Give or Take


In the weed hole.

(2020) Drama (Breaking Glass) Norbert Leo Butz, Jamie Effros, Joanne Tucker, Louis Cancelmi, Cheri Oteri, Annapurna Sriram, Jaden Waldman, Garry Mitchell, Shaun O’Hagan, Chris Fischer, Roya Shanks, Kyle Overstreet, Dennis Cunningham, Polly Lee, Jack Casey, Nathaniel Schultz, Kate Dearing, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut, Steve Ross, Ian P. Ryan, Paul Schuyler. Directed by Paul Riccio

 

A vital part of indie cinema is the city dweller return to their small-town home for self-reflection following some trauma or event, finding some kind of a) redemption, b) growth or c) peace. Sometimes, all three. These movies can be by-the-numbers and as such, offer little insight; however, they can also take a fresh look and shine a light on some aspect of our nature that we can relate to.

Said city boy is Martin (Effros), who has returned to his home on Cape Cod to attend his father’s funeral and settle his affairs. Martin isn’t particularly thrilled to be there; his father had always been a distant, critical and cold man who never warmed to his son. They were driven further apart after Martin’s mother passed away, and his father promptly came out as gay and took up with Ted (Butz), his yard landscaper who now lives in the house that Martin grew up in.

Both men have issues; Martin hears tales of his father’s warmth and generosity, traits he never displayed towards Martin, and feels some jealousy that others saw this side of his dad and he never did. Ted feels slighted that his lover had not changed his will and left everything to Martin, including the home that he has lived in for seven years and made so many wonderful memories in. A predatory real estate agent (Oteri) is after Martin to sell, confident she could get a nice seven-figure sum for the property. Ted doesn’t want to leave, but he doesn’t have a legal right to stay. The two men clash in all sorts of details about happens at the funeral. Ted thinks there’s some homophobia going on, but neither man, trying to deal with the grief they both feel in different ways, truly understands that the other is also grieving.

Riccio (who co-wrote the movie along with Effros) fails to resist the temptation to make all the characters in town quirky, although he doesn’t take it to the degree that it becomes annoying. Martin reconnects with his prickly teenage crush Emma (Tucker) who is married now – Martin himself has a high-maintenace girlfriend (Sriram) who is remarkably materialistic. He also befriends a little boy who hides in a water-filled garbage can, using it as a kind of DIY sensory deprivation tank. There is also the stoner pool guy Terrence (Cancelmi) who has a large hole in the ground where he likes to smoke weed and invites Martin to join him from time to time. He also dispenses pearls of wisdom that are very un-stoner-like.

Good use is made of the bucolic Cape Cod setting. The best part of the movie is the relationship between Ted and Martin. It’s generally contentious, and there are times you want to give each one a good shaking, but at others you marvel at the humanity they have. Each man is played as wounded and imperfect; Butz, in particular, shines here, shows Ted as sometimes overwhelmed in his grief.

Some have classified this as a LGBTQ film and I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate; it’s more of a film in which one of the main characters is gay, but it isn’t necessarily about his experience as a gay man. It appears that most people in town seem to accept Ted for who he is, but it would seem likely in a small New England town that he would have encountered some push back. That really isn’t explored here, though.

Overall, the tone is pretty low-key, almost to the point of lethargy. Some might find the tone unexciting, but in all honesty, I found this to be a satisfying slice of life that reminds us that yes, even our parents are capable of growth and change, and so are we. Solid, all around.

REASONS TO SEE: Complex, layered relationships.
REASONS TO AVOID: Might be a little too low-key for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, drug use and some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Butz is a two-time Tony Award winner.
=BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, DirecTV, Google Play, Spectrum, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
=CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/4/2022: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Beautiful Boy
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Huda’s Salon

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Slut in a Good Way (Charlotte a du fun)


Sexual politics are hot.

(2018) Comedy (Comedy Dynamics) Marguerite Bouchard, Romane Denis, Rose Adam, Anthony Therrien, Vassili Schneider, Claudia Bouvette, Nicolas Fontaine, Audrey Roger, Samuel Gauthier, Elizabeth Tremblay-Gagnon, Jules Roy Sicotte, Adrien Belugou, Alexandre Godbout, Marylou Belugou, Mariane Johnson, Alexandre Cabana, David Fleury, Emaria Doumbia, Sharon Igbui. Directed by Sophie Lorain

 

=Heartbroken Charlotte (Bouchard) is obsessing on ex-boyfriend Samuel (Cabana) who has dumped her because he has discovered he is, in fact, gay. The plucky 17-year-old French-Canadian girl nevertheless believes she can get him back. Her besties – cynical activist Mégane, and shy awkward Aube (Adam) seek to take her mind off her folly, and they do so by ducking into a big box toy store. There, they see something that captures their attention. No, not acres of playtoys – more like the yummy college boys who skateboard around the store and capture the attention even of anti-love Mégane. Not only do the guys excite Charlotte’s romantic instincts, they send her libido into overdrive as she works her way through the beds of the store’s male population.

This beautifully photographed French-Canadian film by second-time director Lorain takes a look at sexual politics, specifically the double standard when it comes to having sex. While it is fine for the boys to have a contest to see how many girls they can sleep with, Charlotte’s amorous adventures garner her a reputation and the derision not only of the boys, but also of her fellow girls.

Like a lot of teen sex comedies (and this can only loosely be categorized as one), there are no adults anywhere to be seen and so the girls make their way through a tricky minefield of morality and social customs pretty much on their own. Fortunately, the three main characters are richly drawn with lots of depth; you can’t say about any of them that they are one-note or archetypes. Instead, we get real, living, breathing teen girls who, yes, are beautiful, but also bicker, make mistakes and figure shit out.

While sex figures in the movie’s subject matter deeply, parents should be aware that the depictions of sex are never done in an exploitive manner, and are also shown to have consequences, which also differentiates it from male-oriented sex comedies. While there’s an overuse of Maria Callas singing “Habanera” from Carmen (and an almost Bollywood-style soundtrack which just seems a little too oddball, if there is such a thing), this is a movie that has a tremendous amount of heart and an overabundance of hormones. In short, just like most teenage girls.

REASONS TO SEE: A stark examination of sexual double standards. The girls are given distinct personalities of unusual depth. A European-style film from Canada.
REASONS TO AVOID: The soundtrack is a bit quirky.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of profanity and sex as well as some drug use and teen drinking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The translation of the original French title is “Charlotte has fun.”
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Alamo On Demand, Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Kanopy, Pluto TV, The Roku Channel, Tubi, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/25/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ghost World
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Give or Take

Seobok: Project Clone


Ki Heon REALLY takes exception to being asked to wear a mask.

(2021) Science Fiction (Well Go USA) Park Bo-Gum, Gong Yoo, Jang Young-Nam, Woo-jin Jo, Byeong-eun Park, Maurice Turner Jr., Kwang-hoon Na, Mi-nam Jung, Eon-jeong Lee, Yang Hee-Woo, Andreas Fronk, Daniel Joey Albright, Han-ji Hyun, Leraldo Anzaldua, Edward Hong, Rebecca Jensen Uesugi, Shogo Miyakita, Erin Nicole Lundquist. Directed by Lee Yong-ju

 

=As our medical technology improves, we begin to approach areas of moral dilemmas that we might never have envisioned even a few years ago. Research on stem cells and human cloning promise breakthroughs in the not-so-distant future, but what will be the cost for developing these lines of science and medicine?

Ki Heon (Yoo) is a former secret service agent for South Korea who has been afflicted with a terminal brain tumor, hence the “former.” He is beset by guilt regarding some shady deeds in his past (which are never fully explored). And yet, his old boss Chief Ahn (Jo) calls to give him one last mission; to escort valuable research from a human cloning experiment to a safer place following the assassination of the American scientist who was involved in it.

Needing to feel useful again, Ki agrees and is surprised to discover that the research he’s escorting is actually a young man named Seobok (Bo-Gum) who is a successful, genetically engineered clone, but there’s more to him than meets the eye; his body manufactures stem cells that can cure any disease, which could render the human race virtually immortal. In addition, Seobok has developed astounding powers of telekinesis, as well as the ability to generate force waves from his body.

They don’t get very far before they are attacked by a group of mercenaries, working for a group that wants control of the clone for themselves. The two fight off the killers, and go on the run, trying to avoid various would-be kidnappers and killers while slowly beginning to develop a grudging bond. For Seobok who has lived his entire life in a lab, the road trip is nothing short of miraculous, whereas Ki realizes that the young man he is transporting holds the key to his own personal survival – assuming they don’t get shot to pieces first.

The filmmakers spend a great deal of time focusing on the moral dilemmas of this kind of scientific research, and there are some truly thought-provoking points brought up. There is an intelligence here that is sometimes hard to find in sci-fi films, especially those that have actions sequences, which this one does, although not so many as you might think. However, when there is action, it is done competently well. The special effects are also pretty nifty.

Yoo, one of Korea’s biggest stars, is best-known to American audiences for his work in Train to Busan. He does some stellar work here, giving Ki layers upon layers; when we first meet him, Ki is wallowing in self-pity and something of a jerk. As we get to know him better through Seobok, we begin to see the pain that has caused him to put up those walls, and understand him a little better as a man. It’s not Oscar-level work, but considering this is essentially meant to be a genre film, it is surprisingly strong.

As I mentioned earlier, there aren’t a lot of action sequences here and for the most part, the movie goes pretty slowly, focusing on the ethical questions. For cerebral science fiction fans, that might well be candy, but for those looking for a space opera-like hoot, they will find it to be a Sour Patch Kid of a film. For what it is, however, it is better than we have any right to expect and for those who like their science fiction to be truly speculative, this is one worth seeking out.

Just a quick note; the film is available both in dubbed and subtitled versions. Not every streaming service carries it in both formats, so be sure you know what you’re getting when you order. The DVD/Blu-Ray edition does contain both versions, so if you still go the physical media route, that might be your best bet.

REASONS TO SEE: Surprisingly thoughtful for a genre film. Strong performances throughout, particularly by Yoo.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little slow-paced and heavy on the exposition.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The film was originally set to be an end-of-the-year tentpole release in 2020 for its Korean distributor, but the pandemic delayed release until April 2021, when it debuted simultaneously in theaters and on the Korean streaming service TVING.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, DirecTV, Google Plus, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/3/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Never Let Me Go
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Slut in a Good Way

Creation Stories


Alan McGee is ignored in his own office.

(2021) Music Biography (RLJE) Ewen Bremner, Leo Flanagan, Richard Jobson, Rori Hawthorn, Tess Rowe, Ciaran Lawless, Jack Paterson, Gerry Knotts, James Hicks, Irvine Welsh, Mickey Gooch Jr., Tom Dunlea, Suki Waterhouse, Elysia Welch, Seána Kerslake, Theren Raufman, Michael Socha, Thomas Turgoose, Paul Gallagher, Thomas Grant, Mel Raido, Siobhan Redmond. Directed by Nick Moran

 

In the late-1980s through mid-1990s, alternative rock was more or less dominated by the United Kingdom. With apologies to Seattle grunge and hip-hop (which was in its formative era back then), American indie music tended to follow trends set in England months and years earlier. It is startling for some American music fans who are interested in the era to discover that several different sub-genres were essentially brought into the limelight by one man and his record label; Scotsman Alan McGee and Creation Records.

As a young boy in Glasgow, McGee (Flanagan) lip-synched and played air guitar to Bowie while his abusive father (Jobson) despaired of his son ever making anything of himself. With the support of his mother (Redmond) and sister (Hawthorn), he managed to survive with ego intact and after seeing the Sex Pistols on TV, determined to move to London and start a punk band. Unfortunately, his timing was bad and he arrived just as the punk era was more or less fading out.

But the now twenty-something McGee (Bremner), while not himself talented as a musician, knew talent when he heard it. He found the Jesus and Mary Chain and became their manager, using the profits from that relationship to pour into a record label that he named Creation, named after a 60s band that he admired. The band was a seat-of-the-pants operation early on but McGee had an uncanny knack of discovering bands and trends – like acid house (Primal Scream), shoegaze (My Bloody Valentine) and indie pop (Teenage Fan Club) before they became huge. But his most notable discovery was Oasis, the band that spearheaded the Britpop craze of the Nineties, and was for a time the biggest band in the world.

But as all rock docs let us know, the success was fueled by excess as McGee became hooked on ecstasy, cocaine and eventually, heroin. After his drug usage got to a point (he famously claims that he doesn’t remember anything about 1993 except signing Oasis) that he had a breakdown, he managed to clean up, but the cost to his personal life was high.

Having been a rock critic during the heyday of Creation, I can testify to the influential status of the label. While they weren’t the only influential label of their time, there really hasn’t been a label like them before or since. Moran’s somewhat fictionalized account of McGee’s life captures the era well, using montages, archival footage and New Music Express headlines. For someone who was in tune with what was going on across the pond, it brought up a lot of memories.

For those who were less in the loop, it might all be a bit confusing – the introduction of since-disgraced British DJ Jimmy Saville late in the movie might not resonate with those who aren’t aware of the reasons McGee despised him so deeply, for example. Bremner plays McGee in a somewhat over-the-top manner which ordinarily might be off-putting, yet is perfect for the task at hand. McGee was (and is) larger than life and it is a tough assignment to get his personality just right and in many ways Bremner’s portrayal doesn’t do McGee justice, but to be fair, nobody could.

Moran’s directorial style seems heavily influenced by Danny Boyle in his Trainspotting days (Boyle is a producer here, not coincidentally) and yes, the hyperactive style that Boyle made famous back then works wonderfully here. There’s a lot of cheeky humor here, some of it of the meme-worthy variety, that seems in tandem with McGee’s personality. It may grate at times, but I found it amusing anyway.

If there is a problem here, it’s just that it feels so much like every other rock biography out there, with enough reverence to be nearly hagiographic, but enough irreverence to make it rock and roll. Moran also uses the hoary old conceit of telling most of the story as a flashback, using an interview that McGee does with a fictional but comely interviewer (Waterhouse) in Los Angeles as a springboard for his anecdotes.

McGee is not as well-known over here in the States as he should be, but thankfully, the music he helped bring to the world speaks for itself and there is plenty of it on the soundtrack. Even so, the movie is definitely all about McGee and his personality which permeates the film. This is isn’t a movie whose innovation will match the music that it chronicles, but it is serviceable enough a story and the music is good enough to carry the movie through.

REASONS TO SEE: A cheeky sense of humor. A great soundtrack.
REASONS TO AVOID: Seems a bit too much like most rock biographies.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a shit ton of profanity, drug use, some violence and sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film made it’s world premiere at the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival, which is also where McGee was from and where much of the early portion of the movie is set.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC Plus, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/2/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews; Metacritic: 53/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kill Your Friends
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Seobok: Project Clone

The Unmaking of a College


Hampshire College president Miriam Nelson is surrounded by disgruntled students.

(2022) Documentary (Zeitgeist) Ken Burns, Miriam “Mim” Nelson, Marlon Becerra, Margaret Cerullo, Nya Johnson Andrew Del Banco, Cheyenne Palacio-McCarthy, Moon West, Holden Tharp, Andrew Gordon, Rhys MacArthur, Joshua Berman, Adam Falk, Salman Hameed, Adele Simmons, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Mingda Zhao, John Buckley, Lynda Pickbourn, Annie Wood. Directed by Amy Goldstein

 

College campuses have traditionally been a hotbed when it comes to demonstrations for causes. From civil rights, to antiwar demonstrations in the Sixties right up through now, when protests against climate change denial and racial injustice continue to pop up in colleges across the country, student protests have long been an instigator for social change.

Hampshire College is, located in the beautiful Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts, along with four other schools – Amherst College, Mt. Holyoke College, Smith College, Amherst College, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. It was founded in 1970 as an experimental school which offered no set majors and allowed students to select their own curriculum. As most private liberal arts colleges tend to be, the tuition is pricy.

In 2018, the school selected their eighth president – Dr. Miriam “Mim” Nelson, whose background was as the CEO of Newman’s Own Foundation. She has also been a policy advisor on health and nutrition under President Obama. However, during the winter break in 2019, she sent out a disturbing e-mail, indicating that the college was in severe financial difficulties and was in need of a “strategic partner” to help extricate them. She scheduled a meeting while students were out on break, which seemed odd. She also announced that the school would not be accepting a freshman class in Fall 2019. For a school that relies nearly completely on tuition and fees for their budget, this would be a devastating blow, and could easily lead to the closing of the school altogether. Certainly, it would mean significant layoffs at the conclusion of the 2018-19 academic year.

The more that students heard, the more disturbing it became. It turned out that Dr. Nelson had not only not consulted with students or faculty about any of this, but she also hadn’t consulted members of her own board. In the open meetings, she used a lot of corporate-speak to discuss the financial situation with the students, who began to suspect that something was amiss. Did Dr. Nelson have ulterior motives for these sudden and unprecedented moves?

It turned out that the lack of transparency hid some things that were less than savory. Students, furious that their education was being put at risk, decided to do something about it. They staged a massive sit-in in the President’s office, with a consistent presence for 74 days. The organization that the students displayed was admirable, scheduling people so that there was a round-the-clock presence but allowing students to still attend classes.

Hampshire alum Goldstein obviously feels a kinship with the students, and this is mostly their story. We hear almost nothing other than the public statements from Dr. Nelson, or from most of the trustees with the exception of those who were in opposition to the college president. If the narrative feels one-sided, well, that’s because it is.

Most of the voices we hear are those directly involved with the story, with the exception of Hampshire alumnus Ken Burns, the noted documentary filmmaker who waxes poetic about his time at the college. The students are for the most part, articulate and interesting; the faculty members and administrators are also equally passionate about their affection for the school.

Of course, the kids can be accused of having tunnel vision – that comes with the territory. Also, being young, they can be irritating and condescending at times; I found their habit of snapping their fingers instead of applauding to be pretentious, but that’s just one curmudgeon talking, I suppose. But the great failing here is that Goldstein really never manages to make this more than a local issue; although she attempts to connect this to alarming trends in higher education, she isn’t really successful at doing so, so the documentary may well fail to appeal to those outside of New England.

But the students themselves are certainly passionate and there is some comfort to be had from that. Change has, as I mentioned early, traditionally begun on college campuses and our nation is badly in need of some right about now. It’s good to know that there are students out there still that are willing to fight to make good changes happen.

REASONS TO SEE: Indicates that there are larger problems going on in higher education.
REASONS TO AVOID: Fails to really connect the dots to what those issues are, other than the regional one for this specific school.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The sit-in in Dr. Nelson’s office lasted 74 days, the longest on a college campus to date.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Kino Marquee
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/25/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews; Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: American Teacher
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Cyrano

Puff: Wonders of the Reef


Introducing Puff.

(2021) Nature Documentary (Netflix) Rose Byrne (narrator). Directed by Nick Robinson

 

A fabulous nature documentary kind of slipped out under the radar when it debuted in December on Netflix. Puff: Wonders of the Reef shows a world we rarely are privileged to glimpse – the micro-ecology of the Great Barrier Reef.

While we are normally shown the macro denizens of the reef, there is another world which is smaller than the human eye can generally see. We are introduced to sharp-nosed puffer fish Puff (they might have used a more imaginative name) who was recently born in the teeming incubator of life known as the Great Barrier Reef, just off the shore of Australia.

Thanks to cinematographer Pete West, we go into that world and meet strange and beautiful creatures like the porcelain crab. It is somewhat ironic that the Reef, one of the world’s largest organisms, has such a tiny world imbedded in it. It’s a beautiful world, too but make no mistake – that beauty hides some creatures that are deadly. Puff, with virtually no experience and nobody to guide him (I assume it’s a him) must navigate (literally) these dangerous waters and find himself a safe haven with which to survive and, eventually, spawn some babies of his own.

While this is suitable for the entire family, some of the creatures – which, you must remember, are smaller than the human eye can see – can be terrifying when blown up to extra extra plus size on the average large-screen television set, so be aware of that when plopping the kids down and using Netflix as a sitter for an hour.

Like most nature documentaries these days, the movie makes sure to underline the importance of conservation and the growing threat of global climate change (stark images of coral bleached and dead ram that message home). Those of a certain political leaning may find the message repetitious and unwelcome.

It’s a shame that more people don’t know about this documentary, because it’s absolutely amazing and breathtaking. I guarantee that unless you’re already a marine biologist specializing in the micro-ecology of the Great Barrier Reef, you will learn something new. You will also see creatures that have been rarely (and in some cases, never) photographed. And, at only an hour in length, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

REASONS TO SEE: The cinematography is breathtaking and magical. Very informative regarding a world most of us know little (if anything) about.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little slow in places.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for all audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:A t two months old, Puff was roughly the size of a human fingernail.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/23/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wonders of the Sea
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Unmaking of a College

Brighton 4th


You don’t want to piss off Dad if he is an ex-Olympic wrestler.

(2021) Dramedy (Kino Lorber) Levan Tedaishvili, Giorgi Tabidze, Nadezhda Mikhalkova, Kakhi Kavsadze, Laura Rekhviashvili, Tsutsa Kapanadze, Irakli Kavsadze, Tolepbergen Baisakalov, Temur Gvalia, Irma Gachechiladze, Mary Caputo, Lew Gardner, Giorgi Kipshidze, Yuri Zur, Artur Dubetskiy, Vsevolod Berkolayko, Aleksandr Karlov, Tornike Bziava, Anastasia Romashko. Directed by Levan Koguashvili

We can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our family. Most of us are aware of people in our lives who simply seem incapable of making a good decision. We watch, often helplessly, as they self-destruct, often sucking in all those around them into the vortex of their weakness. Despite our best efforts, often we can’t do much to help them without falling into the whirlwind ourselves.

Kakhi (Tedaishvili) is an aging former Olympic wrestler from the Republic of Georgia. He lives a quiet life, quietly saving his money and bailing out his brother (Gvalia) who has lost his apartment in Tblisi to a gambling addiction. But at least Kakhi’s son Soso (Tabidze) is living in New York City, preparing to go to medical school, and marrying Lena (Mikhalkova) which would net him the green card he desperately needs.

Instead, he finds out that Soso has a gambling problem of his own, and is $14,000 in debt to the local mob. All the money that Kakhi had sent his son to pay his medical school tuition – gone. The good-hearted Kakhi can’t turn away from his son, even though he knows that he will continue to make foolish mistakes, but something must be done.

Most often, this film is described as a slow burn, which is absolutely accurate. The 90 minute film is in no particular hurry to get to where it’s going, and you may well find yourself being thankful for that, for the characters here – even the peripheral ones – are richly drawn and so human they almost leap out of the screen and shake your hand.

At the heart of everything is Tedaishvili, who is actually an ex-Olympic wrestler as Kakhi is. This is his second acting performance and his first since 1987. He imbues Kakhi with a gentle wit, and a gruff kindness. He has a way of seeing through people – even his own son – and being able to forgive their foibles. Tedaishvili brings an inner strength that makes Kakhi a formidable presence. It’s a magnificent performance that utterly captivates.

In fact, many of those in the film are non-professional actors from the Brighton Beach area, the enclave in Brooklyn where a substantial Russian and Eastern European (mainly former Soviet bloc countries) population rules the roost. Their ties to their culture gives the film a genuineness that you simply can’t fake.

The going is terribly slow at times, and younger viewers (and some older ones) may have a hard time keeping their focus on the film, which is why seeing it in a movie theater would be more ideal than on a laptop or streaming device where there is plenty of distractions to take you away from the lovely spell that Koguashvili weaves. Georgian cinema doesn’t get a great deal of respect from American cinephiles, which is a crying shame because there are some really outstanding films coming out of that country. It is worth noting that the film contains the final performance of Kakhi Kavsadze, one of the most respected and acclaimed actors in his country, passing away two months before the film’s debut at Tribeca. He left us with a role of great dignity and pathos, a worthy send-off for a great actor.

REASONS TO SEE: Full of life and liveliness. The performances are natural and genuine. There is a gentle tone to the humor.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not the fastest-paced movie you’ll ever see.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: It was the official submission for Georgia for the 94th Academy Awards for Best International Picture.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Kino Marquee
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/22/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews; Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Moscow on the Hudson
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Puff: The Magic of the Reef

A Banquet


Food for thought.

(2021) Psychological Horror (IFC Midnight) Sienna Guillory, Jessica Alexander, Ruby Stokes, Lindsay Duncan, Kaine Zajaz, Richard Keep, Deka Walmsley, Rina Mahoney, Jonathan Nyati, Walter van Dyk, Andrew Steele, Adam Abbou, Finn Bennett, Dylan Clout, Selena Thompson, Kevin Marshall, Hannah Zoé Ankrah, Suzie Voce, Kharlis Ubiaro, Leon Finnan, Charlie Roberts, Polly Turner. Directed by Ruth Paxton

 

=Mother-daughter relationships are often complicated, layered things, particularly when the daughter is in her difficult teen years. When the behavior of the daughter becomes disquieting, maybe even self-destructive, the question has to be raised if the impetus is psychological, or a cry for attention – or something far worse.

Holly (Guillory) has a lot to cope with, having two teenage daughters. She has been through the wringer; after nursing her terminally ill husband, she is rewarded with witnessing (along with her older daughter Betsey (Alexander)) his grisly suicide. Such a traumatic event is bound to leave some scars; for Holly, it has led to her drawing inward, isolating her family in a dark, cave-like home. For Betsey, it is becoming somewhat nihilistic, or at least fatalistic, and adopting the accoutrements of goth. Only younger daughter Isabelle (Stokes) seems relatively unaffected.

But at a party one night, Betsey – who has gone outside to get some air – is lured into the nearby woods by a mesmerizing blood-red moon and by sibilant whispers. When she returns home, she has changed; the sight of food makes her deeply nauseous, causes bouts of violent resistance and makes her skin tingle. At first, Holly attributes her daughter’s behavior to a severe hangover, but when the condition persists over several days with Betsey refusing to take even so much as a single pea in sustenance, Holly begins to suspect that something deeper is at play. When medical doctors write it off to “something viral,” and psychiatrists make little headway, Betsey begins to insist that she witnessed something in the woods; a vision of something coming. She now believes her body belongs to a higher power and shouldn’t be desecrated with food.

Into this equation comes June (Duncan), Holly’s mom who is understandably skeptical of Betsey’s condition, thinking it as an attempt to get attention. June has her own demons, having had to raise a mentally ill daughter (not Holly), and as Holly begins to believe that maybe something supernatural is going on, particularly when it is discovered that Betsey hasn’t lost so much as a pound since this whole thing began. June and Holly begin to butt heads. Betsey, in the meantime, has attained a kind of serenity. Is the apocalypse really coming?

This is the kind of horror movie that doesn’t have any “gotcha” scares, nor does it really provide anything that terrifies other than the general situation. The horror is psychological in nature and revolves around the relationships between the four women in the family. This is not a movie that you can watch passively; it requires that you pay attention and the filmmakers expect you to work at least as hard as they did making the film, not an unreasonable request, but for a lot of movie buffs, it may be more than they are willing to give.

This is particularly true in the first half, which moves at a very slow pace. Things to pick up in the second half, as the tone gets weirder and weirder, and some very strong performances (particularly by Duncan, a veteran actress who has been known to steal a scene or two during a distinguished career) and some very deeply layered characters and storylines.

With a production setting that actually parallels the themes of the film, it is clear that a great deal of thought went into the making of this film. Paxton is a brilliant new voice, whose next project I’m eager to see. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but anyone who has ever had a contentious relationship with a parent, or loved (or been) a teenage girl, there is a lot to unpack here – and like the conclusion of any trip, is sometimes more satisfying to ponder it afterwards than it is to actually be on the journey.

REASONS TO SEE: The second half of the film is truly gripping…
REASONS TO AVOID: …But the first half of the film is terribly slow.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, sensuality, drug use and some disturbing images (including an on-screen suicide).
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the feature film debut for Bull, who has a passel of award-winning shorts to her credit.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/21/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews; Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Saint Maud
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Brighton 4th

Ted K


Ted Kaczynski mulls over his alter ego.

(2021) Biographical Drama (Super LTD/Neon) Sharlto Copley, Drew Powell, Christian Calloway, Tahmus Rounds, Kate Scott, David Ward, Lois Keister, Teresa Garland, Nicole Welch, Andrew Senn, Megan Folsom, Brandon Seaman, Vincent James Carnevale, Ian Primus, Ben Fundis, Bobby Tisdale, Joe Felece, Amber Rose Mason, Travis Bruyer, Robert Braine, Nancy Rothman. Directed by Tony Stone

We are aware of those folks who for whatever reason choose to withdraw from society. We envision them, in their lonely cabins in the wilderness, shouting at the universe, their rage echoing harmlessly off the walls of their place of exile, taking no effect on the universe or those living in it. There are those, occasionally, who venture from their lairs and do real damage.

We are informed in a pre-credits crawl that Ted Kaczynski (Copley) was a math prodigy who got his PhD in mathematics at age 16 and was well on his way to a brilliant career as a college professor when after a year he withdrew from his university and went to live on the land near Lincoln, Montana, in an isolated cabin he built with his brother Dave.

Ted’s natural reverie is interrupted by the noise and damage of snowmobilers. Ted waits until they are away from their luxury cabin, when he breaks in and takes at their things with an axe. One gets the sense that Ted is a powderkeg of rage just waiting to explode, but he turns out to be more of a slow-burner, one whose frustration and anger percolate and simmer, releasing from time to time in acts of violence – constructing homemade bombs that would kill three and injure 22, some horribly. His acts of domestic terrorism, aimed at random targets he felt were advancing technology which he thought would destroy the human race, or defiling nature, would earn him the name he is better known as – the Unabomber.

If you’re looking into insight about what makes Ted click, you won’t find it here. Although the film uses Kaczynski’s own words (from over 25,000 pages of writing found in his cabin after his arrest) for the voiceover narration. Kaczynski’s writing style can be dubbed radical academic. A brilliant, literate man, he was nonetheless a pompous writer.

Stone, who previously directed the lyrical documentary Peter and the Farm, utilizes cinematographer Nathan Corbin’s talents extensively, creating beautiful and often bucolic images of life in rural Rocky Mountain Montana. He also utilizes the electronic noodling of Blanck Mass to often create a disturbing, discordant background. Stone doesn’t use the narrative tropes of your average biopic, but rather intersperses surreal dream images in an effort to give audiences a taste of the madness that Kaczynski was experiencing, including manufacturing a fantasy woman figure (Mason) to illustrate Ted’s simultaneous longing for companionship and misogyny.

We are not meant to understand what turned a brilliant mathematics professor into a remorseless, heartless bomber and Stone wisely doesn’t try. We get the broad strokes that Kaczynski left behind in his manifesto, but no sense of how the transformation actually occurred. We are left, then, to wonder at how someone so rational could change so radically that any logical thought he had – and it’s clear Stone believes that he had some – were suborned by acts of chaos. We never feel sympathy towards Ted Kaczynski, but we get the sense that Stone is saying that just because the Unabomber was insane doesn’t necessarily mean he was wrong.

REASONS TO SEE: Copley is mesmerizing. Wonderful cinematography.
REASONS TO AVOID: If you’re looking for answers as to what made Kaczynski tick, you won’t find any.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, plenty of profanity and some sexual situations including brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A good deal of the production was filmed where Ted Kaczynski’s cabin actually once stood (it has since been torn down).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/19/2022: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews; Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: One Hour Photo
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
A Banquet

The Highwaymen


Gault (left) and Hamer discuss their next move.

(2019) Crime Biography (Netflix) Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, Kathy Bates, John Carroll Lynch, Thomas Mann, Dean Denton, Kim Dickens, William Sadler, W. Earl Brown, David Furr, Jason Davis, Joshua Caras, David Born, Brian F. Durkin, Kaley Wheless, Alex Elder, Emily Brobst, Edward Bossert, Jake Ethan Dashnaw, Jane McNeill, Karson Kern, Savanna Renee. Directed by John Lee Hancock

]The mythology around Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, notorious Depression-era bank robbers, was without question aided by the 1967 Arthur Penn masterpiece Bonnie and Clyde. Portraying the outlaws as Robin Hood-types who led the bumbling cops on a merry chase through the Midwest, ending in a hail of bullets that turned the folk heroes into martyrs.

This Netflix production aimed to right the scales somewhat. The lawmen who chased Bonnie and Clyde and eventually caught them, Frank Hamer (Costner) and Maney Gault (Harrelson), were called out of retirement by Texas governor “Ma” Ferguson (Bates) to combat the thieves who had become popular and eluded the police time and time again. It didn’t seem to matter that Barrow often killed people in cold blood, the good folks of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and the Midwest were uncooperative with the investigation and occasionally shielded the gang when they needed a place to hide.

The movie was described by Reel Films critic James Bernardinelli as “a companion piece” to the Penn film, and in many ways it is that, but it is also it’s opposite. Hagiographic to the lawmen where the Penn version was to the title characters, through much of the movie Costner as Hamer growls at those who express admiration for the lawless bank robbers, occasionally resulting in beatdowns by the ex-Texas Rangers. It bears noticing that there are parallels to the modern complaints about police brutality towards African-Americans to the way the cops behave in this film.

The overall mood of the film is dour, and the overall impression is watching cantankerous grandparents trying to show the young ‘uns the error of their ways. I wish Hancock, a very able filmmaker in his own right, would have cut down on the lecturing somewhat as the movie runs a bit long for what it is. But Costner and Harrison  both have excellent chemistry together, and watching a couple of old pros doing some of their best work is worth the time spent. Not to mention that the score, by Thomas Newman, is simply lovely.

REASONS TO SEE: Costner and Harrelson give strong, believable performances. The music score is absolutely gorgeous.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit on the long side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is occasionally graphic violence, brief profanity, and some grisly images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hamer and Gault are buried in the same section of the same cemetery.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/18/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 58% positive reviews; Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bonnie and Clyde
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Ted K