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Reviews for April 7th, 2023

Chantilly Bridge

Directed by Linda Yellen

      Val (Jill Eikenberry), Rheza (Lindsay Crouse), Shelley (Patricia Richardson),  Hannah (Helen Slater), and Maggie (Talia Shire), lifelong friends, reunite after 25 years. Hannah brings her adult daughter (Naaji Sky Adzimah) while Val's sister,  Lizzie (Ally Sheedy), skips the reunion and stays at home.

       The screenplay by writer/director Linda Yellen and co-writer Michael Leeds assumes that you're already familiar with the original film, Chantilly Lace, so newbies might feel a little lost about who's who and what their friendships are like. Gradually, though, you learn more about them as the film progresses. This isn't a plot-heavy film, but there's a lot of exposition. Some of the exposition feels a little dull with stilted dialogue, and the flashbacks to scenes from Chantilly Bridge are clunky. Also, one of their friends,  Natalie (JoBeth Williams), who died in the first film, serves as the narrator and provides wise, but preachy and heavy-handed aphorisms about life, death and love that are stated at the beginning and then again at end in case you forgot about them. The women in Chantilly Bridge talk openly about a broad range of issues like sex, marriage, aging and more, so it feels like you're eavesdropping into their conversations and prying into their private thoughts and feelings. The on-the-nose dialogue doesn't leave much room for interpretation. Writer/director Linda Yellen and co-writer Michael Leeds don't trust the audience's emotions and intelligence enough. However, it's refreshing to watch the friends talk, debate, converse, argue, confess and banter with each other. There's a sense of friendship, compassion, camaraderie and, above all, love between them. At least Chantilly Bridge is not contrived, cringeworthy and asinine like 80 for Brady.  

      A large part of what makes Chantilly Bridge is its wonderful ensemble cast of actresses who bring plenty of charisma, conviction and emotional truth to their roles. They have palpable chemistry together. No one over-acts or under-acts, so there's a sense of naturalism almost like you're watching a a documentary of these women coming together and bonding. The pace moves slowly, but not too slowly. The cinematography is decent with some beautiful scenic views of a wintry landscape bookending the film which provide some visual poetry. Poetry, after all, is a form of protest for or against something. So, what is Chantilly Bridge a protest for or against? By the end of the film, the answer to that question will be 100% clear. At a brief running time of 1 hour and 26 minutes, Chantilly Bridge is a warm, wise, tender and well-acted story about female friendship. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Quiver Distribution.
Opens at Village East by Angelika before hitting VOD on April 14th, 2023.

Chrissy Judy

Directed by Todd Flaherty

      Chrissy (Wyatt Fenner) and Judy (Todd Flaherty) are good friends and perform in a drag show together in New York City. When Chrissy moves to Philadelphia to start a new life with his boyfriend, Shawn (Kiyon Spencer), Judy can't handle being separated from Chrissy.

      The screenplay by writer/director Todd Flaherty explores the end of a friendship with wit, honesty and a sense of humor. Most importantly, though, Flaherty sees and treats Chrissy and Judy as complex human beings, warts and all. Judy comes across as emotionally needy and clingy which makes him toxic, but, like everyone, he deserves to be happy. He's sad, frustrated, angry and confused without Chrissy in his life. It's a big deal for him and he can't move on no matter how hard he tries. Chrissy, on the other hand, seems more emotionally mature and has, indeed, moved on. Chrissy Judy is hard to categorize in just one particular genre because it walks a fine line between comedy and tragedy without taking itself seriously the entire time. It's not afraid to go to dark places, but it doesn't get too dark or unflinching. It doesn't go over-the-top either when it comes to humor. The way that the story unfolds feels concurrently organic and unpredictable which makes it a refreshing experience that's ultimately more than the sum of its parts.

      Filmed in black-and-white cinematography, Chrissy Judy looks mesmerizing with some stunning shots and scenery which add some visual poetry. The performances by Wyatt Fenner and Todd Flaherty are terrific, and the film's editing is also exceptional. Although it's a low budget film, it feels more cinematic and invigorating than some films 10x the budget. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes, Chrissy Judy is refreshingly witty, honest, tender and funny.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Dark Star Pictures.
Available on VOD.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline

Directed by Daniel Goldhaber

      Eight young environmental activists, Xochitl (Ariela Barer), Theo (Sasha Lane), Michael (Forrest Goodluck), Dwayne (Jake Weary), Shawn (Marcus Scribner), Logan (Lukas Gage) and Rowan (Kristine Froseth), hatch a plan to blow up a oil pipeline to protest against climate change.

      The screenplay by writer/director Daniel Goldhaber and his co-writers, Ariela Barer and Jordan Sjol, tells a simple story in an achronological structure flashing back to each character to introduce them one by one to the audience. Thanks to the smart and sensitive writing, that non-linear structure doesn't feel confusing or nauseating nor does it distract from the narrative momentum. It also makes the film less pedestrian and conventional because it's basically about people coming together to build a pipeline, hence the title. You already know the outcome, so it's just a question of how and why they end up bombing the pipeline. The why part becomes clearer for each of the 8 environmentalists, especially Theo who's sick from Leukemia which happens to be a common disease that people who live near oil refineries suffer from. Imagine a less subtle version of Arlington Road from the perspective of the terrorist group and you'll get something along the lines of How to Blow Up a Pipeline. The villains are the protagonists, and there's no doubt that they're willing to cross legal, ethical and moral boundaries to send a message. The film doesn't ask you to judge them because there's very little time to with so many characters and a lot of tension. Instead, it asks you to experience them, even though they're not very likable. The plot remains focused on their perspective and the inevitable obstacles that they find along the way. As long as you're not looking for surprises, nuance or understatement, just relentless intensity and suspense like in Uncut Gems, this film will be right up your alley.

      How to Blow Up a Pipeline should be commended for terrific editing that weaves together the backstories of each character and jumping back and forth in chronology in a way that feels slick, stylish and cinematic. The performances are fine, especially Sasha Lane who's also terrific in the underrated American Honey. A flaw, though, that becomes a systemic problem is its reliance on an over-active soundtrack that tells you how to feel without trusting the audience's emotions. The music score hits you over the head and becomes intrusive as well as repetitive. There's already enough tension within the plot itself, so why the need for so much music to escalate the tension. It'll make you feel exhausted by the time the end credits roll, but perhaps that's the point because the characters on screen are also exhausted concurrently. At a running time of 1 hour and 39 minutes, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is gripping, well-edited and stylish, but also exhausting. It's one of the most relentlessly intense and breathless thrillers since Uncut Gems.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by NEON.
Opens in select theaters.


Directed by Saim Sadiq

      Haider (Ali Junejo) is unemployed and lives in Lahore, Pakistan with his wife, Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq), who works at a hair salon. He spends his time taking care of his wheelchair-bound father (Salmaan Peerzada) and doing household chores. One day his friend suggests to him to apply for a job as a backup dancer for Biba (Alina Khan), a transgender woman, who performs burlesque at a club. Haider soon falls in love with Biba.

      Joyland is just as powerful and moving as the recent film The Blue Caftan which it shares a lot in common with. The screenplay by writer/director Saim Sadiq and co-writer Maggie Briggs weave a tragic love story that's filled with tender, unflinchingly heartbreaking moments. They avoid turning the film into a maudlin, melodramatic soap opera which it could've been with a less sensitive screenplay. Despite the heavy subject matter, there are some surprisingly light and funny moments every now and then. Most importantly, though, each character becomes more interesting as the plot progresses. Even Haider's wife, Mumtaz, who married him in an arranged marriage, is given enough scenes to humanize her through her complex emotions. Haider is suffering emotionally, but Joyland doesn't forget to show the consequences of his actions on his wife. These aren't stock characters or caricatures. Biba, too, has her own issues to deal with, as it turns out.

      There's a particularly memorable and provocative scene when Biba and Haider are about to have sex and Haider does something that offends her. The way that she reacts speaks volumes about everything she's been through and how she's willing to stand up for herself without letting anyone else dehumanize her. She's not a pushover. Why is she getting involved with a married man? Joyland doesn't judge her for that nor does it judge Haider for cheating on his wife. There are no villains, and no one gets beaten up or murdered, so the plot remains character-driven without any huge Spectacle or nail-biting scenes. However, it's emotionally gripping because it feels so true-to-life and natural. Therefore, it makes it easier for you to be immersed in these characters' lives and to want them to find joy--even though true joy is often ethereal. Kudos to writer/director Saim Sadiq and co-writer Maggie Briggs for showing empathy and compassion toward everyone on screen and for the audience as well. That's a major feat that even films made for 10x the budget sorely lack these days.

      The performances are superb and feel just as organic as the screenplay. Alina Khan is a revelation as Biba. She bears her heart and soul for her role. It's that emotional nakedness that makes Joyland an emotionally generous film that will keep you engaged if you open your heart to it. The only element that takes a little away from the naturalism is the lighting that excessively uses blue and other colors to add some style, visual poetry and make the film cinematic, but they're distracting. The aspect ratio used is 1.37:1 (a square) already provides enough visual poetry. Like The Blue Caftan, Joyland trusts the audience's patience, emotions and intelligence. The pace moves slowly, but not too slowly. At a running time 2 hours and 6 minutes, Joyland is a captivating, unflinching and profoundly human love story.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Oscilloscope Laboratories.
Opens at Film Forum.

One True Loves

Directed by Andy Fickman

      When her husband Jesse (Luke Bracey), a photographer, doesn't come home after a plane crash, Emma (Phillipa Soo) begins a romance with her best friend, Sam (Simu Liu) and gets engaged to him. She's stuck in a dilemma when Jesse is found alive and returns home.

      Based on the novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid, the screenplay by Taylor Jenkins Reid and co-writer Alex J. Reid tells the love story of Jesse, Emma and Sam in a clunky, non-linear structure. Sometimes non-linear structures work, sometimes they don't. In the recent How to Blow Up a Pipeline, it does; in One True Loves, it doesn't. Why, you ask? Because it takes a well-written screenplay to make the story flow as it flashes forward and back. As Roger Ebert once wisely observed, it's much easier to get inside a character's head by reading a book as opposed to watching a movie. Again, it takes a sensitively-written screenplay to accomplish that in a movie. Unfortunately, One True Loves' screenplay fails to get inside the heart, mind and soul of Jess, Emma and Sam. The dialogue is often stilted, on-the-nose and almost cringe-inducing at times. When it tries to be poignant, it ends up being cheesy, so the beats don't land which makes it harder for you to care about whether Emma ultimately picks Jesse or Sam. Does she have to pick one over the other? What about neither? What about taking some time off to discover herself or to process what's going on? Of course, those aren't options in such a corny love story that feels more like a dull soap opera minus the stylized acting. Prepare for a film that's so saccharine that it might end up giving you a cavity.

    The performances are decent at best with no one rising above the shallow and witless screenplay or able to bring it to life. Moreover, there's no palpable chemistry between anyone on screen. The cinematography is just as bland as the screenplay, and the editing between the past and present scenes suffers from choppiness. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, which feels more like 3 minutes, One True Love is a schmaltzy, contrived and anemic soap opera. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by The Avenue.
Opens in select theaters before opening digitally on April 14th, 2023.


Directed by Brit McAdams

      Carl Nargle (Owen Wilson) loses his ranking as the number one public television painter in Vermont for decades when a younger painter, Ambrosia Long (Ciara Renée), joins the PBS show. He still has feelings for his ex-girlfriend, Katherine (Michaela Watkins), who works as an assistant manager at PBS.

      The screenplay by writer/director Brit McAdams fails as a comedy, satire, romance and as a character study of a troubled man who's going through a midlife crisis. Paint would like you to believe that women throw themselves at Carl like he's some kind of rock star. He seems selfish, immature and rude without much introspection, so it's hard to root for him or to understand what Katherine saw in him to begin with when they were a couple back in the day. The flashbacks to their romantic past are clunky and contrived. Despite the potential for some biting satire, the film remains lethargic and toothless with too many scenes that fall flat. None of the relationships on-screen feel even remotely believable, and the third act has a very dumb twist and a scene with a fire that strains credibility---there's not a single bead of sweat on anyone's face, and the fire barely seems to even spread like it's supposed to. If Paint didn't take itself so seriously and took more risks to be a zany satire or even an amusing SNL sketch, it would've at least been an entertaining crowd-pleaser. Instead, it's a witless and bland bore.

      None of the actor or actresses manage to enliven Paint no matter how hard they try. They've all been in funnier, smarter and more witty movies. Stephen Root briefly shows up as Carl's manager at PBS, but he's much more hilarious in the cult classic Office Space. The charisma of Michaela Watkins feels muted here and the film wastes her comedic talents---unlike Brittany Runs a Marathon which allows her to shine while showing her versatility as a dramatic and comedic actress. Finally, there's Owen Wilson who gives a very dull performance, but, to be fair, he's undermined by the shallow screenplay. There are also pacing issues which make too many scenes drag. The cinematography and editing are unimpressive. At a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes, which feels more like 3 hours, Paint is a cringeworthy, dull and painfully unfunny misfire.

Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by IFC Films.
Opens nationwide.


Directed by Laurynas Bareiša

      Paulius (Giedrius Kiela) travels with Indre (Gabija Bargailaite), the ex-girlfriend of his murdered brother, Mateus, to small town to retrace the steps retrace the steps of Mateus on the night of his murder that took place four years earlier.

      The screenplay by writer/director Laurynas Bareisa eschews a first act while diving head-first to the moment that Paulius and Indre embark on their journey. Mateus has already been murdered, the crime has already been solved and justice has already been served to the perpetrators, so this isn't a crime thriller; it's a psychological character study of two human beings dealing with grief. The film remains focused on Paulius and Indre's investigation of where Mateus was precisely on the night that he was murdered. They're seeking some kind of closure for all the emotional pain that they've suffered from his murder. Writer/director Laurynas Bareiša keeps everything understated with a melancholic tone and very little levity or palpable suspense. He trusts the audience's intelligence, imagination, emotions and patience without any heavy-handedness or spoon-feeding the audience with voice-over narration. There are no flashbacks and very little on-the-nose dialogue, so the film remains understated sans sugar-coating. Interestingly, Pilgrims avoids overcomplicating the plot with subplots, i.e. the fact Paulius and Indre do not fall in love along the way. In more conventional, less focused drama, they would've ended up a romantic couple, so kudos to Bareiša for avoiding those pitfalls and for not trying too hard to please the audience.

      Pacing can make or break a film. A pace that moves too quickly can be nauseating and make it hard to feel absorbed by plot and characters; a pace that moves too slowly can lead to boredom and lethargy. Fortunately, Pilgrims moves at a slow pace that's not too slow. There are just the right amount of quiet, still moments that don't go on for too long like in the recent slow-paced, overlong film Stonewalling. Some of the visuals, i.e. water under a bridge with a car partially submerged in the water, are poetic, eerie and breathtaking all at once. Images often speak louder than words which is something that writer/director Laurynas Bareiša grasps. He also grasps that less is more. The performances, much like the film itself, are nuanced, subtle and very true-to-life. At a running time of merely 1 hour and 32 minutes, Pilgrims is a slow-burning, understated and poetic emotional journey. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Dekanalog.
Opens at Anthology Film Archives.

Ride On

Directed by Larry Yang

      Luo (Jackie Chan), a former movie stuntman, refuses to part with his stunt horse, Red Hare, when debt collectors show up to seize the horse. He turns to his estranged daughter, Bao (Liu Houcoun), on his mission to keep his horse. Her boyfriend, Mickey (Kevin Guo), a lawyer, agrees to help him fight his legal battles.

      Despite a plot that sounds like a legal crime drama, Ride On is actually an action comedy for the most part. Writer/director Larry Yang keeps the relationship between Luo and his daughter as subplot that grounds the film with some poignancy, although it does somewhat cross into schmaltz territory. As long as you don't think too much about the plot and suspend your disbelief, it's an outrageously funny and exhilarating slice of entertainment. The relationship between Luo and Red Hare feels more engrossing than him and Bao. The same can be said about Luo's legal troubles with the debt collectors that unfolds with very little plausibility. That's forgivable because Ride On excels during its action scenes which is when it feels the most invigorating and comes alive. Those scenes are filled with the kind of witty and hilarious sight gags and stunts that you'd expect from a Jackie Chan film, although the action sequences and humor don't quite break any ground or go over-the-top.

      It's great to see Jackie Chan use his martial art skills during fight scenes. In Ride On, he's at his best. The fight choreography is quite impressive and among the highlights of the film. The horse, too, is well-trained and provides some great sight gags as well as stunts. Jackie Chan also proves to be a decent actor during the more dramatic and emotional scenes. His charisma feels palpable throughout the film and rises above the shallow screenplay. Be sure to stay through the end credits for bloopers which aren't as funny as the bloopers in the Rush Hour series, but they come close.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Well Go USA.
Opens at Village East by Angelika.

Showing Up

Directed by Kelly Reichardt

      Lizzy (Michelle Williams), a sculptor, prepares for her art show where she'll exhibit her work. She struggles to balance her time with her mother, Jean (Maryann Plunkett), father, Bill (Judd Hirsch), and mentally ill brother, Sean (John Magaro), while taking care of a pigeon that her landlord/friend Jo (Hong Chau) had rescued.

      Everyone in the screenplay by writer/director Kelly Reichardt and co-writer Jonathan Raymond happens to be involved in the art world. Lizzy's mother teaches art, Lizzy works as a sculptor, her brother and Jo are artists, and her father is a retired sculptor. However, Showing Up has very little to say that's interesting or insightful about art, artists, family or creativity. It doesn't even have much plot or any narrative momentum for that matter. No one has cancer or gets killed, and no one is particularly unlikable. There's also no schmaltz or melodrama either. In other words, Showing Up is a gentle, mildly amusing, harmless and breezy film that's neither emotionally draining nor intellectually demanding.

      Michelle Williams gives a decent performance as does Hong Chau, but Showing Up doesn't really give them much to chew on. They've all been in more moving, complex and powerful films, especially Hong Chau who's in The Whale. They're both charismatic actresses, but their charisma feels a bit muted here. The pace moves too slowly at times, so lethargy seeps in around the hour mark. At a running time of 1 hour and 48 minutes, which feels more like 3 hours, Showing Up is dull, tedious and slight. It's ultimately less than the sum of its parts.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by A24.
Opens at Angelika Film Center.

The Strange Case of Jacky Caillou

Directed by Lucas Delangle

      Jacky (Thomas Parigi), a young man, lives with his grandmother, Gisèle (Edwige Blondiau), a healer, deep in the French Alps. After Gisèle suddenly dies, he uses the healing powers that she taught him to treat Elsa (Lou Lampros), a young woman who has a mysterious rash on her back.

      The screenplay by writer/director Lucas Delangle and co-writer Olivier Strauss begins as moving story about a grandma and her son before it takes a tragic turn and morphs into a psychological horror film with some suspense, thrills and supernatural elements. To be fair, combining many different genres is not easy, so the filmmakers should be commended for taking those risks. The risks don't quite pay off by the end, though, because it takes a long time to get the the meat of the story: the relationship between Jacky and Elsa who's becoming a werewolf. Exposition is kept to a minimum which is fine initially, but Elsa deserves more of a backstory to make her more than just a plot device. The relationship between her and Jacky is reminiscent of the relationship in Let the Right One In, although it's not as poignant or powerful. Also, the screenplay does a subpar job of showing how Jacky deals with grief after his grandmother dies, so it's hard to grasp what he's thinking and feeling, especially now that he's all on his own. Interestingly, The Strange Case of Jacky Caillou doesn't escalate its horror elements as far as you'd expect it to in the third act. The filmmakers rely more on the audience's imagination for the horror than on palpable scares and action scenes, so they wisely grasp that the imagination is a powerful tool.

       The performances are decent, and there are some moving moments between Jacky and Gisèle, but they're ephemeral. The film avoids using blood and guts as a means of entertaining the audience; this isn't a gritty and intense horror film like Let the Right One In. They also avoid using shaky-cam to generate tension. There are some special effects, but not too much; a lot is left off-screen. The pace moves slowly at times and takes a while to get used to, but the third act feels a little rushed with an ending that leaves more questions than answers. At a brief running time of 1 hour and 32 minutes, The Strange Case of Jacky Caillou is a mildly engaging psychological horror film, but ultimately underwhelming and not quite as moving, haunting and powerful as Let the Right One In

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Dark Star Pictures.
Opens in select theaters and on VOD.