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Reviews for September 3rd, 2021

Anne at 13,000 Ft.

Directed by Joćo Kazik Radwanski


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Cinema Guild.
Opens at Quad Cinema.

Memory House

Directed by Joćo Paulo Miranda Maria

      Cristovam (Antōnio Pitanga), an Indigenous black man, has worked on a dairy farm in Southern Brazil after mother from Northern Brazil many years ago. After learning that he's about to receive a pay cut, he finds an abandoned, dilapidated house and moves into it. Meanwhile, he still experiences racism from the local townspeople.

      Memory House is an unflinching and poetic story about racism and other human rights issues in Brazil. Writer/director Joćo Paulo Miranda Maria and co-writer Felipe Sholl blend the social realism of Ken Loach's films like I, Daniel Blake and Sorry We Missed You with the lyricism found in Carlos Reygadas' films. They leave very little to the imagination, though, as the racism that Cristovam endures is shown quite explicitly and the same can be said about the violence and sex. There's a graphic sex scene involving him and Jacinda (Aline Marta Maia), a woman around his age who kindly offers him food at her home. Some bizarre, surreal events occur once he moves into the abandoned home, but those events won't be spoiled here. It's somewhat compelling to watch how Cristovam takes matters into his own hands. Those scenes, too, are rarely graphic and unflinching. Nuances isn't one of Memory House's strong points. Neither is suspense despite that the narrative sounds like it could've been suspenseful. Instead, the filmmakers opt for a character study of a man who's been wronged by racism over and over and has had enough while he expresses his rage that has built up inside him for years. He has every right to be indignant and angry, but the way that he channels that anger by using violence doesn't make him someone particularly likeable or even remotely a good role model. The filmmakers don't provide enough of a window into Cristovam's heart, mind and soul to allow audiences to grasp his thought and feeling process as he confronts his emotional pain.

      Antōnio Pitanga gives a decent, naturalistic performance as Cristovam which helps to ground the film in realism. Much like Carlos Reygadas' films, the pace moves very slowly and requires some patience. Some scenes feel a bit repetitive, but perhaps that's part of the point. The poetic cinematography adds plenty of style as well as some substance occasionally. Poetry is often a form of protest, so in many ways this film is a protest against racism. Writer/director Joćo Paulo Miranda Maria and co-writer Feloip Sholl trust the audience's patience and intelligence which is refreshing. However, they don't quite trust the audience's imagination enough, especially during the heavy-handed third act which won't be spoiled here. More emotional depth and subtlety would've helped the film to be far more emotionally engrossing rather than allowing Cristovam to remain at a cold distance from the audience. At a running time of 1 hour and 27 minutes, which feels more like 2 hours, Memory House is poetic and unflinching with shades of Ken Loach and Carlos Reygadas, but emotionally cold without enough left to the audience's imagination.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Film Movement.
Opens at BAM Rose Cinemas.

Mogul Mowgli

Directed by Bassam Tariq

      Zed (Riz Ahmed), a British-Pakistani rapper, prepares to embark on a music tour that's essential for his burgeoning music career. When he ends up in the hospital and diagnosed with a degenerative autoimmune disease, those plans get derailed. He decides to visit his mother, Nasra (Sudha Bhuchar), and father, Bashir (Alyy Khan), while he receives treatment for the disease.

      The screenplay by writer/director Bassam Tariq and star/co-writer Riz Ahmed awkwardly blends drama and tragedy with surrealism that makes for a somewhat uneven experience. It essentially bites off more than it could chew as it deals with the issues of family, cultural identity and physical adversity. Fortunately, Mogul Mowgli avoids turning into a Lifetime Disease-of-the-Week movie, so there's no melodrama or schmaltz to be found. The most moving scenes are the ones where Zed interacts with his father. They feel authentic and genuinely heartfelt, although their bond isn't quite as palpable as the bond between the mother and daughter in Asia, another film about someone diagnosed with a degenerative autoimmune disease and how it affects the relationship with their family. The relationship between Zed and his mother remains underexplored, though, and the film becomes a bit monotonous as it focuses too much on Zed's physical struggles while shying away from exploring his relationship with his family more profoundly. The surreal dream sequences are rather distracting and clunky even though they do help to highlight Zed's mindset at the time, but they overstay their welcome and hit the audience over the head. Zed remains a character who's compelling , complex and, most importantly, human.

      Riz Ahmed gives yet another raw, moving performance in Mogul Mowgli after the powerful Sound of Metal. He, along with Alyy Khan, provide much of the film's heart and soul. There's not enough of a window into Zed's heart, mind and soul in the screenplay, but Riz Ahmed is the kind of actor who can rise above a mediocre screenplay. Whenever the screenplay lacks emotional depth, Ahmed comes to the rescue and breathes life into his role. He's also a talented rapper to boot. The pacing feels uneven at times and could have been slowed down a little more during the scenes with Zed and his family. When it comes to cinematography, there's not much to write home about and the editing feels choppy every now and then. At a running time of only 1 hour and 30 minutes, Mogul Mowgli is slightly uneven and clunky, but it's saved by Riz Ahmed's captivating, moving, bravura performance.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Strand Releasing.
Opens at Film Forum.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

      Shaun (Simu Liu) works as a valet in San Francisco and spends time partying with his best friend, Katy (Awkwafina). Little does she know that he's actually an assassin named Shang-Chi who ran away from home during his teenage years. His father, Wenwu (Tony Leung), an army leader, searches for Shuan's mother whom he mistakenly believes is still alive. Shaun tells Katy about his true identity before he takes her on a mission along with his sister, Jiang Li (Fala Chen) to his childhood village to warn their aunt, Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh), of their Wenwu's plans.

      The screenplay by David Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham effectively sets up the essential backstory of Shang-Chi at the very beginning before introducing the older version of Shang-Chi and his friend, Katy. Although the plot does feel a little convoluted at times, for the most part, the blend of action and comedy is a lot of fun. There are plenty of thrilling action scenes including chase sequences involving a bus and an exhilarating and well-choreographed fight that takes place on a tall building's scaffolding. To be fair, though, with such an exciting first 30 minutes, it's hard to maintain that energy and dramatic momentum. Fortunately, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings remains entertaining even though it doesn't quite live up to those initual 30 minutes. That's the problem with hooking the audience right away and treating hard to please them instead of gradually hooking them. During the film's few dramatic moments, it doesn't become cheesy; at least it knows that it's a shallow, well-produced martial arts B-movie. The details of the plot don't really matter; all that matters is that you're in for a diverting, rousing and fun ride. On those terms alone, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings delivers the goods, as long as you check your brain at the door beforehand. Most importantly, though, it doesn't become dull like in Snake Eyes and Black Widow do.

      When it comes to the visual effects and set pieces, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings shines while providing plenty of palpable thrills. The camerawork during the action sequences don't resort to shaky cam or choppy editing like Shake Eyes did, so they're easy to follow without being nauseating. The fight sequence on the scaffolding looks great on the big screen especially and would probably lose a bit of its exhilarating factor if you were to see it on the small screen. It's also worth mentioning that Awkwafina and Simu Liu work great together and clearly have a lot of fun on screen. They're both very well-cast and exude just the right of charisma to elevate the film above mediocrity. Like in Crazy Rich Asians, Awkwafina shows that she has terrific comedic timing which is used to the film's advantage. Although there's a lot of CGI, it doesn't feel too exhausting or tedious. At a running time of 2 hours and 13 minutes, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a thrilling, fun and exhilarating slice of mindless entertainment.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

Tango Shalom

Directed by Gabriel Bologna


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Vision Films.
Opens at Village East Cinema and AMC Empire.

Zone 414

Directed by Andrew Baird


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Saban Films,
Opens at Cinema Village and on VOD.