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Reviews for November 22nd, 2023

Documentary Films


      Menus-Plaisirs---Les Troisgros is an insightful, delightful and thoroughly immersive documentary about La Maison Troisgros, a 3 Michelin-star restaurant located in the countryside of Roanne, France. Director Frederick Wiseman uses his traditional fly-on-the-wall approach to provide the audience with a glimpse of everything that goes on behind-the-scenes at the restaurant from the moment that the product is selected to the moment that it arrives at the customer's table. There are no talking-head interviews, so you pick up information by listening and observing. Michel Troisgros, the head chef, runs the restaurant with his two sons, César and Léo. Be prepared to be mesmerized by watching the chefs cooking. If you're a foodie, that's an added bonus because you'll learn a lot about their cooking techniques and the ingredients that they use in their recipe which might inspire your own cooking. Wiseman includes some surprisingly funny moments, i.e. when a waiter asks a customer what he's allergic to and he quips that he's allergic to the bill. The film is exquisitely shot and smoothly edited without feeling repetitive in terms of content or excessive in its visual style. In other words, Wiseman knows that there's enough substance in the documentary to hold the audience's attention. He also trusts your patience by moving the film at a slow pace and the fact that the running time clocks 4 hours with no intermissions. Patient audience members will be rewarded the most. Menus-Plaisirs---Les Troisgros opens at Film Forum via Zipporah Films. It's the ultimate foodie movie. Don't watch it while you're hungry.

The Boy and the Heron

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

      Mahito (voice of Soma Santoki), a young boy whose mother died in a fire 4 years earlier, lives with his father and stepmother, Natsuko (Yoshino Kimura). One night, a heron (voice of Masaki Suda) arrives at this window to inform him that his mother is still alive and that his stepmother has gone missing. They embark on a mission to rescue them.

      The screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki suffers from a convoluted plot with too many characters and weak exposition. A lot happens within the first 30 minutes. Before you know it, Mahito's mother dies in a hospital fire. The film barely establishes the relationship between him and his mother or him and his father for that matter. Once Mahito meets the Heron, that's when the plot takes a turn into more bizarre and surreal territory with more new characters like Kiriko (Ko Shibasaki) introduced. Everyone just seems to be on screen to move the plot forward, though. A complicated plot is not the same as a complex plot. Unfortunately, Miyazaki opts for complication over complexity which makes for a frustrating experience. There's some attempts at humor, but most of the comedic beats don't land very strongly. Nor do the emotional beats land, either, especially because Mahito remains at a cold distance from the audience. The Boy and the Heron doesn't leave enough room for the plot or characters to breathe, so it begins to become exhausting rather than exhilarating or fun around the hour mark.

      At least The Boy and the Heron has stunning 2D animation to provide the audience with visual delights. It's bright, colorful and the characters are drawn with plenty of attention to detail. The music score is also terrific without being overbearing. The pace moves slow at times while moving too fast at the beginning, so uneven pacing does become somewhat of an issue albeit not a systemic one. At a running time of 2 hours and 4 minutes, The Boy and the Hero is visually dazzling, but convoluted, overstuffed and emotionally hollow.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by GKIDS.
Opens in select theaters before expanding nationwide on December 1st.


Directed by Bradley Cooper

      Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) begins a romance with Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) just as his career as a music composer and conductor flourishes. They get married and have children, but their marriage goes on the rocks when she's fed up with his infidelity.

      The screenplay by writer/director Bradley Cooper and Josh Singer focuses on Leonard and Felicia's relationship from the moment they met at a party during the 1940's. When you first meet Leonard, he's being interviewed at an older age as he looks back on his life with Felicia. He had a male lover, David (Matthew Bomer), so it's clear to the audience that he's bisexual from the very beginning. His cheating with men inevitably causes rifts in his marriage to Felicia. There aren't any major surprises or revelations in Maestro. It's not very profound as a portrait of a dysfunctional relationship nor as a crumbling marriage nor as a character study of Leonard or Felicia for that matter. If you're looking for a warts-and-all biopic on Leonard Bernstein, Maestro comes up short. The dialogue suffers from being too on-the-nose at times. There's one very powerful and well-written scene which stands out, though: when Felicia confronts Leonard about how she feels about their marriage while a parade with a Snoopy float can be seen in the distance. It's a scene filled with unflinching honesty, sadness, anger, wit and even a little humor. If only there were more scenes that weren't afraid to go into slightly darker territory. With the exception of a random dog walking beside a pool, there's very little comic relief here, though. Maestro hits its notes a little too hard while lacking subtlety or room for interpretation.

      Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan both give magnetic, convincingly moving performances. They have palpable chemistry together. However, the film's emotional depth comes from their performances, not from the screenplay. They're often undermined by the screenplay that tries too hard to please the audience without cutting very deeply beneath the surface of these interesting characters. Sarah Silverman has a supporting role as Leonard's sister, Shirley, but she's miscast. The cinematography is very stylish while going back and forth between black-and-white and color. However, the film's visual style gets in the way of its substance at times because it tries hard to be cinematic despite the fact that there's enough cinematic elements within the narrative. At a running time of 2 hours and 9 minutes, Maestro is well-acted and occasionally potent, but often heavy-handed and shallow Oscar-bait.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Netflix.
Opens in select theaters.


Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

      When Saori (Sakura Ando) notices that her son, Minato (Soya Kurokawa), has been behaving strangely, he informs her that his teacher, Mr. Hori (Eita Nagayama), physically abused him. She confronts the principal, Fushini (Yûko Tanaka), who apologizes to her and makes Mr. Hori apologizes to her as well, but she doesn't accept their apology. Mr. Hori claims that Minato has been bullying a fellow classmate, Yori Hoshikawa (Hinata Hiiragi).

      The intricate screenplay by Yûji Sakamoto unfolds the narrative from different perspectives, starting from Mr. Hori's perspective, then Fushini's and then Minato and Yori. Sakamoto has a wonderful handle on exposition by knowing precisely when to reveal information to the audience and how much to reveal. So, the film comes with a few surprises that won't be spoiled here. It's worth mentioning, though, that as the narrative progresses, it becomes increasingly complex and engrossing.The film doesn't judge anyone's actions, although it welcomes the audience to try to discern what's actually going on with them.The more you get to know each character, the more you realize that they're each flaws and are going through their own emotional battles. There's a beautiful scene with her and Minato as she teaches him how to play an instrument while they bond. The relationship between Minato and Tori feels understated, yet genuinely moving. Monster avoids veering into sappy territory and becoming heavy-handed or preachy. Bravo to director Hirokazu Koreeda and screenwriter Yûji Sakamoto for seeing and treating the characters as fully-fleshed human beings from start to finish.

      The performances from the ensemble cast are all extraordinary, especially the child actors, Soya Kurokawa and Hinata Hiirag, which helps to make Minato and Yori's relationship feel true-to-life. Everyone gets the chance to shine and to bring authenticity to their role while opening the window into their heart, mind and soul concurrently. The music score by Ryuichi Sakamoto is truly exquisite and very well-chosen without being overbearing or intrusive. The slow-burning pace suggests that Koreeda trusts the audience's emotions. Moreover, the editing is superb as it interweaves the different perspectives seamlessly without any clunkiness. At a running time of 2 hours and 6 minutes, Monster is profoundly moving, powerful and gripping. It's one of the best coming-of-age films since Close.

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


Directed by Ridley Scott

      Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix), a French general, became Emperor of France in 1804 and led the French army in a series of battles. Meanwhile, he fell in love and married a widow, Josephine (Vanessa Kirby).

      The screenplay by David Scarpa takes a lot of liberties as a loose biopic of Napoleon Bonaparte. There's nothing inherently wrong with that as long as it's emotionally engaging and entertaining. Unfortunately, Napoleon squanders its opportunity to be a compelling character study. Napoleon comes across as a complex character who's not always likable because of how he treats his wife and others. He's arrogant, brave, cunning and stubborn. All of those traits are precisely what makes him so interesting, but the screenplay barely scratches his surface. Where did he get his bravery and arrogance from? How introspective is he? Napoleon isn't concerned about humanizing him much, although they do give him a personality that highlights his offbeat sense of humor with his occasional quips. He neglects his wife, Josephine, but so does the screenplay because her character remains underwritten. It's hard to even sense what she sees in him to begin with because they meet, fall in love and, before you know it, get married. The film treats her like a plot device and even dehumanizes her during a key event in her life that's left to the audience's imagination instead of showing it unflinchingly. Moreover, there's too much comic relief which leads to tonal unevenness and clunkiness as though Napoleon were a biopic spoof. None of the beats land during the third act.

      Joaquin Phoenix gives a decent performance here, but he's undermined by the shallow screenplay that fails to breathe life into his role. The same can be said about Vanessa Kirby who's wasted here. Rupert Everett briefly chews the scenery as the Duke of Wellington. However, he's introduced too late in the film. The battle sequences are exhilarating and rousing, though, while providing plenty of spectacle on a visceral level. The costume design, set design, sound design and cinematography are superb. However, the editing feels choppy at times and there are pacing issues which make the film rush through a lot of events in Napoleon's while other scenes last too long. At a running time of 2 hours and 37 minutes, Napoleon is a well-produced, but clunky, shallow and tonally uneven misfire.


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

Run Nixon

Directed by SkyDirects


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by AMC Theatres Distribution.
Opens in select AMC theaters naitonwide.


Directed by Fawn Veerasunthor & Chris Buck

      Asha (voice of Ariana DeBose) lives in the Rosas Kingdom where Magnifico (voice of Chris Pine), a sorcerer, collects everyone's wishes when they turn 18. When she learns that he never plans on releasing the wishes, she and her friends, including Dahlia (Jennifer Kumiyama), go on a mission to save the wishes before he destroys them. Meanwhile, she finds a star that gives her magical powers.

      The screenplay by co-writers Jennifer Lee and Allison Moore has a premise that sounds like it could be a sweet, funny and charming fairytale like Frozen and Tangled. However, in execution, it leaves a lot to be desired because it's only sporadically sweet and amusing at best. Lee and More know where to take ideas from, but not where to take them to. What ensues is an undercooked, by-the-numbers animated film that runs out of steam early. The humor rarely lands and there are not nearly enough jokes or witty lines for adults. Also, the talking goat, Valentino, is annoying because he tries too hard to be funny. The plot just seems to be going through the motions as it nears its third act which lacks surprises while the attempts to add poignancy feel cheesy and contrived. For example, Asha desperately wants to make her mother's and grandfather's wishes come true, but you barely get to know either of them to understand how they came up with their wishes. Her grandfather's wish is also very vague and bland. So, the ending's uplift feels unearned.

      The CGI animation is decent, but nothing exceptional that would've made Wish stand out. The same goes for the musical numbers which are mostly dull and forgettable without any much-needed catchy songs. They pale when compared to Frozen's exhilarating musical numbers. That said, the pace moves brisky so it's not a chore to sit though nor does the film overstay its welcome. At 1 hour 35 minutes, Wish is amusing, but underwhelming and undercooked while low on laughs, charm and emotional depth. In a double feature with Frozen, it would be the inferior B-movie.


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