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Reviews for August 24th, 2018

Documentary Round-Up

      Crime + Punishment is a searing exposť about police corruption within the NYPD. Director Stephen Maing focuses on the NYPD 12, a group of police officers who risk their careers to blow the whistle on the NYPD for having quotas for arrests and summonses. Officers who don't meet the quotas, like Sandy Gonzales, get reassigned to menial tasks like foot patrol. Others, like Edwin Raymond, don't get promoted. To reach their quotas NYPD officers target blacks and latinos. They each face backlash after speaking out and suing the NYPD. Maing includes interviews with officers from the brave NYPD 12 as well as with Pedro Hernandez, a teenager who was locked up at Rikers after being falsely accused of a crime. Maing's smoking gun is audio recordings of Officer Sandy Gonzales' superior being scolded and telling him flat out that he has not met his quotes. Hearing that recording will send chills down your spine. The segment with Pedro Hernandez and his mother are heartbreaking. This documentary might make you think twice before joining the NYPD, especially because the corruption still exists, but at least the battle to put an end to it keeps on going. To think that the death of Eric Garner could've been prevented if there were no quotas will make your blood boil. At a running time of 112 minutes, Crime + Punishment is a well-edited documentary that's equally captivating, emotionally engrossing and thought-provoking. It opens via Hulu at IFC Center.

Blue Iguana

Directed by Hadi Hajaig

      A lawyer, Katherine (Phoebe Fox), offers two ex-cons, Eddie (Rockwell) and Paul (Schwartz), $20,000 if they can steal a bag containing a precious jewel called the Blue Iguana. Arkady (Peter Polycarpou), a mob boss, and his underling, Deacon (Peter Ferdinando), also want the Blue Iguana and will kill anyone who gets in their way.

      Blue Iguana is lazy and assinine rip-off of Snatch cross with the stylized violence of Pulp Fiction. As Godard once wisely stated, it's more important where you take ideas to than where you take ideas from. Excessive violence, unlikable characters, meanspiritedness, and attempts at dark comedy don't make for an entertaining experience. The writer/director Hadi Hajaig lacks wit, cleverness and laughs. Just because a film's characters are dumb doesn't mean the film itself should be. Case in point: Seven Psychopaths, another dark comedy starring Sam Rockwell that's much smarter and funnier than Blue Iguana. The plot lacks suspense, the attempts at dark humor fall flat more often than not and none of the characters are even remotely memorable. On top of that, the characters come across as very annoying---the kind of people you never want to meet again.

      Even Sam Rockwell's charisma can't save the film. If watching blood splatter on people's faces alone is enough to make you laugh, then perhaps you'll find Blue Iguana to be at least a mildly funny guilty pleasure. With a running time of 1 hour and 47 minutes, it's a vapid, witless and mostly unfunny dark comedy. At least it's shorter than Pulp Fiction, one of the most overrated and shallow films ever made.

Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Screen Media Films.
Opens at Village East Cinemas.

Go Brother!

Directed by Cheng Fen-fen


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

What Keeps You Alive

Directed by Colin Minihan

      Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) and her wife, Jules (Brittany Allen), celebrate their one-year anniversary at an isolated cabin in the woods by a lake. The cabin belongs to Jackie's ancestors. Little does Jules know that Jackie has a dark past until she meets Jackie's old friends, Sarah (Martha MacIsaac) and her husband, Daniel (Joey Klein), who live in a house across the lake.

      The screenplay by writer/director Colin Minihan begins somewhat compellingly with a foreboding atmosphere, psychological thrills, slow-burning suspense, nuance and, most importantly, plausibility. However, once the second act kicks in involving a twist that won't be revealed here, all of those positive elements get thrown out the window. The plot becomes increasingly preposterous as it progresses because it requires too much suspension of disbelief. One of the characters survives an serious event and appears as though they were physically unscathed later that night even though they clearly had a bloody eye, a broken arm and flesh wounds on their face. How those wounds magically disappear during a dinner hours later is one of the film's many annoying plot holes. Just when you think that the film can't become more implausible than it already is, it finds a way to sink even further away from plausibility and becomes unintentionally funny.

      Moreover, Minihan fails to trust the audience's emotions, intelligence and imagination during the second and third acts. The music, especially during a chase sequence on the lake via a canoe, feels intrusive and unnecessary, and when one of the characters calls the other a "psycho," it's stating the obvious and, therefore, an insult to the audience's intelligence. Imagine if someone in Psycho called Norman Bates a psycho to his face during the film. Such kind of asinine dialogue would've been well beneath Hitchcock, the master of suspense. Then there's the use of flashbacks sequences that leave nothing to the imagination. The gratuitous gore and splatter is more disgusting than scary; a better use of gore can be found in a far superior, suspenseful, moving and intelligent horror/thriller Inside starring Beatrice Dalle. Also, there's scene with slow motion that's very silly and awkward.

      On a positive note, both Hannah Emily Anderson and Brittany Allen give solid performances. It's too bad that they're undermined by a lazy and idiot screenplay. They deserve far better material. If What Keeps You Alive's tone were campy instead of so serious or if Minihan were to have included sci-fi elements, i.e. one of the characters turning into a zombie, it would've been a guilty pleasure and allowed for much more suspension of disbelief. At a running time of 100 minutes, What Keeps You Alive is an increasingly preposterous and pretentious horror thriller that's low on scares, intelligence and suspense.

Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by IFC Midnight.
Opens at IFC Center.
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