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Reviews for April 21st, 2017 br>
Documentary Round-Up

      Three documentaries tied with Earth Day open this weekend. The best one, Born in China, which also happens to be the most commercial among the three, follows different animals that brave the elements in the forests and mountains of China: snow leopards, pandas, golden monkeys, and a chiru antelope. The breathtaking sights of nature provide plenty of awe-inspiring moments with the help of the terrific cinematography. Beyond the visuals, though, director Lu Chuan connects the film emotionally to the audience by anthropomorphizing the animals. The narration by John Krazinski adds some narrative elements and information which will educate audiences without boring or disturbing the younger audience members. A mother panda watches as her daughter learns how to become autonomous by climbing a tree on her own, an important skill that pandas need to survive on their own. A young golden monkey ostracized from the group by his father struggles to survive away from his family. A snow leopard desperately tries to kill its prey to feed its young cubs. Such is the way of nature---there's no good or evil, just animals doing what's in their nature. Lu Chuan avoids complicating the doc with darker, complex themes like how global warming or deforestation might be affecting the animals. Last year's nature doc Seasons tackled that issue. Instead, he celebrates the beauty and nature whiling showing you how the animals live so that you'll care about them as much as you care about human beings. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 19 minutes, Born in China is a mesmerizing documentary that will enlighten and captivate audiences of all ages. It opens nationwide via Disneynature. Every year, there's always at least one documentary that combines a variety of interconnected topics related to human rights and the environment in hopes of making the world a better place. Last year, there was Love Thy Nature and Rooted in Peace, and the year before that there was Where to Invade Next. So, along comes Tomorrow, co-directed by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent, which travels around the world while tackling the issues of food sustainability, economic stability, energy, education and politics. From the get-go the film makes it clear that their intentions aren't to merely scare you about all the problems that mankind faces today; they want to provide you with practical solutions. That sense of hope and optimism makes Tomorrow a kindred spirit with Michael Moore's Where to Invade Next. The filmmakers include a lot of talking-head interviews with experts who enrich the doc with their insight. You'll find a lot of food for thought from countries such as India and Finland which would it have felt too dry and academic if it were not for the stylish editing, brisk pacing and lively narration along with the well-chosen musical score. The last thing an informative documentary should ever make you want to ask at the very end is "When is the exam???", so kudos to the filmmakers for not bombarding audiences with too many statistics. The only topic that seems somewhat out of place even though it's important is the one regarding economic stability which is very complex an deserves an entirely separate doc. Were particular topic been omitted, the doc wouldn't have slightly overstayed its welcome by roughly 20 minutes given its running time of 2 hours. So, while Tomorrow doesn't quite find the perfect balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually, it comes close enough. Under the Milky Way opens Tomorrow at Village East Cinema.

Free Fire

Directed by Ben Wheatley


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by A24 Films.
Opens nationwide.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki

Directed by Juho Kuosmanen


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by MUBI.
Opens Angelika Film Center.


Directed by Denise Di Novi

      Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson) lives with her fiancé, David (Geoff Stults), and his young daughter, Lily (Isabella Kai Rice), David's jealous ex-wife, Tessa Connover (Katherine Heigl), does everything she can to make Julia's life with David a living hell in hopes of getting them to break up. She even steals her iphone as well as her engagement ring, and impersonates her by creating a Facebook page where she catfishes Julia's abusive ex-boyfriend.

      With a screenplay that didn't take itself so seriously, Unforgettable could have been a campy, trashy guilty pleasure in spite of its many implausibilities. Instead, co-writers Christina Hodson and David Leslie Johnson have created a stylish, but insipid and increasingly asinine crime thriller while trying, and failing, to generate Hitchcockian suspense and intrigue. The film gives away part of its climax by beginning when the police interrogate Julia before flashing back to explain how she ended up being accused of murder. Everything is telegraphed from a mile away, so there's nothing to keep you at the edge of your seat. It doesn't help that the cinematography, musical score, and amateurish editing makes it look like you're watching a bad made-for-TV movie. Making matters worse, Julia comes across as someone who's not particularly bright, especially when it comes to the things she says and her behavior. She and David have very little chemistry to boot, so don't expect to care about whether or not they actually end up together after their ordeal.

     To be fair, though, the subplot involving Tessa's relationship with her domineering, shallow, cold and controlling mother (Cheryl Ladd) does adds a morsel of depth to the film because it explains why Tessa turned out to be mentally unstable: she's the adult daughter of a narcissistic mother. Also, there's a brief catfight that's mildly engaging. Unforgettable's third act goes over-the-top with preposterous twists, but without enough bad laughs to become an unintentionally funny crowd-pleaser like The Room. Hitchcock is rolling in his grave. If there were indeed a sequel to Unforgettable like the very last scene suggests, it will hopefully go direct-to-VOD which is where this film should have debuted if there were any rhyme and reason in Hollywood. Catfight, starring Anne Heche and Sandra Oh, is far more clever, funny and biting film than Unforgettable.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Opens nationwide.
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