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Reviews for March 9th, 2018

Documentary Round-Up

      Itzhak is a poorly-edited, unfocused and meandering doc about world-renown violinist Itzhak Perlman. Director Alison Chernick essentially includes too many potatoes and not enough meat. She squanders the potential to gain insight about Itzhak by skimming over his childhood struggles all too briefly. Does the audience really need to see modern footage of him pureeing soup, having dinner with Toby, his wife cracking jokes with his good friend Alan Alda and buying cauliflower at the supermarket? Yes, it's intimate, but it feels like an invasion of his privacy and gets boring after a while. The scenes of Mr. Perlman playing the violin are the most compelling because they speak louder than words. At the post-screening Q&A at the JCC, a keen audience member suggested that this doc ought to be called Itzhak and Toby, and she has a point because there's too much about Itzhak and his family while not digging deep into Mr. Perlman himself. Who is this doc really about? What is it trying to really say? First 30 minutes are amusing and even surprisingly funny. Who knew that Itzhak knows how to tell a good joke? The middle section of the doc takes a nosedive and feels like a slog to get through before briefly picking up some steam during the last 10 minutes. Itzhak Perlman is a compelling, charismatic subject who's worthy of a much more insightful and better edited documentary. It opens via Greenwich Entertainment at Landmark 57 West and the Quad Cinema.


Directed by Andrea Pallaoro

      Hannah (Charlotte Rampling) struggles to cope after her husband (André Wilms) goes to prison. The crime that he had committed caused a rift between Hannah and her son (Simon Bisschop) as well as her grandson. When she shows up to her grandson's birthday party in hopes of reconciliation, her son coldly turns her away.

      Charlotte Rampling gives a heartfelt, nuanced performance reminiscent of Delphine Serig’s understated performance in Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels. Hannah, much like Jeanne, is taciturn with a mixture of many bottled emotions brewing inside her. You'll find yourself asking, "What is Hannah thinking and feeling?" throughout the film, but there are no easy answers to be found nor is there any voice-over narration. Rampling's facial expressions alone convey a wealth emotions, especially when it comes to her sad, contemplative eyes. Writer/director Andrea Pallaoro and co-writer Orlando Tirado take risks by trusting the audience's patience, imagination, and intelligence. The risks comes with rewards for perceptive, patient viewers who don't need their hand to be held by the director every step of the way. Although Rampling does got physically naked, it's her emotional nakedness that provides the film with its truly intimate and revealing moments which are profoundly moving. TThe many moments of quiet are the ones that speak much louder than words.

      As Francois Truffaut once wisely stated, a truly great film should have a perfect blend of Truth and Spectacle. Hannah offers 100% Truth with Spectacle within its many Truths. The Spectacles come in the form of humanism, a special kind of spectacle that's all about human emotion. To complain that Hannah lacks a plot or story would not do it any justice because, at its core, it's about feelings and truths which are the essence of both cinema and life itself; a plot is just a means to an end. Hannah does indeed have a plot, but it's the kind that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. It's a mesmerizing, gripping character study that's rich with humanism, a truly special effect.

      What crime did Hannah's husband commit remains uncertain, but, either way, the result remains the same: Hannah experiences emotional crisis even as she desperately tries to glue the pieces of her family back together, so-to-speak. Is her son reasonable for turning her away when she arrives uninvited to her grandson's birthday party? Is she a toxic, narcissistic mother perhaps? That's up to you to decide. The same can be said about the final scene that's open- ended and haunting. If you liked 45 Years and Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels, you'll also like Hannah. Films that would pair well with it if it were part of a double feature would be Shirley Valentine, Ghost World, and Charlotte Rampling: The Look. At a running time of merely 95 minutes, Hannah is one of the best films of the year thus far.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Parade Deck Films
Opens at Village East Cinema.

A Wrinkle in Time

Directed by Ava DuVernay

      Meg (Storm Reid) lives with her mother ( (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and younger adopted brother, Charles (Deric McCabe). Her father (Chris Pine), a physicist, disappeared few years earlier while working on a tesseract, a form of time-traveling in the fifth dimension that folds time and space. Meg along with her classmate, Calvin (Levi Miller), and Charles set out on a journey through the tesseract with help of three celestial guides, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), to find her missing father who's trapped in another world.

      A Wrinkle in Time has its heart in the right place, but it suffers from a clunky screenplay by Jennifer Lee that veers into schmaltz and preachiness more often than not. Mrs. Which has many wise words to say, but she speaks in bumper sticker, essentially, and her character doesn't have much depth. The same can be said for the other guides. Lee does a poor job of introducing characters, i.e. when Mrs. Whatsit suddenly appears in Meg's living room while Charles behaves very strangely. You never truly feel the bond between Meg and her father because there aren't enough scenes that fully and organically develop their relationship. It seems as though A Wrinkle in Time were in a hurry to get to the CGI-filled second act while neglecting to make the audience get to know its characters and their relationships. With very little that feels true-to-life, there's not nearly enough humanism or truth, so this is the kind of film that's high on Spectacle, but too low on Truth.

      The CGI does look great and there are indeed some awe-inspiring moments to found, so at least your eyes will be pleased. Unfortunately, the music sounds overbearing and over-used when moments of quiet would've been more effective. Perhaps the filmmakers didn't trust the audience's emotions enough and opted to hit them over the head with how they're supposed to feel. Some scenes last too long, and the pacing slows down during the tedious, sluggish second act. The true test of a film's emotional potency is whether or not you've shed any tears or felt any uplifting emotions during the final scenes. A film has to earn its uplift which A Wrinkle in Time ultimately fails to do. It's no help that Oprah Winfrey gives a wooden performance that fails to enliven the dull screenplay. The only actress who manages to rise above the screenplay ever so slightly is Storm Reid who has panache and is very well cast. Hopefully this film will put her on the map and she'll star in films with more sensitively-written screenplays because she does deserve much better material.

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