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Reviews for April 28th, 2023

Documentary Round-Up

      32 Sounds is a documentary about a topic many people take for granted: sound. Have you ever stopped to listen to the sounds around you? Do you know what kind of sounds can be found beneath the surface of a lake or river? Or what sounds can be made through foley art that's used for films? Director Sam Green takes the audience through a sonic journey and encourages to listen with rather than listen to sounds, as composer Annea Lockwood wisely states when the filmmaker visits her in upstate New York. She's the most fascinating and insightful subject featured in the documentary which would have benefited from shedding more light on her work and life.  You'll also learn about how sound travels in your ear, get to listen to the sad mating call of a rare bird that's near-extinction, and learn from a deaf woman how she interprets sound from her perspective. If you watch the film in theaters, you'll be given headphones to put on to listen to the sounds more clearly. The sound design of 32 Sounds is, without a doubt, exceptional and a major highlight. However, to be fair, Sam Green has chosen a very broad topic that covers a lot of ground, so narrowing it down to Annea Lockwood would make the film more focused. Why stop at 32 sounds? Why not 36 sounds? 32 Sounds ultimately not quite as illuminating and focused as Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound. At a running time of 1 hour and 35 minutes, it opens at Film Forum through Abramorama.

      In the documentary Nuclear Now, director Oliver Stone does an effective job of arguing that nuclear energy is a viable solution to stop climate change before we reach the point of no return. Kudos to Stone for providing some hope and insight for the audiences instead of just scaring and angering them like Michael Moore often does in his documentaries. He destigmatizes nuclear energy by showing, through statistics and interviews with experts, that it's safer than fossil fuels and not as bad as the oil and gas companies want you to believe it is for their own financial benefit. There are also proven financial benefits to using nuclear energy because it's cheaper than fossil fuel energy. It also leads to less CO2 emissions than coal, gas and solar energy. When it comes to finding the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually, that's where the film slightly disappoints because Stone bombards the audience with information and redundant voice-over narration that compels you to ask, "When is the exam??" Also, there aren't enough balanced arguments to show other perspectives that disagree with the documentary's championing of nuclear energy. After all, there are more than 2 sides to a coin: there's the ridges, the sides, the corners and so on. The importance of preventing climate change is definitely a vital issue that everyone, regardless of their political ideology, should be concerned about. Whether or not Nuclear Now will be able to persuade the most staunch believer in fossil fuel energy that nuclear energy is the best solution instead remains up in the air. At a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes, Nuclear Now is an illuminating and persusive wake-up called. It opens at Village East by Angelika via Abramorama.

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig

      In the 1970s, 11-year-old Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson) moves from New York City to the suburbs of New Jersey with her parents, Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and Herb (Benny Safdie), leaving her at a distance from her grandma, Sylvia (Kathy Bates). At her new middle school, she befriends Nancy Wheeler (Elle Graham), Janie Loomis (Amari Price) and Gretchen Potter (Katherine Kupferer), who let her join their girls' club to talk about puberty.

      Based on Judy Blume's classic novel, the screenplay by writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig is mildly engaging and heartfelt, but ultimately underwhelming. On the one hand, it's a coming-of-age film about a young girl who's gradually discovering the early stages of puberty with her and her new friends. She's also dealing with moving from a big city to a small town and starting a new school with new friends. Then there's the relationship between her and her grandmother, who brings to a synagogue whe Margaret visits her. Those scenes are the most engaging and heartwarming. She's lucky to have a kind, loving and compassionate grandmother in her life. Then there's the struggle of her mother, Barbara, to come to terms with the fact that she became estranged from her Evangelical parents, Mary (Mia Dillon) and Paul Hutchins (Gary Houston), because she married a Jewish man. Barbara doesn't force Margaret to choose a religion yet. There's a moving scene where she breaks down in tears as she recalls her traumatic past and Margaret tries to console her. It's nice to see a good parent on-screen for a change----she's completely the opposite of the toxic mother, Mona, from Beau is Afraid. Oh, and there's also a subplot about Margaret being mean to a girl in her school. There are sporadic moments of wit and comic relief, and even one briefly intense scene where Margaret's dad injures his hand while using a lawnmower. Everything that happens in Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. can be easily predicted which is fine, but what's frustrating is that you can feel the wheels of the screenplay turning too often as it tries to weave all of the subplots together with uneven, occasionally heavy-handed results. Unfortunately, the third act feels rushed, cheesy and contrived without quite earning its uplift.

      Abby Ruder Forston gives a wonderful performance that makes the most out of her role as Margaret while exuding charisma and tenderness. Elle Graham is also superb. The most radiant performance belongs to the always-reliable Kathy Bates who brings much-needed warmth to the film. The soundtrack is lively and well-chosen, and the cinematography is decent. The editing, though, has a lot of issues, especially in the third act where an important dinner scene feels abruptly omitted as though the film were scared to dig deeper into the conflict between Barbara's Sylvia and Barbara's evangelical parents. It makes the film feel anticlimactic, clunky and incomplete. At a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret., is tender, sweet and harmless, but somewhat cheesy and uneven while biting off more than it could chew.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Lionsgate.
Opens nationwide.

Big George Foreman

Directed by George Tillman Jr.


      After a rough childhood living in poverty with his mother (Sonja Sohn), George Foreman (Khris Davis) joins the Job Corps where in befriends Desmond (John Magaro) and meets Doc Broadus (Forest Whitaker), who trains him in boxing and helps him to become the Heavyweight Champion of the world. As his boxing career takes off and he gets wealthier, he hires Desmond to manage his money. He loses a boxing match against Muhammad Ali (Sullivan Jones) and has a near-death experience before deciding to become a pastor and opening a youth center.

       Big George Foreman is yet another biopic overstuffed and undercooked biopic that fails to humanize its subject. The screenplay by writer/director George Tillman Jr. and its co-writers, Dan Gordon and Frank Baldwin, rushes through George's traumatic childhood and barely explores his relationship with Paula (Shein Mompremier), his first wife. They start dating and, before you know it, they're already married. As he becomes famous, their marriage becomes increasingly rocky and she confronts him about his infidelities, but the film glosses over those darker elements. The same can be said about George's relationship with his mentor/boxing trainer, Doc Broadus. There's no doubt that Doc Broadus is an integral part of George's life because he inspired and guided him while becoming like a surrogate father to him, but the screenplay turns Doc Broadus into a stock character who gives George very preachy aphorisms every now and then. The friendship between George and Desmond falls flat, and it's comes as no surprise that Desmond mismanages his money and causes him to struggle financially. That subplot also remains undeveloped. It seems like George is poor one minute, rich the next, poor again and then rich again, but the film sugar-coats George's emotional struggles when he's at his lowest points in his life. Then there's George's most profound relationship: the one between him and God. That, too, lacks depth. Before you know it, George gets divorced from his first wife and meets another woman, Mary Joan (Jasmine Mathews), who, before you know it, becomes his second wife. Big George Foreman is the kind of movie that feels like it's just going through the motions to tick all the boxes and go from one part of George's life to another, but neglects to breathe life into any of the characters or to provide insight into the heart, mind and soul of its subject. Is he introspective? If so, how introspective? There aren't enough scenes that show that introspection. George Foreman begins as a stranger to the audience and ends as a stranger.  

      Khris Davis gives a decent performance, but he doesn't get much of a chance to shine because of the vapid screenplay. Forest Whitaker does his best to rise above the material while bringing warmth and charisma to his role, but it's unfortunate that his role as Doc Broadus is underwritten. There are pacing issues because George's childhood scenes move at a quick pace before the pace slows down during the scenes at the Job Corps and then moves faster after he meets Paula. Moreover, some of the editing feels choppy when the film depicts George's love and marriage life. That said, the boxing scenes are rousing and well-shot; the scenes outside of the ring are where the film's systemic issues can be found. At a running time of 2 hours and 8 minutes, Big George Foreman is mildly engaging, but shallow, unfocused and saccharine.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Columbia Pictures.
Opens in select theaters.

The Black Demon

Directed by Adrian Grunberg

      Paul Sturges (Josh Lucas), a worker for a big oil company, takes his wife Ines (Fernanda Urrejola), daughter, Audrey (Venus Ariel), and son Tommy (Carlos Solorzan), to Baja for a vacation. He's also there for work to inspect an oil rig, but he gets more than he and his family bargained for when they encounter a megalodon shark known as The Black Demon.

      The screenplay by Boise Esquerra could've turned The Black Demon into either a gripping, scary horror/action thriller like Jaws or a mindless dark comedy more like The Meg or the cult classic Sharknado. Instead, it's neither fun, thrilling, scary nor suspenseful. Does the plot really need to have 2 different villains? One is, obviously, the titular megalodon shark. The other is Big Oil which pollutes the waters around the oil rig. If you're watching the film for shark action, you'll be disappointed because the plot is pretty much a bait-and-switch: it's mostly about the ecological issues that arise from Big Oil's pollution. The shark scenes are merely part of the film's subplot. The screenplay's stitled, on-the-nose dialogue isn't unintentionally funny enough to lead to bad laughs; it merely leads to blandness. Plausibility gets thrown out of the window as the plot takes itself too seriously while meandering and barely generating any palpable tension. The characters remain poorly developed and forgettable, but despite that, there's a desperate attempt at the last minute to give Paul a character arc and a conscience, but it's contrived and tacked-on. He's not a very likable character either, especially at the beginning because of the way he treats the locals when he arrives at Baja without understanding Spanish. He seems a bit xenophobic and an asshole. It's hard to see what his wife sees in him, but this isn't the kind of movie that truly cares about humazing its characters and relationships. If only it took more risks and had the guts to be a bonkers B-movie like the recent action thriller Sisu, it could've been a guilty pleasure.  

      Unfortunately, the CGI looks mediocre at best with a few very cheap-looking shots of the shark that makes the thrills and horror elements wane pretty quickly. There's some bloody scenes, but nothing too disturbing or shocking to please horror fans. Moreover, the editing feels choppy at times and the performances fail to enliven the film. At least the scenery adds some breathtaking moments, but they're ephemeral. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, which feels more like 3 hours, The Black Demon is a bland, unscary and dumb B-movie with a meandering, bait-and-switch plot that fails to deliver palpable thrills. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by The Avenue.
Opens nationwide.

Born to Fly

Directed by Liu Xiaoshi

      Lei Wu (Wang Yibo), an air force test pilot, undergoes physical and psychological challenges when he joins the Chinese air force's test pilot program with top-secret aircrafts.

      To say that the screenplay by writer/director Liu Xiaoshi is derivative of certain Hollywood classics would be accurate, but also not that big of a deal because most films are derivative, even the best films. The Top Gun films are far from masterpieces; they're essentially expensive action thrillers with shallow, B-movie plots. Devotion is a better example of an action thriller that has a moving and compelling story with some character development. Born to Fly aims more for the bombastic and shallow action-packed thrillers like the recent Top Gun: Maverick. Writer/director Liu Xiaoshi knows that audiences come to the film to watch fighter jets in action, not for an intriguing, labyrinthian plot or for some romance. The plot is simple, easy-to-follow and focused, for the most part, without meandering into other tangents or going bonkers like too many movies do nowadays. Lei Wu has a love interest (Dongyu Zhou) who works as a doctor at the air force, but that subplot remains on the sidelines and feels like unnecessary padding. The dialogue is on-the-nose without any wit, surprises or anything profound to say about friendship, love or courage, but that's forgivable because when it comes to providing exciting action and thrills, Born to Fly delivers the goods. Sometimes, shallow movies can still be a lot of fun.

      The visual effects in Born to Fly are absolutely stunning to behold. It's a rush of pure adrenaline that provides palpable excitement, especially if you watch the film on the big screen. To be fair, some of that Spectacle would probably be diminished on the small screen---that could be said for most blockbusters, though. There's some use of CGI, but it looks so realistic that you won't notice that what you're seeing is CGI. Clearly, the film's budget is well-spent to make the production values look top-notch. The sound design, editing and cinematography are also impressive. At a running time of 2 hours and 8 minutes, Born to Fly is a thrilling and exhilarating spectacle that provides a rush of pure adrenaline.


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Well Go USA.
Opens in select theaters.


Directed by Christos Massalas

      Markos (Stathis Apostolou), a gangster, rescues Nelly (Elsa Lekakou), a woman who ran away from her abusive family and now works as a stripper. He brings her to an abandoned theater where she joins others who seek refuge there: Rudolph (Rafael Papad), Mohammad (Salim Tabi) and Jonas (Foivos Papadopoulos). Meanwhile, Nelly's father sends henchmen to find Nelly.

      The screenplay by writer/director Christos Massalas is an amalgam of crime thriller, drama, quirky comedy, romance and dance. It's no easy task for a screenplay to blend those genres smoothly, so Massalas should be commended for taking such a big risk. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite pay off because the tone feels uneven and clunky which leads to tonal whiplash. The plot isn't very engaging, exhilarating or moving. Broadway doesn't explore Nelly's life at home which caused her to run away in the first place. The abandoned theater she moves into is called Broadway, but even that part of the film lacks exposition. How did it become abandoned? What's the theater's history like? How did the Markos find the place? Nelly's relationship with him isn't very compelling. Nelly develops a romance with Jonas, who gets dressed as a woman and changes his name to Barbara to escape the law. Their relationship, too, falls flat. Moreover, the attempts at comedy don't generate laughs, and the film slightly runs out of steam around the hour mark before the over-the-top ending goes off-the-rail.

      The dance sequences and lively performances are the only elements that keep Broadway afloat. During the dance numbers, the film becomes truly alive and mesmerizing. It's too bad that the screenplay lacks depth, wit and poignancy needed to ground it in realism. Broadway has shades of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Terry Gilliam's films, but those filmmakers know how to combine dark themes with more imagination, brilliance and visual flair. At a running time of 1 hour and 37, it's audacious and unconventional, but ultimately underwhelming and less than the sum of its many parts.


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Dark Sky Films.
Opens in select theaters.

The Eight Mountains

Directed by Felix Van Groeningen & Charlotte Vandermeersch

      Pietro (Lupo Barbiero) became good friends with Bruno (Cristiano Sassella) when his mother (Elena Lietti) took him on vacation to the French Alps back in 1984 during his childhood. They have remained friends since then. During their adulthood, Pietro (now played by Luca Marinelli) and Bruno (now played by Alessandro Borghi), reunite on the mountains while building a cottage together.

      The screenplay by co-writers/directors Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch as well as co-writer Paolo Cognetti follows Pietro and Bruno for four decades from their childhood all the way up to their adulthood when they reunite on the mountains where they first met. The Eight Mountains doesn't have a lot of dialogue nor does it have anything profound to say about friendship other than that it can last throughout the years. Pietro and Bruno begin as strangers to the audience and remain that way for the part because the screenplay doesn't do an adequate job of creating a window into their heart, mind and soul to understand what they're thinking and feeling as human beings. There's no voice-over narration and very little exposition. Not surprisingly Pietro and Bruno lead different kinds of lives as they grow older. They also have different lifestyles in their childhood: Pietro lives in the city while Bruno lives in the mountains. Despite their differences, they found a way for their friendship to persevere through their love of the mountains. Where does Pietro's love of the mountains come from, though, since he didn't grow up there like Bruno did? Or is it merely a subconscious longing/yearning for his best friend, Bruno? The filmmakers leave too much to interpretation and to the audience's imagination, so the film demands a lot from the audience which is often frustrating. Many scenes lack tension and emotional resonance, thereby leaving very little to hook the audience. Everything remains understated and nuanced, but it all feels undercooked because too much remains unsaid and underdeveloped. Some filmmakers can make the most out of "slices of life" while focusing on the mundane elements with a minimalist plot. Terrence Malick is an example of such a filmmaker, and Júlia Murat, the writer/director of Found Memories, also excels at that. Unfortunately, co-directors Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch don't accomplish that feat in The Eight Mountains, but at least they can say that they tried.

      The performances are decent, but they're undermined by the cold and shallow screenplay that doesn't give the actors enough to showcase their talent. The most radiant performance isn't a human one: it's the landscape which provides some stunning shots and visual poetry simultaneously. The pace moves very, very slowly and even sluggish at times, so this is the kind of movie that very patient audiences will appreciate the most. The filmmakers trust the audience's patience a lot, and they also grasp the power of silence, but what they don't grasp is the concept that less is more. Too many scenes feel repetitive and overstay their welcome. At a running time of 2 hours and 27 minutes, The Eight Mountains is poetic with breathtaking scenery, but overlong, undercooked and emotionally cold.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Sideshow and Janus Films.
Opens at Angelika Film Center.

The End of Sex

Directed by Sean Garrity

      Josh (Jonah Chernick) and Emma (Emily Hampshire) have been married for ten years. When they send their daughters off to a winter camp and spend time alone at home, they realize that they have a dead bedroom, so they try to reignite their sex life.

      ike with most comedies, the screenplay by Jonas Chernick begins with somewhat of a tragedy: Josh and Emma's lack of sex after having kids. Now that the kids are briefly out of the house for winter camp, Josh and Emma finally realize the harsh truth that their sex life needs improvement. Do they go to a marriage counselor or sex therapist? No. They don't even bother to mention that option. Instead, they engage in a threesome with Emma's co-worker, Wendy (Melanie Scrofano), but that doesn't quite help, so they try other things like going to a swinger's club where Emma bumps into her parents in a scene that's more cringe-inducing and icky than funny. Screenwriter Jonas Chernick doesn't show what Josh and Emma were like before their sex life went downhill, although there are brief references to those days. By jumping right to the moment their sex life fades, it's hard to understand what to compare it to or where the problems might be stemming from---it can't just be because they're raising kids together. The End of Sex, despite its seemingly serious title, has no interest in exploring its themes of sex and marriage with any kind of depth. Not a single scene stands out nor are there any laugh-out-loud moments. The attempts at humor rarely land, and the revelations in the third act feel tacked-on, shallow and contrived, so Josh and Emma's character arc and the way that their marriage evolved along with it simply isn't believable. Hope Springs is a much funnier and witty comedy about marriage stuck in a rut. Then there's the wildly entertaining and zany Eating Raoul, and the hilarious, underrated British romcom I Give It a Year. Or for a more bold, profound and intelligent look at sex and marriage, there's Eyes Wide Shut.

      Unfortunately, none of the performances manage to rise above the lackluster screenplay. Jonah and Chernick lack chemistry and fail to bring any warmth to their roles. That could also be the fault of the screenplay which barely gets inside these characters' heart, mind and soul. The cinematography is bland as well as the set design, lighting and camerawork which add nothing in terms of style to compensate for the film's lack of substance and laughs, for that matter. At least the pace moves briskly and the film clocks under 90 minutes, so it's not a chore to sit through. At a running time of 1 hour and 27 minutes, The End of Sex is a dull, toothless and shallow sex comedy that's low on wit, laughs and insight.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Blue Fox Entertainment.
Opens in select theaters.

Four Quartets

Directed by Sophie Fiennes

      Sophie Fiennes films her brother, Ralph, performing T.S. Eliot's collection of poems Four Quartets, on a stage during his theater tour in the UK back in 2021. Ralph directed the stage productions. There are no shots of the audience; just Ralph Fiennes reciting the 4 poems, namely, Burnt Norton, East Coker and The Dry Salvages, and Little Gidding. The stage is bare and the costume design isn't very sophisticated. Ralph is dressed like he's an ordinary person: he's barefoot and wearing comfy, casual clothes as though he were at home. All of that adds some warmth while allowing the audience to focus on T.S. Eliot's words and the performance of Ralph Fiennes. Four Quartets remains captivating thanks to Fiennes' bravura performance. You can feel the genuine passion he has for T.S. Eliot's poems in his voice. He doesn't ust recite the poems; he acts them out through his careful enunciations, pauses, emphases and tone of voice. It's as though he were singing the words. That comes with a doubled-edged sword, though, because it means that you can tell that he's acting because you can feel the wheels of his performance turning most of the time. Interestingly, he begins the stage production with silence before he starts talking. Those few moments of silence are a little awkward.

      Director Sophie Fiennes tries to make the film more cinematic by cutting to shots of nature every now and then, but that gets tedious and banal after a while. The shots of nature also stop the audience from using their imagination as they hear T.S. Eliot's profound words. One's imagination is, after all, a powerful tool, so the film as at its much more moving and when it just shows Fiennes on stage because that's when Sophie Fiennes fully trusts the audience's emotions, imagination and the words of T.S. Eliot. At a running time of 1 hour and 22 minutes, Four Quartets is an  engrossing, captivating and meditative spiritual journey.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Kino Lorber.
Opens at IFC Center.

Polite Society

Directed by Nida Manzoor

      Ria Khan (Priya Kansara), an aspiring stuntwoman, enlists her friends, Alba (Ella Bruccoleri) and Clara (Seraphina Beh), to help her stop her older sister, Lena (Ritu Arya), from marrying the wealthy, Salim (Akshay Khanna). She believes that he and his mother, Raheela (Nimra Bucha), have a nefarious hidden motive.

      The screenplay by writer/director Nida Manzoor has shades of Everything Everywhere All At Once as it blends comedy, martial arts, mystery and family drama. The plot becomes increasingly contrived and implausible, but that's a forgivable flaw. As Hitchcock once wisely observed, "There's something more important than logic: imagination." Polite Society has plenty of imagination, although it does take its plot a little too far into bonkers territory. At its core, it's about a sister who wants to protect her older sister from harm. Ria doesn't trust Lena's fiancé, Salim, from the very first moment she sees him at an Eid festivity that she and Lena attend. What is he really up to? Is her gut instinct correct? Polite Society lacks surprises because its plot unfolds exactly as you imagine it would. The subplot involving Salim's hidden motive, which won't be spoiled here, is convoluted and silly while almost making the film veer into horror territory with little to no internal logic, even in hindsight. Fortunately, the dialogue sparkles with wit, there are some funny slapstick scenes and dark comedy along with genuinely heartfelt moments between Ria and Lena. The film also tries too hard to please the audience, though--it's very, very eager to be a quotable, hip, high-energy, feel-great and crowd-pleasing action comedy. Even the opening credits sequence hooks you right away before the film sets its comedic tone in the next few scenes, especially the wildly entertaining scene in Ria's school. The problem with grabbing the audience's attention so hard at the very beginning is that it's not easy to maintain that hook or to offer the audience something else to hook them. When the action begins to escalate, just as expected, during the last 30 minutes, that's around the time the movie loses some of its steam as the humor becomes repetitive and almost everything gets tied in a neat little bow with nothing left for interpretation.

      The lively performances by the well-chosen ensemble cast help to make Polite Society an amusing diversion. Nimra Bacha gives an appropriately hammy and campy performance as Salim's overbearing mother. She's great as Shoreh Aghdashloo is in Renfield---another action comedy with a silly subplot. Polite Society isn't gory, though, or very bloody for that matter which feels refreshing because it seems that every other movie that's bonkers these days tries to push the envelope with blood and guts. There's violence, but it's very cartoonish albeit well-choreographed. The pace moves quickly without any scenes that overstay their welcome. There's also some wonderful costume design and set design that invigorate the film with visual style. At a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes, Polite Society is a fun, witty and exuberant crowd-pleaser.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Focus Features.
Opens nationwide.


Directed by Jalmari Helander

      During the final days of World War II, Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), a gold prospector, discovers gold in Finland before an SS officer, Bruno (Aksel Hennie), and his team of Nazi soldiers, steal the gold. Aatami, with his dog in tow, fights the Nazis to get his gold back.

      Writer/director Jalmari Helander deftly combines action, suspense and thrills which results in a mindlessly entertaining B-movie. He keeps the plot lean, focused and easy-to-follow from the get-go without going off on any tangents. Where did he get his seemingly superhuman strength? What's his backstory?  Exposition is kept to a minimum, so you know just enough about Aatami to allow you to root for him--and his dog, too. Sisu wastes no time diving right into the moment that Aatami finds the gold and hunts down the Nazis after they steal it from him. This isn't a dialogue-heavy film nor does it get complicated or even complex for that matter. There's nothing profound or moving to be found here either which is fine. The same can be said about John Wick which Sisu cut from the same cloth of---Aatami and John are kindred spirits for many reasons including the fact that they've formed a bond with their dog. Plausibility isn't among Sisu's strengths, so it'd be best if you check your brain at the door beforehand. The action does go a little bonkers at times, but not too much.

       The cinematography and landscape add plenty off atmosphere and style which gives the film a post-apocalyptic look. Some scenes are simply breathtaking to behold. Most importantly, though, the action scenes are well-choreographed and deliver the goods when it comes to blood and guts. This is a gritty action thriller that earns its R-rating. It's not for those with a weak stomach. Jorma Tommila gives a solid performance in the lead role--he's just as great as Stephen Lang is in Don't Breathe. That said, the pacing slows down at times which leads to uneven pacing, and the action does get a little tedious, but not enough to allow for lethargy to seep in, so those are minor flaws. At an ideal running time of just 1 hour and 31 minutes, Sisu is a rousing, wickedly funny and exhilarating rush of pure adrenaline. It's one of the most wildly entertaining, crowd-pleasing WWII action thrillers since Inglourious Basterds.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Lionsgate.
Opens nationwide.

Those Who Remained

Directed by Barnabás Tóth

      In post-WWII Hungary, 16-year old Klára (Abigél Szõke) lives with her great-aunt (Mari Nagy) after her parents went missing during the war. She befriends Dr. Aladár Körner (Károly Hajduk), a gynecologist, when he gives her a check-up at his office, and she soon agrees to move in with him while he becomes her surrogate father.

      Based on the novel by Zsuzsa F. Varkonyi, the screenplay by Klára Muhi begins after the Holocaust without flashing back to the horrors that took place while assuming that you already know what happened there. The story remains character-driven and focused on the blossoming friendship between Klára and Aladár. They've both experienced tragedies: Aladár's wife and kids in a concentration camp, and Klára's parents remain missing. They're both sad, lonely and traumatized, but the film doesn't dwell on their emotional pain. There aren't any emotionally devastating scenes. Instead, it highlights the compassion, kindness and platonic love between two human beings who connect and form a profound, transcendent human relationship that words cannot adequately describe. So, in a way, Those Who Remained is indeed a love story fundamentally. Director Barnabás Tóth and screenwriter Klára Muhi avoid schmaltz, heavy-handedness and over-explaining. They also avoid making Klára and Aladár's seem creepy, although their relationship does get questioned at one point when a faculty member at Klára's school learns that she lives with Aladár. Exposition is kept to a bare minimum, so you learn just enough about Klára and Aladár to see them as human beings. Bravo to the filmmakers for seeing and treating them as human beings from start to finish.

      Abigél Szõke and Károly Hajduk give convincingly moving and nuanced performances that breathe life into their roles. The film's poignancy comes more from their performances than from the screenplay, but that's okay---as long as it comes from somewhere. Director Barnabás Tóth keeps the pace moving slowly, but not too slowly, while making the most out of the few quieter moments. The set design, lighting and costume design are terrific while grounding the film in authenticity. Also, the filmmakers keep the running time well under 2 hours which shows that they grasp the concept of restraint. At 1 hour and 23 minutes, Those Who Remained is genuinely warm, tender and understated.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Menemsha Films.
Opens in select theaters.