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Reviews for October 20th, 2017

Documentary Round-Up

      Aida's Secrets is a profoundly moving, warm, and captivating documentary about Izak Szewelwicz, an adopted man living in Israel, who discovers that he has a biological brother, Shep, in Canada. Together with Shep, they travel to Quebec to meet their 89-year-old, biological mother, Aida, in hopes of finding out what led to their separation. The more secrets that they uncover about their family history, the more they realize the struggles that Aida had been through during the Holocaust when she was faced with tough decisions. Alon and Shaul Schwarz, Izak's nephews, don't shy away from showing Izak while he cries as he reacts to the shocking news about the existence of his biological brother. His reaction speaks louder than words. To watch him reunite with Shep is heartwarming. This is the kind of doc that makes you feel the same kind of emotions that the subject on camera feel. When they're happy, you're happy. When they're sad, you're sad. You're with them throughout their emotional journeys. The film's inclusion of humanism on screen---ranging from warmth to compassion, love, sadness, laugher, happiness, confusion, anger, and surprise---makes Aida's Secrets a truly remarkable and unforgettable documentary. It takes humanism to capture humanism, so it's safe to say that the filmmakers must be humanists. At an ideal running time of 95 minutes, Aida's Secrets opens via Music Box Films at Lincoln Plaza Cinema.

Killing Gunther

Directed by Taran Killam


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by A24 Films.
Now playing at select theaters.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

      Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), a heart surgeon, lives with his wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), and two kids, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). He befriends a mysterious teenage, Martin (Barry Keoghan), who lives with his mother (Alicia Silverstone). Martin holds a grudge against Steven for a something immoral that he had done in the past. He tells Steven that if he does not kill one of his family members, they will all become paralyzed and die one by one. Soon after he gives him that ultimatum, Bob experiences paralysis and refuses to eat while at the hospital.

      Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou have woven a narrative that transcends genre and even plot description. To lump it into one genre wouldn't be fair. Seen as a horror film, it has slow-burning, psychological horror. As a drama, it's a very dark, though-provoking parable about sins, revenge, and the human conscience or lack thereof. Everything from the music score to the camera angles, set design and lighting create a very eerie, foreboding mood. mother! also tried to use stylish visual and sound aesthetics to generate a similar mood, but it quickly became dull, pretentious, and tedious. The Killing of a Sacred Deer, on the other hand, grips you from the very first frame until the very last. The opening grotesque shot is quite a bold way to hook the audience. The film not only has style, but also some substance and something profound to say about humanity under its stylish surface. You constantly wonder where the plot will be headed toward as it goes further into dark territory. Between the drama and psychological horror scenes, there's also some dark, dry humor which works well as comic relief.

      Part of what makes it so compelling is that the characters are written in a way that makes them complex human beings even though they're cross moral boundaries and, in the case of Martin, act bizarrely. It seems like Steven has it all at the beginning: a nice house, a good wife and kids, and a successful job. However, just like in the film Ordinary People, the dysfunctional elements gradually rise to the surface, and Steven, like Beth in Ordinary People, struggles to put the pieces of the broken plate back together, so-to-speak. Martin is merely the catalyst who forces Steven to open his eyes and face the sins of his past. Perhaps Martin symbolizes as Steven's moral conscience.

      The best kind of horror films are the ones that allow you to use your imagination. Kudos to the filmmakers for not only trusting the audience's intelligence and patience, but also their imagination while leaving a lot to interpretation. Nothing is as simple as it seems which makes it all the more intriguing. The ending, which won't be spoiled here, could've easily become a silly mess like in mother!,is it's quite solid and satisfying in a non-Hollywood way. It's also very fortunate that everyone onscreen is at the top of their game. Barry Keoghan gives a breakthrough performance---he was also great in Trespass Among Us, but here he truly gets a chance to shine. Colin Farrell gives a solid performance, as usual, and Nicole Kidman hasn't been better since Birth which would make for an interesting double feature with The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Todd Haynes' Safe and The Shining would also pair well with it.

      Fortunately, this isn't one of those movies where you can feel the weight of the running time or feel the wheels of the screenplay turning. There's so much going on that you might even be tempted to see the film again to appreciate all of its intricate layers. At a running time of 121 minutes, which feels more like 90 minutes, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is chilling, provocative, and mesmerizing. It's one of the best films of the year.


Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by A24 Films.
Opens at Regal Union Square and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.


Directed by Todd Haynes


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and AMC Loews Lincoln Square.
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