A Song Film By Kishi Bashi: Omoiyari is a captivating, heartfelt and illuminating documentary about Kaoru Ishibashi, a Japanese-American musician also known as Kishi Bashi, and mission to raise awareness of the World War II internment camps that imprisoned Japanese-Americans in the U.S. Co-directors Kishi Bashi and Justin Taylor Smith do a fine job of assembling never-before-seen footage from the internment camps, interviews with historians, interviews with Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned at the camps, and footage of Kishi Bashi's music. This documentary covers a lot of ground and topics, including assimilation and racism. However, it never feels overstuffed, undercooked or unfocused. A Song Film By Kishi Bashi: Omoiaya balances the tragedy of the internment camps with his own personal story, so Kishi Bashi is brave for being so candid, emotionally generous and showing introspection while looking back and confronting the harsh truth that racism and xenophobia still exists today. In a way, it also highlights the importance of using music and art in general as a form of protest. At a running time of 1 hour and 33 minutes, A Song Film By Kishi Bashi: Omoiyari is a powerful protest against hate. It opens at IFC Center via MTV Documentary Films.
Joan Baez: I am a Noise is a poignant, fascinating and well-edited documentary biopic about folk singer Joan Baez. Co-director Miri Navasky, Karen O'Connor and Maeve O'Boyle combine archival footage, photos, audio clips and interviews with Baez herself to create a very revealing, intimate portrait of Joan Baez, warts-and-all. You'll learn about her struggles with loneliness and depression, her courageous activism, and her romance with Bob Dylan. It's very moving to see what Joan Baez is like "behind the curtain", so-to-speak, so kudos to the filmmakers for humanizing her and for allowing her to show her vulnerability as well as her strengths which makes this documentary thorough. They avoid making it become hagiographic; it does indeed celebrate Joan Baez, but it also humanizes her much like the recent documentary Carlos: The Santana Journey. The crisp editing and some lively use of animation helps to make the film more cinematic and less dry. The interviews with Baez are among the most heartfelt moments.The filmmakers ultimately find just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually. At a running time of 1 hour and 53 minutes, Joan Baez: I Am a Noise opens at Film Forum via Magnolia Pictures.
After Maben (Willa Fitzgerald), a single mother, kills a cop who raped her, she goes on the run from the law with her daughter, Analee (Pyper Braun). Russell (Garrett Hedlund), who just got out of prison, visits his estranged father, Mitchell (Mel Gibson). He soon crosses paths with Maben and provides her with refuge at his father's home. Meanwhile, two brothers, Larry (Ryan Hurst) and Walt (Michael Aaron Milligan), seek revenge against Russell for killing their brother during a drunk driving accident.
Another week, another undercooked B-action thriller. The screenplay by Michael Farris Smith bites off more than it could chew with too many subplots, too many characters and very little focus, suspense or character development. The film takes way too long to get to the moment when Maben and Russell meet. Until then, it spends a lot of time during the first act with exposition. Maben and Russell are interesting characters because they're flawed and dealing with traumatic experiences that they're struggling to overcome and to grapple with, but the attempts to add emotional depth feel contrived and shallow with stilted, on-the-nose dialogue that even feels cheesy at times. An example of on-the-nose dialogue is when a police officer, Boyd (Woody McClain), explains to Russell how the murdered cop is someone who gets himself into trouble a lot. The relationship between Maben and Russell falls flat as does the relationship between Russell and his father. There's yet another subplot involving Boyd investigating the murder of the cop who Maben shot, but too little tension arises from that, especially because the audience already knows who's responsible for his death and why it happened. Moreover, the use of flashbacks are lazy and distracting from the modicum of narrative momentum, while the lack of levity turns the thriller into a monotonous and, eventually a lethargic, experience. The third act, which won't be spoiled here, feels simultaneously contrived, toothless, schmaltzy and sugar-coated without any believable character arcs.
Willa Fitzgerald gives a pretty good performance as does Garrett Hedlund who exudes some charisma, but not enough to rise above the shallow screenplay. Mel Gibson makes the most out of his supporting role, but he's been in far superior action thrillers. There are significant pacing issues which cause scenes to overstay their welcome. Does the audience really need a lengthy scene with Maben crying while hugging her daughter? That scene, among others, feels heavy-handed and could've used a trimming. Also, there are at least two false endings. The action scenes add nothing in terms of palpable thrills or exhilaration. At a running time of 1 hour and 53 minutes, Desperation Road is an unfocused, clunky, overlong and lethargic action thriller. In a double feature with True Romance or Fargo, it would be the vastly inferior B-movie.
Dicks: The Musical
Craig (Josh Sharp) and Trevor (Aaron Jackson). identical twins who were switched at birth, meet for the first time when their companies merge. They hatch a plan to get their mother, Evelyn (Megan Mullally), and father, Harris (Nathan Lane), to re-marry by switching place with each other.
The screenplay by co-writers Josh Sharp and Aaron Jackson begins with a hilarious, raunchy musical number that sets the film's offbeat comedic tone. Opening with such a strong scene is a big risk because it's often hard to top it and to maintain that level of hilarity. Fortunately, that doesn't become a problem because the film gets increasingly zany with plenty of funny lines, tongue-in-cheek humor and wit. The plot never takes itself too seriously and even pokes fun at itself at times. Very little makes sense, but that's okay because, as Hitchcock once observed, logic is dull. Imagination is much more important than logic in a film. Some of the sight gags are silly, but most are quite funny and you'll even find some humor in the background that might take repeat viewings for you to notice, i.e. a marquee that reads "X24 presents Everyone Everywhere Cums All at Once" or a poster for a musical spoof of Grease called "Lube." Imagine The Parent Trap with a heavy dose of John Waters' brand of comedy and you'll get the idea of what it's like to watch Dicks: The Musical. Campiness is not something easy to capture, so it's a testament to the filmmakers' skills that they manage to include plenty of it from start to finish. The final musical number, "All Love is Love," which won't be spoiled here, is as outrageously funny and bold as "Uncle Fucker" from South Park.
Every actor and actress gets their chance to shine and appear to be having a lot of fun in their roles. Nathan Lane, especially, steals many scenes, but Megan Mullally is just as hilarious with her accent. Josh Sharp and Aarron Jackson play well off of each other through their banter and rapport. Craig and Trevor have a similar chemistry to Lloyd and Harry in Dumb and Dumber. Bowen Yang is delightful in the role of God. The pace moves briskly without a scene that drags or a joke that's overplayed, and the editing is solid, especially during the musical numbers. Be sure to stay through the credits for bloopers and an additional scene after the credits. At a running time of 1 hour and 26 minutes, Dicks: The Musical is a wildly entertaining, bold and campy slice of comedy heaven. It's destined to become a cult classic.
Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman
Dr. Cheon (Gang Dong-won) makes a living from performing fake exorcisms, but he gets more than he bargained for when he agrees to help Yoo-kyung (Esom) exorcise a demon Beom Cheon (Huh Joon-ho) that has possessed her younger sister's body.
Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman is a mildly engaging sci-fi fantasy. The screenplay by Park Joong-seop begins as an amusing physical, outrageous comedy before morphing into a conventional sci-fi action thriller. Of course, there's a MacGuffin, in this case, a talisman that Dr. Cheon's grandfather tried, but failed to use to capture the demon. The concept of a fake exorcist alone could've been enough to sustain a feature length film, but once the plot moves beyond that, it becomes less funny, thrilling and exciting. There are too many characters, most of whom are merely there to move the plot forward. The way that Park Joong-seop incorporates exposition is very lazy and unimaginative. The action sequences offer sporadic thrills, at least, but lack the zaniness found in the first act when the film isn't taking itself too seriously. That said, Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman, isn't as bland, clunky, tonally uneven and disappointing as The Haunted Mansion.
The CGI effects are decent, but nothing exceptional. This isn't the kind of film that bombards the audience with CGI nor does it dazzle them with visual style either. None of the actors get the chance to shine although the lead, Gang Dong-won, is well-cast and brings plenty of charisma to his role. The filmmakers don't give Dr. Cheon much of a personality, though, so he's not the kind of character who truly stands out. The villain is also forgettable. Fortunately, the pace moves briskly enough and the running time of only 1 hour and 38 minutes means that Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman never becomes exhausting nor does it overstay its welcome.
The Exorcist: Believer
Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom, Jr.) desperately searches for his daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) who has gone missing in the woods with her friend, Katherine (Olivia Marcum). They're found three days later with mysterious wounds, strange behavior and no recollection of what happened to them. Victor seeks the help of Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) and Ann (Ann Dowd) , a nurse who used to be a nun, to help him with what could be a case of demonic possession.
The screenplay by writer/director David Gordon Green and co-writer Peter Sattler spends too much time treading water by setting up the story with exposition. It takes a while until Angela and Katherine finally show signs of demonic possession. By the time that Ann performs an exorcism, which is also rather late in the film, the audience has already figured out what's going on and what has to happen to stop the demonic possession. The screenwriters assume that you're stupid and have never seen a demonic possession film before because they actually include a line that defines what it means to be demonically possessed. What ensues is a series of repetitive jump scares with only one briefly terrifying scene, but nothing that even remotely holds a candle to the palpable scares from the classic original. The narrative itself is very unimaginative with a by-the-numbers plot that takes no risks nor does it try to offer anything fresh or surprising for the audience. Chris, an essential character in the original, is relegated here as a supporting character who, after being introduced very quickly, gets sidelined and disappears for a long stretch before returning at the end. The third act feels cheesy with a tacked-on, preachy message that will make you forget that you're watching an Exorcist movie. Without comic relief or enough scares and thrills, The Exorcist: Believer fails to become an entertaining crowd-pleaser.
The performances are fine, especially those of the child actors. However, Ann Dowd over-acts here as though she were in Mass. She's a wonderful actress, but the material here is beneath her and she's given very stilted dialogue. Ellen Burstyn is wasted in a role that's too small to make an impact; it's as though she were merely cast to trigger the audience's memory of the far superior classic. The make-up design and special effects, though, are impressive and effectively creepy whenever the camera lingers on the demonically possessed Katherine. The pace moves too slowly at first before picking up the pace, slowing down and then picking up the pace again. There's no justification for the nearly 2-hour running time, so with tighter editing, The Exorcist: Believer would've been leaner and wouldn't have overstayed its welcome.
In the year 2065, Henrietta (Saoirse Ronan) and lives with her husband, Junior (Paul Mescal), in a farmhouse in the Midwest. One night, Terrance (Aaron Pierre), a government agent, arrives to inform them that Junior has been selected to join a space program at a space station and that his AI clone will replace him.
The screenplay by writer/director Garth Davis and co-writer Iain Reid, based on his novel, bites off more than it could chew with a plot that has too many underdeveloped ideas and very little narrative momentum. The opening text briefly explains the basic expositional information about what year it is, how rural areas have been empty because of a heatwave and drought while cities are overcrowded. AI clones exist and are used to do the work of human beings and to replace them when necessary. Terrance provides the rest of the exposition. You learn very little about him. Is he AI or human? He's just there as an expositional plot device, yet he explains very little. The lack of "world-building" in Foe becomes frustrating. Junior is required by the U.S. government to join the space program to save the world, but what are the space program's plans to save the world precisely? Foe doesn't work as a sci-fi thriller because it's low on suspense and intrigue. As a portrait of a marriage, it's just as shallow and disappointing. Henrietta works as a waitress at a diner while Junior works at an industrial chicken farm. What do they think about their jobs? The screenplay doesn't bother to explore that. Roger Ebert once wisely observed that it's easier to get inside a character's head while reading a book than while watching a movie. He's right about that. Foe never manages to provide enough of a window into any of the characters minds, so they remain at a cold distance from the audience which makes it hard to care whether or not AI clones will replace them. To top it all off, the very rushed third act has two unimaginative twists which can be seen from a mile away, so they're far from surprising or shocking.
Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal give decent performances that provide ephemeral poignancy, but they're unable to enliven the film which begins to become lethargic around the hour mark. The witless and bland screenplay is beneath both of these fine actors. They deserve better-written roles with more room for emotional depth instead of a screenplay that just seems to be going through the motions. The cinematography is superb, though, with some breathtaking shots of the landscape which make the film feel somewhat cinematic albeit not enough to fully engage the audience. There are also pacing issues with some scenes moving too slow and lasting too long before the third act where the pace moves too quickly. At a running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, Foe is lackluster, undercooked and vapid despite fine performances and exquisite cinematography.
Tom Roth (Luke Bracey) flees the scene of a crime he committed and drives along a highway at night while the police pursue him. A mysterious man, The Associate (Toby Jones), calls him and claims that he's in charge of negotiating the kidnapping of his estranged 12-year-old daughter, Ruby (Martha Kate Morgan), who has gone missing.
Despite a screenplay with three screenwriters, namely, writer/director John Curran and his co-writers, Jesse Heffring and Christopher Lee Pelletier, Mercy Road is a dull and tedious thriller. The only thing refreshing about it is that it doesn't star Liam Neeson. The plot kicks into high gear from the very first scene as Tom gets into his car and hits speeds down the highway, so much like Tom, the film cuts right to the chase while eschewing a first act. The major questions that eventually become answered include "What crime is Tom running away from?" and "What's the kidnapper's true motive for kidnapping Tom's daughter?" Subtlety isn't among the film's strengths, though, nor are surprises or clever twists. Mercy Road sorely lacks comic relief or something along those lines to break the tension. Starting the film with a tension at such a high level makes it difficult to maintain. Moreover, it also means that the filmmakers are trying too hard to entertain the audience which makes for an overwhelmingly intense and monotonous experience. Just when you think there can't be any more dramatic tension, a spider shows up inside of Tom's car. Of course, it'll show up again and again. Mercy Road knows where to take ideas from, but not where to take ideas to. Exposition is kept to a minimum while the plot becomes less and less engaging as it desperately tries to be more complex; instead, it becomes convoluted. It also barely explores the relationship between him and his ex-wife whose new husband has been murder. What was Ruby's relationship with Tom before they became estranged? Is it too much to ask to humanize these characters a little to breathe life into them?
Luke Bracey gives a performance that ranges from over-the-top to decent. Tom yells a lot which makes him a rather annoying protagonist. It's ok that he's flawed, but to be like nails-on-a-chalkboard to the audience makes it hard for them to root for him. There's nothing exceptional about the cinematography, although the fact that the film takes place at night in mostly one location, Tom's car, adds to the gritty atmosphere and claustrophobia. It's hard to watch Mercy Road without thinking about far better films that take place inside a car, i.e. Locke, but at least it's not as preposterous and bland as Retribution. At a running time of 1 hour and 25 minutes, Mercy Road is an overwrought, tedious and dull thriller.
My Love Affair with Marriage
The Royal Hotel
Hanna (Julia Garner) and her best friend, Liv (Jessica Henwick), move from Canada to the Australian Outback to work at a bar in the Royal Hotel. They encounter abusive behavior for the locals including Dolly (Daniel Henshall), Matty (Toby Wallace), and Billy (Hugo Weaving), who owns the bar.
The Royal Hotel is a modern-day Straw Dogs. Writer/director Kitty Green and co-writer Oscar Redding gradually escalate the tension and psychological thrills. The first act briefly introduces Hanna and Liv as adventurers who desperately need to make some extra money, so they reluctantly accept a job far away from their home in Canada. The film doesn't spend too much time with exposition which means the plot remains lean and doesn't go off on too many tangents. Green and Redding trust the audience's imagination from the very moment that Hanna and Liv arrive at Hotel Royal because it looks like the kind of remote location that's usually found in a horror film. The hotel is run-down and dilapidated. Even the shower doesn't work properly. Billy, the bar owner, is often drunk and ill-tempered. The bar patrons are no better, but there are some glimpses of hope for decency when Hanna befriends Matty. She and Liv are among the few women in a small town where the men treat the women like objects. Can Matty be trusted? There's more to him than meets the eye, as it turns out.
Although The Royal Hotel is indeed suspenseful, it's a slow-burn, Hitchcockian suspense that comes from the audience's anticipation that something bad will happen at any given moment. It's almost as intense as Uncut Gems and How to Blow Up a Pipeline. At its core, though, The Royal Hotel is a story about female friendship and the importance of standing up for oneself. Hanna is a good friend to Liv because she wants to protect her from harm and vice versa. Kudos to the filmmakers for veering away from schmaltz or from trying too hard to please the audience. The third act goes into very dark territory which won't be spoiled here, but it's worth mentioning that it's a cathartic and provocative ending that can be also interpreted as a metaphor.
Julia Garner gives a radiant, nuanced performance. It's one of the best performances of her career. A lot goes on inside the heart, mind and soul of Hanna, including some anger, so bravo to Julia Garner for opening that window into Hanna's inner life and for seeing and treating her as a human being. Everyone else also anchors the film with their natural performance, including Jessica Henwick, Hugo Weaving and Toby Wallace each off whom has their own moment to shine. The Australian Outback setting becomes a character in and of itself while contributing to the film's gritty atmosphere. The production design of the Royal Hotel also adds to that grittiness. It's refreshing to see a thriller that moves at a pace that's slow without being sluggish, so the filmmakers clearly trust the audience's patience without going too far. They also avoid using graphic violence and shaky cam to engage the audience. Moreover, they show restraint by keeping the film under two hours which is something very rare these days when too many films overstay their welcome and end up being dull as well as repetitive. At a running time of only 1 hour and 31 minutes, The Royal Hotel is a suspenseful, provocative and engrossing psychological thriller. It would make for an interesting double feature with The Beasts.
She Came to Me
Steven Lauddem (Peter Dinklage), a music composer struggling with writer's block, lives in New York City with his wife, Patricia (Anne Hathaway), a therapist. He suffers from writer's block while struggling to write an opera, so Patricia convinces him to walk around the city to clear his head in hope of finding some inspiration. He finds that inspiration when he meets Katrina (Marisa Tomei), a tugboat captain, at a bar. Meanwhile, Steven's teenage son, Julian (Evan Ellison) falls in love with Tereza (Harlow Jane).
The screenplay by writer/director Rebecca Miller is a clunky, tonally uneven and contrived mess that's overstuffed and undercooked. Part comedy, drama and romance, She Came to Me doesn't work as a quirky comedy, a romance nor as a character study of a lonely man nor as a portrait of a crumbling marriage. Steven met and fell in love with his wife when she was his therapist which already shows that she lacks the concept of boundaries. Now she considers becoming a nun. In one of the film's many contrivances, Katrina becomes Patricia's patient. The plot feels more and more preposterous as it progresses. There's nothing wrong with a little zaniness, but here it results in tonal whiplash. The romance between Julian and Tereza is the least interesting of the subplots and doesn't go anywhere interesting. Katrina's obsessive infatuation with Steven doesn't feel believable; instead it's very creepy and cringe-inducing. Imagine if it were a male stalking and being infatuated over a woman who's not very interested in him. Does Katrina really want to be a homewrecker? Moreover, no one's character arc feels organic. It's not a good sign when you can feel the wheels of the screenplay turning every step of the way while none of the characters come to life and none of the jokes land.
Despite a fine cast of talented actors, namely Peter Dinklage, Anne Hathaway and Marisa Tomei, She Came to Me can't be saved by any of their performances because none of the manage to rise above the shallow screenplay. Dinklage and Hathaway have little to no chemistry and neither does he have any chemistry with Merisa Tomei. They've all been in far better films, i.e. Peter Dinklage in The Station Agent. The editing feels choppy with awkward transitions between scenes, and there's nothing exceptional about the production values. At a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes, She Came to Me is a contrived, clunky and tonally uneven mess. In a double feature with Manhattan and Annie Hall, it would be the inferior B-movie.
Shelter in Solitude
When the small-town bar that she owns gets shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, Val Fagan (Siobhan Fallon Hogan), accepts a job at the prison where her brother, Dwayne (Robert Patrick), works as a warden. She befriends Jackson (Peter Macon), a death row inmate whose execution date imminently approaches, while also reigniting her career as a singer.
The screenplay by Siobhan Fallon Hogan effectively humanizes its characters without judging them. Even Jackson, who's on death row, comes across as a complex, fully-fleshed human being. Val is just as compelling as a character because she's innately strong, yet concurrently vulnerable and flawed concurrently. She's also given a personality that's a bit snarky, but never mean-spirited. She's assertive and confident while also maintaining a sense of humor. Some of her quips are quite witty and darkly humorous. Most importantly, though, the emerging friendship between her and Jackson feels engrossing without being maudlin or contrived. The subplot involving her blossoming singing career is just as engaging and inspirational. It's very likely that her empathy for Jackson reawakens her love and empathy for herself which compels her to pursue her passion for singing. She's kind both to Jackson as well as to herself which makes her a great role model unlike too many films these days with toxic characters who you wouldn't want to be around them for too long. Bravo to director Vibeke Muasya and screenwriter Siobhan Fallon Hogan for grasping the profound meaning behind Pablo Neruda's poem, "They can cut all of the flowers, but they can't stop the spring from coming." while avoiding preachiness. The powerful ending, which won't be spoiled here, will stay with you for days.
Siobhan Fallon Hogan gives a raw, convincingly moving performance while finding the emotional truth of her role and exuding palpable charisma. She has terrific comedic timing and also excels during the film's poignant scenes, so Shelter in Solitude is a further testament of her versatility as an actress. Her warm, generous and brave performance opens the window into Val's heart, mind and soul. Kudos to her for showing empathy toward Val from start to finish. The production values are decent without being too showy or distracting. As Francois Truffaut once wisely observed, a great film has a perfect blend of Truth and Spectacle. Shelter in Solitude goes beyond that by finding the Spectacle within the Truth---within its humanity. Humanism, after all, is a truly special effect that transcends words. Director Vibeke Muasya should also be commended for showing restraint by keeping the running time under 2 hours while understanding the concept that less is more. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 33 minutes, Shelter in Solitude is a warm, tender and genuinely heartfelt story about friendship, compassion and empathy.
When Evil Lurks
Pedro (Ezequiel Rodríguez) and his brother, Jimmy (Demián Salomón), must fight for their lives and save their family and friends when demonic possession infect their family's farm and poison their livestock.
Writer/director Demián Rugna wastes no time diving right into the meat of the story to deliver the horror elements, so you know what kind of film you're about to watch from the first ten minutes. In terms of its concept, there's nothing new or brilliant about it per se, but it's nonetheless refreshing to see a demonic possession story that doesn't involve the Catholic church, nuns or priests. The fact that it takes place on a farm makes it more scary, especially because it's so isolated. To be fair, the way that Rugna incorporates exposition feels somewhat clunky. However, that's merely a minor, systematic flaw that doesn't diminish the film's entertainment value too much. It's not a fun, crowd-pleasing or pleasant experience nor should it be. At times, it does feel a little exhausting and repetitive, though. Fortunately, there's always another unflinchingly intense and disturbing waiting around the corner to provide you with palpable thrills and scares.
As Roger Ebert wisely observed, a horror film doesn't need a big star because the big star is the horror. The horror in When Evil Lurks gets plenty of chances to shine. The performances are decent, but this isn't an "elevated" horror film that explores the relationships between the characters with much depth. Writer/director Demián Rugna certainly doesn't hold back on the violence nor does he leave much to the imagination. The gore is quite graphic and disgusting, so this isn't the kind of film for audiences who have a weak stomach. The lighting, camerawork, set design and music score combine to add plenty of style that does manage to compensate for the lack of substance. The pace moves briskly enough and, most importantly, the film doesn't overstay its welcome. At a running time of 1 hour and 39 minutes, When Evil Lurks is relentlessly dark, disturbing and palpably scary, but also somewhat exhausting and repetitive.