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Reviews for March 17th, 2017

After the Storm

Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

      Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), a private detective, struggles to make ends meet while dealing with a gambling addiction. His passion is for writing, but it's been over a decade since he published his last award-winning novel. Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa), his young son, lives with Ryota's ex-wife, Kyoko (Yoko Maki), who tell Ryota that she won't let him see Shingo if he can't pay his required child support payment in full by 5 PM that day. A typhoon causes all three of them to stay the night at the apartment of Ryota's mother, Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki), who want Kyoko and Ryota to end up back together.

      After the Storm, at its core, is about a dysfunctional family trying to regain functionality while coming to terms with their human flaws. The screenplay by writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda brings each character to life in a way that makes you forget that you're watching a narrative film; it feels more like a documentary because everything seems so true-to-life. Just like with Still Walking and Like Father, Like Son, he prefers nuance and understatement over melodrama. Everything is gentle here----even the performances and the comic relief. Kudos to Koreeda for trusting the audience's patience, intelligence and emotions like he always does.

      You can watch After the Storm while judging the character of Ryota or by just experiencing what he goes through without judging him and still be emotionally engrossed by the film either way. Ryota seems like he's far from a perfect husband, but he's not a bad person, so don't be so quick to judge him. Just like any sane human being, he wants to be a better husband, parent and person which are tasks that are easier said than done. Ryoko's mother looks at the optimistic side by believing that Kyoko should have given Ryota more chances before divorcing him. She might seem initially naive, that's what she was led to believe based on how she herself was raised as a child, so it would make sense that she would look at the bright side.

      Koreeda grasps that the more specific a story is, the more universal it becomes. Every detail plays its part in the film---i.e., the exact kind of snack that Ryota remembers eating while taking shelter from a typhoon during his childhood. The typhoon that takes place could be seen as a spectacle, but the film's true spectacle is actually lies beneath the humanism: the innate struggles (a different kind of storm) of everyone to try their best to maximize their happiness and tranquility. Concurrently, the typhoon can be seen as a metaphor that symbolizes the family's emotional turmoil. As you can probably observe by now, After the Storm feels as rich and complex as a novel is with its fully-drawn characters and relationships that are relatable. Each character changes in a way by the end of the film, but their character arcs feels authentic, unlike the contrived arc of Wilson in the upcoming dysfunctional family drama Wilson. At a running time of 117 minutes, which feels more like 90 minutes, After the Storm is warm, wise, nuanced and profoundly moving. It would make for an interesting double feature with Ordinary People, The 400 Blows, and Tokyo Sonata.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Film Movement.
Opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and IFC Center.

Beauty and the Beast

Directed by Bill Condon

      Belle (Emma Watson) lives with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), in a small village in 18th Century France. She requests him to pluck a rose for her, so he sets off into the forrest, but gets lost during a stormy night and ends up at an enchanted castle where a mysterious Beast (Dan Stevens) lives. The Beast imprisons him in a dungeon for stealing a rose outside of the castle. Belle desperately searches for her father, finds him at the castle, and persuades the Beast to free him in exchange for her being imprisoned instead. She befriends talking household objects, i.e. that used to be human just like the bBast, but were turned into objects, i.e. Cogsworth the clock (voice of Ian McKellen) and Mrs. Potts the teapot (voice of Emma Thompson), when a curse was cast upon them years ago. They try to get Belle to fall in love with the Beast to finally break the curse once and for all. Meanwhile, Gaston (Luke Evans) pines for Belle and searches for her with his sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad).

      Although not quite as sweeping, magical nor exhilarating as the 1991 animated classic, Beauty and the Beast still has a fair share of captivating moments. The film soars the most during the well-choreographed musical numbers; the dramatic scenes fall a bit flat, though, and the chemistry between Belle and the Beast isn't quite as palpable as in the 1991 version nor the 1947 French black-and-white version. You might find yourself laughing at times, but don't expect to shed any tears during the seemingly rushed third act as Belle and the Beast fall in love with one another. Little kids might find some scenes to be a bit intense with the gun battles, but they're not too violent or scary. To be fair, most Disney films, even those from the first Golden Age of Animation, had dark, intense scenes. It's too bad that the screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos fails to touch the heart, mind and soul enough.

      What keeps this version afloat during the non-musical scenes is its lively supporting cast who seems to be having a great time onscreen, especially Josh Gad who's hilarious as LeFou. The exquisite, soemwhat gaudy production design looks quite dazzling and becomes a character in itself while the costume design enriches the film. Emma Watson doesn't have the charisma that Lily James had in Cinderella, but at least she's graceful and not as miscast as James Franco was as Oz in Oz the Great and Powerful. Dan Stevens is perfectly cast, though, as the Beast: he has the acting chops, good looks and charisma which help him to rise above the material. At a running time of 2 hours and 9 minutes, Beauty and the Beast is mildly entertaining with great production values, exhilarating musical numbers, and a lively supporting cast, but it lacks the heart and soul of the classic 1991 animated version.

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

The Belko Experiment

Directed by Greg McLean


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by BH Tilt.
Opens nationwide.


Directed by Lee Soo-youn

      Dr. Byun Seung-hoon (Cho Jin-Woong), a recently divorced doctor, moved to a new part of the city in a small apartment above a butcher shop. While performing a colonoscopy at work one day, he hears an elderly patient confessing to a murder which may or may not have something to do with the news reports of body parts. He suspects that the elderly man and his son might be serial killers, so he takes the investigation into his own hands after finding a severed head at the butcher shop.

      Bluebeard is an intelligent, gripping crime thriller in the vein of the great crime thrillers of the 90's like Seven and The Usual Suspects with some Hitchcockian suspense. Writer/director Lee Soo-youn begins the film showing a significant plot detail: the thawing of a river that leads to mysterious body parts washing ashore. Part of the suspense comes from whether or not the audience can trust Dr. Byun Seung-hoon's suspicions about the butcher shop beneath his apartment. Cho Jin-Woong gives a solid performance in a complex role and makes his character somewhat likable even if he may not be entirely relatable. The twisty third act takes the film into unexpectedly complex psychologically terrifying territory and will make you want to rewatch Bluebeard from the very beginning from an entirely different perspective which won't be spoiled here.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Well Go USA.
Opens at AMC Empire.


Directed by François Ozon


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Music Box Films.
Opens at Film Forum and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
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