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Reviews for April 1st, 2022


Directed by Charles Dorfman

      Adam (Iwan Rheon), a struggling writer, and his girlfriend, Eva (Catalina Sandino Moreno), have just purchased their dream home located inside a gated community in London. To celebrate his 30th birthday, Adam invites their friend, Lucas Hunt (Tom Cullen), a property developer, and Lucas' girlfriend, Chloe (Inès Spiridonov), an actress. The dinner doesn't go as smoothly as planned, but their night gets even worse when three masked people invade the home and take everyone hostage.

      Writer/director Charles Dorfman combines thriller, horror, drama and social commentary with uneven results. The screenplay takes itself too seriously while forgetting to flesh out the lives of its characters, none of whom are particularly memorable or engaging. It seems like they're just there to move the plot forward. Even as a thriller, it doesn't quite work because the twist can be seen from a mile away. That leaves very little left to hold the audience's interest. The dinner conversation before the home invasion is the most gripping scene, though, as the relationship between Adam and Eva and Lucas suddenly evolve. Unfortunately, Barbarians isn't interested in exploring their relationship deeper, and instead veers into an over-the-top B-movie for the last 45 minutes or so. It takes the film too long to get to that point, though, and afterward the film doesn't know where to take its ideas to. The social commentary remains shallow and oversimplified; it was handled much better in the far superior Parasite. Everything that Parasite gets right, Barbarians gets wrong. There's some dark comedy, but not much wit and nothing that helps to invigorate the film before it turns into a full-on, gory horror film that leaves too little to the imagination. Is a little subtlety or nuance too much to ask for?

      The cinematography is decent at best with some poorly shot nighttime sequences. The production design is among the film's few strengths, though, but not enough to elevate the film or to add much-needed substance. There's a lot of potential in Barbarians for an insightful look at friendship and class struggle, so it's frustrating that it comes up short at the end with nothing surprising, revealing or insightful to say. The actors are fine, but they're undermined by the weak, shallow screenplay. How is the audience supposed to see these characters as human beings when the screenplay doesn't treat or see them as such? Are they introspective? What's going on inside their hearts and minds? The audience barely gets a glimpse of that. At a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, Barbarians is vapid, dull and toothless. If it were in double feature with the far more bold, powerful and provocative Parasite, it would be the far inferior B-picture.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by IFC Midnight.
Opens at IFC Center and on VOD.


Directed by Paul Andrew Williams

      After a 10 year absence, Bull (Neil Maskell) returns to his hometown to seek revenge. He tracks down everyone who wronged him one by one, including Norm (David Hayman), his father-in-law who's a mob boss. Meanwhile, he searches for his missing son.

      Bull is a lean and mean crime thriller that might sound on paper like it's similar to Kill Bill, but it's actually more like The Limey. Writer/director Paul Andrew Williams holds no bars when it comes to the lengths that Bull goes to seek revenge nor does he leave the blood & guts to the imagination. When one of Bull stabs one of his victims to death, the camera doesn't shy away from showing the gore up close. What Williams does leave to the imagination, at least at first, is what happened in Bull's past that makes him so angry. Bull has very few redeeming qualities, so trying to like him isn't very easy. The same goes for the crime boss, Norm. Both of them are sadistic, vile and unpleasant people. Neither of them is even remotely close to a good guy nor does Bull even try to make the audience like them. It does succeed in humanizing them, though, by the end. Imagine any of the movies from the Saw franchise from the perspective of Jigsaw and you'll get an idea of what it's like to watch Bull.

      Fortunately, writer/director Paul Andrew Williams handles the exposition very effectively without revealing too much to the audience right away. He makes those revelations through flashbacks peppered throughout the film which means that he trusts the audience's patience. There are no distracting subplots or romances; the plot just focuses on Bull's revenge while including a few surprises along the way. One of the killings is darkly humorous, but other than that, there's really not much in terms of comic relief; this isn't a Guy Ritchie or Tarantino film nor does it try to be. Bull opts for a relentlessly stark, unflinching and intense experience that brims with palpable suspense and intensity without any dull moments.

      Neil Maskell gives a bravura performance as Bull. He portrays Bull's coldness, rage and emotional pain very convincingly. The charismatic David Hayman is also superb as Norm while successfully capturing how menacing and powerful Norm is as a mob boss. The use of color, lighting and the camera work all to the film's dark tone. Many scenes take place at night, but fortunately, you can actually see what's happening. The gore looks very realistic; this isn't the kind of gore that's stylized like in Kill Bill. It's sickening and disgusting, just as it should be. An ideal running time of 1 hour and 28 minutes, Bull is an intense, unflinching and riveting crime thriller.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Saban Films.
Opens at Cinema Village and on VOD.

The Contractor

Directed by Tarik Saleh


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Paramount Pictures.
Opens at Quad Cinema.


Directed by Kirk Harris


Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Opens in select theaters.


Directed by Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh

      Youri (Alseni Bathily), a teenager, lives in a housing project on the outskirts of Paris known as Cité Gagarine, named after Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarine, the first human to travel to outer space. Abandoned by his mother, he dreams of becoming a cosmonaut like Yuri Gagrine and even tries to build his own capsule which he hopes will launch into space. Cité Gagarine is in imminent danger of being demolished, but he believes that he can stop the demolition if he can fix it up with the help of his friends, Houssam (Jamil McCraven) and Diana (Lyna Khoudri).

      Gagarine is sweet, tender and imaginative, much like Youri himself. The screenplay by co-writers/directors Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh and co-writer Benjamin Charbit don't dwell on the darker elements of the narrative despite all of the tragedy that happens to Youri. This isn't poverty porn like The Florida Project or as unflinching as Ken Loach's films about the poor. Life is far from easy for Youri, though. His mother leaves to live with her new lover. The building complex he lives at, his childhood home, has been condemned and will most likely be demolished. What no one can demolish, though, are Yuri's hopes, dreams, empathy and optimism. Is it naive optimism? The filmmakers let the audience answer that question and judge Youri on their own. He yearns to escape from his adversity. There's nothing wrong with yearning or fantasizing. Even adults have the right to do it, not just children. The mind, after all, is a powerful tool which Youri uses to survive on an emotional and psychological level. What the screenplay doesn't do so effectively, though, is to delve into Youri's emotional journey more to allow the audience to understand how he's processing all of his emotions and how they're evolving. It's great to see what he imagines, though, through the magical realism scenes. There's no narration which is fine, but the relationship between Youri and his mother remains underdeveloped. Gagarine focuses mostly on Youri and his interactions with his friends, including Diana who he develops feelings for. Their communication through Morse Code is quite endearing, and their romance never becomes saccharine.

      Gagarine is lucky to have Alseni Bathily as the lead actor because he gives a raw, tender and convincingly moving performance. He's a revelation. Even when the screenplay doesn't have much emotional depth, his performance compensates for that, so the  emotional resonance comes from him, not from the screenplay. The visual effects in the magical realism scenes add both style and substance. Those scenes are mesmerizing to watch, and there's no shortage of them either. They turn the film into a thought-provoking allegory while providing visual poetry that makes for a captivating film that highlights the importance of conquering adversity and the power of the imagination. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Cohen Media Group.
Opens at Quad Cinema.


Directed by Daniel Espinosa


Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Columbia Pictures.
Opens in theaters nationwide.

The Rose Maker

Directed by Pierre Pinaud

      Eve Vernet (Catherine Frot), a horticulturalist, owns a rose nursery she inherited from her father, but business has been waning and she struggles to make ends meet. She refuses to sell her business to Lamarzelle (Vincent Dedienne), who owns a larger rose business. Instead, her assistant, Véra (Olivia Côte), finds three ex-convicts, Samir (Farsah Bouyahmed), Nadege (Marie Pitiot), and Fred (Manel Foulgoc), to help her with her garden. Eve also uses their crime skills to steal a special rose from Lamarzelle's rose nursery.

      The screenplay by writer/director Pierre Pinaud and co-writer Fadette Drouard and Philippe Le Guay, follows a familiar formula for an underdog story, but it follows it with genuine warmth, tenderness, wit and a light sense of humor while treating its characters as human beings. There's nothing wrong with resorting to cliches as long as done well like in Saving Grace which The Rose Maker shares a lot in common with. The ending can be seen from a mile away, but that doesn't matter because it's the journey to the uplifting ending that matters the most. Fortunately, the film earns its uplift, especially owing to the friendship between Even and Fred. She becomes like his surrogate mother and inspires him and, in turn, he becomes like her surrogate son. Her compassion toward him and the other ex-convicts is heartfelt without being schmaltzy. At first, they seem very different from her, and those differences are played for laughs at the beginning. However. she, too, has her own emotional pain to deal with as it turns out.

      The Rose Maker doesn't dwell on these darker elements for too long, but there's just enough darkness lurking beneath the surface to add some depth, much like in Harold & Maude.  It's also refreshing to see such a strong role for a woman. She's fragile, yet strong on the inside and assertive, i.e. when she stands up to Lamarzelle and doesn't let him take advantage of her no matter what he offers her for her rose nursery. He even brings her flowers, but she doesn't fall for his unctuous behavior. She's also kind, considerate and compassionate, and as wise and comfortable with herself as Shirley from Shirley Valentine or even Maude from Harold & Maude. One of the most powerful, empowering moments is when she states out loud that she's okay being single and doesn't need a man around. This film certainly passes the Bechdel Test. The crime caper subplot feels a bit of a throwaway, contrived and doesn't really add much in terms of thrills or suspense, but that's forgivable because it's not really what the film is really about.

      Catherine Frot is among the most charismatic French actresses. She's great at comedy as well as drama. Her charisma in The Rose Maker elevates the film and breathes life into her role even during the quieter moments. Much of the emotional depth comes from her performance, but also from Manel Foulgoc who has the most interesting role out of the three ex-convicts. The way that the filmmakers incorporate symbolism with flowers is similar to how Harold & Maude used the symbolism of flowers to represent the growth of a human being. It's not very subtle, yet it's nonetheless poetic and insightful. At a running time of 1 hour and 34 minutes, The Rose Maker is a warm, funny and heartfelt delight.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Music Box Films.
Opens at Angelika Film Center.

You Won't Be Alone

Directed by Goran Stolevski


Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Focus Features.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.