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Reviews for June 23rd, 2017

Documentary Round-Up

      In Pursuit of Silence speaks volumes about the importance of silence while briefly shedding light on the issue of noise pollution. Director Patrick Shen initially omits the use of talking heads or narration by merely showing mesmerizing footage of places around the world where silence can be found, i.e out in nature. Noise can have quite a harmful effect on one's mental and physical health----and it could even cause death. One young man, Greg Hindy, decided to take a vow of silence and trek across the United States by foot. Using only a writing pad to communicate, he explains how silence has made him look at the materialistic elements of his life in a completely different perspective and how his experience has become transcendental. You'll learn about music composer John Cage's piece 4'33". There's also footage of silent monks and interviews with a wide range of experts who provide some insight about silence as well as noise polution. A city school suffers from higher-than-tolerable decibel levels of the noise from outside, but fails to do so because it has to open windows because of no air conditioning. The doc does miss an opportunity to explore what, if anything is being done, to reduce the noise pollution in urban areas just like there attempts to reduce another kind of pollution: light. Also, it could have used a little bit more balance instead of being 100% pro silence. Every doc needs some friction, nuance and even a narrative which elevates it above mediocrity. At a brief running time of 1 hour and 20 minutes, In Pursuit of Silence is an illuminating, occasionally mesmerizing doc that's not thorough enough and lacks balance. Perhaps seeing it on the big screen would make its images more powerful. It opens at Cinema Village via The Cinema Guild.

      Another illuminating albeit too one-sided doc also opening in the same theater is All the Rage, directed by David Beilinson, Michael Galinsky, and Suki Hawley. The doc focuses on the work of Dr. John Sarno, a physician who has treated chronic pain with an alternative form of treatment by recognizing the pain as Tension Mysositis Syndrome. People can have back pain not because of a slipped or herniated disk, but rather because of a deprivation of oxygen that's fundamentally caused by stress and repressed emotions. He's helped to cure many patients with his treatments that go to the root of everyone's issues. Some of those patients include Larry David, who was initially skeptical, Howard Stern, and co-director Michael Galinsky. Even though none of Dr. Sarno's colleagues at NYU Medical Center referred to him patients, he still had many patients sent to him nonetheless. Sarno has some of his patients attend his lectures before he treats them. What was said during those lectures, though, isn't delved into in this doc. Briefly, in the beginning of the film, a colleague of Dr. Sarno expresses his disagreement with Dr. Sarno's alternative treatments---he essentially perceives him as a quack although he doesn't use that precisely that word. That balance is ephemeral, though, because the remainder of the film, unlike the superior, balanced doc Dr. Feelgood, just deals with how amazing and helpful Dr. Sarno's treatment is without scrutinizing it. If you're a skeptic of alternative treatments, you most likely won't be pursuaded by All the Rage, especially because it doesn't clearly explain how exactly Dr. Sarno's treatment works. Testimony from his patients, famous or not, isn't enough evidence for skeptics.

      Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A Bad Boy Story, directed by Daniel Kaufman, charts the rise to fame of Sean Combs, a.k.a. Puff Daddy, and his record label Bad Boy Entertainment. Kaufman includes archival material, i.e. concert footage, with footage leading up to the reunion of Bad Boy Entertainment at Barclays in 2016. Over and over, you learn that Sean Combs succeeded by never giving up despite his setbacks such as the death of Biggie Smalls which had huge impact on Bad Boy Entertainment. Unfortunately, either the director doesn't ask Combs interesting questions or Combs isn't a very interesting subject because what Combs says to the camera comes across as rather dull and not particularly revealing. You don't really get to know Combs as a human being "behind the curtain" nor do learn something insightful or memorable. This is the kind of forgettable film you'd expect to see on Bravo!, not in theaters. Yes, it does have a stylish visuals that make good use of black-and-white cinematography, but stylish cinematography and editing alone, sans any substance, do not make a doc even remotely great. Given that we're in a Golden Age of Documentaries, Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A Bad Boy Story is one of the most disappointing documentaries of the year. It opens at AMC Empire.

      Also opening this weekend is Good Fortune about how John Paul DeJoria attained great wealth after starting out poor. He was kind and generous to others, a point that's repeated quite often throughout this hagiographic doc. Co-directors Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell tell DeJoria's rags-to-riches story chronologically including interviews with those whom he had helped, his friends, family, colleagues as well as DeJoria himself. The editing and cinematograph looks slick which gives the film a very cinematic look. After you learn how DeJoria became wealthy, i.e. via his successful tequila brand, Patron, you might wonder, "Ok, well now what? Is there more to the story than that?" Why I give this doc a Fresh Tomato instead of a Rotten Tomato like I gave Can't Stop, Wont Stop which similarly lacks profound insight is because Good Fortune does have a compelling subject and, for at least the first half, an captivating narrative. The second half gets tiresome when so many people praise DeJoria as if he were a superhuman who's very kind and compassionate. Would it be safe to conclude that he's truly altruistic? Richard Dawkins, author of the book The Selfish Gene, would probably respectfully disagree with that conclusion. Either way, Good Fortune, doesn't bother to debate, explore or even ask that intriguing question nor any intriguing questions because it's too busy exalting DeJoria. It opens via Paladin at Village East Cinema.

     Finally, a powerful, unforgettable documentary opens this week also at Village East Cinema: Nowhere to Hide, directed by Zaradasht Ahmed. It shows 5 years of the life of Nori Sharif, an Iraqi nurse and medic who documents his experiences in the wartorn town Jalawla in the Province of Diyala in Iraq. Sharif, his wife and 4 children become refugees and struggle to find a refugee camp. The footage that Sharif captures is a gut-wrenching, horrifying, unflinching and disturbing experience. Nowhere to Hide allows for you to empathize with the everyone on screen regardless of your political stance. This doc isn't about politics nor does it try to find any solutions. What it does do is far more important: it puts a human face on the victims of war while allowing for you to empathize with them. You'd have to be made out of stone to not shed a tear when see their predicament. It's amazing how Sharif and other Iraqis don't give up hope despite all of the tragedies that they, their friend and loved ones endure. Were the film longer than 86 minutes, it would've been too exhausting. Kudos for Sharif for having the courage to film everything and for Zaradasht Ahmed and editor Eva Hillstrom for assembling the footage in a way that's equally gripping, moving and, above all, profoundly human.

The Bad Batch

Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour

      In a dystopian future, Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), has been banished into the desert as a member of the Bad Batch. Her life becomes in danger when she encounters cannibals, so she seeks solace in a hedonistic cult called Comfort headed by The Dream (Keanu Reeves). Meanwhile, she crosses paths with Miel (Jayda Fink), a little girl who got separated from her father, Miami Man (Jason Momoa), a cannibal, so she tries to help her locate him while taking care of her.

      The Bad Batch has a plot with a concept that sounds interesting, but it's poorly executed and quickly turns anemic. The main problem lies with the screenplay by writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour which does have its fair share of symbolisms, but it runs out of ideas midway as it loses its momentum. Much of the film looks visually striking especially on the big screen, so at least there's that to hold your attention on a purely aesthetic level. Jim Carrey briefly shows up too briefly as a hermit, and Keanu Reeves seems to be still in John Wick mode with a little bit of Neo from The Matrix as The Dream. On top of that, none of the characters are even remotely memorable or believable, even within the film's internal logic. At no point does Arlen become a character worth rooting for. Perhaps if The Bad Batch were less concerned about constantly establishing its mood and atmosphere through sound and visuals and more (or equally) focused on engaging audiences with its characters and plot, it would have been a much more entertaining film. As such, there's too much style and not enough substance.

      Too much of the film feels dull and drags with uneven pacing---the overlong running time of 115 certainly doesn't help. If the screenplay didn't take itself so seriously and increased the level of outrageousness and cleverness, The Bad Batch could've been a guilty pleasure and perhaps even a cult classic. Instead, it's a chore to sit through while you wait for it to get better only to end up disappointed and underwhelmed.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by NEON.
Opens IFC Center.

The Beguiled

Directed by Sofia Coppola


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Focus Features.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.

The Big Sick

Directed by Michael Showalter


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Amazon Studios and Liongate Films.
Opens at Regal Union Square and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.
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