Becoming Cousteau


The ultimate oceanographer and his mini-sub.

(2021) Documentary (National Geographic) Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Vincent Cassel (narrator), Louis Malle, Phillippe Cousteau, Thomas Taillez, Fredéric Dumas, Simone Cousteau, Yves Omer, Bruno Capello, Claude Wesley, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Albert Falco, Jocelyne de Pas, Yves Pacalet, David Wolper, John Soh, Brad Matson, Susan Schefelbein, Francine Cousteau. Directed by Liz Garbus

Beneath the ocean’s waves is an entirely new world, a largely unexplored one, populated by strange and almost magical creatures. One of the first to explore that undersea world was former French naval officer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Aboard his ship the Calypso, he sailed the world’s oceans and brought the denizens of them onto television screens the world over. He became synonymous with the sea, an unlikely celebrity who didn’t seek the fame he received for his work, but would eventually leverage it to inform millions about the peril the seas were in.

In that sense, Cousteau was a Cassandra before his times. He was one of the first to warn of the man-made catastrophe that was ongoing in the ocean’s reefs and fisheries. He was a tireless advocate for conservation, calling for heads of state to cease using the oceans as a dumping ground, and to adopt reasonable limits for fishing. Not many listened, which is why his warnings are still being repeated, albeit more stridently now as the planet rapidly approaches a tipping point which might mean the end of human life on Earth. Sounds dramatic – but it’s sadly oh so true.

Cousteau originally meant to be a pilot for the French Navy, but a devastating car accident put the end to that dream. When a friend suggested swimming in the Mediterranean as a means to convalesce and another introduced him to skin diving, he was hooked. Soon, he was much happier in the water than out of it. He had also developed a passion for photography and he had a yearning to share what he was witnessing in the sea, and a restless desire to see what lay deeper. He helped design waterproof cameras and the aqua lung, an early predecessor to scuba gear.

His yearnings and desire led him to purchase a vintage mine sweeper which was renamed the Calypso and with funding from the French government, went out exploring. When that funding dried up, he found that oil companies were willing to pay handsomely for oil exploration in the Red Sea and he did that for awhile, which he would later come to regret.

His fascination with the moving image led him to make – with then-unknown director Louis Malle – a documentary called The Silent World which won the 1956 Oscar for Best Documentary. Producer David Wolper thought that it would make a great TV show and thus The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau was born.

His wife Simone accompanied him on his voyages. She was essentially the business manager for the Calypso and den mother to the crew. Camera-shy and spotlight-wary, she largely stayed out of the limelight while raising their two sons, Phillippe and Jean-Michel, largely without the help of her husband whose busy schedule took him on lecture tours and speaking engagements around the globe. At the same time, he was carrying on an affair with Francine Triplet, who would become his second wife with whom he would father two other children (Diane and Pierre-Yves) while still married to his first.

As the Sixties became the Seventies, he began to notice disturbing changes in his beloved oceans. Areas that had been teeming with fish were growing nearly barren; coral reefs were beginning to show signs of distress. He saw the pollution that was going into the ocean and killing it long before anyone else, and created the Cousteau Foundation (who partially funded the making of this film) to raise awareness of human impact on the oceans and the need for conservation in the seven seas. It is an ongoing effort that continues even more urgently today.

When one of Cousteau’s children died tragically, he became a changed man. His tone grew darker and ABC cancelled his show because it was “too depressing.” His wife Simone died of cancer, opening the door for him to marry Francine. Even with a new family which he made sure to spend more time with, which was one of the regrets he had with his two sons with Simone,

Garbus utilizes a lot of footage shot by Cousteau and his team, curating it rather than presenting it as a normal documentary. She never gets hagiographic with her subject, talking honestly about his change of heart regarding exploitation of the sea (he once advocated for colonizing the sea floor with permanent human habitats) and how, in many ways, he shut his family out emotionally. He expresses his regrets, and downplays his triumphs. Garbus has a more impartial point of view and keeps a steady hand on the wheel. Unfortunately, there isn’t much here that a cursory Wikipedia search wouldn’t reveal, but that seems to be pretty much true of most biographies these days. In any case, the undersea footage holds all the wonder it held for young children first seeing them in the Seventies, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for a treat.

REASONS TO SEE: Some truly spectacular footage, much of it shot by Cousteau himself.
REASONS TO AVOID: Doesn’t really add much more than you could find in a Google search.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, a few disturbing images and some smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cousteau passed away in 1997 at age 87. His funeral was held in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/23/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Oceans
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Pure Grit

Son of Monarchs


We all yearn thttps://sonofmonarchs.com/o emerge from childhood as a beautiful butterfly.

(2021) Drama (Warner Media/150) Tenoch Huerta, Alexia Rasmussen, Lázaro Gabino Rodriguez, Noé Hernández, Paulina Gaitán, William Mapother, Juan Ugarte, Electra Avellán, Angelina Peláez, Emily Keefe, Jay Potter, Jarod Lindsey, Wendy Heagy, Daniel Fuentes Lobo, Gadi Rubin, Rich Miglio, Gisell Rodriguez, Maia Vogel, Fernanda Rivera, Maria Luiza Ceglia. Directed by Alexis Gambis

 

Butterflies are creatures of intense beauty and fragility. Their colorful wings delight us, and their migratory patterns can astound us. Butterflies have always been used as a metaphor, a desire that we harbor to emerge from our chrysalis – whatever it may be – as a beautiful, bejeweled butterfly and (hopefully) not as a dull, drab moth.

The parents of Mendel (Huerta) must have had great expectations for their son, naming him for a Czech scientist, but they didn’t live to see it happen, dying senselessly during a flood. This left Mendel and his older brother Simon (Hernández) orphaned, to be raised by their grandmother (Peláez) and a assortment of uncles. Mendel eventually left the tiny village nestled in the mountains of Michoacán where millions of monarch butterflies spend the winter to study the butterflies as a biologist for a lab in New York. Simon stayed to work in the mines and raise a family; Simon hasn’t forgiven Mendel for leaving Mexico and leaving Simon alone to cope with the grief.

But Mendel returns for the funeral of his grandmother to find that while most of his family is overjoyed to see him, particularly his niece Lucia (Avellan) who wants very much for her uncle to return for her wedding later in the year. Her father, Simon, is less happy to see Mendel and can barely keep a civil tongue in his head when his brother is around.

Back in New York, Mendel is introduced to Sarah (Rasmussen) who works for a non-profit and is a recreational trapeze artist (is that really a thing?) and the two begin to spend a lot of time together. Mendel can’t get over the ease with which Sarah flies through the air; this must be what it’s like to be a human butterfly. He also begins to experience vivid flashbacks of the horrible day in which his parents perished.

Although Mendel is reluctant to return to Michoacán, he eventually decides to do so, knowing that he and his brother must confront the things separating them that keep them from soaring through the winds like the brightly colored insects they both love.

Gambis, who is not only a filmmaker but also holds a PhD in biology, has a lyrical bent that is shown at various times in the film, as when a young Mendel is covered in a sea of orange and brown monarchs, or showing the beauty of the landscape surrounded by desolation wrought by the greed of men.

His script has some interesting points, but has a tendency to get bogged down on minutiae, so there isn’t the kind of flow you would like to see in a film like this. He is constantly throwing in dream sequences and flashbacks which also disrupt a film that needed a gentle rhythm. Finally, the whole use of butterflies as a metaphor is overused to the point of dreariness.

And these are large issues indeed, but not insurmountable ones and in fact the movie more than makes up for them with compelling performances by Huerta and Hernández, whose chemistry as two brothers, once close but now wary of each other and unsure not only how they got to this point but whether they can get back to what they once were at all. The two have a confrontation near the end of the film that is absolutely riveting and highly emotional; it is the highlight of the film and the centerpiece for it in many ways.

Cinematographer Alejandro Mejia fills the screen with bright butterfly-like colors, while Cristóbal Maryán contributes a score that is delicate and beautiful. The simplicity of life in the village is alluring when contrasted with the hectic pace of life in the Big Apple, although some may find that more to their liking. I found myself succumbing to the charms of the film despite its flaws, and perhaps even because of them. This is a very impressive first film for Gambis.

The movie is in the midst of a brief limited run in New York, Los Angeles and a handful of other cities. It will arrive on HBO Max on November 2nd.

REASONS TO SEE: Beautifully shot, beautifully scored. The heat between Huerta and Hernández is realistic and powerful. The sequences of village life are lovely. A wonderful examination of the difficulties for even legal immigrants in America.
REASONS TO AVOID: Leans a little bit too much on flashbacks, butterfly metaphors and dream sequences.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film won the prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which is given annually to the festival entry that focuses on science as a central theme or scientists as central characters.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Max (starting November 2nd)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/19/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews; Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Identifying Features
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT:
Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters

The Song of the Butterflies (El canto de las mariposas)


The art of Rember Yahuarcani recalls the legends of the Amazon.

(2020) Documentary (PBS) Rember Yahuarcani, Martha Lopez, Nereida Lopez, Santiago Yahuarcani. Directed by Nuria Frigola Torrent

 

The Amazon is a great, mysterious place. A significant portion of the indigenous people there – about 10% – have never had any contact with so-called “civilized” cultures. It is a land of lush greenery, of ancient trees and wisdom, of colorful creatures and people. It is a land that is sadly being stripped of its resources and seeing its native cultures dislocated.

Rember Yahuarcani is a painter, an artist who lives in Lima, Peru. He is a part of the White Crane tribe, which was once flourished but now consists of just two families. His grandmother Martha, who recently passed away, is his inspiration; she tells stories about the clan, from its mythology to the history she has seen. She survived the decimation that came from the rubber plantations, who killed off terrifying numbers of natives in their quest for profits. Indigenous peoples the world over can relate to those stories.

He has been at an impasse lately and decides to go visit his mother and father in the small village he grew up in. They are both artists as well and live much the same way as when Rember was a boy, teaching their grandchildren the stories of their culture, trying to preserve it as best they can. But Rember needs more, and ventures into Colombia where the remainder of their tribe lives.

This is a beautifully shot film and with the Amazonia region as a canvas, that almost goes without saying. It is the sounds, however, that make the movie sing. The flapping of butterfly wings. The buzzing of insects. The chirping of birds. The flow of water. The patter of rain. The songs of the aboriginal people of the region. Imagine hearing those sounds all the time. Preferably without the humidity.

Interwoven with all of this are archival photos of indigenous people in the employ of colonial plantation owners. We hear horrific stories of natives being burned alive, of having their skin flayed off. Discipline was brutal and the men who wielded engorged with greed and possessed of zero empathy for the suffering of others. This is the story of what colonialism has bought us; cultures essentially wiped from the face of the Earth, a lack of respect for nature and the workings of ecology. That colonialism is still with us, not just in Brazil where a tyrannical President seeks to eradicate the rain forest, turn it all into profitable farmland without caring one whit at what the world loses just so long as the profits keep rolling in. It’s no different here, only we call the colonialists “industrialists” and they enslave the working class here in subtle, but similar ways.

At times, the juxtaposition of the natural world and the horrors of the colonial world don’t mesh as well, and it can be rather jarring. Still, this first-time feature film from Catalan-Peruvian filmmaker is absolutely breathtaking from the stories of ancient wisdom to the tales of more recent horrors.

REASONS TO SEE: The sound is stunning. So is the cinematography.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit disjointed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is smoking and some discussion of genocide.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Before becoming a filmmaker, Torrent worked for several years at Amnesty International.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: PBS
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/19/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Embrace of the Serpent
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Emergence: Out of the Shadows

The Sleepless Unrest


A house ripe for a conjuring.

(2021) Horror Documentary (Gravitas) Kendell Whelpton, Cory Heinzen, Richel Stratton, Brian Murray, Vera Whelpton, Jennifer Heinzen, John Huntington, Anthony Cross, John Sparks. Directed by Kendell and Vera Whelpton

 

In recent years, television programs about amateur paranormal investigators have proliferated, with the 800-lb gorilla of the genre being Ghost Hunters. One of the places that TAPS never visited was the farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island where once lived the Perron family. Their experiences were later turned into the massive hit movie The Conjuring which in turn spawned a franchise. It seems kind of odd that TAPS which was based in Rhode Island never bothered to investigate a place supposedly as haunted as this – although it should be said that the owners at the time claimed that there was nothing particularly frightening going on in the home. In face, Norma Sutcliffe, ran a daycare center in the house for 20 years without incident.

The new owners, Cory and Jennifer Heinzen, were fans of the movie and when the house went on the market were eager to buy it. They currently operate the home as a kind of haunted Air BnB, inviting amateur investigators to spend the night.

Kendall and Vera Whelpton took them up on it and in fact spent two weeks there. Along with their friends and fellow amateur investigators Brian Murray and Richel Stratton, they set up dozens of cameras in the nearly 300-year-old house as well as motion detectors and other equipment, most of it homemade or repurposed. This documentary records their experiences.

Be advised first off – there is nothing here that is particularly spectacular, or definitive proof of spooks, spirits, or ghosts, malevolent or otherwise. Like most paranormal investigative programs, we get footage of doors swinging open by themselves, objects falling off of shelves, strange orbs flying across the screen (well, one only in this case) and plenty of bumps and knocks. Of course, anyone who has ever lived in a house that is more than a century old can tell you that these things aren’t unusual – old homes can be affected by changes in air pressure, and are often full of creaks and moans that have everything to do with the house settling into its foundation and less to do with the paranormal.

If I sound like a skeptic here, I’m really not – I like to think that I’m open-minded about the possibilities of the otherworldly. However, the Whelptons, The Heinzens, Murray and Stratton don’t even attempt to attribute their footage to anything other than the supernatural. One of the things that attracted me to the original Ghost Hunters was that their first priority was to actually investigate – they looked for rational, scientific explanations first and when those were all exhausted, then they might admit that there was a possibility of a haunting. There’s no evidence that they even considered anything like that.

What you get here are a group of people who believe what they want to believe and try to make their footage conform to that belief. I don’t doubt for a minute that they believe the house is haunted, or that the paranormal exists but they don’t even research the history of the home they’re investigating, or even mention what the Warrens (the real-life investigators who worked with the Perron family back in the 1970s) attributed the haunting to. That may be because much of the folklore surrounding the house has since been debunked; the Warrens cited Bathsheba Sherman, who lived on a neighboring farm, as a witch who was the source of the haunting (the film expanded greatly on the theory). In reality, there’s no evidence that Mrs. Sherman practiced witchcraft and most of the tales of her being a witch seem to be contemporary in origin. The murder that was attributed to have taken place on the property actually took place in Massachusetts. Town records also don’t verify the suicides that took place on the property which were alluded to in a book by Andrea Perron, one of the five daughters who lived on the property in the 1970s and who continues to assert that the property is haunted.

I certainly won’t contradict either Ms. Perron or Ms. Sutcliffe. Both women lived on the property after all and clearly love the house and the land it sits on, and who am I, a mere film critic, to doubt any of their experiences? If you want to see for yourself, the farmhouse is available for day tours, although stays in the farm are booked through the end of 2022. You can look into the farmhouse further at this site and if you’re interested in finding out more, the Heinzens would be happy to answer your questions. However, this documentary that was filmed entirely on their property is not mentioned anywhere on the website, although other programs, podcasts and blogs that did, are. It is conspicuous by its absence. Finding out the truth about the Conjuring Farmhouse is something you are unlikely to learn by watching this movie, though.

REASONS TO SEE: The researchers and the Heinzens are outgoing and genuinely believe in what they’re doing.
REASONS TO AVOID: Never delves into the history of the house – why is it haunted? – nor do they seem to attempt to find any non-supernatural explanations for any of the phenomenon witnessed.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some spooky sequences and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Heinzens have two children who do not appear in the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS:As of 9/6/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Mothman Legacy
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Reminiscence

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

Raging Fire (Nou fo)


Shots fired!

(2021) Crime Action (Well Go USA) Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse, Lan Qin, Angus Yeung, Patrick Tam, Ben Lam, Deep Ng, Kang Yu, Henry Prince Mak, Tak-Bun Wong, Jeana Ho, Ken Lo, Simon Yam, Tony Tsz-Tung Wu, Kwok-Keung Cheung, Jing-hung Kwok, Ray Lui, Chris Collins, Fung Kwok, Singh Hartihan Bitto, Inderjeet Singh, Cheung-Ching Mak, Yee Tong Directed by Benny Chan

 

When Hong Kong was the action movie capitol of the world, Donnie Yen was one of its principal stars and Benny Chan one of its most talented directors. After the handoff from the UK to mainland China, the Hong Kong film industry, which at its peak produced 200 films per year, was absorbed into the Chinese film industry and became subject to pre-approval by Communist film censors. The by-the-seat-of-the-pants take-no-prisoners action that made it beloved by those who had picked up on just how special those films were became a thing of the past.

But this latest film, starring Yen and fellow HK action star Tse, is a throwback to the style before Chinese action movies became indistinguishable from low-budget American ones. An elite team of Hong Kong police officers, led by Cheung Chung-Bong (Yen) who is as incorruptible as it gets, are after a mysterious band of thieves whose ruthlessness and willingness to spill blood have made them a priority. To Cheung’s shock, he discovers that the thieves are ex-cops led by his ex-partner Yau Kong-Ngo (Tse). Ngo had been sent to prison after a riverside interrogation went sideways. Bong had put him there, and essentially their superiors through Ngo under an entire fleet of busses. He emerged from prison with thoughts of deadly revenge and a moral compass that had turned pitch black.

The two are headed for an inevitable confrontation and while getting there, Chan gives us plenty of amazing action sequences, including a car chase that you’ll have to see to believe, and all sorts of fights, mayhem and gun battles. Yen, at 60, still has plenty of action chops left in him (he was recently cast in the upcoming John Wick sequel) and Tse is one of the most charismatic stars in Asia. Having both of them in the same film is a little bit like Christmas in August.
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The plot leaves a lot to be desired; we’ve seen it before, not just in big budget American action movies (think Michael Mann) but also in a plethora of Hong Kong crime movies which have made detailing the line between cops and criminals something of a trademark. Also, for a movie that’s roughly two hours long, there is almost zero character development for everyone other than the two leads, which is a disadvantage the film never really overcomes.

But then another action sequence comes along and all is forgiven (there is an interrogation room sequence in which Ngo and Bong have a quiet moment that is the best non-action moment of the film; the movie could have used more scenes like it). One is reminded that at its peak, the Hong Kong film industry was one of the most innovative and imaginative in the world, at times rivaling Hollywood for clever action sequences. For anyone who remembers those Hong Kong action movies of the 80s and 90s with fondness, this one is going to be right up your alley.

REASONS TO SEE: Hyper-kinetic action sequences.
REASONS TO AVOID: The plot is mighty pedestrian.
FAMILY VALUES: There is much violence, profanity and some gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This would be Chan’s final feature as a director as he passed away from cancer August 23, 2020. He was able to complete shooting and supervise the majority of post-production before his illness prevented any further involvement.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/19/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Heat
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Don’t Sell Me a Dog

Escape from Mogadishu


In Mogadishu, it’s not a good idea to bring the blue book when you take your car for a trade-in.

(2021) Action (Well Go USA) Kim Yoon-seok, In-sung Jo, Joon-ho Huh, Kyo-hwan Koo, So-jin Kim, Man-sik Jeong, Kim Jae-hwa, Park Ji-eun. Directed by Seung-wan Ryoo

 

In 1991, the Somalian dictator Siad Barre was overthrown by rebel forces and from there Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia, and the rest of Somalia for that matter descended into chaos.

South Korea had a tiny embassy there in 1991. Ambassador Han (Y-s Kim) was eager to lobby the Somali government to cast a vote to allow South Korea into the United Nations. Because there were so many African nations that had voting privileges in the U.N., South Korea was focusing much of their diplomatic focus on Africa in an effort to garner enough votes to gain South Korea admittance. North Korean ambassador Rim (Huh) was doing his best to thwart the ambassador’s efforts.

Along with the South Korean ambassador was his wife (S-j Kim) and security advisor Kang (Jo). Also working for the small North Korean embassy is their security advisor (Koo). At first, the two countries are too wrapped up in their own diplomatic games to really notice what’s going on. There are rumors of unrest, but a report by the American CIA, as well as the analysis of an Australian journalist, doesn’t believe the country is ready to sink into Civil War. How wrong they were.

The violence comes with startling suddenness and unnerving ferocity. Government officials quickly flee Mogadishu with all the wealth they can lay their grubby hands on, both Korean embassies find themselves rapidly in an untenable situation. Communications fail as the country’s infrastructure collapses. They have no aircraft available to them – the ambassadors and their staffs flew commercial to get to Mogadishu – and no way of contacting their government to get help. The streets are run by violent mobs who are of the opinion that all foreigners should die. With no troops to protect their embassies, the South Koreans make an arrangement with members of the Mogadishu police to guard their embassy, but that is only a temporary fix. Soon it becomes too dangerous for the cops to hang around and they leave the Koreans on their own.

The North Korean embassy staff is in a similar situation. With food running out and their embassies under siege, there is no option but to find a way out of Somalia. However, that will take both ambassadors using their contacts – Ambassador Han contacting Western allies, Ambassador Rim contacting North Korea’s allies – to find a way out. And once they even have a hope of getting out, they must make a perilous trip through the chaotic, violent streets of Mogadishu to get to that opportunity. The odds are not with them, especially since it seems nearly impossible that the two staffs – used to mutual hatred and mistrust – can work together in any way shape or form.

The film is based on actual events. How close the depiction here is to what actually happened is not something this American critic has any clue about; there is little information about the incident online. From what I’ve been able to glean, the essential facts were correct.

The movie is essentially an action film, and to be honest the action sequences are masterfully done, particularly the climactic sequence in which the staffs of both embassies make a desperate, dangerous drive through the streets of the city to make it to freedom. It’s a harrowing, tense sequence and stands out as one of the best action sequences you’re likely to see this year – including those in movies with much bigger budgets.

The movie is a bit long for what it is, and some of the humor didn’t fit in with the overall tone of the film. However, the movie does take a different look at the ongoing tragedy in Somalia with a different set of eyes. I wonder if we’ll ever see events that have transpired in that unfortunate country over the past thirty years through Somali eyes at some point.

REASONS TO SEE: The action sequences are well-staged.
REASONS TO AVOID: Feels a bit long.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Somali Civil War, which began in 1991, has been ongoing since then. More than 500,000 Somali citizens have been killed in the fighting since then.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/21/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: 89/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Argo
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Man Under Table

New Releases for the Week of July 16, 2021


SPACE JAM 2: A NEW LEGACY

(Warner Brothers) LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Sonequa Martin-Green, Lil Rel Howley, Zendaya, Gabriel Iglesias, Jim Cummings. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

When a rogue artificial intelligence kidnaps his son, basketball legend LeBron James enlists the help of animated legend Bugs Bunny to re-assemble the Toon team, win a basketball game and save the universe. Or at least, this corner of it.

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

Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG (for some language and some cartoon violence)

Akilla’s Escape

(Vertical) Saul Williams, Thamela Mpumlwana, Donisha Rita Claire Pendergast, Vic Mensa. A young 15-year-old Jamaican boy living in an American urban war zone must come to terms with a generational relationship with crime and violence he thought he had escaped during a single night’s armed robbery.

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

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

Dachra

(Dekalog) Yassmine Dimassi, Hela Ayed, Aziz Jebali, Bilel Slatnia. A young journalism student and her two friends are trapped in a sinister village trying to solve a crime that occurred 25 years ago that may have involved witchcraft.

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

Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Enzian On-Demand
Rating: NR

Die in a Gunfight

(Lionsgate) Diego Boneta, Alexandra Daddario, Justin Chatwin, Billy Crudup. Two black sheep children of powerful warring families reignite a love affair that will have far-reaching consequences in the underbelly of New York.

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

Genre: Action
Now Playing: CMX Merritt Square
Rating: R (for drug use, violence and language)

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

(Columbia) Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Thomas Cocquerel. Six people unwittingly find themselves back in the deadly Escape Room and must find out what their skills are so that they can work together to survive. But it turns out, they’ve all played – and beat – the game before, and this time the traps will be so much more lethal.

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

Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for peril, terror, strong language and violence)

How to Deter a Robber

(SHOUT! Factory) Vanessa Marano, Leah Lewis, Chris Mulkey, Gabrielle Carteris. A stubborn young woman and her boyfriend, accused of a robbery she didn’t commit, looks to clear their names and come face to face with a couple of amateur thieves.

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

Genre: Crime Comedy
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

I Carry You with Me

(Sony Classics) Armando Espitia, Christian Vazquez, Michelle Rodriguez, Angeles Cruz. An aspiring chef is forced to leave his love and emigrate to New York, where his life changes – but his love doesn’t.

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

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language and brief nudity)

Moby Doc

(Greenwich) Moby, David Lynch, Julie Mintz, David Bowie. An unvarnished and surreal look at one of the fathers of modern electronic music and noted animal rights activist Moby.

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

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

Pig

(NEON) Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Cassandra Violet, Adam Arkin. A truffle hunter, living in the woods of the Pacific Northwest by himself (and prefers it that way), is forced to come to the big city when someone steals his beloved foraging pig.

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

Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Orlando, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, CMX Plaza Café, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language and some violence)

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

(Focus) Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, Josh Homme, David Chang. The life of the late Florida Film Festival attendee is looked at from his days as an unknown line cook in New York to becoming a bestselling author and a world-travelling television host.

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

Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Avenue 16, AMC Classic New Smyrna, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Orlando, Enzian Theater, Regal Oviedo Marketplace
Rating: R (for language throughout)

Summertime

(Good Deed) Tyris Winter, Marquesha Babers, Maia Mayor, Mila Cuda. A day in the life of Los Angeles, as seen through the eyes of poets, rappers, musicians and artists from the innovative director of Blindspotting

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

Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language throughout and sexual references)

Sweat

(MUBI) Magdalena Kolesnik, Julian Swiezewski, Aleksandra Konieczna, Zbigniew Zamachowski. A Polish fitness instructor and internet lifestyle influencer battles loneliness, a stalker and an impending national TV interview as she tries to get through a weekend with her overbearing mother.

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

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona
Rating: NR

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

Fire (Tuesday)
Great White
House of Quarantine
(Tuesday)
How It Ends
(Tuesday)
Out of Death
The Rebels of PT-218
Resurgence
(Tuesday)
Room Nine
(Tuesday)
Sleepless Unrest
The Witches of the Orient

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions
Pig
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
Sleepless Unrest
Space Jam 2: A New Legacy
Summertime
Sweat



Programming Note


With theaters reopening to a large extent and Hollywood gearing up with major releases finally making their way into theaters, our weekly preview “New Releases” will be returning in the month of June. We will be starting off with just Orlando-area theaters including Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Lake and Volusia counties. In time we may return to adding coverage of the Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville metropolitan areas but we will for the time being continue with baby steps.

Pick of the Litter, our monthly preview, will continue to stay retired, in all likelihood permanently. We will continue to keep our Coming Soon pages as updated as possible, although that fell by the wayside during the pandemic as changes in release schedules made it basically untenable to keep it up too far in advance. Right now we’re trying to get back into the swing of things and have been keeping it up roughly three months in advance, although that will slowly increase as time goes by.

But this is good news, and another step in the general direction of normalcy, although there is no doubt that with the increase in streaming services and people still prefering to stay home rather than see movies in theaters for the most part, the theatrical release model will certainly be affected permanently by the pandemic as studios have negotiated shorter theatrical windows while at the same time creating a need for content with their own streaming services. Will this be good for the consumer? Time will tell, but it will be difficult for theaters at least in the short term, so for those who have been vaccinated and feel comfortable going out, Cinema365 urges you to support your local movie theaters, both your independent art house as well as the big national chains. They both need your support right now.

Amber’s Descent


Amber is having a really bad day.

(2020) Horror (Breaking Glass) Kayla Stanton, Michael Mitton, Don Knodel, Nathaniel Vossen, Dione Russell, Colm Hill, Destiny Millins, Kirsten Khorsand, Sheron Russell, Jayden Shannon, Craig Paynton, Graham Daley, Sarah Seibert. Directed by Michael Bafaro

 

Trauma can do strange things not just to the body but also to the mind. It can affect us in ways we can’t predict and maybe not even understand.

Amber Waltz (Stanton), who is aptly named due to her profession as a concert pianist and classical music composer, has lived through a severe trauma, having survived being stabbed by her ex Mark (Vossen) who then slit his own throat while she watched, horrified. Understandably, she had a bit of a breakdown after that and decided to leave Seattle where she was living and moves to an isolated farmhouse somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

The house is lovely and secluded although it needs a lot of work, which is why she hires handyman Jim (Mitton) to fix things up. Soft-spoken and eager to please, he is a bit of a comforting presence for her, particularly since she starts to hear odd, unexplained noises while doors open and shut by themselves. At first she can chalk these things up to the uirks of an old house, but as she begins to see little girls where little girls shouldn’t be, and then has a highly erotic encounter with a bigger girl, and her symphony seems to be magically writing itself, Amber begins to wonder if the house is haunted. Then she wonders if she’s losing her mind. Finally, she wonders if something far more sinister – and deadly – is befalling her.

Early on, the movie has a lot of haunted house tropes that might lead one to believe that they are watching just another ghost movie, but the movie actually surprised me with the direction that it eventually went, whichis an accomplishment in and of itself. Those who stick around for the end (and I won’t kid you, it’s a bit of a slog getting there) may well congratulate themselves on having the fortitude to hang in there and those that do will be rewarded with a nifty ending, although I will say that Balfaro chooses to show you how the film arrived there in case you couldn’t figure it out – underestimating the intelligence of your audience is generally a bad thing. However, good endings are a lot more uncommon than you might think, so it’s always a big plus when you get one.

Balfaro does do a good job of establishing a tense atmosphere and generally resists using jump scares, although there are a couple because you almost have to have at least a few these days. However, the movie is torpedoed by two things: the dialogue, which sounds unnatural, and the acting which is by and large somewhat flat. The movie lacks energy and inertia, which is generally provided by the actors but whether they were struggling with dialogue which I can understand because it often sounds like stringing words together in ways normal people don’t, or they just didn’t feel motivated. Some of that can be laid at the feet of the director, but good actors will give memorable performances without the encouragement of a director. There is accountability to go around here.

And it really is a shame because there are a lot of good elements here, including some lovely cinematography and the unfailing politeness of the characters, although when you discover that this is a Canadian production, a light bulb might suddenly switch on, as it did for me. Sometimes, the right crew and actors coalesce to make magic happen, but sometimes just the opposite happens and this is, sadly, one of those occasions.

REASONS TO SEE: The ending is pretty inventive.
REASONS TO AVOID: Stiff and flat, rarely arouses any sort of feeling in the viewer.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, sexuality and nudity, horrific images and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stanton is no stranger to genre work, having appeared in the TV shows Supernatural and Lucifer.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, <a Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/9/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kindred
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
ThunderForce