The Irishman


I heard he paints houses.

(2019) Gangster (NetflixRobert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jack Huston, Katherine Narducci, Jesse Plemons, Domenick Lombardozzi, Paul Herman, Gary Basaraba, Marin Ireland, Lucy Gallina, Jonathan Morris, Jim Norton, Aleksa Paladino. Directed by Martin Scorsese

 

Much of the American fascination with the mob can be traced to Coppola’s The Godfather saga and the films of Martin Scorsese. If you take Mean Streets, GoodFellas, Casino and The Departed as part of the same franchise, The Irishman may well be the concluding episode in the saga.

This film, which has been winning the kind of effusive praise from critics normally reserved for pictures of their grandkids, follows the story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), who went from being a war hero during the Second World War to a refrigerated truck driver, to a thug in the Philadelphia mob run by Russell Buffalino (Pesci)  to the bodyguard and right hand man of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). We see Sheeran transverse the glory days of the mob, covering the late 40s all the way up until the mid-70s. While there are references to watershed moments in the history of American organized crime, this isn’t really a primer on the subject; rather, it is the point of view of an insider, one whose claims as to the disappearance of Hoffa – still considered unsolved to this day – are perhaps self-aggrandizing but there is at least some evidence that says it might have happened the way it’s depicted here.

I am being purposely vague as to the plot points because this is an intensely long movie – right around three and a half hours. While as of this writing it is still in certain select theaters around the country, and in all honesty, it should be seen on a big ass screen with a big ass booming sound system, the length makes this kind of prohibitive. Those who have short attention spans won’t be able to tolerate this and those of us who have mobility issues might find it preferable to watch this at home on Netflix, where it just debuted Thanksgiving eve.

Scorsese doesn’t skimp on the cast, with De Niro and Pacino as powerful as they have ever been in the film. Pacino, in fact, may count this alongside Michael Corleone and Tony Montana as the roles that will mark the absolute apex of his distinguished and memorable career. His fans will be delighted to watch this; those who can take or leave him can watch this and understand why others consider him one of the most gifted actors of his generation.

Not that Pesci and De Niro are slouches by any means. Pesci was lured out of retirement (he hadn’t made an onscreen appearance since 2010) which is a godsend; I truly missed the man as an actor, with his charming sense of humor and occasional fits of rage. Here he is much more subdued and plays Buffalino as a more reserved and restrained Don who is smart enough to keep a low profile but ruthless enough to do whatever is necessary to keep his empire humming along. De Niro, for his part, is De Niro here – explosive and vulnerable in equal parts.

There is a fourth Oscar winner in the cast – Anna Paquin, who plays the adult version of Sheeran’s daughter who adores her Uncle Jimmy Hoffa and takes a wary dislike to Russell, whom her father feels closer to. When Hoffa disappears, she understands that her father was involved in some way and refuses to speak to him again for the rest of his life, which apparently mirrored real life. Paquin only gets a couple of lines but her venomous looks, delighted smiles and eventually sad eyes remind me why she is an Oscar winner and makes me wonder why we don’t see more of her in the movies.

Scorsese utilizes technology in a very un-Scorsese-like manner, using computers to de-age the actors for flashback scenes (all three of the leads are well into their 70s). The technology has advanced to the point where it is actually effective here; the men look truly younger, even more so than Will Smith in Gemini Man. With technology like this, it is bound to alter how movies are made. If you have a role for a 20-something that calls for the kind of emotional depth and acting experience a 20-something actor won’t have, why not cast a veteran actor and de-age them for the role? I can see a lot of drawbacks to this, not the least of which that it will be tougher for young actors to get the kind of experience that propels younger actors into becoming great ones. Still, with the dizzying amount of product out there to fill all of the streaming services and their needs, that point may end up being moot.

Some critics are waxing rhapsodic about The Irishman and proclaim it the best film of the year (it isn’t) and among the best that Scorsese has ever done (it isn’t). There is a bittersweet feel to the movie, particularly in the last 20 minutes as if this is the end of an era, which it likely is. At 77, Scorsese doesn’t show any signs of slowing down; he has already directed one other movie released on Netflix earlier this year, a Bob Dylan documentary with at least another documentary on the music of the 70s in the pipeline. Still, getting the universe to align to get this kind of cast together and to get this kind of film made for the kind of budget it took to get it made isn’t likely to happen again, plus after this I really don’t know if there is much more Scorsese can say about the mob, although I will be the first to temper that with a never say never warning; if there is a story out there to be told, Scorsese can find a way to tell it.

The big problem I have with the film is its aforementioned length. I can understand why Scorsese let it run so long – he may never have the chance to direct something like this with this cast again – but as much as I respect him as perhaps the greatest American director ever, the movie is repetitive in places and quite frankly we could have done without about an hour of it. Watching this is no spring; it’s an endurance contest and you’d best enter into watching it prepared for that. Hydrate regularly, watch from a comfortable seated position and take a few breaks to walk around and get your blood flowing. The magic of Netflix is that you are allowed to do that whenever you like.

In the end, I think this is one of Scorsese’s best movies, but not with the triumvirate that make up his absolute best films – Taxi Driver, GoodFellas and Casino. This is more along the level of Raging Bull, The Departed. Mean Streets and The Wolf of Wall Street. I think most cinephiles are going to see this anyway but if you’re on the fence, I think you should pull the trigger and see what all the fuss is about. After all, if you don’t like it, you can always turn it off and start binging The Rick and Morty Show.

REASONS TO SEE: One of the greatest casts this decade. Scorsese is still Scorsese. A plausible explanation of the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.
REASONS TO AVOID: Way too long.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of profanity as well as its fair share of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the longest feature film Scorsese has ever directed and the longest overall to be commercially released in more than 20 years.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews: Metacritic: 94//100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: GoodFellas
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

Queen of Hearts (Dronningen)


That feeling you get when you realize you’ve crossed the line.

(2019) Drama (Breaking GlassTrine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh, Magnus Krepper, Liv Esmǻr Dannemann, Silja Esmǻr Dannemann, Stine Gyldenkerne, Preben Kristensen, Frederikke Dahl Hansen, Ella Solgaard, Carla Valentina Philip Røder, Peter Khouri, Mads Knarregorg, Marie Dalsgaard, Elias Budde Christensen, Noel Bouhan Kiertzner, Nessie Beik. Directed by May el-Toukhy

 

Family dynamics are often fragile things. While they are ever-changing as children get older and enter different stations of life, they can be disrupted by all sorts of things – including the presence of an interloper who is suddenly brought fully formed into that dynamic.

Anne (Dyrholm) and Peter (Krepper) are an upper-middle class Danish couple with two young daughters. She is a lawyer who defends victims of sexual abuse; he is a physician. They live in a beautiful modernist home in the suburbs of Copenhagen, surrounded by sun-dappled natural beauty. They have a nice network of friends their age.

Into this is introduced Gustav (Lindh), Peter’s teenage son from a previous relationship. Gustav has a lot of issues; he isn’t particularly fond of Anne because he blames her for breaking up the relationship between Peter and his mother (not entirely true). He isn’t particularly fond of Peter because Peter hasn’t been around much – at his mother’s insistence, although that isn’t a factor to him; if Peter really wanted to be around, he would have, right? Of late Gustav has been acting out and getting into trouble at school and his exasperated mother, no longer able to handle her son, ships him off to Peter to see if he can do better.

At first, it doesn’t seem so. Peter and Gustav often butt heads as fathers and sons will. The house is broken into and Anne discovers that the culprit is Gustav himself; instead of telling his father, she keeps that to herself and lets her stepson know he is treading on thin ice. That seems to work with him; the two begin developing a relationship. It doesn’t hurt that the two girls are enormously fond of Gustav and vice versa.

Anne is also at this time becoming increasingly frustrated with Peter who is, like many doctors, often not present, whether attending to an emergency or at a medical conference. Anne is entering that phase of middle age where she is getting more sexually needy and Peter just isn’t handling it. Against her better judgment, she begins developing a physical desire for Gustav, a desire that is brought to fruition. As she realizes the consequences of her actions, Anne comes to a fateful decision that will have enormous ramifications in her family, her marriage – and her own self-worth.

The subject is somewhat controversial, particularly since there is a gender politics aspect to it. One wonders if viewers would feel the same way if Gustav had been a girl and Peter the one having an affair. In fact, those are the sorts of cases that Anne represents, so you know she knows better. While initially she may have the moral high ground – at one point she confronts the abuser of one of her clients in a parking garage – she certainly may lose it depending on how you feel about these things. Some say that Peter’s neglect drove her to this kind of desperation, but once again, if the sexes were reversed would that argument still hold up?

What-ifs aside, there are some compelling performances here, particularly Dyrholm as Anne. She is one of Denmark’s leading actresses and while she is not well-known in the United States except among cinephiles and overs of Scandinavian films, she deserves to be. All she does is turn in one wonderful performance after another.

Those who are disturbed by nudity should be aware that the nudity here pulls no punches. We see pretty much everything of Gustav and Anne, and their first sex scene is a lot more graphic than American audiences are used to, even more so than the late-night Cinemax flicks of the 80s and 90s that some have compared this to – unfairly, I might add. More than the nudity – which takes a certain amount of courage for a middle-aged actress – there is an emotional honesty to Dyrholm’s performance that is invigorating. We get to see layers of Anne’s personality; she isn’t the paragon of virtue that she believes herself to be and when push comes to shove, she does something that some might consider unforgivable and they wouldn’t be wrong. We understand why she does it but the fallout from her actions are bleak indeed.

Lindh has a less challenging role but he manages to hold his own with Dyrholm here. Krepper has a fairly colorless character to portray but he has a few moments and when he gets them, he makes the most of them. Most of the other aspects of the production – set design, music, cinematography and so forth – are professionally done.

There is a lot to unpack here and I won’t begin to go into all of it. Much of what you get out of this movie will depend on what you bring into it; your moral compass, your own belief system and ideas about sexuality. Your opinion about whether Anne is a villain or not will largely color how you feel about this movie. For my part, this is an excellent drama that gives you an awful lot to think about which is the kind of drama I live for. Very highly recommended.

REASONS TO SEE: Dyrholm is one of the most unsung actresses in Europe. A bleak, devastating picture. The ending ties very nicely to the beginning.
REASONS TO AVOID: The film is a little bit slow to develop.
FAMILY VALUES: There is graphic nudity and sex, some profanity and sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Denmark’s official submission for the International Feature Film Award at the 92nd annual Academy Awards in 2020.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews: Metacritic: 67/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ben is Back
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
The Irishman

Pick of the Litter – December 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

(Disney) Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, John Boyega.  The saga of Star Wars comes to a final conclusion after 42 years following 12 movies along with untold animated episodes, television specials, novels and comic books. Director J.J. Abrams returns to the big chair to bring this all to a conclusion but fear not fans: a new trilogy will begin on December 16, 2022! December 20

OTHER WIDE RELEASES TO WATCH FOR:

Jumanji: The Next Level, December 13
Richard Jewell, December 13
Bombshell, December 20
Cats, December 20
1917, December 25
Little Women, December 25
Spies in Disguise, December 25

INDEPENDENT PICKS

A Million Little Pieces

(Momentum) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Odessa Young, Giovanni Ribisi. A young writer, having hit rock bottom with his alcohol and drug addictions, checks into rehab. Based on the memoirs of James Frey (which he later admitted were largely fictitious), this is the account of a man who resigned to death, found hope instead. December 6

The Aeronauts

(Amazon) Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Phoebe Fox. An intrepid balloonist and a pioneer meteorologist ascend in a hot-air balloon to do weather research, but the ascent turns into a fight for survivor as they climb to the upper reaches of the atmosphere. December 6

In Fabric

(A24) Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Hayley Squires, Leo Bill. Who would have thought that the scariest movie of 2019 might just be this English film about a cursed dress? Check the trailer out…but not while you’re alone at night. December 6

Marriage Story

(Netflix) Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda.  After a brief theatrical run, this Noah Baumbach film hits the streaming giant. Already creating a good deal of Oscar buzz, this movie chronicles the end of a marriage and the beginning of life. December 6

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

(NEON) Noémie Merlant, Adéle Haenel, Luána Bajrami, Valeria Golino. A young female painter gets a commission to paint the portrait of a prospective bride on a remote island in Brittany. The girl is terrified of her potential marriage and doesn’t want the painting to be completed, so the painter must work in secret, posing as a companion, a companionship that soon becomes genuine…and romantic. December 6

A Hidden Life

(Fox Searchlight) August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Michael Nyqvist, Matthias Schoenaerts. The story of Franz Jägerstatter, an Austrian who refused to fight for the Nazis during the Second World War – and what his refusal cost him. December 13

Rabid

(SHOUT!) Laura Vandervoort, Ted Atherton, Mackenzie Gray, Stephen McHattie. A young woman, horribly disfigured in a terrible accident, undergoes a radical untested stem cell treatment. As it turns out, the treatment seems to have been successful but there are unforeseen side effects. December 13

Seberg

(Amazon) Kristen Stewart, Margaret Qualley, Zazie Beetz, Anthony Mackie. Actress Jean Seberg became a star of the French New Wave. Her support for civil rights activism brought the wrath of J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. upon her and they set out to destroy her career and life. December 13

The Two Popes

The Two Popes

(Netflix) Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujin, Sidney Cole. Pope Benedict, a staunch conservative, is the leader of a Catholic church in crisis. He soon develops a relationship with the cardinal who would one day become Pope Francis, one who has sought to reform the Church. This is the latest from acclaimed director Fernando Meirelles, Oscar-nominated for City of God. December 20

The Song of Names

(Sony Classics) Tim Roth, Clive Owen, Jonah Hauer-King, Catherine McCormack. A Polish boy of Jewish faith is adopted by an English family and becomes an amazing violin player. On the eve of his international concert debut, he disappears. His adopted brother spends the rest of his life trying to find him. December 25

 

New Releases for the Week of November 29, 2019


KNIVES OUT

(Lionsgate) Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Christopher Plummer, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, LaKeith Stanfield. Directed by Rian Johnson

Something of a tribute to Agatha Christie via Steven Soderbergh, this whodunit involves the death of a family patriarch the day after his 85th birthday. When the insurance company suspects foul play – it is initially thought a suicide – crack detective Benoit Blanc is brought in to solve the case.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Mystery/Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including brief violence, some sstrong language, sexual references, and drug material)

Dark Waters

(Focus) Anne Hathaway, Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Victor Garber. A crusading attorney uncovers the dark truth of one of the world’s most prestigious multinational corporations, linking a shocking number of unexplained deaths with their product. He will risk everything – his career, reputation, his family and ultimately his life – to bring the truth to the light of day in this disturbing true story.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, some disturbing images and strong language)

Queen and Slim

(Universal) Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Sevigny.  An African-American couple on a first date unwittingly become symbols for the grief and suffering of that community when they are forced to kill a police officer in self defense after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for violence, some strong sexuality, nudity, pervasive language, and brief drug use)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Arjun Suravaram
Enai Noki Paayum Thota
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Arjun Suravaram
Botero
By the Grace of God
Enai Noki Paayum Thota
Honey Boy
Marriage Story
Temblores
White Snake

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Almost Home
Arjun Suravaram
Enai Noki Paayum Thota
Once Upon a Time in Philly
Tholubommalata

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Arjun Suravaram
Enai Noki Paayum Thota

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Knives Out
Queen and Slim

Hamlet in the Golden Vale


Sometimes the play is not the thing.

(2019) Drama (Random MediaTaylor Myers, Pat Dwyer, Elise Kibler, Constantine Malahias, Anthony Vaughn Merchant, Jonathan Hopkins, Yurly Pavlish, Beth Ann Hopkins. Directed by Dan Hasse and Taylor Myers

 

Of all of the Bard’s plays – and there are many – perhaps his best is Hamlet. The brooding Dane is one of his most memorable characters as he explores the ambiguities of human nature and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It is a dark and often pessimistic play but it is powerful nonetheless.

The Roll the Bones theatrical company has undertaken to stage a version of Hamlet unlike any ever seen before. The company portray actors playing the parts of Hamlet as they settle into an Irish castle for atmosphere (as well as a local farmhouse and surrounding countryside). As the characters and the actors begin to merge, the film takes a decidedly shaded turn. I will give the company props for trying something, as Monty Python might have put it, completely different.

The film is dimly lit in the main and the cinematography is often murky. I know the play is dark, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be lit. That may well have been a function of location but still the final product is what matters and it is easy to miss nuance when everything is in shadow.

In all honesty while the acting is pretty solid, Myers as Hamlet isn’t going to make anybody forget Olivier nor is that his intent, I’m sure. Still, he’s not likely to make anybody forget Mel Gibson’s Hamlet either and that might not necessarily be a good thing. That’s not to say his performance is mediocre – it’s just not outstanding, and the play really could use an outstanding Hamlet.

There are some powerful scenes here – particularly the one where Ophelia (Kibler) meets her final fate – and I will grant you, even dimly lit the location is absolutely stunning. I’m not exactly sure who to recommend this to, though; Shakespeare fans might find this a little outside their comfort zone and those who aren’t into Shakespeare aren’t likely to give it a chance anyway. Still, if you click on the photo above, it will take you to the company’s website where you can check out their brief VR version which might be something new and interesting for you. It might also give you the inspiration to see the full movie as well.

REASONS TO SEE: Points for giving the venerable play a different take.
REASONS TO AVOID: Murky cinematography and at times confusing casting makes this occasionally hard to sit through
FAMILY VALUES: Like every Hamlet, there are some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Many of the actors are portraying more than one role; Malahias portrays both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern simultaneously as twins.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Vimeo, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/27/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hamlet
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Shock and Awe


You can tell they’re journalists by their rumpled clothes.

(2017) True Life Drama (VerticalWoody Harrelson, James Marsden, Rob Reiner, Tommy Lee Jones, Jessica Biel, Milla Jovovich, Richard Schiff, Luke Tennie, Terence Rosemore, Margo Moorer, Michael Harding, Kate Butler, Luke White, Gabe White, Bowen Hoover, Caroline Fourmy, Teri Wyble, Al Sapienza, Steve Coulter, Gretchen Koerner. Directed by Rob Reiner

 

We live in a world where the press is often vilified for having an anti-American agenda – by the President. We live in a world where good journalism is often – if you’ll excuse the expression – trumped by potential profit. We also live in a world where we have been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq for nearly 20 years, the longest period we have ever been in a sustained conflict.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, though. America had just endured the horror of 9/11 and the people were eager to make someone pay. Afghanistan was a good candidate since they had given bin-Laden and Al Qaeda shelter, but then the rumors that George Bush, Dick Cheyney and Donald Rumsfeld were planning on invading Iraq as well took a lot of people by surprise. “Oh, but Weapons of Mass Destruction,” said the White House and everyone believed it, even though there was little or no evidence that they existed.

Not everyone believed; reporters for the Washington bureau of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain (for whom I once toiled although by 2001 I had been gone for five years) Warren Strobel (Marsden) and Jonathan Landay (Harrelson) were mystified at the media’s simple acceptance of the government’s claims without even basic fact checking, and began to dive deeper into those claims. What they found was disturbing to say the least, but nobody wanted to hear it; many of the papers in the Knight-Ridder chain refused to print the articles the men wrote, preferring to accept New York Times reporter Judith Miller and her pro-government assertions, for which she and the Times would later apologize – and which effectively ended Miller’s career as a respected journalist.

Clearly the film takes its cues from All the President’s Men, certainly the high end of crusading journalist movies. Reiner, who has made his share of politically charged movies (A Few Good Men and LBJ among them) doesn’t really instill the film with a lot of passion; perhaps it’s that he had to pull double duty as an actor when Alec Baldwin pulled out of the film literally a day before shooting started (it was a scheduling thing) but the movie is curiously low-energy.

Perhaps part of the film’s problem is that despite an excellent cast and a story that deserves to be told, it didn’t end well. The war, as we all know, happened and continues to happen to this day; thousands of American lives lost, literally more than a million Iraqi citizens dead, trillions of dollars spent and, well, here we still are. I suppose Strobel and Landay have the satisfaction of having been right but they weren’t able to convince anybody as we got our first taste of politics as entertainment. The media’s failure here only added to the distrust of the Fourth Estate which of course Trump and his cronies are exploiting and which have helped America into the mess it’s in now. Yes, I’m recommending the film – it’s a cautionary tale worth listening to, and it’s well-acted for the most part – but it’s a downer. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

REASONS TO SEE: The cast is extraordinary. Has a documentary-like feel, in a good way.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little heavy on the journalistic aphorisms.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the fourth time Jones and Harrelson have appeared in the same film together, most notably in Natural Born Killers.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/27/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 29% positive reviews: Metacritic: 47/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spotlight
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Hamlet in the Golden Vale

A Reindeer’s Journey (Aïlo: Une odyssée en Laponie)


They don’t get much cuter than baby reindeer.

(2018) Nature Documentary (Screen MediaDonald Sutherland (narrator). Directed by Guillaume Maidatchevsky

 

After viewing the watershed nature documentary March of the Penguins, a colleague of mine opined that what she took out of the film most of all was “it sucks to be a penguin.” Well, when she sees this one she’s going to add reindeer to that list.

Reindeer are native to Lapland, a region above the Arctic Circle straddling Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia. The climate is harsh in winter and they have a fair share of predators that cause them difficulties. Climate change has only made the weather worse and worse still, has played havoc with their traditional migration routes – as have loggers who have displaced wolves from their habitat, sending them into places where reindeer once were relatively safe.

This film captures the first year of life for Aȉlo. Donald Sutherland intones that Laplanders have a saying that reindeer get five minutes to learn to stand, five more minutes to learn to walk, then five minutes to learn to run and swim. That’s how dangerous the climate and predator situation is in Lapland.

Like many nature documentaries, Aȉlo is anthropomorphized to a large extent. Sutherland – who does excellent work here, lending much needed gravitas – imbuing him with human qualities and human thought processes. Chances are, Aȉlo and others of his species don’t spend a lot of time ruminating on how tough life is in the Arctic Circle. Most animals function primarily on instinct and experience.

That isn’t to say there aren’t moments that are captivating, such as when Aȉlo mimics a rabbit and later on, a stoat. There’s no doubt that Aȉlo is insanely adorable and kids are going to be absolutely enchanted with him (and a lot of adults too). To add to the plus column, the cinematography is absolutely breathtaking – even the scenes of winter are refined with varying shades of white and blue, all filmed in the low light of perpetual Arctic twilight.

To a large extent, this isn’t as educational as it could be although Sutherland does his best. Labeling lemmings the “chicken nuggets of the North” is kind of amusing, but it oversimplifies their place in the food chain. I do give the filmmakers points for not shying away from the effects that climate change is having on these animals.

All in all, this is a solid although not remarkable documentary. Those of you who have children who really love animals and are captivated by the DisneyNature series of documentaries will no doubt find this right in their wheelhouse. The film doesn’t turn away either from the grim reality of life in a harsh environment (reindeer die, although never on-camera). While the movie is making a brief theatrical run in New York City, it is available on VOD on basically every major streaming service and likely a few of the minor ones as well. It also is or will be available on DVD/Blu-Ray just in time for the holidays and makes an awesome stocking stuffer for the animal lover in your family.

REASONS TO SEE: Aȉlo is insanely cute.
REASONS TO AVOID: Fairly standard nature doc.
FAMILY VALUES: This is extremely kid-friendly.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is a French/Finnish co-production.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu,
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/25/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews: Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Frozen Planet
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Shock and Awe

The First Purge


Viewers can now binge the Purge.

(2018) Thriller (Universal/BlumhouseY’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Mugga, Patch Darragh, Marisa Tomei, Luna Lauren Velez, Kristen Solis, Rotimi Paul, Mo McRae, Jermel Howard, Siya, Christian Robinson, Steve Harris, Derek Basco, D.K. Bowser, Mitchell Edwards, Maria Rivera, Chyna Layne, Ian Blackman, Melonie Diaz. Directed by Gerard McMurray

 

The Purge series posits a somewhat fascist American government creating a 12=hour period annually during which all crime is legal, including murder. Those who can afford to leave, do – or they set up their homes as impenetrable fortresses. For the less wealthy, the alternative is to hunker down and ride it out, hoping the crazies won’t find them.

The latest film in the franchise (which has since also added a ten-episode “event” cable TV series, an ad for which appeared mid-credits at the film’s conclusion) goes back to the beginning, when the New Founding Fathers – the only political party standing – have emerged as the de facto rulers after an economic crisis has crippled the United States. Eager to purge the roles of welfare recipients and those getting federal assistance, they enlist a kooky psychiatrist (Tomei) to come up with a plan. The experiment is limited to Staten Island, where the government entices residents to stay by offering $5000 cash if they’ll wear contact lenses mounted with miniaturized cameras, giving everybody’s eyes a bizarre glow.

Nya (Davis) is having none of it. She sees the Purge for what it is – a racist attempt to take out the poor and the dark-skinned. Her ex-boyfriend Dmitri (Noel) is more pragmatic; he’s a drug dealer who is staying only because relocating his product would be too risky. So , with rival dealers seeing the Purge as an opportunity and other segments of the population throwing huge parties, oblivious to the danger that confronts them, and the government sending in hit squads when the violence isn’t enough to capture the imagination of the populous, Nya and Dmitri are going to have a very long night indeed.

There is no doubt that the series is allegorical, accurately predicting America’s turn towards extremism back in 2013 when the series debuted. The MAGA-like hat that decorated the poster was another clue; there’s even a reference to female genital grabbing if that isn’t enough. All in all, I’m not sure if Trump supporters are going to see this as elitist liberalism or a reactionary wet dream and respond accordingly.

The performances of the mostly unknown leads are solid enough and some of the murder scenes are cleverly staged but the movie is absolutely riddled with tropes and stock characters to the point that it becomes depressingly predictable. There are definitely signs that the franchise is losing its steam and doesn’t really have the courage of its convictions any longer. Still, those who appreciated the first three films in the series will likely appreciate this one, although they – like I – may not embrace it as a fitting addition to the franchise.

REASONS TO SEE: Some of the murder sequences are extremely effective.
REASONS TO AVOID: Too many clichés and way too predictable.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a plethora of often disturbing violence, some sexual content, profanity and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film in the franchise not to be directed by James DeMonaco. Although he did write the screenplay.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Fios, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/23/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews: Metacritic: 54//100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Assault on Precinct 13
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
A Reindeer’s Journey

Synonyms (Synonymes)


Dance like nobody’s watching.

(2019) Dramedy (Kino-LorberTom Mercier, Quentin Dolmaire, Louise Chevilllotte, Urla Hayik, Olivier Loustau, Yehuda Almagor, Gaya Von Schwarze, Gal Amitai, Idan Ashkenazi, Dolev Ohana, Liron Baranes, Erwan Ribard, Yawen Ribard, Iman Amara-Korba, Sébastien Robinet, Damien Carlet, Ron Bitterman, Christophe Paou, Valentine Carette, Catherine Denecy, Léa Drucker. Directed by Nadav Lapid

 

People relocate for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, employment dictates location. In other instances, it is to move closer to family or loved ones. Sometimes, though, it’s to get away from something.

Yoav (Mercier) falls into the latter category. Traumatized by a stint in the Israeli Defense Force, he leaves Israel forever and emigrates to Paris, so bitter at the country of his birth that he refuses to speak Hebrew, even to fellow expats. The thing is, his French is a bit incomplete so in order to help him learn the language he buys himself a French-Hebrew dictionary that he obsessively reads synonyms from in order to increase the depth of his ability to communicate.

When he arrives in Paris, he finds himself in an apartment that is utterly devoid of furniture; it is a beautiful and cavernous apartment but lacks amenities. He gets into the bathtub fully naked intending to enjoy some private time rubbing one out but his efforts are disturbed by noises coming from the other room. Completely naked, he bolts out to find that all his possessions – including all of his clothes – are gone. Naked, he screams for help but nobody is apparently home. He gets into the bathtub and falls asleep, chilled to the bone.

His neighbors Emile (Dolmaire) and Caroline (Chevillotte) find him and take them to their apartment and warm him up. Emile, though much smaller than Yoav, gives him clothes that miraculously fit. They end up serving as tour guides and mentors and both of them are sexually attracted to him. In the meantime, Yoav finds work as a security guard at the Israeli embassy and goes through a series of incidents ranging from the surreal to the odd.

Lapid has a good grasp of the absurd and he utilizes it nicely, such as Yoav’s boss (Loustau) telling him about a regular event in which Jews are matched up in underground fights with neo-Nazis, or the war tales that Yoav spins for the ever-fascinated Emile. Lapid borrows heavily from New Wave cinema, particularly from Godard and some of what he borrows are things he should have left alone. The kinetic camera movement is nice but the ultra-close-ups and whip pans get annoying after a while. It is a definite case of “Look, Ma, I’m Directing” syndrome.

Mercier is a revelation. A fairly new actor, he is an enormous presence and the longer the film goes on, the more engaged the audience becomes with his story. Certainly, there’s an element of the surreal to his story, but it doesn’t warp reality overly much and Mercier in a fish out of water role that could easily devolve into clichés and tropes gives the character a freshness that is engaging. I also liked Chevillotte a good deal and her chemistry with Mercier is palpable but I wish the character had been fleshed out a bit more.

The movie ends on a high note – the final shot is a doozy – so hang in there with the movie which despite it’s excesses actually makes some poignant points about cultural identity and finding yourself in a strange land. This is a solid winner that cinema buffs should keep an eye out for.

REASONS TO SEE: Very literate and intelligently written. Mercier has a ton of presence.
REASONS TO AVOID: Look ma, I’m directing.
FAMILY VALUES: There is graphic nudity, some mild violence and sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is loosely based on Lapid’s own experiences emigrating to Paris.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/22/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews: Metacritic: 84/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cairo Time
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The First Purge