Ever since I arrived at Keene last year, the one event that I have looked forward to the most is the Monadnock International Film Festival, as it’s that time of year where films from all around the world are shown and appreciated for the craft that goes into them. This is the third festival and I thoroughly believe that they will only grow as the years go on. As long as I’m in Keene, I will always be a part of this great festival. Over the weekend, I got to see a majority of the films. Here is my quick take on each of them.

“Little Boy”

Winner of the Audience Choice Award

Starring: Jakob Salvati, Emily Watson and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

When Pepper Busbee’s father is called off to fight in World War II, he finds himself lost and confused. It doesn’t help that he’s short for his age — hence the nickname “Little Boy,” and that the local neighborhood kids bully him on a daily basis. Pepper later finds solace with Mr. Hashimoto, a Japanese man who lives on the edge of town and is too berated on a daily basis because of the war.

Together, the two try to move on even when the odds are against them both.

Above is the real synopsis for the film. The trailer focuses more on Pepper finding faith and using his “powers” to bring his dad back from the war. But the story that was more interesting was the relationship between him and Mr. Hashimoto. Whenever it focused on them, the film really moved along. I’m glad to say that the religious elements don’t get too preachy, but the over-sentimentality goes into schmaltzy territory.

The reason why most people in my theater cried was because watching Pepper cry was entrancing, especially in a scene near the end. Earlier in the film, there’s a moment that is genuinely sad because of the way it is handled. The ending scene, on the other hand, reaches, desperately begging you to cry instead of letting it happen naturally.

The cinematography was detailed enough to look like a believable small town from the 40s. The actors for the most part did a good job, except for Kevin James who not only plays a stereotype, but also delivers the worst line of the film. “Little Boy” didn’t hit me the way that I know it hit other audience members, but if you end up enjoying this film, then I can see where you’re coming from.

Rating: C

Most Likely to Succeed”

Directed by Greg Whiteley

What will happen when machines become intelligent enough to replace every job run by humans on a daily basis? Well, we live in an age where that day is getting closer and closer. We then have to ask ourselves — should our school systems focus on building skills rather than memorization?

High Tech High in San Diego, California is a school that builds its curriculum differently than others. Instead of memorization, they prepare their students to have the team-building skills they need to survive in this evolving world of ours.

“Most Likely to Succeed” is one of those documentaries that makes you think about something you take for granted. If there were more schools like High Tech High, would kids be more excited to go to school everyday? Would it make a difference?

This documentary sure makes an argument as it follows a ninth-grade class and their year-long project. Watching how these students work in an environment like this was fascinating. If you feel like our present school system has some problems, this is a great documentary to check out.

Rating: B

“The Ghost and the Whale”

Starring: Maurice Benard, James Gaudioso and Anthony Gaudioso

One afternoon, Joseph and his wife Annabel Lee decided to go sailing. The only problem is that Joseph comes back without her, saying that a whale took her. Now, Joseph “talks” to this whale on the beach while some of the town folk in Bodega Bay question whether it was an accident or not.

The premise for this story sounded interesting from the trailer, but the problem is that the plot gets too muddled for its own good. There’s also another story about a journalist who comes to town to investigate Joseph’s story, and a sub-plot about Annabel’s brother who’s out for revenge. All of this amalgamates into one big mess.

With all of these stories, the tone of the film changes from scene to scene. The only way that all of this could have worked was if the characters were interesting in the first place. Aside from a few beautiful shots, there’s nothing in “The Ghost and the Whale” that is worth remembering.

Rating: D+

“Ned Rifle” 

Movie Matt’s Personal

Favorite Film of the Festival

Starring: Liam Aiken, Aubrey Plaza, Parker Posey and Thomas Jay Ryan

In the concluding chapter of the “Henry Fool” trilogy, Henry’s son Ned plans to murder his criminal father for all the trouble that he caused his mother and himself. During this self journey, he runs into Susan, a woman who finds herself interested in Henry’s story and may be involved with his past. All of this comes together to a satisfying ending of the Fool saga.

“Ned Rifle” can be watched on its own as a standalone film, but to get the greater context of the characters, it would be wise to see “Henry Fool” and “Fay Grim” beforehand. Having seen them, I found this entry to be the most satisfying of the three. Unlike the previous installments, the story lasts under an hour and a half, keeping the deadpan humor and dramatic elements always on the go with no room to stop.

This time around, the show stealer is Aubrey Plaza. Not only does she work well with the rest of the cast, but she works especially well with Thomas Jay Ryan. Her true purpose in the film makes so much sense once it is revealed and adds another layer on top of an already great film. Overall “Ned Rifle” is fun as a stand alone feature and a concluder to one of the stranger trilogies in recent memory.

Rating: B+

“The Good Lie”

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng and Ger Duany

Due to the Second Sudanese Civil War, the violence and bloodshed left millions of children homeless and on the run from the soldiers. They were known as the Lost Boys of the Sudan.

After their long journey to find refuge, they eventually reach a camp where, years later, some get the chance to live in America. Mamere, Jeremiah, Paul and Abital were some of the lucky few. Everything seems so foreign and new to them once they arrive, but thanks to the help from Carrie Davis, their employment agent, they slowly start to understand this new world.

“The Good Lie” was a film that I never had a chance to see because it was never released nationwide.

Now that I have seen it, I believe that it should have been.

Reese Witherspoon may get top billing and be front-and-center on the posters, but she’s only a supporting role.

This is a story about loss and overcoming the tragedy that these children went through and where it has gotten them now.

You follow them from childhood to adulthood, experiencing their pain and suffering alongside them, while also laughing at the lighter moments that they have.

The humor in this film works because all of these characters are likable and you want to see them succeed.

What made these performances authentic is that the actors were played by actual Sudanese refugees and that the younger versions of them were portrayed by their children. Hiring non-actors can be risky, but they gave nothing but Oscar-worthy performances. If you get a chance, “The Good Lie” is now on DVD and Blu-Ray. I highly recommend you give it a chance.

Rating: B+

Matt Bilodeau can be contacted at mbilodeau@kscequinox.com

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