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Reviews for September 21st, 2018

Documentary Round-Up

      Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable is a documentary about street photographer Garry Winogrand that's equally captivating, insightful, heartfelt and well-edited. In many ways, Winogrand captured humanism through his photographs during the 60's and 70's, but they were so much more than that. He concurrently made subtle political and racial commentary. He also photographed animals and wasn't afraid to shoot naked men and women. Each of his photographs had plenty of meaning and interpretations which are discussed throughout this fascinating doc. One of the photos shows a black man with a white woman each of whom is holding a baby monkey nonchalantly. In another one of his iconic photos, a beautiful woman is laughing while tilting her head backwards and holding an ice cream cone. His photographs clearly speak volumes about his thoughts and feelings at the time; he was bright, honest and perceptive. Director Sasha Waters Freyer effectively blends archival photographs, audio recordings and interviews with art experts including other photographers like Bill Cunningham and Laurie Simmons. Fortunately, there's nothing hagiographic about this documentary. You also get a glimpse of Winogrand's married life which was filled with bumps in the road---he had three wives--and about how churlish and stubborn he was when it came to his personality. He also had financial issues, i.e. he didn't pay his taxes, which caused a strain on one of his marriages. Winogrand was not only an artist, but an artist with very human, relatable flaws. There's enough psychological drama in his life to make for a very interesting Hollywood biopic. He's a complex human being which makes him all the more compelling as a subject or character. Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable essentially shows you the human being the artist and the artist behind the human being. If you've never heard of Winogrand before or even have a mild curiosity about photography, be prepared to learn a lot without being bored in just 90 minutes. It's a must see for every professional and aspiring photographer. Greenwich Entertainment opens it at Film Forum.

A Happening of Monumental Proportions

Directed by Judy Greer

      The lives of many Los Angelenos intersect. The principal (Allison Janney) of a private school and her assistant, Mr. Pendlehorn (Rob Riggle), discover the dead body of a gardener on the school property and hide it in the teacher's lounge. A widowed father, Daniel (Common), raises Patricia (Storm Reid) on his own and has an affair with a married woman (Jennifer Garner). Mr. Schneedy (Bradley Whitford) suspects that he's been vandalizing the office's coffee machine at work, so has him fired on the spot. There's also a suicidal music teacher (Anders Holm), a student (Marcus Eckert) who has a crush on Patricia while turning to his auto shop teacher (John Cho) for advice on how to woo her, EMT workers (Nat Faxon and Katie Holmes) who refuse to help deal with the gardener's corpse, and a cameo by Keanu Reeves.

      A Happening of Monumental Proportions feels just as convoluted, disjointed as its overstuffed plot synopsis above makes it sounds like. The tone deaf screenplay by Gary Lundy blends comedy, drama, romance, tragedy, suspense and thriller without any scenes that ring true. Every kind of film, regardless of the genre, needs to be grounded at least to some extent in humanism, but none of that essential element can be found here. Each of the subplots feel undercooked, contrived and shallow while the attempts to make you laugh with the dark comedy or to make you feel something---anything---toward the characters fall flat. There's very little wit or genuine poignancy in the lazy screenplay. Moreover the characters, of which there are too many, never come to life despite the talented cast members.

      As the directorial debut of Judy Greer, it's not an awful film; it's a practically masterpiece compared to anything that Tyler Perry has done, but, to be fair, he doesn't exactly set the bar very high. A more focused, witty and intelligent screenplay would've prevented the film's beats from falling so flat. It's no help that the musical score isn't particularly well chosen and that the cinematography leaves nothing to write home about. A Happening of Monumental Proportions's saving grace, though, is its very brief running time of 82 minutes. Hopefully Judy Greer will work with much better screenplay next time around.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Great Point Media.
Opens at Cinema Village.

Little Italy

Directed by Donald Petrie

      The families of Nikki Angioli (Emma Roberts) and Leo Campo (Hayden Christensen) used to co-own a pizzeria, Pizza Napoli, in Toronto's Little Italy, but a quarrel lead Nikki's family to open their own rival pizzeria close to Pizza Napoli. Nikki studies at a culinary school in the UK while Leo works at Vince's, formerly known as Pizza Napoli, with his father, Vince (Gary Basaraba), and grandfather, Carlo (Danny Aiello). When Nikki returns to Canada to get a work visa, romance sparks between her and Leo. Meanwhile, Carlo romances Nikki’s grandmother, Franca (Andrea Martin).

      If everything that made Mystic Pizza and Moonstruck above average romantic comedies were removed, you'd get something along the lines of Little Italy. Both of those classic romcoms wisely avoided schmaltz, melodrama, caricatures and cheap laughs even if their plots were indeed formulaic and predictable. There's nothing wrong with predictability or formula as as long as you don't actually feel the wheels of the screenplay turning. It also helps that both films were warm, funny, charming and endearing with characters who felt lived-in, and had a palpable romantic chemistry between the love interests. On top of that, their uplifting endings were well-earned. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Steve Galluccio and Vinay Virmani suffers from stilted dialogue, lazy narration with overexplaining, cheap attempts at generating comic relief, and, worst of all, barely any chemistry between Nikki and Leo. Their romance seems like it's tacked-on merely out of duty to advance the plot. Not of it feels real and you never get to know neither of them enough to care about them as human beings. The third act has a scene taking place at an airport that's over-the-top, very saccharine and cringe-inducing.

      Carlo and Franca's romance fares a little better, so their scenes are the only ones that feel remotely heartfelt. Who doesn't love to see Danny Aiello and Andrea Martin? Both of them have plenty of charisma. Perhaps if Carlo and Franca were the protagonists instead of Nikki and Leo, this film would've been a much more engrossing and entertaining slice of romantic comedy. At a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes, Little Italy is a stale romcom that's bland, heavy on the cheese and ultimately forgettable. It would pair well with 2 Days in the Valley and Do the Right Thing both of which also happen to have Danny Aiello playing the owner of a pizzeria.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Grindstone Entertainment Group and Lionsgate.
Opens at AMC 34th Street.
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