Alphabetical Menu
Chronological Menu

Reviews for May 26th, 2023

About My Father

Directed by Laura Terruso

      Sebastian (Sebastian Maniscalco) plans to propose to his girlfriend, Ellie (Leslie Bibb), but his father, Salvo (Robert De Niro) won't give him his grandmother's engagement ring unless he approves of Ellie and her family. Salvo seizes the opportunity to get to know Ellie's parents when he and Sebastian spend July 4th weekend her wealthy family's summer home at a country club where he meets her father, Bill (David Rasche), mother, Tigger (Kim Cattrall), and brothers, Lucky (Anders Holm) and Doug (Brett Dier).

      About My Father sounds like it could be a hilarious romantic comedy in the vein of Meet the Parents and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but, unfortunately, the screenplay by co-writers Austen Earl and Sebastian Maniscalco isn't funny, zany or witty enough. It's yet another case of a well-worn, conventional premise that's poorly executed. There's nothing wrong with predictability, sticking to a formula or heavily borrowing from the plot of classic films. When Harry Met Sally... does all of that while borrowing from Annie Hall, but it has a screenplay that feels fresh, funny and heartfelt. That can't be said for About My Father which feels stale with painfully unfunny jokes and sight gags. Some of those visual gags go on for too long, i.e. when Sebastian accidentally flashes his Ellie, her family and his father (don't ask). It's a scene that tries to push the envelope like the Farrelly brothers do in There's Something About Mary or like the classic scene at Katz's Deli in When Harry Met Sally..., but the comedic beats don't land. That scene as well as many other desperate attempts at generating laughs are more awkward, silly and cringe-inducing than funny. Is it supposed to be funny when Salvo, who works as a hairstylist, gives Tigger, a U.S. Senator, a short haircut that makes her feel humiliated? Sebastian comes across as an abusive, domineering jerk. When it comes to Sebastian, the apple didn't fall very far from the tree. The contrived third act unsuccessfully tries to tie everything up and give the audience a conventional happy ending, but About My Father doesn't earn its uplift.

      Sebastian Maniscalco and Leslie Bibb lack romantic chemistry together which makes it hard to care about whether not their characters will end up getting married or whether or not Salvo will give his son his grandmother's engagement ring. That's among About My Father's systemic issues. It also suffers from poor comedic timing by Sebastian Maniscalco who also provides some distracting voice-over narration. David Rasche, Kim Cattrall and Robert De Niro have all been in far better comedies---although, to be fair, De Niro has been in far worse comedies, too. The editing feels choppy and the bright lighting makes the film look lit like a sitcom minus the laughing tracks. The only surprise is that there are no outtakes at the end which could've at least provided some much-needed laughs. At a running time of 89 minutes, About My Father is a witless, often unfunny and limp romantic comedy.

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

The Attachment Diaries

Directed by Valentín Javier Diment

      In 1970s Argentina, Carla (Jimena Anganuzzi), a young woman, enters the clinic of Dr. Irina (Lola Berthet), a gynecologist, for an abortion. Upon learning that it's too late for her to have an abortion, Carla agrees to live in Dr. Irina's home and to give birth there before selling the baby to one of Dr. Irina's clients.

      The screenplay by writer/director Valentín Javier Diment takes its time to get to the meat of the story as it spends a lengthy first act that just introduces the characters of Carla and Dr. Irina as well as how and why they meet. What begins as a story about two women who become friends turns into something far more disturbing and gripping. Valentín Javier Diment knows how to build suspense effectively without going over-the-top. There are some elements of horror, thriller and mystery, but the film avoids feeling uneven tonally. A less sensitive screenplay would've resulted in a meandering plot that becomes a tonal mess with tonal whiplash. When The Attachment Diaries veers into revenge thriller territory, that's when its tension escalates the most. What ensues after that moment is a wildly entertaining ride that's concurrently surprising, intriguing and moving. It's rare to see a film that's unafraid to be unpredictable and to subvert your expectations. This isn't the kind of film for the faint of heart, either. It gets quite intense, creepy and dark. Underneath it all, though, there's still a beating heart because writer/director Valentín Javier Diment sees and treats Carla and Dr. Irini as human beings, warts and all. They might not be likable per se, but so what? Their increasingly toxic friendship feels believable, so the beats land, especially in the shocking third act which won't be spoiled here. The less you know about The Attachment Diaries' plot, the better because of the surprising twists and turns.

      The Attachment Diaries is also a mesmerizing visual spectacle to behold. The black-and-white cinematography adds to its atmosphere and provides visual style as well as poetry. When it suddenly switches from b&w to color, it's startling, to be fair, but it makes sense the more you think about it. Fortunately, the film's style doesn't get in the way of its substance. Sometimes style can become exhausting and overwhelming when its excessive; that doesn't happen here, though. The pace moves slowly at first and trusts the audience's patience with slow-burning suspense before the pace picks up during the third act.Jimena Anganuzzi and Lola Berthet give raw, convincingly moving performances. Berthet, in particular, through make-up, lighting and the camera-angles has a look that turns Dr. Irina into someone creepy and terrifying, much like Béatrice Dalle in À l'intérieur which would pair well with this film. It would also be an interesting double feature with Bound. At a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes, The Attachment Diaries is a wildly entertaining, gripping, stylish and refreshingly unpredictable thriller. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Dark Sky Films.
Opens at IFC Center.


Directed by Ric Roman Waugh

      Tom Harris (Gerard Butler), an undercover CIA operative on a mission in Afghanistan, travels to Kandahar with his translator, Mo (Navid Negahban), to flee Afghanistan and go back home to his wife and daughter in the US, but his mission doesn't go as planned. Meanwhile, he must defend himself from the Taliban along the way.

      The screenplay by Mitchell LaFortune suffers from a convoluted plot that becomes increasingly dull and sorely lacks palpable suspense, intrigue and thrills. It also falls flat both as a war film and as a character study of a father and husband away from his family on a dangerous mission. The plot also involves Tom's handler, Roman (Mitchell LaFortune), another CIA operative who's stationed in Dubai, Nina (Elnaaz Norouzi), a kidnapped journalist, Kahil (Ali Fazal), who works for Pakistan's ISI, and Farzad (Bahador Foladi), who works for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. There are too many characters who are merely caricatures there to move the plot forward rather than as fully-fleshed human beings. The plot feels concurrently dry, unfocused and pedestrian. You can feel the wheels of the screenplay turning which is not a good sign and makes it hard to feel engrossed by the narrative. Surprisingly, there's little to no action which would've been forgivable if the plot or any of the characters for that matter were somewhat engaging. Lethargy begins to set around the hour mark and doesn't wane at any point. There's also not nearly enough levity to counterbalance the serious tone, so the film becomes a monotonous and tedious chore to sit through.

      None of the actors manage to rise above the shallow screenplay. Gerard Butler's natural charisma feels very muted here. There are also pacing issues with some scenes, especially in the second act, moving too slowly before the pace picks up a little. Nothing about the cinematography stands out or adds much style to compensate for the lack of substance. Sometimes the scenery or well-shot action scenes can provide some Spectacle, but that doesn't happen at all in Kandahar. Even the special effects are subpar. At 2 hours, Kandahar is an overlong, tedious and anemic snoozefest that's low on thrills, suspense and intrigue. In a double feature with Guy Ritchie's The Covenant, it would be the vastly inferior B-movie.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Open Road Films.
Opens nationwide.

The Little Mermaid

Directed by Rob Marshall

      Ariel (Halle Bailey), a mermaid, yearns to leave her world under the sea and to become human after she saves the life of Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) when he's shipwrecked, but her father, King Triton (Javier Barden), forbids her from going above water. She visits Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), a sea witch, who casts a spell on her to turn her into a human in exchange for losing her voice before she defies her father's orders and swims to land where she meets Prince Eric again. Little does he know that she's actually the mermaid who rescued him.

      What makes the animated version of The Little Mermaid from 1989 such a timeless classic is the blend of humor, heart and thrills with its lively, iconic characters who delighted audiences, young and old. This live-action remake doesn't reach the exhilarating heights of that beloved animated classic. The same characters are still there along with the basic story, but there are also additional characters Prince Eric's mother, Queen Selina (Noma Dumezweni), along with some subplots that add unnecessary exposition. Adding to the story changes it, but in a way that sacrifices entertainment value because it just feels like padding and makes the plot feel unfocused. Ursula isn't as scary as she is in the animated film; instead, she's slightly scary and mostly campy. Sebastian, who's hilarious in the animated classic, isn't nearly as funny in this version. Scuttle the seagull is supposed to be funny, too, but, here, she's just cringeworthy. Then there's Prince Eric, Ariel's love interest, but he's rather bland and his relationship with Ariel falls flat when it should be enchanting. In the 1989 version, you could palpably feel Ariel's yearning to free herself from her life under the sea and to become human. Here, that feeling is much less palpable, unfortunately, so the beats don't quite land as strongly as they do in the animated classic.

      Halle Bailey (please note: not Halle Berry), Javier Bardem, Melissa McCarthy and Noma Dumezweni are the only performances that shine. Awkwafina is miscast as the voice of Scuttle who's annoying like nails on a chalkboard--almost as annoying and painfully unfunny as her character in Renfield. Melissa McCarthy makes the most out of her role of Ursula while providing a little campiness. Javier Bardem is given a poignant scene toward the end where King Triton's eyes tear up, but that moment is ephemeral because the film cuts away from it too soon as though it were afraid to humanize Triton by showing him crying. What's wrong with a little sentiment? The CGI animation looks spectacular, though, especially during the underwater scenes and when it comes to the character designs. The scenes that soar the most on an emotional level with dazzling visual style are the musical numbers, i.e. "Under the Sea" and "Part of Your World." There are some less effective new songs added, too. Again, why deviate so much from the beloved original? Why fix it if it ain't broken? At a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes, The Little Mermaid is yet another disappointing remake that's less heartfelt, funny, enchanting and exhilarating than the beloved animated classic.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

The Machine

Directed by Peter Atencio

      Bert (Bert Kreischer), a successful stand-up comedian, lives with his wife, LeeAnn (Stephanie Kurtzuba), and two daughters, Sasha (Jess Gabor) and Tatiana (Amelie Child Villiers). During Sasha's birthday party, Bert's estranged father, Albert (Mark Hamill) shows up as well as Irina (Iva Babić), a Russian mobster, who's hoping to take over her crime family. She's looking for a watch that Bert had stolen decades ago, so she kidnaps him and Albert and brings them to Russia to help her find the watch.

      Screenwriters Kevin Biegel and Scotty Landes grasp the concept that comedy is rooted in tragedy because they begin the film with Bert seeking therapy for his dysfunctional relationship with his family and drunkenness that caused a rift between him and Sasha. He's also insecure about his career. His father suggests that if it fails, he can always work for his carpet business instead, but Bert replies that he's a grown man and can figure things out on his own. There's enough tragic, darker material here for an interesting character study or a portrait of a dysfunctional family. Unfortunately, as an action comedy, The Machine falls flat and takes a while to get going. It's also tonally uneven with awkward, clunky flashbacks to Bert's younger years which provide nothing more than exposition while distracting from the film's narrative momentum. The dialogue only has sporadic moments of wit and tongue-in-cheek humor; for the most part, it's witless, unfunny and too mean-spirited while referring to funnier comedies like Austin Powers or random movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Meanspiritness can work if it's funny---British humor, for instance, is often irreverent like in Shaun of the Dead and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Even as an action comedy, it doesn't take enough risks besides one particular scene on a train that pushes the envelope in a way that's shocking and surprising, and another brief scene in a small village where Irina is confused as a whore. Those scenes could've been as wildly entertaining and wickedly as the comedy in Borat, but they don't even come close.

      Despite his talent as a stand-up comedian, Bert Kreischer isn't very funny here and fails to rise above lazy screenplay. Mark Hammill is amusing at best and has some fun in his role, but that's not enough to invigorate the film. There's some violence and a few very gory scenes that leave nothing to the imagination, so this isn't the kind of film for the faint of heart. It definitely earns its R-rating. There are pacing issues, though. The first act feels too slow before the pace picks up in the overlong second act. Just when you think the film is over, it goes on and on, so it overstays its welcome and becomes exausting around 90-minute mark. At 1 hour and 52 minutes, The Machine an unimaginative and toothless dark comedy that's more much meanspirited and dull than funny. It's just as disappointing as Renfield, Mafia Mamma and About My Father.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Screen Gems.
Opens nationwide.

We Might As Well Be Dead

Directed by Natalia Sinelnikova

      Anna Wilczyńska (Ioana Iacob) works as the head of security at St. Phoebus, a residential high-rise in a gated community. Potential residents are asked if they have any suicidal thoughts or anything else that might suggest that they've got mental issues. A committee decides whether or not the applicants are an appropriate fit in the high-rise based on many factors regarding their social life. When a resident's dog does missing, someone spots a peeping tom, and Anna's daughter, Iris (Polo Geiger), locks herself in the bathroom and refuses to come out while claiming that she can accurately predict what bad events will happen in the future, order at S. Phoebus gets disrupted which frustrates Anna and threatens her job.

      The screenplay by writer/director Natalia Sinelnikova and co-writer Viktor Gallandi blends dark comedy, satire, thriller and social commentary with shades of Yorgos Lanthimos and Ruben Östlund. Like Östlund's Triangle of Sadness, We Might As Well Be Dead has a lot to say about class divide, politics and other issues which it highlights both explicitly and implicitly. The Lobster also comes to mind while watching this film. The screenwriters do a great job of incorporating just enough exposition and "world-building" so that you understand the basic rules in St. Phoebus and the dystopian world that the film takes place in. The futuristic world has many similarities to today's world, but what those similarities are is left up to the audience to interpret on their own. Bravo to the filmmakers for trusting the audience's intelligence, for not being afraid to take risks, and for blending realism with surrealism without going over-the-top. They also avoid over-explaining or preaching to the audience. Anna is kindred spirits with Paula, the head of staff in Triangle of Sadness because they're both trying to maintain order and tranquility, but face unexpected obstacles. They also both have to deal with someone who has locked themselves inside a bathroom which is just the beginning of the disorder that ensues. We Might As Well Be Dead goes into dark territory, but it's also wickedly funny at times while remaining captivating, surprising and thought-provoking from start to finish.

      Ioana Iacob gives a strong performance as Anna. She's very well-cast and brings a palpable sense of strength, vulnerability and, above all, humanity, to her role. It's also worth mentioning the exquisite cinematography and set designs that provide plenty of visual style which becomes part of the film's substance concurrently. The pace moves slowly, but not too slowly. It also helps that the screenplay doesn't waste any time with unnecessary subplots or filler; it jumps right into the moment when a family visits St. Phoebus and desperately pleads to live there---the father even gets on his knees to beg Anna. So, the filmmakers do an effective job of hooking the audience and maintaining the hook throughout. In other words, they know not only where to take ideas from, but where to take ideas to. That alone is a remarkable feat. At a running time of merely 1 hour and 33 minutes, We Might As Well Be Dead is one of the most provocative, razor-sharp and wickedly funny satires since Triangle of Sadness and The Lobster.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Hope Runs High Films.
Opens nationwide.

The Wind & the Reckoning

Directed by David L. Cunningham

      According to the new Western government during the Leper War of 1893, anyone with leprosy must be quarantined on the island of Moloka'i. Ko'olau (Jason Scott Lee), a Native Hawaiian, and his son, Kalei (Kahiau Perreira), contract the disease, but his wife, Pi’ilani (Lindsay Marie Anuhea Watson), remains healthy. They refuse to be separated and quarantined on Moloka'i. Soon enough, they flee their home while a marshal (Johnathon Schaech) and his army hunt them down.

      Based on a true story and on the memoirs of Pi'ilani, the screenplay by John Fusco is shallow and pedestrian despite a premise that sounds like it could be a rousing, exhilarating and moving epic like Dances With Wolves or The Last of the Mohicans. Fusco barely lets the audience spend any time with Pi'ilani and her family before her husband and son get sick with leprosy and the government informs them that they must quarantine.  Meanwhile, what's sacrificed is any exploration of Pi'ilani, Ko'olau and Kalei's inner battles---their emotional battles, to be more accurate. Each of them remains at an emotionally cold distance from the audience. It's not a good sign when characters begin as strangers to the audience and end as strangers, too. The heavy-handed, on-the-nose dialogue doesn't help matters either nor does the voice-over narration that spoon-feeds the audience nor does that lack of levity which is a must in any kind of film. Yes, even war films like Saving Private Ryan and 1917 have some comic relief. After Pi'ilani and her family flee, The Wind & the Reckoning essentially turns into a long cat-and-mouse chase with some gun battles along the way as the family struggles to stay alive. They fight, hide, and run and then the cycle repeats which feels mildly engaging initially before growing increasingly tedious.

      The Wind & the Reckoning's greatest strength, by far, is its picturesque scenery and terrific cinematography which makes the film a cinematic spectacle while also adding some visual poetry---almost as much poetry through nature as there is in Terence Malick's The Thin Red Line. The performances are decent, but nothing exceptional. There's some violence and blood which adds physical grit. It's too bad, though, that there's not enough emotional grit, too. They're not mutually exclusive. At a running time of 1 hour and 34 minutes, The Wind & the Reckoning is mildly engaging with breathtaking, poetic scenery, but emotionally hollow, tedious and undercooked. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Lynmar Entertainment.
Opens at Village East by Angelika.

The Wrath of Becky

Directed by Matt Angel & Suzanne Coote

      16-year-old Becky (Lulu Wilson) lives in a room she rents from an elderly woman, Elena (Denise Burse), and her dog, Diego, while working as a waitress at a local diner where she first bumps into rude customers, Anthony (Michael Sirow), DJ (Aaron Dalla Villa) and Sean (Matt Angel). They happen to be part of the Noble Men led by Darryl (Seann William Scott). Soon enough, they invade Becky's home, kill Elena, and steal Becky's dog. Becky seeks revenge against them. And she wants her dog back.

      The screenplay by writer/director Matt Angel and co-director Suzanne Coote is an inferior sequel to the wildly entertaining 2020 cult classic Becky. If you haven't seen the predecessor, worry not because the first few minutes includes a voice-over with a re-cap and flashbacks to the key events from Becky. This sequel seems like a teenage, female version of John Wick---like John Wick, Becky loves her dog and goes on a killing spree to exact revenge on her assailants who are part of a cult. Or it could also be compared to Kill Bill. It's too bad that the dialogue lacks wit and Becky's voice-over narration gets tiresome and distracting pretty quickly. The villains range from boring to over-the-top and cartoonish. Nuance isn't among the film's strengths, that's for sure. There's nothing left for interpretation either. The paper thin plot doesn't really go anywhere interesting. Of course, there's a MacGuffin: Becky discovers a computer with a list of all the members of the Noble Men. There's little to no backstory about these Noble Men whose name is ironic because they're far from noble. Some of the kills are amusing in a guilty pleasure sort of way, and the film does try to be campy and bonkers, but the beats don't quite land and the action becomes repetitive. Moreover, the tension, suspense and thrills don't feel palpable enough, so The Wrath of Becky loses steam around 45-minute mark.

      Other than a spirited performance by Lulu Wilson, The Wrath of Becky doesn't really have much going for it. The violence is unflinching with some blood and guts, but nothing that actually pushes the envelope or that takes risks. Everything from the editing to the camerawork to the lighting remains bland while failing to invigorate the film with visual style or panache. Other home invasion movies like Don't Breathe at least have imaginative set pieces as well as set designs and lighting that add some atmosphere--something that The Wrath of Becky sorely lacks. That said, it's fast paced, so it doesn't overstay its welcome or drag. At a running time of 1 hour and 23 minutes,  The Wrath of Becky is lean and mean, but witless, tedious and often inane.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Quiver Distribution.
Opens at Regal Union Square and AMC Empire.

You Hurt My Feelings

Directed by Nicole Holofcener

      Beth Mitchell (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a writer, lives in New York City with her husband, Don (Tobias Menzies), a therapist, and their adult son, Eliot (Owen Teague), an aspiring playwright who works at a pot store. One afternoon, Beth and her sister, Sarah (Michaela Watkins), an interior designer, spot Don at a store and overhear him criticizing Beth's new book behind her back despite claiming to her that he likes it, so she no longer trusts him.

      A more appropriate title for You Hurt My Feelings would be The Pot That Called the Kettle Black. In the opening scene, Don advises an unhappy married couple, Carolyn (Amber Tamblyn) and Jonathan (David Cross), to be more honest and open with each other about their feelings. He should speak for himself because he's unable to be open and honest with his own wife about how he truly feels about her new book. The tone remains light and breezy, for the most part, except when Beth finally begins to communicate to Don about what's bothering her. Until that, she becomes less affectionate toward him, but doesn't tell him why. She doesn't seem to have good communication skills and suffers from insecurity about herself as well as her work while she seeks validation from others to feel better about herself. Don is no saint, either. He's a terrible therapist, but as a husband, he doesn't cheat on Beth, though, so whether or not he's a bad husband remains open to interpretation. Fortunately, writer/director Nicole Holofcener doesn't paint him or anyone else as a villain nor does she ask you to judge them. No one gets murdered or ends up sick with cancer. There's one unnecessary, clunky scene that comes out-of-the-blue when someone robs the pot store that Eliot works at while his mother happens to be there, too. It's the kind of scene that should've belonged on the cutting room floor or attached as a stinger after the end credits like the post-credits scene in Ghost World when Seymore beats up the guy with the nunchucks. Why include a tense robbery scene amidst all of the drama? It feels odd and out-of-place in an otherwise engrossing slice-of-life that avoids melodrama, schmaltz and preachiness without turning into a sitcom.

      Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies are very well cast as a married couple and have palpable chemistry together, even when Beth and Don argue. They both breathe life into their complex roles while finding their emotional truth and vulnerabilities beneath their characters' surface. Their performances help to ground the film further in authenticity. The same can be said about the underrated Owen Teague who plays their son and Jeannie Berlin who portrays Beth's mother. Jeannie Berlin is much better here than in the overrated, cheesy family drama The Fabelmans. Michaela Watkins is also superb and makes the most out of her supporting role like she also does in Brittney Runs a Marathon. The pace moves at just the right speed without any scenes that drag or that move too quickly. There's nothing exceptional about the cinematography, although it's nice to see some iconic NYC landmarks like Central Park, so, in a way, NYC becomes like a character in itself. Writer/director Nicole Holofcener also shows restraint by keeping the running time under 2 hours. Too many dramas these days keep going and going while overstaying their welcome. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 33 minutes, You Hurt My Feelings is a captivating, witty and perceptive portrait of a marriage.


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by A24.
Opens nationwide.