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Reviews for September 27th, 2013

Dark Touch

Directed by Marina de Van

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by IFC Midnight.
Opens at IFC Film Center.

Documentary Round-Up

      Sherpard & Dark, directed by Treva Wurmfeld, sheds light on the evolving friendship between playwright/actor Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark. They met in the Greenwich Village back in the 1960's and remained friends for the next 47 years despite their differences. Wurmfeld films Shepard and Dark as they reunite to organize their letters of correspondence to one another that will be part of soon-to-be-published book. Both men reminisce about old times and discuss how aspects of their lives have changed throughout their friendship, i.e. Shepard got divorced and Dark's wife died. The first 30 minutes or so of the doc does feel slightly dull, but it gets into more meaty and even philosophical territory as it progresses because that's when Shepard and Dark discuss their regrets and analyze key moments in their lives such as the eventual break-up of their friendship. Shepard says the most profound kernel of wisdom when he talks about the importance of finding the right balance between solitude and companionship, a task that's easier said than done. It would be safe to say that a good friend is a lot a lover: in both friendship and love, one has to enjoy the other's company and to embrace the good and bad qualities of the other person while remaining honest. Shepard & Dark might be more therapeutic for Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark, but it offers enough food for thought to ultimately keep the audience enlightened. Over at the IFC Center, there's the doc Winter Nomads which follows two shepherds, namely, Carole and Pascale, who trek 600 kilometers through Switzerland with 800 sheep, 4 dogs and 3 donkeys for what's called a "transhumance." 28-year-old Carole doesn't have as much experience in shepherding as 53-year-old Pascale does, but she seems content and competent in her skills---Pascale does criticize her sometimes, but not mean-spiritedly. It does take thick skin (literally and figuratively) to endure the harsh cold of the region throughout the transhumance. Director Manuel von Stürler takes a laisse-faire approach to film by not including himself in it and by merely following Carole and Pascale along as they go about their shepherding. There's little to no profound insights; it's up to you glean what you want from their conversations and the visuals. Animal lovers in particular will be fascinated by observing the behavior of the sheep and donkeys, some of which is quite amusing and leads to some much-needed levity. Even if you're not an animal aficionado, though, you'll still feel quietly riveted and transfixed from start to finish, especially given the fact that you're probably not even remotely familiar with the life of a shepherd in Switzerland nor have you met one before. Winter Nomads, therefore, will most likely be the closest you have ever come to meeting a shepherd and grasping what it's like to be one. The Network centers on TOLO TV, the first independent television network in Afghanistan. Director Eva Orner shows the network starting from its inception until it became very popular in a country that's plagued with violence and oppression. TOLO TV serves multiple purposes including entertainment, news and educating the illiterate public (both young and old) through shows like Sesame Street. How independent and useful is it? Is it merely propoganda that's detrimental for the country and for democracy? That depends on who you ask. Orner doesn't really delve into those questions enough nor does she ask someone who has no vested interest in the network itself. Interviews with its staff and founder, namely, Saad Mohseni, are insightful but up to a limited point because of conflicts of interests. There should've been more outside perspectives to paint a more coherent, bigger and multifaceted picture. Additional analysis would have also been helpful and perhaps added more depth/revelations. Ultimately, The Network is marginally insightful and incomplete.

We Are What We Are

Directed by Jim Mickle

      Frank Parker (Bill Sage) lives peacefully with his wife, Emma (Kassie DePaiva), and three children, namely, Iris (Ambyr Childers), Rose (Julia Garner), and Rory (Jack Gore), in the Catskills Mountains. After an accident that leaves Emma dead, the Parker family's secret begins to rise to the surface. Torrential downpours gradually wash up evidence that links the family to their dark secret, which won't be spoiled here. Even the family's doctor (Michael Park) suspects that something smells fishy about the Parkers.

      As a remake of the 2011 Mexican film, We Are What We Are should has even more palpable suspense and dread than the original. Writer/director Jim Mickle and co-writer Nick Damici maintain a serious tone that becomes increasingly dark and disturbing. The film works concurrently as a psychological horror/thriller as it builds tension slowly--it's in no hurry to bring out the gory mayhem like most horror films these days nor does it go off in any tangents that would turn it into another genre, i.e. dark comedy. There's not much here in terms of comic relief. Many scenes feel effectively grim thanks to the musical score, cinematography and scenery which becomes a character in itself. Even the rainy weather plays an important part in the film which leads to some intense scenes toward the third act.

      Casting directors Sig De Miguel and Stephen Vincent deserve kudos for selecting actors/actresses who fit their roles perfectly and believably. Julia Garner, especially, tackles her complex role of Rose quite well. Rose looks innocent with her pale, seemingly angelic face, but there's much more to her than meets the eye. It's interesting to observe how the Parker family dynamics evolve or, more specifically, how the power shifts from one member of the family to another. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, We Are What We Are will satiate your hunger for palpable suspense, horror and intrigue. It's one of most effectively terrifying remakes in years.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Entertainment One.
Opens at Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon

Directed by Hark Tsui

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Huayi Brothers Media.
Opens in select theaters.

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