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Reviews for March 10th, 2023

Documentary Round-Up

      No, despite the title, Therapy Dogs isn't in any way, shape or form a documentary about dogs that improve the lives of other people; it's a snapshot of Ethan Eng and Justin Morrice's senior year of high school. Partly scripted, partly a cinéma vérité doc, they do a great job of blurring the line between truth and fiction, but that's pretty much the only hook of this film. Ethan and Justin are best friends and do what many teenagers do: party, do drugs, get into trouble, deal with stress, and have a lot of fun as graduation approaches. It's essentially a bunch of vignettes from what seems like Ethan and Justin's home videos, so there's a voyeuristic aspect to watching the film as though you were prying into their private lives. What's Therapy Dogs' raison d'être? It has nothing profound or surprising to say about teenagers or "coming-of-age." You keep on waiting for something to happen, like in those "found footage" movies, but, alas, it starts nowhere interesting and ends up nowhere interesting. Ethan eng and Justin Morrice remain as strangers to the audience from start to finish which is a sign of a weak documentary and storytelling. A far better doc about coming-of-age that also blurs the line between truth and fiction with more warmth, wisdom and humor is American Teen. At a running time of 1 hour and 23 minutes, which feels more like 3 hours, Therapy Dogs is shallow, dull, aimless and forgettable. It opens at Alamo Drafthouse before hitting VOD on March 17th, 2023.


Directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods

      Mills (Adam Driver), pilots a spaceship that transports cryogenically-frozen humans to another planet. His sick daughter, Nevine (Chloe Coleman), waits for him at home. When meteors strike his spaceship, it ends up crashing on Earth 65 million years ago during the Dinosaur Age. He and a young girl, Koa (Ariana Greenblatt), the only other survivors of the crash which split the spaceship in two. The other half rests at the top of a mountain that Mills and Koa must travel to  in order to be able to travel back home. They battle dinosaurs along the way.

      The screenplay by co-writers/directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods does a terrible job of incorporating exposition and "world-building." Key bits of information like what Mills' life is like at home and what the world he left is like are missing. Does he really miss no one other than his daughter whose photo and video recordings he watches while trapped on prehistoric Earth? The plot synopsis above describes pretty much everything that happens in the film except for one new revelation that won't be spoiled here. Unlike many far superior sci-fi thrillers, 65 fails to be thrilling, suspenseful or even remotely intriguing. A sci-fi film doesn't have to be brainy to be enjoyable as long as it's entertaining on a palpable level. With the exception of a few action scenes, there's nothing to entertain the audience. The relationship between Mills and Koa is weak. She doesn't know English except for a few words like "family." You never even get to see what the family she misses were like, but you do know that they're not alive. Koa, on the hand, is under the impression that they're still alive because Mills lies to her that they'll be reunited at the top of the mountain. That lie makes him unlikable which is fine because that flaw makes him human. What other flaws does he have? What about giving him a personality? The screenwriters don't even bother to give him one. The dialogue is witless, on-the-nose and stilted. What about comic relief? Is that too much to ask for? If 65 didn't take itself so seriously 100% of the time, it might've been at least more fun instead of monotonous, anemic and tedious.

      Unfortunately, despite the charisma  Adam Driver, he's undermined by the weak, lazy and vapid screenplay that under-utilizes his acting skills. This role is beneath him. At least Bruce Dern had a much more witty, smart and bold screenplay to work with in the underrated sci-fi thriller Silent Running. 65 isn't as clunky and boring as After Earth, though, so at least there's that going for it. The CGI looks fine and the jungle setting adds some breathtaking visuals, but those elements come with diminishing returns. This isn't one of those films where the style compensates for the lack of substance. Moreover, the ending feels rushed, abrupt and leaves more questions than answers. The best thing about 65 is its surprisingly brief running time. If it were 3 hours, it would've been a chore to sit through. At merely 91 minutes, it's a lazy, vapid and tedious sci-fi thriller that's low on excitement, suspense, intrigue and, above all, entertainment. Adam Driver is wasted.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Columbia Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

99 Moons

Directed by Jan Gassmann

      Bigna (Valentina Di Pace), a 28-year-old scientist, spends her time outside of work having casual sex with strangers. She has no interest in settling down for a relationship with anyone. Along comes Frank (Dominik Fellmann), one of her new sexual partners, who's open to having a serious relationship and falling in love. Over the course of eight years, they gradually become a couple.

      Some movies are a slice-of-life while some are a slice-of-cake, as Hitchcock once keenly observed. 99 Moons is very much a slice-of-life or, more accurately, a slice of a relationship between two adults who initially meet just for casual sex with no strings attached. In terms of personality and lifestyle, Bigna and Frank are like two characters at the beginning of romantic comedies like Bringing Up Baby or When Harry Met Sally...: they're very, very  different. Opposites attract, after all. What starts out as meaningless sex turns into something far more meaningful the more they spend time together. They debate, argue and have plenty of sex. It's equally fascinating and moving to observe how their relationship evolves and how they grow closer despite their differences. Plot-wise, 99 Moons does feel very thin and repetitive, though. There's not much Spectacle--there no action sequences, palpable suspense or big twists. The film remains character-driven and focused on the relationship between Bigna and Frank without veering off to any tangents. Thank you, writer/director Jan Gassmann for seeing and treating these characters as human beings with a heart, mind and soul. To be fair, its not quite as cerebral as Eric Rohmer's profound look at relationships in his romantic dramas, though, nor like the underrated Swedish film Dear John from the 1960s or the brilliant An Affair of Love, but it comes close.  

      Valentina Di Pace and Dominik Fellmann give raw, charisma and natural performances. Their chemistry feels palpable which makes it easier to be emotionally engaged by Bigna and Frank's relationship and want them to end up together.  You'd never believe that they're both first-time actors, so fortunate that writer/director Jan Gassmann took a chance on them and detected their acting talent and charisma. The pace moves slowly, though, which means that Gassmann trusts the audience's patience. He also films the sex scenes with nudity that doesn't leave much to the imagination, but there's nothing that pushes any envelopes. This is definitely a movie for adults, though. The emotional nakedness on screen feels much more intimate than the physical nakedness. At a running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, 99 Moons is an unflinching, honest and emotionally mature exploration of love and sex. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Strand Releasing.
Opens at Quad Cinema.


Directed by Bobby Farrelly

      Marcus (Woody Harrelson) gets fired from his job as a coach of a minor league basketball team before getting into a drunk driving accident. The court sentences him to 90 days of community service to coach a team of basketball players with intellectual disabilities.

      Based on the Spanish film Campeones, the screenplay by Mark Ruzzo is a clunky, contrived and schmaltzy mess. From the moment that Marcus learns that Alex (Kaitlin Olson), a one night stand of his, happens to be the older sister of one of the basketball players whom he's coaching, the audience can easily predict that they'll end up together. There's nothing wrong with following conventional plot formulas or for a plot to be predictable. However, you can feel the wheels of the screenplay turning every step of the way which almost always signifies a very weak screenplay and makes it hard to be emotionally invested in any of the characters. Marcus isn't very likable from the start--he's reckless, obnoxious, rude and selfish. Unfortunately, his character arc isn't even remotely believable. The same can be said for the cheesy romance between him and Alex. Basically, none of the beats land--even the attempts at humor fall flat. There are also tonal issues.  Part underdog sports drama, part romance, part comedy, Champions at times seems like it's a satire of an inspirational sports comedy like equally unfunny The Ringer. It's hard to watch it without thinking of much more entertaining sports dramedies like Hoosiers, The Mighty Ducks, and The Replacements which succeed precisely where this film fails.

      The performances range from mediocre to poor with no one getting the chance to shine except for Madison Tevlin. She, Kaitlin Olsen and Woody Harrelson deserve a better screenplay as do Cheech Marin and Ernie Hudson who briefly show up in supporting role. Woody Harrelson and Kaitlin Olsen sorely lack chemistry. Did they really pass the chemistry test? It's hard to imagine that. The use of song Tubthumping by Chumbawama--which is used twice--is yet another example of how desperate,unsubtle and lazy Champions is and how it tries too hard to uplift the audience, but without earning the uplift. Moreover, the pacing is uneven, there are awkward editing choices, and the film overstays its welcome by clocking past the 2 hour mark. At a running time of 2 hours and 10 minutes, Champions is a bland, clunky, tonally uneven and painfully unfunny misfire. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Focus Features.
Opens nationwide.

Future TX

Directed by Tim Clague and Danny Stack

      12-year-old Dylan (Arran Kemp) and his friend Molly (Adele Congreve) buy their first cell phones with money from Dylan's father (Doug Cockle). Immediately afterward, they both receive a call from a mysterious man who claims to be from the year 2048 and says that it's up to them to save the world with his help.

      The screenplay by co-writers/directors Tim Clague and Danny Stack is pretty straightforward, focused and easy-to-follow in terms of its plot without going off into unnecessary unplots or tangents. It's not quite as thrilling as other sci-fi movies for kids like Spy Kids or Flight of the Navigator, but it comes close enough. The less you try to over-analyze the logic of the plot, the better because very little of it makes much sense in retrospect. It's somewhat silly at times and doesn't quite take its concepts very far or with much depth. Everything that happens within the plot from start to finish can be easily predicted from a mile away with no surprises. Exposition is kept to a minimum, so you learn very little about the man from the future. That said, at least there's nothing cringe-inducing on screen like in Mac and Me nor does the film infantilize the audience like Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure does. It's also refreshing to see a movie for kids that doesn't bombard the audience with action sequences.

      The CGI looks fine for a low budget movie and, fortunately, the film doesn't heavily rely on it as a means of entertaining the audience. The pace moves fast with no scenes that overstay their welcome. At a running time of 1 hour and 28 minutes, Future TX is a light, breezy and family-friendly sci-fi adventure. Kids will love it.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Level 33 Entertainment.
Opens in select theaters.

The Magic Flute

Directed by Florian Sigl

      17-year-old Tim Walker (Jack Wolfe) moves out of his home in London to attend the Mozart All Boys Music School, a boarding school in the Austrian Alps. He falls in love with a girl, Sophie (Niamh McCormack), and deals with a hostile headmaster, Dr. Longbow (F. Murray Abraham). At the school library, he discovers a portal into the world of Mozart's classic opera, "The Magic Flute," where he goes on an adventure to rescue Princess Pamina (Asha Banks).

      The screenplay by writed/director Florian Sigl and co-writers Jason Young, Christopher Zwickler and Andrew Lowery, blends fantasy, romance, adventure and musical with mixed results. It takes a lot of expository scenes for Tim to finally transport into the fantasy world of "The Magic Flute." Until then, a lot happens that remains underdeveloped and underexplored: Tim's father dies, he leaves how to attend a new school in a different country, meets a girl who becomes his love interest, meets his new roommate, and clashes with the school's arrogant headmaster who doesn't have much faith in him as a singer. The film manages to be  much more captivating and invigorating during the musical numbers in the fantasy world. There's little to no substance to the romance between Tim and Sophie, and adventures that he goes through to rescue Princess Pamina aren't very exciting. His new friendships with Papageno (Iwan Rheon) and Papagena (Stéfi Celma) in that fantasy world also lack depth or anything that would bring the characters and their relationships to life.

      The best aspect of The Magic Flute is its wildly imaginative musical numbers with wonderful voice talents. Jack Wolfe proves to be a very talented singer and a pretty good actor on top of that. It's too bad that the shallow screenplay doesn't give him enough opportunities to provide a window into Tim's heart, mind and soul. Tim comes alive, and so does the film, when he's singing. Some of the musical numbers are stunning to behold even on a visual level. The costume and makeup design are also impressive. There's some CGI effects, but not too much, so the film avoids becoming exhausting. It's a family-friendly spin on "The Magic Flute" that doesn't go too deep or too dark. At a running time of 1 hour and 55 minutes, The Magic Flute an exhilarating, visually stunning musical, but a clunky, cheesy and dull romance and adventure.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by SHOUT! STUDIOS.
Opens in select theaters nationwide.

Righteous Thieves

Directed by Anthony Nardolillo

      Annabel (Lisa Vidal) assembles a team of art thieves to recover Monet, Degas, Picasso and Van Gogh paintings stolen by the Nazis during WWII. Otto (Brian Cousins), a neo-Nazi billionaire, currently possesses them, so it's up to Annabel and her team to hatch a secret plan to steal them from Eddie. The team includes Nadia (Sasha Merci), Lucille (Jaina Lee Ortiz), Eddie (Carlos Miranda) and Bruno (Cam Gigandet).

      Despite a compelling premise that sounds like it could be a rousing thriller, Righteous Thieves fails to deliver thrills, intrigue or suspense. It suffers from the same issues that Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre suffers from: a witless, dull screenplay that doesn't take enough risks or offer any clever surprises. There's a twist that can be seen from a mile away, but what's even more disappointing is that it's revealed through stilted, on-the-nose dialogue and over-explaining. The screenplay by Michael Corcoran does a poor job of incorporating exposition and, especially, of introducing the characters all of whom are forgettable caricatures. Otto is among the many underdeveloped characters and makes for a very boring villain. When the villain isn't even that interesting, that's a major, systemic problem. The film quickly becomes a monotonous and anemic bore without anything to enliven it or to engage the audience enough on any level. The ultimate test of whether or not the film works as a heist thriller, though, is whether or not you'd want to see the team of thieves coming together again for another mission. Unfortunately, the answer to that pivotal question is a resounding, "No.".

      In terms of production values, Righteous Thieves has slick editing and maintains a fast pace, but that's not nearly enough to entertain the audience. None of the actors or actors have much charisma on-screen, and those who play the members of the team of thieves don't even have much-needed chemistry together. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, Righteous Thieves is an anemic heist film that lacks thrills, suspense, wit and clever surprises.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Lionsgate.
Opens at Cinema Village and on VOD.

Scream 6

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

      Sam (Melissa Barrera) lives in an apartment in New York City with her sister, Tara (Jenna Ortega) with Mind (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding). When Ghostface goes on a killing spree, Sam becomes the prime suspect as Detective Bailey (Dermot Mulroney) and an FBI agent, Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) investigate the serial killings. Other suspects include Danny (Josh Segarra), Anika (Devyn Nekoda), Ethan (Jack Champion) and Quinn (Liana Liberato).

      The screenplay by co-writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick maintains the same tongue-in-cheek humor and self-referential tone that made the previous film in the Scream series so entertaining. This time around, though, the tone eventually becomes stale as twist after twist pile up. Of course, there are plenty of red herrings---too many. Anyone of the suspects can be Ghostface, so part of the fun is trying to guess who's behind the mask correctly. The film opens with a witty and darkly humorous prologue when an associate film professor, Laura (Samara Weaving), waits for a guy to show up at a crowded restaurant/bar for a first date. Nothing goes as planned for her and she soon encounters Ghostface in an alley. The next scene does a great job of hooking the audience with the right amount of horror, comedy and suspense. It's downhill from there, though, as the film as well as the kills become repetitive with diminishing returns. Scream 6 tries too hard to please the audience and to poke fun at the horror/slasher genre that it turns into a tiresome, exhausting and tedious experience around the hour mark. The third act takes a steep nosedive with an overwrought, convoluted twist that over-explains and spoon-feeds everything to the audience. Why treat the audience like they're dumb? Why not trust the audience's intelligence? That's aside from the fact that there's little to no plausibility or logic when someone gets stabbed in the stomach or in the mouth, for instance, and can still walk or crawl. Not surprisingly, there are also many jump scares this time around, but they make it easier to predict when the real scare will arrive---usually it's shortly after the jump scare.  To be fair, you'll find some exhilarating set pieces with edge-of-your-seat suspense, i.e. on a ladder, and even some psychological horror, i.e. on the New York subway, but they're far and few between.  

      Scream 6 has plenty of blood and gore that leave little to the imagination, so it does deliver the goods in that department. Some of the kills are outrageously funny while others are just icky. If you're a horror fan who just cares about blood and guts, you'll be satisfied that this is the most gruesome film in the Scream series. The filmmakers should be commended for making the most out of the New York City settings which mostly take place at night. You'll think twice before walking alone through an alley at night. NYC becomes a character in and of itself--and a much more interesting character than any of the human characters on screen. The sound design, editing and music score also add some style. At a running time of 2 hours and 3 minutes, Scream 6 is a mildly engaging, intermittently suspenseful horror comedy that eventually runs out of steam and becomes exhausting, repetitive as well as convoluted. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Paramount Pictures.
Opens in select theaters nationwide.

Southern Gospel

Directed by Jeffrey A. Smith

      Samuel Allen (Max Ehrich) lives with his widowed father, Joe (Gary Weeks), a preacher. He chooses to pursue a career as a rock musician instead of becoming a preacher like his dad. He eventually starts a rock band with his good friend, Barry (J. Alphonse Nelson), gets addicted to drugs, get into an accidents, rekindles his passion for faith and preaching, and falls in love with Julie Ledbetter (Katelyn Nacon).

      Writer/director Jeffrey A. Smith deserves a lot of credit for ambitiously covering a lot of ground in Southern Gospel as the story follows Samuel from his childhood years until his adult years from the 1960's to the 1980's. A lot happens to Samuel by the time the end credits roll. He undergoes a coming-of-age and rough emotional journey before he experiences a religious awakening. The film works well as a character study of a troubled young man who, through love, faith and music, conquers adversity. His rise to fame as a musician is compelling while the relationship between him and his father feels quite tender and moving. As a romance, though, between him and Julie, that's where Southern Gospel falls flat because it's a little cheesy, clunky and undercooked. That's bound to happen given that the plot bites off more than it could chew. Jeffrey A. Smith does a fine job of balancing the film's lighter and darker elements; it's not too heavy-handed or emotionally devastating even when it digs a little deeper into Samuel's traumatic past. That said, the third act feels somewhat heartwarming and uplifting without being too preachy.

      In terms of production values, Southern Gospel is well-shot with great sound design, costume design and editing. It feels cinematic with just the right pacing. The performances are solid with no one under-acting or over-acting. At a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes, Southern Gospel is mildly engaging and non-preachy, but somewhat overstuffed, undercooked and cloying. It's not quite as powerful and moving as I Can Only Imagine.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Bridgetone Multimedia.
Opens in select theaters nationwide.


Directed by Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka

      20-year-old Lynn (Yao Honggui) is stuck in a rut. She's unhappy about going to flight attendant school which her controlling boyfriend, an influencer on social media, pressures her to do. He also convinces her to learn English. When she gets pregnant, she lies to him that she had an abortion and visits her parents who run clinic.

      Stonewalling is a very un-Hollywood coming-of-age film about a woman at a crossroads in her life. Lynn has a lot on her plate, but doesn't quite know what to do nor does she have anyone she can turn to who's a good role model who can be a good mentor and guide, too. Her boyfriend seems too self-involved to be there for her emotionally. There's a lot going on also inside of Lynn's mind which, unfortunately, co-writers/director Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka neglect. It's fine that they don't include voice-over narration, but there are too many scenes with Lynn staring off into the distance that leaves too much room for interpretation of what Lynn might be thinking and feeling. The audience remains at a cold distance from Lynn and everyone else on screen from the first frame to the last. The filmmakers also neglect to explore one of the elephants in the room: Lynn's toxic boyfriend. Is that the best that she could do? How did they meet? Why can't they break up? Lynn doesn have much of a discernible personality or anything along those lines that would breathe life into the film, so it's hard to connect with her on an emotional level. She seems just as aimless and dull as the film itself.

      Pacing is everything in a film. If last year's abortion coming-of-age film were Happening much slower paced, it would feel like a totally different film. Stonewalling suffers from a glacial pace with too many silences. Quiet moments can be powerful if they're used sparingly or if the director knows how to take what's mundane and turn it into something more profound like in the slow-paced Portuguese "slice-of-life" film Found Memories. Even Drive My Car's slow pace doesn't work against it because the narrative and characters are both emotionally engaging. Stonewalling has some stylish cinematography with interesting use of lighting and color, but, for the most part, its visual style gets repetitive quickly while taking away from the film's sense of naturalism. Many scenes last too long and feel sluggish. The filmmakers trust the audience's patience too much. At a running time of 2 hour and 28 minutes, Stonewalling is an unconventional and well-shot, but cold, overlong and sluggishly-paced coming-of-age film with too many awkward silences.

Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by KimStim.
Opens at Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.


Directed by Jon Wright

      Jamie (Douglas Booth) and his pregnant girlfriend, Maya (Hannah John-Kamen), can't wait to move out of their London apartment to a house that Maya inherited from her aunt in the countryside of Ireland. Her aunt's friend, Maeve (Niamh Cusack), warns them about mysterious goblins called Redcaps that live in the garden.

      The screenplay by writer/director Jon Wright and co-writer Mark Stay opens with an intense scene where local gangsters beat Jamie and Maya up inside their apartment. Within the first 10 minutes, a lot happens besides that: Maya learns that she's pregnant, her aunt dies, and she's inherited her house in the Irish countryside. Soon after they arrive in Ireland, they meet Maive who provides them with some brief exposition about the Redcaps. Whelan (Colm Meaney) arrives with his crew to patch up the roof above the bedroom which has a hole---a hole that will become more significant later on. Maeve shows up yet again to add even more exposition. That's one of the film's minor weaknesses: clunky exposition where characters stand around while explaining things. Despite that forgivable flaw, Unwelcome maintains a fine blend of comedy and horror with a little tongue-in-cheek and dark humor mixed in as well. The filmmakers have a terrific command of tone without unneveness. It's much funnier, suspenseful and entertaining than Cocaine Bear. The Redcaps are sort of like Gremlins, but much more creepy and violent. Unwelcome doesn't include all of its horror right away though; it builds up the tension gradually before all of the mayhem occurs later in the second act. Plausibility gets thrown out the window, but this isn't the kind of film that's aiming for plausibility. It's a fun, twisted and thoroughly entertaining guilty pleasure that delivers the goods without fizzling out, unlike Cocaine Bear that runs out of steam within the first 30 minutes.

      On a purely aesthetic level, Unwelcome has stylish cinematography and interesting use of lighting and color that recalls Dario Argento's films. The creature design of the Redcaps is superb. They're effectively frightening. Moreover, some birds-eye view shots add scope to the film, and there's one particularly well-shot scene where Maya runs through the woods. The filmmakers don't hold back on the gore and violence, so this isn't the kind of film for those with a weak stomach. Expect some pretty cool and memorable kills, especially at the end which won't be spoiled here. The pace moves briskly enough without any scenes that drag. At a running time of 1 hour and 44 minutes, Unwelcome is one of the most wildly entertaining, terrifying and funny horror comedies since Barbarian.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Well Go USA.
Opens in select AMC Theaters.

The Year of the Dog

Directed by Rob Grabow, Andrew McGinn and Michael Peterson

      Matt (Rob Grabow), an alcoholic, moves into the farmhouse of his friend,  Fred (Michael Spears), in Montana while struggling to maintain sobriety so that he could visit his dying mother in hospice sober. When he sees a stray Husky, he keeps it, names it Yup'ik and prepares it for a dog sledding contest. Meanwhile, he befriends a local woman, Julie (Alyssa Groenig), a potential love interest.  

      The screenplay by writer/director Rob Grabow first introduces the audience to Matt when he has just begun the process of battling his alcoholism. He hasn't seen his mother in years and she has terminal cancer. Her dying wish is for him to see him sober. What about his father? Gradually, Grabow provides some exposition about Matt's relationship with his father when he was a child and what caused his trauma that led to him becoming an alcoholic. There are flashbacks, but they're not over-used. Matt's life is clearly filled with tragedy, but there's hope. That hope arrives when his friend/sponsor picks him up and drives him to his home in rural Montana. Soon after, Matt meets the stray dog. In an amusing scene, he names him Yu'pik because he asks Fred to pick a name and he replies, "You pick." To be fair, The Year of the Dog doesn't have any surprises and some of the dialogue is a bit too on-the-nose, but those are minor, forgivable flaws. There are no action scenes here nor villains per se except for two silent ones: Matt's alcoholism and his mother's cancer. The bond between Matt and Yu'pik feels genuinely poignant and heartwarming. You'd have to be made out of stone to not be moved by their scenes together. Matt's relationship with Julie isn't explored as profoundly, though, but at least the film avoids becoming a schmaltzy romance. It's far more illuminating and compelling to observe what Matt's relationship or romance is like with himself as he struggles to come to terms with his traumatic past. He's lucky to have someone as kind as Julie around him and as unconditionally loving as Yu'pik as a guide on his journey toward sobriety, happiness and loving himself, warts and all. As poet Pablo Neruda once wrote, "They can cut all of the flowers, but they can't stop the spring from coming."

      Rob Grabow gives a convincingly moving performance as Matt. All of the actors and actresses are superb, even the ones in the supporting roles like Jon Proudstar and Jeff Medley. Their natural performances help to ground the film in authenticity. The dog also gives an impressive performance--he's very well-trained. The breathtaking setting of rural Montana provides some picturesque visuals and even some poetry. It's refreshing to see a movie set in a snowy landscape that's not a crime thriller. Moreover, the film moves at just the right pace--not too slowly or too quickly. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 35 minutes, The Year of the Dog is a triumph. It's a warm, wise and genuinely heartfelt journey well worth taking. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Nova Vento Entertainment.
Opens at Village East by Angelika.