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Reviews for June 2nd, 2023

Documentary Round-Up

      Lynch/Oz has one basic insight to illuminate about filmmaker David Lynch: that his films are heavily influenced by The Wizard of Oz. Director Alexandre O. Philippe blends archival interviews with David Lynch and clips from his movies as well as The Wizard of Oz to prove his point with evidence ad nausem. He divides the documentary into chapters, and each chapter is narrated by someone else. Film critic Amy Nicholson, and filmmakers John Waters, Karyn Kusama, Rodney Ascher, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, and David Lowery have their own chapters with more clips that show, beyond a reasonable doubt, the connection between Lynch and The Wizard of Oz. By the 3rd or 4th clip, the point has already been made loud and clear. Why hit the audience on the head with it over and over? John Waters' chapter is the most interesting, but that has more to do with his charisma, amusing anecdotes, and some obsversations about how similar his humor is to Lynch's sense of humor. The over-arching questions that Lynch/Oz fails to answer are, "So what?" and "What else is there to say about David Lynch that hasn't already been said?" Perhaps more insight about David Lynch's life would've been insightful and illuminating. It's ultimately tedious, dull and too limited in scope. Even film students will most likely fall asleep while watching it. At 1 hour and 48 minutes, which feels more like 3 hours, Lynch/Oz opens at IFC Center via Janus Films.

The Boogeyman

Directed by Rob Savage

      Will Harper (Chris Messina), a therapist, lives with his daughters, Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair), and Sadie (Sophie Thatcher), while still grieving over the death of his wife. When a new patient, Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian), with a tragic past arrives, he dies before leaving behind a supernatural entity that terrorizes Will and his family.

      The Boogeyman's screenplay is an unimaginative, undercooked and repetitive horror thriller despite three screenwriters, namely, Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman. You'd never believe that it's actually based on a short story by Stephen King who's also known as "The King of Horror." The plot, which charts the same waters as The Babadook, Sinister, Poltergeist, and many other superior horror films, offers no surprises while remaining low on thrills or palpable scares. There are too many jump scares, i.e. after someone closes a refrigerator door and someone else pops up out-of-the-blue in the middle of the night. Exposition is kept to a bare minimum with little to no explanation of what the supernatural entity wants or any backstory about it. By actually showing the grotesque entity/monster, the film doesn't rely enough on the audience's imagination, a very powerful tool. You learn that it's afraid of light and that it's attracted to those who grieve, but why? The screenplay is too lazy to explore any of that. Also, in the short story, it's left up to the audience's interpretation whether or not the entity is real or just a hallucination. In The Boogeyman, there's no denying that it's real which makes it less provocative. The narrative takes no risks and the suspense begins to wane after the entity is revealed too early. Moreover, the third act feels concurrently rushed, conventional and can be easily predicted from a mile away.

      The production design is among the film's few strengths with some great use of set design, lighting and camera work to create an eerie, foreboding atmosphere. There are also some well-shot moments that add brief scares like when Sawyer looks under her bed for the entity/monster. The performances are fine with no one giving a bad performance, so at least there's that. There's some violence and bood, but nothing too graphic because, after all, this is a PG-13 film. Perhaps with an R-rating it could've more dark and disturbing when it comes to violence. The scary design of the entity/monster is also worth mentioning. It looks just as scary as the alien in Alien. At a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes, The Boogeyman is an uninspired, lazy and repetitive B-movie masquerading as an A-movie. It doesn't even hold a candle to The Babadook.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by 20th Century Studios.
Opens nationwide.

Concerned Citizen

Directed by Idan Haguel

      Ben (Shlomi Bertonov) lives with his boyfriend, Erez (Ariel Wolf), in a Tel Aviv apartment. They're planning to have a baby with a surrogate. One night, Ben observes from his apartment window two immigrant men leaning against a small tree that he recently planted and, when they continue to recklessly lean on the tree, he calls the police. When the police arrive, he witnesses the policeman brutally assaulting one of the immigrant men.

      Writer/director Idan Haguel has woven a moving portrait of a man grappling with a complex array of emotions because he feels partially responsible for the police brutality that he witnessed. Had he not called the police, it wouldn't have happened. He tries to intervene and confronts the policeman with rage, but to no avail. Haguel could've easily turned the film into a dark crime thriller or something along those lines like in Monsters and Men. Instead, he turns it into a psychological character study by showing how the event that Ben witnesses affects his relationship with Erez as well as his emotional state. He sees a therapist (Ilan Hazan) who tries to help him, but it's not that simple. Without voice-over narration, you get the sense that there's a lot going on inside of Ben and that he feels shame, remorse and helplessness. He's not a bad person. He seems compassionate, sensitive and introspective, but he's nonetheless flawed, i.e. because he's unable to control his anger against the policeman when he confronts him and assaults him. Two wrongs don't make a right, after all. He's lucky that the policeman didn't throw him in prison for assaulting a police officer. Meanwhile, he and Erez search for the ideal woman who'll be the egg donor for their surrogate baby. Their standards are pretty high and they're quick to judge every profile they encounter before even meeting the women. To be fair, Concerned Citizen doesn't dig very deeply into its larger issues about police brutality and gentrifications nor does it offer any solutions. How truly "concerned" is Ben? What does it even mean to be "concerned"? However, it avoids becoming preachy, heavy-handed and schmaltzy. There are also some surprisingly witty, funny and light-hearted moments, including a dance sequence. The third act provides some closure with a little optimism and hope without tying everything up in a neat bow.

      Shlomi Bertonov and Ariel Wolf both give convincingly moving and natural performances without over-acting or under-acting. Much of the film's emotional depth comes from their performances rather than from the screenplay. It's also worth mentioning that they have great chemistry together and feel like a real couple---they're actually a real couple off-screen which probably helps to make their on-screen couple feel authentic. The cinematography is also quite impressive with imaginative use of animation in a few scenes, i.e. in the final scene. The pace moves slowly, but not too slowly. Writer/director Idan Haguel also shows some restraint by keeping the running time well under 2 hours. Too many movies these days overstay their welcome and stretch their narrative too thinly. At just 1 hour and 22 minutes, Concerned Citizen is poignant and captivating psychological character study.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Greenwich Entertainment.
Opens at IFC Center and on VOD.

Falcon Lake

Directed by Charlotte Le Bon

      13-year-old Bastien (Joseph Engel) and his mom, Violette (Monia Chokri), dad, Romaine (Arthur Igual), and younger brother, Titi (Thomas Laperriere), spend their summer vacation at the lakeside cabin belonging to Violette's friend, Louise (Karine Gonthier-Hyndman). He befriends Louise's 16-year-old daughter, Chloé (Sara Montpetit), who convinces him that a ghost is haunting the lake.

      The screenplay by writer/director Charlotte Le Bon and co-writer François Choquet, based on the graphic novel by Bastien Vives, is a tender coming-of-age tale with shades of gothic horror. Fortunately, the light and dark tones merge in a way that doesn't feel clunky or uneven. There's a sense of foreboding and dread throughout the film when Bastien meets Chloé and she tells him about the legend of the ghost in the lake. Of course, like most films with a setting at an isolated cabin by lake, something horrifying will probably happen. The film doesn't dwell on its horror/fantasy elements until later in the third act, but even then it's not very scary. Exposition, i.e. about the ghost haunting the lake, is kept to a bare minimum. Falcon Lake focuses more on the blossoming friendship between Bastien and Chloé as he undergoes a sexual awakening and she flirts with a 19-year-old man. She teases Bastien and leads him on. Where did she learn that kind of behavior? It's not very clear. Perhaps its from her mother or from pop culture. The sexual tension between Bastien and Chloé remains understated, for the most part, until it inevitably culminates in a sexual act. Even though the film is about sex, it doesn't go too far nor does it explore it as profoundly as Catherine Breillat does in her unflinching and provocative films like Fat Girl. Is the ghost story really needed? Not really. It doesn't add anything except a little suspense and tension when there's already enough tension between Bastien and Chloé who's obsessed with faking her own death. What's going on inside of Chloé and Bastien? That's unclear as well and remains left up to the audience to interpret on their own because there's no voice-over narration nor do the screenwriters resort to spoon-feeding the audience with on-the-nose dialogue. So, the film strikes a fine balance between realism and fantasy/mystery.  

       The performances by the child actors are pretty good, especially Sara Montpetit who's radiant here. The film's emotional depth derives from their performances more than from the screenplay, to be fair. The set design, lighting, camerawork and the landscape in general combines to create an eerie atmosphere. Perhaps the ghost haunting the lake symbolises something--what exactly, though? The answer to that's unclear and, again, left up to the audience to interpret and figure out. The pace moves slowly, so if you're not used to a slow-burning movie with children in it, it'll take time to get used to the pace, but it's a refreshing pace that trusts the audience's patience. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, Falcon Lake is a gently moving, atmospheric and captivating coming-of-age film.  

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Yellow Veil Pictures.
Opens at The Metrograph.

Padre Pio

Directed by Abel Ferrara

      In 1918, Padre Pio (Shia LaBeouf), an Italian priest, arrives at a Capuchin monastery in the village of San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, to confront his inner demons. Meanwhile, Italian soldiers return to the village from WWI.

      Based on a true story, the screenplay by writer/director Abel Ferrara and Maurizio Braucci takes a more impressionistic approach to the narrative which barely scratches the surface of its themes of sin, forgiveness, anger, sadness and suffering. Padre Pio is an emotionally wounded man who's seeking a way out of his emotional struggles stemming from his sinful past. What sins did he commit? The film isn't interested in looking at that head-on, so it's not quite clear if Padre Pio is looking at them head-on either. This isn't an unflinching character study. There's not nearly enough of a window into Padre Pio's heart, mind and soul which is disappointing because a lot goes on inside of him. His narration isn't very deep, insightful or revealing. He's also more of a supporting character than a main character. In one of the film's very awkward scenes, a nameless tall man (Asia Argento), who confides in Padre Pio a sinful thought involving his daughter. Why is the tall man nameless? Why isn't there more backstory about him or Padre Pio for that matter? Padre Pio is a very dehumanizing film, although it does get pretty dark and disturbing. Without any levity to lessen the heaviness, it turns into a monotonous, repetitive and lethargic experience while Padre Pio remains at a cold distance from the audience.

      Shia LaBeouf gives a mediocre performance at best. He's not very convincing as the priest, although his beard looks real and the costume design adds some much-needed authenticity as well. He's undermined by the vapid screenplay that ultimately fails to breathe life into an interesting character. The cinematography and set design are fine with good use of lighting, but this isn't the kind of film where the style compensates for the lack of substance. At a running time of 1 hour and 44 minutes, Padre Pio is shallow, dull and monotonous. It's a squandered opportunity to be a provocative and profound glimpse into the heart and mind of a tortured soul.

Number of times I checked my watch: 6
Released by Gravitas Ventures.
Opens at Roxy Cinema.

Past Lives

Directed by Celine Song

      Na Young (Moon Seung-ah) became childhood friends with Hae Sung (Seung Min Yim) in Seoul before she moved with her mom to Toronto. Twelve years later, Na Young, now called Nora (Greta Lee), looks up Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) on the internet and reconnects with him through a Skype session. Another twelve years pass and Nora is now living in New York City with her husband, Arthur (John Magaro), when Hae Sung decides to visit her after breaking up with his girlfriend.

      In the opening scene, Nora, Hae Sung and Arthur at a bar while strangers sitting across from them try to guess their relationship to one another. Are Nora and Haae Sung brother and sister? Boyfriend and girlfriend? Husband and wife? Who's Arthur? Their tour guide, perhaps? Writer/director Celine Song's decision to begin the film with that scene before flashing back to show how they met is very intriguing and unconventional while also effectively establishing the film's gently comedic tone. The strangers represent the audience because you'll have the same questions, although you might not jump to the same conclusions as the strangers do. Within the first hour, you'll realize that first impressions based on observation alone can be deceiving. At first, Nora and Hae Sung seem like the kind of characters that Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks used to play in 90's romantic comedies like Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail or Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal's characters in When Harry Met Sally.... Past Lives isn't a Hollywood film, though, nor does it try to be. A lot goes unsaid and doesn't quite go in the direction that you expect it would. It's a movie for adults because it deals with friendship, romance, love and longing in a very emotionally mature way without oversimplifying anything while treating each character as a complex human being. It's just as sophisticated as a French movie like An Affair of Love and A Man and a Woman or as honest as (500) Days of Summer and Once. There are no villains, no sex/nudity, and nobody gets cancer or murders someone. There is, indeed, a love triangle between Nora, Hae Sung and Arthur, but without melodrama, schmaltz or heavy-handedness. As the years go by, the relationship between Nora and Hae Sung becomes increasingly complicated and complex which makes the film all the more compelling, engrossing and enriching on an emotional level.

      Greta Lee, Teo Yoo and John Magaro each manages to give a natural and nuanced performance that helps to make the film feel more true-to-life. The cinematography is exquisite with some very poetic shots that speak louder than words, like a recurring shot of a puddle. As Hitchcock once wisely observed, some films are like a slice-of-cake while others are more like a slice-of-life. Truffaut once also wisely observed that a truly great film has just the right balance of Truth and Spectacle. Through the performances, the screenplay, the editing, and the cinematography, Past Lives finds just the right balance between Truth and Spectacle while finding enough Spectacle within its many truths. It's also both a slice-of-life and a slice-of-cake: it's a life-cake albeit one that doesn't try too hard to please the audience. At a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes, Past Lives is wise, honest and genuinely heartfelt. It's destined to become a classic love story.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by A24.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and AMC Lincoln Square.


Directed by Cédric Klapisch

      Élise (Marion Barbeau), a ballet dancer, injures her ankle after she falls during a dance production. A doctor informs her that she won't be able to dance for two years which frustrates her because dancing is her passion. To top it all off, she discovers that her boyfriend cheated on her. She accepts a job as a caterer in the French countryside where she meets Josiane (Muriel Robin) and Hofesh (Hofesh Shechter), who happens to be a choreographer/dancer. Her friend, Sabrina (Souheila Yacoub) is also there along with Sabrina's eccentric boyfriend Loïc (Pio Marmaï).

      The screenplay by writer/director Cédric Klapisch and co-writer Santiago Amigorena The plot doesn't have any surprises and there are some contrived subplots, like Élise's physiotherapist, Yann (François Civil), who's romantically interested in her. Hofesh happens to have a modern dance company that he encourages Élise to join despite putting her physical health at risk. Of course, she seized the opportunity to try a new form of dance even if it means going against her doctor's orders to stop dancing for the time being to let her injury heal. The scenes at the idyllic countryside in Brittany, France are mildly engaging and also a bit meandering. The supporting characters like Loïc remain underdeveloped. He provides some comic relief, but not much else. Then there's Josiane, an older woman who becomes like a surrogate mother to Élise offering her sage advice---she's the kind of character that Thelma Ritter used to play a lot in the Golden Age of American Cinema. The dance sequences, especially during the opening scene, are among the film's most captivating moments. Everything outside of the dance sequences don't quite match the level of exhilaration. It also doesn't quite go deeper enough into darker territory as though it were afraid to unflinchingly show Élise's emotional struggles. It works best as a story about a woman who learns how to conquer adversity. Hopefully, Élise grasps the message of Pablo Neruda's poem: "They can cut all of the flowers, but they can't stop the spring from coming."

      Marion Barbeau gives a convincingly moving performance that elevates well above the mediocre screenplay. She's also a wonderful dancer, so it's mesmerizing to watch her dance. In terms of style, Rise has one of the most creative and lively opening title sequences in recent memory. The opening dance sequences, too, are invigorating, beautifully-shot and a great way to hook the audience. If only writer/director Cédric Klapisch and co-writer Santiago Amigorena could have maintained that hook and energy throughout the film. There are also some pacing issues because the scenes in Brittany move a bit sluggish at times with very little narrative momentum, but that's a minor flaw that doesn't become systemic. At a running time of 1 hour and 57 minutes, Rise is an empowering journey with exhilarating dance sequences, but it's ultimately undercooked and bites off more than it could chew.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Blue Fox Entertainment.
Opens at Quad Cinema.

The Roundup: No Way Out

Directed by Lee Sang-yong


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Capelight Pictures.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers & Justin K. Thompson

      Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) lives with his mother, Rio (voice of Luna Lauren Velez), and father, Jefferson (voice Brian Tyree Henry), a policeman who will imminently become a police captain. Little do they know that Miles is actually Spider-Man and that his new girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (voice of Hailee Steinfeld), is actually Spider-Woman. As Miles and Gwen use their superpower to travel across the multiverse together, they face villains including Dr. Jonathan Ohnn, a.k.a. The Spot (voice of Jason Schwartzman).

      The screenplay by co-writers Phil Lord, Chris Miller and David Callaham has a complex plot that takes its time to unfold without bombarding the audience with exposition. If you didn't watch the previous film, worry not because there's a brief recap of key information about how Miles became Spider-Man and how Gwen became Spider-Woman. The first 10 minutes with Gwen and her father, George (voice of Shea Whigham), a policeman, are intense and action-packed. Fortunately, the film lowers its intensity when it switches to Miles' subplot and adds some slapstick comedy when introducing The Spot as he's trying to rob an ATM machine. Had the same high intensity continued for the rest of the film, it would've been exhausting and overwhelming.  Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse could've easily just jumped directly to the meat of the story and had Miles and Greta entering the multiverse right after meeting, but it doesn't. It actually takes a break from the action to develop the relationship between Miles and his mother and father, and, more importantly, to humanize them. There's even a surprisingly moving scene with Miles and his mother which shows that she's a good parent who loves him unconditionally. His father is trying his best to be a better father. Meanwhile, Miles struggles with the dilemma of whether or not to disclose to his loving parents that he's Spider-Man. He's also in love with Greta, but their relationship is more complicated than he'd like it to be. When they finally enter the multiverse together, that's when the film's narrative momentum picks up and becomes a wildly entertaining, zany and thrilling ride full of surprises and twists, none of which will be spoiled here. The dialogue is witty and filled with some funny and clever zingers. Of course, there are plenty of easter eggs not just within the dialogue, but visually, too, in the background, some of which you might miss if you blink. Bravo to the filmmakers for not only maintaining suspense, but also writing characters who are easy to care about because they feel real. Underneath all of the action, Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse has a warm, beating heart. That alone is a rare feat for a Hollywood blockbuster these days.

      On a purely aesthetic level, Spider-Man: Across the Universe is a mesmerizing and stunning visual achievement that combines 2D and 3D animation. The use of color is superb while adding both style and substance. Yes, sometimes a film's style can, indeed, become part of its substance. It's astonishing beyond words to behold the stunning visual effects and the attention to detail which will make this film rewatchable. Its also worth mentioning the wonderful casting of the voice actors, even those in the supporting roles like Rachel Dratch who shines as the voice of Miles' principal. The pace moves very fast during the first 10 minutes before slowing down a little to let the audience breathe for a change, but without slowing down too much which would have led to an uneven pace. You'll feel so immersed within the story that you won't feel the weight of the film's running time.  At 2 hours and 20 minutes, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a triumph! It's an exhilarating, rousing spectacle brimming with palpable thrills, suspense, humor, and a warm, beating heart. 

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

Unidentified Objects

Directed by Juan Felipe Zuleta

      Peter (Matthew August Jeffers), a gay, unemployed dwarf, agrees to drive his neighbor, Winona (Sarah Hay), from NYC to Canada. She initially claims that she wants to visit her sister there, but soon admits that the real reason for their road trip is to meet extraterrestrials at an alien abduction site in Canada.

      The screenplay by Leland Frankel deserves to be commended for taking a bold, unconventional premise that combines sci-fi, drama, surrealism and comedy. Genre-bending is no easy task. With a less sensitive screenplay, Unidentified Objects could've turned into a clunky and uneven mess as it combines sci-fi, drama, surrealism and comedy. To be fair, the film isn't so much about its plot, but rather how it goes about its plot and the emerging friendship between Peter and Winona, two people with very different personalities that clash at times. Despite their differences, they still manage to connect with each other along the way. They bicker and argue, not surprisingly. Peter comes across as grumpy, but there's more to him than meets the eye. The same can be said about Winona who's more upbeat. The comedy isn't always laugh-out-loud funny and the film doesn't take its sci-fi elements too far enough into bonkers or brilliance territory that would've made this a cult midnight movie classic. However, there are some refreshingly bizarre twists, witty dialogue and surprisingly tender moments which will keep you entertained while also provoking you emotionally. Just don't think too much about the silly and goofy sci-fi subplot which, fortunately, remains a minor subplot.

      Matthew August Jeffers and Sarah Hay gives convincingly moving performances and have wonderful chemistry together and Peter and Winona. You want them to end up together even though they're not a romantic couple per se. The way Peter affects Winona and vice versa is heartwarming, delightful and uplifting without being cloying. The cinematography and editing are also worth mentioning because they don't just add visual style during key moments, but also make the movie feel slightly more cinematic. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, Unidentified Objects is wildly entertaining, refreshingly bold and unconventional, but not funny, bonkers or brilliant enough to join the club of midnight cult classics.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Quiver Distribution.
Opens at Cinema Village.