Argento's Dracula 3D
CinemAbility explores the positive and negative ways that people with disabilities have been portrayed in film and TV throughout history. Director Jenni Gold combines talking-head interviews with actors and directors such as Richard Donner, Michael Apted, Peter Farrelly, Ben Affleck, Jamie Foxx and many more. Each of them has some observations and insights that are quite revealing and provocative. For instance, did you know that The Best Years of Our Lives was the first Hollywood film to cast an actor, namely, Harold Russell, in a role of someone disabled? You might be a huge fan of Best Picture-winner Million Dollar Baby, but that might change when you hear about how the boxer's disability was treated as though it were a death-sentence instead of something to overcome. Gold also wisely gives you some historical info about the first depictions of people with disabilities in cinema and shows how that depiction has evolved until now---the most recent film clip is one from the wonderful French film Intouchables which is soon getting an American remake. This is quite an extensive, thorough and illuminating doc that sheds light on important topic that has not been explored in any doc before, so that makes it all the more refreshing to watch. CinemAbility, distributed by Gold Pictures, finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually. It opens for an Oscar-qualifying run at RegalE-Walk.
The Face Reader
Two NASA astronauts, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), are on a mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope out in space. Mission Control (voice of Ed Harris) warns them of the threat debris from a destroyed Russian satellite, but Dr. Ryan Stone insists on continuing with the repairs. When the debris does hit them after all and they both survive, they struggle to remain alive while floating in outer space and to find a return safely back to Earth.
One of the most ambitious Hollywood blockbusters to come out in years, Gravity offers plenty of breathtakingly realistic CGI and sound effects that make for a viscerally exhilarating 91-minute thrill ride. Writer/director Alfonso Cuarón and co-writer Jonás Cuarón (Alfonso's son) throw you into space from the very first frame without much in terms of an informative first act; the first 10 minutes, in fact, show off the CGI effects and will leave you in a sense of awe. With the exception of a few seemingly tacked-on details revealed about their past along the way, Dr. Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski aren't given enough of a backstory to turn them into complex or interesting characters; it's a testament to Sandra Bullock and George Clooney's raw, charismatic performances that you're emotionally invested in their character's lives. Once the debris strikes them, Gravity becomes consistently intense although slightly repetitive as you wait for something new or surprising to occur rather than the same challenges/obstacles repeated over and over.
Don't worry, though. If you become bored by the lack of surprises and depth, you'll have the film's state-of-the-art aesthetic qualities to hold your attention. Fundamentally, Gravity's style becomes its substance more often than not. It won't be remembered for its dialogue or characters for that matter; it will be remembered for its game-changing sound and visual effects. What makes it all so game-changing, you ask? Everything looks and sounds amazingly real as if you were floating right there in outer space with the astronauts going through what they're experiencing--in other words, be sure to take some dramamine before seeing the film. To best experience sound-wise, you should go to a theater playing Gravity with a Dolby Atmos sound system. To find out which theaters near you use Dolby Atmos, please click here.
I Used to Be Darker
The Last Day of August
30-year-old Dan (Michael Izquierdo) has remained in an isolated cabin with his new girlfriend (Heather Lind) in upstate New York after experiencing something that led to him being a paraplegic. The exact cause of his paralysis does not rise to the surface until later in the third act. Until then, Dan's friends arrive out of the blue for an intervention of sorts. Among those friends is his ex-girlfriend, Phoebe (Vanessa Ray), whom he had once expected to marry.
The Last Day of August would have probably worked better as a short or perhaps even as a short play. The intervention that Dan's friends initiate goes on for a while and much of it tediously drags while you wait too long for the final revelation about why Dan has become paraplegic. That mystery provides a modicum of tension in the beginning of the intervention, but that tension soon wanes as patience runs out concurrently. The screenplay by writer/director Craif DiFolco and co-writer Sara Rempe does feel organic for the most part although, admittedly, the withholding of key moments from Dan's past comes across as gimmicky by the time the end credits roll. Conflicts between Dan and his old flame don't add enough in terms of dramatic tension or intrigue.
What holds the film somewhat together, then, you ask? That would be the very raw, natural performances by the ensemble cast each of whom is believable in their respective roles without hamming their performances in. The film's pace does move slowly, and there's a lot of talking going on with emphasis on character over plot development which gives the film a European sensibility, but that feat alone doesn't necessarily imply that it's engaging or intriguing. It's also worth noting how refreshing it feels to watch a cabin-in-the-woods story where no one gets killed.
My Last Day Without You
Niklas (Ken Duken), a German business executive, travels to New York City for one day to close down a NYC office of a financial firm. He meets an aspiring singer-songwriter, Leticia (Nicole Beharie). Sparks fly between the two of them and they fall in love with each other. Sound like your typical boy-meets-girl romance? Think again. Leticia happens to have been let go from her day job at the office that Niklas shut down, but when Niklas discovers that, he decides not to disclose that key information to her. Leticia's father, Pastor Johnson (Reg E. Cathey) deals with his own issues, namely, struggling to move on after the death of his wife, and being unsure of whether or not to romance Luz (Marlene Forte). Will Niklas' secret remain hidden from Leticia? Will Leticia forgive him if she finds out the truth? Will Pastor Johnson yield to the temptations of a new romance?
The answers to those questions above won't be spoiled here, but it's worth noting that writer/director Stefan C. Schaefer and Christoph Silber do a great job of maintain some suspense and including a few surprises that enliven the proceedings along the way. It's quite refreshing to watch a romance unfold that's interracial and intercultural because that goes to show you that love is blind. Schaefer and Silber wisely avoid stereotype and caricature, and find just the right balance between light and dark elements without going over-the-top in either direction (there no corny scenes here that will make you roll your eyes). Niklas seems very much like a jerk at first, but he's a complex, flawed human being after all and has some redeeming qualities that make him become increasingly likable; only simple-minded audience members will see him as a total jerk. The real heart and soul of the film, though, is Nicole Beharie who's absolutely radiant here---even more radiant than she was in 42 and American Violet. Her interactions with her father later the second act are quite endearing without veering into melodramatic territory. To top it all off, she has a beautiful singing voice during the few scenes that require her to use that talent of hers, especially the final scene which will bring tears to your eyes.
The instant that Maddie (Breann Johnson), a married woman, meets an orphaned 9-year-old boy, Francis Riley (Austin Harrod), she feels need to take care of him which she does despite that her mother-in-law (Frances Fisher) disapproves of bringing him into their countryside home. He becomes a part of Maddie's family, but as soon as he reaches adulthood, Francis (now played by Glen Powell), gets kicked out of Maddie's home because her husband, Carl (Luke Perry), suspects that he and Maddie have gotten too close as if they were a romantic couple. Francis starts afresh by accepting job on the ranch of Jim Varett (Bill Paxton). No matter how hard he tries to fit into his new home on the ranch, he never quite feels the same way he did while living with Maddie, the true love of his life.
Based on the novel "The Country Waif" by George Sands, Red Wing is a sweeping love story that tugs at your heartstrings from start to finish. From the moment you meet Francis as a young boy, you'll find yourself caring about him and rooting for him to be happy, a task that's easier said than done. To attain that true love and happiness, he goes through many experiences that test both mentally and spiritually. His courage and kindheartedness remains intact no matter what. The love between Maddie and Francis is genuine, pure and profound, so when Francis experiences an epiphany about how he feels about her and makes a sacrifice, you sense that he's making the right decision. Kudos to casting directors Katrina Cook and Sara Wallace for choosing Glen Powell to play Francis. He's just the right actor to sink his teeth into the role of Francis believably---he's got looks and charisma to boot. Breann Johnson is also well-cast and gives a genuinely moving performance in the complex role of Maddie. Moreover, it's great to see Luke Perry convincingly tackle the dramatic role of Maddie's husband.
Director Will Wallace makes the most out of the picturesque scenery and brings out its beauty and purity that, in a way, reflects the purity of Francis' love toward Maddie. The soundtrack is also quite exceptional and adds a layer of richness to the film. Screenwriter Kathleen Orillion brings the novel to life in a way that's engaging and genuinely heartfelt. Some of the material does tap into dark territory, but she keeps it on a lighter note, so the film never feels too heavy or exhausting. To be fair, if Red Wing were darker, it wouldn't be as family-friendly and would have felt disjointed from its uplifting messages about the value of compassion and the importance of following your feet to the beat of your heart.
A Touch of Sin