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Reviews for January 27th, 2017

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Reviews for January 27th, 2017

Documentary Round-Up

      The Age of Consequences focuses on how climate change affects national security in the U.S. as well as geopolitical instability in foreign countries. Food shortages, water shortages, Hurricane Sandy and Katrina, and other catastrophes caused by climate change have been an impediment in the peace processes within America and abroad. Director Jared P. Scott takes a rather alarmist approach that lacks any balance and thorough analysis, much like Michael Moore's docs before Who Do We Invade Next?. The overbearing musical score tells you how to feel and gives you the sensation that you're watching a suspense thriller. Talking heads, which include former military officers, make interesting observations, but the insights quickly become repetitive while the shock value diminishes. Scott offers very little in terms of solutions; there's a lot onscreen to make you scared and angry, though, but too much anger and fear can be exhausting as well as blinding. Past documentaries about climate change, i.e. Before the Flood and An Inconvenient Truth were much more powerful while using more statistics and providing more practical solutions for the laymen. The Age of Consequences is stylishly edited and timely, but it fails to be inspirational or truly enlightening. It opens at Cinema Village.

Buddies in India

Directed by Wang Baoqiang

      To save his home from being demolished by a construction company, Wu Kong (Wang Baoqiang) joins Tang Sen (Bai Ke), the son of the company's dying CEO, on a quest to find the will of Tang's father. He hid the will all the way in India, so Wu Kong an Tang go on an adventure while teaming up with Zhu “Piggy” Tianteng (Yue Yunpeng) and Wu Jing (Liu Yan) and trying to avoid getting killed by assassins along the way.

      Although Buddies in India is delightfully zany without taking itself too seriously, it's much more silly and, eventually, exhausting and tedious rather than consistently funny. The action scenes and the bright colors of set and costume designs provide some eye candy. There's also some Bollywood-style song-and-dance numbers. Writer/director Wang Baoqiang moves the pace along swiftly and includes a few hilarious, inventive sight gags, but it's not enough to carry the film into guilty pleasure territory. Fortunately, at 1 hour anad 39 minutes, Buddies in India isn't as lengthy as nearly 3-hour long Bollywood films because if it were longer, it would have overstayed its welcome even more than it already does.

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

The Daughter

Directed by Simon Stone

      Christian (Paul Schneider), a divorced, recovering alcoholic, returns to his small hometown in South Whales to be the best man at the wedding of his estranged father, Henry Neilson (Geoffrey Rush), the owner of a mill. He rekindles his friendship with Oliver Finch (Ewen Leslie) who happens to have been recently laid off from working at Henry's mill. Oliver has a wife, Charlotte (Miranda Otto), a troubled teenage daughter, Hedvig (Odessa Young), and a father-in-law, Walter (Sam Neill).

      Based on the play "The Wild Duck" by Henrik Ibsen, The Daughter, the screenplay by writer/director Simon Stone bites off more than it could chew as it shows how the dysfunctional families crumble in different ways. Each character has his or her own demons to wrestle with, but the stilted, unsubtle dialogue doesn't bring any of the characters to life nor does it explore any of the dark themes that it teases the audience with. The convincingly moving performances by everyone onscreen are undermined by the weak screenplay. Sometimes strong performances can compensate for a screenplay that lacks depth, but that's not the case here. It's alright for a film not to have any 100% decent, likable characters because flawed characters are the ones who are more intriguing in the long run. However, in order to care about a flawed character, the audience needs to find a window into their head which The Daughter doesn't achieve, unfortunately. To top it all off, the third act falls apart because it feels over-the-top and has a cliffhanger that leaves you with a bad aftertaste.

      Stone does deserve applause, though, for not shying away from dark territory and for trusting the audience's imagination during a powerful scene that doesn't show the violence of a gunshot, just the sound of the gun going off in the distance. Moreover, there's something eerie about the landscape and the quietness of the small town which helps to enrich the film. At a running time of 1 hour and 37 minutes, which feels more like 2 hours, is a contrived, undercooked and overstuffed drama that can't be saved by its moving performances.

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

A Dog's Purpose

Directed by Lasse Hallström


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Universal Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

Get the Girl

Directed by Eric England


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Vertical Entertainment.
Opens at Cinema Village.

I Am Michael

Directed by Justin Kelly


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

The King

Directed by Han Jae-rim

      After getting into a lot of fights during his high school years and witnessing a prosecutor beating up his father, Park Tae-soo (Jo In-seong) finds the determination to study hard to become a prosecutor himself. He passes the bar exam, and gets hired to work with other prosecutors under Han Kang-sik (Jung Woo-sung). Everything changes when he reluctantly agrees to let a gym teacher accused of sexual assault get away with his crime in exchange for money because the gym teacher's father is a politician. His first taste of corruption within the justice and political surely won't be his last as Han leads him down a slippery slope while offering him plenty of booze and sexy women. A notorious gangster, Kim Eung-soo (Kim Eui-song), also gets away with crime while colluding with the prosecutors. Park's childhood friend, Choi Du-il (Ryu Jun-yeol), shows up and rekindles their old friendship. Meanwhile, Ahn Hee-yoon (Kim So-jin), an anti-corruption prosecutor, investigates him and uses him as a pawn to try to capture a bigger chess piece, Han.

      The King treads the familiar ground of films about people getting seduced by money and power, but there's nothing wrong with following a formula as long as it's done with skill and style as is the case here. Jo In-seong is perfectly cast as Park Tae-soo because he's got charisma and tackles the character's vulnerability and strength with conviction. The same can be said about Jung Woo-sung who plays an unlikable character in a thoroughly captivating way. Director Han Jae-rim wisely hooks the audience by beginning the film in the future when Park gets into a car crash before flashing back to show you what led to that crash. Instead of starting with the moment that Park became a prosecutor, he goes back even further to Park's childhood which had a huge impact on Park's adult life. Those scenes help you to understand the motivations of Park even if you can't relate to his decisions per se. He's someone who's battling his own conscience even though his conscience loses the battle more often than not. At least his conscience briefly rises to the surface via voice-over narration where he shows regret for his past actions. Whether or not he's truly remorseful is up to interpretation, though. His complexity makes him an increasingly interesting and intriguing character.

      Director Han Jae-rim finds just the right balance between drama and action/violence. There are a few bloody scenes that look quite grisly, but it's not over-the-top nor distracting from the film's dramatic momentum. He's also unafraid to explore the darker side of human nature and to take the story into unexpectedly cynical albeit plausible territory which won't be spoiled here so that the twists won't be ruined. The weakest aspect of The King is when it comes to the underdeveloped relationship between Park and his wife, Sang-Hee (Kim Ah-jung), but that's a minor issue. At a running time of 134 minutes, which feels more like 90 minutes, The King manages to be a slick, gripping and provocative drama. It would make for a great double feature with the equally powerful and entertaining Korean film, Inside Men.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by On Demand Korea.
Opens at AMC Empire.

Kung Fu Yoga

Directed by Stanley Tong


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Well Go USA.
Opens at AMC Empire.

Lost in Florence

Directed by Evan Oppenheimer


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Orion Pictures.
Opens at Village East Cinema.

Paris 05:59: Theo and Hugo

Directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau


The film was not available for me at press time, but I will watch it when it streams on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Hopefully, it's better than the overrated Moonlight and as haunting as Weekend or Blue is the Warmest Color.

Number of times I checked my watch: ??
Released by Wolfe Releasing.
Opens at IFC Center.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson


There's very little to say about a franchise that has worn out its welcome. If you've seen the prior Resident Evil films, you've already seen this one. Awful performances, with the exception of the well-cast, scene-stealing Iain Glen as the bad guy, along with poorly shot action sequences, weak dialogue, excessive exposition and too much shaky-cam make Resident Evil: The Final Chapter shallow, nauseating bore. It's no wonder that it wasn't pre-screened for critics!

Number of times I checked my watch: 7
Released by Screen Gems.
Opens nationwide.

The Salesman

Directed by Asghar Farhadi

      Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and his wife, Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), move into a new apartment after their old apartment building is on the verge of collapsing. They spend part of their time acting together in a local theatrical production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman." One day, Rana hears the apartment buzzer ring, assumes it's Emad, and goes into the bathroom to take a shower. When Emad returns, he noticed a trail of blood on the stairs leading into the bathroom and notices that Rana has been assaulted. She refuses to report the incident to the police, though, so Eman takes matters into his own hands to investigate whom assaulted her.

      Writer/director Asghar Farhadi has once again weaved a slow-burning, intelligent suspense thriller centered around a crumbling marriage. Just like in A Separation, he withholds the main incident to the viewer thereby leaving a lot left to the audience's imagination and gradually building the suspense as more and more details become revealed. The plot takes a very interesting, unpredictable turn when Emad discovers a crucial clue that could lead him to his wife's assailant. What precisely happens after that point won't be spoiled here, but so much happens during the last 20 minutes of the film with even more twists that it feels a bit contrived and "cinematic." Everything until that point, though, felt thoroughly engrossing, refreshingly and true to life, especially thanks to the very natural performances by Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti. It's those performances that elevate the film sinks into implausibility in the third act.

      Fortunately, Farhadi is the kind of director who believes in the power of humanism in all its forms, and he's unafraid to explore the dark side of human nature. The characters are complex and seem like human beings. Their actions are just as complex and open to interpretation when it comes to their morals. If you're familiar with "Death of a Salesman," it would help because you'll notice the parallels between the play and The Salesman. Interestingly, Farhadi chooses to not include a musical score. In other words, he trusts the audience's emotions during each scene, so he doesn't try to tell you how to feel. The lack of a soundtrack and the slow pacing might take a while for some viewers to get used to initially, but be patient: Farhadi's films are like a fine wine. At a running time of just over 2 hours, The Salesman has just enough of a balance between truth and spectacle to be worthy of its Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

     On a separate, but related note, it's a disgrace to America's democracy and to humanity that Donald Trump, "Das Führer," has banned immigrants from 7 Muslim countries from entering America. Asghar Farhadi currently lives in one of those countries, Iran, so he will not be permitted to enter the United States to attend the Oscar ceremony next month unless the ban were lifted. It's no hyperbole to observe that America is looking more and more like early 1930's Germany. If you condone Trump's Muslim immigrant ban, it would be accurate to say that you're a "Good German." Our founding fathers are rolling in their graves along with Orson Welles.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Cohen Media Group and Amazon Studios.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Un Padre No Tan Padre

Directed by Raul Martinez

      Don Servando (Héctor Bonilla), a grumpy octogenarian, gets kicked out of his retirement home after assaulting an employee and being unable to pay to continue living there. Among his five children, only Francisco (Benny Ibarra), his youngest son, agrees to take him in. Little does he know that Franciso leads a hippie lifestyle. He's unmaried, despite living with his girlfriend, Alma (Jacqueline Bracamontes), for over a decade. Eight other people also live together with him and Alma. Gradually, Don Servando learns how to loosen up and to get along with his estranged son, Francisco.

      Un Padre No Tan Padre treads familiar ground, but it follows the formula in a way that's tender, warm, witty and refreshingly honest. Each character has flaws and issues of his/her own to deal with which makes them all the more interesting and relatable as human beings. The screenplay by Alberto Bremer establishes Don Servando's meanspiritness clearly from the get-go. He's far from alikeable character initially, but he becomes increasingly likable as the film progresses, so please be patient. Bremer wisely avoids turning him into a one-note caricature or a "monster." There's a backstory to Don Servando that explains a lot about why he's so angry and bitter. The screenplay also deftly balances the drama and comedy while avoiding schmaltz, melodrama and being overstuffed with too many subplots.

      One of Un Padre No Tan Padre greatest assets is the bravura performance by Héctor Bonilla as Don Servando. He essentially becomes Don Servando in every singly frame of the film. If you look into his eyes, you can sense that there's an entire world of emotions going on inside of him. The fact that he manages to successfully find the emotional truth of his role is a testament to his amazing talent as an actor. Each actor and actress, though, gets his or her chance to shine, so this film is a true ensemble. Perhaps it could also work as a play.

      Bravo to the Alberto Bremer and director Raul Martinez for grounding Un Padre No Tan Padre in humanism while keeping audiences entertained without car chases, explosions or flying superheroes. The film's quiet moments turn out to be its most powerful ones. There's a beautiful, wise and emotionally resonating scene near the end when Don Servando and Francisco sit down to have a private conversation. With a less sensitive screenplay, that scene would have felt contrived, corny and/or clunky instead of natural. The filmmakers understand the concept of "less is more": this story unfolds in only 90 minutes, and no scene overstays its welcome. This is the kind of film that's filled with Truth and Spectactle, but you have to be perceptive enough to look within the Truth to find the Spectactle. Un Padre No Tan Padre would make for an interesting double feature with The Birdcage, another ensemble family dramedy about the clash between two very different lifestyles. They also both make great use of the song "We Are Family" by the Pointer Sisters.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Pantelion Films.
Opens nationwide.

Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions

Directed by Satoshi Kuwabara


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by 4K Media Group.
Opens in select theaters.
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