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Reviews: Child labor documentary 'Invisible Hands' and more

Reviews: Child labor documentary 'Invisible Hands' and more
A group of children using machetes to harvest cocoa in Ghana in the documentary "Invisible Hands." (First Run Features)

‘Invisible Hands’

Shraysi Tandon’s sobering debut documentary, “Invisible Hands,” takes a no-nonsense approach to exploring child labor practices throughout the world. There’s no way to depict child labor on film that’s not horribly heart-breaking, and while Tandon doesn’t sugarcoat it, neither does she delve too far into exploitative imagery. After a searing opening sequence featuring a rescue raid in India, Tandon turns the film’s focus toward the real culprits: corporations that use products derived from child labor.

“Invisible Hands” crosses the globe to show the dangerous and deplorable conditions in which children work, from palm fields in Indonesia, to cacao farms and mica mines in Ghana, to yes, even these United States, where children as young as 12 labor in tobacco fields, exposing them to high levels of nicotine and harsh chemical pesticides. Protective gear? That would require admittance that these children are working in these industries.

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Some of the best moments come from interviews with global activists and experts such as Nicholas Kristof, and especially with Christian Frutiger, Nestlé’s global head of public affairs, whom Tandon skewers on camera as he attempts to evade direct questions about child labor.

“Invisible Hands” tries to pack in every issue at stake, from health concerns to human trafficking, and the lack of a strong narrative through-line makes for a film that is informative but dry. Nevertheless, it is an urgent plea for us all to make conscious choices in our consumption.

—Katie Walsh

‘Invisible Hands’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Glendale

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‘Meow Wolf: Origin Story’

A scene from the documentary "Meow Wolf: Origin Story."
A scene from the documentary "Meow Wolf: Origin Story." (Kate Russell / Fathom Events)

Like its subject, “Meow Wolf: Origin Story” is a mixed-media fever dream, incorporating talking head interviews, home videos, animation, an indie rock soundtrack and frenetically edited montages, all to tell the awe-inspiring story of the creation of Santa Fe’s art installation meets amusement park.

As a response to the New Mexico capital’s safe, consumer driven art scene, Meow Wolf’s co-founders banded together to create their wild, weird collective that makes the odder corners of Etsy look positively corporate. The documentary, directed by Morgan Capps and Jilann Spitzmiller, gets intimate access to the sprawling group and their even more sprawling spaces, sharing each step of their evolution from small art events to world-renowned tourist attraction.

Other than showing moments of in-fighting, “Meow Wolf: Origin Story” is an almost entirely positive exploration of the collective and their art — but it’s an effective one. Audiences will be mesmerized by the glimpse they get of the group’s creations, leaving them with the desire to experience it off screen as well.

—Kimber Myers

‘Meow Wolf: Origin Story’

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Playing: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, in limited release

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‘Sex Weather’

Amber Stonebraker and Al'Jaleel McGhee in the movie "Sex Weather."
Amber Stonebraker and Al'Jaleel McGhee in the movie "Sex Weather." (Breaking Glass Pictures)

You know the sex weekend movie — a couple rolls around in bed for 12-48 hours, going through all the ups, downs and emotional turmoil of a long-term relationship — think Andrew Haigh’s “Weekend” or Alia Shawkat and Miguel Arteta’s “Duck Butter.” There’s a crucial element to nailing this deceptively difficult genre, and that is casting. For his moody indie “Sex Weather,” writer-director Jon Garcia has a pair of aces in the form of Al’Jaleel McGhee and Amber Stonebraker, who star as Darrel and Sydney, former collaborators who connect for a brief, heady tryst.

It’s a tough job for McGhee and Stonebraker, who spend the entire movie clad in little more than rumpled sheets, processing an entire spectrum of emotions, from post-one-night-stand disdain to declarations of love, all while playing by a set of arbitrary rules such as “the floor is lava” and “no pants allowed.”

The script has a certain memoiristic quality that would edge into self-indulgence if McGhee and Stonebraker weren’t such warm and disarming presences on screen. They sell the material wholeheartedly and manage to make a one-setting, two-actor film emotionally compelling. There’s a soft dimness to the visuals, set in Sydney’s basement apartment in Portland, Ore. While environmentally accurate, it’s not exactly aesthetically riveting, so it’s a good thing the actors bring the heat, sharing a vivid chemistry and willingness to bare the souls (and bums) of their characters.

—Katie Walsh

‘Sex Weather’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood

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‘Stadium Anthems’

Toddy Walters in the movie "Stadium Anthems."
Toddy Walters in the movie "Stadium Anthems." (Indie Rights)

Grimier than the floor of a divey venue, music industry mockumentary “Stadium Anthems” is the exact opposite of the foot-stomping, fist-pumping crowd-pleaser its name implies. Denver record label Dragon Chaser is a mishandled mess, led by president Jim Strong (Jordan Leigh) and talent guru Pete Barnacle (Christopher Soren Kelly), with its only real revenue coming from aging rock star Warren Paradise (Jude Moran). When Pete recruits art teacher — and secret rocker — Heroine Jones (Toddy Walters) to join the team, she may shake up more than its male-dominated office hierarchy.

“Stadium Anthems” wants to be a darkly comic satire that skewers bigotry and misogyny as well as the recording industry, but this painful misstep from first-time writer-director Scott Douglas Brown often embodies those very same ills, particularly in its treatment of Dragon Chaser’s Asian-American CFO Brian Kaplan (Walter Anaruk). Its incoherent script is packed with more “Star Wars” references than Kevin Smith’s entire oeuvre, but none of the laughs.

—Kimber Myers

‘Stadium Anthems’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

Playing: Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood

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