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Reviews for July 16th, 2021

Documentary Round-Up

      Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Water, directed by Tom Hurwitz and Rosalynde LeBlanc, is an engrossing documentary that's not just about dance choreographer Bill T. Jones, his dance company Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, and his 1989 ballet "D-Man in the Waters". It's also about how the AIDs epidemic in the 1980's affected him and his dance company. Arnie Zane died of AIDS in 1988 and so did dancer Demian Acquavella. The dance company survived and conquered adversity and still exists today. Co-director Rosalynde LeBlanc used to be in the dance company and teaches dance to young students at Loyola Marymount University. She and co-director Tom Hurwitz combine footage from her classes where her students learn how to dance the "D-Man in the Water" ballet, along with interviews with Bill T. Jones, footage of the current dancers from his company performing, and archival footage. It's most fascinating, though, to watch Bill T. Jones show up to LeBlanc's dance classes and provide feedback and criticism to the students. LeBlanc gathers her students to educate them on the history of D-Man in the Waters which concurrently educates the audience who watch this doc. If you have even a passing interest in dance, you'll find the well-edited Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Water to be a captivating, illuminating and emotionally resonating documentary. At a running time of just 90 minutes, it opens at Film Forum via Kino Lorber.

      Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, directed by Morgan Neville, is a stylishly edited documentary about the life and career of world-renown celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. When Neville focuses just on Bourdain's work and, eventually, on some of his emotional battles, the doc becomes fascinating, although not very profound, surprising or revealing. The footage of Bourdain as he travels a lot and leaves his family behind shows a lonely, sad man behind the curtain. He worked hard which isn't surprising and was clearly talented, but as a human being he was flawed. While Neville avoids turning the doc into a hagiography, he doesn't quite do a thorough enough job of showing Bourdain as a human being. The focus on Bourdain's suicide toward the end of the film goes on for too long and quickly becomes repetitive. It hits the audience over the head with his death and feels somewhat invasive and exploitative. There are no interviews to be found here with Asia Argento who might've added some insights and definitely would've provided a much-needed and important perspective, especially because they knew each other so well. Whatever Bourdain struggled with before he took his life and what made him commit suicide is a private matter and shouldn't be anyone's business except for those who are close to him. Perhaps only Bourdain himself knows why he did it. Either way, when the doc crosses that boundary, it becomes more of a tabloid than a serious, thoughtful, fair and balanced documentary. At a lengthy running time of 2 hours, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is mildly engaging, but overlong, incomplete and occasionally exploitative. It opens nationwide via Focus Features.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

Directed by Adam Robitel

      Ben (Logan Miller) drives Zoey (Taylor Russell) to New York in hopes of finding and exposing the mysterious Minos corporation that had abducted them and held them in an escape room which they managed to survive. Once they reach New York, a stranger lures them inside a subway car. They're soon trapped in yet another escape room along with other strangers, Brianna (Indya Moore), Theo (Carlito Olivero), Nathan (Thomas Cocquerel) and Rachel (Holland Roden), and must solve an elaborate puzzle to survive.

      The best way to enjoy Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is to check your brain at the door because the screenplay by Will Honley, Maria Melnik, Daniel Tuch and Oren Uziel throws plausibility right out of the window within the first ten minutes. If you forgot the plot of the first film or didn't watch it, you'll be provided with a brief recap with flashbacks. Nothing is left for the imagination or requires much thought, although some of the puzzles that the victims go through are cleverly designed. The on-the-nose dialogue leaves no room for interpretation especially because the characters often describe what's happening around them despite the fact that the audience can clearly see it. For example, when Ben yells that the water is rising, he's stating the obvious. Why not trust the audience's intelligence and imagination so that they could figure things out themselves? By spoon-feeding the audience in such a way, the screenwriters treat the audience as though they were dumb. There's a little comic relief, but not enough unless you count some of the unintentionally funny dialogue.

      Fortunately, the pacing moves so quickly that there's very little time to notice all of the plot holes. The musical score, editing and camerawork often feels reminiscent of a music video. It eventually becomes exhausting, although, to be fair, the characters onscreen are exhausted too, so the audience can relate to them. Compared to the first Escape Room, the sequel doesn't have as much gore or memorable kills. What stands out the most is the impressive set design of each elaborate trap. None of those traps will be spoiled here, though, because that would ruin the film's few surprises. At an ideal running time of only 1 hour and 28 minutes, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, is ultimately a dumb, but fun B-movie. It's a lean and slick white-knuckle thriller.

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

Mama Weed

Directed by Jean-Paul Salomé

      Patience Portefeux (Isabelle Huppert), a single widowed mother, works as a French-Arabic translator for the anti-narcotic division of the Paris police department. When she can no longer afford to pay for the assisted living care of her mother (Liliane Rovère), she turns to a life of crime by secretly transforming into a drug dealer, Madame Ben Barka. The criminals she deals with, Chocapic (Mourad Boudaoud) and Scotch (Rachid Guellaz), are the same ones that her boss, Philippe (Hippolyte Girardot), and his team investigate.

      Based on the novel The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre, the screenplay by Jean-Paul Salomé and Hannelore Cayre combines crime thriller, comedy, drama and romance with uneven results. The plot quickly becomes silly and implausible as contrivance piles on top of yet another contrivance. One of the drug dealers happens to be the son of Patience's mother's caretaker, Kadidja (Farida Ouchani). Meanwhile, Patience and Philippe have developed a romantic relationship with one other. There's also the loving relationship between Patience and her mother who tells her to spread her ashes in a department store because, unlike the assisted living facility, it always has air conditioning. If you throw plausibility and logic out of the window, it would be easier to embrace the amusing moments when Patience disguises herself as Madame Ben Barka. Of course, there's a scene introducing the character of Madame Ben Barka that uses slow motion and music as a means of generating laughs. Will Philippe suspect that Patience is Madame Ben Barka, a.k.a. Mama Weed/La Daronne? What might happen if he does suspect her? Will he turn her in? Unfortunately, Mama Weed, resorts to a more conventional, "Hollywood" answer to those questions--in other words, it's closer to a fairy tale than to reality. If the film were a biting satire or more campy and outrageous without taking itself too seriously, it would've been more fun. The British comedy Saving Grace is also about a widowed woman who gets involved with selling weed, and increasingly implausible, but it's funnier and more witty than Mama Weed. The same can be said about the French crime comedy My New Partner (i>Les Ripoux).

      The uber-charismatic and talented Isabelle Huppert is the saving grace of Mama Weed. She's the glue that holds it together and makes it watchable. It's clear that she's having fun with her role, both roles to be precise, so she easily rises above the material. Liliane Rovère also makes the most out of her role and, in her few scenes, she provides emotional depth that the screenplay itself lacks. Hippolyte Girardot adds some nuance, especially during a scene toward the end that speaks volumes without any dialogue. At a running time of 1 hour and 44 minutes, Mama Weed is an uneven, silly and overstuffed mess that's saved by its charming and talented cast.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Music Box Films.
Opens at Village East by Angelika.


Directed by Michael Sarnoski


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

Space Jam: A New Legacy

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

      LeBron James and his son, Dom (Cedric Joe), end up trapped in a digital world known as Warnerverse. He must find his son there before Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle), the nefarious ruler of Warnerverse, traps them there forever. A basketball game with the Looney Tunes vs. the Goons will determine that outcome.

      Space Jam: A New Legacy takes a while to even get to the second act when LeBron meets the Looney Tunes. Despite a screenplay with many writers, namely, Juel Taylor, Tony Rettenmaier, Keenan Coogler, Terence Nance, Jesse Gordon and Celeste Ballard, there's very little wit except for some of the re-edited scenes from WB's past films which could've served as a film in and of itself. The joke about Michael B. Jordan being confused with Michael Jordan is too easy and goes on for too long. Too much of the new Space Jam feels episodic and the plot comes across as too silly for adults and even teenagers. Perhaps little kids would enjoy it the most, but only the scenes with the Looney Tunes. Good luck counting how many "easter eggs" you'll find because there's a lot of them. The basketball game that takes place during the last hour isn't much to write home about, and, yet again, it has more easter eggs. A more appropriate title for this should've been Easter Egg: The Movie.

      The charismatic Don Cheadle has a lot of fun in his role as A. G. Rhythm, but he's saddled with unfunny jokes and he tries too hard at times to be campy. He's still fun to watch, though, and the movie drags when he's not on-screen which is, unfortunately, too often. The CGI looks decent and colorful which should entertain kids, but the pacing feels uneven. Also, the performances by everyone else including LeBron James are very poor, almost distractingly so. If the running time were much shorter like the first Space Jam was, perhaps this would've been a more palatable, harmless diversion. Instead, at running time of just under 2 hours---longer than Dunkirk, Space Jam: A New Legacy is a dumb, exhausting and silly sequel.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Opens nationwide and on HBO Max.