Chichinette: The Accidental Spy


The spy who came in from the cold.

(2018) Documentary (Kino-LorberMarthe Kohl, Major Kohl. Directed by Nicola Alice Hens

 

Not every hero during the Second World War was a big strapping man with bulging biceps, three-day stubble and a cigar in the corner of his mouth. This documentary is about a French Jew from Metz in the Lorraine region, which until the First World War had been annexed by Germany; German was spoken in the house more than French. Marthe Kohl (at the time, Marthe Hofnung) relates that her parents didn’t speak any French even though they were ostensibly French citizens.

As the war clouds gathered, the French government recommended that their citizenry near the German border relocate to somewhere safer. Marthe and her older sister Stephanie helped hundreds do just that, even after the Germans occupied that part of France. Stephanie would later be caught and deported to Auschwitz. Marthe never knew exactly how she died; her leg had been broken during an escape attempt and she either died on the train to the concentration camp, or she would have been gassed immediately upon arrival since she was unable to work.

Marthe also had a sweetheart, Jacques, who hoped to become a doctor in Indochina with Marthe, training to be a nurse, at his side. He was madly in love with her and was willing to convert to Judaism, despite the inherent dangers in that at the time. However, when France was occupied, he joined the resistance, was captured, and executed. Marthe learned about his fate through a newspaper article.

Despondent over her losses, she tried to join the resistance but her small stature (she’s barely five feet tall) and her youthful looks prevented that. Finally, she joined the Free French Army as a nurse once Paris was liberated, but when the Colonel of her brigade discovered she spoke German fluently, combined with her blonde hair, he realized that she would be a huge asset in the intelligence division. Following an extensive training course, she was smuggled into Germany and there managed to discover some crucial information that would save thousands of lives.

Hens allows Marthe to tell her story at her own pace, leaving much of the revelations behind what she did in the war for the final act. Mostly we see Marthe traveling with her husband Major, an American medical researcher whom she assisted after the war, from their suburban Los Angeles home to various places important to Marthe. Marthe, who wrote a book on her exploits after retiring as a nurse, never spoke about her experiences before she wrote the book, which came as a shock to her husband although he was aware of the medals she had earned during the war.

Hens is a clever cinematographer with some wonderful camera angles, although to be honest as a director she spends far too much time on the mundane aspects of Marthe’s travels, from packing and unpacking suitcases, dealing with wi-fi passwords and doing laundry in a French laundromat. It’s kind of a shame; Marthe is an engaging storyteller and a compelling subject. She was 96 years old when the film was shot three years before this writing (she is still alive as this is written) and spry as someone half her age.

Her message – do not take orders that violate your conscience – is meant for a younger generation, and one can’t help but wonder if she had an idea that the country she spent half a century in would change as radically as it did. Certainly, that advice rings more true now than it did in 2016. However, Marthe Kohl is heroic by any standard of any age. She’s someone that any young person could look up to as a role model proudly.

The film is screening tonight at Temple Beth Shalom in Miami. It will be available on HBO and streaming on KinoNow.com as of April 14th. There may be other one-off screenings before then so keep your eyes peeled, particularly at your local Jewish Community Center – or ask them to see about booking the film for your neighborhood.

REASONS TO SEE: The cinematography is clever and blending the watercolor animations with the actual locations the events took place in is magic. Marthe is an extremely compelling subject.
REASONS TO AVOID: It takes a while to get to what earned Marthe the medals that are displayed throughout the film.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Chichinette, roughly translated, means “Little pain in the neck.” Marthe received this nickname because during her intelligence training she questioned just about everything.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Spy Behind Home Plate
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Peppermint

The Sonata


Candlelight can be romantic – or terrifying.

(2018) Horror (Screen Media) Freya Tingley, Simon Abkarian, James Faulkner, Rutger Hauer, Catherine Schaub-Abkarian, Matt Barber, Christopher Brand, James Kermack, Myster Jo, Aurélija Pronina, Andrejs Zikovs, Maija Cipste, Artürs Ghoss, Laine Ligere Stegrévica, Janis Libietis, Jurijs Krüze, Atis Afréds Brasmanis, Olga Svecova, Aleksandrs Mihailovs, Alina Vasiljeva. Directed by Andrew Desmond

Music has an almost mystical hold on our imaginations. We define ourselves by it, link it to memories both dark and lovely, use it to buoy our spirits or help us carry out repetitive or boring tasks. We arrange ourselves into tribes according to the kind of music we like. Music is essential to who we are.

Rose Fisher (Tingley) is a concert violinist who may have a brilliant career ahead of her. She has yet to achieve her full potential which has led to a rift between her and her manager Charles (Abkarian), who is a recovering alcoholic. When the news that Rose’s estranged father has died, she fields the news with the same frosty demeanor that you’d adopt if you were told that you’re short change for the bus.

Charles is surprised to discover that Rose’s pa is none other than Richard Marlowe (Hauer), once a composer who was poised to remake classical music with his brilliant compositions – until he essentially withdrew from public life to a run-down French chateau. His name had sunk into obscurity – those who even knew who he was had assumed he had been dead for years. However, Marlowe had been busy in the last years of his life, creating a violin sonata that apparently was written with Rose in mind and might be his most brilliant work yet.

He also left Rose the aforementioned chateau with the obligatory nosy housekeeper (Schaub-Abkarian) which Rose doesn’t really want; she is much more interested in selling the Gothic abomination. However, when she discovers the new sonata, she also discovers a mystery; the sonata is dotted with strange symbols and appears only half-completed. As Rose looks into the piece, she discovers to her dismay that the symbols are Satanic in origin and as she begins to have horrific nightmares and unexplained occurrences make her waking hours no picnic either, she realizes that dear old dad had a much more sinister purpose with his piece than just tormenting his daughter with it.

The chateau makes for an excellent supernatural horror film setting, with plenty of sinister cherubic statues, appropriately foggy woods, and dark corners for apparitions to leap out of. Desmond gives us a concept that has all sorts of fascinating connotations; using music as a conduit to other realms. It makes sense if you understand how a really great musician is transported when in the midst of playing, and transports us along with them. There is power in that, a kind of power that sadly goes largely unexplored here.

Tingley, best known for TV series Hemlock Grove and Once Upon a Time, isn’t given a whole lot to work with. Rose is at various turns arrogant, cold, obsessive and vulnerable. She’s not really a damsel in distress, but she’s not really a terribly strong woman either. When we first meet her, she is informed of her father’s death and has a reaction that is guaranteed to be the very opposite of endearing. To make matters worse, Tingley gives us a rather stiff performance, making me theorize that she was uncomfortable with the role. That’s just conjecture, of course.

This is one of the great Rutger Hauer’s final performances and it is a brief one; he mostly appears in brief snatches – pointing to the woods, glimpsed in mirrors and around corners, and has no dialogue other than during a vintage interview. It really is rather a waste because he has more presence than anyone else in the film. I wish the filmmakers had utilized him better.

A film about music needs a good score and fortunately this film has one. Composer Alexis Mangaud makes a suitably creepy tone but also makes the music lovely for the most part – some of it is atonal and dissonant but by the film’s end it’s hard not to be mesmerized by the music, even if you’re not a classical music aficionado.

The film suffers from some rookie mistakes; an over-reliance on jump scares, plot points that lead nowhere, and generally unlikable characters who have little depth to them. Still, there’s enough here to make this a fairly solid horror opus perfect for rainy nights, autumn afternoons as the sun is dying in the sky, or just to creep you out when you’re alone in the house. Sometimes, that’s all a movie really needs to be.

REASONS TO SEE: A truly fascinating idea.
REASONS TO AVOID: Tingley gives a fairly stiff performance.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some unsettling adult themes, gruesome images, terror, profanity, and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Desmond’s feature film debut; it is also the second-to-last film from the late Rutger Hauer to see the light of day (there’s one more coming out later this year).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: AppleTV, Fandango Now, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/9/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rosemary’s Baby
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Papillon (2018)

Uncut Gems


New York is Adam Sandler’s town; you’re just living in it.

(2019) Crime Drama (A24Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Eric Bogosian, LaKeith Stanfield, Judd Hirsch, Idina Menzel, Kevin Garnett, The Weekend, Jonathan Aranbayev, Jacob Igielski, Noa Fisher, Paloma Elesser, Keith Williams Richards, Tommy Kominik, Louis Anthony Arias, Sean Ringgold, Jeremy Sample, Benjy Kleiner, Josh Ostrovsky, Sahar Bibiyan, Lana Levitin. Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie

 

There are certain people who just live for the rush. That high that comes from risk that leads to reward. These are the people who have their bookies on speed dial, who haunt the sports book at casinos in Atlantic City and Vegas.

Howard Ratman (Sandler) is one of those guys. A jeweler in New York City, his picture is what you’ll see on Wikipedia when you look up the word “hustler.” He always has some scheme going, some bullshit story that explains away the absolute crap that he pulls. His long-suffering wife (Menzel) is close to having had it; his mistress (Fox) who also works as a clerk in his store seems to be the only one who sees anything worthwhile in him. His kids certainly don’t. Most of his employees think he’s a jerk and of course the people he owes money to are about ready to drop him out of a window – preferably from a floor in the double digits.

He has some high hopes in a raw opal mined in Ethiopia that he has been trying to import (illegally) that will fetch him over a million in auction. He also has a thing for celebrities, including basketball legend Kevin Garnett – the movie takes place in 2012 when KG was with the Boston Celtics fighting in the playoffs against Philly. Howard wants to sell him some bling; KG has taken a shine to the opal. He borrows it (using his championship rings as collateral) and has a monster game, which Howard bets heavily on. He is juggling chainsaws, trying to move money around to satisfy the bookies who are sending increasingly irritable muscle to collect. Howard, though, is making moves, knowing that every move he makes may be his last.

It is not surprising that Martin Scorsese is one of the producers for this movie; the film has a gritty Mean Streets-kind of feel. The Safdie Brothers, who are best known for Good Time, know how to create characters who are basically unlikable but casting them so perfectly that you end up rooting for them. There is little to commend in Howard but because it is Adam Sandler playing him, you can’t help but hope the guy makes it through even though the odds are against him.

Sandler, who emerged from Saturday Night Live as a movie star with plenty of charisma and charm, has been suffering through a series of truly bad movies over the last years but his performance here cements his reputation as a dramatic actor of depth and talent. He’s got a legitimate shot at the Best Actor Oscar this year and he simply owns the screen from the moment he steps on it – even when it’s his colon that is the subject (don’t ask).

The big issues that keep this from getting a perfect score start with the score; it’s bad. I mean, the kind of bad that would ruin a lesser movie. It’s like Vangelis and Raffi had a love child and the proud parents gave him a toy synthesizer. Also, the Safdies sometimes seem far more concerned with style over substance. They displayed that more in their previous films, but perhaps their association with Scorsese has tempered that tendency. It detracts from the movie when they get into “Look, Ma, I’m Directing” mode.

The last 20 minutes of this movie are incredible, edge-of-your-seat kind of stuff. The tension that the Safdie brothers have built really pays off and it’s almost impossible to look away from the screen as things come to a head. This is not a movie for the faint of heart; those sorts are liable to get palpitations watching Howard try to survive and win his last bet.

This isn’t an easy movie to love but you might just end up doing it. I find myself thinking more highly of it now than I did when I walked out of the theater. This is the kind of movie that is going to have some pull in the Oscar conversation this year and while it may be a bit of an underdog for some of the bigger awards, it is certainly one of the best movies of the year regardless.

REASONS TO SEE: Possibly Adam Sandler’s finest performance. The lasts 20 minutes are absolutely riveting. A totally unexpected ending.
REASONS TO AVOID: Most. Annoying. Soundtrack. Ever.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a plentiful of f-bombs, along with a fair amount of violence (some of it startling), some sexual content and brief drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The house used for the exterior of Howard’s Long Island home is the same house used for the exterior of Freddie Mercury’s home in Bohemian Rhapsody.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews: Metacritic: 89/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Owning Mahowny
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

And Two if By Sea: The Hobgood Brothers


Seeing double.

(2019) Sports Documentary (1091) Daniel Tosh (voice), CJ Hobgood, Damien Hobgood, Kelly Slater, John John Florence, Carissa Moore, Sal Masakela, Mick Fanning, Jordy (Smith, Brett Simpson, Clifton Hobgood, Taj Burrow, Joel Parkinson, Jack Robinson, Khloe Andino, Tanner Gudauskas, Pat Gudauskas, Keanu Asing, Peter King, Charlotte Hobgood, Courtney Hobgood, Maureen Hobgood, Rachel Hobgood. Directed by Justin Purser

 

Having an identical twin must be somewhat mind-blowing. I don’t know about you, but I would find it a bit freaky if there was someone who looked exactly like me wandering around (poor devil) and if I was essentially lumped in together with him, often being mistaken for him? I’m sure it would get old pretty fast.

Then again, there are some advantages to having a twin. There’s always someone there to drive you forward, to give you motivation to outdo them. Plus, if you’re ever caught doing a crime, you can always blame it on the twin.

The Hobgood brothers CJ and Damien are both pro surfers, both world champions on the tour. They hail from Satellite Beach, Florida which also happens to be the hometown of maybe the most decorated surfer of modern times, Kelly Slater. This irreverent documentary stands out from all the other surfing documentaries (and brother, trust me, there are many) in that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Comedian Daniel Tosh provides the voiceover narration and the graphics identifying the various interview subjects are if not outright funny (for the most part they are) are at least snarky.

The surfing footage surprisingly doesn’t dominate the screen time; most of it is pretty gnarly (in the parlance) but in all honesty I’ve seen gnarlier (is that even a word?) in other films. For those who haven’t viewed many surfing docs, it might look pretty intense but those who have seen more than a few will likely find it solid but unspectacular.

I do like the insights we get into what it takes to be a pro surfer; how much sponsorship is required to get a surfer through the tour (over $90K minimum just for travel and expenses). Also, there’s an honesty to how the brothers are depicted here; they are presented not just as cool dudes on the beach but also as men who succumb to temptation, men whose competitiveness gets away from them from time to time and men who aren’t always prone to doing the right thing.

The abundance of talking heads may tire out some, but the irreverence helps combat that. I do like the attitude here; this is definitely something a little different. And I like different.

REASONS TO SEE: Not yo mama’s surfing doc. There’s a lot of straightforward honesty here.
REASONS TO AVOID: Loads of talking heads.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mildly rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Hobgoods are the only identical twins to date to both win pro surfing tour championships.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/21/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Endless Summer
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Spirits in the Forest

Rabid (2019)


She’s got a bit of an overbite.

(2019) Horror (Shout! FactoryLaura Vandervoort, Benjamin Hollingsworth, Ted Atherton, Hanneke Talbot, Stephen Huszar, Mackenzie Gray, Stephen McHattie, Kevin Hanchard, Heidi von Palleske, Joel Labelle, C.M. Punk, Edie Inksetter, Tristan Risk, Sylvia Soska, Jen Soska, Vanessa Jackson, Joe Bostick, Troy James, Greg Bryk, A.J. Mendez, Dion Karas, Amanda Zhou. Directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska

 

The Soska sisters are a pair of Canadian identical twins who have turned into promising horror directors. Their latest, a remake of an early classic by their countryman David Cronenberg, walks a fine line between modernizing a classic and overpraising it.

Rose (Vandervoort) is a mousy wannabe fashion designer who works for the insufferable Euro-trash designer Gunter (Gray) who regularly bullies her. Her BFF Chelsea (Talbot) convinces her to come to the company party that night where hottie photographer Brad (Hollingsworth) flirts with her. When she discovers that Chelsea put him up to it, Rose storms out of the party, gets on her scooter and promptly gets into a horrific accident.

With part of her intestine missing and her face marred by a ghastly mutilation, she is certain her career is over. However, Dr. Burroughs (Atherton) proposes a radical new treatment – stem cell manipulation – that will restore her beauty and repair her injuries. It sounds too good to be true but what does she have to lose?

The treatment goes better than she would dare hope. Dr. Burroughs’ promises are kept and more; when Rose gets back to work, she does so with new-found confidence that impresses Gunter to the point that he invites her to work on his new collection. She’s living the dream now.

But not so much since it turns out there are side effects. You see, Rose has a massive craving for blood and a weird appendage growing out of her armpit. And it turns out that Rose is now carrying a kind of super-rabies that is spreading throughout the city. Living the dream has turned into a living nightmare.

This is a fairly faithful remake of the original which is best-known for being porn star Marilyn Chambers’ first legitimate screen role. There is a smattering of social satire here that is welcome and a few in-jokes; early on, an employee of Gunter’s wonders about his new line “Why are we remaking old trends?” The level of self-awareness in the film is clever and subtle.

Unfortunately, a lot of good ideas here go undeveloped and the Sisters – whose earlier films didn’t shy away from the gore, certainly seem to be a bit tamer here. There are a few gruesome scenes – the injuries to Rose’s face, as depicted above, among them – but for the most part, there is a curious lack of over-the-top gore which might have benefitted the film.

A little judicious editing might have always helped. The movie is 20 minutes longer than the original and feels long; by the time the movie reaches its denouement it feels more like a marathon than a sprint. A good horror film requires brevity. There’s none of that here.

Vandervoort, best known for her time on Smallville, does a fairly decent job although quite frankly when compared with Chambers that’s not a high bar to reach for. She shows some nice horror chops here and although I don’t think that a further career as a scream queen is necessarily in the cards for her but if she chose to go that route I think she could make some real inroads.

I had high hopes for this one given the pedigree of the Soska sisters and the original material so I was mildly disappointed. It’s still worth seeing, particularly if you’re into body manipulation horror, but this is far from essential. Still, I do believe the Soska sisters are on the verge of becoming big players in the horror genre.

REASONS TO SEE: Occasionally delves into social satire which it does with welcome subtlety.
REASONS TO AVOID: Way too long.
FAMILY VALUES: There is extreme and often horrific violence, disturbing images, drug use, sexuality and nudity not to mention plenty of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Producer Paul Lalonde is best known for his work o the Left Behind film franchise. This is his first non-faith-based film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/21/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews: Metacritic: 41/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: World War Z
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
And Two If By Sea

Midnight Family


On the mean streets of Mexico City.

(2019) Documentary (1091Juan Ochoa, Fer Ochoa, Josue Ochoa, Manuel Ochoa. Directed by Luke Lorentzen

 

Mexico City is one of the most crowded metropolises in the world. With nine million inhabitants spread out over 573 square miles, it is the most populated city in North America. Serving those inhabitants are just 45 ambulances provided by the government; filling the gaps are private ambulance services that are largely unregulated.

One of these private services is run by the Ochoa family. Patriarch Fernando (or Fer, as he is better known) is compassionate and suffering from type 2 diabetes himself. He is slow-moving which frustrates his son Juan to no end; in a cutthroat business like the one they’re in, speed is everything. A matter of seconds can be the difference between grabbing a paying customer and losing everything they have. As a result, the weight of the world often seems to land on Fer’s shoulders.

The family mainly works nights with 16-year-old Juan generally driving the rig. He also tends to be the one who has the uncomfortable job of discussing payment with their patients who often have no insurance and can’t afford to pay them. Sometimes, the family doesn’t get any income whatsoever for days. Young Josue, a chunky young kid who looks to be on the cusp of middle school (his age is never discussed), doesn’t seem to go to school, or at least often finds excuses why he shouldn’t. Juan chides him and lays down the law with his little brother; if he doesn’t go to school, he doesn’t get to ride in the ambulance.

There is marked corruption. The family pays out a healthy percentage of their income in bribes to cops who tell them about accidents and other incidents where their services could be needed, like the first call in the film which is to a gas station where a young woman has been assaulted by her boyfriend and her nose broken.

There is an unmistakable correlation to our own health care system; in many ways the Mexican system is what our own is developing into. Patients are given the choices of going to overcrowded public hospitals (where they don’t have to pay but often have to wait hours before being seen), private hospitals (less crowded but often substandard facilities) and deluxe private hospitals (generally with all the most modern equipment but expensive). This is what “the best healthcare you can afford” looks like.

Lorentzen employs a cinema verité style; other than a title graphic at the very beginning explaining the lack of public ambulance services, the story unfolds as the camera catches it. There is no music, no talking head interviews, no cute animations; the viewer is left to interpret the story for themselves but Lorentzen clearly has faith that the story speaks for itself.

We don’t get much insight into what the family does when they aren’t working. We see Juan primping before heading off to work. We also see Juan talking to his girlfriend, recounting the events of the day. At one point we see Juan and Fer picking up Josue from school and we get a glimpse of a cluttered apartment, but no real sense of how they live day to day; for them, as far as the film is concerned, work is life. That makes it more difficult for us to relate to them.

What we do get are beautifully filmed scenes of the city late at night, lit by garish greens, blues and yellows. There is an almost impersonal feel to the look of the film, emphasizing how uncaring life in the big city is. There is an emptiness and disquiet as we often go from deserted streets in the middle of the night to crowded streets where Fer cajoles taxis to move out of the way via loudspeaker; “We could be helping someone in your family.” Puling over for emergency vehicles is apparently not a thing in Mexico City.

This is not for the squeamish as we see Juan and Fer cleaning the blood out of the rig after a run more than once, plus hearing the screams of the suffering. The movie recently appeared on the shortlist for the upcoming Oscar Best Documentary Feature award and may well sneak in to the final list of five. The movie doesn’t hit you like a thunderbolt, but it does work on you insidiously, slowly getting under your skin. You do end up caring for the Ochoa family and feeling outrage that a system like that could exist. The chilling part is that we’re not so far away from it ourselves.

REASONS TO SEE: Well-crafted cinema verité.
REASONS TO AVOID: Is a little disjointed at times.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/17/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 84/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bringing Out the Dead
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
In the Tall Grass

A New Christmas


Life is rarely like a movie poster.

(2019) Holiday Romance (Cinedigm) Prashantt Guptha, Grace Wacuka, Preeti Gupta, Aurora Heimbach, Carl Garrison, Swati Bhise, Harbinder Singh, Vivienne Kjono, Paula Rossman. Directed by Daniel Tenenbaum

 

For most of us, the holidays are a time of great joy – but not for all of us. For some, the holidays are a bitter reminder of what we have lost and how alone in the world we can be.

Kabir (Guptha) falls into the latter category. He is ornery and tends to snap at his friends and loved ones who are trying to reach out to him. As we discover, his beloved mother Aasha (Bhise) died suddenly and unexpectedly during the Christmas season a year earlier. Kabir still hasn’t been able to get over the pain of his loss, despite the best efforts of his pretty wife Shivaani (Gupta). He has essentially put his medical studies on hold and is in danger of losing his place in school. His friend Paddy (Garrison) who gave his mom a job when she needed one is also met with resentment when he tries to point out that Christmas was Aasha’s favorite time of year, causing Kabir to stomp off in a huff. Someone clearly needs a hug.

While at Washington Square Park he meets up with Kioni (Wacuka), a vivacious Kenyan applying for film school in New York and is taking in the holiday sights while she’s in town. Kabir isn’t any kinder to Kioni than he is to his friends, but at least he feels remorse and offers to show her around some of the Christmas sights in town, ranging from ice skating at Rockefeller Center to the gaudy Christmas light displays in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. As time goes on, he and Kioni discover that they have a lot in common. However, his friendship with Kioni brings a stark reminder to Shivaani about past indiscretions and suddenly his marriage is hanging by a gossamer thread. He begins to realize that he is taking for granted the things and people he does have, but after spending so much time and energy pushing them away, is it too late to embrace them again?

Well, it’s a Christmas movie so you do the math. There is definitely a New York feel to the film, from the varying ethnic groups that make up the main actors to the locations where Kabir takes Kioni – including for a slice of authentic New York pizza which made me terribly jealous. There is nothing quite like New York pizza.

But I digress. Even though the movie is only an hour and twenty long it feels heavily padded with the various city travelogue scenes, some of which are repeated more than once. The plot is also wafer-thin and I found myself thinking this would have made a much more effective short film, OR the writers could have developed the characters a little bit further. Personally, I would vote for the latter.

The movie is rescued by the chemistry between Guptha and Wacuka which is completely believable. In some ways, you root for the two to get together but the movie, as with real life, doesn’t work that way. Kioni gives Kabir the motivation to choose to live life again rather than dwelling on his loss. Before you wonder if Kabir is like the ultimate mama’s boy, let me assure you he is not; it is the circumstances around his mother’s passing that has made him so reluctant to let go of the pain. In many ways, he’s punishing himself for reasons you’ll just have to rent the movie to find out.

There is some charm here, and when Guptha and Wacuka are together onscreen the movie is humming on all cylinders. However, the movie does the other characters a disservice by failing to give them the same kind of depth that the two leads are given and it does end up hurting the film. I would say this film is a cut above most Hallmark Channel Christmas movies mainly because the relationship at it’s core is so realistic, but it could have been a lot better. The film is currently playing in select theaters around the country and on a smattering of streaming services.

REASONS TO SEE: The chemistry between Guptha and Wacuka is natural and unforced.
REASONS TO AVOID: Feels like this would have worked better as a short; too much padding.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Guptha is best known for his work in The Tashkent Files.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/15/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Holiday
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Midnight Family