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Reviews for September 30th, 2016

Documentary Round-Up

      Never Surrender: The Ed Ramsey Story sheds light on Ed Ramsey, who led the final horse-mounted cavalry charge in U.S. history against the Japanese while serving in the U.S. military. Through interviews with family, friends, historians as well as Ed Ramsey himself before his death in 2013, director Matthew Hausle informs you about Ramsey's difficult childhood, how and why he joined the military and the details of his experiences in World War II. The pace moves rather quickly, so at times the info that you're bombarded with feels a bit exhausting, to a fair. While the straight-forward structure and style of the documentary isn't particularly extraordinary, what the interviewees have to say in particular is indeed quite extraordinary, compelling and even occasionally moving regardless of where in the spectrum of pro-war vs anti-war you find yourself. The fact that Ramsey had befriended a Japenese soldier later on in life despite being enemies during the war feels quite heartwarming----it's reminiscent of the story in the war film Unbroken which would make for an interesting double feature. Ramsey comes across as more than just heroic: he's also candid, charismatic and kind-hearted. He's far from perfect, though, like any human being based on the details from his childhood, but the fact that he survived through those emotional battles and remained strong is a further testament to his courage and perseverance. Kudos to director Matthew Hausle and Steven C. Barber for introducing audiences to such a noble and extraordinary American war hero. Never Surrender: The Ed Ramsey Story opens at Cinema Village.

American Honey

Directed by Andrea Arnold

      18-year-old Star (Sasha Lane) lives with her poor, dysfunctional family in a small Oklahoma town. After she meets Jake (Shia LaBeouf) at a local Walmart, she leaves her two younger step-siblings with her mother and leaves her abusive stepfather to run away with Jake and his friends. Jake works as a door-to-door magazine salesman, and persuades his manager, Krystal (Riley Keough), to hire her. Jake who agrees to train her while they hit the road in a van together with other young, eager salespeople.

      To merely describe American Honey's plot wouldn't do it any justice. It's the kind of film that must be experienced, especially on the big screen. Yes, there is a briefly intense scene involving a gun, but it doesn't play out in the way that Hollywood conditions audiences to think that it would play out. Writer/director Andrea Arnold is the kind of director who, much like Richard Linklater, is a humanist who knows how and when to trust the audience's intelligence, imagination and patience. For the entire duration of the film, you're experiencing and observing whatever transpires to Star much more than you're judging her. When she's sad, you're sad. When she's excited, you're excited. When she's bored from the tedium of her experiences, you're bored along with her. Expect to be going through a roller coaster ride of thoughts and emotions that might take you a while to absorb it all. It's not always easy to figure out what Star is thinking exactly per se, but that's alright. There's nothing wrong with leaving room for interpretation. The more time you spend with Star, the more you can piece together the little details of her family life, personality and thoughts/feelings while getting to know her as a complex, flawed human being. It helps tremendously that Sasha Lane gives a breakthrough performance that reaches the core of Star's emotional truth. You might even find Star to be relatable because, after all, the more specific a story is, the more it tends to be universal and easy for you to connect at least somewhat to the characters. Unlike with Hollywood films, the sum of American Honey is much greater than its parts.

     The film's "slice of life" and slow-burning approach is best appreciated by perceptive, patient audiences who don't like to be spoon-fed information through exposition and have their hands held tightly by the writer/director. If you pay attention, you'll notice the commentary on the decay of our shallow American society/culture and of the hypocrisies/deceptions of the "American Dream" for regardless of whether one is from the upper, middle and lower class. The implications of that honest message depends on how close you think Americans are to the Romans. Perhaps all of the shallow superhero films plaguing our multiplexes serve as our bread and circuses. While Star goes through can be considered "depressing" to a certain degree, so what if it's a little depressing? At least it's unflinchingly honest, profound and human, above all. Within the ugliness of human nature, there's some lyrical beauty to be found. Notice the symbolism of nature throughout the film and how it parallels Star's life. Human nature, after all, isn't fundamentally very different from other forms of nature. At a running time of 162 minutes, which actually feels shorter, American Honey is a mesmerizing, heartbreaking, poetic, provocative and haunting experience. Patient and perceptive audiences will be rewarded the most.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by A24 Films.
Opens at Landmark Sunshine Cinema and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.

Deepwater Horizon

Directed by Peter Berg


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Summit Entertainment.
Opens nationwide.


Directed by Mick Jackson


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Bleecker Street.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.

I Belonged to You

Directed by Zhang Yibai

      Chen Mo (Deng Chao) and his girlfriend, Xiao Rong (Du Juan), both work as DJs for a radio station. When she dumps his announces on the air that she's dumping him, he struggles to deal with the break-up and still pines for her. A sexy new intern, Yao Ji (Zhang Tian Ai), develops feelings for him, but she can sense that he hasn't gotten over his ex. Other romantic subplots involve Chen Mo's brothers, Zhu Tou (Yue Yun-peng), and Mao Shiba (Yang Yang) each of whom has relationship issues of their own. Zhu Tou as a long-distance relationship with his school crush, Yan Zi (Liu Yan), and sends her money over the course of 8 years while she lives out of the country. Mao Shiba falls in love with a police officer Li Zhi (Bai Baihe). He tries hard to win her over and the relationship seems like it will all go smoothly, but a certain event which won't be spoiled here changes the course of their relationship.

      Three interconnected romantic dramas, each different than the other in tone, make for quite an interesting roller coaster ride of emotions. The most amusing story would be Mao Shiba's because of silly and witty ways he tries to woo his lover. Some of their romantic moments are a bit cheesy, though. The most heartbreaking and poignant of the stories that of Chen Mo. He's an compelling character and a relatable one as well for anyone who has ever had to deal with a break-up. He has a lot of growing up to do and perhaps through his emotional pain, he'll be able to grow. Until that happens, he won't give up his quest to try to reunite with his ex. The more simplistic and obvious story is Zhu Tou's because anyone can sense from the get-go that his long-distance relationship with Yan Zi won't last and that her "love" of him is shallow---it's no surprise that love cannot be bought. Screenwriter Jiajia Zhang weaves the three love stories into a tapestry that's not consistently captivating at a running time of 1 hour and 51 minutes, but it at least it's heartfelt, tender and relatable.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by China Lion Film Distribution.
Opens at AMC Empire.

L.O.R.D.: League of Ravaging Dynasties

Directed by Guo Jingming


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Magnum Films.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.

A Man Called Ove

Directed by Hannes Holm

      Ove (Rolf Lassgård) has yet to overcome the recent death of his beloved wife, Sonja (Ida Engvoll). He's so depressed that he desperately wants to end with his life and join his wife in heaven, but his attempts at suicide fail each and every time. The other residents of his community consider him to be a curmudgeon given the way he behaves toward them. The arrival of new neighbors, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) and her husband, Patrik (Tobias Almborg), gradually changes Ove in a way that he least expected to change. He even agrees to adopt a cat. Before he can truly change on the inside, though, he has to come to terms with trauma from his childhood.

      Based on the novel by Fredrik Backman, the screenplay by writer/director Hannes Holm is bittersweet, witty and darkly comedic. Ove's failed suicide attempts are funny in a twisted sort of way. Comedy, after all, springs from tragedy more often than not (just ask Charlie Chaplin). The rest of the humor is refreshingly offbeat and balances well with the more dramatic scenes. Even though Ove isn't particularly likable in some ways, he is indeed likable in other ways because there's more to him than meets the eye given the psychologically damaging events in his past. Underneath all the piss and vinegar running through his vains, he has a big heart. Throughout the film, he becomes increasingly compassionate and kind in a way that's quite poignant. Moreover, his character arc feels organic and believable because he manages to get to the root cause of his psychological issues. His childhood memories are shown in flashback and work well within the story---flashbacks aren't easy to integrate, so kudos to Holm for not making the flashbacks clunky or distracting.

      What truly anchors the film, though, is the warm and charismatic performance by Rolf Lassgård who fits the role Ove perfectly. He's absolutely captivating to behold. At a running time of 116 minutes, A Man Called Ove is darkly humorous, tender and heartwarming. It would make for an interesting double feature with A Christmas Carol or perhaps even Ruggles of Red Gap starring Charles Laughton who, just like Lassgård, has great comedic timing and also knows how to handle emotional scenes with aplomb. Lassgård is a revelation.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Music Box Films.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and The Paris Theatre.


Directed by Jared Hess


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Relativity Media.
Opens nationwide.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Directed by Tim Burton


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by 20th Century Fox.
Opens nationwide.

Operation Mekong

Directed by Dante Lam


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Well Go USA.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.
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