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Reviews for April 28th, 2017 br>
Documentary Round-Up

      Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story is a warm, candid, illuminating, and enormously entertaining documentary about Harold and Lillian Michelson, a couple remained married for 60 years while working in Hollywood. Harold was a storyboard artist working on films such as Spartacus, The Ten Commandments and The Graduate, among many others. Do you remember the scene in The Graduate where Mrs. Robinson's leg is stretched in a way that created a frame around Benjamin in the background? Harold came up with the idea for that iconic scene in his sketches as a story board artist. He helped Lillian to find a job volunteering at a studio's library assisting with research before she bough the library and ran it on her own. She did research for films like The Birds and Fiddler on the Roof. Director Daniel Raim blends contemporary interviews with Lillian along with interview with their friends/colleagues, archival footage of Harold and Lillian, and clips from the films that they worked on. Raim is lucky that Lillian comes across as someone bright, honest, witty and articulate, so she's definitely someone who captures your attention on camera from the get-go. In just 100 minutes, you'll learn how Harold and Lillian met, fell in love, got married, and started a new life together. Raim incorporates both the highs and the lows of their married life and their struggles to make it in Hollywood. In other words, this doc doesn't suffer from being hagiography; it humanizes its subjects in a way that makes them even somewhat relatable while not avoiding to show their flaws. Don't be surprised if you'll want to re-visit some of the films that Harold and Lillian worked on after learning about their hard work that was so integral to the quality of the films. Kudos to Raim for bringing to light an underrated husband and wife who deserve a lot more attention and recognition. Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story opens at the newly refurbished Quad Cinema.Bang! The Bert Berns Story is a well-edited introduction to songwriter/record producer Bert Berns, but there's nothing really exceptional about the film. tCo-directors Brett Berns and Bob Sarles do a decent job of informing audiences what made Bert Berns such an underrated icon in the world of music. Just the fact that he wrote classic songs like "Twist and Shout" and "Piece of My Heart" makes him a great documentary subject. You'll learn about his work and life, but there's not enough that goes beyond your average hagiography. The music is delightful, though, just as expectd, but it doesn't help that the narration Stevie Van Sant sounds too dry and pedestrian. Given that we're in a Golden Age of Documentaries, it's disappointing that Bang! is not the kind of music doc that transcends its subject like Searching for Sugarman, Standing in the Shadow of Motown, or the recent Long Strange Trip do so successfully. Unlike Bang!, those docs find the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually. Bang! might, however, make you tempted to listen to some of the songs that Bert Berns had written/produced. Abramorama opens it at IFC Center on Wednesday, April 26th.


Directed by David Bezmozgis

      16-year-old Mark (Alex Ozerov) idles away his summer vacation at home while reading books, watching porn and smoking weed with his older friend (Aidan Shipley). His father (Genadijs Dolganovs) and mother (Deanna Dezmari) want him to find a job, but he's too lazy. His mother convinces him to take her of his new 14-year-old promiscuous step-cousin, Natasha (Sasha K. Gordon), who just arrived into town after his uncle (Igor Ovadis) marries a younger woman (Aya-Tatyana Stolnits).

      The screenplay by writer/director David Bezmozgis feels concurrently overstuffed and undercooked. Each character has his or her own issues that they're going through, especially Natasha who was sexualy abused when she was trafficked back in Russia. She seduces Mark and, not surprisingly, he yields to her seductions. To be fair, Bezmozgis should be commended for unflinchingly showing Mark and Natasha having sex and for building up that moment gradually. It's the aftermath that's a bit messy and underexplored as Natasha clearly has issues with her mother on top of the trauma that she suffered from being sexually abused. Her mother is who's far from a good parent. Mark's parents aren't the best either when it comes to parenting even though they try their best, so they're both coming from dysfunctional families. Bezmozgis includes some dinner chat about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but it feels like that discussion is tacked on in a contrived way in an attempt to depth.

      You can sense the wheels of the screenplay turning, though, once Natasha and Mark's families learn that Mark and Natasha had a sexual relationship. Natasha doesn't have much in terms of a character arc, and it seems that Mark doesn't change when it comes to his feelings for Natasha by the end of the film. Or is he just confused about his feelings? It's hard to get inside his head. Perhaps he'll come to terms with what happened between him and Natasha later in his life or perhaps he'll be traumatized for life. Perhaps it will affect his future relationships. Either way, Natasha only scratches the surface of the complex issues that it brings to the table. What saves Natasha and adds some emotional depth whiling keeping the film mildly engaging, though, are the natural performances by Alex Ozerov and Sasha K. Gordon.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Menemsha Films.
Opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Battle of Memories

Directed by Leste Chen

      Jiang Feng (Huang Bo) goes to a special facility where he undergoes an operation that erases part of the memories that he had of his wife, Zhang Daichen (Xu Jinglei), whom he's about to divorce. He keeps certain memories by the request of Zhang, but a mix-up occurs and he ends up with the memories of a man who abused and murdered his wife, Li Huilan (Wang Zhen'er). Jiang has a tough time explaining to detectives Shen Hanqiang (Duan Yihong) and Lei Zi (Liang Jieli) how he ended up with those memories that are not his own when he confesses to them about the murder.

      The screenplay by writer/director Leste Chen and Ryan Ren constantly ups the ante as it adds more layers with plenty of unpredictable twists and surprises. To be fair, not everything will make sense at first, but be patient as more becomes revealed. The labryinthian plot is complex without being quite as confusing as Inception nor as dull and dry as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Blending sci-fiction, mystery, drama and thrills isn't an easy task. Occassionally, the amalgam of different genres creates a slightly uneven tone, and the flashbacks in black-and-white are awkward, but those setbacks not enough to detract from the film's momentum. The thrills are psychological rather than action-based more often than not. Everything from the set design to the visual effects and cinematography look slick and impressive, especially on the big screen. At a running time of 2 hours, Battle of Memories is an intriguing, taut sci-fi crime thriller.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by China Lion Film Distribution.
Opens at AMC Empire 25

Nise: The Heart of Madness

Directed by Roberto Berliner


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Outsider Films and Strand Releasing.
Opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
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