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Reviews for October 1st, 2021

Documentary Round-Up

      Karen Dalton: In My Own Time is an engaging documentary about Karen Dalton, lesser known folk singer from the 1960's who deserves recognition. Co-directors Richard Peete and Robert Yapkowitz capture not only what Dalton was like as a musician, but also as a human being who struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction. Did you know that when Bob Dylan and Nick Cave heard her music, they were both inspired by it? Combining archival footage of Karen Dalton and interviews with Nick Cave and others including Dalton's daughter, Abralyn Baird, Karen Dalton: In My Own Time provides an in-depth portrait of a musician who deserves to be much more well known to the mainstream public. Fortunately, the filmmakers don't shy away from showing the darker, tragic side of Karen Dalton and acknowledging that she was unconventional. You'll also learn small details that humanize her like what her daily routine was like: she woke up late and made coffee before working on her music, and she prepared a particular food dish which no one knew what made it taste so great. The fact that much of Dalton's archives were lost in a fire back in 2018 makes the archival material that the filmmakers salvaged all the more essential to ensure that Karen Dalton's legacy will never be forgotten. At a brief running time of just 1 hour and 25 minutes, Karen Dalton: In My Own Time is a moving, well-edited and insightful documentary. It opens at Film Forum via Greenwich Entertainment.

The Addams Family 2

Directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by MGM/UA Releasing.
Opens in theaters nationwide and on PVOD.

American Night

Directed by Alessio Della Valle

      Michael Rubino (Emile Hirsch) becomes the new mob boss after his father dies. He desperately wants to obtain an Andy Warhol painting of Marylin Monroe. Other criminals want the precious painting too, including an artist, John Kaplan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), his friend, Vincent (Jeremy Piven), and Lord Samuel Morgan (Michael Madsen). Paz Vega plays John's girlfriend, Sarah, who works as an art curator.

      American Night is a crime thriller that lacks palpable suspense and thrills despite a plot filled with twists and plenty of action. Writer/director Alessio Della Valle tries too hard to please the audience and to borrow heavily from Tarantino's films like Pulp Fiction. Non-linear narrative from different perspectives? Check! Vile, unlikeable characters? Check! Excessive violence? Check! Shallowness? Check! One-dimensional characters? Check! If the screenplay didn't take itself so seriously and veered more toward camp and dark comedy, it would've at least been a guilty pleasure albeit a mindless one. Instead, it quickly becomes a convoluted, nauseating and dull mess with stilted dialogue and not a single character who stands out. To be fair, Pulp Fiction is also a shallow, headache-inducing bore, but at least it has a few memorable scenes and feels more bold when it comes to the over-the-top gore and violence. It doesn't matter who ends up with the painting when you can't root for any of the characters in American Night. Tedium and monotony sets in within the first 30 minutes and remains like that throughout the rest of the film.

      The cinematography is decent and the set design along with the action choreography and lighting add some visual style, so at least your eyes will be entertained albeit with diminishing returns. The performances fail to enliven the film, but, to be fair, the screenplay doesn't provide them with enough material to rise above it. With a much shorter running time, American Night would've at least been a harmless, forgettable B-movie, but at 2 hours, which feels more like 3 hours, it's a chore to sit through and becomes exhausting around the hour mark. American Night is ultimately a dull, tedious and nauseating crime thriller.

Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Saban Films.
Opens at Cinema Village.

Coming Home in the Dark

Directed by James Ashcroft

      Alan Hoaganraad (Erik Thomson) and his wife, Jill (Miriama McDowell) take their kids, Maika (Billy Paratene) and Jordon (Frankie Paratene), on a hiking excursion off the coast of New Zealand. Everything seems to run smoothly until they cross paths with two drifters, Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) and Tubs (Matthias Luafutu), who kidnap them and hold them hostage on a road trip that puts their lives at stake.

      The less you know about the plot in Coming Home in the Dark, the better because the screenplay by writer/director James Ashcroft and co-writer Eli Kent takes a few surprising twists and turns. What begins as a horror film turns into something far more layered, although it's just as terrifying. There's more psychological horror than grisly, visceral horror which makes for a much more scary experience. If the film were to become a torture porn film like Last House on the Left, Wrong Turn or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it would've been a conventional, unsurprising B-movie. The direction that the narrative heads towards, which won't even be spoiled here, puts into question the characters' true motive and changes the way you look at them much like in the movie Malevolence. It doesn't switch genres, though, to the degree that Cabin in the Woods does, but still changes the film's tone. The flashbacks which are essential events are incorporated a bit clunkily, though, and feel repetitive because the audience has already learned what those events are by those moments. Why spoonfeed the audience instead of trusting their intelligence and imagination? The imagination, after all, is usually more powerful than anything else. There's also not much comic relief, but, to be fair, the film remains so dark, disturbing and gritty that it would've been hard to balance it with lighter moments; this isn't a Coen brother's movie like Fargo, but it has as much depth, suspense and intrigue. Fortunately, Coming Home in the Dark doesn't go too far off the rails in the twisted, unpredictable third act nor do they sugar coat anything either.    

       Although there's plenty of violence, Coming Home in the Dark wisely doesn't rely on it or on gore to entertain the audience. The New Zealand landscape becomes a character in and of itself, especially in the beginning when the family's hiking excursion looks so idyllic and peaceful. That makes the events that transpire to them after they meet Mandrae and Tubs more disturbing by contrast. Also kudos to the filmmakers for not wasting too much of the audience's time with the relatively tranquil first act. They set up the basic relationships between the family members and introduce the characters to the audience without relying on exposition. The important exposition comes later on in the second act, so they're in no rush to bombard the audience with information all at once. The nighttime setting also helps to make the film more creepy and frightening. Nighttime settings are a bit cliche, but there's nothing wrong about using cliches as long as they're used effectively, which is the case here. The performances are solid as is the casting. It helps that the actors aren't big stars because horror films, after all, don't really need a big star and the anonymity of the actors makes them feel all the more real. The real star of horror films, as Ebert once wisely observed, is the horror itself. At a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, Coming Home in the Dark is a riveting, provocative and terrifying psychological horror film. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Dark Sky Films.
Opens at Cinema Village.

Falling for Figaro

Directed by Ben Lewin


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by IFC Films.
Opens at IFC Center and on VOD.

The Many Saints of Newark

Directed by Alan Taylor


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Opens nationwide and on HBO Max.

Old Henry

Directed by Potsy Ponciroli


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Shout! Factory.
Opens at Quad Cinema.


Directed by William Coakley

      Cal (Cameron Boyce), a high school senior, lives with his mother and his beloved dog, Runt. The jocks at his high school bully him and the school's football coach (Jason Patrick) enables his bullies to continue to torment him. When he flirts with Cecily (Nicole Elizabeth Berger) he angers her boyfriend, Vic (Aramis Knight), who's one of his bullies. When the bullying goes too far, Cal takes matters into his own hands.

      The screenplay by Armand Constantine, Christian Van Gregg and director/co-writer William Coakley does a great job of introducing the audience to Cal while showing his connection with his dog, Runt, and his passion for art. Cal's connection with Runt serves as a detail that becomes a much more important detail later on. Unless your heart is made out of stone, you'll empathize with Cal as his bullies abuse him both physically and emotionally. How did bullies, such as Vic, learn to behave so abusively? The filmmakers leave that to the imagination of the audience which makes the bullies seem a bit one-dimensional, but it wouldn't be surprising if their parents them somehow. Every behavior, after all, is learned from somewhere. Cal does have one friend who's there for him, Borgie (Cyrus Arnold), but no one who's very close to him. Perhaps his art is his way of expressing his feelings and making sense of them while his dog, Runt, is his best friend.

      As for Cal's actions when he seeks revenge against his bullies, the filmmakers don't ask you to judge Cal for his actions, but to at least understand where his rage comes from. He has every right to be indignant for the way that the bullies treated him. Yes, what he does to them crosses boundaries, but that's what's known as reactive abuse. He doesn't know what to do with his rage and pain, so he continues the cycle. Does Cal understand that bullies are weak despite their appearance? It takes strength to be decent. If he had a therapist or a good role model in his life to guide him, he might not have chosen to go down the path that he chose. Perhaps Maude from Harold & Maude could've helped him to understand and overcome his pain much like she helped Harold. Whether or not Cal's reactions justified isn't something that Runt is interested in exploring, so that question, among others, remains unanswered.

      The emotional depth in Runt doesn't come from the screenplay, but rather from the convincingly moving performance of Cameron Boyce who's the film's heart, mind and soul. He makes it easy for the audience to root for and care about Cal as a human being while making him relatable for anyone who's ever suffered from bullying. Although Runt isn't as emotionally engrossing as other coming of age films like The Perks of Being a Wallflower or as profound as Harold & Maude or as gritty as Bully, at least it's not as cheesy or hackneyed as Dear Evan Hansen. There is some violence shown, but it's not too graphic. At an ideal running time of 95 minutes, Runt works best as a gripping and eye-opening cautionary tale about bullying and those who enable it. .

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by 1091 Media.
Opens at Cinema Village.


Directed by Julia Ducournau

      After surviving a car accident as a child that kills her father and leaves her with a titanium plate in her head, 32-year-old Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) works as an erotic dancer who dances on top of cars at car shows. She has a sexual fetish toward cars. When she becomes a serial killer, she shaves her head and disguises herself as a missing 19-year old boy named Adrien. Vincent (Vincent Lindon) believes that she's his son.

      Titane has shades of Cronenberg horror while aiming for shock value, but it runs out of steam once Alexia/Adrien meets Vincent. The screenplay by writer/director Julia Ducournau includes a brief foreshadow at the very beginning when Alexia kisses a car when she was a child. She then flashes forward two decades to the adult version of Alexia who now has clearly been traumatized by the car crash and losing her father to it. By skipping Alexia's teenage years and not showing how she struggled with the trauma that led to her current toxic behavior, Ducournau squanders an opportunity to humanize Alexia. It's as though she were in a hurry to get to the meat of the story when the real meat is the twisted mind of Alexia. Imagine if Kubrick had included Jack Torrance's full blown madness and rage early on in The Shining instead of allowing him to gradually descend into that madness like he does. In Titane, Alexia has already fully descended into madness within the first 10 minutes. She's treated merely as a plot device, and the screenplay doesn't allow for much room into her heart, mind and soul. The combo of horror, sci-fi, drama and dark comedy doesn't quite gell into a whole that has something interesting to say beyond its shock value. Its messages and metaphors related to gender identity are obvious, too simplistic and shallow. Being John Malkovich has more to say about gender and sexual identity while making the most out of its bold, unconventional concept. Even Cronenberg's The Fly and Quentin Dupieux's films, Rubber, Mandibles and Keep an Eye Out, take their refreshing concepts in more interesting and surprisingly profound directions. Unfortunately, Ducournau doesn't take her bold concept anywhere that's surprising or intellectually and emotionally compelling enough.

      Agathe Rousselle gives a decent performance as Alexia/Adrien, but the screenplay doesn't provide her with enough of a window into her inner life. Every fictional character and human being in the real world has a life front stage and backstage with a curtain in between much like in theater. A truly great film pulls the character's curtain enough so that the audience can peer into the character's inner life "backstage" so-to-speak. That's what makes them human and relatable while sometimes inspiring the audience to pull their own curtains back and look at their own innate thoughts and feelings through introspection. Titane doesn't succeed in accomplishing that because Alexia/Adrien's curtain to his/her "backstage" remains closed throughout most of the film. He/she start out as a stranger to the audience and remains a stranger until the very end. What's left is some body horror with grotesque visuals that add some visual style, but without much substance. Sometimes substance can become a part of a film's style, but not in the case of Titane. At a running time of 1 hour and 48 minutes, Titane is bold and visually stylish, but vapid and unsurprising while suffering from style over substance. It's ultimately less than the sum of its parts.

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

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Directed by Andy Serkis

     Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a detective, still has to deal with a violent symbiote, Venom, living inside of him. He interviews a serial killer, Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), on death row. When Cletus ends up with a symbiote of his own named Carnage, Venom now has a new enemy to battle. Meanwhile, Eddie still meets up with his ex-girlfriend, Anne (Michelle Williams).

      The sequel to the 2018 hit Venom runs out of steam early on as it stretches its concept thin. The lazy screenplay by Kelly Marcel and Tom Hardy repeats the same jokes that were somewhat funny in the first film and aren't as funny the second time around. There's more action, more CGI and less exposition. The first film was an origin story, so the sequel assumes you've seen it already and know how Eddie Brock and Venom combined. Eddie/Venom eventually became annoying before, but now they're both very annoying. The filmmakers try to go over-the-top with zaniness and they at least manage to achieve that with some of the outrageous lines and visuals. However, without any wit or big laughs, it all falls flat and becomes nothing but a lot of noise. The Suicide Squad suffers from the same problem. Both films are desperate to be batshit crazy as a means of entertaining the audience. Zaniness works a lot better in Free Guy. Venom: Let There Be Carnage begins as an unfunny bore and stays that way for the most part while wasting the talents of its actors.

      The main star of the film is the CGI which looks impressive. At least you know where a lot of the budget went. When it comes to the editing, some of it feels too choppy, especially during the action scenes. It's yet another mindless, over-produced B-movie that's not nearly as fun or campy as it could've been. The pace moves very quickly as though the target audience suffers from ADHD and can't handle a slower pace. The best thing about the film is that the running time is just over 90 minutes if you don't include the end credits, so while Venom: Let There Be Carnage is dull and unfunny, at least it's not a chore to sit through like the 2-hour-plus Suicide Squad.

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