Alphabetical Menu
Chronological Menu

Reviews for September 23rd, 2022

Documentary Round-Up

      The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales is an eye-opening and enraging exposé about wage inequality in America. While CEOs like Bob Iger are raking in millions of dollars---$65 millions a year, to be precise---many Disney employees are struggling to make ends meet with their much smaller salaries. By focusing on the issues of wage inequality at Disney, directors Abigail Disney and Kathleen Hughes shed lights on a system issue that's plaguing many corporations. It's not enough that Disney provides subsidized childcare for its workers. What about paying them what they deserve to get paid so that they don't struggle? This documentary is as much about fairness as it is about truth, justice and democracy. Disney and Hughes trace the wage inequality issues at Disney all the way back to the Reagan Administration when he implemented "trickle-down" economics, so you'll learn about that economic concept as well as the fact that her grandfather, Roy, the co-founder of Disney, and Walt, her great-uncle, gave a fair wage to Disney employees while sacrificing their own salaries. A lot has changed since then, and you'll learn about that, too.

      What's not touched upon, though, is the fact that economists learn from textbooks that the higher the GDP is, the better. The higher the profit is, the better. That's part of the problem right there. A healthy GDP isn't just a high GDP, but a GDP that grows with the poor. That's not something taught in colleges, sadly. The same can be said about profits of corporations. When a corporation's profits increase and the company grows, the growth should take it lower-level employees with it and benefit them as well, not just those in the higher levels of the corporation. For instance, look at Kevin Ford, a Burger King employee who had worked for nearly 30 years without missing a day of work, but only received a goodie bag. That's dehumanizing and unfair. It's no different than what many of Disney's employees are speaking out about in this illuminating documentary. At a running time of 1 hour and 27 minutes, The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales opens at the new DCTV's Firehouse Cinema via Fork Films.

      Invisible Demons is an alarming and enraging exposé about the harmful effects of climate change in Delhi, India. Director Rahul Jain combines video footage along with testimony of its citizens to show evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, that pollution, floods and excessive heat waves are serious issues in Delhi as a result of climate change. People in India are getting ill and dying because of air pollution. A river that used to have drinkable water is now too polluted to drink from. Heat waves last longer, and monsoons begin earlier and last longer as well. Only the rich can afford air conditioning. According to a local Delhi man, poor people who aren't used to air conditioning can get ill from going from an air conditioned room to the outdoors where it's extremely hot. Watching this documentary is equivalent to watching a horror film that's even more horrifying because it's real. It will make you angry, scared and frustrated, as it should if you truly care about mankind and our planet. We live in a symbiotic ecosystem that we're clearly destroying. To be fair, Invisible Demons doesn't offer clear-cut solutions nor any thorough analysis with many different perspectives; it lets its images and testimonies speak for themselves. Images often speak louder than words, after all. At a running time of 1 hour and 10 minutes, Invisible Demons is one of the most powerful wake-up calls about climate change since An Inconvenient Truth. It opens at Cinema Village before streaming on MUBI on October 4th, 2022.

      Nothing Compares is not a comprehensive documentary biopic of Irish singer-songwriter Sinéad O'Connor nor does it try to be, but it's nonetheless provocative, invigorating and well-edited. Director Kathryn Ferguson mainly focuses on Sinéad O'Connor from 1987 to 1993 while combining archival footage, reenactments and interviews with record producer John Reynolds, her first husband, among others. You'll learn about O'Connor's rise to fame and her traumatic childhood that fueled passion for singing. Her trauma, coupled with backlash from the media and public after she spoke out about controversial issues, led to her mental and emotional breakdown and her fall from fame. Nothing Compares captures O'Connor as a brave woman who spoke her mind. It doesn't ask you to judge her or to take sides on any particular issue. What it does ask is that you see her as a human being who went through emotional battles that no amount of money could solve. What goes on in her private life should remain private, but that's something that doesn't come not easy for someone very famous like her. She has clearly been through a lot and, in some ways, seems like a warrior who's unafraid to stand for what she believes in. She refuses to sell her soul or to be silenced.

      Author Susan Forward writes in the book Toxic Parents that society tries to suppress anger in women, and she convincingly argues that it's very unhealthy. O'Connor is indeed an angry woman and she has every right to be angry--not just angry, but indignant, to be precise. Suppressing her rage, silencing her and cancelling her is to dehumanize her. Fortunately, Nothing Compares comes along to humanize her unflinchingly, warts-and-all. At a running time of 1 hour and 37 minutes, Nothing Compares opens at Cinema Village via Showtime Documentary Films.

      My Imaginary Country is a vital, powerful and illuminating documentary about Chilean citizens rising up and protesting against their government on the streets of Santiago in 2019. Director Patricio Guzmán does a wonderful job of combining archival footage from the protests along with interviews with a variety of subjects from students who protested to indiginous people/activists, first-aid workers and journalists. Each of them provides their own testimony as well as their perspectives and insights. Guzmán shows restraint by focusing on them rather than interjecting his own opinions. He also steps back to look at the violent history of Chile, particularly the 1973 protest when the Chilean dictator Pinochet was in power. My Ordinary Country is fundamentally about truth, justice and democracy, like any great political documentary should be.

      All of the interviews from first-hand accounts to the subjects who discuss the significance of the protest will help you to grasp the harsh reality of what the protest was like, especially the police brutality, and to understand what specific changes the protesters want and why. Some of the images shown in the film are poetic and breathtaking. This isn't one of those dull and dry docs where you ask at the end, "When is the exam?". In other words, My Imaginary Country finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually. It opens at IFC Center via Icarus Films, and would make for an interesting double feature with What is Democracy? and We Are Many.

      We Are Art: Through the Eyes of Annalaura isn't a biopic of Italian artist Annalaura di Luggo; it's an introduction to Annalaura's artwork by observing her create Colloculi, her multi-media art installation. Annalaura, who's also the film's director, interviewed many young adults with a variety of adversities and chose 4 of them to include in Colloculi--a Giant Eye made of recycled aluminum. The 4 subjects were projected inside the eye along with photographs for spectators to see and listen to their stories. The subjects included a young man who dealt with racism after moving from West Africa, a young woman who's legally blind since birth, a young juvenile delinquent who spent time in jail, and a young woman with a facial deformity who suffers from bullying. The stories of their hardships are far more compelling than this documentary that spends too little time on getting to know Annalaura or in understanding what Colloculi means within the context of her entire body of work. We Are Art assumes that the audience is either familiar with her artwork already or will be compelled to take a look at her artworks after watching the film. As a behind-the-scenes doc, it's mildly fascinating, but ultimately underwhelming while leaving the audience cold. Refreshingly, throughout the end credits, the film crew briefly discuss what it was like to work on the film. At a running time of 1 hour and 9 minutes, We Are Art: Through the Eyes of Annalaura opens at Village East by Angelika.

      Young Plato is a provocative, heartwarming and inspirational documentary about Holy Cross Boys Primary School located in Ardoyne, a working class community in Belfast. Using a fly-on-the-wall, laissez-faire approach reminiscent of Frederick Wiseman's style, co-directors Declan McGrath and Neasa Ní Chianáin Kevin McArevey bookends the film with headmaster Kevin McArevey as he driving to and from the school while listening to the music of Elvis. You get a sense of what Ardoyne looks like through the aerial shots as well as the footage of him driving to the school. What's the significance of the school? The answer to that question isn't answered right away, but once the students sit down for the lessons, that's when it becomes clear. McArevey teaches his young students philosophy, ethics and how to think critically, two important tools to have that the children will be grateful for later in life. One of the most valuable lessons that he teaches them is a lesson that too few people have learned these days: listening to and respecting other people's opinions and point of views. He also teaches them about the violent history of Belfast and tells them that they don't have to repeat the same mistakes that others made. He's a great role model and a great teacher who knows how to connect with his students, even when students gets into trouble for hitting another student.

      The focus remains on Kevin McArevey's experiences within the primary school. Young Plato isn't a biopic of him, nor of Plato nor is a thorough, warts-and-all documentary about the school from its inception until today. It's a glimpse inside a school that provides some hope and optimism for this world by teaching its students how to be better human beings and, hopefully, good role models in the future.  Holy Cross Boys Primary School is the equivalent of an oasis in the middle of the desert.Perhaps one day one of McArevey's students will be inspired to teach others, including their own children, the lessons that he's teaching them. Young Plato opens at Angelika Film Center in NYC and at Dedham Community Theatre in Dedham, MA via Soilsiú Films before expanding to more cities on Sept. 30th and Oct. 7th.


Directed by Valerie Buhagiar

      In a small village in Malta, Carmen (Natascha McElhone) has been the caretaker of her brother, Father Francis (Henry Zammit Cordina), a priest at a local church. When he dies, a new priest is expected to replace him, but he hasn't arrived yet. Carmen enters the confessional booth and closes the curtain before a church member confuses her as the new priest. She plays along pretending to be the priest and, soon enough, gives advice to many of the villagers. She also tries to pawn one of the items from the church at a pawn shop owned by Paulo (Steven Love), a younger man who she romances.

      Carmen is a breezy, mildly engaging coming-of-age story. The screenplay by writer/director Valerie Buhagiar spends very little time establishing the relationship between Carmen and her older brother. Within the first ten minutes or so, he already dies, leaving the church without a priest until Carmen pretends to be the new priest. What begins as tragedy turns into what feels reminiscent of a lighthearted Ealing Studios film. Carmen isn't really about a woman who pretends to be a priest, though; it's about a woman who learns how to feel free and happy for the first time in her life while taking charge of her life. She had felt alienated by her brother as well as the Church. All that she wants to do, as she admits, is to ring the church bell on her own, which is something that she hasn't been able to do in the past. That's just a metaphor for her yearning to be free and happy. When Carmen gets into trouble with the new priest's sister, Rita (Michaela Farrugia), who finds her inside the confessional booth and later learns from Paolo that Carmen sold him the Church item that she stole, there's not much tension or suspense from that undercooked subplot. Also, a new character, Tom (Richard Clarkin), is introduced late in the second act in yet another romantic subplot. The male characters remain poorly developed; even the new priest remains off screen, and it's not even clear why he hasn't shown up yet to the village. He seems like a plot device as does Paolo. Carmen, too, has a mostly bland personality, and the screenplay doesn't make it easy to get inside her head. She's very dull and forgettable compared to Shirley from Shirley Valentine who's snarky, witty, funny and wise. Interestingly, both To be fair, the plot lacks plausibility and becomes increasingly contrived as it progresses, but this isn't the kind of movie that aims to be 100% true-to-life or a "slice-of-life". It's much more of a slice-of-cake albeit with a lot of sugar at times.

      Carmen has two major strengths that helps to keep it afloat: Natascha McElhone's warm, heartfelt and charismatic performance, and the picturesque scenery of Malta. McElhone is absolutely radiant here in the titular role. It's too bad, then, that the screenplay doesn't provide enough of a window into Carmen's inner life, then, because a lot must be going on emotionally inside her, but Carmen shies away from exploring it or any of its darker themes like grief. The film moves at a brisk pace, although the third act does rush toward the uplifting, fairytale ending. At a running time of just 1 hour and 28 minutes, Carmen is occasionally cheesy while lacking surprises and wit, but it's nonetheless s sweet, harmless and breezy coming-of-age story.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Good Deed Entertainment.
Opens at Cinema Village.

Catherine Called Birdy

Directed by Lena Dunham

      In 1290, 14-year-old Lady Catherine (Bella Ramsey), a.k.a Birdy, lives with her domineering father, Lord Rollo (Andrew Scott), and mother, Lady Aislinn (Billie Piper), in the village of Stonebridge, England. With her family deep in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy, Lord Rollo tries to marry Birdy off to any wealthy man, but Birdy rebels against her father's demands and intentionally makes a fool out of herself upon meeting her suitor.

      Based on the novel by Karen Cushman, the screenplay by writer/director Lena Dunham boasts a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor that's as outrageously funny as the humor Emma., even more so at times. It's much more self-aware than Emma. while trying too hard to please the audience, though. There are too many characters most of whom caricatures merely on screen to generate laughs or to move the plot forward. Dunham breaks the fourth wall every now and then with Birdy's voice-over narration and text on the screen that introduces each character along with their descriptions. It's amusing at first, but becomes distracting and annoying eventually. The same can be said about Birdy and her over-the-top, immature behavior. Her antics are also amusing as are her quips, but she comes across as mean more often than not and her character becomes like nails-on-a-chalkboard. Perhaps that's a problem with the source material, but, even if it is, Catherine Called Birdy's screenplay doesn't avoid that systemic issue. Not only is the film overcrowded with characters, but there are also a lot of relationships that remain underdeveloped, i.e. Birdy and her friend, Perkin (Michael Woolfitt), and she and her uncle, George (Joe Alwyn). The attempts at humor fall flat more often than not with too much reliance on sight gags and gross-out humor that tries hard to push the envelope. It ends up more awkward and silly rather than funny. Buried between all of the comedy, you'll find coming-of-age drama, but Denham does a subpar job of showing Birdy's emotional journey throughout her coming-of-age. The voice-over narration spoon-feeds the audience, and the third act tries to be a little profound and moving, but it feels too contrived and clunky.

      Catherine Called Brody does have performances that range from decent to great including a breakthrough performance by Bella Ramsey. She does shine, but the other actors in the ensemble don't get enough of a chance to shine. Some scenes overstay their welcome, to be fair, and there are pacing issues, but the cinematography looks fine and the music is lively and well-chosen. The costume designs and set designs add some style. At a running time of 1 hour and 48 minutes, Catherine Called Brody bold, witty and irreverent, but ultimately shallow, repetitive and exhausting.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Amazon Studios.
Opens at IFC Center.

Cuando Sea Joven

Directed by Raúl Martínez Resendez

      One night, 70-year-old Malena (Verónica Castro) enters the studio of a photographer (Edgar Vivar) and exits as the 22-year-old version of herself (now played by Natasha Dupeyrón). She claims that her name is Maria when she's hired to work at a restaurant run by Ramon (Manuel 'Flaco' Ibáñez) and when she becomes a singer in the band of her grandson, Victor (Michael Ronda).

      Miss Granny, Cuando Sea Joven is a sweet, funny and tender remake of the Korean film Miss Granny. The screenplay by Juan Carlos Garzón and co-writer Angélica Gudiño briefly introduce Malena and her son, Cadenero (Daniel Garcia), who wants to move her to an assisted living residence. She's unhappy with his decision and with growing old, but she'll have her wish to be younger come true. Her true dream, though, is to fulfill her passion of singing. That wish will come true soon, as well, after she visits the studio to have her photo taken. The screenwriters waste very little time with exposition or even providing a backstory to the photographer who transfers her to her younger self. Once she undergoes the transformation, the film becomes a comedy while remaining grounded in humanism. It's funny to see Malena/Maria running back and forth when she discovers that she can run again and that her knees don't crack anymore. Older audiences will relate to that. Her relationship with Ramon is heartfelt and amusing without being schmaltzy. Their banter is lively and witty. He's a decent, kind human being, so it's not surprising that he's the first person that she tells the truth about her identity. The relationship between her and Victor is more complicated, but it's played for laughs similar to how the relationship between Marty and the younger version of his mother are played in Back to the Future. At its core, Cuando Sea Joven is about a woman learning to discover herself and appreciate what life has given her. Even though the end can be seen from a mile away, it doesn't make the journey any less enchanting. Moreover, the ending earns its uplift despite that the third act feels a little rushed.

      Natasha Dupeyrón gives a charismatic, moving performance as Maria. She has the acting chops to handle the comedic as well as the dramatic scenes. Also, she seems to be having a lot of fun in her role. Her pure, unadulterated exuberation and charisma and energy can be palpably felt by the audience. To be fair, the pacing is a little uneven, especially with a slow second act and a faster-paced third act, and the running time of 2 hours feels a little overlong, but those are minor issues. Compared to the cringe-inducing, clunky, shallow and painfully unfunny Mack & Rita, Cuando Sea Joven is like a breath of fresh air. Where Mack & Rita fails, Cuando Sea Joven succeeds while sending a positive message about growing old with just the right balance of humor and heart.

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

Don't Worry, Darling

Directed by Olivia Wilde

      Alice (Florence Pugh) lives with her husband, Jack (Harry Styles), in Victory, a utopian community headed by Frank (Chris Pine). The husbands go to work every day at the secretive Victory Project. After she witnesses a friend, Margaret (KiKi Layne), slits her throat and jumps off a roof, she begins to question her reality and tries to investigate what's really going on in Victory.

      The screenplay by Katie Silberman heavily borrows from many classic psychological thrillers ranging from The Stepford Wives to The Truman Show, Gaslight, Arlington Road, Get Out, Strange Days, Jacob's Ladder, and Pleasantville. It's not important where the ideas are taken from, but where they're taken to. Silberman spends a lot of time with exposition during the first thirty minutes Alice begins to suspect that something sinister must be going on behind her back and that Jack, Frank and her friend, Bunny (Olivia Wilde), might be gaslighting her. Is it all in her head? Has she gone off the deep end? Or is there some truth to her concerns? Not surprisingly, Frank and her husband want to have her committed. Jack's behavior is very strange, too, i.e. he doesn't realize that he has to boil potatoes first before mashing them. Little things like that and more obvious things happen, too, like a plane that hits what looks like a grid in the sky before crashing. Much like that plane, Don't Worry, Darling takes a steep nosedive and crashes once the "big twist" arrives in the third act. By then, it's not that shocking as a twist, but, most importantly, it leaves no room for interpretation. The film wants to be a mindfuck and, for the most part, it does achieve that, but it's not a fun or clever mindfuck. The Double Hour is a far more intelligent, exciting and suspenseful psychological thriller that has a shocking twist ending while leaving a lot of room for interpretation. The same goes for the "elevated horror" film Get Out. Don't Worry, Darling just seems to be going through the motions from Plot Point A to Plot Point B to kill time before it inevitably pulls the rug from under the audience. Meanwhile, though, it forgets to stop, let the film breathe and humanize its characters along with their relationships.

      Florence Pugh gives a fine performance, but she's undermined by the shallow screenplay that fails to breathe life into her role or to any of the other roles for that matter. The cinematography, set design and lighting looks quite stylish and provide some eye candy, but they don't really become part of the film's substance. Some of the shots, especially toward the end, are very trippy, creepy and dreamlike. Visual style can only go so far, though, without a smart screenplay to compliment it. Also, the second act takes a long time to get to the "big reveal" in the third act, and many scenes overstay their welcome as the film goes around in circles. At a running time of 2 hours and 3 minutes, Don't Worry, Darling is a slick and stylish, but vapid and emotionally hollow psychological thriller. It's ultimately less than the sum of its parts.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Warner Bros.
Opens nationwide.

Give Me Five

Directed by Luan Zhang

      Xiao Wu (Yuan Chang) visits the hospital to see his father, Wu Hongqi (Xiang Wei), who suffers from Alzheimer's. His mother had died many years ago, but he never learned why. While rummaging through his father's belongings at home, he discovers his mother's diary along with a ring. When he puts on the ring, he magically goes back in time to the day that his mother, Lu Chunli (Li Ma) and father met in 1986. He must make sure that they meet and fall in love, otherwise he'll cease to exist.

      The screenplay by Tianyi Dong doesn't spend too much time in the present day before Xiao Wu gets transported to the past. The ring that Xiao Wu finds is like the Delorean in Back to the Future, but without Doc Brown or any explanation about how it works right away. You'll have to be patient to learn about the ring's history. It's very simple, though. All that Xiao We has to do is to put it on and he ends up in 1986. When he takes the ring off, he's back in the present. The younger version of his father is just as geeky and awkward as the younger version of Marty McFly's father. His awkwardness along with Xiao's interventions to get him together with his mother are more amusing than funny. The plot gets increasingly complex as it progresses and there are a few moments of genuine poignancy, but, for the most part, it doesn't really take any narrative risks or have any surprises. It's also very hard to not compare it to Back to the Future because of the plot and character similarities. For example, does it surprise you that the more Xiao gets to know his dad during his younger years, the more he respects and understands him in the present day? The third act can be seen from a mile away, but it does at least end on a heartwarming and understated note.

      The performances are decent, but nothing exceptional. The screenplay doesn't really give anyone a chance to rise above the mediocrity and to stand out. Luan Zhang deserves to be commended, though, for not bombarding the audience with CGI and action scenes; he keeps the film grounded in the characters and their relationships. Also, the humor attempts don't resort to the lowest common denominator, but, that said, there's nothing gut-bustingly funny like in Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film that balanced comedy and tragedy with better results. At a running time of 1 hour and 52 minutes, Give Me Five is neither as exhilarating and crowd-pleasing as Back to the Future nor as brilliant, bonkers and poignant as the outrageously funny Everything Everywhere All at Once, but at least it's mildly entertaining and occasionally moving.

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

The Justice of Bunny King

Directed by Gaysorn Thavatt

      Bunny King (Essie Davis), a single mother, struggles to make ends meet and to find a roof over her head. She loses custody of her children, Shannon (Amelie Baynes) and Reuben (Angus Stevens), and desperately tries to gain full custody of them. Meanwhile, she brings her niece, Tonyah (Thomasin McKenzie), along with her.

      Screenwriter Sophie Henderson has written a character who's emotionally needy, unreliable, dishonest and lacks the concept of boundaries. To call Bunny King a trainwreck would be an understatement. She's a narcissist who lacks introspection which makes her very toxic and very unlikable. Fortunately, Henderson doesn't require the audience to like her. Much of the film is essentially "poverty porn" as you watch Bunny reaching dead ends while she tries to find a job, her own apartment and to reunite with her kids. It's easy to see why she lost custody of her kids and to hope that she stays away from them, but, concurrently, she's a human being, so to balance that with empathy for her desire to see her kids again is no easy task. It's not clear if she truly cares for their wellbeing or if she just wants them with her to feel better about herself. The answer is probably the latter. She's nothing like Daniel Blake from I, Daniel Blake who's also poor, but far more decent and reasonable than Bunny. The film's title most likely refers to Bunny's interpretation of "justice"; she probably understands what the word means, but not what the concept of justice means or how to find it without hurting other people.

      Henderson also does a great job of avoiding excessively expository scenes. You don't learn what Bunny did wrong in her past right away, but you learn it eventually, so be patient. Her relationship with her niece, Tonyah, feels heartbreaking, especially because of the danger that she puts her through. It's not quite clear either why Tonyah would even want to be around Bunny to begin with. Later in the second act, Bunny commits an act that crosses a huge boundary and makes her even harder to root for, unlike in the recent movie Breaking where the protagonist behaves similarly, but with more compassion, logic and reason. Bunny, by contrast, comes across as deranged, unhinged and insane more often than not. Although The Justice of Bunny King doesn't explore the issue of mental illness head-on, it does shed unflinching light on the importance of raising awareness that mental illness does exist. Perhaps Bunny doesn't have the resources to get better, but, like any human being, she deserves to heal and be happy. If only she could learn the poem by Pablo Neruda, "They can cut all of the flowers, but they can't stop the spring from coming." Bunny's garden is filled with toxic soil and no flowers. She's too emotionally immature to grasp that she's not helping anyone including herself by cutting other people's flowers or by cutting her own flowers. The third act leaves open the possibility of healing without offering any solutions, so it feels like a cop-out.

      Fortunately, The Justice of Bunny King boasts a bravura, electrifying performance by Essie Davis. She's the film's heart and soul, and she clearly bares her own heart and soul with her emotionally honest and generous performance. It's her moving performance, not the screenplay, that breathes life into the role and makes you care about Bunny as a human being. Thomasin McKenzie is also superb. At a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes, The Justice of Bunny King is engrossing, heartbreaking and unflinching.

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

Railway Children

Directed by Morgan Matthews

      Three children, Lily (Beau Gadsdon), Pattie (Eden Hamilton) and Ted (Zac Cudby), travel by train from Manchester to Yorshire during World War II to escape the German bombings in their hometown. They move in with Bobbie Waterbury (Jenny Agutter), her daughter, Annie (Sheridan Smith), and Thomas (Austin Haynes), Annie's son. When the children meet  Abe (KJ Aikens), a young black American soldier who's gone AWOL, they try to help him to escape Yorkshire and to reunite him with his mother in New York.  

      Although it's refreshing to watch a wholesome family film that's not action-packed, infantile or that heavily relies on CGI and sci-elements, Railway Children doesn't have enough going on to hold your interest whether you're young or old. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Daniel Brocklehurst and Jemma Rodgers leaves a lot to be desired as it dances around issues like war and racism while sugar-coating them for younger audiences.  That would've been fine if it were at least engaging on some level. The plot often meanders, and there are too many characters, most of whom are poorly introduced to the audience. Brocklehurst and Rodgers opt for a linear structure without flashbacks which makes the film conventional, but the lack of wit, comic relief and anything surprising or exciting results in blandness and, eventually, lethargy. The premise sounds like it could have some moving scenes, especially given that these kids are so far away from home and yearn to be with their family again. However, the audience doesn't have enough of a sense of what their life was like with their family before they went to Yorkshire. Abe, like Lily, Pattie and Ted, have that yearning to come home in common with one another. Likewise, the kids' relationships with the adults, i.e Bobbie, Annie and Uncle Walter (Tom Courtenay), aren't fleshed out enough. The adults are underwritten, and many of the scenes with them and the kids fall flat. What's most disappointing is that there aren't enough scenes to show the kids bonding together with Abe, so the third act, which can be seen from a mile away, isn't as emotionally resonating as it could've been. A truly great family film can find a way to entertain adults and children as well. Railway Children doesn't succeed to entertain either enough to rise above mediocrity.  

      The performances range from decent to mediocre and wooden, but, to be fair, the screenplay doesn't bring any of the characters to life. No one gets a chance to shine nor do the older actors provide enough gravitas and charisma, i.e. Tom Courtenay who's not nearly enough on screen. The cinematography, set designs and costume designs are fine. The pacing moves leisurely which is a breath of fresh air compared to the fast-paced movies made for those with ADHD; at times during the second act, though, it picks up until a rushed third act. At a running time of 1 hour and 35 minutes, Railway Children is mildly engaging, wholesome and harmless, but bland, meandering and undercooked.  

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Blue Fox Entertainment.
Opens in select theaters.

Section 8

Directed by Christian Sesma

      Jake (Ryan Kwanten), a soldier, returns to the US after fighting in Afghanistan where he served with Tom (Dolph Lundgren), who saved his life. He works at the garage of his uncle, Earl (Mickey Rourke). When his family gets murdered, he avenges there murder and gets sent to prison before joining a mysterious government agency, Section 8, led by Sam (Dermot Mulroney). He's tasked with assassinating a U.S. Senator, but gets into trouble when he disobeys his orders and goes rogue.

      The screenplay by Chad Law and Josh Ridgway begins briefly as a war film and then flashes forward five years to the present day. What happened during those 5 years? How has the war affected Jake? What's his relationship with his family like? This isn't the kind of movie that's remotely interested in answering any of those questions. Before you know it, Jake's family gets killed, he kills their murderer and gets sent to prison. Now Section 8 suddenly turns into a prison film before going back to being an action thriller when Jake is released from prison. Oh, and not just an action thriller, but also a political action thriller because Jake is tasked with killing a U.S. Senator. What sounds like it could be a riveting, edge-of-your seat thriller based on the premise alone ends up an anemic, by-the-numbers B-movie that's not even a guilty pleasure to watch. It doesn't help that the screenplay takes itself too seriously without comic relief, so the film starts to feel monotonous around the hour mark. On top of that, the villain is forgettable and underwritten, and the same can be said about Jake who's not even close to as compelling as the iconic John Wick, Ethan Hunt or Jason Bourne.

      Even the action scenes are dull without invigorating the film. Yes, they're very loud, but that's all they have going for them. The cinematography and action choreography don't really provide much to write home about either. At least the pace moves quickly and the director doesn't rely on shaky cam to entertain the audience. It's also refreshing to see an action thriller that does not star Liam Neeson for a change. Mickey Rourke is wasted in a forgettable role here, and none of the actors rise above the dull screenplay. At a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes, Section 8 is yet another limp, run-of-the-mill action thriller that lacks suspense, intrigue and thrills. It makes John Wick and Nobody look like masterpieces.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by RLJE Films.
Opens at Cinema Village and on VOD.