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Reviews for August 21st, 2015

Documentary Round-Up


Searching for Home: Coming Back From War sheds light on the aftermath of soldiers returning to America after serving in the army, and how they cope with PTSD. Director Eric Christiansen relies mostly on the first-hand accounts from a variety of wars, i.e. the Iraq War, WWII, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. Each soldier explains how they felt about fighting in the war: one of them candidly admits that everyone he killed, including children, aren't innocent. Perhaps he was programmed to think that way by the army or maybe that's just the way he tries to justify or suppress something that's horrifying and immoral. Either way, it's quite emotionally engrossing to hear his as well as the other soldiers' thoughts and experiences. As an interviewee wisely states, they are fighting 2 kind of battles: one oversees while serving in the army, and one at home as they deal with PTSD. You'll learn that PTSD is not an easy condition to treat at all, and that Veterans groups are an essential part of the healing process. Fortunately, Searching for Home doesn't become too preachy and heavy for that matter not does it dwell on the horrifying details or images of the soldiers' experiences overseas. Kudos to Eric Christiansen for making such a well-edited, well-organized and heartfelt doc that provides hope for anyone dealing with PTSD. It opens at Cinema Village in NYC and Laemmle's Music Hall in LA. The doc Being Evel, about daredevil Robert "Evel" Knievel, who rose to fame during the 1960s and early 70s. Director Daniel Junge wisely avoids turning the film into hagiography. Sure, you'll learn how and why Evel Knievel become famous (including how he ended up with the nickname "Evel"), but you'll also learn about why his fame and fortune were so ephemeral. After all, there's more to everyone than meets the eyem, and every human being is fallible---as sociopsychologist Erving Goffman once wrote, everyone has a front stage life and a backstage life. Being Evel at least provides you with some peaks behind the curtain by delving into Evel Knieval's rough patch later in his career,. He was an egoist and struggled to control his anger, especially after a devastating failure to launch via a rocket across Snake River Canyon. The friction between him and PR agent/business partner Shelly Saltman, who penned the book "Evel Knievel on Tour", adds more meat onto the doc's bones. Daniel Junge should be commended for keeping the audience entertained while intellectually provoking them concurrently. Archival footage helps to add more variety instead of just relying on talking heads. At a running time of 1 hour and 39 minutes, this well-edited, balanced and fascinating doc has a brisk pace and rhythm that never lags or drags. It opens via Gravitas Ventures at Village East Cinema.

After Words

Directed by Juan Feldman


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Level 33 Entertainment.
Opens at Anthology Film Archives.

American Ultra

Directed by Nima Nourizadeh

      Mike (Jesse Eisenberg), a clerk at a convenience store, can often be found slacking off while smoking weed or just hanging out with his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), whom he lives with in small-town West Virginia. Little does he know that he's actually a deactivated CIA operative. When CIA boss Adrian (Topher Grace) targets him for extermination, his former trainer, Victoria (Connie Britton), arrives at the convenience store to save Mike's life by re-activating him. As Mike and Phoebe go on the run, they gradually learn more about who's chasing after them and why.

      American Ultra works as an action comedy because it hits all the right notes. The screenplay by Max Landis has just the right blend of witty, off-the-wall, slightly screwball humor and thrilling set pieces along with some surprisingly heartfelt romance between Mike and Phoebe that grounds the film in humanism. In the hands of a lesser talented writer than Landis, this film would've been an uneven, bland, exhausting mess. It never takes itself too seriously, but when it does get briefly serious, it's done in a believable and organic way without feeling clunkly or awkward. Sure, some of the humor is silly and it does help to check your brain at the door at times (and, of course, suspend your disbelief), but there's enough tongue-in-cheek humor that won't make you feel like you're losing any brain cells if you decide to not check you brain at the door.

      Kudos to Nima Nourizadeh and casting director Jeanne McCarthy for choosing Jessie Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart because both of them are talented actors who handle the dramatic and comedic aspects of their roles equally well. Moreover, they have great chemistry together--just as much as they did when they were together in Adventureland. Morever, the film moves along at a fast enough pace so that not a single scene drags. While other recent comedies overstay their welcome and have a mean-spiritedness with a reliance on too many cameos and pop cultural references (yes, I'm looking at you, Judd Appatow), American Ultra has an ideal running time of 95 minutes. It's a hilarious, thrilling and exhilarating ride that's destined to become a cult classic.

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

The Boy

Directed by Craig William Macneill


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Chiller Films.
Opens at Cinema Village.

Digging for Fire

Directed by Joe Swanberg


Number of times I checked my watch: 6
Released by The Orchard.
Opens at IFC Center.


Directed by Paul Weitz


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Sony Pictures Classics.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.


Directed by Pat Mills


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Strand Releasing.
Opens at Village East Cinema.

Learning to Drive

Directed by Isabel Coixet


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Broad Green Pictures.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.

The Mend

Directed by John Magary


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Cinelicious Pics.
Opens at IFC Center.

The Park Bench

Directed by Ann LeSchander


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Gaiaim Vivend.
Opens at Arena Cinema in Los Angeles.

Sinister 2

Directed by Ciarán Foy


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Gramercy Pictures.
Opens nationwide.
Questions? Comments? Please click here.

Some Kind of Beautiful

Directed by Tom Vaughan


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Lionsgate.
Opens at AMC Empire.
Questions? Comments? Please click here.

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