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Reviews for July 14th, 2017

Documentary Round-Up

      Did you know that each day 22 vets commit suicide? Soldiers risk their lives to fight in wars, but their most challenging battles take place when they return from war. Almost Sunrise sheds light on the issue of Moral Injury, the guilt and shame that soldiers feel when they return service. If those vets were to have been diagnosed and treated for Moral Injury instead of for PTSD, they could've been alive today. Director Michael Collins follows Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson, two Iraq War veterans, who journey across America by foot as they struggle to deal with their traumatic wartime experiences. Their journey is both a mental and physical one. Along the way, they converse with other veterans and talk candidly about their past traumas and how it has affected them. Almost Sunrise isn't the kind of doc that presents you with an issue just to enrage you or to point fingers; it enlightens and moves you while also providing practical solutions. Throughout the film, you're able to see how the solutions truly do work by getting to the root of veterans' emotional and psychological trauma. Tom discovers holistic therapies for Moral Injury, such as breathing exercises, and Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk, who counsels him and other vets. He undergoes a major breakthrough when he learns how to forgive himself. Regardless of how you feel about war, Almost Sunrise is one of the most heartfelt and enlightening documentaries of the year. It should be mandatory for all soldiers to it watch prior to enlistment. Argot Pictures opens it at IFC Center.

      The Wrong Light, directed by Josie Swantek Heitz and Dave Adams, centers on COSA, an NGO in Thailand run by Mickey Choothesa. It claims to provide refuge and education for young girls who were rescued from brothels. Choothesa claims to be heroicly saving girls from the human sex trafficking industry. However, as the filmmakers discover inconsistencies in what he says about how and where he found the girls after interviewing their parents, it becomes increasingly clear that he's hiding something. Just when you think that The Wrong Light will be like any other human rights doc about sex trafficking, i.e. I Am Jane Doe, it turns into a mystery/thriller once the truth about Choothesa's NGO rise to the surface and he can no longer be trusted. The emphasis on the mystery behind COSA remains on the forefront while the stories of the young girls get sidelined. Some of the girls seem reluctant to talk about what they've really been through for reasons that rise to the surface later. Is The Wrong Light as moving and suspenseful as last year's under-seen doc The Abolitionists? No, but it comes close. Like in some horror films, the filmmakers briefly foreshadow the events to come by showing the brief aftermath of Heitz learning about something shocking without revealing what that shocking discovery is before introducing you to Choothesa's NGO. By the end of the film, though, you'll never look at an NGO the same way again. The Wrong Light opens at Cinema Village via The Cinema Guild.

Endless Poetry

Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky


Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by ABKO Films.
Opens at Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

False Confessions

Directed by Luc Bondy

      Madame Araminte (Isabelle Huppert), a wealthy widow, hires Dorante (Louis Garrel) as her personal secretary. Dubois (Yves Jacques). Araminte's valet who used to work for Dorante, encourages him to woo Araminte's younger friend, Marton (Manon Combes) even though he pines for Araminte. Meanwhile, Madame Argante (Bulle Ogier), Araminte's mother, wants Araminte to marry Count Dorimont (Jean-Pierre Malo).

      Based on the play by Marivoux, False Confessions boldly changes the time the play takes place at from the 18th Century to the 21st Century while keeping the dialogue the same. The result is a drama that fails to come to life despite the talents of its cast. Isabelle Huppert does her best to try to rise above the material with her charisma, but her attempts are futile. The same can be said for Louis Garrel, although it's nice to see him and Huppert together again after Ma Mere. Unfortunately, none of the characters exude warmth or anything that allows you to care about them as human beings. The complicated plot filled with hidden agendas would have been fertile ground for a screwball comedy instead of a serious drama that tries to blur the line between cinema and theater. Last week's drama The Rehearsal did a better job of that accomplishing that, though, without inducing boredom.

      On a positive note, the cinematography and lavish costume/set designs are a treasure to behold. You can turn the sound off and merely observe the visual aesthetics which are more captivating than any other aspect of the film. Sometimes style can become substance, but that's not the case for False Confessions. At a running time of 85 minutes, which feels more like 2 hours, False Confessions is stodgy, convoluted and cold with excessive style over substance.

Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Big World Pictures.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.


Directed by Kostia Testut and Paul Calori

      Julie (Pauline Etienne) just started her new job working at a shoe factory. She and her coworkers learn that the company is about to be sold and, therefore, they could lose their jobs. She must decide whether or not to risk her job by joining her colleagues when they stage a walkout to demand speaking to the company's CEO, Xavier Laurent (Loic Corbery), face to face. Samy (Olivier Chantreau), a truck driver, fancies Julie, but she's not quite ready yet to become romantically involved with him. Clémentine Yelnik plays her supervisor, Francois Morel plays the manager, Felicien.

      Footnotes takes an underdog story, similar to Norma Rae, and gives it a refreshingly buoyant musical spin while omitting much of the grit. Small character details like how Francoise constantly chews on a toothpick while speaking help to enrich the film and make the characters stand out. Everyone on screen is very well cast, even those in the supporting roles like Francois Morel. Could the plot of been darker and digged deeper into Julie's struggles? Yes, but that wouldn't have complimented its delightful, upbeat tone. Kudos to writer/directors Kostia Testut and Paul Calori for blending just the right amount of musical numbers, drama and comic relief in a way that avoids clunkiness and melodrama.

      If you couldn't stand the over-the-top, awkward and gaudy musical numbers in La La Land, you'll appreciate that the ones here are less showy and more charming. Even if you can see the ending from a mile away, that doesn't mean that you won't enjoy what you're saying. As Roger Ebert once wisely observed, it's what a movie's plot is isn't as important as how it goes about its plot. Captivating, enchanting, and whimsical, Footnotes is one of the year's most delightful surprises.

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

Lady Macbeth

Directed by William Oldroyd


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Roadside Attractions.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

War for the Planet of the Apes

Directed by Matt Reeves


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by 20th Century Fox.
Opens nationwide.

Wu Kong

Directed by Derek Kwok

      Sun Wu Kong (Eddie Peng) arrives at Immortal Mountain in hopes of destroying the Divine Astrolabe. Yang Jian (Shawn Yue), who's in the process of becoming immortal, along with Hua Ji (Faye Yu), Zi Xia (Ni Ni), and Tian Peng (Ou Hao), try to stop him from destroying the astrolabe which controls everyone's destiny. Wu Kong will not give up the fight to complete his mission, so he fights against those who stand in his way.

      Wu Kong is essentially an origin story of The Monkey King. Although the screenplay includes some exposition, it doesn't dwell too much on it. You'll find enough rousing action scenes to whet your appetite. Yes, the film is shallow and any attempts to generate pathos fall flat, but those are forgivable flaws. Also, the action scenes don't last too long enough to become exhausting like in the overproduced Transformers: The Last Knight. Much like the action adventures of The Monkey King, i.e. Journey to the West, Wu Kong is escapist fun with dazzling visual effects that provide a lot of eye candy. It's a rush of pure adrenaline that's very high on spectacle. If you don't mind checking your brain at the door and just sitting back to enjoy an exciting, fast-paced ride filled with palpable thrills, you will find Wu Kong to be a very satisfying summer blockbuster.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by CMC Pictures.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.
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