My Father, My Lord - Directed by David Volach.
In Hebrew with subtitles. Rabbi Eidelman’s (Assi Ayan) fervent belief in Hassidism distances him emotionally from his young son, Menahem (Ilan Grif). He and his subservient wife (Sharon Hacohen) question their own faith in G_d after a tragic event shatters their family. Terrific performances, well-developed characters along with strong dramatic tension between Rabbi Eidelman and Menahem help to keep you thoroughly riveted by the thin plot. Even though Rabbi Eidelman does seem overbearing with all his strict beliefs in Hassidism and how he forces his family to belief in all of it as well, he’s a complex individual and loves his son, which makes him more interesting as a character. Writer/director David Volach knows how to build up absorbing scenes without any contrivances or hitting you over the head with preachy, corny dialogue. There’s an emotional rawness to some scenes that feel quite powerful and haunting. The slow pace along with beautiful cinematography and some symbolism adds a lyrical quality that’s equally thought-provoking and poignant. At a running time of only 74 minutes, My Father, My Lord manages to be one of the most vital, insightful and quietly devastating Israeli films in years. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Kino International. Opens at the Cinema Village and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Quantum Hoops - Directed by Rick Greenwald.
Narrated by David Duchovny, this irresistibly entertaining and fascinating documentary charts the history of the CalTech college basketball team that had not won a single game in twenty years since 1986. The film opens with statistics of all the huge losses the team experienced during the games throughout those years when they lost by 60 points on average. They’re clearly the ultimate example of an underdog as if they were cursed to lose. Outside of basketball, interestingly, the athletes excel in other fields such as science and engineering, which they love just as passionately if not more than basketball—they seem to lead a double life. What’s equally amazing and inspiring is that they have the courage to continue playing basketball despite their repeated defeat. They simply refuse to give up. Director Rick Greenwald wisely incorporates archival photos from the early days of the team along with snippets of footage from their games and insightful interviews with the current coach, Roy Dow, who desperately wants the team to finally—and miraculously—win a game. Most importantly, Greenwald makes it fun and exciting to root for them from start to finish. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Moderately High. Released by Green Forest Films. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Reprise - Directed by Joachim Trier.
In Norwegian with subtitles. Philip (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Erick (Espen Klouman-Høiner), best friends, send their first novels to publishers at the same time, but only Philip’s book becomes published and achieves success. Erick struggles to get his own book published and unsuccessfully tries to break up with his girlfriend, Lillian (Silje Hagen). Meanwhile, Philip suffers a mental breakdown while obsessing over his girlfriend, Kari (Viktoria Winge). The plot initially feels refreshing, imaginative and witty, but it gradually becomes more and more bland as the pace turns sluggish. Writer/director Joachim Trier includes impressive cinematography and stylish editing that keeps you mildly engaged. However, despite decent performances from the entire cast, none of the characters truly come to life. Had the screenplay held onto its initial wit and inventiveness throughout, the plot wouldn’t be so meandering and, worst of all, boring. At a running time of 105 minutes, Reprise overstays its welcome and often drags. Number of times I checked my watch: 9. Released by Miramax Films. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Yella - Directed by Christian Petzold.
In German with subtitles. Yella (Nina Hoss) allows her ex-husband, Ben (Hinnerk Schoenemann), to drive her to the airport for her new job in Hannover, but, instead, he drives the car off a bridge into a river. Yella somehow survives the crash and swims to shore to get aboard a train to Hannover. Once there, meets her recently-fired boss, Schmidt-Ott (Michael Wittenborn) and Philipp (Devid Striesow), a venture capitalist who’s more than meets the eye. Nina Hoss gives a performance that exudes radiance and utter conviction much like that of French actress Isabelle Huppert. Even though what Yella goes through becomes increasingly bizarre and somewhat confusing, as if you were watching a David Lynch film, at least it still remains compelling thanks to writer/director Christian Petzold’s intricate, mysterious screenplay. It’s also worth mentioning the terrific cinematography, especially when it comes to the interesting choice of colors—i.e. Yella’s clothes are all red as she’s surrounded by wash-out colors. None of the plot twists will be spoiled here, but attentive audience members will probably be able to figure some of them out long in advance. Unfortunately, not all of the twists work well enough in retrospect and the third act feels like a cop-out that leaves a bad aftertaste. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by The Cinema Guild. Opens at the Cinema Village and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.