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Reviews for October 27th, 2023

Documentary Films


      After Death is a provocative, well-edited, fair and balanced documentary about the afterlife. Co-directors Stephen Gray and Chris Radtke provide the audience with different perspectives on the issue as they interview a wide range of subjects including Ajmal Zemmar, a neuroscientist, Raymond Moody, a psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Sabom, a cardiologist, and survivors who has near-death experiences. Through the crisp editing, they intertwine reenactments of the survivors' vivid recollections which makes the film both exhilarating and cinematic. If they were to merely show one talking head after another, it would've risked becoming somewhat dry and academic. Dr. Mary Neal's account of how she nearly died during a kayaking accident in 1999, what she experienced and how it affected her perspective on death is very moving, insightful and fascinating. Regardless of whether you're religious, agnostic, spiritual or atheist, you'll have plenty of food for thought throughout this illuminating documentary. The only minor albeit forgivable flaw is that the music score feels too intrusive and overbearing at times, so the filmmakers don't trust the audience's emotions enough. At a running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, After Death finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking the audience intellectually as well as emotionally. It opens nationwide via Angel Studios.


      Carterland is an insightful, engaging and slickly edited, but hagiographic and unbalanced documentary biopic about President Jimmy Carter. Co-directors Jim and Will Pattiz, a.k.a. The Pattiz Brothers, trace Jimmy Carter's political career from the moment that he won the election in 1976 to become President of the United States until the end of term in 1981. There's a lot of mention of the positive things that he did like how he led the movement against climate change and even installed solar panels on The White House's roof. He negotiated and signed the Panama Canal Treaties as well as The Camp David Accords which was signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. When inflation plagued the country throughout his presidency, he did what any economist would advise to do in response to it: he raised interest rates which, in turn, cost him many votes and led to him losing his re-election. Carterland persuasively argues that Carter deserves the credit for the healthy economy during Ronald Reagan's presidency. The talking-head interviews with politicians like Walter Mondale, Carter's Vice President, and Jimmy Carter's grandson, Jason, are illuminating. However, this isn't a thorough biopic on Jimmy Carter because it mostly focuses on his work during his presidency, so it's limited in scope and neglects to open Jimmy Carter's curtain, so-to-speak, to see what he's like backstage. A brief interview with him at the tail end of the film is too little, too late. At a running time of 2 hours and 2 minutes, Carterland opens at a Village East by Angelika.


      Deep Rising is a visually stunning, but repetitive and unfocused documentary that barely scratches the surface. It's fundamentally about the importance of preserving ocean wildlife and the threat that deep-sea mining poses for the marine ecosystem. Unfortunately, director Matthieu Rytz clunkily combines two documentaries together with very mixed results. On the one hand, Deep Rising has breathtaking images of marine life in the deep sea that highlights their beauty which speaks louder than words. That documentary's most captivating moments are during those parts which are narrated by Jason Momoa. Beyond that, it's just a bland infomercial about The Metals Company, a start-up company that mines the ocean floor for metals that then are used for energy technologies. Rytz follows The Metals Company as it goes on the road to becoming a publicly traded company on the stock exchange, but he keeps the documentary too limited in scope with not nearly enough variety of perspectives, thoughtful analysis and illuminating insights. The cuts to the deep sea marine wildlife get redundant after a while as the audience gets hit over the head repeatedly about how majestic the ecosystem is and how vital it is to preserve it. At a running time of 1 hour and 33 minutes, Deep Rising opens at Village East by Angelika via Abramorama.


      Four Daughters is a genuinely heartfelt, unflinching and captivating documentary about a Tunisian mother, Olfa Hamrouni, whose eldest daughters, Ghofrane and Rahma, disappeared one day. Director Kaouther Ben Hania combines talking-head interviews with Olfa and her two remaining daughters, Eya and Tayssir, while using actresses, Ichrak Matar and Nour Karoui, to portray Ghofrane and Rahma. Through the interviews, reenactments and archival footage, you get a sense of what Olfa's family was like before Ghofran and Rahma became radicalized and went missing. Olfa, Eya and Tayssir are very brave for showing their vulnerability in front of the camera and sharing their feelings to the audience. It seems almost like a form of therapy for them as they examine their traumatic memories---after all, the best way to learn and to grow from trauma is to confront it. Director Kaouther Ben Hania also puts the families' experience within the context of Tunisian history, so you'll learn a lot about how women have been treated there, how radicalization can happen to ordinary people, and how it can also tear families apart. Most surprisingly, though, she finds some moments of humor which counterbalances the heavy subject matter. To watch the siblings laughing and expressing their joy together is very heartwarming. Thank you, Kaouther Ben Hania for bringing out the humanity of your documentary subjects. It's great to see people allowing themselves to be humanized in a society and world that's very dehumanizing. Hopefully anyone who, like Olfa and her daughters, is processing trauma can find a glimmer of hope through this film and also through the wise words of poet Pablo Neruda who wrote, "They can cut all of the flowers, but they can't stop the spring from coming." At a running time of 1 hour and 47 minutes, Four Daughters opens at IFC Center via Kino Lorber.


      Holy Frit is an illuminating and fascinating, but ultimately overlong and incomplete documentary about Tim Carey, an artist based in LA who's commissioned to make a 4,000 square foot window for the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection while working for Judson Studios, a stained-glass company. Director Justin S. Monroe follows Tim as he struggles to complete the project with the help of Narcissus Quagliata, a stained-glass artist who fuses glass together. You'll get to watch Tim and Narcissus working and to catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their obstacles, i.e. money problems, along the way as their deadline approaches. Their personalities clash; they seem like oil and water at first, yet they somehow compliment each other. Tim is naive enough to think that if the project fails, it won't be that big of a deal for his career, but Narcissus gives him a reality check when he bluntly informs him that if he fails, he'll be remembered for it. There's also a brief portion of the film that focuses on a lawsuit that won't be spoiled here. All of that is fascinating for the first hour and a half or so, but then the film goes on for yet another 30 minutes. Tighter editing would've made the documentary flow smoother and with less tedium. What's sorely missing, though, is background information about Tim and Narcissus that would've humanized them more instead of just focusing on one of their projects. They both seem passionate about art, determined and talented, so it's disappointing not to learn more about their life beyond their work on the project. Director Justin S. Monroe is lucky to have interesting subjects because they help to enliven the film. At just under 2 hours, Holy Frit opens at Village East by Angelika via Abramorama.


      Razing Liberty Square is a heartfelt and illuminating documentary about Liberty Square, a public housing complex, whose residents are at risk of being displaced from their homes because of real estate developers seeking to redevelop the area. Director Katja Esson provides the audience with a basic understanding why the real estate developers chose Liberty Square in particular, what would be lost if it were redeveloped, and how it would affect the residents, many of whom have been there for years. She interviews not only the residents, but also Aaron McKinney, a project manager for the developer Related Urban, Samantha Quarterman, the principal of Meyga Learning Center, and Valencia Gunder, an environmental/climate change activist. Why a climate change activist, you ask? Liberty City, where Liberty Square is located, is 12 feet above sea level making it an ideal location to live as global warming increases the sea levels. Some residents accept Section 8 vouchers while others are more hesitant. They have no guarantees that their rents won't increase to unaffordable rates which would put them at risk of being homeless. If only economists were to learn that it's not enough for a country's GDP to rise; it has to rise with the poor. Although Razing Liberty Square isn't as enraging, gripping nor unflinching as it could've been, it does put a human face to an important, microcosmic human rights issue. At a running time of 1 hour and 26 minutes, it opens at DCTV Firehouse Cinema in Manhattan.


      A Rising Fury is a spellbinding, well-edited and engrossing documentary about the Russia-Ukraine War and a love story between a Ukrainian soldier Pavlo Pavliv and his girlfriend, Svitlana Karabut. Co-directors Ruslan Batytskyi and Lesya Kalynska do a terrific job of provoking the audience emotionally and intellectually while keeping them engaged on a visceral level. They understand that a great documentary doesn't feel like a documentary, but rather as a narrative. You'll learn about how Pavlo and Svitlana met and fell in love during the Maidan Revolution while also learning what makes the Maidan Revolution so significant in Ukrainian history. A Rising Fury doesn't resort to talking heads to tell its story; it includes plenty of archival footage from the past 8 years that makes you feel like you're there with Pavlo and Svitlana. It's very well edited because the footage comes together in a way that's immersive and powerful without any scenes that feel very dry and expositional, and the pace moves at just the right speed. The unflinching glimpse into the evolving relationship between Pavlo and Svitlana makes the film both heartfelt, intimate and fascinating. At a running time of only 1 hour and 22 minutes, A Rising Fury opens at Cinema Village.

Boudica: Queen of War

Directed by Jesse V. Johnson

      When her husband, King Prasutagus (Clive Standen), gets murdered, Queen Boudica (Olga Kurylenko) assembles an army to defeat the Romans and regain her possession of her land.

      The screenplay by writer/director Jesse V. Johnson is based on a true story, but you wouldn't believe it judging by the stitled, clunky dialogue, underdeveloped characters and painfully dull plot. The premise alone sounds like the film could be an exhilarating war film and a rousing, thrilling revenge tale. It ends up being neither. None of the beats land, not even when King Prasutagus dies or, more importantly, when Queen Boudica battles the Romans. There's plenty of physical grit, but what about emotional grit? Boudica suffers a lot after her husband gets killed, but Johnson is too concerned about moving to the next action scene rather than humanizing Boudica. This is the kind of movie that doesn't bother to stop to breathe life into any of its scenes and characters, so it's hard to actually root for Boudica at any point.

      Perhaps Boudica: Queen of War would work better as a video game. To be bombarded with one action scene after another gets tiresome after a while. Without any form of levity, it quickly turns into a very bland and monotonous experience. Moreover, Olga Kurylenko is miscast here because she lacks the charisma and acting chops needed to breathe life into her role. Some of her line deliveries are almost as cringe-inducing as Gal Gadot's line deliveries in Death on the Nile and Wonder Woman. At a running time of 1 hour and 20 minutes, which feels more like 2 hours, Boudica: Queen of War is an exhausting, tedious and anemic action thriller. In a double feature with Braveheart, it would be the inferior B-movie.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Saban Films.
Opens at Cinema Village and on VOD.

Five Nights at Freddy's

Directed by Emma Tammi

     Mike (Josh Hutcherson) raises his younger sister, Abby (Piper Rubio), alone and could lose custody of her to his aunt, Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson). After losing his job as a security guard at a mall, his job counselor, Steve (Matthew Lillard), finds him a new job as an overnight security guard at Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria. Little does he know the restaurant's animatronic mascots, Freddy Fazbear, Bonnie, Chica, and Foxy, are possessed.

      The screenplay by writer/director Emma Tammi and her co-writers, Scott Cawthon and Seth Cuddeback, suffers from nearly every ailment that a screenplay can possibly suffer from. It's an unfocused, lazy, shallow, stilted, unfunny, maudlin, cheesy, witless mess. The prologue provides a small taste of horror elements to come before the film introduces Mike who's still traumatized by the disappearance of his brother who was kidnapped during his childhood. The plot takes too long to get to the meat of the story which are the killer animatronics. Until then, there's a lot of clunky exposition, dream sequences and flashbacks. Some things are over-explained while others are unexplained like the poster that Mike has of Nebraska that he moves from his bedroom to his workplace. Why Nebraska of all places? It's never explained, even when a young police officer, Vanessa (Elizabeth Laili), asks him about it. She briefly gives him the rundown about the pizzeria's tragic history and the legend about the possessed mascots. Mike usually hires a babysitter, Max (Kat Conner Sterling) to look after Abby, but one night when Max isn't available, he brings Abby to work with him. In an unnecessary subplot, Jane, desperate for Mike to lose custody of Abby, hires people to trespass into the pizzeria while Mike is on the clock to sabotage his career. Not surprisingly, the animatronic mascots come to life just like how Vanessa said they would. Unfortunately, none of the beats land, and the only laughs that the film generates are bad laughs from the sappy dialogue, i.e. during a scene in a hospital room. Just when you think that there'll be no more flashbacks and dream sequences, they return while adding nothing new or surprising. The third act, which won't be spoiled here, is silly, rushed and anticlimactic.

      Josh Hutcherson gives a wooden performance that's especially frustrating during the scenes that are supposed to be heartfelt. To be fair, though, he's undermined by the vapid screenplay and stilted dialogue. Because of the PG-13 rating, much of the violence remains off-screen, but there's one kill that's surprisingly gory. Perhaps there's an R-rated or Unrated version that delivers more horror elements with more blood and guts. There are significant pacing issues with some of the dream sequences going on for too long, so at times the film is a fast-burn, at times a medium-burn, at times a slow-burn and other times a sluggish-burn while the narrative momentum gradually diminishes. At a running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, Five Nights at Freddy's is overlong, lethargic, unfunny, clunky and maudlin with more holes in the plot than Swiss cheese. It's one of the worst movies of the year.

Number of times I checked my watch: 6
Released by Universal Pictures.
Opens nationwide and on Peacock.

The Holdovers

Directed by Alexander Payne

      Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti), a history teacher at Barton Academy, looks after students who must stay behind at school during Christmas break because they can't spend time with their family. He befriends one of those students, Angus (Dominic Sessa), a rebellious teen, while bonding with Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the school's chef.

      Set during the early 1970s, the screenplay by David Hemingson avoids schmaltz, melodrama, clunkiness and contrivance as it explores the blossoming friendship between Paul and Angus. In a way Angus is a lot like Harold from Harold & Maude: he's rebellious, angry, sad and mischievous. He's going through a lot which the film doesn't shy away from delving into quite deeply and unflinchingly. Paul comes across as very cantankerous and stern at first, but he gradually reveals more of his layers like sadness and loneliness. He also drinks a lot. It turns out that he and Angus have more in common than they could've imagined even though they don't get along at first. They both have some emotional pain from traumatic experiences to cope with. Mary, too, as it turns out, has been processing her grief from the death of her son. When Paul takes Angus on a short adventure in Boston, that's when they learn the most about each other and their relationship truly evolves. Fortunately, The Holdovers remains focused on Paul and Angus' emotional and spiritual journey toward healing from their emotional pain. It could've veered into a romance when Angus flirts with a girl at a party and they kiss, but it doesn't. There are some sweet and tender moments between Paul and Mary, but, again, there's no romantic subplot between them. The humor is often either dry, witty or just wickedly funny without resorting to lowbrow toilet humor. Screenwriter David Hemingson does a wonderful job of designing a window into Paul, Angus and Mary's heart, mind and soul while also giving them a personality that further breathes life into them and makes them feel relatable because they're very much human beings, not caricatures. The Holdovers also boasts one of the most hilarious, liberating and cathartic insults since Bernadette insulted the homophobic lady at the bar in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert or since Rhonda insulted her so-called "friends" at the end of Muriel's Wedding.

      Paul Giamatti gives an Oscar-worthy performance. Tackles the emotional complexities of his role as Paul very convincingly without any hamming. Dominic Sessa gives a breakthrough performance. He's just as impressive as Bud Cort is in Harold & Maude. The cinematography, set design and costume design are superb and help to further ground the film in authenticity for that particular 70's time period. Even the use of music is very well-chosen including a Cat Stevens song, "The Wind," that pays homage to Harold & Maude. Both The Holdovers and Harold & Maude have at least two wonderful traits in common: they both have writers/directors who show an effective command of balancing tones, and who grasp human nature from the dark side to the lighter side without any sugar-coating. At a running time of 2 hours and 13 minutes, The Holdovers is a warm, wise, and profoundly moving coming-of-age film with just the right balance of humor and heartbreak.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Focus Features.
Opens in select theaters.

Inspector Sun

Directed by Julio Soto Gurpide

      In 1934 Shanghai, Inspector Sun (voice of Ronny Chieng) battles his nemesis, Red Locust (voice of Rich Orlow), who gets apprehended and sent to prison, but not before causing a lot of destruction. He decides to take a vacation by boarding a cargo plane to San Francisco. Little does he know that he'll have a new mystery to solve when Dr. Bugsy (voice of Scott Geer) is found murdered in a spider's web. With the help of Janey (voice of Emily Kleimo), Inspector Sun investigates the murder while Dr. Bugsy's wife, Arabella (voice of Jennifer Childs Greer), a black widow, remains the prime suspect.

      The screenplay by Rocco Pucillo has just the right blend of suspense, comedy, action and intrigue. The dialogue brims with tongue-in-cheek humor with some banter that sparkles with wit. The film establishes its breezy, comedic tone within the first few minutes and maintains it without becoming dull. Most impressively, though, each character, especially Inspector Sun, Janey and Arabella, has his own unique personality which makes them lively while concurrently anthropomorphising them. The plot is filled with clever twists, surprises and delightful scenes that won't be spoiled here. It's also unafraid to be a little silly and zany at times without going over-the-top or trying too hard to please the audience for that matter. It's no easy task to balance tones, but director Julio Soto Gurpide and screenwriter Rocco Pucillo accomplish that feat with flying colors. They also avoid pandering to younger audiences and infantilizing them. It's just as enormously entertaining, fun and thrilling as Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and A Bug's Life. Inspector Sun will keep everyone, young and old, entertained. Kids will love it.

      The dazzling, bright and colorful CGI animation provides plenty of eye candy. The voice actors are pretty good, especially Jeniffer Childs Greer who does the voice of the black widow, Anabella. Inspector Sun and Janey make a great team of investigators and have some chemistry together. You'll want to see them solve more mysteries after watching this film. Fortunately, despite the presence of spiders, the spider characters are designed in a way that makes them look cute without being not scary at all, so even if you have arachnophobia, you'll still be able to enjoy the film. It moves along at just the right brisk pace without any scenes that drag, overstay their welcome or exhaust the audience. At a running time of 1 hour and 28 minutes, Inspector Sun is a witty, thrilling and crowd-pleasing adventure for the whole family.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Viva Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

The Killer

Directed by David Fincher

      A hitman (Michael Fassbender) botches an assignment in Paris which causes a series of events that lead to him seeking revenge against his employers.

      Based on the graphic novel by Alexis Nolent, the screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker is refreshingly witty, funny and full of clever surprises. The less you know about the plot beforehand, the better, but it's worth mentioning that the hitman, who remains nameless, narrates the film which helps to understand his mindset even if he's far from a good role model. Walker throws plausibility and logic out of the window at times, but that's okay because, as Hitchcock once noted, logic can be dull, and imagination is more important than logic. The Killer offers plenty of imagination, especially when it comes to the many different aliases of the hitman and some of the set pieces during the action sequences. Fortunately, there's not too much action, so you won't feel exhausted, but there's just enough to whet your appetite. The screenplay has a fine blend of comedy, suspense and action and maintains that balance throughout. There's a particularly well-written scene with great use of dark humor in an elevator when the hitman takes a woman hostage. Another example is when the hitman briefly holds a cheese grater in an action scene set in a kitchen. To be fair, like most of David Fincher's films, The Killer lacks warmth, but that makes sense as internal logic because the hitman is a cold, mean and calculating human being who doesn't show many signs of empathy or compassion, although there's some hope for him because he does show signs of introspection through his voice-over narration.

      Michael Fassbender is very well-cast in the lead role. He exudes palpable charisma throughout much like Keanu Reeves does in John Wick, so he makes the hitman exciting to watch and even to root for. The action sequences are well-choreographed and unflinchingly gory at times without leaving much to the audience's imagination. That said, the cinematography, music score and set-designs add to the film's style while, sometimes, compensating for the lack of substance. Tilda Swinton has a brief scene that's memorable, but it won't be mentioned here to avoid spoiling the surprises during that scene. Moreover, pace moves briskly, so there are no scenes that drag or overstay their welcome. At a running time of just under 2 hours, The Killer is a wildly entertaining, thrilling and wickedly funny ride.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Netflix.
Opens at the Paris Theater before streaming on Netflix on November 10th, 2023.


Directed by Sofia Coppola

      14-year-old Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny) meets 24-year-old Elvis (Jacob Elordi) while she's living in Germany where her stepfather (Ari Cohen) is stationed. They begin dating, she falls head over heels for him and, soon enough, he convinces her to move to Memphis, Tennessee, a.k.a. Graceland, where she'll continue her high school studies while living with him.

      Writer/director Sofia Coppola has woven a poignant, tender and understated come-of-age story about a toxic relationship between an older man and younger woman. The film doesn't get very deep or unflinching, but it does capture Priscilla's inner life by showing her vulnerability, innocence, naivety and loneliness as she enters the relationship with Elvis whom she eventually marries. There are no surprises, but that's okay because this isn't the kind of film that relies on surprises to entertain the audience. It's more of a character study that doesn't judge Priscilla nor Elvis even though he comes across as a predator with all of his charm and the fact that he has no shame in dating and grooming a child while he's an adult. Priscilla's parents enable her by allowing her to date and to move in with him. Of course, Priscilla isn't happy about the affairs that Elvis has with other women which get exposed in the tabloids. Coppola doesn't delve into those affairs which remain off-screen; she keeps the focus on how it affects Priscilla emotionally. The dialogue avoids schmaltz or being too "on-the-nose", so Coppola trusts the audience's emotions and intelligence concurrently. She also eschews voice-over narration, preachiness and melodrama while keeping the film light, yet with a lot going on beneath the surface that's much darker.

      Cailee Spaeny gives a wonderful breakthrough performance as Priscilla. She provides the poignancy that the screenplay lacks. Jacob Elordi oozes charisma in his magnetic performance as Elvis. They both have palpable chemistry together. Neither of them gives a hammy or showy performance; it's very nuanced. Everything from the music score to the cinematography, set design and costume design are all exquisite and add to the film's authenticity. Interestingly, lighting (or lack thereof), is also worth mentioning because it occasionally becomes stylish and poetic, i.e. when you can barely see Priscilla and Elvis' faces while they're in a room together. The pace moves slowly, but not too slowly, while the editing doesn't feel choppy like in Baz Luhrmann's nausea-inducing film Elvis, so you barely feel the weight of the running time of 1 hour and 53 minutes.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by A24.
Opens in select theaters.

Suitable Flesh

Directed by Joe Lynch

      Dr. Elizabeth Derby (Heather Graham), a psychiatrist, treats a patient, Asa Waite (Judah Lewis), with multiple personality disorder who claims that his father (Bruce Davidson) wants to involve him in body-swapping.

      Based on the story "The Thing on the Doorstep" by H.P. Lovecraft, the screenplay by Dennis Paoli deftly blends sci-fi, horror and dark comedy without any tonal unevenness. The first few minutes hook the audience with a lot of mystery and intrigue as Dr. Derby is in the psych ward of a hospital while her colleague, Dr. Daniella Upton (Barbara Crampton), tries to find out why she murdered Asa's father. The film then flashes back to how Dr. Derby first met Asa and how she ended up killing his father. So, Suitable Flesh isn't a whodunit per se, but rather a question "Why did she do it?". The answer to that is better left unanswered here to not ruin any of the surprises, some of which are unpredictable. Keep in mind, though, that Paoli allows the plot to go bonkers with a sprinkle of macabre and outrageously humor. Case in point: a sex scene with Dr. Derby and her husband, Ed (Johnathon Schaech), that's among the most unexpectedly bold and terrifying scenes. Fortunately, Suitable Flesh doesn't take itself too seriously and has a lot of fun with its B-movie plot even though it doesn't leave much room for interpretation. It's the kind of movie that you'll enjoy much more if you check your brain at the door, sit back and enjoy some mindless entertainment that's a guilty pleasure from start to finish.

      Heather Graham gives a lively, invigorating performance as the increasingly unhinged Dr. Derby. It's one of her most interesting and memorable roles in recent years. Judah Lewis, Bruce Davidso, Johnathon Schaech and Barbara Crampton are also terrific while making the most out of their roles. There's some blood and gore, but nothing excessive that pushes the envelope. Director Joe Lynch opts for a creepy and foreboding atmosphere with lighting, camerawork and an effective music score that adds plenty of style. An example of style use of camerawork is when the camera rotates over and over creating a palpably dizzying sense of chaos and disorder. The pace moves briskly and the flashbacks are well-integrated through the smooth and slick editing. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, Suitable Flesh is a wickedly funny, twisted, creepy and exhilarating B-movie. It would be a great double feature with Poor Things.


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by RLJE Entertainment.
Opens at Alamo Drafthouse in Manhattan and on VOD.


Directed by Christopher Kahunahana

      Kea (Danielle Zalopany), a hula dancer, lives inside her van in Hawaii and deals with an abusive boyfriend, Brandon (Jason Quinn). One night, she accidentally runs Wo (Peter Shinkoda), a homeless man, over with her van, but ends up befriending him. Meanwhile, she has to regain possession of her van that the police towed.

      The screenplay by Christopher Kahunahana deserves credit for setting the film in Hawaii, a beautiful location that starkly contrasts with its dark, gritty story. Unfortunately, the plot bites off more than it could chew. Kea has two jobs, one as a hula dancer, another at a school teaching Hawaiian, yet she still struggles to make ends meet. She has yet to deal with trauma for her childhood which is referred to through dreamlike flashbacks. Then there's Kea's toxic relationship with her abusive boyfriend, her new unlikely friendship with the homeless man, and her desperate attempts to get back her van with her ID inside of it. In other words, Waikiki has enough going on on the surface for at least a few different movies while it barely goes beneath the surface. Its blend of realism and surrealism leads to tonal unneveness and clunkiness. Moreover, it fails to develop any of its characters enough. Brandon seems like a one-note caricature of an abusive boyfriend who's physically abusive and curses a lot. Kea has no one to rely on or to turn to for safety, so she's probably feeling lonely, frustrated, sad and lost. It's too bad that writer/director Christopher Kahunahana doesn't design enough of a window into her heart, mind and soul to delve into all of those complex emotions unflinchingly. Instead, Kea remains at a cold distance from the audience from start to finish. Is it also too much to ask for some wit or comic relief amidst the serious drama?

      Danielle Zalopany's performance is decent, but not nearly moving enough to rise above the dull screenplay. The true stars of the film aren't any of the actors or actresses, but rather the stunning landscape of Hawaii along with the stylish cinematography which adds some style and lyricism albeit not enough to compensate for the lack of substance. Moreover, the flashbacks are poorly edited and over-used while distracting from the film's narrative momentum. At a running time of 1 hour and 17 minutes, which feels like more than 2 hours, Waikiki is well-shot and poetic, but often unfocused, overwrought and undercooked.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Level 33 Entertainment.
Opens at Regal Union Square.