Dancer, directed by Steve Cantor, charts the rise, fall and comeback of world-renowned Ukranian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin. When he was merely 19-years-old, he was the youngest principal dancer ever to join the British Royal Ballet. With unflinching, behind-the-scenes archival footage and current interviews, Dancer rises about your average hagiographic documentary. It's a worts-and-all doc that doesn't shy away from focusing on Polunin's physical and mental struggles and sacrifices that he had to endure throughout his career. Despite a flourishing career, he surprised everyone by resigning from the Royal Ballet in early 2012. He later danced his way back to fame in 2014 thanks to music director David LaChapelle's dance video showing him dancing to the music of Hozier's "Take Me to Church." Cantor shows you that video in its entirety, and you'll find yourself mesmerized by the breathtaking talents of Polunin on display. You don't have to be a dance aficionado to appreciate Dancer; if you've ever struggled to fulfill your dream dream or are in the process of fulfilling it, you will be able to relate to a certain degree, especially if you've had to give up spending time with your family and friends for the sake of your career. As with anything in life, there's always a purpose to suffering---without suffering, we probably wouldn't be able to grow as much as human beings. At a running of time just 85 minutes, this is an exhilarating, moving, illuminating and, ultimately, inspirational documentary. It opens via Sundance Selects at IFC Center and Walter Reade Theater. In A Family Affair, director Tom Fassaert travels to his 95-year-old grandmother, Marianne Hertz, when she invites him over to write him into his will. He sets out to get her to reveal more about her secretive past, a task that turns out to be either said than done because she doesn't open up so easily at first. He learns about her emotionally abusive parents she was raised by during her childhood, and of the different men she slept with, one of whom left her with an unwanted pregnancy that she didn't abort---Fassaert and his grandmother visit that estranged son of hers, Rene, eventually. As the film progresses, you can see the many cracks within the director's family that make it dysfunctional. Marianne clearly wasn't loved enough as a child, so she's been trying to replace that lack of love throughout her life. It's all rather tragic, dark and even creepy at time, i.e. when Marianne admits that she wants Tom to be her lover and refuses to see him as a grandson. She sounds like a textbook narcissist who doesn't understand the concept of boundaries. At least she makes for a very engaging and moving subject filled with skeletons in her closet, and she's also a pretty good storyteller. You might feel like you're prying into these people's lives occasionally as if you were a voyeur, but there's something to be learned by observing the psychologically troubled lives of others even if it's far from uplifting. With a running time of 110 minutes, A Family Affair is an intimate, revealing and heartbreaking doc. This would make for an interesting double feature with Ordinary People and the recent doc, Look at Us Now, Mother!. Abramorama opens it at Cinema Village.
James (James Allen McCune) believes that his sister, Heather, who disappeared 20 years ago in the Black Hills Forest is still alive and might have something to do with the legend of the Blair Witch. Off he goes into the forest with his friends, namely, Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Peter (Brandon Scott) and his girlfriend, Ashley (Corbin Reid) along with locals Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) who serve as their guides. The reason why they're filming their adventure? Lisa needs to make a documentary for her thesis at film school.
Blair Witch takes too long to get going with the meat of its story. The first half hour or so has more silly comedy than any scares. Even once the film eventually veers into darker territory, it fails to be even remotely as scary as The Blair Witch Project with the exception of one effectively creepy scene. Yes, there's plenty of shaky cam to make you nauseous just like in the first film, but that cinematography as well as the good sound design and the stylish use of modern technology when it comes to the cameras is all that Blair Witch really has going for it which is not much at all. The plot written by Simon Barrett is unimaginative and lazy while the characters are forgettable. Low budget doesn't have to mean low imagination as well. When Ashley injures her foot and something sinister transpires to her afterward, none of it is followed through in a way that generates any scares, although you will feel some ickiness at one point.
As Roger Ebert once stated wisely, the big star of a horror film is the horror itself. In the case of Blair Witch, there's simply not enough of that big star. Once it does arrive, it's too little too late, very ho-hum and far from surprising or terrifying unless you've never seen a horror film before. At a running time of 89 minutes, which feels more like 2 hours, Blair Witch is yet another disappointingly lazy horror film that lacks scares, imagination and cleverness. It should have gone straight to VOD. Can we please call a moratorium on found footage horror films? Let's have a found footage screwball comedy or drama for a change!
Bridget Jones's Baby
Cock and Bull
Song Lao-er (Liu Ye), a mechanic, tries to clear his name after he's accused of murdering Brother Cat, a cab driver, by Cat's widow. To prove his innocence and find the true murderer, he takes matters into his own hands by tracking down Cat's motorcycle which, he learns, has been stolen by Wang Youquan (Duan Bowen). Is the motorcycle thief the murder? Or perhaps it's Dong Xiaofeng (Zhang Yi).
Cock and Bull is that kind of film that's strong on character, action, mystery, atmosphere and suspense. Writer/director Cao Baopin keeps the story lean and easy-to-follow with clever twists and turns along the way. Fortunately, there isn't too much action, but when the action does arrive it's quite exhilarating without being exhausting. The violence is gritty and bloody without being too gratuitous. Baopin also includes just the right amount of comic relief. Each actor is well-chosen and makes the most out of his/her part, and it's safe to say that the landscape that the film takes place in becomes a character in itself. At a running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, Cock and Bull is a suspenseful, exhilarating and atmospheric crime thriller with exciting action and clever surprises.
The Good Neighbor
Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?
In 1967, Matt (Matt Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams), CIA scientists, convince NASA to let them fake the moon landing by making a film using Stanley Kubrick's visual tricks. Meanwhile, they investigate a Soviet mole who has managed to infiltrate NASA.
This "documentary" pokes fun at the conspiracy theory that the 1967 moon landing was faked. The scene where Matt and Owen try to come up with what should be the first words of Neil Armstrong as he takes his first step on the "moon"--in the case of Operation Avalanche, the "moon landing" is filmed in a desert with rocks that are very similar to moon rocks. The famous "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," line itself is implied instead of shown, but the lead up it is fun and witty. All the little details surrounding Matt and Owen's filming of the fake moon landing are engaging to watch. Operation Avalanche's main problem, though, lies in the reasoning behind the "documentary" style that's used: it's not always clear why Matt and Owen are being filmed by their crew so often. To be fair, coming up with a purpose for the camera in a found-footage film 100% of the time is no easy task, but when it doesn't even come close to that 100%, it tends to be distracting.
Moreover, the spy thriller action scenes feel like they're thrown in there because they have to just for the sake of adding more "Hollywood" tension. They're unconvincingly-shot, seemingly tacked-on and change the tone of the film in a way that's clunky. When the film goes back to filming of the fake moon landing, Operation Avalanche regains a bit of its momentum and tongue-in-cheek humor. At a running time of 93 minutes, it's a bold, imaginative and refreshingly diverting "documentary" that's occasionally uneven in tone, and most fun and clever when it doesn't take itself too seriously. Words of warning to those of you who are easily prone to motion sickness: the first 30 minutes include a lot of nauseating shaky cam. Operation Avalanche would make for an interesting double feature with Capricorn One.
On the island of Tanna in the South Pacific, Wawa (Marie Wawa) meets a fellow tribe member, Dain (Mungau Dain), the grandson of her village's chief, Charlie (Chief Charlie Kahla). According to the traditions of her Yakel tribe, Wawa is expected to have an arranged marriage with a man from the rival tribe Imedin in an attempt to bring peace to the turbulent frictions between both tribes. She goes against tradition by falling in love with Dain and secretly spending time with him. Only her younger sister, Selin (Marceline Rofit), knows about her secret.
The tale of girl meets guy and has a forbidden love affair with him is quite a familiar one---just ask William Shakespeare. Forunately, Tanna feels warm, fresh and emotionally engrossing thanks to the tender screenplay by co-writers/directors Martin Butler and Bentley Dean and co-writer John Collee as well as members of the Yakel tribe who contributed to the writing process. Each of the actors and actresses gives a natural performance, and you can sense the chemistry between Wawa and Dain on a palpable level. The real triumph of the film, though, is that it's brimming with humanism, a truly special effect (CGI should be considered a standard effect nowadays), which makes it come alive and captivates you from start to finish. Yes, there are a number of sweet and uplifting moment that come close to being too saccharine, but Tanna ultimately earns its uplifting emotions in a way that doesn't make you roll your eyes. Prepare to have your heart and soul truly nourished.
Rarely has a love story been captured onscreen with so much lyricism and breathtaking imagery. Images, after all, often speak louder than words. Merely observing all of the vibrant colors and the majestic sights of the island's volano is absolutely mesmerizing. Tanna would be best experienced on the big screen to be fully immersed in its visual poetry. At a running time of 104 minutes, it's a genuinely heartfelt, mesmerizing and breathtaking love story grounded in humanism.