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Reviews for March 11th, 2022

Documentary Round-Up

      There have been many documentaries about the Holocaust, and there will be many more--as there should be. I Am Here, directed by Jordy Sank, sheds light on the experiences of Ella Blumenthal, a Holocaust survivor who was 18 when she was sent to a concentration camp. Ella is very brave for sharing her painful memories about the horrors that she went through back then. Director Jordan Shank uses animation to depict what Ella describes even though her words alone have enough vivid details which makes the animation redundant. So, showing the animation instead of just pointing the camera at Ella and allowing the audience to observe her while she speaks, Shank doesn't rely on the audience's imagination which is far more powerful than visuals.

      Nonetheless, Ella's story remains vital and heartbreaking. She's very brave and emotionally generous for speaking candidly about her experiences on camera. It's heartwarming to watch her celebrate her 98th birthday together with her children and grandchildren, and especially to hear how she felt right after surviving the Holocaust---i.e. taking a bath for the first time. Sank doesn't focus on the time period between her arrival in South African when she married her South African husband and now; she keeps it focused on the Holocaust and immediate aftermath for the most part. So, the audience gets to know Ella only when it comes to what she went through during the Holocaust, but that's more than enough. You also listen to her words of wisdom and to observe her perseverence despite the adversities that she experienced. Kudos to director Jordy Sank for introducing the audience to a truly great role model and human being, and especially kudos to Ella for agreeing to be an integral part of this documentary. At a brief running time of just 1 hour and 13 minutes, I Am Here is vital, engrossing and profoundly illuminating. It opens at Angelika Film Center and Regal E-Walk via Blue Fox Entertainment.

All My Friends Hate Me

Directed by Andrew Gaynord

      Pete (Tom Stourton) works as a volunteer at a refugee camp and lives with his girlfriend, Sonia (Charly Clive). To celebrate his 31st birthday, he travels to the isolated, countryside home belonging to his friend, George (Joshua McGuire), whom he hasn't seen for years, for a birthday reunion with his friends. He also reunites with Fig (Georgina Campbell), George's girlfriend, Archie (Graham Dickson),  Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns), and Claire (Antonia Clarke), whom he used to date.

      All My Friends Hate Me begins as though it were a horror film. Pete leaves his girlfriend at home while he drives to the countryside where he gets lost and asks directions from a creepy old man who looks like someone who might end up kidnapping and torturing him like in Wrong Turn. The screenplay by Tom Stourton and Tom Palmer teases the audience with psychological horror which mirrors how Pete's friends play mind games with him. When Pete enters the countryside home, it's completely empty. Audiences are conditioned to think that at that moment, something sinister will definitely happen, but All My Friends Hate has something else on its mind that subverts your expections in a satisfying way. Stourton and Palmer explore the meaning of friendship, selfishness, narcissism, character and jumping to conclusions. The audience can easily jump to conclusions about the true intentions of Pete's friends as well as about Pete himself, but should they? Fortunately, the filmmakers don't offer easy answers and, instead, let the audience judge Pete and his friends if they wish to.

      Without giving away any spoilers, what happens during the birthday reunion reveals a lot about Pete so that by the time the reunion ends, you learn a lot more about his personality, how he treats others and how others view him. The screenplay effectively blends witty, offbeat and dark comedy with the drama in a way that avoids unevenness. The screenwriters wisely avoid voice-over narration, schmaltz and flashbacks, so they incorporate just the right amount of exposition without allowing the narrative momentum to wane or for the audience to be too confused. There's just the right amount of room for interpretation, too, especially in the final scene that's similar to the provocative last shot in 45 Years. Although, All My Friends Hate Me isn't as profound, poetic or powerful as Force Majeure when it comes to exploring the flaws, complexities and dysfunctions of human relationships.

      The performances are all solid with no one giving a hammy performance, so it's easy to feel the chemistry between the group of friends. They seem to have a lot of fun together on-screen, and it often shows. Some of the performances show off the comedic talents of actors, so they're skilled at handling comedy and drama equally. That's no facile feat to accomplish because if they went too far with their comedic performance, they would've been over-the-top and silly. Yes, there's some very bizarre moments, indeed, but nothing that leads to unevenness, just awkwardness which is a part of life. The film has an unpredictability that makes it surprising at times. Even the red color of the title card and the music chosen over it plays around the audience's expectations--much like the movie Safe did as well with its title card. All My Friends Hate Me does have something dark in store for Pete and the audience alone, but it's not what he or you expect based on the first thirty minutes. Another one of the film's strengths is that no scene overstays its welcome. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 33 minutes, All My Friends Hates Me is provocative, witty and refreshingly unpredictable.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Super LTD.
Opens at Angelika Film Center.

The Cherry Bushido

Directed by Hiroshi Akabane


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by HS Productions.
Opens at AMC Empire.

The Exorcism of God

Directed by Alejandro Hidalgo


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


Directed by Anthony Hayes

      A nameless drifter (Zac Efron) hitches a ride from another drifter (Anthony Hayes) in the desert while searching for gold. He finds gold and agrees to guard it while the other drifter drives to the local town to find a machine to excavate the gold. Meanwhile, he has to brave the elements of the desert as he waits for him to return.

      Gold has a simple premise that doesn't really get complex nor does it go anywhere that's interesting until the last few minutes. The screenplay by writer/director Anthony Hayes and co-writer Polly Smyth don't even both naming either of the men or providing them with backstories. Lean narratives with little exposition could work, like it does in Arctic. If you're expecting something along the lines of the gripping Three Kings which also involves gold as a McGuffin, you'll be disappointed. There's nothing surprising, and soon tedium sets in once one of the nameless drifters is left all alone in the desert. Gold barely scratches the surface of its theme of greed that it tries, but fails to explore. Its systemic problem, though, is that the lazy screenplay doesn't offer enough of a window into the heart, mind and soul of either of the characters. The tone also feels monotonous with not nearly enough comic relief that would've added much-needed levity or something to invigorate the film.

      On a positive note, Gold has two aspects going for it: Zac Ephron's raw and tender performance, and the scenery of the desert which becomes like a character in itself. Sporting a beard, Efron sinks his teeth into the nameless role, although he's undermined by the dull, anemic screenplay. He breathes life into his role and makes the most out of it, so any emotional depth in Gold derives from him. Efron helps to spin Gold into at least a mildly engaging B-movie, albeit one that's ultimately forgettable with a bitter ending that tries too hard to be shocking and subversive, but it's too little, too late.

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

Tyson's Run

Directed by Kim Bass


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