Asia (Alena Yiv), a Russian immigrant, raises her teenage daughter, Vika (Shira Haas), alone in Israel while working as a nurse at a hospital. She's a party animal and even brings Vika along with her to a club where she flirts with the bartender. When she's not with her mother, Vika hangs out with her friends, including Natalie (Eden Halili), at a local skate park. After she feels ill when drinking alcohol with them and ends up in the hospital, she learns that she has degenerative neurological disease which gradually decreases her motor skills.
Asia (pronounced AHS-YA) is an emotionally engrossing story about the love and compassion between a mother and her ailing daughter. The screenplay by first-time writer/director Ruthy Pribar takes its time to establish the dysfunctional relationship between Asia and Vika first before the narrative takes a tragic turn. What could've turned into a melodramatic, disease-of-the-week movie instead is a well-nuanced, genuinely heartfelt slice-of-life that avoids being maudlin and contrived. It's just as emotionally resonating as Hope, about how cancer affects the relationship between a couple and their children. Pribar trusts the audience's patience because she moves the film along at a leisurely pace that heightens the realism. She also trusts their imagination and intelligence because she doesn't dwell on the meticulous medical details of Vika's degenerative disease; the audience just knows the basics without even being informed of the disease's name.
Every great film is a perfect blend of Truth and Spectacle, according to François Truffaut. By focusing on the human side of the story, Prubar manages to find the Spectacle within the Truth. Humanism, after all, is a very special Spectacle. It also helps that both Asia and Vika both seem like fully-fleshed, complex, flawed human beings which make them all the more relatable. There's more to Asia than meets the eye because just when you think that she's not that great of a parent before Vika's diagnosis, she gradually displays behavior that shows that she truly cares about her daughter and will do anything to protect her and make her happy.
Another part of the Spectacle and Truth found in Asia are the natural and raw performances by Shira Haas and Alena Yiv. You can palpably feel the love between Asia and Vika because of how profoundly moving the performances are. Neither of them gives a hammy performance which is also yet another testament to the organic screenplay that doesn't try too hard to milk the audience's emotions. Without giving away too much about the third act, the film ends on just the right note which shows that Prubar knows how to show restraint and, above all, that she knows the importance of treating the audience like human beings. At a running time of just 1 hour and 25 minutes, Asia is powerful, engrossing and profoundly human.
In the Heights
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway
Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) runs a toy store with his wife, Bea (Rose Byrne), who has written a children's book about her rabbits including Peter Rabbit (voice of James Corden). When a book publisher, Nigel Basil-Jones (David Oyelowo) persuades them to drastically alter the book's story and to turn Peter Rabbit into a villain, Peter runs away when he sees himself on a billboard and doesn't like his new image. Leaving behind his rabbit friends, Flopsy (voice of Elizabeth Debicki), Mopsy (coie of Elizabeth Debicki), Mittens (voice of Hayley Atwell), and Mrs. Tiggly-Winkle (voice of Sia), he roams the streets and befriends a street rabbit, Barnabas (Lennie James).
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway is a delightful adventure for the whole family. The screenplay by writer/director Will Gluck and co-writer Patrick Burleigh keeps the plot light and has a second act that slightly runs out of steam, but the humor remains witty for the most part and there are more than a few laughs for both adults and children. Some of the jokes do involve toilet humor and slapstick which isn't that funny, although kids might laugh at that type of humor more. The film doesn't pander to kids, so there's almost always something to keep adults entertained as well with jokes that would go over most children's heads without being inappropriate. On top of that, there's an underlying beating heart to the film which makes it often sweet and charming when it's not too busy with the slapstick action.
The CGI animation looks impressive while making Peter Rabbit and the other animals look real when blended with the humans. It also gives them some character and personality, so the animation doesn't look bland nor cold. There's even a warmth to it which adds to the film's endearing quality. Editor Matt Villa keeps the pace moving briskly so that there's rarely a dull moment and no uneven pacing. The ending does feel a bit abrupt and rushed, though, but at least it leaves audiences wanting more rather than less. At an ideal running time of 1 and 33 minutes, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway is a charming, witty and big-hearted adventure for the whole family.
Michael Greene (John Benjamin Hickey), a travel writer from the US, returns to Israel after decades to write an article for work. He rents an apartment for five days from a younger guy named Tomer (Niv Nissim), an aspiring filmmaker. After meeting Tomer, they develop a friendship and Michael convinces him to stay with him and be his tour guide instead of being homeless for the next five days.
The screenplay by writer/director Eytan Fox and co-writer Itay Segal brims with wit, warmth and tenderness as the romance between Michael and Tomer gradually unfolds. It's engrossing to watch Michael and Tomer get to know each other, and it helps that the dialogue sounds natural without any stiltedness or contrivance. Even the way that the filmmakers incorporate exposition feels organic as the two of them sit on Tomer's balcony to have breakfast to talk about themselves. Small details like the kind of food ingredients that Tomer doesn't like make the story specific, but also concurrently universal. Bravo to Fox and Segal for seeing and treating Michael and Tomer as human beings and for fleshing out their characters so that they have a unique personality and interesting backstories. Even Tomer's interactions with his mother (Miki Kam) during a scene that veers into darker territory is handled in a gentle way without being heavy-handed or maudlin. There's a touch of humor in nearly every scene which reflects that the filmmakers grasp that comedy is often rooted in tragedy and can be found in everyday life.
John Benjamin Hickey and Niv Nissim both give heartfelt and nuanced performances. Most importantly, though, they have great chemistry together as friends as well as lovers. Editor Nili Feller and director Eytan Fox allow the film to move at a leisurely pace without any scenes that drag or overstay their welcome. The cinematography by Daniel Miller is also worth mentioning as is the music score which never feels intrusive. At a running time of 1 hour and 29 minutes, Sublet is an engrossing and gentle story about friendship, love and, above all, human beings.