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Reviews for June 8th, 2018

Documentary Round-Up

      The Workers Cup tackles an important human rights issue: the slave labor of migrant workers in Qatar who travel from Africa and Asia to build a stadium that will host the World Cup in 2022. They're paid very little, have poor living conditions at the labor camps, and sign a contract that prohibits them from seeking work elsewhere. To quench their lover for soccer, they form a "workers welfare" soccer tournament. Director Adam Sobel blends footage of the migrants telling their stories with footage from their soccer games. Unfortunately, The Workers Cup doesn't cut deep enough emotionally nor does it make you enraged or captivated like it should have given the subject matter. The scenes of the soccer footage seem like filler and make the film drag especially if you're not into soccer. If Sobel were to include more intimate portraits of the migrants' lives and asked more provocative questions, this would've been emotionally engrossing and illuminating. Interviews with government officials would have added much-needed scope and balance. At a running time of 86 minutes, which feels more like 2 hours, The Workers Cup opens at The Museum of the Moving Image via Passion River Films.

      It might be best if you watch The Quest of Alain Ducasse while you're hungry because hunger is the only emotion that it manages to generate in audiences with its scrumptuous sights of food. Food porn is not enough to elevate this doc beyond mediocrity. Director Gilles de Maistre follows world-renown chef Alain Ducasse as he prepares to open a new restaurant, Ore, at the Palace of Versailles. You'll learn about how hard he works asa chef and how often travels around the world. You learn virtually nothing about what he's like "behind the curtain", so-to-speak. What makes him angry? What makes him sad? This is far from a warts-and-all documentary; it seems too enamored with its subject and puts him on a pedastal without stopping along the way to get to know him. The Quest of Alain Ducasse is stylishly edited, but it leaves audiences feeling cold and pales in comparison to the far superior Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It opens at Quad Cinema via Magnolia Pictures.

Hearts Beat Loud

Directed by Brett Haley


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Gunpowder & Sky.
Opens Landmark at 57 West and Regal Union Square 14.


Directed by Ari Aster

      Annie Graham (Toni Collette) lives with her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), and Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro). After Annie's estranged mother dies, she attends a grief counseling support group where she meets and befriends Joan (Ann Dowd). Strange, supernatural events begin to occur revealing dark secrets from the dysfunctional family's past.

      The less you know about Hereditary's plot before watching it, the more you'll be surprised by its twists and turns. Writer/director Ari Aster knows how to build suspense like the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. He trusts the audience's patience from the very first frame as he gradually introduces the characters each of whom is interesting and relatable in their own way. Annie creates miniature art which reflects her state of mind. Charlie has an allergy to peanuts which becomes an important detail later on. Like a typical teenager, Peter wants to go to a party with his friends from school and to smoke weed with them. The more you get to know the characters, the more you feel emotionally invested in them as human beings when tragedies befall them.

      Aster grounds the film in realism, so you can look at Hereditary as a tragic drama about a dysfunctional family coping with grief and/or as a psychological horror film in the vein of Don't Look Now which it would make a great double feature with. Both films allow you to use imagination, a very powerful tool, as a means of terrifying you. He wisely avoids resorting to cheap scares like in Insidious or The Conjuring and incorporating just the right amount of exposition without spoon-feeding or babying the audience. He treates them as intelligent adults. Moreover, he effectively creates a foreboding atmosphere through the use of lighting, pacing, musical score, set design and sound design. The house becomes a character within itself and even the trees surrounding it add to the creepy atmosphere. Hereditary's style essentially becomes part of its substance.

      Fortunately, Aster doesn't overdo the film's style. In other words, it never feels over-produced nor does it bombard you with visual effects or shaky cam. There's something refreshingly old-fashioned about the way he shot the film. Perhaps it would look even better in black-and-white. The only scene when the audience becomes aware of the camera is when Annie sits a circle with the grief counseling support group and the camera slowly zooms in on her. If you're a perceptive audience member, you'll notice some of the clues that Aster includes to foreshadow the events to come. Bonus points if you know Hebrew because that would help with one of the clues that has the words "Liftoach Pandemonium." You will also find some symbolism in the story that Peter learns at school. Every detail, even something as seemingly trivial as a doormat, has purpose and meaning, so don't be surprised if you'll be tempted to rewatch the film to catch everything that you might've missed the first time. Watching it on the big screen would be ideal because its visual and emotional impact would be diminished on the small screen.

      The performances from everyone on screen are superb. Toni Collette one of the best performances of her career and deserves to awards recognition later this year. She yells without over-acting. Alex Wolff also impresses with his moving performance as do the always-reliable Gabriel Byrne and Ann Dowd. It's very rare for a psychological horror film to have a strong story and interesting characters while keeping you emotionally and intellectually engaged concurrently. You won't actually feel like you're losing brain cells while watching Hereditary. At a running time of 2 hours and 7 minutes, it's a taut, heartfelt and intelligent psychological horror film with superb performances, exquisite production design, and just enough room for interpretation.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by A24 Films.
Opens nationwide.


Directed by Alisa Khazanova


Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by The Vladar Company.
Opens at Cinema Village.


Directed by Christina Choe


Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Opens Landmark at 57 West and Cinema Village.

Ocean's 8

Directed by Gary Ross


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