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Reviews for May 5th, 2017 br>
Documentary Round-Up

      Angkor Awakens: A Portrait of Cambodia is an unflinching, heart-wrenching, and illuminating documentary about how Cambodia has struggled to grapple with the horrors from their past when the Khmer Rouge regime tortured and murdered Cambodians in a genocide during the 1970s. The images from those horrors are quite gruesome and sickening as they should be. Director Robert H. Lieberman interviews survivors from the genocide who recall in vivid detail what they had witnessed. He also interviews their children and grandchildren who express their deep sorrows. One particular young child weeps next to his mother in front of the camera---that scene lasts a little bit too long, to be fair, and would have been just as powerful if it were cut shorter. Lieberman's main asset, though, is his insightful, revealing interview with Cambodia's current Prime Minister, Hun Sen, which gives the film some balance and an interesting perspective. Hun Sen explains how America's--particularly, war monger Henry Kissiner, who has yet to be convicted of his war crimes---involvement in Vietnam fueled the Khmer Rouge. What hope is there for Cambodia's future? That question isn't easy to answer, but what's certain---and what Lieberman understands quite clearly---is that if a country doesn't take a look at its past, no matter how horrifying it may be, and learn from it, it's bound to repeat the same mistakes in the future. At least Angkor Awakens can be used as a tool to prevent future genocides in Cambodia by shedding light on the Cambodian genocide and its aftermath. Angkor Awakens: A Portrait of Cambodia opens at Landmark Sunshine Cinema.


Directed by Philippe Falardeau


Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by IFC Films.
Opens at AMC/Loews Lincoln Square 13 and Regal Union Square 14.

The Dinner

Directed by Oren Moverman


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by The Orchard.
Opens in select theaters.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Directed by James Gunn

      Peter (Chris Pratt) and his entourage, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket the racoon (voice of Bradley Cooper), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Yondu (Michael Rooker), and Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), aggravate Ayeshi (Elizabeth Debicki), the High Priestess of Sovereign, when Rocket steals some of her batteries that mean a lot to her and the Sovereigns. Ego (Kurt Russell), Peter's estranged father, shows up and tries to rekindle his bond with his son. Meanwhile the Guardians of the Galaxy battle the Sovereigns and the Ravagers led by Stakar (Stylvester Stallone).

      If you enjoyed the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 without desiring something new or surprising in the sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will meet your expectations without surpassing them. Writer/director James Gunn plays it safe by repeating everything that entertained audiences in the previous film, i.e. the witty banter, double entendres, lively pop tunes and plenty of CGI-filled action sequences. Oh, and let's not forget Baby Groot saying "I am Groot!." Hopefully, you don't mind that joke being repeated over and over. The banter between Mantis and Drax is comic gold. The only scenes that nearly derail the film's momentum are during the schmaltzy father-son bonding scenes between Peter and Ego. There's excessive exposition and flashbacks during those moments along with failed attempts to generate pathos. Whenever the film kicks into its comedy and action gear full throttle, that's when it truly soars. You can surely see where the money went: the visual, make-up, and sound effects. If you were to see it on the small screen, it would lose some of the impact of its dazzling visuals, so see it in IMAX 3-D if possible.

      To be fair, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is essentially a 137-minute video game that's nearly 100% Spectacle just like the first one. It's loud, shallow, mindless, slightly overlong and soulless, but so what? At least it still has plenty of eye candy, a little bit of wit, and a giddy, self-deprecating sense of humor intact which makes it entertaining on a purely visceral level. Please be sure to stay through the end credits for 4 scenes during the credits and 1 post-credits sequence.

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

Like Crazy

Directed by Paolo Virzì


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Strand Releasing.
Opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Love Off the Cuff

Directed by Pang Ho-cheung

      Jimmy (Shawn Yue) lives with his girlfriend, Cherie (Miriam Yeung), but they hit a few bumps that threaten to break apart their relationship. Flora (Jiang Mengjie), Jimmy's childhood friend and godmother, shows up out of the blue to ask him to donate his sperm, and he agrees to let her stay over his apartment even though Cherie doesn't quite approve of that decision. Complicating their life even further, Cherie's father, Philip (Paul Chun), arrives with a much younger fiancée.

      Love Off the Cuff begins with a surprising hook: a giant monster, Gat Gat Gong, attacks girls in a small village before one of the girls kills the beast by hitting it with a melon. That story turns out to be a parable that explains a lot about Cherie's deeply-rooted perception of men. Then the film cuts to Jimmy and Cherie looking for UFOs at a location that just so happens to also be where others go to get frisky in public. Cherie's hair accidentally gets caught on Jimmy's pants zipper which leads to screwball comedy when an officer catches them in what appears to be a sex act, but isn't. The remainder of the plot focuses on slightly more serious and romantic elements with some comic relief peppered throughout. It's alright that the screenplay by writer/director Pang Ho-cheung along with co-writers Jimmy Wan and Luk Yee-sum sticks to a more or less predicable formula because the cast has plenty of charisma, the dialogue has wit, and there are even a few clever twists to the narrative found along the way---which won't be spoiled here.

      Lethargy and melodrama are the enemies of romcoms, so kudos to the filmmakers for avoiding those pitfalls. It does help if you're familiar with some of the pop culture references like Yatterman, though, to appreciate some of the humor. Most importantly, the third act, where most films tend to fall apart, feels sweet and tender without being cheesy or schmaltzy. Even though the running time clocks at 2 hours, there's not a dull moment to be found. Love Off the Cuff is a witty, sparkling and captivating romantic comedy full of surprises.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Magnum Films.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.

The Lovers

Directed by Azazel Jacobs


Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by A24 Films.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Shock Wave

Directed by Herman Yau

      Andy Lau stars as JS Cheung, an undercover cop who's an expert diffusing bombs as part of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau. He manages to get Biao (Wang Ziyi) arrested during a bank heist, but Biao's older brother, Peng Hong (Jiang Wu), remains on the loose after setting of many car bombs. Peng returns to pose a major threat by bombing a police car and setting up bombs on both ends of the Cross-Harbor Tunnel in Hong Kong. He demands money and the release of Biao from prison, and refuses to deal with anyone but JS Cheung whom he seeks to avenge.

      Shock Wave is a taut crime thriller with just the right blend of action, suspense, and pathos. Writer/director Herman Yau and co-writer Erica Li include a subplot involving the relationship between JS and his girlfriend, Carmen (Song Jia), but it merely humanizes JS while avoiding melodrama and, therefore, it doesn't end up derailing the film's momentum. Andy Lau is just the right actor for the role because he convincingly displays a little bit of emotional fragility beneath the surface balanced with a lot of strength and confidence on the surface. The modicum of depth found in Shock Wave mostly comes from his strong acting abilities.

      Fortunately, Yau and Li know how to build suspense in a way that uses the action set pieces effectively with great visual effects and stuntwork. Everything leads up to the nail-biting scenes of terrorism in the Cross-Harbor Tunnel, but the journey to those scenes is far from dull or pedestrian. Beforehand, JS says something profound during a speech in the 2nd act, but it takes on a whole new meaning and refreshing poignancy in the 3rd act. It's those kind of details that make Shock Wave an above-average crime thriller. The ending, which won't be spoiled here, offers a few surprises without being preposterous or over-the-top or forgetting about the inter-human relationships. The filmmakers ground the film's Spectacle with some Truth within the Spectacle. Thanks to slick editing, a fast pace and a lot of suspense, the running time of 1 hour and 58 minutes breezes by like 90 minutes.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by CMC Pictures.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.

This is Not What I Expected

Directed by Derek Hui


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Well Go USA.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Tomorrow EVer After

Directed by Ela Thier

      Shaina (Ela Thier), a historian from the year 2592, ends up in 2015 after accidentally traveling back in time. She wanders the streets of Manhattan being friendly with everyone---even with Milton (Nabil Vinas) who tries to mug her. The only way that she can communicate with the future is through card which she refers to as her implement. Apparently, it can serve many functions including withdrawing money from an ATM which she happily gives to Milton. She unexpectedly develops a friendship with Milton whose girlfriend, Imani (Ebbe Bassey), doesn't quite like her. With the help of Milton's roommate, Rudy (Matthew Murumba), Shaina tries to locate physicists who can repair her implement so that she go back to the future.

      Tomorrow Ever After boasts a refreshingly inventive concept that's executed effectively, for the most part, thanks to the witty and outrageously funny screenplay by Ela Thier. You don't learn a lot about what Shaina's life in 2592 is like, but you do learn enough to know that somehow the human race no longer suffers from famine, depression or other ailments and that people are very compassionate toward one another. As a historian, Shaina has read a lot about 2015 and seen only seen some of its gadgets, i.e. a laptop, in a museum, so the first part of the film focuses on how her very different thoughts and behavior clash with 2015's society. Ela Thier gives a spirited performance that's a joy to watch in every scene. She has terrific comedic timing and panache which helps to elevate the film, especially when it loses a bit of its steam during the second act as Shaina takes a lot of time to grab the attention of a young woman who can help her fix her implement. Thier should be commended for having the skills as a writer to avoid preachiness and schmaltz.

      Fortunately, the plot picks up regains its momentum toward the third act. However, it's the third act that feels a bit problematic and leaves more to be desired. Shaina commits an act that's not very typical of her given what she had explained about 2592. That specific amoral act won't be spoiled here, but it's worth mentioning that the fact that she doesn't seem to have any remorse about what she did to someone to seek her freedom. The lack of remorse is troubling and goes against everything you thought you knew about Shaina while leading you to wonder if she'll commit more amoral acts in the future. Moreover, a supporting character has a sudden change of heart toward Shaina in a way that's a bit rushed and contrived as though it merely occurs to move the plot forward. Despite those minor flaws toward the end of the film, Tomorrow Ever After is still remains one of the most entertaining, provocative and original sci-fi films of the year. It would make for an interesting double feature with the upcoming sci-fi comedy Absolutely Anything.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Opens at Cinema Village.

A Woman's Life

Directed by Stéphane Brizé

      In 19th Century Normandy, Jeanne Le Perthius des Vauds (Judith Chemla) lives with her mother, Baroness Adélaïde (Yolande Moreau) and her father, Simon-Jacques (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), in a countryside chateau. Her only friend is her family's maid, Rosalie (Nina Meurisse). After Jeanne falls in love and marries Viscount Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud), her life begins to spiral out of control as Julien becomes increasing abusive and even impregnates Rosalie. Meanwhile, she tries to bond with her son, Paul, in hopes of escaping her domineering husband.

      Based on the novel by Guy de Maupassant, A Woman's Life is an emotionally resonating, mesmerizing, and haunting drama that offers both style and substance. Writer/director Stéphane Brizé and her cinematographer, Antoine Héberlé, shoot the film in the aspect ratio 4:3 making in the tradition of films from the Golden Age of Cinema. That particular visual choice works because it reflects how suffocated Jeanne felt during her life while married to Julien. If the cinematography were in black-and-white instead of color, you'd feel like you're watching a very old film. Everything from the lighting to the set design and costume design add a sense of authenticity and keep you thoroughly captivated. The same can be said about the natural performances by the entire cast, none of whom strike a false note.

      Brizé and co-writer Florence Vignon do a great job of getting inside of Jeanne's head. Although they're not afraid to delve into dark territory as the plot progresses, they're more focused on capturing human emotions than moving the plot from point A to point B or relying on shock value. Their choices when it comes to what to show to the audience versus what to leave to their imagination are very interesting and unconventional, i.e. a gun fight where just the gruesome aftermath is shown. The pace moves slowly and takes a while to get used to, so patient audiences will be rewarded the most----this isn't the kind of film that's for "everyone"; films for "everyone" rarely please anyone. If you're willing to sit back for 2 hours, open your heart, and escape from the hustle-and-bustle of the 21st Century into a quiet, poignant story set in the 19th Century, A Woman's Life will leave you immensely satisfied.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Kino Lorber.
Opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Quad Cinema.
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