, at times, but the version I saw had subtitles.

Keanu (2016)

Keanu is a black comedy, of sorts, but at its heart is a buddy comedy.

The film starts at an illegal drug lab. Two men bust in, and kill everyone. The leader of the factory tries to escape, with his new kitten.  He is not so fortunate, but the kitten gets out.

Rell Williams (Jordan Peele) is a man who’s just been dumped by his girlfriend. His best friend, Clarence Goobril (Keegan Michael Key) has just seen off his wife and daughter on a weekend getaway, so he calls Rell to find him in this state. Clarence tells Rell he’ll spend the whole weekend with him, in an effort to cheer him up. When he gets off the phone, Rell hears something at his door, and when he goes to check, he sees the aforementioned kitten, and takes him in. Rell calls him Keanu, which means “the cool breeze” in Hawaiian.

In the short while, Rell bonds with Keanu, and Clarence arrives to take him out for a bit.  They go, but when they return, Rell’s home is burglarized, and Keanu’s missing. Keanu becomes the MacGuffin that drives the story. Keanu lands in the hands of Cheddar (Method Man), the local drug lord. As Rell and Clarence attempt to recover Keanu, they are mistaken for the assassins who destroyed Cheddar’s supplier’s lab, and he uses that to get them to do a job for him before returning Keanu. They have to play along, because Keanu is everything to Rell.

We see that these two have a lot of pretending to do. Clarence is a classical milquetoast, whose favorite singer is George Michael. Rell has to man up and go nuts for a drug deal involving Anna Faris (as herself).

The film has some dark turns in it, and you can’t be quite sure which end is up. Clarence gets ‘outed’ for appearing as he does and Rell just amps up his performance. Naturally, the real killers are around, and they won’t go down without a fight.

This is a Key and Peele film, and it shows.  I do recommend the film, even with its dark nature.