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Reviews for February 14th, 2020

Documentary Round-Up






      In The Times of Bill Cunningham, director Mark Bozek combines archival interviews between him and Cunningham from 1994 along with his many photographs of celebrities and regular New Yorkers. Cunningham's humility and vulnerability shines through as he candidly talks about where his shyness comes from. His mother was shy; his father was outgoing. You'll learn how he was a hat designer before becoming a photographer. The story about his camera and how he preferred to have it repaired rather than to buy a new one is amusing. When an SUV ran him over, he not only survived uninjured, but his camera remained intact much to the dismay of the camera's repairman. His apartment on top of Carnegie Hall is humble and he prefers it that way even though he has to share a bathroom with 10 of his neighbors. Marlon Brando once lived in the building and, not surprisingly, had to move out when star-crazed women tried to break his door down. In a one of the film's few moments of poignancy, he gets very emotional and chokes back tears when talking about his friends who died of AIDS. Bozek compassionately tells him that he doesn't have to continue talking about that sensitive topic. There are many of these tidbits throughout the doc because Cunningham has clearly seen and experienced a lot, although there's nothing that's particularly revealing or profound that elevates it beyond the average documentary biopic. Narrated by Sarah Jessica Park and clocking only 74 minutes, The Times of Bill Cunningham is an entertaining, briskly paced and solid introduction to fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, but it doesn't quite reach the insightful heights of the superior doc Bill Cunningham New York. It opens at Angelika Film Center and Cinemas 1,2 & 3 via Greenwich Entertainment.


Come As You Are

Directed by Richard Wong




        Scotty (Grant Rosenmeyer), a disabled 24-year-old virgin, wants nothing more than to travel to a brothel in Canada to have sex with a prostitute whose clientele are disabled people. He convinces his friend, Matt (Hayden Szeto), who's also physically disabled, and Mo (Ravi Patel), who's legally blind, to join him on a road trip to the brothel. They lead their parents, though, to believe that they're going on an excursion to the Great Lakes instead. Sam (Gabourey Sidibe), a former nurse, agrees to be their driver.

      Come As You Are sounds like a raunchy comedy from the 80s, but it has much more on its mind than sex thanks to the screenplay by Erik Linthorst that treats its characters like human beings. Scotty lives with his mother, Liz (Janeane Garofalo). The fact that he's unable to tell her to truth about why he's going on a trip with Matt and Mo says a lot about the toxic relationship between him and his mother. During the road trip, Scotty is able to laugh, have fun and be himself while bonding with Mo and Matt. A romance between Mo and Sam feels a bit contrived, though, especially because they don't have much chemistry. There are other clunky scenes that don't quite work in Come As You Are, i.e. toward the somewhat sappy ending, but they're far and few between. The screenplay brims with wit and isn't afraid to show some of the abuse that Scott, Mo and Matt experience as disabled people from able-bodied people. Each of the characters grow innately by the time their journey ends, and their adventure has surprisingly heartwarming and poignant moments.

        Come As You Are is ultimately a story about the universal and relatable themes of friendship, dreams and freedom. Scott has sexual urges just like any human being does. His yearning to go to the brothel represents his yearning to escape from his toxic home, an emotional, physical and psychological prison where his mother treats him like a child, not an adult. He also wants and needs social interaction and knows that being around his mother isn't a healthy environment for him, so it would be safe to say that he's brave and inspirational to those in similar circumstances. Hopefully he'll be able to escape that toxic environment for good, but the ending doesn't provide much hope for that because his mother still treats him like a child and doesn't seem to understand his need to be free and happy. At least he along with Mo and Matt managed to get a little taste of freedom during their experiences together on the road. At a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes, Come As You Are is a heartfelt, witty and captivating film that transcends the genre of road trip comedy despite a few moments of contrivance and clunkiness.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Opens at Cinema Village.

Enter the Fat Dragon

Directed by Jing Wong




       Fallon (Donnie Yen), a police officer, gets demoted after a robbery goes wrong and puts on weight only six month after his girlfriend, Chloe (Niki Chow), dumps him. A suspect he escorts ends up dead, so it's up to him to find the murderer.

      Donnie Yen dons a cringe-inducingly fake fat suit to play the obese version of Fallon. If the suit were meant to be funny, those beats don't land. The screenplay by Wong Jing has a forgettable plot that becomes increasingly silly and tonally uneven. Fallon's romance with Chloe feels like a tacked-on subplot that's merely there to add unnecessary padding to what's essentially a B-movie. There are no surprises or any memorable scenes that stand out, but at least director Kenji Tanagaki and writer/director Wong Jing keep the running time down to 96 minutes. If only the screenplay were more witty and took more risks without taking itself seriously and resorting to juvenile slapstick humor, it would've at least been a guilty pleasure albeit a mindless one.

      Unfortunately, on a visceral level, the action sequences quickly turn tedious with poor attempts at generating humor and excitement. The plot moves fast at least and there's plenty of loud action, but that's not nearly enough to keep audiences engaged. It's ultimately a pointless waste of time. Enter the Fat Dragon feels like Kung Fu Hustle minus the laughs and thrills. The only funny thing about it is its title.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Well Go USA.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.

Fantasy Island

Directed by Jeff Wadlow




        Melanie Cole (Lucy Hale), Gwen Olsen (Maggie Q), Brax Weaver (Jimmy O. Yang), DJ Weaver (Ryan Hansen) and Patrick Sullivan (Austin Stowell) win a contest to a dream vacation in a resort on Fantasy Island where their fantasies can come true. Their host is Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) who may or may not have a hidden motive that puts the vacationers' lives at risk.

      Fantasy Island takes an interesting concept for a horror comedy/thriller and drains all of the suspense, fun, humor and thrills from it. The screenplay by writer/director Jeff Wadlow and co-writers Jillian Jacobs and Christopher Roach becomes increasingly preposterous, silly and asinine with stilted dialogue, poor characterizations and failed attempts at dark humor. There are, though, some unintentionally funny scenes, but they're too far and few between to turn this into a future cult classic like Cats or a current one like The Room. The filmmakers spend too much time with exposition which makes the film seem amateurish. Having characters just standing there to explain things with long-winded dialogue is lazy, cheap and counterproductive. It's no help that none of the characters are fleshed out enough to root for.  On top of that, the performances are mediocre at best and wooden at worst. At least the opening scene gives you foreshadow horror that's to come and provides a little bit of suspense, but that suspense dissipates quickly as the film becomes less and less involving on any level.

      The only positive aspects of Fantasy Island are the picturesque scenery and the decent cinematography. It's too bad, then, that the very weak screenplay causes the film to take a huge nosedive and crash within the first thirty minutes without recovering. Usually, Blumhouse films are around 90 minutes or even shorter. Fantasy Island clocks at 110 minutes, and you can feel the weight of the running time during the last half hour because the film overstays its welcome. If you're looking for a better horror comedy with more surprises, better acting and more heart that's also set on a remote island, check out Come to Daddy on VOD which is where Fantasy Island should've went directly to instead of opening in theaters.

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

Impossible Monsters

Directed by Nathan Catucci




       Dr. Richard Freeman (Santino Fontana) teaches psychology at a university. He wants to put together a sleep study to find more about nightmares and sleep paralysis. The Dean of Students, Gaslow (Laila Robins), informs him that if gathers together a group for his study and the study becomes successful, the university will receive a much-needed grant. Everything rests on the outcome of Dr. Freman's sleep study. The study group he assembles include Otis (Dónall Ó Héalai), Jo (Devika Bhise), and Leslie (Natalie Knepp).

      Impossible Monsters is yet another psychological horror thriller that blurs the line between reality and dreams while opening up the possibility of supernatural elements. Unlike the far superior mindfuck The Lodge, though, Impossible Monsters takes too long to get interesting and fails to let the audience care about any of its characters as the plot becomes increasingly darker and convoluted. The screenplay by writer/director Nathan Catucci blends drama, horror, romance and even sci-fi in a way that's uneven and that doesn't quite gel. It's one thing when the plot doesn't go somewhere that interesting, but it's a whole other matter when you don't even care about where it's going to begin with. There are too many characters none of whom are well developed and all of whom seem more like pawns meant to move the plot forward. The ending takes a steep nosedive with a third act that's  

      Aesthetically, Impossible Monsters has stylish cinematography that adds some atmosphere and has a few creepy scenes that are only creepy because of the use of editing and sound design. Style can only go so far, though, and when there's not enough depth in the screenplay, it eventually has diminishing returns. Sometimes style can compensate for lack of substance, but that's not the case here. A truly great psychological horror thriller could be powerful and haunting with an intelligent screenplay grounded in humanism like in The Shining. Hitchcock knew where to take his ideas to. Impossible Monsters has many ideas up its sleeve, but doesn't quite know what to do with them thereby leaving audiences underwhelmed and leaving the film undercooked. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Gravitas Ventures.
Opens at Cinema Village.

The Misogynists

Directed by Onur Turkel




        On election night of 2016, Cameron (Dylan Baker) and his co-worker, Baxter (Lou Jay Taylor), spend the night together in a hotel room drinking and doing drugs while having politically-charged conversations that lead to heated debates. Baxters has two kids and a wife, Alice (Christine Campbell) who wants him to avoid being around Cameron.

      The Misogynists is a wickedly funny, bold and blunt drama about two unlikable Trump supporters. Cameron comes across as an arrogant, narcissistic and annoying much like Trump himself. Baxter enables him, but only up to a certain point. When Cameron orders high-end hookers, Amber (Trieste Kelly Dunn) and Olga (Denisa Juhos), for both of them, he starts to question whether or not he should cheat on his wife and stand up to Cameron for a change.  Both of them hate women, although Cameron seems to hate them much more or at least he's much more vocal about it. Hearing them bicker soon feels like nails on a chalkboard, but perhaps that's the point. They're not supposed to be likable or relatable unless you're misogynist yourself. If you were to meet them at a party, chances are you'd stay far away from them because they're both toxic, self-involved and immature.  

        As the plot progresses, you'll notice that the story is essentially a microcosm of America. It shows how power-hungry misogynists, hypocrites and racists who have no empathy can think they can get away with anything. Not surprisingly, Cameron even pulls out a gun. At least writer/director Onur Turkel includes a few characters who are remotely likable and good people at heart: Alice, Amber, Olga and a black woman who complains about the noise that Cameron and Baxter are making. To be fair, it's not easy to sit through The Misogynists because it's so heavy-handed, irreverent and unflinching without being afraid to shock through words.  You'll want a long, cold shower after spending 85 minutes just listening to anything that Cameron, but the same can be said about the feeling you get after listening to Trump.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Factory 25.
Opens at Cinema Village.

Olympic Dreams

Directed by Jeremy Teicher




       Penelope (Alexi Pappas), a cross-country skier, and Ezra (Nick Kroll), a dentist, meet for the first time in a cafeteria during the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. Ezra has a fiancée, but he's traveling alone because she and him are taking a break from their relationship. He and Penelope flirt and gradually develop romantic feelings toward one another.

      As Hitchcock once observed, some movies are a slice-of-cake while others are a slice-of-life. Olympic Dreams is a genuinely heartfelt slice-of-life that amounts to nothing more and less than that. Its plot isn't very complex, but its emotions are because Ezra is engaged to a woman back home while he's having romantic chemistry with Penelope. Their chemistry isn't very palpable which might have to do with Penelope being more into Ezra than he's into her. He has conflicting feelings which are normal for someone who's still in a relationship and engaged to be married. They're both clearly people who are very lonely. Is he only lonely because he's so far away from his fiancée or is he lonely around her as well? What went wrong with their relationship that lead to them wanting to take a break? Ezra is an adult, but he handles his emotions like a confused teenager, so he's not exactly emotionally mature. Penelope, on the other hand, does seem more emotionally mature than him. Their initual scenes together as Penelope flirts with him and finds excuses to see him again are more cute than funny.

        The screenplay by writer/director Jeremy Teicher and co-writers Alexi Pappas and Nick Kroll keep the film feeling lean, light and breezy without exploring Ezra's complex emotions with much depth. You never really get to know Ezra and Penelope beyond their interactions with each other. There are no flashbacks, voice-over narrations, laugh-out-loud dialogue nor any profound insights about relationships. You don't even get to meet Ezra's fiancée for that matter, so the screenwriters essentially eschew a first act and just right into the second act when Ezra and Penelope meet.

      Olympic Dreams's emotional depth comes from the performances by Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas which compensate for the lack of emotional depth in the screenplay. They bring their characters to life and allow them to have an inner lives.  Kroll and Pappas make Penelope and Ezra a pleasure to spend time with for 82 minutes, and it helps that their scenes are remain true-to-life without any contrived, clunky or Hollywood moments. Although Olympic Dreams isn't nearly as powerful and haunting as Brief Encounter nor as moving as Once nor as profoundly moving and honest as Ordinary Love, it's nonetheless a charming and tender love story.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by IFC Films.
Opens at IFC Center.

The Photograph

Directed by Stella Meghie




       

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

Sonic the Hedgehog

Directed by Jeff Fowler




        Sonic the Hedgehog (voice of Ben Schwartz) has lived a quiet life on Earth hidden in the woods of Montana. After his superpowers accidentally knocks out the power in a small town, he crosses paths with the town sheriff, Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), who has a wife, Maddie (Tika Sumpter). The U.S. government want to get to the bottom of who caused the power outage, so they hire Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey), a mad scientist and Sonic's nemesis. Meanwhile, Sonic has lost his gold rings which give him the ability to travel anywhere through a portal.

      Sonic the Hedgehog is  The screenplay by Patrick Casey and Josh Miller has a few funny lines and references for adults, i.e. when Sonic spies on Tom and his wife while they watch Speed. Sonic has a very lively personality and a sense of humor that makes him into a likable, charming character. He and Tom have some great rapport together once they meet and become friends as Tom desperately tries to hide him from others including his wife. Any scenes with Tom and his wife, though, feel bit bland and more like padding than anything else. Some of the humor is a bit juvenile and lazy, though, like a fart joke. Does every family movie need to have a fart joke these days?

      In terms of plot, there's nothing very confusing nor surprising and brilliant for that matter either, but that's forgivable. Of course, there's a McGuffin: Sonic's bag of magic gold rings. The Olive Garden product placement is far from subtle and reminiscent of the product placement of McDonald's in the dreadful and cringe-inducing Mac and Me. You'll find nothing cringe-inducing in Sonic the Hedgehog. There's an amusing scene at a bar when Sonic stops time to move objects around, and there's a delightfully entertaining scene when Dr. Robotnick does dance in his truck. Director Jeff Fowler moves the film along at a brisk pace so that even the less engaging scenes don't cause the film to derail into lethargy.    

      Jim Carrey gives a campy, goofy performance that channels his characters from The Mask and Ace Ventura with just the same level of energy onscreen. He manages to take Sonic the Hedgehog's mediocre screenplay and slightly elevate it whenever he's onscreen. During some scenes, he adds some campiness that sticks; not all of his comedic attempts and campiness beats land, though. More scenes with him would've made the film a lot more entertaining. It's also worth mentioning that the CGI effects are superb, especially when it comes to the design of Sonic. At a running time of 100 minutes, Sonic the Hedgehog is a mildly entertaining diversion that will engage kids without boring adults. Compared to the painfully anemic Dolittle, it's like a breath of fresh air.

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

VFW

Directed by Joe Begos




       

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by RLJE Films.
Opens at Village East Cinema.

You Go to My Head

Directed by Dimitri de Clercq




        After Dafne (Delfine Bafort) survives a car crash in the middle of the desert that leaves her driver dead, she suffers from amnesia.  Jake (Sevetozar Cvetkovic), an architect, discovers her injured and finds a doctor who tends to her wounds. The doctor assumes Dafne is his wife, and Jake decides to go along with that lie. He brings Dafne to his home where he convinces her that she's his wife, Kitty, who had disappeared.

       You Go to My Head sounds like it could be a gripping, slow-burning psychological thriller, but the screenplay by writer/director Dimitri de Clercq and co-writers Pierre Bourdy and Rosemary Ricchio squanders that opportunity. Within the first ten minutes, all of the suspense dissipates when you realize that you're one step ahead of Dafne because you know that Jake is lying to her. It's also easy to figure out why he's lying to her. So, the film wastes too much time until it reaches the inevitable point when Dafne will start remembering the truth about who she is and realize her true identity. It's a sluggish chore to finally get to that point, and by the time the third act arrives, it rushes to a contrived and unsatisfying twist in the third act. Moreover, the dialogue often sounds stilted, on-the-nose and even unintentionally funny at times which makes the events that transpire hard to take seriously. Imagine if the ending of Primal Fear or Tell No One were revealed at the very beginning. It wouldn't have been even remotely as shocking, suspenseful nor as effective as a thriller. The same can be said about You Go to My Head which doesn't trust the audience's intelligence enough, although it does trust their patience a little too much.  

      You Go to My Head does have exquisite cinematography, lighting, scenery and use of a music score which are its strongest assets. The performances, unfortunately, don't rise above the clunky and unnatural screenplay. Delfine Bafort looks as sexy as Brigitte Bardot did during the Golden Age of Hollywood, and there are plenty of scenes with her in the nude to feast your eyes on. It's too bad then that the character she plays doesn't have enough of a window inside her heart, mind and soul because emotional nakedness is much more intimate and profound than physical nakedness. Although there's plenty of eye candy on a visual level, the film ultimately lacks an essential element of humanism: warmth. There's an emotional disconnect between the audience and characters onscreen. At a running time of 116 minutes, You Go to My Head is visually stunning and slick, but shallow, contrived and dull.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by First Run Features.
Opens at Quad Cinema.
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