Irma Update


Just wanted to let all my readers know that my family and I all weathered the storm and are safe. Our homes are undamaged. We were without power for a time but electricity has since been restored. Unfortunately, our Internet service has been out and will continue to be unavailable for awhile. I am preparing to leave on a family vacation (needed much more than ever now) tomorrow and will be unavailable until September 29. I am confident our Internet will be back up and running at that point. For those who have sent messages of concern, thank you very much and know that it is much appreciated. Thank you as always for reading my scribblings on movies and I will continue to do my best to make Cinema365 a useful and entertaining site.

Advertisements

Man in Red Bandana


Welles Remy Crowther believed we are all connected as one human family and we are here to care for and help each other.

(2017) Documentary (Verdi) Gwyneth Paltrow (voice), Barack Obama, Jefferson “Jeff’ Crowther, Alison Crowther, John Howells, Welles Remy Crowther (voice), Ling Young, Harry Wanamaker, Judy Wein (voice), Honor Crowther-Fagan, Kelly Reyher, Gerry Sussman, Richard Fern, Chris Varman, Ed Nicholls, Eric Lipton, Ron DiFrancesco, Donna Spera, Paige Crowther-Charbonneau. Directed by Matthew J. Weiss

 

There are heroes that we know about, those who are rightly praised and their stories oft-repeated. Then there are the heroes we don’t know about, people who should be household names but aren’t but still in all fit the definition of heroism to a “T.”

Welles Remy Crowther is one such. He is one of thousands who perished on September 11, 2001 in the World Trade Center – in his case, in the South Tower. What he did in his last hour of life has been enough to grab the attention of President Barack Obama, who recounted the young 24-year-old equities trader’s story at the dedication of the 9/11 Museum in New York City and has already been the subject of a documentary short on ESPN.

Crowther was the son of Jefferson “Jeff” Welles, a volunteer firefighter and his mother Alison and grew up in Nyack, New York. He was athletic, lettering in ice hockey and lacrosse in high school and playing varsity lacrosse at Boston College. After graduating, he got a job at Sandler, O’Neil and Partners on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. However, as he confessed to his father a month before the attack, he was considering a career change, one that he actually made – after he died.

After the United Flight 175 slammed into the South Tower, Crowther made his way down to the 78th floor where the plane had impacted. He found several survivors there, all frozen in fear and panicking in the dense smoke and flames. He was able to discover the one clear stairway left and guided those survivors to it, making three separate trips up and down the stairs. He was in the lobby, within sight of safety, preparing to return to the 78th with firefighters who had the rescue equipment needed to bring those who were unable to make the stairs on their own when the tower collapsed. His body wouldn’t be recovered until the following March.

He’d left a haunting voice mail message for his mother before the second plane hit, assuring her that he was all right. After that, he called his college roommate John Howells to let him know he was going to get out but the young man’s nature was not to abandon those who needed help. He always carried a red bandana – a gift from his firefighter dad whom he idolized and who carried an identical blue one – and he wore it on this occasion to filter out the smoke and dust. He took it off only briefly but survivor Ling Young, one of the ten (at least) that is positively known that he rescued that day, clearly saw his face and would later identify him to his mother but we’ll get to that more in a moment.

His family was understandably devastated; when his funeral was held, there had been no remains recovered to that point so an empty casket was buried. This was hard for his mother Alison to accept so she went on a quest, pouring over news photos, print articles and documentaries, trying to find some mention, anything, that would tell her something about how her son died. Years later, the New York Times did a comprehensive article on the timeline of the disaster, organizing it by towers and by groups of floors. Reporter Eric Lipton was assigned the area where Welles had been and noticed that several survivors had reported being guided out by a man in a red bandana. Alison knew immediately that this was her son. She contacted survivors Judy Wein and Young and both of them were able to identify Welles from pictures that Alison had.

The documentary was directed by first-time filmmaker Matthew Weiss, who had heard Welles’ story from Jeff Welles, who had worked in the bank Weiss uses. Weiss’ inexperience shows in a number of places; the movie feels padded a bit towards the end as all the monuments and tributes to Welles are listed and shown. The re-enactments are a bit sketchy as well. Paltrow’s narration is surprisingly bloodless; she has always been a very emotional actress so I was surprised when the narration sounded  a bit too much like she was reading it without caring much about the words.

But Weiss also took an inspiring story and brought it to life. The animated graphics he used to explain how the planes impacted the building, why the impacts brought the Towers down and where Welles Crowther went in that last hour are informative albeit simple. It’s a shame Weiss didn’t have the budget for more elaborate animation but on the flip side they may have detracted from the film. Simple is generally better even when it comes to films.

The interviews with Welles’ family are understandably emotional. You get a real sense of the devastating effect his passing had on them, on his friends and on the community at large. Clearly he was well-liked by just about everyone who knew him; high school hockey teammates (one tells of a pass that Welles made to him so that he could get the first goal of his varsity career and afterwards retrieved the puck so he could keep it), and work colleagues. He didn’t seem to have a steady girlfriend however; at least none were interviewed here although being a handsome and likable young man I’m sure he had his share of girlfriends. The movie doesn’t give too much of a sense of Welles’ personal life beyond his sports achievements and his love for firefighting and desire to become one.

One of the reasons Welles’ story isn’t better known may be that he “only” saved ten lives; the media loves big numbers over smaller ones after all but at the end of the day he gave his life for people he didn’t know at the cost of his own and despite the fact that he could have continued down the stairs with the first group and easily have saved himself. That he chose to return at least three more times is mind-blowing. I can’t think of anything more heroic than that. For his heroism he was the first man to be honored as a firefighter in the Fire Department of New York City posthumously and in several memorials to fallen first responded he is listed as a firefighter there. What is particularly moving about this is that when his father was cleaning out Welles’ apartment sometime later, he discovered applications for the FDNY that Welles had partially filled out. This was the career change he had discussed with his dad before he died.

There is a great deal of 9/11 footage here of the planes hitting the building and the towers collapsing, some of it unseen before now. Even though sixteen years have passed as of this writing since that terrible day, for some the images may just be too traumatic and trigger feelings that may bring back a whole lot of pain. Those who have difficulties still in watching 9/11 footage or seeing images from that day should be advised that this may be difficult for them to handle.

This is far from perfect filmmaking and some critics are really taking Weiss to task for not producing something more polished. I can understand their gripes but they are at the end of the day, it is the story and not always how it’s told that is important. This is a story that every American should know; hell, this is a story that every human should know. Welles Remy Crowther represents the best in all of us. He is a true hero in an era where they are desperately needed.

REASONS TO GO: The film is extremely inspiring. The graphics showing how the planes brought the tower down were informative. The background music is effective without being overpowering. You feel like you really get to know the parents. The survivor stories are extremely detailed.
REASONS TO STAY: This may still be too traumatic for those who are especially emotional about the fall of the Twin Towers.
FAMILY VALUES: The themes here are fairly adult and there are some disturbing images and re-enactments of 9/11.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The charitable trust founded by the Crowthers to honor their son can be reached (and donated to at) here.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/9/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 40% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 9/11: The Falling Man
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT: The Mummy (2017)

The Midnight Matinee


The filmmakers of Midnight Matinee are appealing to a potential audience one viewer at a time.

(2017) Horror Anthology (IP Productions) Maggie Tehan, Justin Doesch, Juan-Pablo Veizaga, Shaun Woodland, Ian Flanders, Melissa Merry, Aggie Binkley, Maggie Binkley, Becky Edwards, Jimmy Edwards, Sophie Edwards, Jennifer McCormick, Santiago Veizaga. Directed by Justin Doesch

 

I’m a bit of a sucker for horror anthologies. I always go into them hoping I’ll get that rare and magical experience – when all the stories within the anthology are terrific. It hasn’t happened yet but I still keep hoping.

Justin Doesch, the man behind the camera for this anthology, is a name you should remember. He’s definitely got a ton of potential and a boatload of vision. He’s delivered five pretty solid stories in an amazing 42 minutes – an average of about eight minutes per segment. I have nothing against short, taut storytelling but my main complaint here is that some of the segments could have used some fleshing out; there was an unfinished feeling to some of them as if key scenes hadn’t made it into the final product.

The opening segment, “Open Sea,” is one of those. It is a bit of a cross between The Blair Witch Project and Open Water. Brian (Doesch) is taking his girlfriend Lauren (Tehan) out on his boat on the ocean for some scuba diving but with a specific purpose; he means to propose to her. Unfortunately, man proposes and sometimes, the ocean disposes. The Blair Witch aspect is that Brian intends to document the big day but he ends up documenting something else. It actually is a pretty decent segment but it felt rushed in terms of pacing and the payoff, one of the better effects shots of the film, could have used a bit more build-up.

“Let Go” is the weakest of the five. It’s modern dating with a twist. Let’s just say that if you think you’ve got problem with the dating scene, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Unfortunately, I found my attention wandering during this one although it does have a pretty decent twist. “Premonition” also utilizes found footage but in a totally unique and different way. A little girl who is prescient tries to warn someone against a life or death situation…but being psychic doesn’t mean you get to save people. Timing, as they say, is everything.

The next sequence was my favorite and happened to be the only non-horror segment of the bunch. “Frances” concerns Nikolai (Flanders), a kind of a low-level criminal screw-up who’s got one job – to pass along a package to Frances (Merry), a blind courier for a criminal boss. Simple enough – but Nikolai is the kind of guy who could mess up boiling an egg. You’re expecting some horrific twist so when the twist comes it comes out of left field. Who said that a horror anthology has to be all horror?

Finally, “Night Night” brings the film to a close about an exhausted father (J-P Veizaga) who is pestered by a son (S. Veizaga) who simply won’t go to bed – he’s certain that there is something terrible after him. This was the scariest sequence of the five and ends the movie on a nice note, or not-so-nice depending how you look at it. For my money, it is one of the better directed segments of the five.

There isn’t a ton of bloodshed and the special effects are minimal. It’s clear that Doesch had a minuscule budget and at times it shows on screen; for example, the “Premonition” set looks like a set rather than a lived-in home. That kind of thing can take the viewer out of the film. Still, if you can get past the low-budget production values, there is some entertainment to be had here, particularly the final two sequences although seeing Tehan in a bikini is certainly worth a look.

Doesch has an excellent eye and despite all the limitations that a micro-budget puts on a filmmaker he shows here that he has the talent and the imagination to really turn some heads. As it is, I think he has enormous promise and even if this almost has a work in progress feel to it, at least the investment of your time isn’t galling. 42 minutes for an early look at a director who has every sign of going places isn’t too much to ask.

REASONS TO GO: Doesch has a fine eye for camera angles and scene composition.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the shorts could have used some fleshing out. Some of the low budget shows in places. Other than the final segment, I didn’t find any of the shorts excessively scary.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as disturbing images and situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Doesch was the 2017 recipient of the Amazon Filmmaker of the Year award.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/10/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: VHS
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT: A Double Life

New Releases for the Week of June 16, 2017


CARS 3

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Owen Wilson, Kerry Washington, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Armie Hammer, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion. Directed by Brian Fee

After a dominating run in the world of motorsports, Lightning McQueen is suddenly put out to pasture after suffering a terrible crash at the hands of a cocky young racer named Jackson Storm. Unable to compete with a new generation of lightweight, technologically advanced racecars, Lightning goes back to Radiator Springs, unable to believe he has been forced out of the sport he loves. With the help of an ambitious young technician, Lightning may still get back into the game – with the help of a few oldtimers who know what racing is truly all about.

See the trailer, interviews, promos and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: G

47 Meters Down

(Dimension) Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine, Yani Gellman. Two young women vacationing in Mexico decide to go diving in a shark cage in waters infested by Great Whites. When the cable connecting the cage to the boat snaps the girls plummet to the bottom of the seabed 47 meters down. With their oxygen supply running low and the waters filled with hungry sharks, the women will have to rely on their courage to survive their shark encounter.

See the trailer, clips and video features here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense peril, bloody images, and brief strong language)

All Eyez on Me

(Codeblack/Summit) Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Kat Graham, Lauren Cohan. The story of Tupac Shakur, one of the most distinct and revolutionary voices to come out of rap. Although he died far too young, his legacy remains one of the most honored and respected in music.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical Biography
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language and drug use throughout, violence, some nudity and sexuality)

The Book of Henry

(Focus) Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Sarah Silverman. A precocious young boy takes care of his family including his mother, a hard-working waitress who lacks confidence. When a classmate who lives next door lets Henry in on a terrible secret, he resolves to help her. Utilizing his imagination and intellect, he concocts a plan that surprises his mom – who finds herself at the center of his machinations.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements and brief strong language)

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary

(Abramorama) Denzel Washington (voice), John Coltrane, Common, Carlos Santana. One of the most gifted, innovative and inspiring performers in the history of jazz was John Coltrane. This documentary about the man and his music is coming to the Enzian as part of their monthly Music Monday series; it was previously reviewed here on Cinema365 and that review can be found here.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Monday only)

Rating: NR

Dean

(CBS) Demetri Martin, Kevin Kline, Gillian Jacobs, Mary Steenburgen. A young cartoonist is working on his follow-up book but can’t seem to find inspiration. It doesn’t help that his mother, his biggest supporter, recently passed away and his dad and he are drifting further apart, particularly when the news comes that dad is selling their childhood home. Frustrated and needing a change of scenery, he takes off on a trip to California that might just give him a lot more than he bargained for. This was one of the Florida Film Festival’s standout spotlight films this past April.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for language and some suggestive material)

Kill Switch

(Saban/Lionsgate) Dan Stevens, Bérénice Marlohe, Mike Reus, Bas Keljzer. At first it was an experiment to create a limitless energy source, something our planet sorely needs. When things go horribly wrong, a pilot fights to save his family – and indeed, the whole planet – from the effects of the experiment gone awry.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sci-Fi Action
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks

Rating: R (for language and some violence)

Rough Night

(Columbia) Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Zoë Kravitz, Kate McKinnon. Five best friends from college reunited for a weekend in Miami to celebrate one of their numbers impending nuptials. However, this badass bachelorette party turns a bit too wild and things get pretty real pretty fast. The girls elect to cover up the accident but that turns out to be a lot more difficult than they envisioned.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and brief bloody images)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA

Slack Bay

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Beatriz at Dinner
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki
Past Life
The Recall
You’re Killing Me Susanna

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Ami Tumi
Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent
Once Upon a Time in Venice
The Recall

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Kedi
The Lure
Tomorrow Ever After

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


Raindrops keep falling on our heads.

(2017) Biographical Drama (HBO) Oprah Winfrey, Rose Byrne, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Rocky Carroll, Reg E. Cathey, Leslie Uggams, Courtney B. Vance, Ellen Barkin, Peter Gerety, Adriane Lenox, Roger Robinson, John Douglas Thompson, Karen Reynolds, Sylvia Grace Crim, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Jaedon Godley, Kyanna Simone, Jane Rumbaua. Directed by George C. Wolfe

 

In the past half a century there have been some amazing medical advances. Some of these breakthroughs have come as a result of a strain of cells known as HeLa, which have helped find, among other things, the polio vaccine. So what’s the story behind those cells?

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks (Goldsberry) was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore where she fought hard but eventually succumbed. While she was alive some of her cells were harvested without her knowledge and researchers were amazed to discover that the cells remained alive and were reproducing and would be indefinitely. The cells became well-known throughout the medical research community but few people knew where they came from.

Eventually word got out that the cells had been taken from Henrietta Lacks. Her daughter Deborah (Winfrey), or Dale as she is called by friends and family, never knew her mother being only two years old when she passed away. In time her brothers Sonny (Carroll), Day (Robinson), Zakkariya (Cathey) and Lawrence (Thompson) as well as sister Barbara (Lenox) and her mother’s friend Sadie (Uggams) – who have discovered that their mom was the source of these wonder cells that have made pharmaceutical and medical research companies millions upon millions of dollars – give up on getting any reparations, particularly when charlatans like the colorfully named Sir Lord Keenan Kester Cofield (Vance) put them through hell.

When freelance journalist Rebecca Skloot (Byrne) wants to write a book about Henrietta she is met with resistance and outright hostility by the Lacks family and understandably so, considering how they’ve been exploited and condescended to over the years. Rebecca is patient and persistent and eventually she wins over Dale, the most wary of the group. As Dale and Rebecca go on a journey to find out who Henrietta was the two begin to bond unexpectedly especially as that journey yields far more than the women expected.

I’ve noticed that whenever Oprah Winfrey gets involved in a project, it behooves me to set the bar high. It’s a very rare occasion that movies she is part of aren’t the highest of quality. Once again, she shows that she’s not just a talk show host, losing herself in the role of the embittered and troubled Dale – whose sexual assault as a teen is part of what informs her paranoia and violent mood swings – so much so that you forget it’s Oprah. That’s an accomplishment when you consider how much her personality has become part of her brand.

But she’s not the only reason to see this movie either. She is surrounded by a strong cast, including Vance as the oily con man, Cathey as a severely troubled ex-con and Byrne as the sweet but strong-willed journalist who may come off as a bit of a sorority girl but can give back as well as she gets when push comes to shove. It was wonderful as well to see Uggams – a fixture in African-American movies and TV back in the day – onscreen, but she’s not there as a token Name. The girl can still bring it.

Cinematographer Sofian El Fani – best known for the wonderful Blue is the Warmest Color – brings an autumnal beauty to both urban Baltimore and rural Virginia, adding a sepia-toned hue to the flashbacks involving Henrietta (a scene on a Ferris Wheel is particularly delightful). Branford Marsalis adds a jazz-infused score that captures the vibe of the era, both the 50s during Henrietta’s story and in the 90s during Dale’s.

Wolfe plays this as part character study and part detective story and the two elements mesh very well. The family’s pain is evident throughout, having lost their mother at so young an age (she was just 31 when she passed away) and her loss has resonated throughout their lives in very tangible ways. For Deborah, it meant being moved in with an aunt and uncle, the latter of which ended up sexually abusing her. That is part of Henrietta’s immortality, the loss that those who loved her still felt. However, there was joy as well, as Dale and Zakkariya see their mother’s living cells through a microscope and realize that a part of her is still alive and with them. It’s a powerful moment in a movie that is full of them.

The filmmaking is efficient as Wolfe essentially sets up the whole story in an opening montage of animation and graphics that set the stage for the film in about two and a half minutes. It’s an impressive feat, one that young filmmakers should take note of. This could easily have been a three hour movie but Wolfe utilizes his time wisely.

Yes there will be waterworks and tissue paper should be kept on hand if you intend to fire up HBO and watch this puppy. While the race card is definitely in the deck, the filmmakers choose not to play it which I think makes the movie even stronger. Of course racism played a part in the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks but you’re not hit over the head with it. The filmmakers assume that the viewer understands that and move forward with the story which is not so much about Henrietta but about Dale. What could be more powerful a story than a daughter mourning the loss of a mother she never truly knew?

REASONS TO GO: There are some very strong performances, particularly from Winfrey and Uggams. The story is very moving, the family’s pain palpable throughout. The film possesses great cinematography and a great score.
REASONS TO STAY: There is a bit of cinematic shorthand going on here.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a scene of rape, some violence and a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In an interview on NPR, Rebecca Skloot said that the real Deborah Lacks predicted that the book would be a best seller, that Oprah would produce a movie based on the book and that Oprah would play her. Although Deborah died in 2009 just before the book came out, all of her predictions came to pass.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Google Play, HBO, YouTube (please note that Google Play and YouTube will not be available for purchase until after initial HBO run is complete)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/26/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Loving
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Chuck

Florida Film Festival 2017


Well, the Florida Film Festival is underway in Orlando for the 26th year and there is a lot to look forward to. Like all film festivals, there is an eclectic mix that ranges from dramas to comedies, midnight horror flicks to experimental art house pieces, documentaries on music, food and social issues and all kinds of surprises.

Celebrity watchers always have a field day at the Festival and this year will be no exception; lovely Lea Thompson will come Back to the Future to the Enzian Sunday evening along with the aforementioned beloved classic. Tickets are sold out for this event but you can always head out to the Enzian and get yourself a standby ticket and hope for the best. Friday night will bring the talented Billy Crudup and cult favorite Jesus’ Son. Finally Saturday afternoon the 29th one of the funniest comedies ever made, Airplane! will be presented with star Robert Hays and director David Zucker on hand.

Beyond the star-watching there are some great events, such as the Locally Fresh! Farmer’s Market and cooking demo on Sunday, a wine tasting night at the Eden Bar on Wednesday, the annual Awards Bash on Saturday the 29th and panel discussions, brunch buffets and other nifty items throughout.

It is the movies however that make a film festival. To be sure not everything is going to appeal to everyone and some of the films here may not be movies you’ll champion to your friends; for example, there are several friends of mine who think Rat Film is one of the highlights of this year’s festival; I disagree (see my review upcoming this week) but that doesn’t mean I don’t encourage you to go see it and make up your own mind. There’s also Dave Made a Maze which I thought was brilliant but several people walked out of during the press/passholder screening a few weeks ago. The point is that you never know how you’re going to react to a movie until you see it and even if every single person on the planet hates the movie but it creates a connection with you, then it’s a successful film.

But there are several movies that I think are worth making an effort to see, including the aforementioned Dave Made a Maze but also the brilliant Winter Sun which details the collision of the traditional with the modern in Nepal set to the backdrop of a father’s funeral. There’s also Colossal, a new take on the giant monster (or kaiju) movie that is fresh and beautifully acted by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis. I’m not a particular fan of country music but Honky Tonk Heaven: The Legend of the Broken Spoke just about changes my mind as it displays the story of one of the last authentic Texas dance halls. Unrest is a documentary with an Orlando connection – the filmmaker and and also subject of the movie about people who are affected by what used to be known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; it’s intensely moving and with the filmmaker/star in attendance worth a look.

Woman on Fire from acclaimed documentarian Julie Sokolow profiles the first (and so far only) transgender firefighter in the New York City Fire Department. For Ahkeem is going to be the face of at-risk youth and a primer on why Black Lives truly do Matter. New Chefs on the Block examines just how hard it is to open a restaurant – and how much harder it is to keep it open. Ain’t Nothing Like Being Free takes a look at some extraordinary Central Floridians. Patti Cake$ is about an ambitious wanna-be rap superstar in this film that took Sundance by storm. My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea is a irreverent animated feature that kills of a ton of teenagers and was one of my favorite from the pre-Festival screenings. Finally of the films I haven’t seen the ones that looked the most intriguing were Menashe, Buster’s Mal Heart, 8 Borders 8 Days, Manifesto, Camera Obscura, Dean, The Commune and Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape.

In addition, there are literally dozens of short films – some preceding feature films, others grouped together in shorts programs – that will confound, astonish, endear, terrify, amuse and perhaps enlighten. Shorts are always a highlight of the Florida Film Festival and given its status as an Oscar qualifying festival they usually get the best of the best. Finally, don’t forget the Festival’s closing night film Sunday the 30th with the legendary Russ Meyer masterpiece Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! starring the incomparable Tura Santana. When they say they don’t make ’em like this anymore, this film is precisely what they’re talking about.

One of the great joys of the Festival is hanging out between movies either at the Eden Bar at the Enzian or at Pizza Valdiano or the Firefly Bar at Winter Park Village. You will find filmmakers, film buffs, casual moviegoers and maybe even Henry Maldonado, Tim Anderson, Matthew Simon or Adam J. Kelley from the Enzian talking about the movies they love most. It’s one of the most low-key, friendliest and unpretentious film festivals in the country and once you go, you’ll be hooked. Tickets are on sale at the Enzian box office or at http://www.floridafilmfestival.com although some of the big ticket items are if not sold out may do so any day now so don’t delay. Hope I see you there. I’ll be the guy with the ball cap and the Press credentials taking it all in.

Six Rounds


Rob Peacock and Adam Bernard look like they might go a round of their own.

(2017) Drama (TMP) Adam J. Bernard, Phoebe Torrance, Santino Zicchi, Rob Peacock, Daniel Johns, Joseph Warner, Chris Rochester, Marcus Adjmul, Lesley Molony, Carolyn English, Thomasin Lockwood, Karishma Bhandari. Directed by Marcus Flemmings

 

Sometimes you run into a movie whose reach exceeds its grasp. You can tell that the filmmakers have ambitions to make something special, something unique and you root for them to do so but it doesn’t quite succeed as much as either filmmaker or viewer would like.

Set against the backdrop of the 2011 London riots (or as they are known in the myopic U.S.A. “Oh, were there riots in London in 2011?”) the prime mover here is a young black man. Stally (Bernard) is a boxer who has retired with an undefeated record, a fact he is extraordinarily proud of. He has escaped the crime-ridden neighborhood of his youth and has a real job and a beautiful white girlfriend Andrea (Torrance) whom he has nicknamed “Mermaid” because of a dress she once wore that made her appear like one. She loves him and is proud that he has bettered himself and is beginning to think about having a child with him.

One of Stally’s mates from the old days, Chris (Zicchi) has gone and done something extraordinarily stupid; he’s stolen drugs from George (Johns), Stally’s ex-manager who is in his spare time a mob boss. George wants Chris dead and reckless Chris is too proud to get himself out of the jam he’s in. Stally talks to George who gives Chris a way out; to engage in a boxing match with Stally. If Chris can last six rounds without being knocked out, he’s off the hook. The trouble is that if Chris does lose the match, there goes Stally’s undefeated record and that’s not something Stally is willing to give up easily.

The movie is mostly shot in black and white (with a few brief scenes in color, mostly when Andrea is around) and looks beautiful, the juxtaposition of black and white mirroring the commentary on racial relations in the UK. The movie is not really a boxing film and it isn’t really about the riots although the chaos is clearly on the mind of all of the characters involved. We see some footage of rioters (and I’m thinking some archival footage) but none of the main characters participate in them onscreen. Some brag about getting a “100% discount” from looting trainers or fur coats from various stores.

Bernard, who was the stunt double for John Boyega in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, proves himself an able actor. He is subtle when he needs to be, understated when he needs to be and is capable of a fine primal scream when he needs it. There has been a parade of fine actors of color from the UK lately; Bernard may well be as talented as any of them.

Torrance has kind of a thankless role but she has the ethereal beauty of a Keira Knightley and reminds me of her in her line delivery as well. She is another actor in this production who shows some immense promise; Flemmings has a great eye for talent to say the least.

I think he wanted to make a movie that is outside the box; intelligent (and it is) and innovative (which it isn’t). In fact, I think he tried a little bit too hard; some of the scenes seem to be, as MGM used to put it, art for art’s sake and sometimes at the expense of the film. It looks beautiful, it’s acted well but the dialogue sounds a bit false. Worse, the use of handheld cameras during the boxing sequences (the film is divided into rounds corresponding to the boxing match between Chris and Stally) make those scenes incredibly hard to watch without feeling a little vertigo. I wish he had taken it easier on the handhelds as much of the rest of the film is beautifully shot.

Much of the movie is to my reckoning Stally’s internal monologue; during fights he uses poetry to center himself and I believe that the rest of the action is meant to be taken as what Stally is thinking about during the course of the match (I could be wrong on this point). It’s a brilliant idea but it isn’t executed as well as it might be.

Flemmings shows some natural talent in putting this film together on a microscopic budget. Sadly it isn’t as successful for me and I have a hard time recommending it for all but serious film buffs looking for new talents before anyone else has discovered them. The storytelling could have used a little bit of tweaking but despite my rating, he really isn’t far away from creating a movie that will knock the socks off of the whole bloody world. I look forward to that film with great anticipation.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the performances are pretty feral. Torrance reminded me a bit of Keira Knightley.
REASONS TO STAY: The story gets a little bit confusing. The boxing scenes utilize the shaky-cam to the point of being nearly unwatchable. The dialogue is a little too repetitive.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity and a bit of violence both in the ring and outside of it.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was made for a mere £7000, or just under $9000 US.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/20/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bronx Bull
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT: The Lost City of Z