Alphabetical Menu
Chronological Menu

Reviews for May 6th, 2022

Documentary Round-Up

      Have You Heard About Greg? is an illuminating and genuinely poignant documentary about investigative journalist Greg O'Brien's battle with Alzheimer's and his mission to raise awareness about it. Through interviews with O'Brien himself, director Steven Ecclesine captures his intelligence, compassion and sense of humor. O'Brien was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at the age of 59, since then, has written a book called On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer's and spoke out about Alzheimers while sharing his struggles. He's very brave, emotionally generous and emotionally mature to be able to talk about Alzheimer's so candidly in front of the camera. Director Steven Ecclesine is very fortunate to have him as the documentary's subject because he not only shares his insight and feelings about Alzheimer's with the audience, but also his sense of humor, wit and charisma.

      Both the director and O'Brien come across as empathetic human beings. Ecclesine also interviews O'Brien's family, friends, and experts, including Lisa Genona who wrote the book-turned-movie Still Alice. Although there are plenty of talking heads, Have You Heard About Greg? isn't a dry or dull documentary that makes you ask, "When's the exam??" Instead, it humanizes Alzheimer's while compelling you to talk about it more openly and to get tested for it to detect it early. It also doesn't shy away from shedding light on how expensive it is to treat Alzheimer's, even with insurance. From start to finish, Greg O'Brien's humanity shines, so kudos to director Steven Ecclesine for effectively and palpably capturing that. At a running time of 1 hour and 27 minutes, Have You Heard about Greg? is an eye-opening, warm and inspirational gift to humanity. It opens at Village East by Angelika.

      The Sanctity of Space is one of those documentaries that bites off a lot more than it could chew. Co-directors Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson combine two documentaries in one. The first is a documentary portrait of Brad Washburn, a photographer who was also a mountaineer. The second is about Renan Ozturk, Freddie Wilkinson, and Zack Smith's adventures climbing the peaks of Alaska, specifically Mount Denali, the highest mountain in the US. They were inspired by Brad Washburn to mountain climb and risk their lives while doing so. Some of the footage feels thrilling and breathtaking as Ozturk and Wilkinson recall their mountain climbing experiences in vivid detail. The transitions, though, to Washburn's experiences are clunky and distract from The Sanctity of Space's flow and focus. There could've easily been a separate documentary about Washburn, but to include it with this documentary it takes a more skilled editor. The Dawn Wall is a much more emotionally engrossing, focused and captivating documentary about mountaineers which treads similar waters. At a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes, which feels more like 2 hours, The Sanctity of Space is occasionally exhilarating and mildly engaging, but often unfocused and fails to pack an emotional punch. It opens at Village East by Angelika via Greenwich Entertainment.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Directed by Sam Raimi

      Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has a dream where he meets America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). Soon after, in his waking life, he attends the wedding of his former lover, Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) and then saves America from a cyclops monster. He learns that she's capable of traveling between multiverses and that his dreams have something to do with the multiverse. He and Wong (Benedict Wong), the Sorcerer Supreme, take her to meet Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), the Scarlet Witch, to uncover the dark mystery of what's actually going on with her.

      A lot happens in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but very little actually sticks. Director Sam Raimi and screenwriter Michael Waldron waste no time with an opening scene that throws the audience right into the middle of an action scene that makes more sense later on. If you're confused initially, don't worry because they'll spoon-feed you with plenty of exposition and on-the-nose dialogue about how the characters are feeling. Even though the plot does get increasingly complex, it doesn't really get very interesting or surprising unless you count some cameos which won't be spoiled here. The screenplay has tonal problems as it blends comedy, action, drama, romance and horror with mixed results. It's easy to see where Sam Raimi could've gone darker, but had to scale back to avoid making the film too scary. The subplot involving Dr. Strange and his former lover seem tacked-on just to add an emotional arc for Dr. Strange because the script requires it. There's very little depth to that arc, though, and it makes the movie feel unnecessarily padded. There are too many characters, yet not a single one of them gets a chance to stand out or come to life. They're all just pawns meant to move the plot forward to the next action sequence. To be fair, there are somewhat funny scenes, but they're far and few between--and sometimes rather juvenile and silly, like a slapstick scene with a hot dog vendor and Dr. Strange that goes on for too long. That scene and others, like the cameo scenes, are trying too hard to please the audience as though the central plot and characters weren't enough to please them.

      If all you're looking for are lots of action sequences with plenty of Spectacle, you'll be pleased on a visceral level initially, at least. Unfortunately, the Spectacle becomes less and less exhilarating and increasingly dull. Like with too many Hollywood blockbusters, there's terrific visual effects, sound design and a great score by, in the case, by the iconic composer Danny Elfman, but there's not nearly enough to grab the audience's attention beyond that. As Francois Truffaut once wisely observed, every great film is a perfect blend of Truth and Spectacle. Sometimes there can be some Truth found within the Spectacle, but that's not the case here. This is precisely the kind of movie that one of the characters in Pompo: The Cinephile complained about: a bloated, overlong blockbuster. Even Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen can't rise above the vapid screenplay with their charisma and solid acting chops. Everything that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness gets wrong, Everything Everywhere All at Once gets right. In a double feature, this would be the inferior B-movie. At a running time of 2 hours and 6 minutes, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an often dull, uneven and overproduced spectacle.

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

Escape the Field

Directed by Emerson Moore

      Six strangers wake up in the middle of a field and must figure out a way out of there. The strangers include Tyler (Theo Rossi),Sam (Jordan Claire Robbins), Ethan (Julian Feder), Ryan (Shane West), Cameron (Tarirah Sharif) and Denise (Elena Juatco). All that they have with them is a compass, a knife, a water flask, matches, a bullet and a lantern.

    Escape the Field treads the same waters of Saw, Cube and Escape Room, but lacks enough thrills and scares to even come close to those horror thrillers. The screenplay by Emerson Moore, Sean Wathen and Joshua Dobkin eschews a first act and jumps right into the second act instead by showing each of the six strangers awakening in the field one by one as they gather together. They're confused as much as the audience is about how they got there, who kidnapped them and why. They also have no idea how to escape the field, hence the title. Unfortunately these characters remain strangers to the audience from start to finish because the screenplay doesn't spend time getting to know them or their backstories. Any great horror film is only as great as its villain, but the villain(s) are not even shown. Is there something supernatural going on? It seems that way at times, but Escape the Field doesn't go far enough in either the direction of sci-fi or horror. That said, at least it's not as clunky or uneven as M. Night Shyamalan's Old. What's sorely missing, though, is some comic relief, wit or anything that resembles levity like in Escape Room. The ending, which won't be spoiled, is just as rushed as Old's ending, so it feels lazy, abrupt and dull.

      The production values are decent, but nothing exceptional. The same can be said about the performances which don't rise above the mediocre and shallow screenplay. Director/co-writer Emerson Moore makes the most out of the setting in the field which adds a little creepiness just from those visuals alone. There's also some psychological horror that comes from wondering what's beyond the field. Those aesthetic qualities alone don't amount to much, though, and eventually the creepiness begins to wane. What's left is a lean albeit underwhelming and undercooked horror thriller.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Lionsgate.
Opens at Cinema Village and on VOD.


Directed by Audrey Diwan

      verything has gone smoothly for Anne Duchesne (Anamaria Vartolomei), a university student in 1963 France, until she learns that she's pregnant. She desperately tries to seek an abortion even though it's legal, but no doctor wants to help her. Even her friends, Hélène (Luàna Bajrami) and Brigitte (Louise Orry-Diquéro), don't know how to help her. Neither does her classmate, Jean (Kacey Mottet Klein). Anne's mother, Gabrielle (Sandrine Bonnaire tries to be there for her daughter, but Anne hasn't found the courage to tell her about her struggles to get an abortion.

      Happening has a vague title and it never once uses the word "abortion", but there's no doubt that that's precisely what Anne seeks within the first 30 minutes. Based on a the novel by Annie Ernaux, the film isn't really fundamentally about abortion. Instead, the screenplay by writer/director Audrey Diwan and co-writer Marcia Romano follows Anne's experiences after learning that she's pregnant and then, gradually, opens enough of a window into Anne to grasp her heart, mind and soul. Anne goes through a lot of emotions including sadness, frustration, confusion and anger. Tragically, she doesn't have anyone to talk to about what she's going through to help her process her emotions. Her mother seems like she would be right person for her to confide in, but she doesn't. No one really understands what she's going through except the audience because the screenplay manages to successfully humanize Anne. Fortunately, Happening doesn't shy away from the darker elements of the story which, at times, almost veers into a horror film like Spencer. There's zero comic relief or any levity, but, to be fair, it would be very, very difficult to add comic relief to such a heavy subject matter. Although director/co-writer Audrey Diwan does show Anne's first abortion attempt in a lengthy scene that's not easy to watch, it does leave the images of the abortion off-camera to the imagination of the audience, so Diwan clearly grasps the power of the imagination. The second abortion attempt, interestingly, is completely omitted. Interestingly, what's also omitted is any discussion of who might be the guy who impregnated Anne to begin with. Diwan doesn't ask you to judge Anne, although you're welcome to if you wish to. It's more important that you experience her, as the screenplay provides plenty of opportunities for you to do so. What you think about the issue of abortion doesn't really matter because Happening doesn't preach about the complex, provocative topic. It's up to you, through your own projections and opinions, to discuss and debate it afterward.

      Anamaria Vartolomei gives a raw, engrossing performances that captures all of Anne's wide range of complex emotions very convincingly. She also handles the small, quiet moments effectively because she allows for the audience to witness into Anne's heart, mind and soul during those moments and to observe her innate sadness. There's a sense of voyeurism to watching Anne which isn't comfortable to watch nor should it be, but it takes an emotionally generous actress and filmmaker to open the curtain, so to speak, for the audience to peer into. The cinematography is often up close to Anne which is reminiscent of the Dardennes brothers' filmmaking style. The music score also adds some style as well as substance providing the audience with a sense of unease as though they were watching a horror film. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, Happening is an engrossing, honest and gripping emotional journey. It's just as powerful as Vera Drake and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by IFC Films.
Opens at IFC Center.


Directed by Russell Owen

      Eric Black (Tom Hughes) grieves the death of his wife Rachel (Gaia Weiss), who died in a car accident. While on the verge of suicide, he decides to apply for a job as a shepherd on a remote island off the coast of Scotland. He brings his dog, Baxtor, along with his as him companion. A creepy-looking Fisher (Kate Dickie) ferries him on a boat to the island. Soon enough, he sees halucinations of his abusive mother, Glenys (Greta Scacchi), and his beloved dog disappears.

      The screenplay by writer/director Russell Owen blends psychological horror, gothic horror, supernatural horror and psycholigical drama with much more emphasis on the horror elements. Eric essentially tries to escape his demons by working as a shepherd far away from home, but he slowly--too slowly--realises that his demons have come back to haunt him. A systemic issue with the screenplay is that the audience is almost always at least one or two steps ahead of Eric. They realise that something sinister will be transpiring right when they're introduced to Fisher, but Eric doesn't seem to realize that. She occassionally calls him on a phone that's not supposed to work, and she seems even creepier at that point. Then there's a very cheap way that the film tries to jerk the audience's emotions by having Eric's dog disappear on him.

      Fisher begins the film as an enigma and ends that way as well. Is she real or imaginary? That should've been the question, but it's obvious that there's something off and unnatural about her. There's terrifying, albeit brief, scene with Eric's mother showing up all of a sudden---again, he doesn't seem to think that that's odd---and she behaves in a very creepy way, even more than Fisher. All of the creepiness eventually becomes repetitive and dull, and the films goes around in circles rather than in some sort of forward momentum. What's sorely missing from Shepherd is enough exposition to keep the audience intrigued and surprised. The majority of the exposition comes at the very end, but it happens so quickly in such a contrived and convoluted way that it feels concurrently rushed, confusing and underdeveloped. Fortunately, there are no bad or awkward laughs like in the overrated Midsommar.

      The performances are all wonderfull all across the board, especially Tom Hughes who breathes life into his role even when the screenplay doesn't. Any emotional poignancy comes from his performance, not from the screenplay. You can feel Eric's emotional pain and anguish throughout the film. It's too bad, then, that the screenplay doesn't explore those emotions more profoundly. It's hard to get inside his head when he doesn't have anyone to share his emotions with, except for maybe his dog. Kate Dickie is also terrific in a role that's pretty one-note, but she makes the most of it. Her make-up design is also worth mentioning. Then there's the landscape of the island and the weather, i.e. fog, which adds some visual poetry. The stylish cinematography is Shepherd's major strength. Even the color design and lighting design are impressive. The musical score, though, feels intrusive and overbearing more often than not, though, as it hits the audience over the head while telling them how to feel rather than gently reminding them. At a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes, Shepherd is creepy, atmospheric, well-acted and visually stylish, but often tedious, meandering and dull.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Saban Films.
Opens at Cinema Village and on VOD.