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Reviews for October 13th, 2017

Documentary Round-Up


      Human Flow is a moving, captivating, and beautifully-shot documentary on the current global refugee crisis. Director Ai Weiwei travels around the world to 23 countries including Iraq, Germany, Greece, France, and Afghanistan, among others. The refugees at the US-Mexican border are shown toward the end of the film. Ai Weiwei grasps that images speak louder than words; many of the images of refugees' suffering are haunting and heartbreaking beyond words. If you're not moved by the footage, you must be made out of stone. The birds-eye views of the refugees in particular are mesmerizing and allow the doc to become cinematic. Does Ai Weiwei provide any solutions to the crisis or point any fingers at who to blame for it? No, but at least he raises your awareness, opens are your eyes, and hopefully heart, too, to a timely human rights issue. However, admittedly, it could've been shorter than 2 hours and 20 minutes without losing its emotional impact. Human Flow opens at Landmark at 57 West and Angelika Film Center via Amazon Studios and Participant Media. Thy Father's Chair isn't the worst documentary of the year, but it's certainly one of the most boring docs. Directors Antonio Tibaldi and └lex Lora follow Orthodox twin brothers as they clean their messy apartment with the help of a professional cleaning crew. The only suspense is whether or not the twins can sit on a sacred green chair passed down from their father. Fly-on-the-wall docs can still be engrossing and illuminating with skilled filmmakers like Frederick Wiseman or Albert Maysles and with subjects who are interesting enough to be on camera. Unfortunately, Thy Father's Chair shows no skill behind the camera, and the twins make for rather boring subjects sans backstory. There's nothing exceptional about the way the doc is shot, so, stylistically, it looks bland. Without style or substance, there's nothing to cling onto throughout this dull and amateurishly-filmed documentary. Watching paint dry would be more entertaining. Perhaps it would be more fitting were this doc streaming for free on YouTube. It's running time of 74 minutes feels more like 3 hours. Thy Father's Chair opens at Village East Cinema.

American Satan

Directed by Ash Avildsen

      Johnny Faust (Andy Black), the lead singer of a new rock band called The Relentless, moves to the Sunset Strip along with his band members, Leo (Ben Bruce), Lily (Jesse Sullivan) and Vic (Booboo Stewart), and band manager, Ricky (John Bradley), in hopes of rising to fame. When he meets the enigmatic Mr. Capricorn (Malcolm McDowell), he makes a pact with him that brings his band instant success and fame, but it comes with more than a few sacrifices. The band signs a deal with Elias (Mark Boone Junior), the head of a record company, and hires Hawk (Bill Goldberg) as their tour manager---when the shit hits the fan, Hawk becomes the fan, so-to-speak. Soon, The Relentless get involved in debauchery---sex with groupies, drugs, booze, and a little violence. The only two people in his life who try their best to help Faust are his girlfriend, Gretchen (Olivia Culpo), his mother (Denise Richards), and Gabriel (Bill Duke), a mysterious man.

      American Satan is the kind of film that to describe it would not do it enough justice. On the one hand, it's an refreshingly unpredictable amalgam of drama, sci-fi, comedy, satire, parable, and romance with stylish editing and cinematography. The screenplay by Ash Avildsen and Matty Beckerman brims with razor-sharp wit and wickedly funny, tongue-in-cheek humor. Avildsen and Beckerman clearly grasp the ins-and-outs of the music industry while poking satirical jabs at it. The film pops with energy and even a little bit of campiness. The camp element mostly comes from the casting. Scenery-chewing Malcolm McDowell from A Clockwork Orange is very well cast and has a lot of fun in his role. Mark Boone Junior has terrific comedic timing. Jesse Sullivan oozes with charisma.

      Fortunately, the filmmakers do a great job at getting inside the head of the protagonist, Johnny Faust. Part of what makes him such a compelling and relatable character is because he's very flawed and not an entirely decent human being. A character who's 100% decent would be unrealistic and boring to watch---and according to some actors, it's even tougher to play decency. Musician-turned-actor Andy Black has the acting chops to sink his teeth into the lead role and to find the character's emotional truth. Yes, there are also some sex scenes with nudity, you'll get to see Faust during an even more intimate moment: when he's crying. It's equally captivating and moving to watch how his character evolves through the film and how he learns valuable lessons.

      Beneath the surface, American Satan has some heart and soul as well as provocative messages about inflated egos, the price of fame, creative struggle, the battles with one's inner demons, self-discovery, and the sacrifices that artists go through, i.e., selling their artistic soul. "Creativity takes great sacrifice and struggle" and "fame has a price" are messags that mother! also explored through symbolism and dark themes, but this film does it with more wit and depth without veering into pretentiousness, preachiness or lethargy. At a running time of 1 hour and 51 minutes, which feels more like 90 minutes, American Satan is a smart, wickedly funny, and biting satire that deserves to become a cult classic.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Sumerian Films.
Now playing at AMC Empire and AMC Loews Jersey Gardens.


Directed by Andy Serkis


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Bleecker Street.
Now playing at AMC Loews Lincoln Square and Angelika Film Center.

The Outlaws

Directed by Kang Yoon-sung

      Ma Seok-do (Ma Dong-seok), a Seoul cop, must take down a Chinese-Korean crime syndicate. Every since Jang Chen (Yoon Kye-sang) had shown up in the Garabong neighborhood of Seoul to cause trouble, the Chinese and Korean gangs have started fighting against each other. Ma will do anything it takes to eradicate the syndicate once and for all---even if it means killing its members.

      The Outlaws is an action-packed crime thriller that doesn't rise above mediocrity. Its plot doesn't have any surprises, palpable suspense, or shocking twists, and the characters are forgettable. What keeps the film afloat, though, is the charismatic performance of Ma Dang-seok and the boldness of the off-kilter character that he plays. He's a no-holds-barred, tough cop who doesn't give up and isn't afraid to put his life as well as his career on the line to defeat the bad guys. A compelling nemesis makes for a compelling film, but, unfortunately, there's nothing about Jang Chen as a bad guy that makes him stand out. He's the typical kind of bad guy you find in many B-movies. At least it's safe to say that when the plot becomes a bit dull, the well-choreographed action scenes help to boost the film's momentum. The running time of 2 hours does feel somewhat exhausting around the 100 minute mark, but that's just a minor issue in this mildly entertaining crime thriller.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Now playing at select theaters.

Signature Move

Directed by Jennifer Reeder


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Now playing at Village East Cinema.
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