GOOD TIME

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USA
Director: The Safdie Brothers
Runtime: 100 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies’ grading:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

It’s no spoiler that in a heist movie nothing will go as planned, and nothing — not one single thing — happens according to plan in the Safdie brothers’ vibrant, pulsing second feature film Good Time which follows their equally electric debut film from 2014 Heaven Knows What. Nick Nikas (Ben Safdie) opens the film in therapy. Mentally disabled, he’s in an institution trying to improve his own quality of life that from the looks of it, seems rather dim. In the middle of a session barges in Connie (Robert Pattinson, in a career-defining role reminiscent of Pacino of a younger DeNiro) who has other plans for Nick. Once out of the facility, he recruits Nick into assisting him in a bank heist in which they walk out with about 65,000 dollars cash. Unbeknownst to them,  a dye pack has made it in with the money and once inside the getaway car, the pack explodes into a vivid red cloud, temporarily blinding both men, causing Connie to crash and then go on the run with the money and Nick. Unfortunately, Nick gets caught and arrested by the cops and winds up in a Rikers Island holding cell. Connie winds up looking up an old girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and asking her for money to get Nick out on bail, but Corey’s mother, sensing a problem, places a stop on  the cards and that scene grinds to a screeching halt.

So, without any other options, Connie makes the bold move to bust Nick out of jail and hope for the best. Needless to say, this is easier said than done, and I really don’t want to say any more about the movie because it offers so many unpredictable twists and turns to its labyrinthine plot that I’d be destroying the experience for you. Clearly, the Safdies know their way with mood and setting and manage to imbue Good Time with a screaming nocturnal palette that constantly seems to reflect a hyper sense of alertness without a safety net. A detour into a more quiet moment offers a very New York sense of humor along with a teenage actress (Tallah Webster) that is more than a match for Pattinson in every scene she’s in, which are many. Once it returns to its grittiness, Good Time revels in its own nightmare and only builds upon it until it seems that the tension must give way with a snap. This, in short, is a muscular, mean story that burns in neon colors while offering a sense of desperation, brotherly love, and a twisted version of an American Dream, even when we as an audience know that there is  no light at the end of this tunnel but a sigh that says No Exit.

BRIGSBY BEAR

BRIGSBY BEAR

USA
Director: Dave McCary
Runtime: 98 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies’ rading:

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

It’s not often that a movie tackles the topic at the center of Brigsby Bear and manages to make it sunny and engaging in a quirky way. Dave McCary manages to pull this off rather handsomely, and while some elements might not completely gel together — a cop with a penchant for theater seems contrived — it treats the very delicate bruise at the center with due respect.

The opening sequence is going to be off-putting, focusing in on a television show that has all the look and feel of something made on public access TV for a small town. James watches his favorite show Brigsby Bear like any kid would: compulsively, analyzing every aspect, plot development, character, down to chat forums. Already there is something wildly off about his home life, and when that comes crashing down, James now has to contend with an entirely new reality that never knew.

But what about the bear that he grew up with? James can’t let go, and would you blame him when this is all he knows? I can remember from my own memories being all into Sesame Street and The Electric Company, so imagine growing up by yourself — no friends, no kids, no school, strict rules — and all you have to look for is this show in the style of PBS shows with a continuing story-line. Imagine that all that you knew about that was suddenly a lie.

Here is where Brigsby Bear veers into somewhat murky territory. How do you come to terms with something that essentially damages your entire childhood without moving into potential, explosive drama? When therapy stops working, re-enaction somehow becomes a catalyst and the movie is great in portraying James weird walk towards rehabilitation, Kyle Mooney brings the right amount of strange and misplaced into a character that didn’t deserve to go through a twisted life experience, and his performance manages to bring the right amount of pathos and empathy, and its laughs aren’t at the character, but with.

Brigsby Bear is still playing in cinemas around the country and at the Landmark Sunshine in NYC.

MARJORIE PRIME

MARJORIE PRIME

USA
Director: Michael Almereyda
Runtime: 98 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies’ rading:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Coming into Marjorie Prime naked and knowing only the barest of details of its plot (unavoidable, due to its trailer which for once, services a movie well) is the best way to experience this slightly surreal, yet poignant tale of love, memory, and loss in the guise of science-fiction. Marjorie (Lois Smith, in a rare leading role where unfurls herself) is in her 80s, living it seems in an elegant assisted living space somewhere out in the Pacific Coast. Her introduction couldn’t be quotidian, a woman going through the motions, talking to what we first hear is a man, and then see, is Jon Hamm, who plays Walter. His voice doesn’t quite match the mouth and seems projected, and the conversation goes from cagey, polite, to more revealing, more connected. Marjorie knows she’s talking to a Prime, a holographic depiction of a loved one to assist in coping with the loss, but she goes along with it. Walter keeps her company. He passes the time. And Walter has all the time in the world.

Her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) is less thrilled. She wonders if having her mother spend time with Walter Prime wouldn’t be something of a cheat — after all, he’s just a projection albeit a very real one. Jon (Tim Robbins), her husband, believes it will suit her and delay the onset of senile dementia, which Marjorie is at the fringes of suffering. The real question, and it’s one that Tess and later, the entire movie, asks is, what is memory? How can a memory of a memory — basically a photocopy — preserve its core essence without the corruption of outside forces? When Marjorie asks about a dog she owned, Walter reminds her there were two: one replaced the other, and thus, became one dog. And there’s the question of a son, Damian, curiously out of the picture. Was Tess just an only child?

https://youtu.be/-f8mPQWmIPY

The presence of this unseen character is the secret of Marjorie Prime. Or, shall we say, truths, said in full and in part. After all, what is a family without a couple of secrets? And even then, Marjorie’s conversations with Walter, and Tess’ conversations with Jon and Marjorie, are a treasure trove of information recorded in memory, released in snippets and timed moments. We get hints of the passage of time through music, and with the passing of time, more Primes appear and reveal themselves only through hints in conversation. The closest reference I had was that of the works of Marguerite Duras — short little stories, where dialog carries the plot and what is said belies what is not said.

Now, I wanted to point out that an interesting thing happens the deeper one delves into this marvelous picture: the more abstract and sparse the story, the richer its characters and its inner life becomes. Michael Almereyda expertly translates the human experience as a chamber play of lived lives with a poignancy that is deliberate but overwhelming. Of all the actors, Jon Hamm is quite the revelation, a man who slowly reveals kindness and warmth even when he has a function, a part to play. Tim Robbins is his usual correct — somewhat withdrawn, elegantly carrying his family’s burden. Geena Davis, however, delivers the biggest surprise in stripping away every last mannerism of her quirky style and delivering a profound performance of a woman, and that woman’s memory, in one seamless montage.

Marjorie Prime is currently playing exclusively at the Quad Cinema and in select theaters around the country. I suggest you go see it you can.

WIND RIVER

WIND RIVER

USA
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Runtime: 110 minutes
Language: English

Midway through Wind River, a character roughly says, “This murder is practically solving itself,” and that, my dear friends, is a problem. Taylor Sheridan once again dives into the underbelly of society, but where his incursions redefined the Western in Hell or High Water and danced with horror in Sicario, both films which yielded memorable performances from its shady as heck characters (and a sympathetic one from Emily Blunt, a female FBI agent tossed in the middle of an increasing set of odds in Sicario), Wind River, while correct and serviceable as a crime thriller, never truly manages to find that dark tone that would have made it the standout sleeper of the late summer. It’s a shame because with an action taking place in the desolate mountains of Wyoming in the Indian Reservation of Wind River, there was plenty of material to convey an atmospheric sense of a larger corruption at hand, something truly unsettling.

The best scene is, as a matter of fact, its most disturbing. The film opens to a young woman dashing barefoot through the snow, escaping an unknown danger before she collapses to the elements and passes out of the story, in body. Enter Jeremy Renner, a game tracker separated from his Indian wife, who finds the dead woman’s body and has to team up with the nearest FBI agent sent all the way from Vegas to survey the crime scene, and with her report, justify the need to send out more agents or close the case. When she appears it’s under the form of Elizabeth Olsen, and at first, as it always is in these movies, her presence is, for the locals, meant to be merely perfunctory, a blip in a series of nothings in a place where nothing really happens. However, a correct assessment of the way rhe woman — Natalie — died doesn’t match up despite the coroner’s report. However, the coroner can’t justify homicide. Olsen can’t call for more agents, so it’s up to her and Renner to take matters into their own hands.

I’m going to say that perhaps this is what happens when someone who’s barely directed takes a film as ambitious as this into his own hands in the hopes of delivering a strong product and coming up just a shade short. Wind River is what you’d call a serviceable, above average procedural that takes you from start to end without delving too much in the horror of it all — even the necessary flashback scene that sets the plot in motion feels flat and done without style or any sense of suspense or even terror — but somehow it just didn’t quite go that extra mile to stay in my memory and thus, remains as just another good movie with solid performances by Renner, Olsen, Gil Birmingham, and Jon Bernthal in a small but pivotal role.

SUMMER CINEMA: JUNE

Because, sometimes you see a flood of movies, both new theatrical and DVD releases as well as classics. Unfortunately, time constraints and life don’t always comply with allowing you to be on time with all of them and you wind up falling behind. Part one of two.

WONDER WOMAN
USA / China / Hong Kong / UK / Italy / Canada / New Zealand
Director: Patty Jenkins
Runtime: 141 minutes
Language: English, German, Dutch

I generally stay away from almost 99% of superhero movies that come out at the rate of one per week. I just don’t feel that I’m the target audience they wish to cater to and for me, unless it’s something directed by Christopher Nolan or Tim Burton (who to me, directed two of the most memorable Batman movies) then I’m just not interested in watching hyper-kinetic action from the word go, cartoon villains, two dimensional acting, and the requisite confrontation scenes in large cities that offer only a mock-up of urban destruction, the kind Roland Emmerich would positively fall in love with.

So, with that in mind, it took me close to two weeks and voice of  mouth before I found myself sitting at the back of theater 10 in an AMC allowing me to, naked of bias, experience Wonder Woman. Reader, I was totally taken in by her origin story in an invisible island off the coast of Greece, living in perfect paradise, away from the world of men and its complications. The intro section is one of of the best in the film even when it compresses time and shows Diana growing up before our eyes, unaware of the role she will have to play against the god of war, Ares, who has turned his powers to place the world in complete turmoil. Chance has it where Diana, now grown up, meets a downed pilot who turns out to be Steve Trevor who somehow has penetrated the bubble of invisibility that hides Diana’s island home.

While many of the women, Diana’s mother (Connie Nielsen) included, feel uneasy with a man in the midst, Diana learns through Trevor there’s a war raging outside her kingdom and sensing Ares must be behind it, they both set out to London; he to stop the Germans, she, to find Ares. Does this seem unbelievable? Of course — every story involving superheroes are, but at least this one has some roots in reality with the Germans attempting to use and release lethal gas as a war weapon. Also, Gal Gadot as the titular Wonder Woman is a hell of a performer and will erase most memories anyone has of Lynda Carter. Her Diana is completely ahead of her time, a feminist, and a conscientious warrior focused on the higher good. Chris Pine has the less meatier of the starring roles — all the action goes to Gadot — but his is still, much more solid than the TV version played by Lyle Waggoner, and provides enough comic elements when the story threatens to become too serious for its own good.

To me, the real surprise and sole reason to go see this film is Patty Jenkins, a director I only knew from her 2004 movie Monster, a film that garnered Charlize Theron an Oscar for Best Actress. Monster was essentially a chilling portrait of Aileen Wuornos, and after that, Jenkins did very little. It seems she has had time to prepare for a movie like this that is action-driven and female-centric. She does not disappoint, establishing Diana’s world from the onset, introducing strong women like her aunt and teacher Antiope (Robin Wright), and then fast-forwarding her isolation to catch-up to 1918, and from there moving towards action sequences filled with Gadot’s balletic movements until the emotionally satisfying finale. It is a tour de force part for Jenkins who announces herself as a director to pay attention to.  [A+]

THE WORLD OF KANAKO
Japan
Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
Runtime: 118 minutes
Language: Japanese

Viewing The World of Kanako is akin to looking into the abyss for a second too long. There is so much carnage, so much nihilism involved and not a branch, nothing to hold on to, that once the film was done there was a sense of something truly ugly hovering, as if somehow, the story I’d seen was penned by a lucid madman who wanted to plaster on paper all the ugliness in society into one vertiginous tale of deceit and murder. Anchored by Koji Yokushio as former detective Akikazu Fujushima, a broken man separated from his wife who finds himself investigating his daughter Kanako’s disappearance. It seems as though she’s been swallowed up by the underbelly of society and, hell-bent to save her, Fujushima dives head first into it, running into all sorts of undesirables. If there is a sense that Kanako may make an appearance in the style of Orson Welles in The Third Man, it’s due to how much of an impression she’s left on people. It is as though she herself was a ghost living in the narrative of the movie, invisible but omniscient, and instead of bringing a sense of solace that her eventual discovery may allay the anguish of her absence, it does the contrary.

What denies Kanako the points it would need to become great in the eyes of movie lovers is that it’s frankly, so frenetic, so ferocious in its editing — a scene not lasting more than a second, placed against others that fly by so quickly it’s not far-fetched to say one could get a headache — that the notion of suspense is gone and all that remains is shock and buckets of gore. On top of this, the women in the film — and there are several — are never seen as sympathetic. Ranging from simply alienating to downright monstrous, Kanako is a film that serves as a cry of misogyny that only stops once the film itself is over. [Although, to be honest, I may be over-analyzing; extreme cinema doesn’t abide by the rules of having nice characters. On the contrary, the more transgressive the better to express how black the human heart can be, and how far its tentacles can go. This is one ugly, ugly film that mysteriously manages to come off as strangely compelling.  [B]

A DOG’S PURPOSE
USA
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Runtime: 100 minutes
Language: English

When did Lasse Hallstrom lose his shit? Can someone please inform me? While I recall that Hallstrom rose from being a fluke Oscar winner for My Life as a Dog to direct Oscar winning performances in thoughtful movies starting with Once Around and ending in the Oscar-pleaser Chocolat, I also recall that somewhere in the mid-aughties he began directing films that either went nowhere (An Unflinished Life, anyone?) or became parodies of feel-good romance and general goodness. Perhaps it’s me, but it seems like by the time he came up with Hachi, he’d somehow just checked out and chosen to go to the path of making a quick return on a movie that was based on a real dog who waited for his owner, even when the owner himself was dead. Hallmark had suddenly hijacked the building.

But the whole descent into sap didn’t end there: earlier this year we had a movie pounce upon us with paws made of concentrated sugar, licking us with a tongue made of syrup and eyes made to stare lovingly at us while we wondered first what had just happened, but taken in by the charm, decided to stop thinking and just submit/ It was all very Orwellian. A Dog’s Purpose took the sentiment of Hatchi and dialed the lachrymose aspects of its story to eleven and then some. Predictably, Hallstrom’s film was based on a written book — yes, someone came up with the idea to write a story of a dog who has to reincarnate over and over in order to Come Back Home. [And I wonder why I’m still working a nine-to-five in corporate America. . . . ] That the dog, a lovable thing voiced by Josh Gad, who starts out cute and devolves into plain creepy (you’ll see if you rent it) is bad  enough, but the plot developments are just plain implausible to a degree that I can’t. If Lasse Hallstrom wanted to do yer another film about a dog he could have remade the Hungarian film White God and eliminated some of the incursions into animal abuse, steroids, and violence and still come out a winner. As it stands, A Dog’s Purpose is a parody of shameless emotional manipulation that wants you to believe it’s got some cosmic understanding when in fact, all it understands, is dollar signs. [C-]

THE JOURNEY
Ireland
Director: Nick Hamm
Runtime: 94 minutes
Language: English

For all its good intentions, the events depicted in Nick Hamm’s The Journey didn’t exactly happen the way they are shown. While the two leaders of opposing forces — Martin McGuiness, allegedly the former leader of the extremist IRAs who now heads Sinn Fein, and Reverend Ian Paisley, an ultra-conservative anti-Catholic minister who heads the Unionists — did meet in 2006 to put an end to the Troubles, a conflict that has plagued Ireland for over hundreds of years, Hamm’s reimagining of it sounds and looks a bit contrived but winds up working. When both men find themselves sitting side by side in a limo driven by a covert MI6 operative (played by Freddie Highmore, who brings a little more than just a thankless, passive presence to his role as a driver), the feelings of tension could cut the air like a knife. However, a conversation and a truce must be reached, and it’s the driver’s job to ensure that this event transpires between the two political enemies.

The greatest asset that Hamm’s picture has going for itself is the dialog. For a movie to have lines such as “You can almost taste the hatred” delivered almost in a scenario of “same-shit-different-day” is an early sharply drawn observation of how violence had become so entrenched in Ireland as to have been matter-of-fact. Both McGuiness and Paisley use words like daggers but also with a sense of humor; these are seasoned pros who know, it seems, what buttons to push against the other, and at times (and for those of us who know the results of this meeting), it appears that as much as they might want to believe they are on opposite sides of the fence, the movie portrays them as actually much closer than that, barely divided by a thin wall of pride. If anything, reveals that despite what we may think of how different opposing forces are, once the veil of ego is removed, we can all see the other for whom they are and work together. [I know, it sounds a bit trite, but it’s true.] The presence of Spall and Meaney alone is worth the 90 minutes of your time; plus, you can spot John Hurt in one of his final roles, and Toby Stephens as Tony Blair.  [A]

POP AYE
Thaliand / Singapore
Director: Kirsten Tan
Runtime: 102 minutes
Language: Thai

Kirsten Tan’s debut film, still playing in cinemas at the time of this writing, will be only affected by one thing: its timed release with another film about the relation between a human and an animal, and that film is the more commercial-friendly, sentimental Okja . The difference between the two starts almost at the start: while Okja is a superficial examination on mass consumerism and exploitation of available resources, Pop Aye is a little more complex. An architect past his prime (if I can say that) finds himself questioning his marriage, his life, his eventual replacement by younger, hipper architects. Out of nowhere — and it does seem fantastical — a pet from our architect’s childhood appears. But it’s not just any pet that has made its reappearance. It’s a full-grown elephant.

For reasons unexplained Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroth) has a moment of epiphany and makes it a point to take custody of the elephant. It’s a completely off-the-wall moment, but made to look as if it were the most normal, natural decision, especially when it involves a man going through a mid-life crisis. He takes it home, much to the horror of his wife with whom he’s alienated with (and nothing could spell alienation more than the scene when Thana discovers a dildo in her belongings, brings it out, and places it nonchalantly on a coffee table waiting for her reaction).

When the presence of Pop Aye clearly has an unnerving effect on his house hold, Thana sets out to deliver Pop Aye to an animal sanctuary where it won’t be forced to perform in circuses for the amusement of others. On his way across Thailand he experiences the kindness of strangers (a thing that seems to be requisite of these road movies). Among these strangers are a bum who seems to be at the end of his life, a transgender nightclub singer, and a hooker. Pop Aye presents each encounter with a sense of greater connectivity, that even the most loneliest person can find his own place in the world. If anything is absent it’s in the fact that Thana as a character is so alienated to everything that he seems to be on his own island and thus it’s a bit hard to relate to him, and that the elephant in question seems more a background prop than an actual presence — that is, right up until the final sequence, which is rather moving.

Pop Aye had its premiere at the Film Forum on June 28 and is still currently playing around the country. Look for it soon on DVD.  [B]

FROM THE COMFORT OF YOUR HOME: ON VOD

FUN MOM DINNER
USA
Director: Alethea Harris
Runtime: 81 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies rating: B-

It seems that ever since the critically maligned Sex and the City series and its two movies and the Oscar-nominated Bridesmaids, movies about women cutting loose and having a fun night out are becoming the rage. Fun Mon Dinner, the first for me to review (I have not seen Rough Night and Girls’ Trip, both playing in theaters and I have yet to see last year’s Bad Moms) is as light as a breeze and tells you everything you need to know in its poster, title, and tagline. That can’t be bad, right? I mean, it’s a summer film, it’s super-light,and it demands next to zero of you. Clocking in at just under 80 minutes it packs a lot of comedy and some easy character development into a tight narrative and manages to garner some genuine laughs without going batshit insane. Acting-wise, it gets a lot of mileage from the entire female cast (Toni Collette and Bridget Everett being the standouts here; Molly Shannon and Katie Aselton are right on point). The men, not so much, but all of them — Adam Scott, Bob Heubel, and Adam Levine — fill out masculine space quite nicely without having to do more than just be there. So if it’s playing in your town go see it, or if you don’t mind, rent it through Amazon and iTunes (and others I may have forgotten). Sometimes you just have to tune out.

 

BRAVE NEW JERSEY
USA
Director: Jody Lambert
Runtime: 85 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies rating: B-

It’s becoming a fact that humans love to be duped to later on chuckle at our own blunder and mutter something like, “Me? Fall for this sham? Nonsense!” Meanwhile, all the time we ourselves were running for cover and already mapping out an entire doomsday scenario set to a Carl Orff horror-tune, wondering if you would have to turn against your fellow neighbor to secure your own survival.

Jody Lambert’s movie is nothing new and if in fact based on the famous/infamous Orson Welles radio broadcast from October 30, 1938 in which he — the narrator of the radio version of War of the Worlds — in the form of a news reel, announced that our planet was under attack by Martians. Of course, eighty years later we all know what became of it, but it seems that there were, in fact, people who did believe this was the real thing and were literally losing their shit over the sudden coming of doom.

This is pretty much what happens in Brave New Jersey, a little comedy that centers on a group of people from the fictitious town of Lullaby (clever title; brings forth images of people losing a lot of sleep and keeping a gun handy. In case Martians showed up) who carry on as a small, quaint town would, interacting with one another, snippets of minor drama peppering the film’s early stages. It’s when Lullaby’s residents settle in for the evening and tune into the famous broadcast that all hell breaks loose and this is, to me, the funniest part of the movie. Equate it with stepping over an ant-hill and seeing ants scamper about in a panic and you have the scope of the insanity that just took place.

It’s when time passes, and no sign of aliens of any kind that the story somewhat loses steam and decides to center in on the people themselves as they’re forces to interact with one another. Perhaps this is the intent of Lambert’s film — to hit at the heart of the innocence of a populace and wake them up to their surroundings; other than that, this is an okay, funny film that pokes fun at the folksy and provincial and that’s fine for this time of year and the scale of this little film. Brave New Jersey gets a solid anchor from Tony Hale (very restrained here; virtually the straight man in a sea of overacting actors), Anna Camp, Heather Burns, Erika Alexander, and Dan Bakkedahl.

68 KILL
USA
Director: Trent Haaga
Runtime: 95 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies rating: B-

Last, but not least is Trent Haaga’s noir-comedy thriller 68 Kill, a pulpy, grungy mess that features women in strong roles and a central male lead who’s basically little more than a cypher and a passive spectator. If you don’t have a problem with narration that basically reeks of Tarantino movies (although without the extraordinary dialog that has become his signature style) then this is the one for you. Essentially, 68 Kill is the story of Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Liza (Anna Lynne McCord) who stage a heist where they manage to bag 68,000 in cash belonging to Liza’s landlord. Just when they thought things were going okay, a third woman, the landlord’s girl, Violet (Alisha Boe) gets abducted. which starts to place a strain on Chip and Liza’s relationship. What neither can imagine is that escaping with the money will be a lot harder than they think.

68 Kill is all high-octane energy and fires on all cylinders, especially when McCord is on screen — the movie works basically due to her presence, a balanced mix of beauty, brains, and fast reflexes. This is not a woman you want to mess with. Ever. Her stripper character has been described as psychopathic but I think she’s just someone who’s emotionally checked out and has decided to take matters into her own hands. Gubler is a perfect foil for McCord — he’s essentially the submissive to her dominatrix — and while you basically want stuff to go his way, you also hope that he’ll man up to McCord who’s reduced him to a puppet. [A plot detour leaves Chip in charge for way too long and 68 Kill suffers the more for it. Think of it as the first long portion of Hateful Eight when Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character does next to nothing but sit in silence as the men do everything around her. You wait and wait for the moment when she can break out of her ties and make a mess.]

68 Kill is playing on a very limited showing at the IFC, but is also available on most VOD platforms.

NEW YORK STORIES

MENASHE
USA
Director: Joshua Z. Weinstein
Runtime: 82 minutes
Language: Yiddish, English, Spanish

Mostlyindies rating:

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

I love when I discover hidden treasures amidst the barrage of big-budget movies and higher profile indies all flying at me like a wall of tennis balls spat out from an insane ball-spitting machine, and Menashe, a film that made its debut in both Sundance and New Directors – New Films, is one of them. A big plus of the reason I liked Menashe was its location — the less glamorous section of Borough Park, Brooklyn, New York, where a large Hasidic community resides in insular, closed off tradition. [Plus, it just makes an New York City-based movie more realistic than films that focus only on those who live in Manhattan and have White People Problems and while I don’t mind those films, I do like to see other communities represented.]

In this Brooklyn community, Menashe (Menashe Lustig) emerges as our lovable Sad Sack, the bear-sized gentle but awkward giant. A widower who resides in a small apartment by himself, he attempts to make ends meet as a grocery deliverer,  and wishes to get his act together so he might be able to gain full custody of his son Rieven. Unfortunately, tradition demands he find a wife, and on top of that, every time he encounters his tight-ass brother-in-law who evidently is better off financially (and makes no bones of his dislike of Menashe), he ends up humiliated and disillusioned. However, fate would have it, Menashe in a somewhat borderline creepy way manages to lure Rieven to stay with him, and for a block of time Menashe the film turns into an exercise in things going wrong for both him and Rieven.

At a little more than 80 minutes Menashe finds that right tone between kitchen-sink dramedy and subtle documentary devoid of a voice-over and pulls together a sympathetic character out of a man who can’t seem to get ahead and despite sincere intentions, remains floating in uncertain territory. This is a thing that makes Menashe a fully fleshed out person; flawed, but hopeful and someone to root for. Director Joshua Weinstein clearly respects the Orthodox community enough to present them as positively as possible (usually Hollywood has botched it up in the past by showing them in a more unflattering light, or as caricatures). And i love the moment when Menashe has an exchange with two Latino coworkers who invite him to drink and therefore live a little. It’s a wonderful little scene that briefly brings together two vastly different cultures together in a singular moment. That to me made the movie and shed a wonderful light onto the poor schlemiel that is Menashe. This is what to me, true storytelling is about.

Menashe is playing at the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in NYC. Go see it.

LANDLINE
USA
Director: Gillian Robespierre
Duration: 97 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies rating:

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

If there ever was a successor to the type of cute and bubbly comedy that made Goldie Hawn at star it would have to be Jenny Slate. I’m sure there’s a slightly deeper actress just waiting for the right part and the right movie but so far, every one of her appearances since she broke out in Gillian Robespierre’s debut film Obvious Child have been variations of quirk and that’s fine with me. Landline is not meant to be a deep analysis of interconnected relationships and family dysfunction but a humorous glimpse at Manhattanitee Having Problems… with a 90s retro vibe. In it Slate plays Dana, a young professional who’s dating a wonderful and sensitive guy named Ben (Jay Duplass). She reconnects with former schoolmate Nate (Finn Wittrock) and is soon seeing him on the side. Dana’s younger sister Ali (Abby Quinn, a standout in her role) is also involved in a no-strings-attached relationship with Jed (Marquis Rodriguez). One night Ali discovers that their father Alan (John Turturro) is having an affair with an unknown woman to whom he writes some powerful, deep poems he saves on the family computer. Largely at the fringes of the story is mom, played by Edie Falco, who’s consumed by her career (and models her professional wardrobe on a certain Nasty Woman) and routinely puts Alan down without realizing it. Robespierre deftly keeps the situation from devolving into the predictable (even when we keep expecting it). Once that moment arrives, however, she seems to hold back a little as if afraid of making Landline a bit too messy. That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable–much of it is genuinely funny and complicated at the same time–but it’s as if Robespierre and her actors played possum when they should have played out their confrontations.

PERSON TO PERSON
USA
Director: Dustin Guy Defa
Runtime: 84 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies rating:

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

I really wanted to like this expanded version of Defa’s 2014 short which I saw at the MoMA’s New Directors/New Films because the original showed an uncomfortable encounter between a music guy (Bene Coopersmith) and a girl (Deragh Campbell). That scene is nowhere to be found in this expanded version. Instead, were treated to four vignettes varying from super-verbose (and in which Tavi Gevinsom stands out as an androgynous, neurotic teen who finds herself in an awkward situation) to outstandingly boring (the other three). The appearance of Coopersmith in a different storyline involving a rare jazz record shows that the man is not an actor and needed to be played by one. If anything can be said is that the movie does have a sort of cool late 70s vibe, but that alone doesn’t make an interesting feature length film.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY: HORROR MOVIES

Maybe it’s me, but this has been a weak year for horror. If it weren’t for the releases of The Blackcoat’s Daughter, Get Out!, Raw, and even M Night Shyamalan’s Split I would be hard pressed to find anything that I could recommend as a horror movie to pay attention to. I guess that is something that will always happen — one year you have an overload of films like in the 2014-2016 period; then you move into a less active period where films of a certain type come, but few and far between.

THE DEVIL’S CANDY
USA
Director: Sean Byrne
Runtime: 79 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies rating:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Sean Byrne is a director to pay attention to. His second feature film, The Devil’s Candy, doesn’t even remotely try to break new grounds but what it lacks in originality — I mean, how many times have we seen the concept of a nuclear family being slowly eroded away by the ghosts in the walls of a haunted house? — it is pregnant in atmosphere and a burgeoning sense of dread. The Hellmans (interesting choice for a family surname) have moved into their new Texas home to start anew. Dad (Ethan Embry, currently in Grace and Frankie and a dead ringer for a younger Matthew McConaghey) is an artist who, despite his penchant for using death metal as an inspiration, are brightly lit things –visual Mendelssohn if you want to see it that way. Soon, however, he senses that time is slipping away from him and has no memory of why his current painting is as dark and black as night and he seems to be hearing whispers coming at him from the walls . . . although to anyone who’s seen a horror movie involving the Satanic, it should come as no surprise once the inverted cross appears. It’s almost like the showing of the Chekhovian gun: something has to go off.

Luckily, it’s not Dad. No, Dad keeps his sanity even when visions of evil start polluting his mind, and that’s good because for a moment it seemed to be like he would soon be ranting like a loon, hunched over, and attempting to chop his family to bits. When fear comes, it arrives under the form of a strange man (Pruitt Taylor Vince, who by default has demented psycho writ large over his face and quivering eyes). His character, Ray Smilie (again, those names!) used to live there. He wants his house back. Plain and simple. And he’s not going to stop until he’s back inside .  . . and the Hellman’s are out.

One of the things The Devil’s Candy (horribly titled, but what the heck) has going for it is, like I said, its sense of dread and its atmosphere. Not a jump-scare scene in sight (and the opportunities for this to happen are all over the place) but a mounting sense that the presence of this deranged man (who keeps getting closer and closer to them) is driving a wedge of terror between the Hellman’s. And then there’s that painting that continues to morph under Hellman’s brush. Before you know it there is something monstrous, leering out at him from its own place, almost defying him to leave.  Byrne mounts the tension until his thread snaps and sends all the pieces flying in all different directions. He doesn’t overdo it — this is not that kind of horror film — but delivers just about the right dose of horror, and that to me is a good thing.

The Devil’s Candy was just released on Netflix this past week.

 

DIG TWO GRAVES
USA
Director: Hunter Adams
Runtime: 84 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies rating:

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

It’s never good to bring the dead back to life no matter how attached you were to them in life, but ever since The Monkey’s Paw and on-wards people in horror stories continue to test the waters against their better judgement. This is the premise of Dig Two Graves, a smart little horror movie that looks glossy and expensive when in fact it’s a low-budget indie. Jake, a young girl living with her grandfather, Sheriff Waterhouse, loses her older brother Sean when they head out to a quarry to jump into the lake below and just at the last minute Jake falters, leaving Sean to jump, and then drown. The incident affects her so deeply that all she can think of is rectifying the mistake. Here is when three strangers in period-wear approach Jake as she walks home from school one day and inform her that they can bring her brother back . . . but at a price. It’s a steep one, and one that she can’t bring herself to do. As time ticks by the three men decide to confront Jake’s mother and amp up the pressure, This sets in motion a chain of events that tie up another series of events that transpired thirty years ago and has come to haunt Waterhouse and his granddaughter.

I’ve been saying over and over again that horror doesn’t need a big budget to work–it just requires a solid story and good actors who can deliver. This, Dig Two Graves has in spades. With Ted Levine as Waterhouse, for once not playing a bad guy but a man conflicted over events that happened perhaps due to sheer prejudice against foreigners and were already out of his control. I also loved the look and feel of the movie — at times it somewhat felt like a Stephen King work when he still wrote shorter, muscular, atmospheric works. The movie doesn’t waste a frame and sets you in on a troubled household and a traumatized girl who is now being accosted by strange men. The flashbacks don’t over-narrate the movie; if anything, they fulfill that elusive task of informing people about their relations to others in times of stress and is own. So, all I have left to say is that for its genre, Dig Two Graves should be proud of himself and so should the director and cast members that everything turned out the way it did — it’s that good, it’s high quality, and while maybe just a bit strident around the edges, it manages to deliver every shiver, every uneasy moment with aplomb.

Dig Two Graves is on Netflix and other online platforms.

 

WE ARE THE FLESH  (TENEMOS LA CARNE)
Mexico
Director: Emiliano Rocha Minter
Runtime: 80 minutes
Language: Spanish

Mostlyindies rating:

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Horror will always, it seems, be the starting point for any and every director wanting to make their mark on the world, and why shouldn’t it be? When you can shock audiences so completely that they start to wonder if you’re some aberration from another time, then it’s safe to say you’ve made it. Look no further than David Lynch and David Cronenberg; whose works have always been linked to the macabre and gory. When I saw Eraserhead and even a couple of Lynch’s shorts made around the same time period I felt as though my head had been put through the ringer. I didn’t know what to make of it. The movie made no sense to me — and perhaps that is what Lynch set out to do, make an incomprehensible mood piece equal parts science fiction and horror. Emiliano Rocha Minter is young and he’s made a shocking movie that bears a visual resemblance to George Bataille erotic piece “Story of the Eye” and also carries within the dark, erotic spirit of Sade. Clearly the man has his own influences — I could read a lot of Kubrick circa Clockwork Orange, and some of the sex scenes look a lot like the type Gaspar Noe filmed for his movie Love (minus the yuckiness). Now, the story . . . you have to see it to believe it, and once you’ve seen this, you can’t un-see. There is no reference to time, place, and as a matter of fact it wouldn’t be far fetched to place this picture in Hell. We don’t know who these characters are — but perhaps that is the point: they could be anyone with even a passing interest in evil who, once the floodgates were open, could morph into a crazed monster capable of depravity. The presence and performances of Noe Hernandez (who talks non stop, screams, bangs on a drum, masturbates, dies, has sex while dead, and comes back to life, all onscreen) and Maria Evoli, who once her character gets acquainted with another man’s body soon develops into a dark, writhing mess closer to living mud than human (and those screams of ecstasy . . . unsettling), is a sight to behold and literally makes this movie work, as hard it is for me to admit that “this picture works” but . . . it’ s a horror movie, and horror should make you not just scared but absolutely petrified and repulsed. You will either tolerate this film until the very last scene (which by then you will scratch your head and wonder what the heck happened) or be unable to take it halfway through and click stop. Sometimes you need a movie like this to shake people up and take notice. Well . . . Mr. Rocha Minter just announced himself.

We Are the Flesh is a Shudder exclusive.

 

BOTTOM OF THE WORLD
USA
Director: Richard Sears
Runtime: 85 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies rating:

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The only place to find this film is online through Netflix and other platforms; it only played for one week at Village East last winter and was shipped to VOD platforms almost immediately. It’s too bad because this slight little incursion into nowhere is quite a piece. It features two people, a boy and a girl named Alex and Scarlett  (Douglas Smith and Jena Malone) running from their past and into a future in LA. That’s all find and dandy until they have to make a pit stop at a motel on Route 66 in the middle of nowhere. Once there, Scarlett confesses about something pretty horrible that she did when she was younger and reader, it is pretty disgusting, Of course she dismisses it as some form of light commentary, but once they get back on the road she begins to have some severe pains. They have to go back, and Alex then realizes the following day Malone is missing . . . and the television, which had been on since the previous evening and had upset her, is on some religious channel. The preacher (Ted Levine again) isn’t just preaching: he’s eyeing him. The appearance of a hooded stranger (with a horribly dubbed voice to make him sound sinister) looks like the movie will take a reroute into The Vanishing territory, but there are other twists and turns . . .

Again, David Lynch, via Lost Highway, is the prime influence for this little movie that has elements of horror but of the surreal kind. Nothing is what it seems in this movie, and then the plot makes a hard left turn and becomes another feature. It’s a clever little gimmick but one that I think speaks volumes about the concept of guilt and the inability to handle one’s actions from the past. Jena Malone is pretty vampy and enigmatic in her role — or should I say roles?  and Douglas Smith tries a bit too hard, especially during Scarlett’s disappearance, but is solid as is Ted Levine, an actor who oozes menace, but might not be what he looks like.

THE UNTAMED (LA REGION SALVAJE)
Mexico / France
Director: Amat Escalante
Runtime: 95 minutes
Language: Spanish

Mostlyindies rating:

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Part creature-feature, part denouncement of homophobia in Mexico, part rural sci-fi horror with shades of Cronenberg’s incursion into body horror, Amat Escalante’s movie La region salvaje (The Untamed) is ambitious in scope but doesn’t seem to ellicit anything other than mild boredom from its cast of new actors, none of them who seem to know how to emote correctly, which leaves you only with lush scenery and a creature that looks like a squid with a head that (I thought) resembled Ziggy. This creature, it seems, is all sex and pleasure, but wouldn’t you know, humans can’t handle all that pleasure and become addicted to it like mice to coke. Plus, to add to the mix, the creature only seems to prefer women although we never do learn what happened to a gay character upon his first visit to the den of flesh where the monster lives. Tonally the movie is all over the map — we go from an almost documentary feel to indie drama at its most mechanic to then a stilted domestic drama without any say whatsoever as to if it’s going to work. This is the second Mexican horror film to focus solely on the sex part of it, and while that might not be a terrible idea, here it lands with a thud. but the flat direction, soap-opera level acting, and almost blatant disengagement in everyone who seems to be involved in this production delivers the goods–just not fresh or interesting enough to keep you awake.

Tbe Untamed is still playing exclusively at the IFC Center in NYC. It’s DVD release is yet to be determined.

ON DVD: MOANA and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

MOANA
USA
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Co-director: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Runtime: 107 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies grading:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If there ever were a studio capable of capturing the essence of myth and magic and distilling inspirational images of heroism and victory in the face of certain adversity while also enhancing the human experience down to minutiae, that would have to be Disney and its sister studios. Drawing elements of the real, where for a period of almost time Polynesian people did not seem to communicate with one another or sail to open waters to explore, directors Clements, Musker, Hall, and Williams create a tale from pure scratch that is in equal parts a coming-of-age, retribution, and pure movie magic. The theme of Moana is the return of the heart of Mother Earth, a glowing stone  dressed as an emerald-green crystal (which believers of New Age teachings could identify as the heart chakra). In presenting the action through the two main characters — the human Moana and the fallen demigod Maui, you have here a tale of redemption. Moana’s brave trip to the ocean — a trip that which looks preordained due to the fact that since Moana was an infant, the ocean would call out to her as if knowing her part already — literally redeems her people from certain death and establishes her position in society as a worthy successor to her father’s rule. Maui, who has the heavier responsibility to bear, resists during most of the movie until he has no other option than to support Moana in her quest and confront the goddess Te Ka/Te Fiti in order to receive his own powers and absolution. Both Lilui’i Cravahlo and Dwayne Johnson play out their parts to near perfection; both seem to have been born to play these roles and in turn also pay their respects to their own culture. A wonderful, instant classic from Disney and one that now features a feminist heroine completely independent from the limitations of plot development — she doesn’t have a prince who in turn has to save her — and also doesn’t conform to the look and feel of older Disney heroines. Don’t be surprised if either Heihei (Alan Tudyk) and Tamatoa (Jemaine Clements) appear in other films. The post-credits sequence seems to suggest so that at least one of them will do so.

Moana is available on all DVD/VOD formats.

 

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
USA
Director: Bill Condon
Runtime: 129 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies grading:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

It’s safe to say that Beauty and the Beast is one of those rare stories that seems to be impermeable to remakes. However, it might be the reason the French live action film from 2014, which barely made a dent in US Cinemas, was a dismal failure despite gorgeous production values (although nothing close to Condon’s version, I will say). The irony of the 2014 version, which starred Lea Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, and veteran actor Andre Dussolier, is that their version is more or less closer to the original although it adds a subplot of a mercenary rogue played by Eduardo Noriega. Perhaps audiences are too entrenched with the Disney animated musical, and in my theory, they should be: Condon pulls out all the visual stops almost from the word go, and he raises the bar until he (and we) reach the showstopping musical sequence “Be Our Guest” and follows it up rather swiftly with the crucial dance/romantic sequence where Belle dances with the Beast. The ghost of Busby Berkeley hovers over heavily over the first sequence, in which everyone animated and inanimate performs as though they’d been waiting a lifetime just for this moment. However, the dance sequence that follows shortly after is probably one of the most romantic pieces ever made and while it might not dethrone the 1991 version it comes extremely close to in lighting and mood alone. Whether you are a fan of the 1991 version, I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed with this one.

LADY MACBETH

LADY MACBETH

USA
Director: William Oldroyd
Runtime: 90 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies’ grading:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Disregard the tight, binding corsets and the crinolines, the gloomy Victorian setting that echoes the works of the Bronte sisters and Thomas Hardy. William Oldroyd’s minimal story of a woman’s climb to dominance is as old as the ages,and as new as anything coming out of the sexual revolution and Women’s Lib. Inspired on the character created by William Shakespeare and based on the novella Lady Macbeth of Miensk District, Lady Macbeth tells the story of Katherine (Florence Pugh), a young woman who has been bought into marriage to a ill-tempered asshole of a man, Alexander Lester (Paul Hilton). Lester takes her to reside at his father’s estate, where from the word go, they make it known she will have no more presence than a mute wife, keeping house, and nothing more. The first night she spends at the Lester house is as chilling as anything, and ends with a note of uncertainty, and the following scene, where she sits in dead silence, staring at nothing, awaiting Lester’s and Boris’ arrival, is as tense and uncomfortable as anything that comes later.

When Boris and Lester leave the estate to take care of some business, Katherine is left on her own in the house. and stumbles onto a scene in a barn. Several men, workers, are having a little sexual fun with some of the maids. One of the men, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) catches her attention, and she makes a point to get close to him. It’s clear there is an attraction between the two, and it doesn’t take long for Sebastian to make his way into her room in a scene that starts as an invasion of privacy teetering on rape and ends with her taking charge in the long run, having him over, seeing him every chance she gets. Anna, the maid she saw in a tryst with Sebastian, disapproves, and takes matters into her own hands to notify the priest of what is happening. Her actions eventually reach Lester and Boris, who returns to the house and confronts Katherine. What happens next is something I won’t say, because it is contingent to the transformation that Katherine receives as she begins to assert her power and cross the line from proto-feminist to monster.

If there ever was a movie that relied only on a mounting sense of dread to announce in hints of the violence that is to come, it would be Lady Macbeth, a movie filled with moments of silence, glances, and a minimal story line that moves, with deliberate fury, to its horrifying conclusion. Florence Pugh is a lightning bolt, igniting an entire film on her presence alone — in her physicality is the symbol for the triumph of ambition and drive taken to its extremes (and reader, I really do mean extremes). The movie almost always has her in blue, which is a color associated with masculine strength, and this exactly personifies the type of woman she is — one who negates her femininity, her passivity, and goes for the jugular. You might say the movie takes a step too far in the last third, but this is a story named after one of Shakespeare’s darkest female characters, after all. You will not find Austen’s females anywhere here