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Reviews for March 5th, 2021


Directed by Eddie Huang

      Alfred "Boogie" Chin (Taylor Takahashi), Chinese American high school basketball player, lives with his mother (Pamelyn Chee) and father (Perry Yung) in Queens. He aspires to become a professional basketball player in the NBA and hopes to land a scholarship to a college. He also hopes to be able to defeat a talented basketball player, Monk (Pop Smoke), on the court. Meanwhile, he begins a romance with a classmate from school, Eleanor (Taylour Paige).

      First-time writer/director Eddie Huang bites off more than he could chew with Boogie. The clunky, unfocused screenplay combines family drama, coming-of-age, romance, and sports drama in a way that feels disjointed as though he were trying to please too many audiences and cram a lot of characters and subplots into one movie. This is the kind of movie where you can hear the wheels of the screenplay turning from start to finish. There are also awkward flashbacks to a psychic woman who Boogie's parents visit before he was born. It seems as though Huang is too much in a hurry to move the plot forward instead of fleshing out its characters more and letting the film breathe. The pace moves quickly, so he doesn't trust the audience's patience enough. On a positive note, though, he does write Boogie as a flawed human being who's stubborn and angry at times, especially when he talks back to his coach which gets Boogie into trouble. It's too bad, then, that the shallow screenplay doesn't dig deeper to provide more of a window into the mind of Boogie since it is, after all, the film's title. He remains somewhat emotionally distant from the audience. His romance with Eleanor feels tacked-on and undercooked much like the rest of the film, and the inevitable basketball game at the end isn't as rousing as it could've been if audiences were more emotionally invested in Boogie's life .

      Taylor Takahashi gives a decent performance, but he's undermined by a weak screenplay that doesn't give him much of a chance to rise above it nor are than any scenes that allow him to shine as an actor. The supporting actors are fine, but, in that case, too, no one truly stands out. There are a few well-shot scenes with stylish cinematography, and the music helps to invigorate the film ever so slightly. At a running time of 89 minutes, Boogie is mildly engaging, but overstuffed, undercooked and too unfocused to rise above mediocrity.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Focus Features.
Opens in theaters.

Chaos Walking

Directed by Doug Liman

      Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland), a human being from Earth, lives in Prentisstown on a planet inhabited by aliens known as Spackle. Spackle allegedly cursed humans something called the Noise which allows others to hear their thoughts. Until Viola (Daisy Ridley) arrives on the planet after surviving a crash landing, Todd had never met a woman before because all women, including his mother, were mysteriously killed years ago. He desperately tries to protect Viola as he learns about the truth about how and why women were killed. Mads Mikkelsen plays Prentisstown's nefarious mayor.

      Chaos Walking is yet another sci-fi adventure set in a dystopian future. On the surface, it might appear that it has the potential to be interesting and even provocative because of the concept of the Noise, but within the first ten minutes of the film, it becomes increasingly apparent that the interesting premise has very poor execution. The screenplay by Patrick Ness and Christopher Ford, based on Ness' novel The Knife of Never Letting Go, bites off way more than it could chew. In spite of the fact that the audience can hear Todd's inner thoughts, you never really get to know him enough to care about him as a human being. The dialogue, heavy on exposition and shallow lines, feels stilted and dull more often than not. The same can be said about the romance and friendship between Todd and Viola which falls flat. Mads Mikkelson is wasted in a one-dimensional character, although he tries his best as a talented actor to add complexity and nuance, but he's undermined by the lazy, vapid screenplay. David Oyelowo and Cynthia Ervo also show up in supporting roles, and they're given dialogue that doesn't do justice to their talents as actors. Some of it is even unintentionally funny. Also, the screenwriters do a very poor job of introducing the characters. All of them just seem to be there to move the plot forward, but the plot itself lacks suspense and thrills.

      What's left to cling onto? At least there's a cute dog belonging to Todd, and some nice scenery which provides some eye candy. Some of CGI does look impressive, but it's yet another example of how Chaos Walking suffers from style over substance. With a more sensitive screenplay that treated its characters like human beings and breathed much-needed life into its characters, it could've been a much more exhilarating and emotionally engrossing experience. Lord of the Rings is a much better example of a sci-fi fantasy that merges style and substance more effectively with more intelligence, humor, warmth and suspense---elements that are sorely lacking in this film. Even last year's Love and Monsters looks like a masterpiece by comparison. At a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes, Chaos Walking isn't as painfully cringe-inducing and unintentionally funny as Battlefield Earth or Jupiter Ascending, but it's just as bland, forgettable and contrived as the underwhelming Mortal Engines.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Lionsgate.
Opens in theaters.

Keep an Eye Out

Directed by Quentin Dupieux

      Police Commissioner Buron (Benoît Poelvoorde) interrogates Louis Fugain (Grégoire Ludig), the chief suspect in a murder case. Louis recounts how he found a bloody corpse outside of his apartment building before calling 911 and why his neighbor witnessed him going in and out of his apartment seven times that night. Philippe (Marc Fraize) converses with him while Commissioner Buron briefly steps out of the office, but something unexpected happens to Philippe which sets the course of events for the rest of the night.

      The less you know about the plot of Keep an Eye Out, the better because it's unpredictable and filled with surprises.  Writer/director Quentin Dupieux has a knack for humor that's equally surreal, silly, dark, screwball, satirical and very witty. He sets the tone right away with a scene of a man conducting an orchestra with just his underwear on. For the next few minutes, you're introduced to the banter between Commissioner Buron and Louis which continues throughout the film. Poelvoorde and Ludig have great comedic timing, chemistry and rapport together. The dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny at times which is something rare these days when too many filmmakers resort to the lowest common denominator. Even the smaller roles have memorable scenes, like the janitor played by Vincent Grass, and Fiona, Philippe's wife, played by Anaïs Demoustier.

      It's also interesting how small details become more important later on, such as an oyster that Commissioner Buron receives from one of his colleagues who had announces early on in the film that he's going out for some dinner. Even the film's title itself is a play on words that takes on a whole new meaning after you watch it. Rarely do comedies have so much attention to detail while still entertaining the audience without numbing their minds, so it feels like a breath of fresh air to see something that's as cleverly written and funny as Knives Out and that has provocative, surreal mindfucks like those found in Buñuel's films. At a running time of 1 hour and 13 minutes, Keep an Eye Out is an outrageously funny, surprising and refreshingly witty comedy.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Dekanalog.
Opens in select theaters and virtual cinemas.

La Llorona

Directed by Jayro Bustamante

      General Enrique Montaverde (Julio Diaz) stands trial for genocide 30 years after the Mayan population were killed. He lives in a mansion with his wife, Carmen (Margarita Kenefic), daughter, Natalia (Sabrina De la Hoz), granddaughter, Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado) and housemaid  Valeriana (Maria Telon). When Alma (Maria Mercedes Coroy) replaces Valeriana as the new housemaid, bizarre supernatural events begin to occur. Meanwhile, protesters surround the family's home.

       Anyone expecting a horror film or a nail-biting thriller will be disappointed because La Llorona veers heavily toward psychological drama. Writer/director Jayro Bustamante and co-Lisandro Sanchez let the story unfold very gradually while trusting the audience's patience a lot with a slow pace. The filmmakers also trust the audience's imagination because the true horror isn't shown on screen. There are no flashbacks nor voice-overs. The horror can be in the dark past of General Enrique Montaverde. Although the film doesn't get inside his mind per se to allow the audience to grasp what he's thinking, it's clear that if he doesn't want to come to terms with his past and lacks accountability, the past will come to terms with him in a way that he least expects it to. People like him who find accountability to be very, very, very hard are vile human beings and will never really change. Unfortunately, La Llorona doesn't delve into his psyche enough enough though there's a lot going on inside of him. Although she's not guilty of genocide, his wife is in many ways his enabler, so she's, to a certain degree, complicit in his crimes, even though she's in denial.

      It's interesting how La Llorona uses symbolism in a poetic and provocative way. Alma means "spirit" in Spanish, so the fact that the new maid's name is Alma is quite significant. The supernatural elements, which remain understated, also add some symbolism. In terms of cinematography, editing and sound design, La Llorona is quite exquisite. Often, style can become part of a film's substance which is what happens in this particular case. It's too bad then that the filmmakers opted for a lot of nuance and subtlety with so much depth hidden beneath the film's surface, which makes it a squandered opportunity to tell a profound, emotionally resonating story. The final shot of the film, which won't be revealed here, feels quite disturbing although it's not very surprising or as haunting as it tries to be. At a rather brief running time of 1 hour and 37 minutes, La Llorona is a slow-burning, poetic and understated psychological drama that ultimately fails to pack an emotional wallop. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Shudder.
Opens at IFC Center and streaming on VOD.

Quo Vadis, Aida?

Directed by Jasmila Zbanic

      Aida (Jasna Duricic), a Bosnian Muslim who works as teacher in the town of Srebrenica, has a husband and two children. When Bosnian Serbs, led by General Ratko Mladic (Boris Isakovic), approach the town to invade it, Aida becomes an interpreter for the United Nations to facilitate the communication between the UN and the Serbs. She desperately tries to save her beloved husband and two sons from being killed.

      The screenplay by writer/director Jasmila Zbanic, based on a true story, remains grounded in realism without a single scene that feels clunky or contrived. There's no reliance on flashbacks, narration nor heavy expositional scenes. The plot unfolds in a procedural fashion much like All the President's Men as the audience follows Aida every step of the way. Procedurals could sometimes feel dry, dull or monotonous, but fortunately, Quo Vadis, Aida avoids those pitfalls because it brims with humanism. Kudos to Zbanic for not forgetting to include the human element in the film and for making Aida such a fascinating human being. She's frustrated, compassionate, persistent and justifiably indignant. Zbanic also uses music very sparingly which means that he trusts the audience's emotions. As the film progresses, it becomes increasingly intense and heart-wrenching without going over-the-top. There's just enough left to the audience's imagination, i.e. merely hearing the shots of gunfire as the Serbs kill the Bosnian Muslims off-screen.

      Jasna Duricic gives raw and moving performance as Aida. While the screenplay provides a large window into Aida's heart, mind and soul, Duricic opens that window completely as she bares her heart, mind and soul to the audience. It's a brave, deeply human and emotionally generous performance. Not only does Jasmila Zbanic grasp human nature as a filmmaker, but also the same can be said about Duricic in the way that she portrays with such naturalism without over-acting or under-acting. She's mesmerizing to watch even during the film's quieter moments. At a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes, Quo Vadis, Aida is a thoroughly powerful, engrossing and riveting film.

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

My Salinger Year

Directed by Philippe Falardeau


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by IFC Films.
Opens in select theaters and on VOD.

Raya and the Last Dragon

Directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Opens in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access.