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Reviews for January 27th, 2023

Documentary Round-Up

      Two documentaries related to the Holocaust open this week. They're both illuminating and vital, but only mildly engaging. Filmmakers for the Prosecution, is the more emotionally devastating of the two docs. It centers on the hunt for footage filmed by the Nazis to convict them during the Nuremberg Trial.  John Ford served as the  OSS film chief who commissioned Budd and Stuart Schulberg to find the footage which the Nazis, not surprisingly, tried hard to suppress and erase. This is one of those docs where the images speak louder than words, so although the talking-head interviews are insightful, the archival footage of the evidence resonates the most.  Unfortunately, director Jean-Christophe Klotz doesn't make the most out of the subject matter to turn it into a gripping, cinematic experience. Filmmakers for the Prosecution feels too dry and academic like the kind of film that you'd expect to watch in a history class before asking, "When is the exam??" There's nothing about it that requires you to see it on the big screen at DCTV Firehouse Cinema where it opens via Kino Lorber.

      On the other hand, the blandly, unimaginatively and vaguely titled Remember This is a stylishly-edited doc shot entirely in black-and-white in one room with only one table table, a few chairs, and David Strathairn portraying its documentary subject, Jan Karski, and a few other roles. The story of Jan Karski is fascinating. He witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust while in Poland and went on a long journey to expose the harsh truth of the crimes against humanity. It's frustrating to hear that he was met with disbelief when he told U.S. Justice Felix Frankfurter about the horrors. Strathairn gives a rather hammy performance--or rather performances--where you can feel the wheels of his acting turning (like Katharine Hepburn said about Meryl Streep: "Click, click click."), so that's a little distracting along with his shaky Polish accent---although it's not nearly as awful as Tom Hanks' accent in Elvis. Disappointingly, Remember This isn't very vivid or unflinching when it comes to the details of the Holocaust horrors that Jan Karski witnessed, so the doc isn't as hard-hitting as it could've been on an emotional level. It opens at Quad Cinema via Abramorama. On a side note, why couldn't these two docs open as a double feature? The first one only 52 minutes while the second is 95 minutes long. They would've made an ideal double feature.

Cairo Conspiracy

Directed by Tarik Saleh

      Adam (Tawfeek Barhom), the son of a fisherman, receives a scholarship to Al-Azhar University in Cairo. The Grand Imam dies, so there's a voting process to pick the new leader. Zizo (Mehdi Dehbi), one of Adam's classmates and new friends, happens working as an informant for Colonel Ibrahim (Fares Fares). When someone murders Zizo, Adam takes over his job as Colonel Ibrahim's informant, but he soon learns how much danger the job puts him in.

      Cairo Conspiracy suffers from a premise that sounds like it could be turned into a provocative, suspenseful and moving story. Instead, the screenplay by writer/director Tarik Saleh falls flat with only sporadic moments of suspense and intrigue. It does a subpar job of introducing Adam, his family and what his home life is like to the audience. The first act doesn't spend enough time with Adam in his small, seaside town in Egypt where his widowed father works as a fisherman. Adam's hopes and dreams are much bigger than the life of a fisherman, so, of course, he's excited to have a scholarship to the university in Cairo. What are the conditions of the scholarship? Is it a full scholarship? What if he loses the scholarship? The answers to those questions aren't very clear. A lot happens when he moves into the university dorm and befriends Zizo, but despite the plot's twists and turns, there's very little dramatic tension. Significant events like Zizo's murder don't generate much tension or suspense either, so this film seems like a squandered opportunity to become a Hitchcockian suspense thriller. Even Missing has a more captivating and riveting plot than Cairo Conspiracy. The dynamics between Adam and Colonel Ibrahim are mildly engaging, but Colonel Ibrihim, too, remains an underdeveloped character. Also, while Adam is at the university, how does his family back in the small town feel? Are they worried about him? How does Adam feel about being in a big city away from his family? Is he homesick? It's too bad that the screenplay fails to get inside Adam's heart, mind and soul to allow the audience to connect with him emotionally and, most importantly, to humanize him. Without that essential element, the third act's beats don't land and the film's attempts to be poignant feel contrived.

      The solid performances by Tawfeek Barhom and Fares Fares help to keep the audience at least somewhat engaged, but not enough to invigorate the film or to rise above the lackluster screenplay. There's nothing exceptional about the cinematography, music score, sound design, lighting or any other production values that could add both style and substance. Also, there are some pacing issues because the first act moves quickly while the second act moves slowly and the rushed third act picks up the pace a little. At a running time of 2 hours and 6 minutes, Cairo Conspiracy is mildly engaging and well-acted, but dramatically inert, shallow, and contrived while low on suspense and intrigue.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Opens in IFC Center.

Condor's Nest

Directed by Phil Blattenberger

      Will Spalding (Jacob Keohane), an American aviator, goes on a dangerous mission to South America to hunt down Nazi. He desperately searches for Condor's Nest, the Nazi's secret headquarters.

      Based on the premise alone, Condor's Nest sounds like it could be a suspenseful and exhilarating revenge thriller with adventure and intrigue. The screenplay by writer/director Phil Blattenberger leaves a lot to be desired. The plot unfolds chronologically with an intense action sequence before flashing forward to the meat of the story: Will's quest to find the Nazis hiding out in South America. Along the way, he meets others like Leyna (Corinne Britti) who can't be easily trusted. There are many characters here, but none of them are remotely compelling or well-developed enough for you to care about them as human beings. What follows is essentially a pedestrian B-movie that's merely going from Plot Point A to Plot Point B without allowing any scenes to breathe. The dialogue sounds stilted more often than not, there's too much on-the-nose dialogue, and not nearly enough levity or wit. The aforementioned opening scene during the prologue manages to be more gripping than the rest of the film. If you can imagine a bland, clunky and monotonous version of Inglourious Basterds minus the thrills and suspense, you'll get the idea of what it's like to watch Condor's Nest.

      The acting ranges from wooden to hammy with a few accents that are just plain terrible--just as distracting as Tom Hanks' cringe-inducing accent in Elvis. Those scenes with the awful accents will make you feel like you're watching a scene from a satire like Tropic Thunder or Hot Shots!, minus the laughs. There's nothing exceptional about the cinematography, lighting, music score or anything else that could elevate the film on a visceral level. It's nice to see the underrated and charismatic Arnold Vosloo here in brief scenes, but he's underused here; if only this were half as entertaining as the cult classic The Mummy which he co-stars in as the villain. At a running time of 1 hour and 39 minutes, which feels more like 3 hours, Condor's Nest is an anemic, by-the-numbers and clunky bore.

Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Saban Films.
Opens at Cinema Village and on VOD.


Directed by Deon Taylor

      Rom (Joseph Sikora) takes his girlfriend, Bianca (Annie Illonzeh), to spend the weekend at the Historic Strawberry Lodge in the Tahoe Mountains for her birthday. He surprises her with a party that includes his agent, Michael (Iddo Goldberg) and friends, Russ (Terrence Jenkins) and his wife, Megg (Jessica Allain),  Serina (Ruby Modine), Lou (Tip "T.I." Harris), Benny (Andrew Bachelor), Kim (Tyler Abron).  

      In case you haven't figured it out by now, Fear isn't a remake of the 1996 movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Whalberg with the exact same title. That film, though, has more scares and suspense than this completely unrelated one. Writer/director Deon Taylor and John Ferry start by introducing the audience to Rom as he's interviewed about a book he wrote about...guess what? Fear. Then there's a lengthy first act as you meet the other characters including Bianca whom Rom is too nervous to propose to after many failed attempts. He almost proposes to her when they arrive at the lodge, but he backs out at the last minute. From the moment that you meet the creepy innkeeper, Mrs. Wenrich (Michelle McCormick), you know that she's up to no good and can't be trusted. Of course, she gives Rom and his friends a special wine that she wants them to drink. When they gather outside at night in front of a bonfire to talk about their biggest fears one by one, you know precisely which direction the film will be headed in: having each of them face their fears throughout the film. Creepy events begin to happen soon after, but, unfortunately, there's very little that's palpably terrifying. Exposition is kept the a bare minimum when a little bit more backstory and imagination could've been helpful.  

      It's hard to watch Fear without thinking about far superior horror films like Sinister, The House on Haunted Hill, The Others, and, the cream of the crop, The Shining. Fear doesn't even hold a candle to any of those films which manage to get under your skin through psychological horror, intriguing mysteries and edge-of-year-seat suspense. It just seems to be going through the motions while treating its characters as plot devices without giving them enough depth or personality to humanize them. The most interesting character is the lodge itself, but even that "character" remained underdeveloped right through the rushed third act. That said, at least there are no bad laughs like in the recent sci-fi horror film The Devil Conspiracy.  

      In terms of visual style, the only part of Fear that uses images to be effectively creepy are during the opening credits and the action scene in the third act that takes place in a basement. Beyond that, there's nothing that stands out when it comes to production values. The CGI effects are fine and, fortunately, not overused. There's some blood and guts, but it's nothing that's shocking, bold or disgusting like in Terrifier 2, so writer/director Deon Taylor plays it pretty safe with the R-rated without going full throttle with the violence. The pace moves quickly which means that you won't be too bored even when the story and characters fail to engage you. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, Fear is uninspired, dull, tedious and, above all, not scary. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Hidden Empire Releasing.
Opens nationwide.

Infinity Pool

Directed by Brandon Cronenberg

      James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård), an author suffering from writer's block, goes on a vacation to an island resort with his wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman). They meet and befriend Gabi (Mia Goth) and her husband, Alban (Jalil Lespert), and spend time with them on a secluded beach. Later that night, James strikes and kills a pedestrian while driving Em, Gabi and Alban. Gabi persuades him to flee the scene. The next day, local authorities arrest all four of them and take them to prison. James has the option of either facing the death penalty or watching his doppleganger get killed. He chooses the latter which sets off a course of wild, depraved events.

      If you thought last year's The Menu and Triangle of Sadness were dark, subversive and bitter satires that go bonkers, wait until you see Infinity Pool. Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg lets you know that you're in for something unconventional from the very beginning because the first 30 seconds or so have dialogue in total darkness. You have no idea who's talking to whom or what's the location until James opens the curtains in the hotel room. By eschewing a first act that would've shown James and Em's life back at home, Cronenberg cuts right to the meat of the story without any filler. If you're seen horror films, you know that there's more to Gabi than meets the eye and that she's seducing James with an ulterior motive. Precisely what that motive turns out to be what makes Infinity Pool so complex and compelling. To describe the plot wouldn't do it any justice because it's more than just the sum of its parts. It's the kind of film that transcends its genre of sci-fi, horror and satire.

      There are shades of Eyes Wide Shut and Us in Infinity Pool, with just as much surrealism. What's real? What's not? Cronenberg frequently blurs the line between both realms which makes for an equally mysterious, intriguing and frustrating experience. There are no easy answers because he keeps exposition to a minimum without much over-explaining, so he clearly trusts your intelligence---except for a scene when Gabi sits down with James to explain Alban's past while also referencing the titular infinity pool. He doesn't leave much to the imagination when it comes to nudity and gore, though, which there's plenty of. Some of the images might shock you, but that's part of the point because Infinity Pool boldly pushes the envelope from start to finish. It also works as a character study of an insecure man who's being infantilized and degraded by a controlling, masochistic woman who won't let him escape from her clutches so easily.

      On a purely aesthetic level, Infinity Pool is drenched into visual style from the lighting to the set design, landscape, use of color, cinematography and costume design. It's overwhelming, at times, because there's so much for your eyes and ears to take in all at once. You'll also find some symbolism, i.e. water, which leaves some food for thought. Alexander Skarsgård is well-cast in the role of James. He's charismatic, slick and suave while also vulnerable during the more emotionally resonating scenes. Mia Goth is super, once again, after wowing audiences in Pearl. She sinks her teeth into the complex role of Gabi with aplomb--in many ways, Gabi is cut from the same cloth as Pearl. At a running time of 1 hour and 57 minutes, Infinity Pool is spellbinding and exhilarating. It's a wildly entertaining, audacious and provocative trip down the rabbit hole.

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


Directed by Jérome Salle

      Mathieu Roussel (Gilles Lellouche), a French diplomat and director of Alliance Française, lives in Irkutsk, Russia with his wife, Alice (Elisa Lasowski) and daughter, Rose (Olivia Malahieude). Russia's FSB plants evidence, a.k.a. kompromat, that leads to his arrest for child pornography and for sexually molesting Rose. He gets a lawyer, Borodin (Aleksey Gorbunov), to represent him, but his desperate attempts to prove his innocence become futile.

      Based on a true story, the screenplay by writer/director Jérôme Salle and co-writer Caryl Ferey begins with a creepy, foreboding scene in the woods where someone shoots at something that the audience can't see. It's an effective scene because it sets the film's dark tone. Mathieu has a wife, a daughter and a job that keeps him financially secure. All of that is turned upside down in an instant when FSB agents arrive without warning to arrest him and throw him in prison for crimes that he didn't commit. The filmmakers do a great job of getting the audience on Mathieu's side to root for him. He's like David vs. many Goliaths. Since you know that he's innocent, that makes his struggles even more palpable. What happens after he gets sent to prison, won't be spoiled here,- but I will say that it morphs into a Jason Bourne-esque action thriller with some lengthy chases. The plot does get a bit convoluted and less plausible when it comes to Mathieu's relationship with Svetlana (Joanna Kulig) who happens to be in an unhappy relationship. Her father happens to be someone very important to the plot. Oh, and she happens to hate her father. There are simply too many coincidences. Then there's a scene near the end with her and Mathieu in the backseat of a car which is so preposterous that it's unintentionally funny. Given the circumstances that Matthieu is in, what happens there seems out-of-character and might tempt you to yell at the screen, "What are you doing?? There's no time for that right now!" In yet another poorly-written scene, one of the bad guys suddenly has a crisis of conscience, confesses his actions and apologizes for them. It seems out of character for him to do that because he's a malignant narcissist, so it's not only a very poor attempt to humanize him, it also nearly derails the film like that over-the-top scene in Jaws where the mother of a shark victim goes on a long, angry tirade against the mayor. Fortunately, those aforementioned very contrived scenes are just systematic, not systemic issues.

      Gilles Lellouche is very well cast as the lead in Kompromat because he exudes charisma, panache, strength and fragility concurrently. It's refreshing to see a crime thriller that doesn't star Liam Neeson, although one could easily see Liam Neeson in the role of Mathieu as well. The cinematography, lighting and music score enhance the film's very dark and grim tone. This isn't the kind of movie that offers much room for the audience to breathe, i.e. through comic relief. It's unflinching and heartbreaking more often than not. At a running time of 2 hours and 7 minutes, Kompromat is a gritty, riveting and relentlessly intense crime thriller that will keep you at the edge of your seat.

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

Life Upside Down

Directed by Cecilia Miniucchi

      Jonathan Wigglesworth (Bob Odenkirk), an art dealer, struggles to make ends meet during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles. He lives with his wife, Sue (Jeanie Lim), and cheats on her with Clarissa Cranes (Radha Mitchell), a college professor. Paul (Danny Huston), Clarissa's friend, agrees to buy a painting from Jonathan, but rescinds his offer when the pandemic strikes. He's stuck in a stale marriage with Rita (Rosie Fellner). Meanwhile, Clarissa flirts with her sexy tenant, Darius (Cyrus Pahlavi).

      There have been many films set during the Covid-19 pandemic the past two years. Some are dark, unflinching and profound, like The Same Storm, Traveling Light and The Pink Cloud while others take the more breezy and lighter route. Life Upside Down is the latter. Despite the title, it has very little to say that's interesting about love, marriage, art, the economy, the pandemic or friendships. Jonathan isn't very likable because he cheats on his wife with no shame. He seems emotionally immature compared to Clarissa, although it makes little sense what she sees in him to begin with. Does she not mind being a homewrecker? There's too little dramatic tension even on the film's surface, so the narrative barely has any momentum. Writer/director Cecilia Miniucchi fails to get inside any of the characters' heart, mind and soul to allow the audience to see their inner struggles. Moreover, Jonathan's wife remains on the sidelines with not nearly enough scenes which dehumanizes her. Is she not a human being, too? She must be going through a lot emotionally like her husband, but Life Upside Down lacks the courage and emotional generosity to dig deeper and tackle its issues head-on. There's also not nearly enough comic relief or wit, so the film becomes dry, monotonous and lethargic. The third act wraps things up too quickly in a way that feels too pat, sugar-coated and hackneyed without even coming close to earning its uplift.

      Sometimes a romantic drama can overcome its vapid, anemic screenplay with lively performances. Unfortunately, that's not the case here. Radha Mitchell gives a decent performance as does Danny Huston, but Bob Odenkirk's performance is a bit flat and dull, much like Jonathan himself. Perhaps that's a problem that stems from the screenplay, but, either way, Odenkirk doesn't manage to rise above it nor does he have enough charisma to keep the film afloat. Danny Huston is terrific, as usual, but he's also undermined by the weak screenplay that fails to bring his role to life. He has a much more interesting character in the underrated, far more bold and moving film Traveling Light that opened last year. The use of technology, i.e. iphones, Zoom, etc, to film the scenes are impressive, though. There are behind-the-scenes clips during the end credits which are much more entertaining and illuminating than anything within the film itself. At a running time of 1 hour and 32 minutes, Life Upside Down is harmless, light and breezy, but witless, shallow and dull.


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by IFC Films.
Opens at IFC Center and on VOD.

The Man in the Basement

Directed by Philippe Le Guay

      Simon Sandberg (Jérémie Renier) and his wife, Hélène (Bérénice Bejo), a Jewish couple, sell their cellar to Jacques Fonzic (François Cluzet), a former history teacher. Little do they know that he's a Holocaust denier until after the sale. As they deal with the legal red tape to evict him and rescind the sale, Jacques befriends their teenage daughter, Justine (Victoria Eber).

      The screenplay by writer/director Philippe Le Guay as well as co-writers Gilles Taura and Marc Weitzmann doesn't waste any time with a lengthy first act. In the opening scene, Simon shows Jacques arriving around the cellar before negotiating a price for him to buy it. The audience knows as much about Jacques' background as Simons does, so when Simon learns that he's a Holocaust denier and discovers the reason why he was fired from his job as a history professor, you're on the same page as him which makes it easier to connect with him emotionally. When he's angry, you're angry. When he's frustrated, you're frustrated. The suspense doesn't come from whether or not Jacques is a Holocaust denier and antisemite, but what boundaries he'll cross to get what he wants. Simon has a family to protect, after all, so it's reasonable for him to be concerned when his daughter, Justine, talks to Jacques. The screenwriters do a great job of not painting Jacques as a villain. Yes, he's unlikable, rude, narcissistic, selfish and full of hatred, but he's also intelligent, cunning and charismatic. Simon's legal battles with him are full of twists and turns that turn a seemingly simple issue into something far more complex and complicated.

      It's fascinating how Jacques provokes Simon while trying to reverse the order of Victim/Offender. Simon is imperfect too--he doesn't tell everything he knows about Jacques in a timely fashion which, understandable, irritates her once she becomes aware of that. He's not always very bright because there's one scene where he goes to the police to report a hate crime after erasing the evidence himself without even taking a photo of it. No evidence means no proof. Just when you think that Simon is one step closer to cancelling the sale and evicting Jacques, he suffers setbacks that sink him deeper into frustration. He's clearly going through a lot emotionally during this ordeal. His tug-of-war with Jacques reveals a lot about his personality, his character and morals while compelling you to question whether or not he's a decent human being. That moral ambiguity along with the un-Hollywood ending which won't be spoiled here, makes The Man in the Basement, a thought-provoking, above-average thriller.

      Jérémie Renier gives a solid performance as Simon. He handles the emotional complexities of his role very convincingly. The same can be said about François Cluzet who's playing against type while breathing life into Jacques who's sometimes creepy and sometimes charming. Bérénice Bejo also gives a superb performance as Simon's wife, Hélène. Each of their performances adds emotional depth which helps you to see the characters as human beings. The film moves at just the right pace without any scenes that drag or meander. Moreover, it avoids shaky-cam, jump scares or blood & gore to entertain the audience. At a running time of 1 hour and 54 minutes, The Man in the Basement is a suspenseful, engrossing and provocative psychological thriller. It would be a great double feature with Tell No One and Arlington Road.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Greenwich Entertainment.
Opens in Quad Cinema.

Maybe I Do

Directed by Michael Jacobs

      Howard (Richard Gere) cheats on his wife, Grace (Diane Keaton), with Monica (Susan Sarandon). Grace cheats on Howard with Monica's husband, Sam (William H. Macy). Little do Howard and Grace know that their daughter, Michelle (Emma Roberts), might be marrying her boyfriend, Allen (Luke Bracey), who happens to be the son of Sam and Monica.

      Maybe I Do has a premise that sounds like it could be a funny screwball comedy. All of the potential is there. The screenplay by writer/director Michael Jacobs squanders that opportunity with too many scenes that fall flat from clunkiness, cringiness and banality. Even some of the lines that try to be witty and wise, like a pithy aphorism that Sam says to Allen during a heart-to-heart with him, feel contrived and tacked-on. This is the kind of film where you can sense the wheels of the screenplay turning every step of the way. None of the characters come to life because the screenplay does a poor job of providing a window into their heart, mind and soul--you get glimpses that tease you, though, i.e. in the opening scene where Sam cries while watching a foreign film at a movie theater. It turns out that his crying merely serves as a catalyst for him to meet Grace who sees him crying alone and moves next to him to talk to him. That already makes Grace come across as a toxic person--not only because she's talking during a movie!--but also because she's interrupting Sam's crying while also invading his privacy. Maybe he wanted to be alone and cry. He has every right to cry. Interestingly, the audience doesn't know right away that Monica is his wife when you see her in a hotel room with Howard in the next scene. It's only about 10 minute later when you realize who his wife is and who Grace's husband is. Why hide that information from the audience? If it were played for laughs, that would've been a good reason to hide it, but it does not lead to any laughs, just confusion, so, without properly introducing the characters, the initial scenes don't quite work as effectively. Even the inevitable scene where Howard and Grace come over for dinner to meet Allen's parents for the first time is a painfully unfunny attempt at screwball comedy. Howard Hawks is rolling in his grave.

      Since all of the parents are cheating, none of them are particularly likeable unless they were to talk about open marriages, but, alas they don't even discuss their thoughts on that elephant in the room. They're also not the kind of people who you'd want to be around for long because they lack boundaries, introspection and emotional maturity. Why would Grace even want to marry a man whose parents cheated on each other with her parents? How does she know that he won't cheat on her in the future? More importantly, is it too much to ask for a filmmaker to see and treat the characters like human beings? By the time the end credits roll, you feel like you've barely gotten to know any of these characters. Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, and William H. Macy are wonderful actors who deserve much better material and have already been in far better films: Richard Gere in Unfaithful and Pretty Woman, Susan Sarandon in the underrated Romance & Cigarettes, Diane Keaton in Annie Hall and Manhattan, and William H. Macy in Pleasantville. In a double-feature with any of those films, Maybe I Do would be the vastly inferior B-movie. There's definitely a shortage of romcoms made for adults these days; Maybe I Do isn't a step in the right direction, though. At a running time of 1 hour and 35 minutes, it's painfully unfunny, cringe-inducing and shallow despite a fine ensemble cast.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Vertical Entertainment.
Opens nationwide.


Directed by Mario Martone

      Felice Lasco (Pierfrancesco Favino) arrives in Naples after 40 years of living in Cairo with his wife, Arlette (Sofia Essaïdi), to visit his mother, Teresa (Aurora Quattrocchi). He also wants to confront his childhood friend, Oreste Spasiano (Tommaso Ragno), who's now a dangerous crime boss, with the help of a local priest, Don Luigi (Francesco Di Leva).

      Based on the novel by Ermanno Rea, the screenplay by writer/director Mario Martone and co-writer Ippolita Di Majo begins as a captivating character study of a man who's trying to make sense of his past. Why did Felice leave Naples 40 years ago? What has he been up to since then? What was his friendship with Orese like back in their childhood? Why didn't they keep in touch? Nostalgia takes its time to answer those questions, but once it answers them well before the third act, the dramatic momentum loses steam and goes around in circles while anemia seeps in. A major event like the death of Felice's mom happens so quickly that it trivializes it while concurrently dehumanizing his mother. Felice doesn't even seem to take time to breathe. Meanwhile, he's bottling a lot of anger toward Oreste, but the screenplay does a poor job of getting inside of Felice's head to understand him better. What does he really want from Oreste? Everyone advises him not to meet Oreste, yet he's too stubborn to listen to their good advice. Why doesn't he seek therapy? Why confront a narcissist? He knows how dangerous Oreste is, so why put himself in harm's way? He's not very emotionally mature. It's also unclear what his relationship with his wife is like. She remains on the sidelines and underdeveloped like most of the women in the film. There are more than a few flashbacks which are used for expositional purposes, but they're distracting and clunky more often than not. Unfortunately, Nostalgia is the kind of film that has a lot of interesting ideas, but doesn't know where to take them to. The ending tries hard to be bold, shocking and bitter. However, when it can be seen from a mile away, it's not even close to shocking; it's a lazy cop-out that leaves a bad aftertaste.

      Nostalgia is lucky to have Pierfrancesco Favino as Felice because he adds a lot of gravitas, warmth and charisma to the role. The modicum of poignancy doesn't come from the screenplay, but rather from his performance. He barely breathes life into the screenplay which, sadly, remains monotonous without much in terms of levity. It's too bad that the filmmakers don't design enough of a window into Felice's heart, mind and soul because Favino is the kind of actor who's capable of tackling a wide range of emotions. The pace moves slowly at times and quickly at other times, i.e. during the rushed death of Felice's mother. Then there are scenes that last too long like that final scene that makes its point and then the camera lingers on the final image for what seems like an eternity. The cinematography is fine, but nothing exceptional. At a running time of nearly 2 hours, Nostalgia is well-acted and initially intriguing, but ultimately undercooked, anemic and low on suspense.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Breaking Glass Pictures.
Opens in select theaters.