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Reviews for June 21st, 2024


      In Blackwater Lane, directed by Jeff Celentano, Cass (Minka Kelly) passes by a car accident while driving at night and learns that she and her friend might know the deceased woman, Rachel (Maggie Grace). She soon begins to experience hallucinations and distrusts her husband, Matthew (Dermot Mulroney). The screenplay by Elizabeth Fowler is a clunky, anemic and dull blend of psychological thrills and mystery. Given how underdeveloped all of the characters are and the lack of intrigue in the plot, you'd never guess that the film is actually based on a novel by B.A. Paris. With a smarter and more sensitive screenplay, Blackwater Lane could've been something along the lines of Gaslight or the underrated Italian film The Double Hour. Instead, after an effectively atmospheric opening scene, it morphs into by-the-numbers and underwhelming thriller that lacks suspense and thrills. The performances are mediocre at best, the pacing suffers from unevenness, and the surprises in the third act are telegraphed from the beginning, so the beats don't land because they can be seen from a mile away and easily predicted by anyone who's paying attention. At 1 hour and 48 minutes, Blackwater Lane opens at Cinema Village and on VOD via Lionsgate.


      In Chestnut, Annie (Natalia Dyer), a college graduate from Philadelphia, meets Tyler and Danny (Danny Ramirez) and ends up in a relationship with both of them before moving to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the screenplay by writer/director Jac Cron is bland, shallow and uninspired without taking any narrative risks. Annie comes across as a boring character, and it's hard to get inside her heart, mind and soul no matter how much Natalia Dyer tries to rise above the vapid screenplay with her tender performance. Chestnut has nothing interesting, new or surprising to say about love, relationships, sexuality or sexual identity. The screenplay's systemic issue, though, is that it just seems to be going through the motions without breathing life into any of the characters or scenes. It's decently shot and doesn't overstay its welcome at 1 hour and 27, but it's ultimately forgettable and fails to pack an emotional punch. Chestnut opens at Quad Cinema via Utopia.


      Copa 71 is a heartfelt and well-edited, but undercooked and by-the-numbers documentary about the 1971 Women's World Cup held in Mexico in 1971. Co-directors James Erskine and Rachel Ramsay combine archival footage, photographs and contemporary talking-head interviews with the soccer players who vividly recall their experiences back then. You don't have to love soccer in order to enjoy this documentary, but it would certainly help because it focuses entirely on the 1971 Women's World Cup and how players from Argentina, England, Italy, Mexico and Denmark's teams competed against each other in male-dominated sport. The interviews are candid and illuminating although they particularly don't add any profound insights or revelations. Overall, Copa 71 serves as a mildly engaging introduction to a lesser known part of sports history, but it's not essential viewing and never feels transcendent. There's not nearly enough background information about the soccer players beyond their participation in the Women's World Cup. Chances are, you'll probably forget the players' names by the time the end credits roll which isn't exactly a sign of a great documentary. At 1 hour and 31 minutes, it opens at IFC Center by Greenwich Entertainment.


      Set in 1750 Austria, The Devil's Bath centers on a young woman, Agnes (Anja Plaschg), who marries a fisherman, Wolf (David Scheid), but becomes depressed after Wolf neglects her emotionally while his controlling mother, Gänglin (Maria Hofstätte), emotionally abuses her. The screenplay by co-writers/directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala is an unnerving psychological horror film that pulls no punches as it shows Agnes slowly descending into madness. A prologue sets up the dark tone when another young woman throws a baby to its death before being apprehended. The Devil's Bath maintains its grim and foreboding tone from start to finish and becomes increasingly intense. Its main flaw, though, is that there's no room for the audience to breathe with any form of levity which means it occasionally veers into tedium and exhausts the audience. The filmmakers use lighting, cinematography and the natural landscape to create a visual style that compliments the dark tone. They leave nothing to the imagination, though, in the relentlessly gory and grotesque third act. That said, Anja Plaschg gives a raw, breakthrough performance that provides the film with genuine poignancy. At a running time of 2 hours, The Devil's Bath opens at IFC Center via Shudder.


      In The Exorcism, Anthony (Russell Crowe), an actor tormented by his past when he struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, hopes to make a comeback. When the lead actor in a horror film mysteriously dies, he gets his chance to resurrect his career by portraying a priest who performs an exorcism. Lee (Ryan Simpkins), his estranged daughter, re-unites with him after getting into trouble for vandalism at school, and works as his assistant. When the production begins, Anthony gets possessed by a demon while questioning sanity.  Writer/director Joshua John Miller and co-writer M.A. Fortin do an effective job of providing palpable scares and psychological horror. The film can be seen as a metaphor because, although Anthony is battling an actual demon that's possessing him, his true demon is his traumatic past: alcoholism, drug addiction and the death of his wife. He's also wrestling with his Catholic faith and, more importantly, his moral conscience which weighs down on him. His introspective and decency, especially during the scenes in the confessional booth and his interactions with Lee, make him an interesting, complex and well-rounded character Bravo to the filmmakers for humanising him just enough without derailing the film with schmaltz. That feat might also have something to do with Russell Crowe's warmth, charisma and terrific acting skills. He  breathes life into his role from start to finish. The Exorcism wisely doesn't rely heavily on gore to entertain or to shock and disturb the audience. Most of its scary moments come from how the filmmakers trust and rely on the power of the audience's imagination. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 35 minutes, it's gripping, chilling and surprisingly heartfelt. It opens in theaters nationwide by Vertical. 

      Geoff McFetridge: Drawing a Life is a mildly engaging, stylishly edited and illuminating documentary biopic about Geoff McFetridge, a Canadian-American graphic designer and visual artist. Director Dan Covert blends archival footage, talking-head interviews and animation to shed light on McFretridge's work and life, beginning with his childhood. He's lucky to have his subject, although other people he worked for like Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze also provide some insights about what makes him such a unique artist. There's no doubt that he's talented and passionate about his craft. You'll learn about how he creates art in a way to process and to heal from his demons. By the end of the film, even if you may not have gotten to know McFetridge enough, you'll at least learn about his artwork and appreciate it. This isn't as thorough and revealing as other recent documentaries about artists like The Secret Cities of Mark Kistler or Jamie Wyeth and the Unflinching Eye. At 1 hour and 21 minutes, it opens at Cinema Village before hitting VOD on July 2nd, 2024.


      In Fancy Dance, Jax (Lily Gladstone) lives on a Native American reservation in Oklahoma with her niece, Roki (Isabel DeRoy Olson). When she loses custody of her, she kidnaps her to bring her to a powwow. Meanwhile, Jax searches for her sister who's gone missing. Writer/director Erica Tremblay and her co-writer, Miciana Alise, have woven a genuinely poignant and engrossing story brimming with warmth and tenderness. The screenplay feels organic up until the scene where Roki pulls a gun and shoots someone. There's already enough dramatic tension within the main narrative, so why add more tension while also making Roki less likable for killing someone innocent even though she did it accidentally. She shows little to no remorse or signs of introspection for her actions and there's also no payoff to that incident. The entire third act leaves too many questions unanswered and leaves a lot unresolved, so the ending feels abrupt and unsatisfying without earning its uplift. Interestingly, the audience doesn't get to meet Jax's beloved sister nor are there flashbacks to their lives before she went missing. The slow-burning pace gradually picks up speed until the 10 minutes that feel rushed. In other words, there are issues with uneven pacing. Fortunately, the relationship between her and Jax is the emotional glue that holds Fancy Dance together and grounds it in humanity. It's heartwarming to watch how they bond and interact throughout the course of the film, even when they're both on the run from the law. Lily Gladstone gives a raw and nuanced performance. She has a powerful scene with Shea Whigham who plays her father. Isabel DeRoy Olson shines in a breakthrough performance. At 1 hour and 32 minutes, Fancy Dance opens at IFC Center before streaming on Apple TV + on June 28th, 2024.


      In Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person, Sasha (Sara Montpetit), a teenager who's part of a family of vampires, refuses to kill because she has a moral conscience, but, like all vampires, she needs blood in order to survive. When she meets Paul (Félix-Antoine Bénard), a suicidal teenager, he agrees to let her kill him which would please both of them. However, that becomes easier said than done as their friendship blossoms. Writer/director Ariane Louis-Seize and her co-writer, Christine Doyon, should be commended for blending the genres of horror, comedy, drama, and coming-of-age without any tonal unevenness. With a less sensitive screenplay, this could've been a clunky and unfocused mess because, on the surface, it looks like it's trying to bite off more than it could chew---pun intended. By focusing on the evolving dynamics of Sasha and Paul's friendship, Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person becomes a surprisingly poignant, complex and engrossing film. The cinematography and lighting are also very effective at providing atmosphere. There's some blood and guts, just as expected, but nothing that pushes the envelope. At a running time of just 1 hour and 30 minutes, it's a bittersweet, tender and wickedly funny dark comedy with shades of Let the Right One In. Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person opens at Quad Cinema via Drafthouse Films.


      Hummingbirds is a gently moving and understated, but meandering documentary about Silvia Del Carmen Castaños and Estefanía “Beba” Contreras, two friends who live in Laredo, Texas, a city on the border of Mexico. Silvia and Beba are the co-directors, so the film serves as a snapshot of their experiences together during the summer of 2019 after graduating high school. They're both immigrants, and Beba is undocumented. There's no voice-over narration, talking heads, messages or profound insights. That's fine because not every movie has to have something to say explicitly. Moreover, the film doesn't have much of a structure, so its formlessness can be frustrating at times. Hummingbirds, in that sense, feels bold and experimental. The filmmakers trust the audience's intelligence, emotions and patience which is quite admirable. It's also exquisitely shot and ends on a refreshingly unconventional albeit somewhat abrupt note. Fortunately, Silvia and Beba understand the concept that less is more because they keep the running time short. If it were to approach the 2 hour mark, it would've overstayed its welcome. At 1 hour and 17 minutes, Hummingbirds opens at DCTV's Firehouse Cinema.

Janet Planet

Directed by Annie Baker


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by A24.
Opens at Angelika Film Center.


      Another Yorgos Lanthimos movie, another unconventional, divisive mindfuck. Kinds of Kindness, written by Lanthimos and co-written by Efthimis Filippou, is a series of three short stories linked thematically with the same cast. In the first story, Robert (Jesse Plemons) works for a controlling boss, Raymond (Willem Dafoe), and must obey his commands which include crashing his car into another car at a high speed. Raymond also dictates Robert's diet and everything else in his life, so Robert is essentially his puppet. Soon enough, it ruins his relationship with his wife (Hong Chau). In the second story, Daniel (Jesse Plemons), believes that his wife (Emma Stone) isn't who she says she is when she suddenly returns from an expedition after going missing. In the final story, Plemons and Stone play members of a cult with a promiscuous leader (Willem Dafoe) who wants them to find a woman who's capable of resurrecting the dead. Suffice to say that Kinds of Kindness is a roller coaster ride of emotions that gets more and more bizarre, bold and elliptical. If you're a fan of The Lobster and Dogtooth, it'll be right up your alley, but keep in mind that it does get very dark and has at least one scene that will make audiences squirm in their seats. Aesthetically, everything from the set design to the camera work and music score are exquisite while adding both style and substance. Jesse Plemons gives one of the best performances of his career here. He's the film's MVP, although the entire ensemble cast from Willem Dafoe to Emma Stone and Margret Qualley and Hong Chau are also superb. At a running time of 2 hours and 46 minutes, Kinds of Kindness is an audacious, outrageously funny and wildly entertaining ride. It opens in select theaters via Searchlight Pictures before expanding nationwide on June 28th, 2024.

She Rises Up is an eye-opening, moving and empowering documentary about women from different countries who start a business to help their communities escape poverty. Director Maureen Castle Tusty follows three of those female entrepreneurs, namely, Selyna Peiris from Sri Lanka, Magatte Wade from Senegal and Gladys Yupanqui from Peru as they beat the odds and form a business in their poverty-stricken country. Each of them comes across as smart, determined, diligent, resilient, and, above all, great role models. With crisp editing, the film has a smooth flow as it jumps back and forth between each woman's endeavors. To be fair, She Rises Up isn't a very unflinching or profound one per se like Bonsai People or Show Her the Money which would pair well with it in a double or triple feature. However, it's well-shot and avoids becoming dry or dull while offering the audience some much-needed hope and inspiration. At a running time of 1 hour and 31 minutes, it opens at LOOK Dine-In Cinemas W57 via Abramorama.


Directed by Annie Baker


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by A24.
Opens nationwide.