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Reviews for January 13th, 2017

Documentary Round-Up

      Vince Giordano: There's a Future in the Past is a lively and engaging doc about Vince Giordano, a jazz and swing musician and bandleader. Through interviews with Giordano himself as well as his fellow band members in the Nighthawks Orchestra, you learn about Giordano's career as a musician, his childhood and his personality. Like every human being, he's had many ups and some downs in life; this doc doesn't shy away from those down moments. It's quite stressfull to be a bandleader, and it's fascinating to observe how that stress takes its toll on Giordano. Fans of his music will happy to watch and hear footage of Nighthawks Orchestra performing. If you've never heard of Giordano before, don't be surprised if you'll yearn to hear more of his music. Co-directors Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards avoid making the film a hagiography that would be on the Bravo! channel. They manage to provide with you a warts-and-all glimpse behind Giordano's curtain, so-to-speak, which can't be achieved by visiting his Wikipedia page. Vince Giordano: There's a Future in the Past opens at Cinema Village via First Run Features.

Alone in Berlin

Directed by Vincent Perez

      In 1940 Berlin, Otto Quangel (Brendan Gleeson) and his wife, Anna (Emma Thompson), are in the process of grieving over the recent death of their son who died while fighting in the WWII frontlines. Their sadness turns into anger which fuels their dissent against the Nazi regime. To express that dissent and wake up the "Good Germans", Otto subversively writes anonymous postcards with warnings about the Nazis' crimes and places them around Berlin. Those postcards aggrevate the Nazis, so the police, led by inspector Escherich (Daniel Bruhl), try to hunt down who wrote them.

      Based on a true story and adapted from the novel by Hans Fallada, Alone in Berlin is a mildly gripping dramatic thriller with a rather pedestrian screenplay by writer/director Vincent Perez and co-writer Achim von Borries. The film remains somber throughout, but that tone becomes tedious and somewhat exhausting without any moments of levity. Every plot point and twist can be easily predicted, and there's nothing surprising or deeply poignant enough to generate any tears. Moreover, the screenplay doesn't succeed in getting into the character's heads fully. It seems to be in too much of a rush from plot point A to plot point B while shying away from going too deep.

      What helps to slightly elevate the film from mediocrity and banality are the terrific performances by the always-reliable Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson as well as the timely themes of how two seemingly ordinary German citizens refused to remain "Good Germans" and risked their lives to oppose the Nazi regime. Otto and Anna, despite being criminals in the eyes of the Nazis, are fundamentally good people and very brave at heart which makes them all the more heroic and inspiring exemplars. One could only hope that an American would do the same if the US were to become a fascist dictatorship which is not all that implausible with Donald Trump at the helm as POITUS.

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

Bad Kids of Crestview Academy

Directed by Ben Browder


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

The Bye Bye Man

Directed by Stacy Title


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by STX Entertainment.
Opens nationwide.

Claire in Motion

Directed by Annie J. Howell and Lisa Robinson


Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Breaking Glass.
Opens at Cinema Village.

Go North

Directed by Matt Ogens


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Gunpowder & Sky.
Opens nationwide.

Monster Trucks

Directed by Chris Wedge


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Paramount Pictures.
Opens in select theaters.

Some Like it Hot

Directed by Song Xiaofei and Dong Xu

      A group of friends cope with the recent death of their friend (Deng Chao) by having a wild time. One of those friends (Xiao Yang), puts his marriage at risk when he falls for a sexy model, Yoyo (Clara Lee), behind his wife's (Dai Lele) back.

      A very loose Chinese remake of the classic Billy Wilder film, Some Like it Hot piles on the screwball comedy, but very little of it rises beyond a chuckle because it lacks both wit, edginess and risque. The opening scene sets up the film nicely with some comedy of errors and dark humor, though. Co-directors Song Xiaofei and Dong Xu make it very clear whom Yoyo is supposed to be a reference to when she's introduced by showing her dress lifted up by a breeze---although that's referring to a scene from The Seven Year Itch. Clara Lee is quite beautiful, yet she lacks the volumptuous sexiness and sizzle of Marilyn Munroe nor dor she have her comedic timing. There isn't a single scene here that pushes the envelope or that's memorable, even when one Han runs around the hotel almost completely naked. By playing the comedy too safely and lacking any quotable lines, this Chinese version of Some Like it Hot is slick, mildy amusing and occasionally zany, but it's mostly witless and underwhelming.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by China Lion.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.

Worlds Apart

Directed by Christopher Papakaliatis

      Three Greeks have chance encounters with strangers in three interconnected narratives set in Greece. Daphne (Niki Vakali), a young Greek woman, falls in love with Farris (Tawfeek Barhom), a Syrian refugee after he rescues her from an assault. Their relationship, though, is forbidden by her domineering, anti-immigrant father, Antonis (Minas Chatzisavvas). In the second narrative, Giorgios (Christopher Papakaliatis), a salesman for a struggling company, meets Elise (Andrea Osvart), a Scandavian woman, at a hotel bar and they end up sleeping together. Their affair becomes more than just a one night stand, though, when they gradually develop feelings for one another. Complicating matters further, she happens to be the efficiency expert in charge of laying off the employees at the company that he works at. In the third story, Maria (Maria Kavoyianni), a housewife in an unhappy marriage, converses with a friendly stranger, Sebastian, a retired professor from Germany, in front of a supermarket. They agree to meet once a week at the same day and time in front of the supermarket while sparking a friendship that blossoms into a sweet romance.

      Worlds Apart hooks you right from the get-go with an intense scene that's followed by a tender scene. Writer/director Christopher Papakaliatis has a knack for combining light and dark elements in a very humanistic and unpretentious way that's refreshing. He knows how to tell compelling stories with complex characters while avoiding stereotypes, melodrama and caricatures. Each character feels like a living and breathing human being; even Daphne's father who's the least likable character isn't painted as a cartoonish villain. The dialogue sounds natural and includes some witty humor, especially during the second and third stories. Moreover, you can feel the chemistry between each of the couples. Beneath the film's surface, though, there are sociopolitical and socioeconomic commentaries that provide plenty of food for thought and are quite timely, relatable and universal without being preachy.

      The third act of interconnected stories don't always work because they could seem tacked-on, but in the case of Worlds Apart, the third act feels organic and has a surprising twist that's plausible---no it's not an M. Night Shyamalan-style twists because Papakaliatis likes to keep things real and grounded in humanism. It's also helpful that the actors he cast, including himself, are both talented and charismatic, so you'll feel fully immersed in their stories onscreen. At a running time of 1 hour and 53 minutes, which breezes by like 90 minutes, Worlds Apart is powerful, engrossing and provocative with just the right blend of truth and spectacle. It's the rare kind of film that has a heart, mind and soul intact.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Cinema Libre Studio.
Opens at Village East Cinema.
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