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Reviews for August 19th, 2022

Documentary Round-Up






      The Territory is a captivating, eye-opening and vital exposé about the deforestation of the land belonging to the Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau of the Brazilian Amazon. They live within 7,000 square miles of rainforest which is legally protected by the government through the Constitition, but political candidate Jair Bolsonaro contradicted that by promising to take back the indigenous land from the Uru-eu-wau-wau in 2018. Since then, their land has been burned down and the trees have been cut down. Director Alex Pritz wastes no time within the first few minutes as he shows footage of a farmer on a dirt bike cutting down a tree with a chainsaw. That's clear-cut evidence of deforestation. He then introduces you to members of the Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau, i.e. Bitaté, as they bathe in a river. Through the images of the rainforest alone with its insects, animals, rivers and soul, Pritz captures the majestic beauty and purity of rainforest. To observe it being destroyed is both heartbreaking and horrifying, so in a way, The Territory is somewhat like a horror film, especially if you're passionate about nature and human rights.

      The Uru-eu-wau-wau have learned how to live off of the rainforest land for many years. They're happy there, as the footage shows beyond a reasonable down. There's also some exhilaratin drone footage of the rainforest. Their land is legally theirs, so anyone who tries to take it away from them is crossing legal and moral boundaries. Pitz allows the film to be refreshingly fair and balanced by also showing Farmers banded together to form the Association of Rio Bonito to create farms inside the rainforest. They think that they're doing the right thing. Fortunately, The Territory doesn't villainize them; it humanizes them while letting the audience judge them if they wish to. Meanwhile, an environmental activist, Neidinha Bandeira, struggles to help the Uru-eu-wau-wau to protect their sacred, but she faces a lot of legal red tape and an uphill battle as she bravely fights for the underdog. At a running time of 1 hour and 24 minutes, The Territory opens at Film Forum via National Geographic Documentary Films.





      Three Minutes: A Lengthening is a fascinating, moving and provocative documentary about Nasielsk, a Jewish town in Poland that was destroyed during the Holocaust when WWII began in 1939. Director Bianca Stigter examines three minutes of footage of the town in 1938 filmed by David Kurtz. With the help of David Kurtz' gransdom, Glenn, and Maurice Chandler, one of the survivors shown in the footage, along with a variety of experts, Stigter does her best to make sense of and analyze everything within the three-minute footage. Every detail matters, from the shadows that can be used to determine what time of day the footage was shot to the words in the sign in front of a store. The words aren't easy to decipher because some of the letters are hard to read, even when Stigter goes to a film lab to try to blow up the image and take a closer look at it. Fortunately, an expert chimes in later in the doc to uncover the mystery letters which spell the last name of the store owner.

      Director Bianca Stigter doesn't film her subjects directly; you hear their voices and, occasionally, voice-over narration by Helena Bonham Carter while you're shown the footage over and over. She lets the footage be the subject while the experts guide you as you remained focused on the images. Each time there's a revelation or insight made about the footage, you'll see it from a whole new perspective. Most importantly, you'll understand its significance for honoring the town of Nasielsk and the people in the town, and for serving as a foreboding reminding of the Holocaust when the town was destroyed and most of its people were killed by the Nazis. At a running time of 1 hour and 9 minutes, Three Minutes: A Lengthening opens at Quad Cinema via Super LTD. It would make for an interesting double feature with the recent doc From Where They Stood which examines photographs from a concentration camp during the Holocaust.


Beast

Directed by Baltasar Kormákur




      A recently widowed father, Dr. Nate Daniels (Idris Elba), travels with his daughters, Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries), to South Africa where he had first met his wife years ago. They stay at the home of a family friend, Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), who works as a wildlife biologist, and go on a safari adventure with him. While on the safari, their lives remain at stake when a lion hunts them down after poachers killed the lion's family.

      Beast is just as preposterous and dumb as last week's survivalist thriller, Fall. Its plot even follows a similar formula, and the screenplay suffers from the same issues. The prologue shows the tragic event that angers the lion that will eventually prey upon Nate and his family. Then screenwriter Ryan Engle adds some padding as Nate and his daughters travel to South Africa and meet Martin, but those scenes are pretty much just filler that treat water until the meat of the story, the lion attacks, arrives. After the first lion attack, Beast becomes increasingly tedious with little to no wit and barely any comic relief. The dialogue ranges from stilted to just plain inane, i.e. when Nate looks through binoculars for any sign of a lion, and he asks "What am I supposed to look for?" and one of his daughters replies, "Movement and shadows." Duuuh! Why would a doctor have to ask such a stupid question to begin with? Plausibility and logic get thrown out of the window while the suspense wanes. After all the adversities that Nate and his daughters go through, there's a scene at the end that's abruptly skipped and left to the audience's imagination instead, but it sacrifices as the catharsis that the audience deserves to feel, so the beat doesn't land. Why omit that key scene? Why not reward the audience a little for everything that they just watched? Fall's ending omits the same key scene. At least there's no unintentionally funny twist ending. There are no surprises at all, for that matter. Everything happens exactly as you imagined it would, so if you leave to go to the bathroom and return, you wouldn't miss anything.

      Beast's greatest asset is its impressive CGI effects that make the lion look real. A lot of attention (and money) was clearly spent on the lion's photorealism. It's too bad, then, that the same attention to detail wasn't spent on the weak screenplay. Idris Elba adds a little bit of charisma on screen, but his charisma feels muted and isn't nearly enough to carry the film. Then there are pacing issues. The beginning moves slowly, then it speeds up and slows down again in the second act before speeding up again during the third act. Also, who is this movie for? The filmmakers treat the audience as though they were young teenagers at most, but there's too much squeamish, disgusting gore that makes it inappropriate for younger audiences. Why not leave that grittiness to the audience's imagination? There's nothing wrong with a B-movie that doesn't stop to breathe life into its characters as long as it's entertaining and thrilling. If Beast weren't taking itself so seriously, it could've been a fun, mindless guilty pleasure like Lake Placid or Crawl instead of such an asinine, toothless and tedious bore.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Universal Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

Delia's Gone

Directed by Robert Budreau




      Louis (Stephan James), a young man with an intellectual disability, lives with his older sister, Delia (Genelle Williams). After a night of drinking with her to drown their sorrows, he wakes up bloodied with Delia dead beside him, and has no recollection of how she died. He pleads guilty and gets sent to prison. Upon his release five years later, he gets transfered to a home care facility where Stacker Cole (Travis Fimmel), the last person to see Delia alive, visits him and presents him with information about Delia's murder that could lead him to the real killer. Louis escapes from the home care facility to find the killer and hunt him or her down. Meanwhile, a police investigator, Fran (Marisa Tomei), and a sheriff, Bo (Paul Walter Hauser), are hot on Louis' trail.  

      Delia's Gone The screenplay by writer/director Robert Budreau just seems to be going through the motions without stopping to explore any of the relationships or to get inside the heart, mind and soul of its characters. Louis and Delia have a lot to deal with as they grieve the death of their father. Budreau barely lets the audience spend time with the brother and sister before Delia gets murdered. Wisely, he doesn't show the audience what happened to Delia so that you'll know just as much as Louis does about what happened. The evidence points to Louis as her killer, but it's obvious that he's not. Unfortunately, his struggle to prove his innocence after getting released from prison doesn't generate enough suspense, intrigue or emotional depth. Clearly, he must be undergoing an emotional journey filled with rage, frustration, sadness and despair with a glimmer of hope, but Delia's Gone is too busy moving the plot forward to delve into any of those emotional complexities. What was his time like in prison? What was going through his mind back then? It would've been helpful to know that at least to a certain degree. Then there are the interactions between the police investigator and the sheriff, both of whom seem like stock characters rather than fully-fleshed human beings. Their dialogue, which includes some brief banter, isn't very witty or funny, so Delia's Gone remains too short on comic relief to enliven the plot. The key scene with the exposition that reveals the truth about what happened to Delia feels contrived, although Budreau does get credit for avoiding flashbacks, so like too movies these days, the third act takes a sharp nosedive.    

      Despite a moving performance by Stephan James, Delia's Gone often falls flat and becomes anemic when it should be moving and thrilling. The action scenes are poorly shot and not very exciting. The villain, unfortunately, is yet another poorly developed character. Marisa Tomei and Paul Walter Hauser are fine, but they've been in far superior films with much more interesting roles. They don't really get the chance to shine here. The cinematography is decent, but the pacing moves slowly at times while other times it moves to fast, i.e. in the beginning and the end. At a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, which feels more like 2 hours, Delia's Gone is an often lethargic, contrived and monotonous crime thriller that bites off more than it could chew. That said, it's refreshing to see a crime thriller that doesn't star Liam Neeson. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Vertical Releasing.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero

Directed by Tetsurô Kodama




      Magenta, president of Red Pharmaceuticals, has a diabolical plan to take over the world with the help of a mad scientist Dr. Hedo who builds powerful androids, Gamma 1 and Gamma 2, for the Red Ribbon Army. The androids, disguised as superheroes, pose a threat to mankind. Meanwhile, the Red Ribbon Army kidnaps Goku's granddaughter, Pan. It's up to the good guys, Piccolo and Goku's son, Gohan, and their army to defeat the Red Ribbon Army, to rescue Pan and to save mankind in the process.

      The screenplay by Akira Toriyama offers no surprises plot-wise nor does it take any risks, but it does offer plenty of exhilarating action and mindless entertainment. It begins with a reader's digest recap of the events that happened in Dragon Ball Super: Broly to remind the audience of essential information about the Red Ribbon Army (RRA) and how Goku tried to rise against it. Now the RRA poses yet another imminent threat. Its motive, to take over the world, isn't a very surprising or original motive, to be fair, which makes the villains boring and banal. However, their personalities and their quirks are what helps to enliven them a little, especially those of Dr. Hedo's who has a passion for oreos. The plot takes itself seriously more often than not, but it's not too dry. There are some moments of wit and comic relief along the way. Every non-action scene seems like it's just setting the film up for another action scene. There are so many characters that it can be frustrating at times to figure out who's who and what's their significance within the Dragon Ball universe, so it would greatly help if you see the past Dragon Ball movies beforehand. The last 20 minutes or so are the most exciting with a long action-packed showdown between two of the characters.

      The delightful animation alone is worth the price of admission. Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero forgoes the standard 2D animation style for CGI instead. That's perhaps the boldest decision because it's the first anime film to be made with CGI. Fortunately, the CGI animation greatly enhanced the film's spectacle. It's a true feast for the eyes. The pace moves quickly, but not too quickly like in the more action-packed and exhausting Dragon Ball Super: Broly. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is an often thrilling and exhilarating anime action adventure.

     

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

The Immaculate Room

Directed by Mukunda Michael Dewil




      Mike (Emile Hirsch) and Kate (Kate Bosworth), a young couple, participate in a game that could win them $50 million if they both stay inside a room without cell phones for 50 days without leaving. If one of them chooses to leave by pushing a red button, the person who remains receives $1 million. A machine dispenses food and drinks, a mysterious voice communicates with them from a speaker, and they can each receive a surprise if they pay $100k.

      Despite an initially intriguing premise, The Immaculate Room runs out of steam and doesn't take any of its ideas far enough. The potential is definitely there. Writer/director Mukunda Michael Dewil eschews a first act by introducing Mike and Kate to the audience precisely when they enter the titular room. What was their relationship like before they entered the room? How did they meet to begin with? Whose idea was it to participate in the bizarre game? How and why were they selected and by whom? Those are merely a few of the many questions you'll have within the first 10 minutes. Dewil keeps the exposition to a minimum which would've been fine if it didn't lead to more frustration than anything else. Imagine David Fincher's The Game without the surprises or The Wizard of Oz without imagination. Mike and Kate seem like mere pawns both for the mysterious game's owner and for the film's plot. They're given little to no backstory, and the relationship between Kate and her father (M. Emmet Walsh) whom she speaks with through a video call, remains underdeveloped. Mike and Kate experience hallucinations, eventually, but Dewil doesn't go anywhere interesting with the surrealism or even with the horror elements. A naked woman (Ashley Greene) suddenly shows up and causes a rift in Mike and Kate's relationship. Perhaps that rift was already there before the couple entered the room. It's hard to tell or to even care about any of the characters for that matter because neither of them come to life. Also, the film doesn't even maintain consistency about how the game works. In one scene, Mike and Kate hear the instructions from the voice of the room only after Mike pushes the red button. In a later scene, another couple hears the same instructions without having to press the red button.

      Emile Hirsch and Kate Bosworth give decent performances, but they're undermined by the dull screenplay. Their performances are the glue that keeps the film at least moderately compelling. Writer/director Mukunda Michael Dewil fails to use the set design and cinematography to create a sense of claustrophobia, although he does play around with the lighting which adds some style, but not enough to add any substance. Eyes Wide Shut is a much more profound examination of a couple with surreal and mysterious elements that leaves a lot room for interpretation with better use of lighting, music score and camera work. At a running time of 1 hour and 28 minutes, The Immaculate Room leaves room for interpretation, too, but instead it just feels lazy, undercooked and underwhelming.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Screen Media.
Opens at Angelika at Village East.

Orphan: First Kill

Directed by Mukunda Michael Dewil




      Leena Klammer (Isabelle Fuhrman) escapes the Saarne Institute in Estonia and heads for the United States by impersonating Esther, the missing daughter of a Connecticut family. Tricia Albright (Julia Stiles) and her husband, Allen (Rossif Sutherland), bring "Esther" home to live with them and her older brother, Gunnar (Matthew Finlan), and take her to see a child psychologist, Dr. Segar (Samantha Walkes).

      As a sequel to Orphan, Orphan: First Kill lacks the palpable suspense and clever surprises of its predecessor. The screenplay by David Coggeshall begins with Esther going on a murder rampage, escaping the psychiatric hospital and changing her looks to resemble Esther, the young girl she decides to impersonate. Unlike with Orphan, the audience knows more than Leena's victims do because they see Leena's perspective. Since you already know that Leena isn't Tricia's missing daughter and that she's capable of killing, it comes as no surprise when she exhibits violent behavior toward her new family. She's a master manipulator who also knows how to deceive the child psychologist who's initially suspicious of "Esther", but soon does a complete 180 degrees and trusts her. After that point, the only questions that remain are: When will Tricia and her family discover the true identity of "Esther" and what will they do when that happens? There is indeed a twist, which won't be revealed here, but it's preposterous, convoluted, and unintentionally funny. The twist just seems to occur because the plot required it to in order to try to be "shocking", but it falls flat. The exposition during the scene is also poorly incorporated. This is yet another movie where you can feel the wheels of the screenplay turning. Moreover, the ending can be seen from a mile away and leads to even more implausibility and a dumb twist that's hard to take seriously.

      Julie Stiles gives a fine performance that makes the most out of her role and breathes a modicum of life into it even with a stilted screenplay. It's great to see her play a dramatic role, but she deserves a better film with a more believable role like the doctor she plays in the underrated film The God Committee. Isabelle Fuhrmann is far less convincing as a young child here than she was in Orphan. The CGI effects are cringe-inducing and awkward which makes it hard to understand why any of the characters would believe that "Esther" is who she claims she is from the get-go. Everything from the lighting, camerawork to the editing are sub-par without adding much in terms of style. At a running time of 1 hour and 39 minutes, which feels more like 2 hours and 30 minutes, Orphan: First Kill is as dull, contrived and clunky as the recent Firestarter remake.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Paramount Players.
Opens nationwide and Paramount+.

The Runner

Directed by Michelle Danner




      Aiden (Edouard Philipponnat), a teenager, deals drugs and suffers from drug addiction while living with his workaholic mother, Miranda (Elisabeth Röhm). He gets arrested by Detective Wall (Cameron Douglas) for cocaine possession and agrees to go undercover to help the Detective Wall catch a powerful drug lord (Eric Balfour). He's still traumatized by his past relationship with his ex-girlfriend Layla (Kerri Medders), but has a new girlfriend now, Liz (Jessica Amlee).

      The Runner has nothing new to add to the drug crime thriller genre which would've been fine if it were at least entertaining enough on a superficial level. The film's systemic issue comes from its shallow screenplay by Jason Chase Tyrrell that doesn't take any of its ideas anywhere interesting. There are no surprises and very little suspense. Aiden has a lot going on inside of him on an emotional level, but The Runner neglects to explore any of that emotional grit. It hits the audience over the head with the fact that Aiden suffers from drug addiction and gets himself into trouble along the way. None of the characters have any depth though, and the flashback with Aiden and his ex-girlfriend feel contrived and tacked-on even though they do provide a backstory and an explanation for what he's sad and frustrated about. Why doesn't the screenplay slow down a little to get to know these characters more? They're human beings after all, no? What about Aiden and his mother? She's at least somewhat responsible for his delinquent behavior. What about his lack of a father figure in his life? There's a lot going on beneath the film's surface that remains under-explored and undercooked. Also, the screenplay tries to make the plot seem complex with all of the flashbacks, but instead it makes it feel convoluted. To top it all off, there's not nearly enough comic relief, so without that essential element, the film becomes monotonous and dull. Aiden's character arc isn't written organically enough, so the final scene's attempt to add poignancy doesn't quite stick the landing.

      Edouard Philipponnat gives a decent performance and exudes some charisma that helps to enliven the film a little, but enough to rise above the shallow screenplay. None of the relationships between Aiden and his mother or his girlfriend, friends or anyone else feel true-to-life or engaging. It's hard to connect with any of the characters on screen no matter how hard the actors try to sink their teeth into their role. The cinematography is stylish with some slick editing and set designs, but this isn't the kind of movie where style becomes substance. Drive is a much more bold, moving and entertaining crime thriller that also has plenty of style. At a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes, The Runner is visually stylish, but often dull, vapid and undercooked.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Saban Films.
Opens in select theaters. Hits VOD on August 23rd, 2022.

Spin Me Round

Directed by Jeff Baena




      Amber (Alison Brie) has been working as a manager for an Italian restaurant chain for the past nine years. Her boss, Paul (Lil Rel Howery) selects her to attend the company's training program in Italy. She seizes the opportunity to experience Italy for the first time in hopes of falling love there, but she gets more than she bargained for after meeting the company's CEO, Nick (Alessandro Nivola), and the other members of the training program, Deb (Molly Shannon), Fran (Tim Heidecker), Dana (Zach Woods), Susie (Debbie Ryan), Jen (Ayden Mayeri), and Nick's assistant, Kat (Aubrey Plaza).

      Spin Me Round suffers from a tonally uneven screenplay by writer/director Jeff Baena and co-writer Alison Brie that awkwardly blends comedy, mystery, suspense, romance and drama. What begins as a drama turns into an offbeat comedy, then a cheesy romance and then a mystery/thriller. The tonal whiplash isn't any fun. Sometimes genre-bending movies can be at least diverting in a guilty pleasure sort of way, but that doesn't happen in Spin Me Round. There are too many characters, none of whom are fleshed out enough to be interesting. They're all either one-note or over-the-top or just plain annoying. Nick comes across as charming, but cocky, smarmy and inauthentic. There's more to him than meets the eyes, and if you think he has a hidden motive and a dark secret, you'd be correct. He briefly sweeps Amber off her feet, but, just as you expected, she eventually uncovers his secret. The third act feels very rushed with twists that unfold implausibly. Unfortunately, the journey to those twists isn't compelling nor is Amber's character arc believable. With no one to connect with on an emotional level, Spin Me Round falls flat and ends up less than the sum of its parts.

      Despite a fine cast, none of them truly stand out. Molly Shannon is a wonderful comedic actress who's also great in dramatic roles, but here she's wasted. The same can be said about Aubrey Plaza whose character shows up all too briefly out-of-the-blue. The way that her character is introduced to the audience feels clunky as though her role were tacked-on at the last minute before her character disappears from the film. Even the breathtaking scenery of Italy is utilized enough nor are the images of food which could've made this at least a mouth-watering movie for foodies. At a running time of 1 hour and 44 minutes, Spin Me Round is overlong, meandering and bland. Prepare for tonal whiplash.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by IFC Films.
Opens at IFC Center and on VOD.

Squeal

Directed by Aik Karapetian




      Samuel (Kevin Janssens), a young man, travels to Eastern Europe in search of his father. He hits a pig on the road with his car and returns it to its owner, Kirke (Laura Silina), who lives on a farm with her family. Kirke kidnaps him, chains him naked inside a pigsty, beats him and forces him to work on the farm. His only hope for escape comes in the form of a piglet with magical abilities.

      If dark and twisted fairy tales are your cup of tea, Squeal will quench your thirst. The screenplay by writer/director Aik Karapetian and co-writer Aleksandr Rodionov begins with voice-over narration and then introduces Samuel as he drives and strikes a pig with his car. Little does he know what's in store for him when he meets Kirke, and little does the audience know either, but the twist regarding Kirke's hidden motive arrives early on, so it's not really a spoiler. What happens afterward is an amalgam of dark comedy, horror, thriller and surrealism. It's just as subversive and almost as unpredictable as last year's Pig, albeit much more wild, audacious and unabashedly bonkers. You learn very little about Samuel because there's minimal backstory and exposition. There's a little more exposition and backstory about Kirke and her very dysfunctional family. The less you know about the plot, the better because there are a few surprises that make the film increasingly complex and provocative. Squeal has some interesting things to say about man, nature, freedom and slavery. The way that it incorporates those messages without being preachy or cheesy is testament to the strengths of the screenplay. It's also worth noting that the film doesn't become campy or have bad laughs nor does it suffer from tonal unneveness.

      The performances all across the board are pretty good as is the voice of the narrator. Sometimes narration can be distracting, but in this case, it's not; it helps to enhance the tone even further. The same can be said about the terrific music score with classical music as well as the atmospheric cinematography and landscape. There's nothing picturesque about the visuals; they're dark and murky which makes the film all the more creepier. Director Aik Karapetian doesn't shy away from showing the unflinching images violence and brutality which doesn't leave much for the imagination, but it's not nearly as shocking and disturbing as the violence and gore from horror films like Hostel which is also set in Eastern Europe. You might want to take a long, hot shower afterwards. At a running time of 1 hour and 25 minutes, Squeal is macabre, darkly funny and wildly entertaining.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Good Deed Entertainment.
Opens at Alamo Drafthouse and on VOD.

Teasing Master Takagi-san: The Movie

Directed by Hiroaki Akagi




      During the summer before they leave middle school for good, Nishikata (voice of Yûki Kaji) continues to try to beat his classmate Takagi-san (voice of Rie Takahashi) in teasing games while they develop feelings for each other. One day, they find a kitten with a collar and search for its owner. Meanwhile, a group of friends Mina (voice of Konomi Kohara), Sanae (voice of Yui Ogura) and Yukari (voice of Mao Ichimichi) come to terms with the end of middle school and that they'll be going their separate ways after the summer without seeing each other again.

      Even if you're not familiar with the manga series that Teasing Master Takagi-san: The Movie is based on, it's still an endearing and tender coming-of-age story. The film is everything that the live-action Summering strived to be, but failed at. The screenplay by Hokiro Fukuda and Aki Itami maintains a light, breezy tone without pandering to older audiences. The relationship between Nishikata and Takaga-san remains sweet, heartfelt and true-to-life. It's reminiscent of an anime version of the Rob Reiner film Flipped. The film's pure, unadulterated wholesomeness will bring joy to your heart. There's no action or villain nor does there need to be. The characters and their interactions are the main focus of the story. Fortunately, they feel true to life. You might even forget that you're watching an animated film. There are also some moments that are funny and amusing. Bravo to director Hiroaki Akagi for grounding the film in humanism. He's cut from the same cloth as director Hayao Miyazaki or even director Brad Bird whose films, i.e. Spirited Away and The Iron Giant feel as enchanting as Teasing Master Takagi-san: The Movie does while entertaining older and younger audiences simultaneously.

      The 2D animation is wonderful and adds to the film's warmth and delights. It's a visual spectacle filled with bright colors and some breathtaking scenes that will make your spirit soar. The pace moves briskly without any moments that drag. Also, the film doesn't overstay its welcome at a running time of just 1 hour and 13 minutes. Please be sure to stay through the end credits for a post-credits scene.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Sentai Filmworks.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.

Traveling Light

Directed by Bernard Rose




      During the early days of the pandemic in Los Angeles, Caddy (Tony Todd) starts working as an Uber driver while desperately searching the streets for his estranged son who had become homeless. One of his passengers is Harry (Danny Huston), the leader of a cult who gathers the cult members for a party. Todd (Stephen Dorff) and Mary (Olivia d'Abo) are among those members. Another passenger, Arthur (Matthew Jacobs), documents with his cell phone everyone who breaks covid rules.

      Traveling Light is an ironic title because Caddy doesn't really travel light when it comes to his emotional baggage. He's sad, angry and frustrated. His emotions are like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode at any minute. Writer/director Bernard Rose makes Los Angeles look like the post-apocalypse which is what many cities looked like at the time the film takes place, May 30th, 2020. You'll be able to relate to Caddy's yearning to make sense out of all of the chaos around him. Meanwhile, there's news of George Floyd's death and the uproar that followed it. The world has gone mad, and Traveling Light tries to capture the madness as well as the underlying sadness in our world. Harry's cult, which remains undefined, is a reflection of that madness. To describe this film by its plot wouldn't do it justice because it's more about the feelings and vibes contained within the plot. It's seemingly simple and thin plot that's actually more complex because Caddy's not only searching for his son; he's also searching other more profound things like happiness, peace and perhaps sanity that are intangible. Traveling Light does get trippy, bizarre, eerie and surreal at times, but that unconventionality is just part of what makes it intriguing and even a little suspenseful.

      The cinematography, editing, lighting and even the colors all combine to create a palpably dreamlike atmosphere of Los Angeles. It almost looks as though Caddy were stuck in a sort of limbo throughout the film. The soundtrack is also well-chosen and adds to the film's tone without being overbearing. Tony Todd gives a moving performance, and it's refreshing to see him in a role where he doesn't play a villain or a supernatural character. Caddy is 100% human, no more or less than you and me. The final shot of the film, which won't be spoiled here, is a very bold, poignant and profound moment that speaks louder than words while also humanizing Caddy even further. At a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, Traveling Light manages to be a melancholy, poetic and mesmerizing experience.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Xenon Pictures.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.