Posts Tagged “Julian M. Kheel”


February 14, 2009
Cinequest 19 Screener
86 Minutes
Comedy / Crime
Julian M. Kheel

Three devious schemes; three badly executed heists; and a pawnshop with one surprising treasure.

Every year that Cinequest comes around, I sort of have to split my personality as a viewer. Half of me remains the snobby holier-than-thou viewer, seeking out the darkest Ukrainian dramas about life’s futility and documentaries whose sole purpose is to anger or delight me enough to physically pull others into the theater to experience what I just experienced.

But the other half of me at Cinequest (this will be my 13th year), when dealing with ultra-independent American films, has come to realize what the festival is here for. Cinequest looks for fresh faces–filmmakers who will go on to greater things. We get early exposure to them and can remember future superstars when they could barely hold a camera straight or keep a narrative flowing to save their lives. There is also the whole social aspect of the festival–there are parties and the chance to see and meet semi-famous people, there are casual movie fans who are looking to impress their dates, there are dinners and cocktails before and after the screenings–and this is where I differ from the crowd.

I have rarely, if ever, enjoyed a dinner and cocktails, and then headed to a movie. Or at least any movie where any thought was involved. Spiderman? Yes. Frozen River? No. However, on those rare occasions when I venture to the movies on a Friday or Saturday night, I am typically surrounded by buzzed audience members who insist on continuing their dinner conversations in the darkened theater. I personally need to be alert, sober, and ready to be taken wherever the filmmaker wants to take me.

But Cinequest is different for me. I still don’t drink-first-view-later, but I understand that there are parties and people are spending their money in a down economy at one of the many fine San Ho restaurants. There are also first dates being planned whereby one party will prove to the other party just how much of a film buff they are by taking a chance on a movie none of their friends have heard of. There are aspiring young people filmmakers and artsy seniors who finally feel like the Camera 12 is their venue–at least for the 11 days of Cinequest. For some filmmakers with movies in the fest, this will be the furthest they get. For others, it’s merely a stepping-stone on the way to greatness. People will come into theaters late and leave early. People will get texts, answer them, and then go to the next-door screen where a friend has told them genius is unspooling. People will sit in aisles, stand against walls, laugh at jokes that they’d never laugh at in a normal multiplex, and ask questions of filmmakers which have no basis in the reality of the film they just experienced. That’s become a bit of a sport for me. Watching something I hated and then waiting for someone to attempt to impress his or her companion by asking a question about the director’s influence from Bunuel or Ozu or Kiarostami. It’s all I can do to not laugh out loud. At Cinequest 18 I sat next to a girlfriend sitting on her boyfriend’s lap for a 130 minute film. By the end, I thought she was at least half mine. Needless to say, she went home with lap number one leaving me, lap number two to enjoy the next film uncovered.

What all that means above is that I have come to realize that there are certain films which appear to be made especially for this kind of melting pot of an audience. Snobs, hipsters, old folks, wise-beyond-their-years teens, NYU grads, and people who wandered into the wrong theater by mistake make up quite a schizophrenic group of viewers.

But CAPERS should make almost all of them happy. It’s a perfect Cinequest comedy. It tries new things, it stars people who you think you’ve seen before, it looks good, but not too good, it’s plot is easy to sum up in both a Tweet and in the big program with the woman putting on (taking off) her face. There are a lot of laughs, some minor girl-on-girl action, hip hop rhymes, and stone-faced Soviets.

CAPERS has four easy-to-remember sets of characters. Connie is an over-the-top racist mafia widow who runs a pawnshop with her semi-retarded grandson. The Amateurs are over-the-top robbers who dress and act like they’re from a 70s movie, down to the Popeye Doyle hat on Danny Masterson’s head. The Moolies (I didn’t realize that it was okay to name a gang after an Italian insult directed at black people, but this film claims that it is) are over-the-top small-time crooks who dress and act like they’re filming a rap video. All the time. They wear colorful outfits, carry a huge boom box, and hold their guns sideways. Every time they enter a scene, music plays loudly and the familiar MTV font appears at the lower left of the screen. The third group of crooks are referred to as the Sputniks who act as if the cold war hasn’t ended, wear drab clothes and live in drab surroundings, and have no discernible sense of humor. Each of the gangs has had interactions with Connie, each has noticed that she keeps a safe in her shop, and each has decided that the safe must contain something incredibly valuable. Each gang plans a can’t-fail robbery of the place.

Here’s the cool and unique thing about CAPERS: whenever the Amateurs are on screen, the film uses lenses, film exposures, angles, clothing, and language as if it were filmed in 1974. This same idea was tried, less successfully, by Tarantino and Rodriguez for their Grindhouse experiment a few years back. The Amateur scenes have poor splicing, a 70s soundtrack, hairs on the camera, and long, grainy shots. It is actually quite a feat.

Whenever the Moolies are onscreen, the picture is razor-sharp, the music is loud (so loud that in one scene two characters continually yell louder than the music until one of them gets out of bed to turn it down), the clothes are loud, and the style changes to the slow-motion, fast-motion scenes we’ve come to expect from rap videos. There are slow-motion house party dances for no reason, the language is street, there is a blacked-out SUV, the beverages are all Diddy-approved.

Finally, the Sputniks are kept in black and white. Sparse language, spoken with a Rocky and Bullwinkle accent, a robot-like woman trying to be sexy, and static camera shots.

Somehow, director Julian M. Kheel keeps all the balls in the air. The Amateurs try to gather a team together (“you need a tall guy and an oriental for computer skills and karate”), the Moolies shop for weapons at a Hassidic plastic explosives store (“we’re open until sundown every day but Saturday”), and the Sputniks try to buy Uranium at their local hardware store. Each time we join one of the teams, the entire frame is changed to suit the style of the group. This works to fantastic effect, but it’s more than simply a visual gimmick. The editing changes, the pacing changes, the soundtrack changes. Eventually, all three teams will have to be in the same place at the same time–what will that look like?

Plot-wise, CAPERS is nothing to shout about. There are enough jokes to keep us laughing, none of these teams are Oceans Eleven quality brain trusts. The object of their planning doesn’t seem like much, and many of the characters are complete cartoons. But sometimes cartoons are funny and can keep your interest for 90 minutes.

CAPERS is sure to be a Cinequest hit. The theater will be full of laughter and people will talk about it when the lights come up.

And there is nary a whisper about the futility of life in the entire film.

CAPERS will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here:



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Written by Michael W. Cummins