Kipchoge: The Last Milestone


The face of African wisdom.

(2021) Sports Documentary (Universal) Eliud Kipchoge, Peter Nduhiu, Patrick Sang, Barnard Lanat, Augstine Choge, Dr. Patrick Njoroge, Denis Noble, Yannis Pitsiladis, Julien Wanders, Jos Hermans, Sir Jim Ratliffe, David Brailsford, Bobby Kotchell, Dr. William Ruto. Directed by Jake Scott

 

Kenya has produced some world class distance runners, from Kip Keino on to Eliud Kipchoge, who many consider the greatest marathon runner of our time. He owns the world record of 2 hours, 3 minutes set in 2018 at the Monza marathon. He has also won nearly every major marathon, including Boston, New York, and the Olympics. However, the Kenyan legend had his eyes on a different sort of prize.

What Kipchoge proposed to do was something that nobody had even considered before; to run a marathon in under two hours. In order to do it, he would need optimum conditions; a closed course in Vienna was selected. The course had to be as perfectly level as possible, the payment without blemish. The weather would have to be coolish, but not too cold.

In the first half hour of the movie, we meet Kipchoge and there is almost a hero-worship going on; he is depicted as a humble, disciplined, inspirational and driven man who is beloved as a national hero in Kenya – all of which is true. Mr. Kipchoge has one of those faces that holds your interest; it is the face of African wisdom, older than time and just as permanent. But a lot of what he says sounds like it came out of a Nike commercial, a self-help handbook, a positive message poster, or all of the above.

It is only when we get into the nuts and bolts of the preparation for the historic run that the movie takes off. We see the immense preparation that takes place as well as the cutting edge science that is used to give Kipchoge every advantage in breaking the milestone. When he runs, a phalanx of pace runners are ahead of him in a Y-shape in order to cut down wind drag on the Kenyan runner. For that reason, when Kipchoge does achieve the impossible (it is not really a spoiler to pass on this information, any more than it is to mention that the Titanic sinks at the end of the movie) it is not considered an actual world record because the conditions were not marathon race conditions.

Still, the achievement is incredible, something to gape at in helpless admiration. As someone who would time his own marathon with a calendar, I could truly feel awe at the achievement. Clearly the filmmakers did as well, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it did feel like they didn’t really explore the man Kipchoge too deeply during the film; he remains more of an icon than a human being throughout the movie and that’s a shame because from what glimpses we do get, the man Eliud Kipchoge seems to be a man who viewers would likely be very interested in getting to know better.

REASONS TO SEE: It’s hard not to admire someone taking on a challenge that is seemingly impossible.
REASONS TO AVOID: Sort of a hagiographic collection of self-help aphorisms.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jake Scott’s father, Oscar-winning director Ridley Scott, was a producer on this film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Flix Fling, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/31/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Barkley Marathons
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Last Man Standing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Tupac and Biggie

The Fatal Raid


Happiness is a warm gun.

(2019) Crime Action (Well Go USA) Jade Leung, Hidy Yu, Min Chen Lin Andrew Kam Yeung-Wa, Kristy Yeung, Aaron Boggs, Jeana Ho, Michael Tong, Patrick Tam, Sin-Hang Chiu, Elaine Tang, Man-kit Yuan, Jadie Lin. Directed by Jacky Lee

 

The “girls with guns” Hong Kong action film subgenre is pretty much what it sounds like; equal parts action and titillation, sort of like Charlie’s Angels with a bit of an edge and a little more cheesecake. For the most part, that subgenre has fallen by the wayside as the mainland Chinese government, which tends to be a little less lenient towards sexuality in cinema, has essentially become overseers of the thriving Hong Kong moviemaking scene. This movie, directed by veteran Jacky Lee, looks to if not resurrect the subgenre, at least pay tribute to it.

An elite Hong Kong police unit, trying to apprehend a criminal gang in Macau, is ambushed leading to a bloody gunfight that leaves numerous members of the team dead. The police brass, as is often the case, hushed up their own role in botching the raid. Now, 20 years after the event, the surviving participants are haunted by the events of that day. Heading back to Macau for a celebration honoring the heroes of the police force, they are led into an ambush with the same gang. Will history repeat itself, or will justice finally prevail?

The plot here is pretty generic and it isn’t terribly well-developed. Most of the emphasis is on the extended gun battles (there are three of them that take place in the film) and less so on developing the characters. The focus seems to be, strangely enough, on Detective Tam (P. Tam) who despite being the lone male on the team becomes the point of focus here – I imagine the #MeToo movement hasn’t made much headway in China just yet. Tam is a fine actor – don’t get me wrong – but if you’re going to cast someone like Jade Leung, who was one of the mainstays of the genre and a terrific actress in her own right – you should damn well make better use of her. As it is, her presence is so commanding as the police inspector that she still manages to steal the film anyway.

Now, I’m not trying to kid myself – most people are going to see this movie for the action sequences and they aren’t that bad. The problem is, they aren’t that memorable either, which is surprising. I have actually seen the movie that this is a sequel to, and there is far more connection between the films than is usual for sequels in the Chinese movie business, which is also surprising. However, the sequel isn’t going to inspire anyone to run right out and rent the film that preceded it which is a shame, because it’s a much better (and much more fun) movie than this one is. The tone here is grim and a bit of a downer, rather than lighthearted and brain-melting, which is normally what you want out of a Hong Kong action movie. See it for the opportunity to watch Jade Leung at work, but there’s not much other reason to take a chance on this one.

REASONS TO SEE: Jade Leung is a compelling presence.
REASONS TO AVOID: The unmemorable plot really drags in the middle third.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence, some sex and a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is a sequel to Special Female Force.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/30/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Iron Angels
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Kipchoge: The Last Milestone

Together


Apparently the pandemic CAN be used as couples therapy.

(2021) Drama (Bleecker Street) James McAvoy, Sharon Horgan, Samuel Logan. Directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin

 

The pandemic is, in some ways, a screenwriter’s dream. It is a situation everyone on the planet is affected by, something we all can relate to. As more and more movies come out set during lockdowns and quarantines, the question becomes whether we are exploring the topic too soon (as even now we are suffering through a surge in Delta variant cases) or whether what we have to say at this point is premature.

A brief rant before I commence – I have always found the trope of not naming the characters to be more pretentious than anything. Yes, I get that they are supposed to be “everymen” and “everywomen” for the sake of the narrative, but it’s more or less a cop-out these days. Give your characters names, and not just for the convenience of the critics either – it’s disrespectful to the audience. End rant.

An unnamed couple (grrr!), played by Horgan and McAvoy, are thrown together by the lockdown in England. They are an upper middle class couple who couldn’t be more different; he’s a conservative entrepreneur who doesn’t have much use for what he calls “the chattering class,” while she’s a progressive liberal who is an executive for a non-profit. But they have a young ten-year-old special needs kid named Artie (Logan) together, and – not for nothing – they hate each other’s guts. The only thing keeping them from going their separate ways is Artie.

The movie takes place from day one of the English lockdown into the spring of 2021. Things are divided into chapters which are delineated by what day of the lockdown it is, and how many deaths from COVID have been recorded in England by that date, which seems to be a not-so-veiled swipe at the Boris Johnson administration (it gets not-so-veiled during a Horgan monologue later in the movie).

Most of the dialogue is delivered at the camera, as if you’re a friend or relative on Zoom, and the couple are making their case for why the other one is the reason the marriage is in trouble. That is punctuated with often heart-rending monologues – in Horgan’s case, the absolutely horrific treatment her mother receives in a care home, while in McEvoy’s an encounter with an anti-masker that causes him to rethink things.

The acting here is superb. Given dialogue that is worthy of Aaron Sorkin. There is some snappy repartee and plenty of back-and-forth between the couple, who are often talking over each other in the way that couples do. That gives the film a kind of naturality that brings more authenticity to the movie than it otherwise might have. The screenplay was originally meant to be a stage play, but the practical complications of mounting a stage production during a pandemic led this to be turned into a movie, but it still retains some of its stage-y qualities. You don’t really notice them, however, because the acting and writing are both so damn good.

I’m not sure if this will end up being a time capsule of this period in history, or something that speaks to deeper truths in relationships. I tend to subscribe to the latter; there is a timelessness about the issues between the couple that are only framed by the pandemic rather than are caused by it. I was completely blown away by the emotional resonance that the film brought and recommend it thoroughly as one of the best movies of the year. If ever you needed an excuse to get out to the theaters, this movie is it.

REASONS TO SEE: Superior writing and direction. Natural performances from Morgan and McElroy, who is particularly impressive. A powerful, emotional time capsule of 2020-21.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not so sure using a pandemic as couples therapy is appropriate.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was shot in only ten days.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/29/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 68% positive reviews; Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Scenes from a Marriage
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT:
The Fatal Raid

The Smartest Kids in the World


Learning comes in all kinds of colors.

(2021) Documentary (Discovery Plus) Amanda Ripley, Jaxon, Brittany, Sadie, Simone, Meneer Hofstede. Directed by Tracy Droz Tragos

 

It’s no secret that the American education system is in crisis. Differing ideas on how to fix it have been put forth by politicians, ranging from putting more money into education (although we spend more per student than any other developed nation save one) to using a voucher system to allow parents to send kids to private schools, with some feeling that public schools should be discontinued completely and education be left to for-profit private enterprises and religious entities.

But as author Amanda Ripley points out in her bestselling book that this documentary is loosely based on, nobody is asking the students themselves. So, director Tracy Droz Tragos did. Well, kind of. The film follows four students from disparate parts of the country as they go abroad to study as exchange students in four countries whose educational system is generally considered to be superior to ours. Most of this is due to the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA test. However, don’t expect to be told what markers are actually measured – the film doesn’t go into that.

Instead we follow Jaxon, a young man from Wyoming who is frustrated with his high school’s emphasis on sports which has gotten to the point that classes are essentially canceled on Friday so that athletes can participate in various sports and non-athletes can support from the stands (Jaxon himself is a wrestler). He feels unchallenged by the curriculum and sees the situation as an impediment to his future success, so he opts to go to the Netherlands to study, despite speaking not speaking a word of the language.

Brittany (who attended a high school only a few miles from Cinema365 headquarters) chose to go to Finland but was emtarrassed to tell her classmates that she wanted a better education, so she made an excuse that she wanted to visit Lapland because “that’s where Santa Claus was from.” She was surprised to discover an emphasis on student autonomy and less emphasis on homework and tests. There was even a sauna in the school for students to unwind when they feel stressed.

Simone, from the Bronx, is a child of Jamaican immigrants who place a strong emphasis on the value of education. She decided to go to South Korea because she felt that she would be better prepared for higher education that way. A strong work ethic enabled her to learn to speak Korean fluently by the time her exchange program was through. However, she observed that the pressure put on Korean students to perform and excel far exceeded the expectations placed on American students, which caused greater and more debilitating stress-related illnesses among Korean teens.

Sadie, who had been homeschooled in Maine until high school, was disappointed to find an emphasis on conformity and popularity. Most of the students were far behind her level of learning and she felt she was being held back. She went to Switzerland where she discovered that there were programs by Swiss employers to place students in apprenticeships to give them a feel for real-world skills that they would need to develop and help them choose the career path that appealed to them. All four of the countries that the students visited were significantly higher than the United Stats in both math and science PISA scores.

The main problem with the movie is that it doesn’t meaningfully address one of the big obstacles that other, smaller nations don’t have to deal with – the diversity and disparity of our country. The issues facing an inner city school – gang violence, drug use, broken homes, poverty – are very different than the issues confronting rural schools, or those facing suburban schools. While the Korean schools meticulously collected the cell phones of the students every morning, the Swiss and Finnish schools did not.

There is often a perception that kids are more into their social media and less into – well, anything else – and there is some truth to that, but that’s not a problem that exists only in the United States. There seems to be more of a feeling among the students in those four countries that they had a responsibility to be working hard for their own future, something that sometimes seems missing among American students, although it’s not completely gone – certainly the four students here were eager for something better.

A single 100 minute documentary really isn’t sufficient to go into the problems that modern students face; that schools are now teaching more how to take tests than in any sort of real learning (teaching critical thinking is an important aspect that is stressed in all four of those countries), the low pay and high burnout of teachers in this country (in other countries, teachers are well-paid and have similar status to doctors and lawyers), the issue of mass shootings in schools (something more or less unique to the United States), the crumbling infrastructure of most schools and a lack of political will to address it, And that’s just scratching the surface.

Ripley is absolutely correct that we need to listen to students and find out what they need and want out of schools; some may be more interested in fewer tests but more homework, while others would want the opposite. Some might prefer learning to be completely online without any sort of classroom instruction. The point is, the best experts as to what needs to be fixed in schools aren’t even being asked the questions we need to ask.

However, this documentary is a bit of a disappointment, giving only cursory coverage to the various programs in other countries and not really looking critically at the issues facing students and school boards alike, and this is too important a subject to give anything less than in-depth examination.

REASONS TO SEE: An important subject for all parents – and their kids.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not as in-depth as it needed to be.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for all audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although the United States spends more per capita on education than all but one developed nation, its PISA test scores in math and science consistently fall in the bottom third of developed nations.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Discovery Plus
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/27/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Waiting for “Superman”
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Together

Finding Kendrick Johnson


Nobody deserves to end up like this.

(2021) True Crime Documentary (Gravitas) Jenifer Lewis (narrator), Jackie Johnson, Mitch Credle, Kenneth Johnson, Lydia Tooley Whitlock, Kenyatta Johnson, Mark Austin, Barbara English, Dr. William R. Anderson, Michael Moore, Tyrone Brooks. Directed by Jason Pollock

 

\One of the basic tenets that holds our society together is the rule of law. The laws of the United States are particularly enlightened in many ways; nobody is theoretically supposed to be above the law. We have seen over the years that isn’t always the case.

Kendrick Johnson was a typical teenage boy living in Valdosta, Georgia. He liked sports, was close with his family who were devout Christians (all of the Johnson children have the initials “KJ” which stands for King Jesus, mother Jackie explains). He played video games, hung out with friends and was by all accounts a decent, nice guy.

On January 10, 2013, he didn’t return home from school. His mother, frantic, called her husband Kenneth – a truck driver, who was on the road at the time. He hurried back home, knowing that being out late without calling home was unlike his son. When he got home, he went straight to Lowndes High School, where he discovered that Kendrick had been found dead. His body was rolled up in a gym mat.

The coroner ruled that his death was an accident; that he had tried to reach down into the mat to get his shoe and had fallen into the hole made by the rolled up mat and asphyxiated, all while other kids were nearby.

But it didn’t make sense. For one thing, the dimensions of the mat were too small for Kendrick to just fall in. Jackie, who at first believed the Valdosta police’s explanation, began to get suspicious. She wanted a different forensic medical examination of her son’s body, so it was exhumed. Dr. William Anderson was hired to do the autopsy for the Johnson family. When he opened up the body, he discovered to his shock and horror that all the internal organs were gone; in their place were rolled up bits of newspaper. However, there was enough left that it was plain to Dr. Anderson that the boy had not died of positional asphyxia. There were also wounds on the body that indicated that he had been badly beaten before he died.

The Johnsons suspected a cover-up and launched a campaign to get justice for their son. At first, it seemed like their pleas were being heard; a federal investigation was launched. The case became national news. But abruptly, the investigator quit and the case was transferred to an office in Ohio, where it was quietly closed. But why? Why would anyone want to cover up the death of a high school kid?

The filmmakers try to give the crime larger context. We’re shown the history of crimes against the African-American population of the South, particularly in Valdosta, starting with the lynchings that took place locally as well as the Emmitt Till murder in Mississippi. The crimes are made relevant, showing footage of the deaths of Eric Garner in New York City and George Floyd in Minneapolis. Kendrick Johnson, the filmmakers are saying, is part of a larger pattern. Would the crime of his murder have been covered up had he been white?

To the credit of the filmmakers, they uncover some damning evidence that the federal investigators had been made unaware of (one of them, a Washington DC homicide detective named Mitch Credle, was absolutely gobsmacked that a filmmaker had uncovered the evidence but a federal investigation couldn’t). Was Kendrick Johnson the victim of a modern-day lynching?

Well, I’m not so sure on that score. That he was murdered I think is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. That there was a cover-up, absolutely for sure. Was the crime racially motivated? That is less clear. The filmmakers do point at a couple of likely suspects – fellow students at Lowndes whose father happened to be an FBI agent. But if the son of an FBI agent have been involved with the murder of a white boy, would the father still have covered it up? I think the answer is likely yes.

There are crime scene photos of Kendrick’s body as well as autopsy photos, along with pictures of Emmitt Till’s corpse and other victims of lynching, so this really isn’t for the squeamish. The film doesn’t give any warnings of the disturbing content, so do take this seriously – it isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s ghastly, but I understand why it was done – the brutality of these crimes should not be overlooked.

I do feel for the Johnson family. Certainly they have been denied justice and I do hope that this film helps them achieve it. However, when you compare the death of Kendrick Johnson to the death of Emmitt Till, the comparison doesn’t hold up. It seems likely that Johnson’s death was a dispute with another student that got out of hand. Whether or not it was racially motivated….well, given that Valdosta doesn’t have the most savory reputation when it comes to race relations, it seems likely, but there’s this whole “reasonable doubt” thing. That is also a part of the rule of law.

REASONS TO SEE: A compelling story that engenders sympathy for the Johnson family.
REASONS TO AVOID: Overly lurid.
FAMILY VALUES: There are disturbing crime scene, historical and autopsy photographs.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The filmmakers spent four years investigating the case.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/26/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cold Justice
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Smartest Kids in the World

New Releases for the Week of August 27, 2021


CANDYMAN

(Universal) Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Kyle Kaminski, Vanessa Williams. Directed by Nia DaCosta

Although the Cabrini-Green housing project has been torn down and gentrified into upscale condos, the horror of the Candyman remains. A young artist, hearing the background story of the urban legend, begins to paint macabre details of the crime that created the Candyman, unwittingly opening up a new portal to terror.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: R (for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references)

A Rescue of Little Eggs

(Pantelion) Starring the voices of Mauricio Barrientos, Bruno Bichir, Carlos Espejel, Maite Perroni. A cocky rooster and his fowl partner undertake a dangerous trip to the Congo to recover their stolen eggs from a gang of Russian thugs.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: PG (for rude material and action)

Annette

(Amazon) Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell. A stand-up comic falls in love with a world-famous opera singer and together they have a child of unique grace and an exceptional destiny. This is the latest from visionary director Leos Carax.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona (also on Amazon Prime)
Rating: R (for sexual content including some nudity and for language)

Curiosa

(Film Movement) Noémie Merlant, Niels Schneider, Benjamin Lavernhe, Camélia Jordana. The true story of a love triangle (okay, a love square if you must) featuring French author Pierre Louÿs, his best friend, his best friend’s wife, and a passionate Algerian woman.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Enzian On-Demand
Rating: NR

Death Rider in the House of Vampires

(Atlas) Devon Sawa, Julian Sands, Glenn Danzig, Danny Trejo. A lone mysterious rider crosses the desert to find the Vampire Sanctuary. Once there he takes on all manner of bloodsuckers as ex-Misfit rock star Glenn Danzig reaches for new heights.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Horror Western
Now Playing: Amstar Lake Mary, Fashion Square Premiere, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

The Final Set

(Film Movement) Alex Lutz, Ana Girardot, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jürgen Briand. A tennis player in the twilight of his career looks back at unfulfilled potential that marked it. Although his wife and mother advise against it, he decides to take one last crack at the French Open championship and against all odds makes his way through the tournament – until he is matched with a young prodigy who reminds him of his younger self.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Sports Drama
Now Playing: Enzian On-Demand
Rating: NR

Flag Day

(United Artists) Dylan Penn, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Norbert Leo Butz. A young woman has a complicated relationship with her father; on the one hand, he made her life feel like a grand adventure; on the other hand, he was a notorious counterfeiter constantly on the run from the law or in jail. This drama, based on a true story, is directed by Sean Penn and stars his real-life daughter.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language, some drug use and violent content)

Ichata Vahanamulu Nilupa Radu

(A1) Vennela Kishore, Meenakshi Chaudhary, Sushanth, Sambaa Siva. An architect with a loving mother and a beautiful girlfriend finds his life going haywire one day when he parks his bike in a “No Parking” zone.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Classic New Smyrna, Cinemark Orlando
Rating: NR

Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over

(Kino Lorber) Lydia Lunch, Henry Rollins, Thurston Moore, Danita Sparks. The career of Lunch, a legendary No Wave musician and underground performance artist, is chronicled by her friend and collaborator Beth B. This is the latest installment of the Enzian’s new Meet the Filmmakers series.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian (Monday only)
Rating: NR

Mama Weed

(Music Box) Isabelle Huppert, Hippolyte Girardot, Farida Ouchani, Liliane Rovere. A translator on the Paris narcotics unit who is deeply in debt trying to pay for the long-term care facility in which her mother resides comes into a stash of narcotics and uses her insider knowledge to become Mama Weed, salesman extraordinaire of the wacky weed.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Crime Comedy
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona
Rating: NR

No Man of God

(RLJE) Elijah Wood, Luke Kirby, Robert Patrick, Aleksa Palladino. As Ted Bundy awaits execution for his numerous crimes, FBI profiler Bill Hagmaier interviews the serial killer with the hopes of using the information he gleans to identify other criminals in the future. The dialogue is taken from the actual transcripts of the interviews Hagmaier conducted.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Crime Biography
Now Playing: Enzian
Rating: NR

Sridevi Soda Center

(Zee) Anandhi, Sudheer Babu Posani, Pavel Navageethan, Rohini. Based on an actual incident, the film depicts a love story taking place amidst the caste system and politics of rural India.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Musical Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Classic New Smyrna, Cinemark Orlando
Rating: NR

Together

(Bleecker Street) James McAvoy, Sharon Horgan, Samuel Logan. A couple whose relationship is deteriorating are suddenly stuck together by the pandemic lockdown. This is the latest film from Oscar nominee Stephen Daldry.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, CMX Plaza Café Orlando, CMX Merritt Square
Rating: R (for language throughout)

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

A Wake (Tuesday)
Afterlife of the Party
(Wednesday)
Blob Blob Fish
(Tuesday)
He’s All That
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms
(Tuesday)
Vacation Friends

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Annette
Candyman
No Man of God
Together

The Show (2020)


Not quite a paper moon.

(2020) Neo-Noir Fantasy (Shout!) Tom Burke, Ellie Bamber, Darrell D’Silva, Christopher Fairbank, Siobhan Hewlett, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Julian Bleach, Babou Cesay, Alan Moore, Richard Dillane, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Oaklee Pendergast, Ethan Rouse, Eric Lampaert, Sheila Atim, Bradley John, Robert Goodman, Josie Taylor, Daniel Tuite, Stewart Magrath, Gayle Richardson. Directed by Mitch Jenkins

 

Alan Moore, the writer/creator of such graphic novel works as The Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Batman: The Killing Joke and From Hell, has often been described variously as curmudgeonly, grumpy, cranky, cross, and outspoken. He certainly hasn’t pulled punches regarding his opinion of cinematic adaptations of his work (he hates them, in case you were wondering). Now, he has decided to write a screenplay of his own, following up on a series of shorts he wrote for director Mitch Jenkins, entitled Show Pieces which act as a kind of prequel to this feature. No, you don’t need to see them in order to enjoy The Show although it wouldn’t hurt.

In any case, Fletcher Dennis (Burke) shows up in Northampton, the town in which Moore grew up and which he regards clearly with some fondness. He is looking for a James Mitchum, discovering that he took a severe fall outside a nightclub and has died of his wounds. Dennis shows up at the local hospital where Mitchum was taken, masquerading as his brother Bob, looking for his effects – specifically a necklace with a gold cross on which a jeweled rose is centered.

Not finding it despite a helpful morgue attendant (Bleach) who intones “I see dead people,” to which Dennis responds “You work in a hospital!” However, Dennis heads to the boarding house Mitchum was staying in and arranges to rent his room from the vivacious landlady Becky (Bamber) who doubles as a walking tour guide of Northampton, where I imagine there isn’t much call for walking tours. He also discovers that a young woman named Faith Harrington (Hewlett) was brought in at the same time as Mitchum and may hold some clue to the mystery of the missing cross.

As he digs into the mystery, aided by Faith, he will run into a drug kingpin named John Conqueror (Atim) who uses voodoo as a marketing tool, a dead comedy team that owned a working class pub that burned to the ground decades earlier, but pops up in their dreams, Dennis’ foul-mouthed client (Fairbank) and a couple of gumshoes named Tim (Pendergast, Rouse) who are likely around ten or eleven years old, operate out of a clubhouse, take payment in energy drinks, and speak noir-esque narration (their scenes are filmed in black and white).

Moore shows up as Frank Metterton, one half of the deceased comic duo whose beard and costume gives his head the shape of a crescent moon, and whose sonorous voice seems to imply more than perhaps he actually delivers. He’s actually pretty good in the role, but his arcane and occasionally obscure sense of humor shows up throughout the movie, making the film a good deal more fun than you might expect. Moore has always been, in some ways, has always cultivated the persona of the outsider, and it serves him well here.

This is not a straightforward noir film, although the genre plainly informs the action and Moore is just as plainly delivering his own version of it. Some of the tropes are skewered with sly wit, others are a bit more overt, but this isn’t a spoof so much as it is an homage. It is also, however, willfully weird, wearing its strangeness as a badge of honor with somewhat skewed camera angles, unsettling visuals and dialogue that makes Wes Anderson look like Michael Bay.

The movie is a little long and it definitely takes its time in getting where its going, but there are rewards to be had here. Fans of Alan Moore will no doubt want to rush and see this and as it is only playing for a single night as a Fathom event (locally, it can be seen at the  AMC Altamonte Mall and the AMC Disney Springs) tomorrow (Thursday, August 26th), while others who prefer more straightforward fare might not be in such a hurry to check it out. Nonetheless, I found it entertaining enough so long as you are willing to stay with it and let yourself fall under its spell.

REASONS TO SEE: Willfully weird, but hard to ignore.
REASONS TO AVOID: The pacing needed to have been picked up a bit.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hewlett’s Faith Harrington was the subject of the first of five Show Pieces shorts, three of which have been collected together under that name and are currently available on Shudder.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/25/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Scanner Darkly
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Finding Kendrick Johnson

The Outsider (2021)


The work continues even when the direction is unclear.

(2021) Documentary (Abramorama) Michael Shulan, Alice Greenwald, Bob Garfield (narration), Clifford Chanin, David Handschuh, Michael Kimmelman, Michelle Breslauer, Norm Dannen, Lou Mendes, Joe Daniels, Jan Ramirez, Lynn Rasic, Michael Frazier, Melissa Doi, Phillip Kennicott, Tom Hennes, Amy Weisser. Directed by Steven Rosenbaum and Pamela Yoder

 

The attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, is something that has left an indelible mark on America and all Americans. Regardless of political affiliation, skin color, religious background, gender or ethnicity, we all feel pain and sorrow at the thought of that heinous day. It remains a sore point that in some ways requires a certain amount of sensitivity.

When it was decided to create a memorial and museum at Ground Zero, there was a certain amount of hand-wringing at the thought of a tourist attraction on what is, to many, sacred ground (then again, ask a Lakota what they think of the Mount Rushmore gift shop). One of the people that the board of executives for the proposed museum contacted was Michael Shulan.

Shulan, a writer, had an empty storefront near Ground Zero in which he had taped a photo he had taken of the Twin Towers. That seemed to strike a chord in other New Yorkers as others began to post their own pictures there as well. Soon, Shulan was curating an impromptu art exhibit. He became, quite unintentionally, the world’s leading expert on images taken from 9-11.

Shulan was something of a novice when it came to setting up a new museum; other members of the board were not, including Alice Greenwald, the chairman of the board. Alice, who had helped put together a Holocaust museum in New York, had her own ideas of how the museum should be. Shulan saw it as a place that asked questions rather than provide answers; Greenwald saw it as more providing the latter.

This fly-on-the-wall documentary goes behind the scenes of the conception and design of the memorial, and follows along with the construction. We see the board grappling with which images to include and which might be too graphic. We listen to the heartbreaking 9-11 call of Melissa Doi, and watch them also consider how much of it to make available.

These types of issues are fascinating, but we spend an awful lot of time on the office politics of putting this museum together. We never get a sense of how reliving 9-11 every day for years affects those in charge with curating the memorial to it. For some reason, the filmmakers chose initially to make Shulan their focus, but as the film goes on he becomes less and less a part of the proceedings. We get a sense of his frustrations (and the film title refers specifically to him, after all) but he fades out of focus somewhat unaccountably.

The movie is kind of insular, and it doesn’t help that Bob Garfield’s narration makes this look and sound more like a story on 60 Minutes. While the aspect of being privy to meetings and discussions about important issues gives us a sense of how decisions were arrived at, we never really get much in-depth discussion with the principals to add any sort of nuance to what we are seeing. So while the subject might be intriguing, it feels like the filmmakers didn’t really do any kind of follow-up once the meetings had adjourned. This was never going to be an easy task and it was never going to please everybody – but that doesn’t mean a documentary about the process had to do the same.

REASONS TO SEE: A fascinating backstage look at how office politics basically color everything.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the images might be too disturbing for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing 9/11 images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Shulan left the museum board on the day it opened to the public in 2014.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinema
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/23/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet;  Metacritic: No score yet,
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Museum Town
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Show

CODA


Ruby sings the blues.

(2021) Drama (Apple) Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Eugenio Derbez, Daniel Durant, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Amy Forsyth, Courland Jones, Molly Beth Thomas, John Fiore, Jose Gonsalves, Armen Garo, Garrett McKechnie, Rebecca Gibel, Lonnie Farmer, Kevin Chapman, Owen Burke, Lance Norris, Jared Voss, Emilia Faucher, Marilyn Busch. Directed by Sian Heder

 

CODA stands for “child of deaf adults.” It also is a musical term which signals the cessation of a piece of music. Both terms are apt for this new movie, which is playing currently at the Enzian but also concurrently on the Apple Plus streaming service (see below for link).

The titular child is Ruby Rossi (Jones), a high school senior in Gloucester, Massachusetts (and who will ever hear the name of that fine town without thinking of the Coast Guard rescue swimmer in The Perfect Storm grumping “Gloucester! It’s always some guy from Gloucester!”) whose father Frank (Kotsur) is deaf, as is her older brother Leo (Durant). Every morning she goes out on their fishing boat and helps sell their catch to the local broker before heading off to school. Her mother Jackie (Matlin) is also deaf. In fact, Ruby is the only one in the family who hears and acts as the official family interpreter, signing what others are saying so that her parents can understand what’s going on.

Times are hard and new government regulations is cutting down the profit margin to the breaking point. Ruby is hoping that the family business will sustain them as she expects to be part of it after she graduates high school. However, on a lark, she decides to join the school choir.

It’s not as outrageous a thought as you might think. With her brother and father silent on the boat, she often sings along to the radio or by herself just to hear something, but she is naturally shy and was bullied as a child for smelling like fish when she got to school (which shouldn’t seem to be a big deal in a town like Gloucester whose economy is so wrapped up in fishing) but also because as a child she didn’t have someone to help her learn to talk other than her parents, who speak in the flat tones that deaf people take. She panics at the audition and flees, much to the bemusement of Mr. Villalobos (Mexican comedy star Derbez), the grouch of a choir director – but with the requisite soft heart.

But when she auditions for him privately, he begins to realize that she has a true gift and urges her to apply to the prestigious Berklee School of Music, which he himself is an alum of – but only if she’s willing to take singing lessons from him. This adds a burden onto her already full schedule of working and school, and it seems, something has to break.

She’s also been paired up with comely senior Miles (Walsh-Peelo) to do a duet of the Marvin Gaye-Tammy Terrell classic “You’re All I Need to Get By.” Sparks fly, and as time wears down and they come closer to the big recital (and Ruby’s big audition at Berklee), things begin to get more desperate for the family fishing business, and Ruby is needed more than ever, but will she – can she – give up on her dream in order to help her family?

Now, I’m going to say a few things about the movie and it’s going to sound like this is going to be a real negative review. The plot has been done many times before and there aren’t a lot of chances taken with the narrative or the character development. Particularly in the third act of the movie, there are a whole raft of different emotional peaks that are blindingly, unapologetically manipulative – but fuck if it doesn’t work.

The family dynamic between Jones, Matlin, Kotsur and Durant feels genuine and warm. Yes, there is much bickering but that only serves to make that dynamic feel more realistic. There is an ongoing joke about the parents having loud sex at inappropriate moments which is a nightmare every kid dreads, but even that feels less raunchy than it does affectionate.

Part of the charm are the performances by the principles; Matlin has already won an Oscar for her performance in Children of a Lesser God (a movie that should be considered a classic but for some bizarre reason isn’t) and yes, Jackie is having a very hard time with the notion that her baby girl is ready to leave the nest. Rather than playing it shrilly for laughs, Matlin gives it a gentle, wistful clinginess that she eventually realizes she must put aside; it’s a fine moment in the film (one of many) when she realizes that she must. Kotsur is a bit gruff as Frank, but Frank is a fiercely devoted father and that shines through in Kotsur’s performance.

Jones, an English actress, had to learn American sign language for the part as well as the mechanics of working on a fishing boat; in fact, Kotsur, Durant and her are actually fishing (and in a somewhat surreal trivia fact, on one of the shooting trips they had to take a Fish & Game observer with them, similar to what occurs in the movie). The final scenes – particularly her audition at Berklee – is so magically handled that you don’t mind that you’ve been toyed with, so full of the warm fuzzies you’ll be.

The movie played Sundance earlier this year and was subject of a fierce bidding war. Apple won that, paying out $25 million for the rights to the movie and they should be more than happy with their purchase; this is by far the best movie playing on Apple Plus from an original standpoint. And for those Apple Plus subscribers wondering if they should go out and see it in the theater, by all means do; films like this should be supported as much as possible.

As surrounded by uncertainty as we all are in these times, there’s something comforting in the familiar. You know exactly where this film is headed and pretty much how it’s going to get there, but that’s not the point; like a visit to an oft-visited beloved grandparent’s house, the way there may be familiar but the arrival at the destination is guaranteed to make you feel warm and happy inside.

REASONS TO SEE: The final act is mesmerizing. Matlin and Kotsur deliver terrific performances.
REASONS TO AVOID: Unapologetically, outrageously manipulative.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, some sexual content and brief violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Unlike the French film this is based on, all of the deaf characters in the film were played by deaf actors.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/16/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews; Metacritic: 75/100.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Apple Plus
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pitch Perfect
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Outsider

Don’t Sell Me a Dog


Out for a ride in the country.

(2021) Crime (Bren Enterprises) Andy Yule, Liadh Blake, Mark Agar, Damien Lumsden, Mark Hampton, Harrison Hampton. Directed by Pauric Brennan

 

One of the wonderful things about what I do is that from time to time, you run into a film that you know nothing about but proceeds to exceed every expectation I might have had. To be honest, most self-distributed films suffer from a number of sins, ranging from clunky dialogue to stiff acting to overcomplicated plots. When you run into a movie that has strong performances, great dialogue and a smartly written script, it is manna from heaven for most film critics.

CD (Agar) and his girlfriend Adele (Blake) are both junkies. CD works for the local crime boss, but he yearns for a fresh start away from the small Irish town he lives in. But getting away requires money and he doesn’t have any. So he decides to rob his boss, Brian (Lumsden) but Brian surprises him in the act. Fortunately, Adele sneaks up on Brian and knocks him out.

The two have to leave and right now. They attempt to carjack Joe (Yule), an older man, but the car is the only thing he has in the world. He won’t part with it, but he agrees to drive them wherever they want to go. So the three embark on the strangest road trip ever through the lovely Irish countryside.

But Brian hasn’t forgotten them, and he’s after the two of them. He has found out that they are in Joe’s car and is looking for them. In the meantime, CD’s paranoia has begun to cause problems, and Adele and Joe have begun to bond. Brian’s hot on their heels. Is there a new beginning waiting in the future for CD and Adele?

The film has a pop to it that comes from a confident filmmaker and given that this was filmed on a microbudget during a pandemic, the accomplishment is all the more impressive. The writing is crisp and real; the actors deliver the lines without making it seem like they’re acting, the opposite of which is a mistake inexperienced actors often make – acting a part instead of inhabiting a role. Yule as Joe and Blake as Adele are particularly impressive, garnering viewer sympathy even though Joe can be a codger at times and Adele is prone to making bad decisions. Agar is also good in the thankless role of the impulsive and often abrasive CD (don’t call him Clarence), while Lumsden gives Brian an affability that is underlined by a cruel and vicious nature that his job requires of him.

The ending works pretty well, although it takes Brennan maybe a little too long to get there; the last ten, fifteen minutes seem a bit padded out and might have used some punching up. Even so, this is a movie that takes you under its wing and weaves an enchantment on you. It is quintessentially Irish, if that makes any sense, but it is still the best way to describe this charming and highly enjoyable film. It is currently enjoying a spot on Plex’s most popular films list and for good reason. Pop on in to Plex or Vimeo and check it out. And Brennan assures me that there will be more VOD outlets for the film in the coming weeks. Do look out for it; this is one you’ll want to see. And if you don’t, away with ye.

REASONS TO SEE: A strong and resonant script. Yule and Blake absolutely command your attention.
REASONS TO AVOID: The ending could have been tightened up a bit.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity, some drug use and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was shot in eight days between COVID lockdowns in Ireland.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Plex, Vimeo
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/20/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ruthless People
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
CODA