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Reviews for October 21st, 2016

Documentary Round-Up

      The Uncondemned

American Pastoral

Directed by Ewan McGregor

      Seymour Lvov (Ewan McGregor) owns a glove factory and lives with his wife, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), and daughter, Merry (Dakota Fanning). While the Vietnam War takes places overseas, Merry becomes increasingly anti-US government and joins the anti-war movement. When the local post office gets bombed, the authorities suspect that Merry was involved in the bombing and claim that she had died. Seymour, on the other hand, refuses to believe that she's dead and does everything in his ability to find his beloved daughter. His hopes get raised when Rita Cohen (Valorie Curry), a mysterious woman, shows up claiming that she had seen Merry.

      Based on the book by Philip Roth, American Pastoral sounds like it could be a suspenseful tearjerker. Unfortunately, the screenplay by John Romano is a clunky, contrived and stilted mess. The actors try their best, but even the solid performances by Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning can't rise above the material. Too much of the film feels like a Lifetime TV Movie-of-the-Week. Although the plot does go into dark territory, it doesn't go very deep, especially when it comes to Merry's experiences. Perhaps the film would have been more interesting from Merry's perspective instead of Seymour's.

      As Truffaut once wisely stated, every great film has a perfect blend of spectacle and truth. American Pastoral masters the spectacle element more or less, but flunks when it comes to truth because none of the scenes or characters for that matter feel believable. McGregor and Romano even fail to breathe life into the small town to turn it into a character in itself. In one scene, finds a note that tells her which hotel and room number her husband can be found at much to her surprise---with the seductive Rita. Why doesn't she go to hotel room to confront her husband using that information? Romano's screenplay makes it difficult to get inside any of the characters' heads; in a book it's much easier to accomplish that. There are also some glaring continuity errors, i.e. when two characters meet at night, and then a minute later they're in a room with bright lights shining through the window like in the daytime----there's even something unnatural about those very bright lights as though a UFO landed just outside the window. American Pastoral completely falls apart by the third act with many choppy scenes and abrupt fade-to-black that leaves a bad aftertaste.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Lionsgate Films.
Opens at Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Autumn Lights

Directed by Angad Aulakh


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Freestyle Releasing.
Opens at Cinema Village.

Dude Bro Party Massacre III

Directed by Tomm Jacobsen, Michael Rousselet and Jon Salmon

      Brent (Alec Owen) joins the Delta-Bi fraternity to investigate the murder of his twin brother, Brock (Owen), who had been killed by Motherface, a mysterious, masked serial killer. Motherface is back terrorizing more frat members from Delta-Bi, including Z.Q. (Mike James), Todd (Joey Scoma) and Turbeaux (Paul Prado).

      The less you know about Dude Bro Party Massacre III's plot the better because it's filled with many wild, whacky and wickedly funny surprises. It succeeds on every level as a parody of 80's slasher films because the filmmakers find just the right tongue-in-cheek tone and mimic the VHS visuals from the 80's as well as the B-movie level acting. In fact, the film sets its tone from the very first frame and maintains that tone throughout, so you'll know within the first few minutes whether you love or hate it. If you love the kind of films that Troma makes, you'll get a real kick out of Dude Bro Party Massacre III. Never does the film take itself seriously, even during the violent scenes, so that makes a true guilty pleasure. Even Patton Oswald and Larry King briefly show up to add more hilarity to the madness.

      Unlike many of Hollywood's expensive, dull, mindless B-films masquerading as A-films (I'm looking at you, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back), Dude Bro Party Massacre III is a B-film that wears its B-ness on its sleeve with gleeful pride. It's destined to become an cult classic. You can laugh at it or with it or both---neither of that matters because it's all about making you laugh and have a good time. Be prepared for plenty of anarchic, outrageous fun that's best experienced while intoxicated with a group of friends. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 31 minutes, this is the best horror parody in years.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by 5 Second Films.
Opens at Cinema Village.


Directed by Barry Jenkins

      10-year-old Chiron (Alex Hibbert) gets picked on by his classmates and ends up living with a drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali), who becomes his surrogate father, and Juan's girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle MonŠe). Meanwhile, his mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), remains unfit to take care of him because she's a drug addict. In his teenage years, Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders) explores his sexual identity with his friend, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) while smoking a blunt on a beach with him under the moonlight (hence the film's title!). Ten years later, Chiron (now played by Trevante Rhodes), is no longer the scrawny boy he once was; he's muscular, tough and wears grills. When he stops at a diner, he bumps into Kevin (now played by Andrť Holland) who happens to be his waiter.

      Moonlight explores many interesting themes within the coming-of-age genre, namely, sexual identity, happiness, individuality and masculinity. Writer/director Barry Jenkins doesn't explore though concepts profoundly per se; they're presented in subtle, gentle ways as you're watching this slice of life drama unfold. Jenkins include exquisite cinematography and use of color that enriches the film. The performance by each actor who portray Chiron is superb and well-nuanced. You can really grasp what's going on inside Chiron's head and care about him as a complex human being. His flaws are part of what makes him more compelling as a character. The transition between his pre-adolescent years and his teenage years works smoothly without the film losing any momentum. Unfortunately, the jump between his teenage and adult years feels like too big of a jump while making you wish that you could've gotten to know Chiron between those two time periods.

      A much better coming-of-age drama that moved between periods of a boy's life in a much more organic way is Boyhood. Both Moonlight and Boyhood deal with protagonists who come from dysfunctional homes---to be fair, Chiron comes from a much more dysfunctional family than Mason. Compared to Boyhood's emotional depth and sense of realism that also left a lot to the audience's imagination, Moonlight pales by comparison, though. Because of the screenplay's shortcomings toward the end, Chiron's character arc doesn't feel as engrossing and smooth as Mason's by the time the end credits roll. Although Moonlight does have its fair share of poignant moments, it falls short of reaching the heights of powerful coming-of-age classics like Boyhood.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by A24 Films.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.

Ouija: Origin of Evil

Directed by Mike Flanagan


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