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Reviews for February 8th, 2019

Documentary Round-Up

      One Million American Dreams, directed by Brendan Byrne, is a powerful and eye-opening exposé about Hart Island, an island in the Bronx where over one million poor, homeless and unknown Americans are buried in unmarked graves. The graves are merely wooden boxes and have more than one body in each box. The island is hard to reach and had been off-limits to the public and press for years. The New York Department of Corrections, in charge of operating and maintaining Hart Island, exploit prisoners from Riker's Island by having them work as gravediggers. One Million American Dreams combines archival footage with animation and interviews with family members of a few of the people buried on Hart Island who are desperately searching for answers about why they weren't notified sooner about their loved one's death.

      Bryne wisely includes a human element to the film by following the families of the deceased and providing you with background information about the deceased's past so that they're more than just a statistic. In other words, while the Department of Corrections dehumanizes the people buried at Hart Island, Byrne humanizes them. Each of them had hopes, dreams, regrets, struggles and other characteristics and experiences that make them relatable and deeply human. You'll also learn a little about the history of Hart Island and how it ended up a potter's field. Byrne does a great job of finding just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually as well as emotionally. There's nothing dry or academic about the film nor does it overstay its welcome at a running time of 89 minutes. Moreover, the emotions that it conjures aren't one-note because if it were merely anger-inducing, that wouldn't have been enough. It's a poignant, illuminating, enraging and well-edited doc with both style and substance which makes it a truly transcendent and vital human rights exposé. One Million Americans opens at Cinema Village.

Cold Pursuit

Directed by Hans Petter Moland

      Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson), a snow plow driver grieving over the death of his son, Kyle (Micheál Richardson), lives with his wife, Grace (Laura Dern), in a snowy Colorado town. He takes matters into his own hands when he decides to avenge the murder of Kyle, hunting down and killing each member of a drug cartel one by one until he reaches the kingpin, Trevor “Viking” Calcote (Tom Bateman).

      The screenplay by Frank Baldwin, based on the screenplay of In Order of Disappearance, deftly blends of comedy, drama, suspense, action and thrills without feeling uneven or clunky. If you like witty, and savagely funny humor, like the humor in The Favourite, Fargo or Seven Psychopaths, it will leave you in stitches. Director Hans Petter Moland and the always-reliable casting director Avy Kaufman are very wise for selecting just the right cast because each of them helps to set the film's many different tones. Micheál Richardson gives a somewhat campy performance as the villain and clearly has a lot of fun in his role. Liam Neeson is to crime thrillers like John Wayne is to Westerns. He's in top form in this sizzling, riveting crime thriller. It's quite exciting to root for Nels as long as you suspend your morals and disbelief for 2 hours because he's not particularly likable for killing so many people. If enjoyed Taken, John Wick, 1974's Death Wish or In Order of Disappearance, chances are that you'll enjoy Cold Pursuit.

      Director Hans Petter Moland improves upon his original version of the film, In Order of Disappearance. This time around, the production values are higher and the set design looks much more slick and stylish. Even the lobby of a hotel with its furry front desk compliments the off-beat tone. Yes, you will find plenty of violence which earns the R-rating, but the violence isn't excessive or stylized like in the overrated, shallow, tedious and dull Pulp Fiction; fortunately, it's much more Coenesque in its use of violence. There's not tedious or dull moment to be found throughout the film. At a running time of 2 hours, which breezes by like 90 minutes, Cold Pursuit is a wild, exhilarating roller-coaster ride. It's one of the best crime thrillers since Taken, and it's destined to become a cult classic.

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

Everybody Knows

Directed by Asghar Farhadi

      Laura (Penélope Cruz) returns to her hometown in Spain with her teenage daughter, Irene (Carla Campra) and young son to attend a family member's wedding while her husband, Alejandro (Ricardo Darín), remains back home in Argentina. Irene meets and flirts with Felipe (Sergio Castellanos), the nephew of Paco (Javier Bardem), before mysteriously disappearing in the middle of the night. Paco happens to be Laura's former lover. When the kidnapper sends Laura a ransom note, she asks Alejandro come to Spain to help her find her missing daughter. The more they investigate, the more the family's dark secrets unravel.

      Everybody Knows begins as a light drama with a potential romance between Irene and Felipe before turning into a slow-burning mystery thriller. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Asghar Farhadi doesn't quite know what to do with its initially intriguing plot which could've been as gripping as About Elly, The Secret in Their Eyes or Tell No One. He reveals the identity of the kidnapper too soon and, once that happens, the suspense wanes and the film's dramatic momentum begins to take a nosedive. None of the twists and turns are clever nor surprising and leave too many plot holes behind. To be fair, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required for every film, but there has to be a limit if you want the audience to take what they see seriously. Moreover, the lighting and cinematography makes it look like you're watching a soap opera instead of dramatic thriller. Not enough of the film's beats land and you'll end up underwhelmed and even somewhat bored as more secrets rise to the surface.

      On a positive note, at least there are decent performances by Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem who are onscreen together for the third time since Loving Pablo and Jamón, Jamón. They barely rise above the mediocre and banal screenplay, but they've both in in far better films. It's very unwise for Farhadi and casting directors Eva Leiraand Yolanda Serrano to cast Ricardo Darin because, although he's indeed a great, charismatic actor, it triggers one's memory of Darin in the far more intelligent, taut and poignant thriller, The Secret in Their Eyes. Everybody Knows isn't as bad as an M. Night Shyamalan thriller, but given that Farhadi had made A Separation and About Elly, it could be been much more gripping, smart and powerful rather than falling so flat.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Focus Features.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and Landmark at 57 West.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Directed by Mike Mitchell


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