Alphabetical Menu
Chronological Menu

Reviews for August 12th, 2022

Documentary Round-Up

      Bloom Up is very intimate glimpse into the sex lives and relationship of Hermes Osnato and Elisabetta Barbero, a married couple who own a pet store and spend the rest of their time swinging. Director Mauro Russo Rouge provides the audience with an up close and personal, unflinching look behind the scenes of their experiences inside a swingers club. Those scenes are frank, kinky and erotic without veering into sleazy pornography. Anyone who's not into a lifestyle that's beyond vanilla might find those scenes uncomfortable, but that's just a form of projection from those audience members. Hermes and Elisabetta have no shame about their life as swingers. They're also into polyamory which seems more complicated than just having sex with more than 2 people. If one person in the polyamory relationship wants to be exclusive all-of-a-sudden, the relationship won't work. This isn't a documentary that sheds light on polyamory or swinging nor does it debate whether or not it's an acceptable lifestyle. It merely introduces you to two human beings who love each other while participating in a lifestyle that may not be for everyone. In their interviews, they seem candid, witty and warm. They're also compassionate and emotionally mature. Kudos to director Mauro Russo Rouge for not judging them and for putting a human face on an unconventional lifestyle and social taboo. It would pair well with the documentary Monogamish. At a running time of 1 hour and 28 minutes, Bloom Up opens at Quad Cinema via Kino Lorber.

      Free Chol Soo Lee is a gripping, enraging and moving documentary about Chol Soo Lee, a Korean American immigrant who was wrongly convicted of murdering a gang member, Yip Yee Tak, in San Francisco's Chinatown in 1972. He spent 9 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. Co-directors Eugene Yi and Julie Ha cut right to the chase by showing the events that led to Chol Soo Lee's imprisonment and what his life was like in prison. Through archival footage and interviews, you'll learn a lot about what was going on in mind back then, and how K.W. Lee, a journalist, set out to prove his innocence by using his skills as an investigative reporter. Unlike the police at the time who racially profile Chol Soo Lee, K.W. Lee examined his case fairly and objectively like a good investigative reporter ought to do. It turns out that there were tiny details in the details of the bullet that killed the band member which proves that Chol Soo Lee couldn't have been the murderer. There were also important details in the description of the murderer by a witness that makes it impossible for him to be the murderer. The filmmakers don't shy away from shedding light on his tragic life after he was released from prison. He struggled a lot with drugs, depression and loneliness. He was released from a prison with bars to a prison without bars, essentially. Free Chol Soo Lee covers a lot of ground, but it remains provocative and also timely while raising important questions with no easy answers. It would be a good double feature with the equally enraging documentary The Central Park Five. At a running time of 1 hour and 23 minutes, Free Chol Soo Lee opens at IFC Center via MUBI.

      Free Puppies! is a warm and inspirational documentary about volunteers from Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee who dedicate their time to rescue stray dogs and find them new loving homes. Co-directors Christina Thomas and Samantha Wishman follow the kind rescuers, namely, Monda Wooten, Ruth Smith and Ann Brown as they save the abandoned dogs, many of which from kill shelters. Had these women not rescued the dogs in time, the dogs would've been euthanized, so to watch them save their life is a joy to behold. On the other hand, to observe how the dogs suffer is heartbreaking, but Free Puppies! doesn't dwell on their pain or suffering. Nor does it villainize their owners who live in poverty among and, in some cases, among other animals. The rescuers also go to the extent of offering pet owners to neuter or spay their dogs at a low, affordable price. Free Puppies! doesn't spend too much time with either of its subjects, including the dogs. Like last week's documentary Mija, it puts a human face on a larger, vital issue, in this case animal welfare, without exploring the complex issue with depth. It does, however, highlight the compassion, determination and decency of the heroic female rescuers. Decency, after all, is a strength, so in many ways this doc is empowering for women as all as for all human beings, young and old, with a moral conscience. You might be inspired to either adopt a rescue dog, to join the rescuers on their mission, or to donate to help keep their mission afloat. At a brief running time of just 68 minutes, Free Puppies! will make you stand up and cheer. It opens via First Run Features at Cinema Village.

      In Le Temps Perdu a group of retired senior citizens meet at a cafe in Buenos Aires to re-read and discuss In Search of Lost Time the seven-volume book by Marcel Proust. They have been meeting there for the past 17 years and, unlike, most book clubs, they read the same book over and over each year. One of the group's members says she's just there to observe. She has chosen to remain passive without explaining why, and no one asks her why either. Others actively participate by making comments about certain passages from the book while others ask questions. Director María Álvarez films the doc in black-and-white with a laissez-faire, fly-on-the-wall approach like Frederick Wiseman. There are no talking heads or narration. You don't learn the names of the group members, but, throughout the course of the film, you can sense that they've lived full lives and have attained a lot of life wisdom. Their thirst for more life wisdom and enlightenment is palpable and even inspirational. The same can be said about their introspection. They're clearly not only intellectually mature, but also emotionally mature people.

     Fortunately, there's plenty of life wisdom to be found in In Search of Lost Time for them and for the audience. Proust leaves a lot of room for interperation with symbolism and double entendres, i.e. a passage where what he wrote can be implied that he's referring to homosexuality.  Álvarez essentially invites you, the audience, to join the group and observe them yourself. She doesn't assume that you've read the book or even have heard of the book. Maybe you have, maybe you haven't. It definitely helps if you're a book lover and a critical thinker. By the end of the documentary, you'll be tempted to read it for the first time or to re-read it, especially. At a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes, Le Temps Perdu is warm, engaging and enlightening. It opens at Film Forum.

El Gran Movimiento

Directed by Kiro Russo

      Elder (Julio César Ticona) lost his job as a miner in Bolivia. He travels with his coworkers to the city of La Paz to demand to get his job back. He gets ill, though, and Mamá Pancha (Francisa Arce de Aro), helps him to find a witch doctor, Max (Max Bautista Uchasara), who might be able to cure him.

      El Gran Movimiento is among the kind of films that cannot be adequately described by plot alone because it wouldn't do it any justice. Writer/director Kiro Russo keeps the plot at a bare minimum by first showing a panoramic view of La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. Then he shows a demonstration of miners, one of whom is being interviewed and will turn out to be, Elder, the protagonist who lost his job. Russo eschews a first act that could've shown Elder's experiences at work and what led to him losing his job. Instead, he skips right to the meat of the story: Elder's protest and his subsequent illness that may or may not be cured by Max, a witch doctor who lives in the rainforest. The exposition is also kept to a minimum, so if you're patient, those who are willing to be patient and to use their imagination will be rewarded the most. El Gran Movimento, at times, feels like a travelogue albeit a provocative one that shows the contrasts between city and the rainforest. There are no unnecessary subplots, flashbacks or voice-over narration. It's a very immersive experience that's hard to describe in words, especially during the trippy, surreal scene with Max. There's even a dance sequence that arrives at moments that you wouldn't expect, so prepare for a refreshingly unconventional film that subverts and often exceeds your expectations.

      When it comes to cinematography, sound design, camerawork and lighting, El Gran Movimiento is a truly cinematic and spellbinding Spectacle. Some of the shots feel breathtaking and look very poetic. Style can sometimes become part of a film's substance, and that's something that happens throughout <>El Gran Moviemento. Fortunately, the style doesn't become overwhelming or nauseating. The performances are natural, and because the actors aren't recognizable stars, their anonymity makes that sense of naturalism even more potent and palpable. At a running 1 hour and 25 minutes, El Gran Movimiento is a poetic, mesmerizing and engrossing journey.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by KimStim.
Opens at Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

Emergency Declaration

Directed by Jae-rim Han

      When someone posts a terrorist threat online, police detective In-ho Koo (Song Kang-ho) investigates the threat which leads him to discover a dead body at the home of the terrorist, Jin-seok (Si-wan Yim). After arriving at the airport, Jin-seok enters the bathroom, cuts his armpit and inserts something inside it. That "something" turns out to be a deadly virus that he plans to release on the airplane to kill everyone including himself. In-ho Koo discovers that Jin-seok is on a flight headed from Korea to Hawaii, the same flight that his beloved wife happens to be on.

      Emergency Declaration begins as a gripping thriller in the vein of Alan J. Pakula's 70's thrillers with a little Hitchcockian suspense before taking a steep nosedive. The screenplay by writed/director Jae-rim Han eschews nuance and surprises as the identity of the terrorist gets revealed within the first ten minutes which is way, way too early. His intentions also become clear soon after as well as the method that he plans on using to kill everyone. The biggest mystery that remains is his motive, but even that gets spoiled too soon with a very convoluted backstory involving a pharmaceutical company that he used to work for. Any guess where he got ahold of the deadly virus to begin with? Yep, you guessed it.  Jae-rim Han does a subpar job of incorporating exposition because he crams in so much information within so little time and with so many contrived coincidences that it strains the credibility of the plot. In case the conflict of the terrorism on the airplane isn't enough, there's also an action-packedchase sequences on the ground in the second act that goes on for too long and takes away from the narrative momentum.

      Moreover, there are too many characters and not enough focus on any of them because the perspective often changes. In-ho Koo's perspective alone would've been interesting enough or perhaps the perspective of one of the passengers or stewardess would've been adequate too, so the shifting perspectives aren't as effective. The third act, which won't be spoiled here, is essentially one twist after another with, yet again, more contrivances and coincidences that make the film increasingly implausible and exhausting. Too many things occur just within the nick of time. There's a brief scene when the film almost veers toward a bold and bitter ending like the ones found in Alan J. Pakula's thrillers or Arlington Road, but then it suddenly veers toward a more conventional and dull Hollywood ending.

      The performances are generally fine, especially those of Song Kang-ho, but Si-wan Yim gives a rather hammy, over-the-top performance. The shallow screenplay doesn't really allow any of the actors to shine. There are some impressive CGI effects, though, and it's fortunate that they're not overused otherwise it would've been nauseating and tedious with diminishing returns. Unfortunately, though, you can feel the weight of the excessive running time of 2 hour and 20 minutes. This is yet another B-movie that goes on far too long. Bullet Train suffers from the same ailment. Ultimately, Emergency Landing is sporadically thrilling, but convoluted, overwrought and exhausting. At least it's not as unintentionally funny and inane as Moonfall, 2012 or Hurricane Heist.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Well Go USA.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.

Girl Picture

Directed by Alli Haapasalo

      Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen), a teenager, works at a smoothie stand with her best friend from school, Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff). They're both very different when it comes to their love and sex life. Mimmi has trust issues and hopes to find someone sincere to fall in love with; Rönkkö has plenty of hookups, but feels sexually unfulfilled. When Mimmi meets Emma (Linnea Leino), a figure skater, at work and then attend a party together, they develop a relationship.

      The screenplay by co-writers Ilona Ahti Daniela Hakulinen is honest and genuinely poignant as it weaves the lives of three females together. With a less sensitive screenplay, this could've turned into an overstuffed, undercooked and uneven mess, but it doesn't thanks to how organic the dialogue feels. The screenwriters and director Alli Haapasalo do a great job of introducing Rönkkö, Mimmi and Emma to the audience while gradually getting to know them. You learn about their hopes, dreams, insecurities and personalities. They're complex and flawed which makes them all the more human and relatable. The questions they ask and the frustrations that they go through are universal. By seeing and treating these characters as human beings, it's easier to connect with them on an emotional level even if you don't relate to their experiences. At least you can empathize with them, care about them and want them to be happy. There are no villains, no voice-over narration and no flashbacks. There's also no cheesiness, no melodrama, heavy-handedness or preachiness. There's just the right amount of comic relief to boot. Most importantly, each of the three women experience their own epiphanies which makes their character arcs believable. The same can be said about their relationships which ring true.

      The performances by Eleonoora Kauhanen, Aamu Milonoff, Linnea Leino are convincingly moving and often radiant. There's not a single false note to their performance, and their chemistry is palpable. No overacts or underacts, so by keeping it natural, you'll forget that they're acting and be able to get lost in the film. The pace moves just right with no scenes that drag or that move too quickly, so this is a medium burn, not a slow or fast burn. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, Girl Picture is a wise, tender and heartfelt coming of age story that explores friendship, sex and love with emotional maturity. It's evocative of the films of Lukas Moodysson like Show Me Love.


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Strand Releasing.
Opens at IFC Center.


Directed by Scott Mann

      51 weeks after the death of Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) still grieves the death of her husband, Dan (Mason Gooding), who fell off of a cliff 51 weeks earlier while free climbing with her and her best friend, Hunter (Virginia Gardner). She agrees to conquer her fear of going back to free climbing by joining Hunter in a risky adventure: climbing a 2,000-foot radio tower in the middle of the desert. All they bring with them is some rope, cellphones, a drone, a charger and a backpack with a water bottle. Little do they know that they'll be trapped at the top of the tower.

      The screenplay by writer/director Scott Mann and co-writer Jonathan Frank begins with the free climbing adventure that leads to the death of Becky's husband, Dan. You learn little to nothing about how he and Becky met, what their marriage was like or what they saw in each other that made them fall in love. So, Dan seems like nothing more than a plot device to add emotional depth to Becky's decision to scale the radio tower with her best friend. The underrated Jeffrey Dean Morgan's scenes are too ephemeral. He plays Becky's father, but his character isn't really given much to do. In a very brief scene, Hunter visits Becky while she's forlorn and, before you know it, she convinces Becky to conquer her fears by climbing the tower together. She follows Hunter right away and they embark on their journey to the desert.

      Fall isn't the kind of movie that stops to get to know any of its characters to help you to understand what they're thinking. Does Becky have second thoughts? Why is she so obsequious? A good friend should protect their friend from harm, but it doesn't seem like Hunter has planned the free climb with enough safety in mind or a Plan B if, heaven forbid, one of them gets injured, trapped or dies. Did they not know that their cellphones would have little to no reception at the top of the tower in the middle of the desert? They should've known that as experienced free climbers. Did they not know to bring a long enough rope with them just in case of an emergency? Of course not. All of those holes are systematic and minor compared to the film's systemic flaw that arrives in the third act: an M. Night Shyamalan-like twist. Is the twist really needed? Director Scott Mann creates enough tension to sustain the film's shallow thrills, so why is the twist even needed? It's one of those twists that doesn't make a lick sense in hindsight. It cheapens the film and makes it easy to feel the wheels of the screenplay turning. After all of that tension, Mann and Frank omit a key scene that would've been cathartic both for one of the characters and for the audience. Why string the audience along with all of the intensity without rewarding them that cathartic scene?

      Grace Caroline Currey and Virginia Gardner give decent performances that are convincing enough while their characters are in peril. They have some chemistry together despite the weak screenplay that fails to breathe any life into their roles. The CGI effects are fine as well with nothing that really stands out. It's easy for the film to generate terror and thrills simply by the aerial shots of the isolated tower. If you're acrophobic, this isn't the film for you at all. What's frustrating, though, is that the film doesn't show the passage of time clearly enough. How many days have passed since Becky and Hunter were trapped on the top of the tower? The time that they spend there feels like many days, maybe even over a week. 127 Hours does a better job of giving you a sense of time passing while offering both thrills and surprises without any unnecessary padding. Then, of course, there's the spellbinding A-movies The Revenant and Cast Away. Fall is a B-movie that's intense and thrilling on a palpable, superficial level, but it's also inane and plays it too safe while adding nothing new or surprising to the survival thriller genre.

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


Directed by Masaaki Yuasa

      In 14th-Century Japan, Inu-Oh (voice of Avu-chan), a disfigured young man, covers his face with a mask because he's too ashamed to show it. He meets Tomona (voice of Mirai Moriyama), a blind musician, who inspires him to dance while he sings and plays the biwa. They tour the country as a music duo and gain popularity. join up with him to perform as a singing/dancing duo.

      Based on true events from Japanese history during the 14th Century, the screenplay Akiko Nogi takes some time to find its footing and gain momentum as it spends the first thirty minutes or so with a length first act. Balancing a narrative with the right amount of exposition is no easy task, to be fair, and could lead to confusion if there's not enough of it. Fortunately, in Inu-Oh, there is, indeed, enough of it so that you're not too confused about how Inu-Oh ended up disfigured or how Tomona ended up blind by a cursed sword. You just have to be a little patient until the backstories are shown through flashbacks. The heart of the film, though, is the relationship between Inu-Oh and Tomona as they conquer their adversities and come together to form a rock opera music band. They both defy the expectations of their audience when they perform. There are plenty of musical numbers, though, which do become a little repetitive and monotonous after a while as the plot, more or less, reaches a brief standstill.

      Even when the narrative momentum begins to wane, Inu-Oh nonetheless remains entertaining thanks to the breathtaking animation and creative use of color. Director Masaaki Yuasa allows the visuals combined with the editing to be trippy and unconventional. This isn't an anime for little kids. There's even some blood. At times, the trippiness feels a bit nauseating, to be fair, and the excessive musical numbers might make you feel like you're watching a long music video. What Yuasa excels at the most, though, through the animation alone is to get inside the head of Tomosa and Inu-Oh. You get to see what Tomosa sees occasionally, and those scenes have some surprising moments of comic relief. The animation style tremendously helps to invigorate the film and turn it into a wildly entertaining ride. Inu-Oh is an enthralling anime film bursting with energy and imagination.

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

Mack & Rita

Directed by Katie Aselton

      30-year-old Mack Martin (Elizabeth Lail), a writer and social influencer, has always felt like an old soul trapped in a young body. When she goes to a bachelorette trip in Palm Springs for her best friend, Carla (Taylour Paige), she decides on a whim to go inside a pop-up tent for past-life regression run by Louka (Simon Rex) and enters his pod. Upon awakening, she's magically transformed into the 70-year-old version of herself (now played by Diane Keaton). She manages to convince Carla that she's actually Mack, and decides to call herself Rita, Mack's aunt who, she claims, is doing a temporary house-swap with Mack. That's what she explains to Mack's sexy neighbor, Jack (Dustin Milligan), who befriends her and flirts with her. Meanwhile, Rita becomes a hit on social media as an influencer and joins a book club with Sharon (Loretta Devine) and other women (played by Wendie Malick, Lois Smith, and Amy Hill) around her age.

      Mack & Rita has a premise that has the potential to be a funny, zany screwball comedy in the vein of 13 Going on 30 and Big!. Or at least the potential to be an amusing, breezy, light-hearted comedy. The witless screenplay by Paul Welsh and Madeline Walter tries too hard to be funny while aiming for low hanging fruit during its many attempts to poke fun at old age. The broad, slapstick gets tiresome quickly. When it's not tiresome, it's just awkward and silly. Don't ask about a painfully unfunny trippy scene with a dog (voice of Martin Short) that briefly talks. Every great comedy should be at least somewhat grounded in reality, but this film throws realism and even internal logic out the window. When Rita develops a crush on Jack, that's around the time that the film becomes creepy, cringe-inducing, cheesy and implausible, especially because Jack is under the impression that she's 70 and Mack's aunt. Their relationship is supposed to be sweet, tender and funny, but none of those beats land. Big's romantic subplot worked better on many levels. Everything that Big! gets right, Mack & Rita gets wrong. It has nothing profound or insight to say about life, aging, friendship, love or even self-love.

      Diane Keaton gives an over-the-top performance that, much like the screenplay, tries too hard to be funny, but fails to generate any laughter, especially during the slapstick scenes. Her comedic time is better in Annie Hall, Manhattan, Father of the Bride and even The First Wives Club. Those comedies sparkled with wit, warmth and wisdom which, unfortunately, is in short order in Mack & Rita. The pace moves very quickly, too quickly at times, leaving little to no room for the film to break. On top of that, the editing feels choppy more often than not. At a running time of 1 hour and 35 minutes, which feels like 2 hours, Mack & Rita is a cringe-inducing, witless and painfully unfunny comedy.

Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Gravitas Ventures.
Opens nationwide.

Rogue Agent

Directed by Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson

      Robert Freegard (James Norton) cons women into believing that he's an undercover MI5 agent before kidnapping them and bilking them of thousands of dollars. One of those women, Alice Archer (Gemma Arterton), a lawyer, falls for him while he works as a car salesman, but she remains suspicious of him. Without his awareness, she has her law firm's PI, Phil (Julian Barratt), investigate him.

      Even though the audience almost always remains ahead of Alice in terms of what she knows about Robert's true identity and motive. So, basically, he cons her, but not the audience because the audience already knows from the get-go that he's a con artist. Co-screenwriters/directors Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn along with co-writer Michael Bronner do an effective job of incorporating the right amount of exposition to create suspense. Based on a incredibly true story, Rogue Agent isn't as clever, twisted or suspenseful as The Outfit from earlier this year, but it comes close. Alice narrates the film at the beginning as she explains the tactics that Robert uses to get what he wants from people, i.e. by making eye contact. He's a master manipulator, gaslighter and narcissist. To watch him gaslight Alice and other women, like Sophie (Marisa Abela), feels heartbreaking and difficult to watch. It's like psychological torture porn. He clearly has a lot of experience conning people and knows how to respond when someone doubts him or dares to confront him about one of his lies.

      What's unclear, though, is how Robert ended up so toxic and abusive. Did he learn it from his parents? He must've learned it from somewhere. What was his childhood like? There's not enough of a window into his heart, mind and soul, so Rogue Agent doesn't quite work as profound character study. Nonetheless, the dynamics between him and Alice becomes increasingly intriguing, especially when she starts to turn the table on him. She's a smart and strong woman, but also innately vulnerable and sensitive. The audience, in turn, can easily connect with her on an emotional level because they, too, will want Robert to be exposed and captured. He's a vile and weak human being despite how dapper, suave and confident he looks. Fortunately, the filmmakers don't rely on action scenes or edge-of-your-seat suspense to entertain the audience. There are some gritty scenes during the third act, but nothing that's shocking. The thrills are more of the Hitchockian, psychological kind which is very rare these days.

      James Norton and Gemma Arterton are very well cast as Robert and Alice. Norton oozes with charisma which makes it easy for you to grasp what others see in Robert when he cons them. As the aphorism goes, you can just as easily be charmed by a jerk as you can by someone who's nice. The chemistry between Robert and Alice can be felt during the early scenes when he woos her. When it comes to pacing, the film moves at just the right pace without any scenes that overstay their welcome or move too quickly. It's also worth mentioning the terrific costume design, cinematography and slick editing that adds some style. At a running time of 1 hour and 56 minutes, Rogue Agent is a seductive, captivating and gripping crime thriller.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by IFC Films.
Opens at IFC Center and on VOD.


Directed by James Ponsoldt

      Four young friends, Daisy (Lia Barnett), Mari (Eden Grace Redfield), Lola (Sanai Victoria) and Dina (Madalen Mills) spend their summer together before they start middle school. One day, they find a dead body while wandering outside and decide to investigate on their own who he is and how he died without calling the police or informing their parents.

      Summering is the antithesis of Boyhood. They're both coming-of-age stories, but while Boyhood unfolds with understated slice-of-life realism that leaves a lot to the audience's imagination, Summering leaves too little to the imagination and lacks the essential realism to make it a memorable coming-of-age film like Stand By Me. The screenplay by writer/director James Ponsoldt and Benjamin Percy blends coming-of-age drama, crime thriller and mystery with some magical realism. The results are bland, clunky and uneven. Once the young girls discover the dead body, that's around the time the film veers off into too many directions and takes a nosedive. The murder mystery itself isn't really that interesting to begin with, yet it becomes the main plot as though this were a Nancy Drew movie.

      How do the girls' experiences affect their view on death, friendship, and growing up? Their characters arcs aren't very believable nor are their friendships because Summering focuses too much on the silly murder mystery. There's enough conflict going on within the girls' lives as the summer almost ends and they're about to go off to middle school, so why does the film need that crime thriller sublot? Easter Sunday suffers from the same systemic issue. Who is this movie even for? It's hard to sense that. The girls' mothers, Laura (Lake Bell), Joy (Ashley Madekwe), and Stacie (Megan Mullally) barely get enough screen time and, like their daughters, their characters are underdeveloped. There's also not nearly enough comic relief, and the third act feels too rushed and contrived as though the film were in a hurry to wrap everything up to reach an uplifting ending. Unfortunately, Summering does not earn its uplift.

      The performances range from decent to mediocre with no one having much of an opportunity to rise above the anemic screenplay. There are some interesting, poetic visual flourishes and well-designed opening credits, but those stylish visuals are far and few between. The editing is awkward at times as the film occasionally goes and forth from the mothers' perspectives to the girls' perspectives in a way that feels abrupt. At a running time of 1 hour and 27 minutes, which feels more like 2 hours, Summering is a clunky, meandering and lethargic coming-of-age film that leaves you feeling cold, empty and underwhelmed.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Bleecker Street.
Opens nationwide.

We Are Living Things

Directed by Antonio Tibaldi

      Solomon (Jorge Antonio), an undocumented immigrant, lives inside a recycling plant in New York City and works as handyman. He's obsessed with finding signs of extraterrestrial life. One day, as he fixes the plumbing at the apartment of Chuyao (Xingchen Lyu), he notices that she's also obsessed with UFOs. He follows her to work and soon develops a relationship with her, but her life remains at stake because she's beholden to Tiger (Zao Wang), her handler who smuggled her in a trafficking ring from China to the US.

      If you thought that Nope is too heavy-handed and contrived sci-fi spectacle, along comes We Are Living Things that's much more nuanced and grounded in realism. Writer/director Antonio Tibaldi and co-writer Àlex Lora weave a story about two lonely, traumatized human beings who form a connection with one another as they share a fascination with UFOs. Solomon believes that his mother was abducted by aliens years ago. Chuyao believes that she was abducted by aliens during her childhood. Are they telling the truth, lying or just plain insane? The screenplay doesn't judge them nor does it try to prove either of Solomon or Chuyao's theories. They do team up and go on a road trip while on a run from the law, but the sci-fi elements aren't really the focus here. It's a throwaway subplot that's just there to move the story forward and to find an excuse for Solomon and Chuyao to be together. What ensues is a narrative that has a lot of ideas and potential, but doesn't know where to take them to. The audience has too few opportunities to get to know or to connect with Solomon and Chuyao on an emotional level.

      Tibaldi and Lora should be commended for avoiding flashbacks as a means of adding exposition, but there's really not enough exposition or anything compelling to propel the narrative. Solomon and Chuyao don't really fall in love or at least it doesn't seem like they have much of a romantic bond. There's certainly a connection, but it feels too faint. Too much goes unspoken. Then there's the villain, Tiger, who remains an underdeveloped character. Despite the fact that Solomon and Chuyao are on the run from the law, We Are Living Things lacks suspense. Sometimes a lack of suspense is fine if the character's have depth and you remain emotionally invested in their lives, but that's not the case here, especially as lethargy seeps in around the hour mark.

      Jorge Antonio co-starred in the far superior Roma which is a better example of an understated film that manages to be exhilarating and engrossing on many levels, unlike We Are Living Things. Here he gives a fine, but unremarkable performance. The same can be said about Xingchen Lyu. Neither of them gives a performance that is very emotive; it's just as understated as the film itself. That lack of emotion in their performances leads to dullness, so the beats don't land, particularly in the final scene that's supposed to be moving. Director Antonio Tibaldo moves the film at a sluggish pace with some scenes that last too long, especially the last shot with a bird's-eye view. That said, the cinematography is among the film's strengths, but that's not nearly enough to enliven it. At a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes, which feels more like 3 hours, We Are Living Things is well-shot and refreshingly understated, but lethargic, underwhelming and ultimately less than the sum of its parts.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Juno Films.
Opens at Quad Cinema.