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Reviews for July 6th, 2018

Documentary Round-Up

      Whitney, directed by Kevin Macdonald, is a mesmerizing, poignant and thoroughly captivating glimpse into the life and struggles of Whitney Houston. This isn't a hagiographic or dry documentary; it's a warts-and-all, revealing exploration that isn't afraid to go into dark, heartbreaking territory. Macdonald builds up the suspense gradually as he interviews Whitney's friends, colleagues and family members to try to capture what Whitney was like and to get to the bottom of what led to her death in 2012. Her childhood was not as rosy as the public had thought it was: she was bullied at school and sexually abused by a cousin which was very traumatic. She struggled with her to find her true self and sexual identity---as one of the interviewees observes, she was what would be called sexually fluid nowadays, but she tried to hide her romantic relationship with her best friend and assistant, Robyn Crawford.

      Throughout Whitney, it becomes increasingly clear who were the abusers in Whitney's life and who enabled her to become addicted to drugs and alcohol. It's sad that she never got the help that she needed: she didn't have the money to complete a rehab program, so she went right back to touring as a singer and to her drug habit. The last half-hour feels heart-wrenching, but Macdonald wisely doesn't wallow in Whitney's tragic moments, so the doc never becomes exploitative nor exhausting. This doc is, fundamentally, a warm, provocative and candid peak behind-the-curtain of Whitney's life that gives you just enough information to grasp what Whitney was like as complex, fallible human being who struggled to overcome her traumatic childhood. Macdonald does a great job of combining archival footage and contemporary interviews through stylish editing that allows the film feel cinematic. It's best that you watch it on the big screen. Moreover, some of the interviews provide some much-needed comic relief and levity to balance the heavier moments.

      Cissy, Whitney Houston's mother, explains how she taught Whitney to sing with three elements: her heart, mind and gut. This documentary appeals to those very same elements. Macdonald has ultimately managed to find just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually, a feat that's not easy to accomplish in the editing room, so that's a testament to the director's talent as well as the talent of the editor, Sam Rice-Edwards. You don't have to be a Whitney Houston fan to find this doc emotionally engrossing. If you're not moved by it, you must be made out of stone. At a running time of 2 hours, Whitney joins Won't You Be My Neighbor? and RGB as one of the best documentaries of the year. It opens nationwide via Roadside Attractions and Miramax Films.

      Contructing Albert, co-directors Laura Collado and Jim Loomis, suffers from the same issues that the recent foodie doc The Quest of Alain Ducasse suffered from: it's dull, hagiographic and neglects to illumate its subject's life or to make it interesting enough to hold your attention. It follows Albert Adriā, a chef, as he opens five new restaurants each of which has different themes. He used to work with his brother Ferran when they worked as chefs at ElBulli before it closed. You'll learn a lot about what Adriā and what kind of food he makes, but too little about his life. Unless you're an avid foodie, there's really nothing of substance to be found in Constructing Albert, and some of it drags a bit even at 85 minutes. A truly great documentary ought to find the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally and intellectually. This doc is only mildly entertaining, but fails when it comes to being thought-provoking or poignant. It's far from a warts-and-all documentary; most of the time, it feels hagiographic. Juno Films opens Constructing Albert at IFC Center.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Directed by Peyton Reed

      Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a.k.a. Ant-Man, has been under house arrest and remains prohobited from putting on his Ant-Man suit while F.B.I. Agent Woo (Randall Park) keeps on eye on him. After suffering from nightmares with visions of Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) trapped in the Quantum Realm, Ant-Man visits Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) a.k.a. Wasp, Janet and Hanks's daughter, to tell them about the nightmares. They seek his assistance in rescuing Janet and need Hank's lab in order to reach Janet. However, Ava (Hannah John-Kamen), a.k.a. Ghost, also needs the lab to become human again, she's their main obstacle. Michael Peņa plays Luis, Ant-Man's pal and roommate.

      Ant-Man and the Wasp is a mildly entertaining superhero film that's at its best when it doesn't try to take itself too seriously which is more often than not. The screenplay by Paul Rudd, Gabriel Ferrari, Chris McKenna and Andrew Barrer feels convoluted and overstuffed at times. They bog down the unremarkable plot with a little too much exposition. To be fair, it's not an easy task for filmmakers to incorporate exposition without feeling the wheels of the screenplay turning and slowing down the film's momentum, but without it, audiences would be too confused. Perhaps a thinner plot would've helped to reduce the weight of the film's exposition and to make the plot feel much more focused while lowering bloated 2-hour running time. Why does nearly ever superhero movie have to clock with an excessive running time 2 hours or more? A good story can indeed be told in 90 to 100 minutes. Just like in every superhero movie, there's a MacGuffin. In this case, it's Hank's lab which can be shrunk down to a miniscule size. The action scenes and visual effects are moderately engaging and offer some sporadic thrills, but not enough to allow Ant-Man and the Wasp to rise above mediocrity.

      What saves Ant-Man and the Wasp from it dull plot, though, is the witty, tongue-in-cheek humor much like the humor in Guardians of the Galaxy. Ant-Man isn't as snarky or sarcastic in his wit as a Iron Man nor as irreverent as Deadpool, but he comes close. Moreover, the fine cast each have great comedic timing. Paul Rudd is just as funny and amusing as he was in the first Ant-Man. He has the rare knack for being able to handle both comedy and drama, although this film doesn't showcase that balance as well as other films of his have in the past, i.e. I Love You, Man, Clueless, Our Idiot Brother, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and, most recently, Ideal Home. Comedic-wise, though, the scene-stealers here are Michael Peņa nd Randall Park who get plenty of funny lines. More scenes with them would have made the film even more entertaining. Unfortunately, the film's most interesting villain, Ghost, doesn't have enough scenes and her subplot feels a bit rushed. More scenes with her as well as the always-reliable Laurence Fishburne in the role of Dr. Bill Foster would've helped to further counterbalance the film's light, breezy tone. Please be sure to stay through the end credits for a stinger.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Opens nationwide.
Questions? Comments? Please click here.

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