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Reviews for July 28th, 2017

Documentary Round-Up

      Sled Dogs is an enraging, heartbreaking, and eye-opening exposé about animal cruelty in the industry of dog sledding in the U.S. and Canada. Director Fern Levitt travels to the Krabloonik resort in Colorado where sled dogs are trained rigorously from a very early age to be fit enough to compete in the Iditarod Race in Nome, Alaska. The dogs are chained to poles and live their entire life that way as though they were in a prison or, more accurately, a concentration camp. Krabloonik's founder and former owner Dan MacEachen was charged with 8 counts of animal cruelty, pled guilty to just 1 count, and paid a fine instead of serving jail time like he rightfully should have. Shockingly, 43 sled dogs deemed expendable were found shot to death and buried in Whistler, British Columbia. Windrift Kennels located in Ontario doesn't fare much better when it comes to the treatment of sled dogs either. The dogs aren't given any freedom there as well. Gena Pierce, Windrift Kennel's, notices a dog that died overnight and weeps. Are those crocodile tears? If she really cared about the dogs, why would she treat them so harshly? Deside the answers to those questions for yourself. Kudos to Levitt for being fair and balanced by interviewing the owners, current and former, of the dog sledding companies as well as the mushers and veterinarians. You'll even learn about the history of dog sledding which did not include the dogs traveling long distances like they do in current races; the dogs travelled short distances before being switched with other dogs to continue the journey. Sled dogs aren't "superathletes" like those in the dog sledding industry consider them to be; their bodies were not built to experience one marathon after another after another. The smoking gun, though, is the plethora harrowing footage of animal abuse which will make you feel like you're watching a horror film and will compel you do anything that you can to rescue the dogs. Levitt does include so much of that footage over and over that it hits you over the head, but perhaps that's an effective way to wake you up and shake you up. At least there's a silver lining: some of the sled dogs were indeed rescued, but the horrors and those who enable the horrors, unfortunately, persist. You'll never look at a dog sledding race the same way again.

Brigsby Bear

Directed by David McCary


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Roadside Attractions.
Opens at AMC/Loews Lincoln Square and Landmark Sunshine Cinemas.


Directed by Kathryn Bigelow


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Annapurna Pictures.
Opens at AMC/Loews Lincoln Square and Regal Union Square. Expands nationwide on August 4th.

I Dream in Another Language

Directed by Ernesto Contreras

      Martín (Fernando Álvarez Rebeil), a liguist, travels from Mexico City to a small village in the heart of the jungles of Mexico in order to research an indigenous language called Zikril. The only two individuals who can speak the defunct language are Isauro (José Manuel Poncelis) and Evaristo (Eligio Meléndez). However, neither Isauro nor Evaristo have spoken to one another in 50 years ago because of a fight over a woman, María (Nicolasa Ortíz Monasterio), whom they both fell in love with. Martín discovers, though, that there's more to their past than meets the eye.

      What stands out the most in I Dream in Another Language is the scenery which looks breathtaking and filled with poetry much like the scenery in the films of Carlos Reygadas. The first half of the film feels enchanting and mildly engaging as Martín meets the villagers. Director Ernesto Contreras and screenwriter Carlos Contreras don't reveal the truth behind Issauro and Evaristo's fight with one another until the later in the second act, but it's a revelation that's surprising and unpredictable---it won't be spoiled here, though. Once it's revealed through flashbacks, the film goes into much darker territory without going over-the-top. So, try to be patient during the first and second acts until that key revelation rises to the surface. The title "I Dream in Another Language" even takes on a whole new meaning after that point.

      It's interesting how the filmmakers use symbolism in a way that's intriguing. They even boldly, albeit briefly, incorporate a sci-fi/fantasy element that works blends well into the story. Could they have revealed the truth about Issauro and Evaristo's relationship earlier and showed more scenes from their younger days? Probably, but that would've been hitting the audience over the head. The few flashbacks are effectively moving and even somewhat gripping in an understated way; the filmmakers understand that less is more, after all. Yes, there's violence, but it's not displayed which makes it all the more powerful because you use your imagination instead. At a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes, I Dream in Another Language is haunting, engrossing, and poetic with mesmerizing, beautifully-shot scenery reminiscent of the films of Carlos Reygadas.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by FilmRise.
Opens at Quad Cinema.

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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