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Reviews for March 24th, 2017

Documentary Round-Up

      In Karl Marx City, directed by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein, Epperlein investigates the truth behind the suicide of her father who had lived in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) while under surveillance by the Stasi. He may or may not have been a Stasi informant. While researching the Stasi, she finds a lot of revealing and frightening evidence about what lengths the Stasi took to spy on ordinary citizens. She also reads the information that the Stasi gathered about her father. Interviews with former citizens of the GDR are equally moving, shocking and enraging much like this well-edited documentary itself. Every ordinary citizen ended up distrusting his fellow neighbor. It's difficult to avoid making connections between the Stasi's surveillance and the U.S. government's surveillance of its own people which Snowden and Wikileaks have exposed---even though the level of the U.S. government's surveillance isn't as high as the Stasi's. Most of Karl Marx City is in black & white cinematography which compliments the film's dark theme and tone before it turns to color toward the end. This would make for a very good double feature with 1984---not with Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others because, according to one, interviewee who served as a consultant on Henckel von Donnersmarck's film, Stasi officers were not as compassionate as the Stasi officer in that film. Bond/360 opens Karl Marx City at Film Forum. 77 Minutes, directed by Charlie Minn, is a provocative documentary about the mass shooting at a McDonald's in San Ysidro, California on July 18th, 1984. The title refers to the length of time it took for the SWAT team to kill the gunman who had murdered 21 individuals and wounded 19. Minn interviews former members of the SWAT team as well as family of the victims and survivors combined with footage from the mass shooting itself. He asks tough questions to each subject, especially SWAT commander Jerry Sanders who became chief of police in San Diego. Did the SWAT make any errors in their intelligence and decision-making that cost innocent lives? Do they have any regrets? What did they know? What did they not know? The victims' families express their anger, sadness and frustration in their candid interviews. One of the best questions that Minn which no documentary filmmaker has been perspective enough to ask in the past is whether or not naming the mass shooter would give the shooter what he wanted: fame. Wouldn't talking about the killer inspire other psychopaths to commit a mass shooting to gain fame? We should be talking about the victims, not the criminals. Minn wisely leaves out the killers name, and focuses instead on the incompetence of the SWAT team and the pain of the victims' families. Michael Moore lost his bite after Sicko, so it's nice to know that at least one documentary filmmaker still has his completely intact. Prepare to be enraged, riveted and profoundly moved by this searing and unflinching documentary. 77 Minutes opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. God Knows Where I Am, co-directed by Jedd and Todd Wider, is an emotionally devastating doc about Linda Bishop, a 51-year-old woman who suffered from schizophrenia and died alone while squatting in an abandoned farmhouse in New Hampshire. She survived on apples and rainwater until her supply of apples dwindled and she starved to death in 2008. To pass the time, she wrote down her thoughts and feelings in a diary. Lori Singer reads the words from Bishop's diary which encompass the vast majority of the film. Talking head interviews with friends of Linda as well as her daughter, Joan, help to paint somewhat of a clearer picture of what went wrong with her. She was admitted to a mental hospital and given medication, but she was released from the hospital without anyone of authority supervising her to make sure she actually took her medication. She eventually stopped taking it which led to her going off the deep end and being delusional. The filmmakers spend a lot of time telling Bishop's story from her diary juxtaposed with beautifully-shot footage in and around the farmhouse. This is not the kind of documentary that's easy to sit through because it goes into dark territory with virtually no levity. The meatiest part comes when the doc sheds a little light on how the healthcare system failed Linda Bishop. It would have been interesting to explore in further detail what changed could and should be made to prevent such tragedies from happening again. How often do these incidents happen? How does Linda Bishop's story fit in the big picture? God Knows Where I Am manages to be enormously moving, intimate and haunting, but not insightful enough. This is not the kind of documentary that's easy to sit through because it goes into dark territory with virtually no levity. You might want to watch an uplifting Pixar movie afterward to shake off the film's emotional heaviness. It opens via Bond/360 at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

The Blackcoat's Daughter

Directed by Oz Perkins


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by A24 Films.
Opens at Village East Cinema.

The Boss Baby

Directed by Tom McGrath


Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Dreamworks Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

The Devotion of Suspect X

Directed by Alec Su

      When the body of Fu Jian (Zhao Yang) washes ashore along a riverbank, Fu Jian's ex-wife, Jing (Ruby Lin), and teenage daughter, Xiaoxin (Deng Enxi), become the prime suspects. Complicating matters, Shi Hong (Zhang Yilu), Jing's neighbor, persuades Jing and Xiaxin to help them cover up their crimes. Professor Tang Chuan (Wang Kai), who teaches at the police academy, believes that there's more to the murder mystery than meets the eye, and he uses his investigative skills to connect the dots.

      Although the identity of the murderer gets revealed early on, but that doesn't mean that there aren't any surprising twists and turns up The Devotion of Suspect X's sleeve. Director Alec Su deserves to be commended for establishing a gritty tone with great atmosphere. The plot becomes increasingly complex and provocative as it progresses, especially when you learn about how the professor knew Shi from his childhood. Shi's relationship with Jing also adds an interesting layer to the film as you wonder why he's risking his livelihood to help her and her daughter. How he helps them precisely and how the professor learns about Shi's precise involvement won't be spoiled here.

      The third act, which could've been a mess with a less clever and sensitive screenplay, feels refreshingly poignant while the twists and turns makes sense in hindsight without being confusing or silly. Its running time of 117 feels more like 90 minutes with not a single scene that drags.The Devotion of Suspect X is ultimately a gripping, intelligent, psychological crime thriller in the vein of the great crime thrillers of the 90's like Copycat, Seven, The Usual Suspects and even Primal Fear. Prepare to be on the edge of your seat from start to finish.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by China Lion Film Distribution.
Opens at AMC Empire.
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