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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

American Animals is a heist movie based on a true story—and the film has an original twist.

Writer-director Bart Layton has made a narrative film based on the real-life robbery of treasured collectibles by four young men. Layton casts the four with the great talents of Evan Peters, Blake Jenner, Barry Keoghan and Jared Abrahamson, resulting in an exciting and funny retelling of the heist, which had some normal guys dressing like old men to steal paintings and Darwin books from a kindly librarian (Ann Dowd).

The twist: Layton also gets the real-life people to tell their accounts of what actually happened, so the film has a true documentary element. Rather than playing like some campy criminal re-enactment TV show, the film comes together in a way in which the real guys are right at home in the proceedings. It’s a genius move that gives the movie some real-life heft—without taking away from the drama and craziness of the crime. In fact, their presence truly enhances everything, making this one of the more unique crime films in memory.

Peters is terrific as Warren Lipka, the bad-boy mastermind of the group. (Lipka himself makes for an entertaining counterpart in his interview segments.) Jenner continues to be a great up-and-coming actor, while Keoghan impressively adds to a resume that includes Dunkirk and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

One of the movie’s great elements is the difference between the storytelling and the actual interviews—something Layton comically exploits on more than one occasion. The result is a movie that gets high marks for originality along with its solid performances. You’ve never seen anything quite like it.

American Animals is now playing at Mary Pickford Is D’Place (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100) and the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Published in Reviews

Writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig makes an impressive debut with The Edge of Seventeen, a darkly funny take on the life of a modern-day high school outcast.

Hailee Steinfeld gives her best performance since True Grit as Nadine, a highly intelligent teen going through an awkward stage when her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her brother (Blake Jenner).

Nadine is a practitioner of brutal honesty, which gets her ostracized at school and in trouble with her family. The only one who really stops to listen is a teacher (a hilarious Woody Harrelson) who actually has no choice, given his profession.

Craig’s screenplay is first-rate, and her directing leads to some great performances. Steinfeld is good enough here to be considered for her second Oscar nomination, while Jenner (who starred in this year’s Everybody Wants Some!!) is equally good.

This film is drawing comparisons to the best of John Hughes, and I would call the movie a good companion piece to The Breakfast Club. It’s good to see Steinfeld getting a role she very much deserves, and exciting to see a new voice like Craig’s on the scene. Kyra Sedgwick is also very good in a supporting role as Nadine’s mother, while Hayden Szeto does excellent work as a high school boy who hasn’t mastered the art of properly asking somebody out. (His performance is all the more impressive, because he’s older than 30.)

This is one of the better family dramas of recent years—on top of being a solid, funny comedy.

The Edge of Seventeen is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Writer-director Richard Linklater makes a companion piece, of sorts, to his breakthrough film Dazed and Confused—with mixed results.

With Everybody Wants Some!!, he gives us a crew of young college baseball players showing up a few days before classes begin and partying in various settings (disco, honkytonk bar, punk bar), because it’s 1980, and things are all mixed up.

The movie is full of bad wigs, bad mustaches, typical song choices (“My Sharona,” “Rapper’s Delight,” “Bad Girls”) and ugly 1970s cars. What it isn’t full of are the type of memorable characters that made Dazed such a delight.

Blake Jenner (Glee) plays the film’s main protagonist, Jake, a pitcher who has his eye on an art major (Zoey Deutch). Their little courtship is cute, but beyond that, the movie isn’t as clever as it thinks it is. The cast members, mostly unknowns, deliver lines that are neither funny nor intelligent.

While this is a film about baseball players, it spends very little time on the baseball field, and the ritual this team performs at the end of practice couldn’t possibly be done without killing somebody. It’s almost like Linklater is trying to make up for his garbage remake of The Bad News Bears by giving us a more-mature baseball film, but this one is too scattered. It also feels like Linklater is copying himself rather than addressing a different era with fresh eyes. It’s too bad, because this one looked promising.

Everybody Wants Some!! is now playing at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews