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Cinetopia Film Festival dispatch 3: 'Janet Planet' orbits, a cat with '10 Lives,' and a documentary about Mavis Beacon

JANET PLANET

The 2024 iteration of the Cinetopia Film Festival was in full swing on Saturday as the day began with the A24 release “Janet Planet,” a sobering, yet muted film hailing from first time filmmaker (and pulitzer-winner playwright) Annie Baker. It’s also keeping in lockstep with what feels like an overall theme of the selections this year: the power of familial bonds. “Janet Planet” is a coming-of-age story set in the nineties around an 11-year old named Lacy (an incredible Zoe Ziegler) who we first meet at the start of the film calling her mom from summer camp saying “I’m going to kill myself if you don’t pick me up.” 


Her single mother, Janet is played effortlessly by Julianne Nicholson in a performance, alongside Ziegler, that is worthy of awards consideration. Broken up into episodic structures named after the folks who come in and out of Lacy and Janet’s lives, be it Wayne (Will Patton), a gruff, secluded live-in boyfriend, an old college buddy, Regina (Sophie Okonedo) or some holistic guru name Avi (Elisa Koteas), “Janet Planet” captures the smallest, minute details about the mysteries of everyday life while reminding us a little humanity can exist in the world. And being told through the lens of a young girl invokes favorable comparison to “Aftersun.”


“Janet Planet'' might test viewers' patience as Baker lets scenes breathe rather than jump into the next sequence (an obvious reason why the nearly two hour runtime can feel like a slog). Which doesn’t always make for a compelling watch as the film (and the way Baker wrote it) seems too obsessed with the episodic framing device, yet its overall exploration of childhood and how it molds within the unpredictability of life is still enough of a gravitational pull to keep you within its orbit.


Grade: B 


JANET PLANET will be released by A24 later this summer .

 

10 LIVES 

“10 Lives” is making Cinetopia history as the first animated film to play in the fest and it’s a rather decent, if underwhelming excursion that’ll be especially poignant to anyone who’s ever had a furry feline in their life. It follows the exploits of a kitty named Beckett (Mo Gilligan), a house cat who could rival Garfield in terms of laziness and food intake. He’s a pampered cat who lives a pretty easy life with his loving owner Rose (Simone Ashely) until her ex-boyfriend/lab partner Larry (Dylan Llewellyn) comes into the picture with a scientific breakthrough that could save the entire bee population. 


The pudgy feline’s objective is, of course, to make Larry (who is very allergic to cats) pay for this disruption and within minutes, he begins enacting his domesticated warfare. He also gets into a fatal accident where he ends up in the afterlife, which is modeled after your local secretary of state office, a customer service rep informs him that all nine lives have been cashed in. But Beckett manages to talk his way into an experimental program that’ll grant him an additional 10 lives with one small caveat: None of those ventures will be as a cat. 


He comes back as everything from a horse to a cockroach, and in the process inadvertently stumbles upon a plot by the nefarious Professor Cravan (Bill Nighy) to kill the bee population and lay the foundation for his synthetic bee’s to rule the world. Got all that?


“10 Lives” is light and fluffy, with lots of vibrant colors, cute animals and a solid eco-friendly message for the little ones and the occasional sight gag for the adults. But the film is often undone by toilet humor, and butt puns (even the new Garfield movie didn’t have a fart joke!). Not to mention the convoluted nature of Professor Craven’s plan, despite Nighy’s A-game voice work, doesn’t do the final product any favors.


Nobody will ever think this animation is up to the standards of Pixar or Dreamworks, but the fact it manages to look halfway decent considering it was independently financed and produced is something of a miracle. 


Grade: B- 


10 LIVES will be released later this year. 

 

SEEKING MAVIS BEACON 

A documentary filled with more ideas and wishful thinking than actual, investigative results, “Seeking Mavis Beacon,” which follows two filmmakers trying to locate the lost technology icon from their youth, comes up empty handed. The film chronicles the ambitious journey of writer-director Jazmin Jones and collaborator Olivia McKayla Ross who are looking for answers regarding Mavis Beacon (or more specifically, the actress who played her), the Black icon who was the face of the transcendent educational typing program that swept the world. 


As a millennial who actively participated in these learning lessons during grade school, I was intrigued by the concept of this documentary, but this movie seems to have more on its mind than just exploring the legacy of Mavis Beacon, despite the appreciation Jones and Ross display. At various points during the movie, the filmmakers try creating a juxtaposition about how Mavis Beacon paved the way for A.I. and then bring up half-baked questions and answer sessions about the exploitation of likeness and images. 


Now these are worthy causes that should be debated, but “Seeking Mavis Beacon” treats them as footnotes in a movie I assumed had greater aspirations. Instead, the film is filled with strange chunks of time watching the two unpack their office, set up their investigative space, and, during one odd sequence, get into an argument with their landlords even though they pay $0 in rent. Isn’t this doc supposed to be about finding Mavis Beacon? Or more importantly, the actress named L’Esperance who originally played her?


Jones does a terrific job capturing the Y2K buzz around her cause and intercutting compelling testimonials from average, everyday people who reminisce about the impact that a woman of color would end up having on the educational system. But there’s a point towards the end of the 102 minute film, where it’s clear things have come to a halt and we’re left to watch Ross and Jones complain about how they can’t finish their movie. That segment, like so many others throughout the film, is confusing and doesn’t align with the film's overall objective. 


Ross and Jones seem like nice people who have bold ideas and are steadfast in their dedication, but “Seeking Mavis Beacon” ends up being a monotonous vanity project that, unfortunately, gets away from them. 


Grade: C- 


SEEKING MAVIS BEACON will be released by NEON later this year. 


This concludes my Cinetopia Film Festival dispatches. Please stay tuned and subscribe to my feed below and be on the lookout for an interview with the lead festival programmer in the next couple weeks. 




2 comments

2 bình luận


han gu
han gu
21 thg 6

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Thích

sob adiet
sob adiet
17 thg 6

Ross and Jones come out dordle as decent individuals with strong convictions and innovative ideas, but "Seeking Mavis Beacon" turns out to be a tedious self-indulgence endeavor that sadly eludes them.

Thích

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