Main Page
Alphabetical Menu
Chronological Menu

Reviews for January 11th, 2019

Perfectos Desconocidos

Directed by Manolo Caro

      Alonso (Bruno Bichir) and his wife, Eva (Cecilia Suarez), invite their good friends for a house-warming party at their home. Ernesto (Miguel Rodarte) arrives with his wife, Flora (Mariana Trevino). Mario (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) arrives with his wife, Ana (Ana Claudia Talancon). Pepe (Franky Martin)is the only one who comes solo while claiming that his girlfriend can't join them because she's sick. They all agree to make the night more interesting by playing a game: they must each place their cellphone at the center of the table for everyone to read their texts and calls. What starts out as a calm, relaxing dinner party turns into much more than they bargained for.

      Perfectos Descondidos is the 3rd remake of Italy's Perfect Strangers to hit U.S. theaters after the first remake, South Korea's Intimate Strangers, and the second, China's Kill Mobile, both recently opened. Mexico's version, written and directed by Manolo Caro, doesn't include a first act like Intimate Strangers did that establishes the group of friends have been friends since childhood, but thanks to the solid performances, organic screenplay and well-cast actors and actresses, you can feel the chemistry between them throughout the dinner. The first act introduces you to each character while providing you with a glimpse of their life at home. You learn more and more as the cell phone game begins. It's equally intriguing and fun to try to figure out whom to trust and whether or not to trust each person. One second you might root for one of the friends, the next you'll root for someone else. None of them come across as villains. Perhaps the only villain is a silent one: modern technology.

      There's a wonderfully profound scene that address how privacy has been lost during modern times and asks a provocative question about whether or not friends or lovers are entitled to that privacy. As Gabriel García Márquez once observed, "Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life and a secret life." Intimate Strangers uses that quote as a foreshadow; Perfectos Descondidos uses subtle camerawork and editing that hints at the impending conflicts. Both films use a lunar eclipse that takes place the night of the dinner. The eclipse can be seen as a metaphor because the moon's true nature, after all, is revealed during an eclipse much like the friends' true nature which gradually rises to the surface. The less you know about the film's plot the better so as not to spoil any of the twists or surprises.

      Fortunately, Perfectos Descondidos isn't as fast-paced and dull as Kill Mobile nor does it include any physical violence like the slightly darker Kill Mobile does. This is a lighter version, although it does go into dark territory on an emotional level. It wouldn't be surprising if many audiences will find the characters and what they go through to be relatable. Manolo Caro makes you feel like you're right there at the table with Alonso, Eva, Ernesto, Flora, Mario and Pepe. One minor, forgivable caveat: the English subtitles are sometimes poorly translated---i.e. when someone texts in Spanish that they're horny, it's translated as "I'm in the mood" or when someone says "maricon", it's translated as "homosexual" rather than "faggot." At a running time of 101 minutes, Perfectos Descondidos is warm, funny and witty with just the right balance of suspense and poignancy.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Pantelion Films.
Opens in select theaters.


Directed by Daniel Robbins

      Three college freshmen, David (Zack Weiner), Ethan (Phillip Andre Botello) and Justin (Zachery Byrd) desperately want to join a fraternity, but the only one that lets them pledge is the mysterious frat known as The Krypteia. Rachel (Erica Boozer) lures them to a party at a house in the middle of nowhere to meet the frat brothers. Krypteia members (Aaron Dalla Villa), Ricky (Cameron Cowperthwaite) and Ben (Jesse Pimentel) require them to undergo a series of sadistic tests as part of their pledge.

      Pledge is lean with unflinching violence, but it's ultimately too shallow and offers very little that's surprising, clever or inventive. The three victims seem very gullible from the get-go because they agree to hike through the creepy woods to reach the frat house. Haven't they watched enough horror films to know better? Okay, so they're lured by sex, drugs and booze, but that makes them very boring victims. Their tormentors are rich, sadistic and power-hungry. Screenwriter Zack Weiner doesn't seem too interested in developing any of the characters into fully-fleshed human beings or providing them with an interesting backstory. Once the scenes of torture kick in, the film just seems to be going through the motions to reach its inevitable conclusion. There's nothing really shocking or that sticks to your memorable. At least it doesn't include too much torture like Hostel did or other horror/thrillers when "torture porn" was popular.

      If you look at horror films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Halloween, those films felt fresh because they took more risks and also had more compelling, better-written villains who were essentially deeply troubled human beings with a traumatic past. None of the villains seem like that here; they're just forgettable caricatures. Fortunately, at a running time of 77 minutes, Pledge is mildly engaging and doesn't overstay its welcome. Perhaps this film serves as some sort of a metaphor or a social criticism, but if that's the case, it doesn't have enough bite.

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


Directed by John J. Budion

      John (Maxwell Apple) lives with his older brother, Anthony (Keidrich Sellati), mother ((Marjan Neshat) and stepfather (Wass Stevens) in Rockaway, Queens. They befriend Brian (Tanner Flood) and Billy (Harrison Wittmeyer), Sal (Colin Critchley), and Dom (James DiGiacomo). They do what young kids usually do when they come of age: play sports, talk about boobs, flirt with a girl, and just chill together. At home, though, John and Anthony must deal with their alcoholic stepfather who's emotionally and physically abusive. They soon hatch a plan to murder him.

      Rockaway is an often clunky coming-of-age drama set during the summer of 1994. The screenplay by writer/director John J. Budion, a semi autobiography, essentially bites off much more than it could chew and feels as contrived as a Hollywood film at times. It doesn't pack as much of an emotional wallop as it could have with a more organic and sensitive screenplay. None of the performances are strong enough to rise above the material nor do any of the characters come to life. Unlike in Boyhood, you can feel the wheels of the screenplay turning. There aren't much in terms nuances or subtleties to be found here. In other words, Budion doesn't seem to trust the audience's imagination and intelligence enough, and spoon-feeds the audience often with narration and with the excessive references to The Sandlot.

      The film takes a steep nose-dive during the third act that feels too sugar-coated, rushed and unearned. It's also not very plausible to see people not coughing from smoke inhalation during a house fire. Is it too much to ask for an actor to cough at least once or do they have to get paid more to cough on camera? Rockaway doesn't come close to being as true-to-life or understated as the brilliant Boyhood nor as memorable as the 90's cult classic The Sandlot, but it should've at least have been somewhat poignant and moving instead of falling so flat on an emotional level with its dull screenplay and mediocre performances.

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

Touch Me Not

Directed by Adina Pintilie

      Adina (Adina Pintilie), a filmmaker, explores the complex topic of intimacy. She shoots a documentary using three people as her subjects as they have disrobe and have sex: Laura (Laura Benson), Tómas (Tómas Lemarquis) and Christian (Christian Bayerlein).

      Writer/director Adina Pintilie doesn't pull any punches from the very beginning because the first shot is a lengthy pan across the naked body of one of its male subjects, penis and all. She often blurs the line between documentary and fiction through the film as she includes herself in the film as well. That blurring remains the only compelling aspect, though, that becomes tedious around the 90-minute mark. Had Touch Me Not been a short, it would have been much more engaging, but for 2 hours, it grows increasingly exhausting. It's okay for Pintilie to eschew narrative and character development as long as there's something else left that's engaging in either a visceral, emotional or intellectual level. Just being unconventional, bold or "avant garde" alone isn't enough. The Favourite is a much better example of a film that pushes the envelope in terms of sights and sounds without being dull or monotonous.

      To be fair, to describe the film wouldn't do it any justice, though, because its images juxtaposed with the music do form a sort of poetry. Without enough emotional depth or getting to know any of the subjects as human beings rather than merely seeing them naked, Touch Me Not squanders its opportunities to be profound. Emotional nakedness is often if not always more intimate than physical nakedness, but Pintilie doesn't really explore her subjects' emotional nakedness nor does delve into the difference between both kinds of intimacy. Touch Me Not would work best if it were studied in film school for its cinematography and as an introduction to avant garde cinema when the professor can pause the film to discuss the scenes every 20 minutes or so. However, it's hard to recommend watching Touch Me Not all in one sitting or for anyone who years for more substance than style. Perhaps it's fortunate thet this film isn't made for everyone. As the aphorism goes, a film made for everybody often ends up pleasing no one.

Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Kino Lorber.
Opens at MoMA.

The Upside

Directed by Neil Burger


Number of times I checked my watch: 6
Released by STX Films.
Opens nationwide.
Questions? Comments? Please click here.

Main Page
Alphabetical Menu
Chronological Menu

Avi Offer
The NYC Movie Guru
Privacy Policy