Tag Archives: First film

Extra Ordinary

[3 stars]

If you’re a fan of the stylings of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, such as their recent Truth Seekers, this flick’s for you. Brilliant it isn’t, but it is fairly tight and funny right up to the final moment. Literally.

Led by Maeve Higgins as an unlikely and semi-likable heroine, the cast has only a few people pulling it along. Barry Ward (Dating Amber) is her primary, and clever, counterbalance, while Will Forte (Nebraska) turns in a silly-sinister aging rockstar who drives the main plot along. There are others, but they tended to be smaller roles even if some were lynchpin.

As I said, it isn’t a perfect film, but it is a wonderful and funny distraction. It even manages to avoid several obvious pitfalls to keep it all interesting. For a first feature, Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman committed something good. Give them their 90 minutes when you need a solid belly laugh.

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The Broken Hearts Gallery

[3.5 stars]

Every once in a while a pure, sweet escape is just the thing. And there is something about romantic NYC fantasies, especially when loaded with good comedy, that makes them infectious. And I mean that in a good way. Like the earlier romcom surprise of Palm Springs, Natalie Krinsky (Gossip Girl) doubled down on all the old tropes and found something new in them.

Geraldine Viswanathan (Miracle Workers) is a ball of energy and wit that never stops. She holds together this movie and manages to keep it grounded even when she’s delivering mile-a-minute monologues. Opposite her, Dacre Montgomery (Stranger Things, Power Rangers) redeems himself nicely from all of his previous pretty-boy, obnoxious characters with a soulful guy who just needs to relax and get on with his life.

You can tell how good the flick is by the fact that the supporting performance by Bernadette Peters (Mozart in the Jungle) ends up more a distraction than adding to the whole. She’s a fine choice, especially given the backstory, but she’s too recognizable amid the rest of the cast who hold their own just fine.

And, speaking of, the supporting cast are all a hoot. From the silent Nathan Dales (Letterkenny), the befuddled but self-centered Utkarsh Ambudkar (Blindspotting), and best-friend Arturo Castro (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk), to the girl power collection of Molly Gordon (Life of the Party), Phillipa Soo (Hamilton), and Megan Ferguson (Upload) they all deliver in slightly over-the-top-but-believable ways. And two smaller roles by Suki Waterhouse (Pokémon Detective Pikachu) and Sheila McCarthy (Umbrella Academy) are expertly tipped over the net for impact.

When you’re ready for an escape with lots of belly laughs and even moments of sweet emotion, this is a wonderful choice alone or to share.

The Broken Hearts Gallery Poster

 

The Father

[4.5 stars]

Let’s talk about POV. Like the recent Bliss, Florian Zeller’s freshman outing relies heavily on character point of view and editing to provide the necessary information for navigating the story. By watching very carefully, you can tease apart most of the truth. Most of it. Unlike Bliss, Zeller’s adaptation of his play, with help from Christopher Hampton (Adore), the truth can still elude you; but that’s ok. Unlike previous stories, like Still Alice, the film tries to recreate what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s from the inside rather than primarily from outside. How they go about that is something you just need to experience, but to say you’ve got unreliable narrator is an understatement. But the threads are (mostly) there for the watcher to stay relatively grounded. Honestly, I’m still discussing it with people trying to pull it all apart.

Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes) delivers a wonderfully mercurial performance as his character is buffeted by his confusion and frustration. But while he is the primary POV, his daughter provides a second, which is another way Zeller helps you along. Olivia Colman (The Favourite) delivers a heart-wrenching performance as she navigates her father’s illness, giving us glimpses into the emotional and physical realities and a small touch of what must have been their past.

The rest of the supporting cast is equally capable and storied. Olivia Williams (Maps to the Stars), Mark Gatiss (Locked Down), Rufus Sewell (The Pale Horse), and Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment) perform a wonderfully seamless dance filling out the story.

This is also a movie where the production designer Peter Francis (Rocketman) and editor Yorgos Lamprinos have had huge impact on the story-telling and need to be called out. Pay attention to the details in the sets and how the sequences are put together. Truly amazing work all around.

My only issue with the film comes near the end where it felt a little forced and rushed. It isn’t necessarily an untrue depiction, but my gut is that the events could have remained while the dialogue could have been a little more finessed. That minor criticism aside, The Father has already garnered a lot of nominations and wins, with more sure to come. This is one movie who’s odd ride is worth every moment you spend with it, and it’s a wonderful class in perspective and humility.

The Father Poster

Life Like

[3 stars]

I’m recommending this flick based on its potential, not its delivery. Josh Janowicz’s first feature script and film is full of ideas and style choices, but it doesn’t quite work for all its effort.

For example, the choice to have James D’Arcy (Hot Zone) costumed to suggest him being a priest. Or to have Addison Timlin (Odd Thomas) and Drew Van Acker (Pretty Little Liars) speak in a very forced, shall we say robotic way by design (at least I hope it was by design), while Steven Strait (The Expanse) speaks more “humanly.” I get the points, but it’s a lot to sustain for a feature film.

Life Like plays in the same area as Humans, though with its own points and twists on the subject. But the human core of it all is very distanced. The main couple are uber-rich. Timlin’s character acts like the worst kind of white, middle-class, suburban privileged idiot you can imagine. While some of her clunky choices are intended to show the cracks in the relationship, both spouses come off very unsympathetic and unlikeable. That is not the position you want the audience in given the main points the movie intends. And while Strait actually delivers a subtle performance, it also doesn’t quite get you where you need to be with him by the end. However, while the resolution of the story is a bit rushed and forced, it isn’t uninteresting. It is also a little contradictory if you listen to all the sides, which makes you wonder about the world at large that these people live in…and you don’t get that explained.

As a bit of a side bar, the story also feels almost dated, because of  the locations and choices (like not using cell phones, connected devices, or tablets for, well, anything). This too may have been a design choice, but it lands oddly.

So why recommend this at all? Well, as I said, the ideas are there. The acting, within the constraints of the script, has its moments. Janowicz manages to buck general trends when it comes to whose skin he shows the most of. The boundaries of the relationships are nicely fluid, even if not quite as complex as they could have been. In other words, I wasn’t sorry I watched it even if I wish it had done so much more. As a first feature, it isn’t without impact and merit. And, at 90 minutes, it isn’t a huge investment to make if you’re curious on any level. But, in the end, it’s basically, your call whether you want to invest in it.

Life Like Poster

One Night in Bangkok

[3 stars]

Despite the title and description, One Night in Bangkok is not an action flick. Wych Kaosayananda’s latest is, instead, an uneven revenge film with often questionable morals. The rough nature of the final product is in the pacing, the acting, and, to a degree, in the plotting. But this story still manages to keep interest and tug emotions thanks to the more verbally intimate scenes between Mark Dacascos (John Wick 3: Parabellum) and his driver. The louder, more confrontational moments between Dacascos and others are often just painful.

I’m used to seeing Dacascos centered and focused, even intimidating when needed. But this story gives him the opportunity to bring his Crow sensitivity to a new, mature level. At times, almost spiritual. We see his pain, his memories, his conflicts. And as the story slowly unwinds, we better understand them all. Though, to be honest, the script never really affords us a full picture of who the man is.

Ultimately, this isn’t a great film, but it has its moments and its value. There aren’t any really great fights or chases, but there is tension and resolution. If the acting had only been better across the rest of the cast, it could have been something more. But it manages to survive and not entirely embarrass itself. Sometimes that’s the best you can ask when making a film in a non-native language for the majority of the cast, some of whom have minimal experience.

One Night in Bangkok Poster

Promising Young Woman

[4.5 stars]

Some movies just sucker punch you because you’ve no idea what to expect. In terms of quality, this one’s right up there with Soul, Trial of the Chicago 7, and Palm Springs…among the best this season.

Even more impressive is that this is writer and director Emerald Fennell’s (Killing Eve) first feature; she’s better known for her acting chops. But Promising Young Woman makes an impressive application of all she’s learned over the years in front of the camera.

And then there is the woman at the center of the on-screen story, Carrie Mulligan (Collateral).  She flattens you with her powerful performance and shoulders the film on screen with her charisma, intelligence, and sense of humor. From the moment she appears you can’t take your eyes off of her. And once you understand her, you can’t help but cheer her on and not turn away.

There are some nice supporting roles by Lavern Cox (Orange is the New Black), Clancy Brown, Bo Burnham (Eighth Grade), and Alison Brie (Happiest Season). But this story is utterly through Mulligan’s eyes and perspective by necessity, and she carries it off.

The movie does have its weak moments, but they’re few. One aspect is around some of the soundtrack, which goes just a bit overboard at times, not trusting the actors and situation to make the point. The other is around some transitional moments that are less than smooth. But in the face of the rest of the film, I forgive them all.

Promising Young Woman grabs you by the soft bits and drags you through to the end. And it manages to remain triumphant despite the subject and the situations. It is sure to generate controversy and contemplation for the actions and probably even leave a few in the dust as to the title. But that’s all part of the point. Make time for this one, both for the central performance and the story itself. Despite the weird festival season, it’s been making itself heard, and I expect that to continue through the majors over the next few months.

Promising Young Woman Poster

American Swing

[2.75 stars]

While focused on the infamous rise and fall of Plato’s Retreat, this docu is really about Larry Levenson, the man behind the bedsheet. Because of that, the historical and psychological aspects of the phenomenon end up ultimately getting sidebarred. The story is eventually overtaken by Levenson’s tale rather than truly examining the sex club’s impact on society in general and NYC in particular.

It’s unlikely you never heard of Plato’s if you’re over 30. But you may not know its history or even it’s reality, though the myths continue to circulate. What American Swing does is try to put a human face to it all. It isn’t entirely without judgement, but it tries to stay balanced within the framework it constructs. There are some interesting interviews, some by recognized names but also many just regular members. As a documentary, I’m not sure what story it has to tell. I get the impression that when Jon Hart and Matthew Kaufman set out to expand on Hart’s article, they didn’t realize they had no more than a history report until part way through production. Than they shifted to a focus on Levenson to provide it an arc and some structure.

As a bit of history, American Swing is interesting. Not perfect and not particularly insightful, but it is a glimpse into a part of NYC’s past for those who were only vaguely aware of the club.

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One Night in Miami

[3.5 stars]

A boxer, a singer, a preacher, and a football player walk into a motel… It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but in this case it not only really happened, but it was four towering figures of their time: Mohammed Ali, Sam Cooke, Malcom X, and Jim Brown. Four men who knew one another well, and all of whom were at inflection points for themselves and all those around them. The gathering was to celebrate the night Cassius Clay decked Sonny Liston and became the reigning world champion.

Kemp Powers imagined that conversation first as a stage play and then as this adaptation, which Regina King (Watchmen) directed as her first big-screen feature. And she did a bang up job choreographing the four men in a tiny room. Despite it being primarily a dialogue-heavy exchange, it never really flags in energy or interest. Kingsley Ben-Adir (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword),
Eli Goree (Riverdale), Aldis Hodge (What Men Want), and Leslie Odom Jr. (Harriet) keep everything moving and offer insight into these pivotal men. Ben-Adir, in particular, delivers a Malcom X near the end of his life full of fire and purpose, but more than equally full of compassion and care. Odom Jr’s chops are something to be reckoned with as well.

This is a surprisingly quiet film for the combination of people involved and the moment in history. It feels, quite literally, like being let into a secret and private party. We know the public-facing versions of these people, but what did they really think in private and what did they admit to each other? Cooke, in particular, has little on record about his private life. Many sides of issues are raised and the result leaves you feeling you understand not just these men, but the era and the ongoing issues more completely. I will say that I was surprised  that, with King at the helm, how little there was of the women in the lives of these men on screen. If I have any major criticism of the story, it’s that.

On a side note, writer Powers is about to have a hell of a year. After working on the initial season of Star Trek: Discovery he moved on to the play version of One Night in Miami. Both this movie and the much anticipated and lauded Soul (now only on Disney+) are hitting screens at the same time.

One Night in Miami... Poster

All Joking Aside

[3 stars]

It must always be acknowledged that comedy is hard…stand-up is a self-inflicted hell that only the bravest assail. And not only are more women entering that arena than ever, but stories about them are also starting to increase. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has played no small part in that rise, though that is the high-end and more slick version of a tale that is usually quite a bit less glamorous. All Joking Aside, despite some issues in the mechanics of open mic nights, is a more down-to-earth look at the reality, with a nice story wrapped up around it.

Shannon Kohli, better known for edgy TV fare such as The Magicians and Motherland: Fort Salem, directed this as her first feature. The pacing isn’t quite sharp enough, but the character work is nicely handled. The story, an expansion of James Pickering’s earlier short, The Comedienne, follows the effort of Katrina Reynolds to achieve her dreams and Brian Markinson to rediscover his. Neither story is a particularly straight line and, while it is certainly manipulated, it flows nicely and with enough credibility to keep you tied in.

Make time for this when you a 90 minute distraction. Reynolds has some chops and this is a good chance to see her early, not to mention Kholi and Pickering as well. Markinson is just a delightful bag of snide, sarcasm, and heart.

All Joking Aside Poster

Working Man

[3 stars]

Robert Jury’s first feature is a quiet bit of unique Americana. It starts commonly enough: a factory shuts down, putting a good part of a community out of work. At this point you expect something in the vein of Made in Dagenham, but that isn’t this tale. In fact, it isn’t really where the story starts, but that’s all part of the charm and emotional hook of this tale.

Familiar character actor Peter Gerety (Sneaky Pete) takes the reins of this story in an inexorable way. Billy Brown (How to Get Away With Murder) and Talia Shire (Grace and Frankie) back Gerety up and drive the film forward. And drive forward it does to a slow burn and sweet, joyous finale.

Working Man isn’t big and flashy, but its focus on characters and life challenges pulls you in quickly and hangs onto you till the end. For a first feature, it’s incredibly impressive. But even absent that qualifier, it’s an engaging, often funny, always interesting collection of people and issues.