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Thread: New York Film Festival 2019

  1. #16
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    Jul 2002
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    PARASITE (Bong Joon-ho 2019)

    BONG JOON-HO: PARASITE 기생충 (Gisaengchung) (2019)


    Crime thriller as social commentary? Maybe not.

    I've reviewed Bong's 2006 The Host ("a monster movie with a populist heart and political overtones that's great fun to watch") and his 2009 Mother which I commented had "too many surprises." (I also reviewed his 2013 Snowpiercer.) Nothing is different here except this seems to be being taken more seriously as social commentary, though it's primarily an elaborately plotted and cunningly realized violent triller, as well a monster movie where the monsters are human. It's also marred by being over long and over-plotted, making its high praise seem a bit excessive.

    This new film, Bong's first in a while made at home and playing with national social issues, is about a deceitful poor family that infiltrates a rich one. It won the top award at Cannes in May 2019, just a year after the Japanese Koreeda's (more subtle and more humanistic) Palm winner about the related theme of a crooked poor family. Parasite has led to different comparisons, such as Losey's The Servant and Pasolini's Theorem. In accepting the prize, Bong himself gave a nod to Hitchcock and Chabrol. Parasite has met with nearly universal acclaim, though some critics feel it is longer and more complicated than necessary and crude in its social commentary, if its contrasting families really adds up to that. The film is brilliantly done and exquisitely entertaining half the way. Then it runs on too long and acquires an unwieldiness that makes it surprisingly flawed for a film so heaped with praise.

    It's strange to compare Parasite with Losey's The Servant, in which Dick Bogarde and James Fox deliver immensely rich performances. Losey's film is a thrillingly slow-burn, subtle depiction of class interpenetration, really a psychological study that works with class, not a pointed statement about class itself. It's impossible to speak of The Servant and Parasite in the same breath.

    In Parasite one can't help but enjoy the ultra-rich family's museum-piece modernist house, the score, and the way the actors are handled, but one keeps coming back to the fact that as Steven Dalton simply puts it in his Cannes Hollywood Reporter review, Parasite is "cumbersomely plotted" and "heavy-handed in its social commentary." Yet I had to go to that extremist and contrarian Armond White in National Review for a real voice of dissent. I don't agree with White's politics or his belief that Stephen Chow is a master filmmaker, but I do sympathize with being out-of-tune, like him, with all the praise of Boon's new film.

    The contrast between the poor and rich family is blunt indeed, but the posh Park family doesn't seem unsubtly depicted: they're absurdly overprivileged, but don't come off as bad people. Note the con-artist Kim family's acknowledgement of this, and the mother's claim that being rich allows you to be nice, that money is like an iron that smooths out the wrinkles. This doesn't seem to be about that, mainly. It's an ingeniously twisted story of a dangerous game, and a very wicked one. Planting panties in the car to mark the chauffeur as a sexual miscreant and get him fired: not nice. Stimulating the existing housekeeper's allergy and then claiming she has TB so she'll be asked to leave: dirty pool. Not to mention before that, bringing in the sister as somebody else's highly trained art therapist relative, when all the documents are forged and the "expertise" is cribbed off the internet: standard con artistry.

    The point is that the whole Kim family makes its way into the Park family's employ and intimate lives, but it is essential that they conceal that they are in any way related to each other. What Bong and his co-writer Jin Won Han are after is the depiction of a dangerous con game, motivated by poverty and greed, that titillates us with the growing risk of exposure. The film's scene-setting of the house and family is exquisite. The extraordinary house is allowed to do most of the talking. The rich family and the housekeeper are sketched in with a few deft stokes. One's only problem is first, the notion that this embodies socioeconomic commentary, and second, the overreach of the way the situation is played out, with one unnecessary coda after another till every possibility is exhausted. This is watchable and entertaining (till it's not), but it's not the stuff of a top award.

    Parasite 기생충 (Gisaengchung), 132 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes, winning the Palme d'Or best picture award. Twenty-eight other festivals followed as listed on IMDb, including New York, for which it was screened (at IFC Center Oct. 11, 2019) for the present review. Current Metascore 95%. It has opened in various countries including France, where the AlloCiné press rating soared to 4.8.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2020 at 12:49 AM.

  2. #17
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    MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (Edward Norton 2019)



    Edward Norton's passion project complicates the Jonathan Lethem novel

    The NYFF Closing Night film is the premiere of Edwards Norton's adaptation, a triumph over many creative obstacles through a nine-year development time, of Jonathan Lethem's 1999 eponymous novel. It concerns Lionel Essrog (played by Norton), a man with Tourette's Syndrome who gets entangled in a police investigation using the obsessive and retentive mind that comes with his condition to solve the mystery. Much of the film, especially the first half, is dominated by Lionel's jerky motions and odd repetitive outbursts, for which he continually apologizes. Strange hero, but Lethem's creation. To go with the novel's evocation of Maltese Falcon style noir flavor, Norton has recast it from modern times to the Fifties.

    Leading cast members, besides Norton himself, are Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Cherry Jones, Bobby Cannavale and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. In his recasting of the novel, as Peter Debruge explains in his Variety review, Norton makes as much use of Robert Caro's The Power Broker, about the manipulative city planner Robert Moses, a "visionary" insensitive to minorities and the poor, as of Lethem's book. Alec Baldwn's "Moses Randolph" role represents the film's Robert Moses character, who is added into the world of the original novel.

    Some of the plot line may become obscure in the alternating sources of the film. But clearly Lionel Essrog, whose nervous sensibility hovers over things in Norton's voiceover, is a handicapped man with an extra ability who's one of four orphans from Saint Vincent's Orphanage in Brooklyn saved by Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), who runs a detective agency. When Minna is offed by the Mob in the opening minutes of the movie, Lionel goes chasing. Then he learns city bosses had a hand, and want to repress his efforts.

    Gugu Mbatha-Raw's character, Laura Rose, who becomes a kind of love interest for Lionel Essrog, and likewise willem Dafoe's, Paul Randolph, Moses' brother and opponent, are additional key characters in the film not in the Johathan Lethem book. The cinematography is by the Mike Leigh regular (who produced the exquisite Turner), Dick Pope. He provides a lush, classic look.

    Viewers will have to decide if this mixture of novel, non-fiction book and period recasting works for them or not. For many the problem is inherent in the Lethem novel, that it's a detective story where, as the original Times reviewer Albert Mobilio said, "solving the crime is beside the point." Certainly Norton has created a rich mixture, and this is a "labour of love," "as loving as it is laborious, maybe," is how the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw put it, writing (generally quite favorably) from Toronto. In her intro piece for the first part of the New York Film Festival for the Times Manohla Dargis linked it with the difficult Albert Serra'S Liberté with a one-word reaction: "oof," though she complemented these two as "choices rather than just opportunistically checked boxes." Motherless Brooklyn has many reasons for wanting to be in the New York Film Festival, and for the honor of Closing Night Film, notably the personal passion, but also the persistent rootedness in New York itself through these permutations.

    Motherless Brooklyn, 144 mins., debuted at Telluride Aug. 30, 2019, showing at eight other festivals including Toronto, Vancouver, Mill Valley, and New York, where it was screened at the NYFF OCT. 11, 2019 as the Closing Night film. It opens theatrically in the US Nov. 1, 2019. Current Metascore 60%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-08-2021 at 01:08 PM.

  3. #18
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    THE IRISHMAN (Martin Scorsese 2019)

    [Found also in Filmleaf's Festival Coverage section for the 2019 NYFF]



    Old song

    From Martin Scorsese, who is in his late seventies, comes a major feature that is an old man's film. It's told by an old man, about old men, with old actors digitized (indifferently) to look like and play their younger selves as well. It's logical that The Irishman, about Teamsters loyalist and mob hit man Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), who became the bodyguard and then (as he tells it) the assassin of Union kingpin Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) should have been chosen as Opening Night Film of the New York Film Festival. Scorsese is very New York, even if the film is set in Detroit. He is also a good friend of Film at Lincoln Center. And a great American director with an impressive body of work behind him.

    To be honest, I am not a fan of Scorsese's feature films. I do not like them. They are unpleasant, humorless, laborious and cold. I admire his responsible passion for cinema and incestuous knowledge of it. I do like his documentaries. From Fran Lebowitz's talk about the one he made about her, I understand what a meticulous, obsessive craftsman he is in all his work. He also does have a sense of humor. See how he enjoys Fran's New York wit in Public Speaking. And there is much deadpan humor in The Irishman at the expense of the dimwitted, uncultured gangsters it depicts. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian's script based on Charles Brandt's book about Sheeran concocts numerous droll deadpan exchanges. It's a treat belatedly to see De Niro and Pacino acting together for the first time in extended scenes.

    The Irishman is finely crafted and full of ideas and inspires many thoughts. But I found it monotonous and overlong - and frankly overrated. American film critics are loyal. Scorsese is an icon, and they feel obligated, I must assume, to worship it. He has made a big new film in his classic gangster vein, so it must be great. The Metascore, 94%, nonetheless is an astonishment. Review aggregating is not a science, but the makers of these scores seem to have tipped the scales. At least I hope more critics have found fault with The Irishman than that. They assign 80% ratings to some reviews that find serious fault, and supply only one negative one (Austin Chronicle, Richard Whittaker). Of course Armond White trashes the movie magnificently in National Review ("Déjà Vu Gangsterism"), but that's outside the mainstream mediocre media pale.

    Other Scorsese stars join De Niro and Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel. This is a movie of old, ugly men. Even in meticulously staged crowd scenes, there is not one young or handsome face. Women are not a factor, not remotely featured as in Jonathan Demme's delightful Married to the Mob. There are two wives often seen, in the middle distance, made up and coiffed to the kitsch nines, in expensive pants suits, taking a cigarette break on car trips - it's a thing. But they don't come forward as characters. Note also that out of loyalty to his regulars, Scorsese uses an Italo-American actor to play an Irish-American. There's a far-fetched explanation of Frank's knowledge of Italian, but his Irishness doesn't emerge - just another indication of how monochromatic this movie is.

    It's a movie though, ready to serve a loyal audience with ritual storytelling and violence, providing pleasures in its $140 million worth of production values in period feel, costumes, and snazzy old cars (though I still long for a period movie whose vehicles aren't all intact and shiny). This is not just a remake. Its very relentlessness in showing Frank's steady increments of slow progress up the second-tier Teamsters and mafia outsider functionary ladders is something new. But it reflects Scorsese's old worship of toughs and wise guys and seeming admiration for their violence.

    I balk at Scorsese's representing union goons and gangsters as somehow heroic and tragic. Metacritic's only critic of the film, Richard Whittiker of the Austen Chronicle, seems alone in recognizing that this is not inevitable. He points out that while not "lionizing" mobsters, Scorsese still "romanticizes" them as "flawed yet still glamorous, undone by their own hubris." Whittiker - apparently alone in this - compares this indulgent touch with how the mafia is shown in "the Italian poliziotteschi," Italian Years of Lead gang films that showed them as "boors, bullies, and murderers, rather than genteel gentlemen who must occasionally get their hands dirty and do so oh-so-begrudgingly." Whittiker calls Scorsese's appeal to us to feel Sheeran's "angst" when he's being flown in to kill "his supposed friend" (Hoffa) "a demand too far."

    All this reminded me of a richer 2019 New York Film Festival mafia experience, Marco Bellocchio's The Traitor/Il traditore, the epic, multi-continent story of Tommaso Buscetta, the first big Italian mafia figure who chose to turn state's witness. This is a gangster tale that has perspective, both morally and historically. And I was impressed that Pierfrancesco Favino, the star of the film, who gives a career-best performance as Buscetta, strongly urged us both before and after the NYFF public screening to bear in mind that these mafiosi are small, evil, stupid men. Coppola doesn't see that, but he made a glorious American gangster epic with range and perspective. In another format, so did David Chase om the 2000-2007 HBO epic, "The Sopranos." Scprsese has not done so. Monotonously, and at overblown length, he has once again depicted Italo-Americans as gangsters, and (this time) unions as gangs of thugs.

    The Irishman, 209 mins,. debuted at New York as Opening Night Film; 15 other international festivals, US theatrical release Nov. 1, wide release in many countries online by Netflix Nov. 27. Metascore 94%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2019 at 07:49 PM.

  4. #19
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    BACURAU (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles 2019)



    Not just another Cannes mistake?

    This is a bold film for an arthouse filmmaker to produce, and it has moments of rawness and unpredictability that are admirable. But it seems at first hand to be possibly a misstep both for the previously much subtler chronicler of social and political unease as seen in the 2011 Neighboring Sopunds and 2016 Aquarius, Kleber Mendonça Filho, and for Cannes, which may have awarded novelty rather than mastery in giving it half of the 2019 Jury Prize. It's a movie that excites and then delivers a series of scenes of growing disappointment and repugnance. But I'm not saying it won't surprise and awe you.

    Let's begin with where we are, which is the Brazilian boonies. Bacurau was filmed in the village of Barra in the municipality of Parelhas and in the rural area of the municipality of Acari, at the Sertão do Seridó region, in Rio Grande do Norte. Mendonça Filho shares credit this time with his regular production designer Juliano Dornelles. (They both came originally from this general region, is one reason.) The Wikipedia article introduces it as a "Brazilian weird western film" and its rural shootout, its rush of horses, its showdowns, and its truckload of coffins may indeed befit that peculiar genre.

    How are we to take the action? In his Hollywood Reporter review, Stephen Dalton surprises me by asserting that this third narrative feature "strikes a lighter tone" than the first two and combines "sunny small-town comedy with a fable-like plot" along with "a sprinkle of magic realism." This seems an absurdly watered down description, but the film is many things to many people because it embodies many things. In an interview with Emily Buder, Mendoça Filho himself describes it as a mix of "spaghetti Western, '70's sci-fi, social realist drama, and political satire."

    The film feels real enough to be horrifying, but it enters risky sci-fi horror territory with its futuristic human hunting game topic, which has been mostly an area for schlock. (See a list of ten, with the 1932 Most Dangerous Game given as the trailblazer.) However, we have to acknowledge that Mendonca Filho is smart enough to know all this and may want to use the schlock format for his own sophisticated purpose. But despite Mike D'Angelo's conclusion on Letterboxd that the film may "require a second viewing following extensive reading" due to its rootedness in Brazilian politics, the focus on American imperialists and brutal outside exploiters from the extreme right isn't all that hard to grasp.

    Bacurau starts off as if it means to be an entertainment, with conventional opening credits and a pleasant pop song celebrating Brazil, but that is surely ironic. A big water truck rides in rough, arriving with three bullet holes spewing agua that its driver hasn't noticed. (The road was bumpy.) There is a stupid, corrupt politician, mayor Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima), who is complicit in robbing local areas of their water supply and who gets a final comeuppance. The focus is on Bacurau, a little semi-abandoned town in the north whose 94-year-old matriarch Carmelita dies and gets a funeral observation in which the whole town participates, though apart the ceremony's strange magic realist aspects Sonia Braga, as a local doctor called Domingas, stages a loud scene because she insists that the deceased woman was evil. Then, with some, including Carmelita's granddaughter Teresa (Barbara Colen), returned to town from elsewhere, along with the handsome Pacote (Tomaso Aquinas) and a useful psychotic local killer and protector of water rights called Lunga (Silvero Pereira), hostile outsiders arrive, though as yet unseen. Their forerunners are a colorfully costumed Brazilian couple in clownish spandex suits on dustrider motorcycles who come through the town. When they're gone, it's discovered seven people have been shot.

    They were an advance crew for a gang of mostly American white people headed by Michael (Udo Kier), whose awkward, combative, and finally murderous conference we visit. This is a bad scene in more ways than one: it's not only sinister and racist, but clumsy, destroying the air of menace and unpredictability maintained in the depiction of Bacurau scenes. But we learn the cell phone coverage of the town has been blocked, it is somehow not included on maps, and communications between northern and southern Brazil are temporarily suspended, so the setting is perfect for this ugly group to do what they've come for, kill locals for sport using collectible automatic weapons. Overhead there is a flying-saucer-shaped drone rumbling in English. How it functions isn't quite clear, but symbolically it refers to American manipulation from higher up. The way the rural area is being choked off requires no mention of Brazil's new right wing strong man Jair Bolsonaro and the Amazonian rain forest.

    "They're not going to kill a kid," I said as a group of local children gather, the most normal, best dressed Bacurauans on screen so far, and play a game of dare as night falls to tease us, one by one creeping as far as they can into the dark. But sure enough, a kid gets shot. At least even the bad guys agree this was foul play. And the bad guys get theirs, just as in a good Western. But after a while, the action seems almost too symbolically satisfying - though this is achieved with good staging and classic visual flair through zooms, split diopter effects, Cinemascope, and other old fashioned techniques.

    I'm not the only one finding Bacurau intriguing yet fearing that it winds up being confused and all over the place. It would work much better if it were dramatically tighter. Peter DeBruge in Variety notes that the filmakers "haven’t figured out how to create that hair-bristling anticipation of imminent violence that comes so naturally to someone like Quentin Tarantino." Mere vague unexpectedness isn't scary, and all the danger and killing aren't wielded as effectively as they should be to hold our attention and manipulate our emotions.

    Bacurau, 131 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes, where it tied for the Jury Prize with the French film, Ladj Ly's Les misérables. Many other awards and at least 31 other festivals including the NYFF. Metascore 74%. AlloCiné press rating 3.8, with a rare rave from Cahiers du Cinéma. US theatrical distribution by Kino Lorber began Mar. 13, 2020, but due to general theater closings caused by the coronavirus pandemic the company launched a "virtual theatrical exhibition initiative," Kino Marquee, with this film from Mar. 19.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-05-2020 at 12:24 PM.

  5. #20
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    ZOMBI CHILD (Bertrand Bonello 2019)



    Voodoo comes to Paris

    If you said Betrand Bonello's films are beautiful, sexy, and provocative you would not be wrong. This new, officially fifth feature (I've still not seen his first one, the 2008 On War), has those elements. Its imagery, full of deep contrasts, can only be described as lush. Its intertwined narrative is puzzling as well.

    We're taken right away to Haiti and plunged into the world of voodoo and zombies. Ground powder from the cut-up body of a blowfish is dropped, unbeknownst to him, into a man's shoes. Walking in them, he soon falters and falls. Later, he's aroused from death to the half-alive state of a zombie - and pushed into a numb, helpless labor in the hell of a a sugar cane field with other victims of the same cruel enchantment. In time however something arouses him to enough life to escape.

    Some of the Haitian sequences center around a moonlit cemetery whose large tombs seem airy and haunted and astonishingly grand for what we know as the poorest country in the hemisphere.

    From the thumping, vibrant ceremonies of Haitian voodoo (Bonello's command of music is always fresh and astonishing as his images are lush and beautiful) we're rushed to the grandest private boarding school you've ever seen, housed in vast stone government buildings. This noble domaine was established by Napoleon Bonaparte on the edge of Paris, in Saint Denis, for the education of children of recipients of the Legion of Honor. It really exists, and attendance there is still on an honorary basis.

    Zombi Child oscillates between girls in this very posh Parisian school and people in Haiti. But these are not wholly separate places. A story about a Haitian grandfather (the zombie victim, granted a second life) and his descendants links the two strains. It turns out one of those descendants, Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat), is a new student at the school. A white schoolgirl, Fanny (the dreamy Louise Labeque), who's Mélissa's friend and sponsors her for membership in a sorority, while increasingly possessed by a perhaps imaginary love, also bridges the gap. For the sorority admission Mélissa confesses the family secret of a zombi and voodoo knowledge in her background.

    Thierry Méranger of Cahiers du Cinéma calls this screenplay "eminently Bonellian in its double orientation," its "interplay of echoes" between "radically different" worlds designed to "stimulate the spectator's reflection." Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times bluntly declares that it's meant to "interrogate the bitter legacy of French colonialism."

    But how so? And if so, this could be a tricky proposition. On NPR Andrew Lapin was partly admiring of how "cerebral and slippery" the film is, but suggests that since voodoo and zombies are all most white people "already know" about Haitian culture, a director coming from Haiti's former colonizing nation (France) must do "a lot of legwork to use these elements successfully in a "fable" where "the real horror is colonialism." The posh school comes from Napoleon, who coopted the French revolution, and class scenes include a history professor lecturing on this and how "liberalism obscures liberty."

    I'm more inclined to agree with Glenn Kenny's more delicately worded praise in his short New York Times review of the film where he asserts that the movie’s inconclusiveness is the source of its appeal. Zombi Child, he says, is fueled by insinuation and fascination. The fascination, the potent power, of the occult, that's what Haiti has that the first wold lacks.

    One moment made me authentically jump, but Bonello isn't offering a conventional horror movie. He's more interested in making his hints of voodoo's power and attraction, even for the white lovelorn schoolgirl, seem as convincing as his voodoo ceremonies, both abroad and back in Haiti, feel thoroughly attractive, or scary, and real. These are some of the best voodoo scenes in a movie. This still may seem like a concoction to you. Its enchantments were more those of the luxuriant imagery, the flowing camerawork, the delicious use of moon- and candle-light, the beautiful people, of whatever color. This is world-class filmmaking even if it's not Bonello's best work.

    Bonello stages things, gets his actors to live them completely, then steps back and lets it happen. Glenn Kenny says his "hallmark" is his "dreamy detachment." My first look at that was the 2011 House of Tolerence (L'Apollonide - mémoires de la maison close), which I saw in Paris, a languorous immersion in a turn-of-the-century Parisian brothel, intoxicating, sexy, slightly repugnant. Next came his most ambitious project, Saint Laurent(2014), focused on a very druggy period in the designer's career and a final moment of decline. He has said this became a kind of matching panel for Apollonide. (You'll find that in an excellent long Q&A after the NYFF screening.) Saint Laurent's "forbidden" (unsanctioned) picture of the fashion house is as intoxicating, vibrant, and cloying as the maison close, with its opium, champagne, disfigurement and syphilis. No one can say Gaspard Ulliel wasn't totally immersed in his performance. Nocturama (2016) takes a group of wild young people who stage a terrorist act in Paris, who seem to run aground in a posh department store at the end, Bonello again getting intense action going and then seeming to leave it to its own devices, foundering. Those who saw the result as "shallow cynicism" (like A.O. Scott) missed how exciting and powerful it was. (Mike D'Angelo didn't.)

    Zombi Child is exciting at times too. But despite its gorgeous imagery and sound, its back and forth dialectic seems more artificial and calculating than Bonello's previous films.

    Zombi Child, mins., debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight May 2019, included in 13 other international festivals, including Toronto and New York. It released theatrically in France Jun. 12, 2020 (AlloCiné press rating 3.7m 75%) and in the US Jan. 24, 2020 (Metascore 75%). Now available in "virtual theater" through Film Movement (Mar. 23-May 1, 2020), which benefits the theater of your choice.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-07-2020 at 07:36 PM.

  6. #21
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    WASP NETWORK (Olivier Assayas 2019)



    Spies nearby

    The is a movie about the Cuban spies sent to Miami to combat anti-Castro Cuban-American groups, and their capture. They are part of what the Cubans called La Red Avispa (The Wasp Network). The screenplay is based on the book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War by Fernando Morais, and it's mainly from the Wasp, Cuban point of view, not the FBI point of view. Unlike the disastrous Seberg, no time is spent looking over the shoulders of G-men, nor will this story give any pleasure to right wing Miami Cubans. But it won't delight leftists much either, or champions of the Cuban Five. The issues of why one might leave Cuba and why one might choose not to are treated only superficially. There's no analysis of US behavior toward Cuba since the revolution.

    On the plus side, the film is made in an impeccable, clear style (with one big qualification: see below) and there's an excellent cast with as leads Edgar Ramirez (of the director's riveting miniseries Carlos), Penelope Cruz (Almodóvar's muse), Walter Moura (Escobar in the Netflix series "Narcos"), Ana de Armas (an up-and-comer who's actually Cuban but lives in Hollywood now), and Gael García Bernal (he of course is Mexican, Moura is Brazilian originally, and Ramirez is Venezuelan). They're all terrific, and other cast members shine. Even a baby is so amazing I thought she must be the actress' real baby.

    Nothing really makes sense for the first hour. We don't get the whole picture, and we never do, really. We focus on René Gonzalez (Édgar Ramirez), a Puerto Rican-born pilot living in Castro’s Cuba and fed up with it, or the brutal embargo against Castro by the US and resulting shortage of essential goods and services, who suddenly steals a little plane and flies it to Miami, leaving behind his wife Olga and young daughter. Olga is deeply shocked and disappointed to learn her husband is a traitor. He has left without a word to her. Born in Chicago, he was already a US citizen and adapts easily, celebrated as an anti-Castro figure.

    We also follow another guy, Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura) who escapes Havana by donning snorkel gear and swimming to Guantanamo, not only a physical challenge but riskier because prison guards almost shoot him dead when he comes out of the water. Roque and Gonzalez are a big contrast. René is modest, content with small earnings, and starts flying for a group that rescues Cuban defectors arriving by water. Juan Pablo immediately woos and marries the beautiful Ana Marguerita Martinez (Ana de Armas) and, as revealed by an $8,000 Rolex, is earning big bucks but won't tell Ana how. This was the first time I'd seen Wagner Moura, an impressively sly actor who as Glenn Kenny says, "can shift from boyish to sinister in the space of a single frame" - and that's not the half of it.

    This is interesting enough to keep us occupied but it's not till an hour into the movie, with a flashback to four years earlier focused on Cuban Gerardo Hernandez (Garcia Bernal) that we start to understand something of what is going on. We learn about the CANF and Luis Posada Carriles (Tony Plana), and a young man's single-handed effort to plant enough bombs to undermine the entire Cuban tourist business. This late-arriving exposition for me had a deflating and confounding effect. There were still many good scenes to follow. Unfortunately despite them, and the good acting, there is so much exposition it's hard to get close to any of the individual characters or relationships.

    At the moment I'm an enthusiastic follower of the FX series "The Americans." It teaches us that in matters of espionage, it's good to have a firm notion of where the main characters - in that case "Phillip" and "Elizabeth" - place their real, virtually unshakable loyalties, before moving on. Another example of which I'm a longtime fan is the spy novels of John le Carré. You may not be sure who's loyal, but you always know who's working for British Intelligence, even in the latest novel the remarkable le Carré, who at 88, has just produced (Agent Running in the Field - for which he's performed the audio version, and no one does that better). To be too long unclear about these basics in spydom is fatal.

    It's said that Assayas had a lot of trouble making Wasp Network, which has scenes shot in Cuba in it. At least the effort doesn't show. We get a glimpse of Clinton (this happened when he was President) and Fidel, who, in a hushed voice, emphatically, asserts his confidence that the Red Avispa was doing the right thing and that the Americans should see that. Whose side do you take?

    Wasp Network, 123 mins., debuted at Venice and showed at about ten other international festivals including Toronto, New York, London and Rio. It was released on Netflix Jun. 19, 2019, and that applies to many countries (13 listed on IMDb). Metascore 54%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-15-2024 at 01:55 AM.

  7. #22
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    CHRONICLES OF A WANDERING SAINT ( Tomás Gómez Bustillo 2023)



    At a church somewhere in Argentina, a miracle wants to happen

    J.Hurtado wrote in his Screen Anarchy review that among the films at the Austin South by Southwest Festival it "wows by its simplicity." Sean Patrick of Geeks.Media calls it "an elegant, lovely and moving festival debut." It's a gentle, sweet, quietly ironic little film that exudes a special Argentinian charm. It seems to be the festival favorite of many who have written about it, though there have been no major trade journal reviews, despite awards nominations and audience votes.

    The film revolves around a woman past middle age, Rita (Monica Villa), whose husband Norbrerto (Horacio Marassi), a for her annoyingly inept guitar player, still works at night (what does he do?), which saves them from actually sleeping together. She largely ignores him anyway, though he still cherishes their love and thinks of returning to a waterfall they visited as newlyweds, and they are still very much a couple. At the well-worn and nearby local church Rita is a regular, an outside satellite of a little group of women, presumably devout. But while they gossip, she would rather dust, sweep, and polish, expressing her devotion in the humblest of ways. Father Eduardo (Pablo Moseinco), of course, knows her well.

    The turning point comes when in a church storeroom Rita comes across a statue of a saint (presumably) that she conceives of staging as a "milagro," a miracle, and she engages Norberto to carry it back to their house. It needs some touching up. She imagines it is a statue of Saint Rita that is known to have mysteriously disappeared some thirty years ago. When Rita tells Father Eduardo about this, he says it would not just be a lucky find but, indeed, a "milagro."

    The touched up statue looks very nice, but in her effort to present it in all its glory, misfortune befalls the living, real-life Rita. This is where in a use of semi-conceptual end-titles, the film "ends." Consider what follows the "after-film."

    In part this is one of those studies in folksy, or updated, hagiography and a reconsideration of what ascension into Heaven might be like with modern bureaucratic procedures by angels, who in the case of Lucho (Iair Said), one of the screenplay's and casting director's finest creations, while he has a glowing neon circle floating over his head à la Dan Flavin, otherwise has something of the air of a frumpy junior traveling salesman - with alternate sainthood packages to offer.

    The film has some of the regular routines of what it's like revisiting the living when you're yourself no longer one of them, and in this case talking to them just causes them to sneeze (another witty and, presumably, original device). There are even suggestions of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, but one may think more of Borges (for the conceptual inventiveness) and Becket (for the slow-motion simplicity). This is a package to ponder, and the director himself has remarked he likes films that look different and become more layered when you rewatch them. Letterboxed features two spot-on gems at the moment for the film: first a description: "a funny and cute film about life and death. A film that makes us wonder what makes us good"; and second, a remark: "Christian propaganda is getting a little too good." Spoken like a true lapsed Catholic.

    The press kit for this film describes Rita as "a pious yet insatiably competitive woman," which is an interesting thought: perhaps true piety is or often winds up being also insatiably competitive. At any rate Rita does seem to want to become a saint. But an ardent desire of that kind doesn't disqualify one. Don't people who become saints usually try very hard? But in the scheme of things, all our worldly efforts are as nothing. And it is, conversely, a frequent assumption of stories like this that a person doesn't know how saintly she has really been.

    Bustillo's film doesn't succeed, if it does, through its clever reexamination of sainthood and morality. It does so primarily through its sublimely assured and unified use of a tiny town in rural Argentina that he knows very well, a traditional world that might almost be at home, this time, in the Fifties Italy of Giovannino Guareschi, though there's no communist mayor here, and this priest hasn't a great deal to say for himself. Though Bustillo has mentioned Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton, this film awakened in me fond memories of the inimitable little films about Patagonia by Carlo Sorin like Historias Minimas and Bombon: El Perro. Bustillo works by indirection, through pauses and minimal dialogue. He has the skill to provide a world that feels fully formed despite having only been sketched in with a few swift touches - and many silences. He has said, in an informative and candid AFI interview, that he began with an Argentinian folklore of "luz mala" or evil light; that he bases Rita on himself, because he considers himself to be the only person he is allowed to make fun of; and that he is working with a restrained kind of Latin American "magic realism" that stresses the human. Indeed.

    Chronicles of a Wandering Saint/Crónicas de una Santa Errante, 84 mins., from Argentina, debuted SXSW 2023, with various award nominations including three Independent Spirit; awards and nominations at Santa Fe, Leeds, New Orleans, Vancouver, etc. It opens at IFC Center June 28, 2023, and at the Lumiere Cinema in Los Angeles July 5 and at the Roxie in San Francisco July 19.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Today at 06:56 AM.

  8. #23
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    Jul 2002
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    TIGER STRIPES (Amanda Nell Eu 2023)



    Beasts of Maghreb

    This is a film that could come right out of a Paul Bowles novel, with an ominous, extended apocalyptic twist. It's also better than simply that, because its Moroccan director - in her very promising debut - enters so deeply into local atmosphere. Into strangeness, religiosity, and a questioning of the nature of things. The film qualifies as a kind of metaphysical science fiction. There is some extraordinary staging of events. And so there must be, because in this heightened Morocco, aliens have come and live invisibly in a kind of middle world. Animals -- birds, dogs, sheep. A dog that has become a kind of familiar for a young woman seem at one points to turn into a bird when she leaves him behind. And then there are many birds and we may wonder who and what they are.

    The human protagonist is Itto (Oumaïma Barid), a pregnant young woman with austere, elongated features and far-of eyes. When her well-born husband Amine (Mehdi Dehbi) sets off with his family from their provincial seat to the town of Khourigba, because she feels they look down on her because of her impoverished origins she asks him to go with them and let her follow on her own later.

    Thus riskily independent choice begins a tormented, mystical, frightening journey into the unknown. The wilder regions of Morocco are perfectly suited for filming such a terrifying, lunar journey. No special effects needed, but filmmaker Sofia Alaoui and her crew make everything magical. The score by Amine Bouhafa is superb and does just what it needs to every time. The cinematography of Noé Bach is also fine.

    Animals perform remarkably well. Early on, when a disturbing storm (also a supernatural one, by the film's conventions that we instantly accept) has put all the animals into an uproar, Itto befriends a dark, handsome dog who seems the only calm creature, who when she leaves him behind to take off in a motorized cart, seems to turn into a bird in order to follow her. Later she has a dialogue with a sheep, who comes to her tenderly, like a pet, and who she later says she has dreamed is her mother.

    Stormy skies and wild winds threaten. News warns that different beings are around. The protagonist herself is different. When Itto meets Fouad (Fouad Oughaou), the man who will accompany her, until he doesn't, he turns out to be Amazigh ("Berber") too and they speak some words of the Shilha language that prove it.

    In Jordan Mintzer's Hollywood Reporter review he explains Alaoui's strategy by saying she "doesn’t turn the global catastrophe scenario on its head as much as [flip] it sideways." He says it winds up being more like Terrence Malick than Roland Emmerich. The focus on class, religion, and women's status in today's Morocco adds an unconventional and yet timely note. Alaoui has transcended genre and convention in quite her own way while at the same time as Jessica Kiang says in her Variety review, this film captures something potentially universal the"eerie experience that is suddenly finding yourself startlingly alone during a time of shared global panic." Alone in inhospitable rural area without cellphone service.

    While the people and land of Morocco are beautiful, both can take on an off-putting, inhospitable quality, as Paul Bowles often captures in his novels and stories. Or since it is eminently cinematic, Itto's adventure could be an episode in Bertolucci's adaptation The Sheltering Sky,, which still holds up rather well. today, 34 years since it came out.

    This time there is no white man out of his element, but the devout Itto, in a remote hotel, is not welcome, but is deemed very strange to be young, pregnant and traveling by herself (and not foreign).

    Animalia grew out of a much admired short film and may seem longer on atmosphere than story; there is a slight hiatus after the hourney ends. Still, after the protagonist arrives at her husband's family's provincial seat there is the film's grandest, most memorable, climactic sequence: a public prayer that everyone, including many who may have come from elswehere, attends. It spills out of the mosque onto the street, and the men must separate from the women in the traditional way. But Itto eventually finds it unbearable to have Amine taken away from her again this way, though he goes willingly.

    There is a remarkable use of locations, which include the distinctively ornate rooms of Amine's family house in town; a sprawling men's cafe that looks half like a boudoir or a mosque interior; and the jammed public prayer sequence, a carefully edited blending of order and chaos. Closeups are used at times very effectively to create an effect of strangeness and over-intensity. While there are keen individual observations, over all this as Kiang says "imagines humankind getting a fleeting glimpse at the interconnectedness of all living things" though such glimpses may only be granted to a species such as ours " that is on its way out, as a parting gift." Bowles would like the pessimism and austerity of that idea.

    Sofia Alaoui is clearly a filmmaker with gifts for the world that are various and rich.

    Animalia, 90 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 20, 2023, also showing at Hong Kong, Istanbul, Taipei, San Francisco and a dozen other festivals including Karlovy Vary, Melbourne, Vancouver, and London BFI. It was screened for this review at Cinema Village Jun. 11, 2024.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-11-2024 at 04:36 PM.

  9. #24
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    GEOFF McFETRIDGE: : DRAWING A LIFE (Dan Covert 2023)



    His images are everywhere, but we've never heard of him: a portrait of prolific commercial (and fine) artist Geoff McFetridge, whose best work is his life

    This is a commercial artist of considerable scope and influence who is also anonymous and invisible and has maintained much of his independence. He is not so easy to pin down, but this film, shot over a four-year period (a mustache comes and goes), by being staccato (highlighted by chapter divisions using Geoff's writing or poetry) and a bit sketchy, does a good job of it - though his innermost secrets may lie yet unplumbed, even though he seems to be telling all.

    He is 53, is from Calgary, British Columbia, and lives with his family in Los Angeles. Co-producer Spike Jonze's films Adaptation, Her and Where the Wild Things Are are tied together by titles designed by him. After revealing an early talent for drawing logos, he went to a local art school, then moved on to study at CalArts. in L.A. thirty years ago. He then took a job as art director at the short-lived magazine Grand Royal, a spinoff of the Beastie Boys’ independent record label, where Jonze was one of the editors. After that soon ended he opened his own studio, partly using his connection with Jonze to branch out as an independent designer. The rest is history. He is in great demand, can choose what he does, and has a rich life that includes fine art and puts a happy life with his family first, and includes a sense of fun and an ability to laugh.

    Early clients included Sofia Coppola for her clothing line Milk Fed. And then he did the titles of her first feature, The Virgin Suicides, and others after that. She describes his designs as having "something different than something that a team of creative professionals do." and adds, "It’s not about being perfect." With outlines hand-drawn, a little irregular: they are pictures of "ideas," not polished shapes; artisanal, naive, primitive or simple. Figures, sometimes blobby and ingeniously intertwined, tend to predominate, with flat elementary colors.

    Simple. Geoff, whose origins are defined by being biracial (white father, Chinese mother) and from a very minimal place (suburbia, Calgary BC), discovered himself when he realized "I had the most to say in the simplest work." That was a breakthrough after a period of agonizing and confusion during art school. When young, he felt ostracized by being artistic - his mother says he drew for three hours every day after school - and biracial. He found skateboarders were an open group. He still is shown as drawing, endless permutations and variations, finding the one drawing from the many drawings that he wants to use.

    He explains and shows that all or most of his work remains line drawings done with a pencil, because, he says, a pencil has a certain speed, and most of the drawings are the size of half a sheet of paper, because that's comfortable to his vision. (The paintings and finished graphic designs are often much bigger.) As a kid he was obsessed by geometry, he says, and he imagined lines everywhere connecting things. But we also observe right away that his images often involve big areas of flat color. He speaks of learning in his development period to "take away the layers."

    The blurb for this film calls Geoff McFetridge "One of the most prolific artists of his time," and says "he has undoubtedly influenced the way the world looks. . .His art is everywhere," it goes on: "on your Apple watch, in countless galleries around the world," onn the film title designs for Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze" (part of a key generation in the Los Angeles of the nineties), and "in collaborations with Nike, Hermès, Warby Parker, and more." The blurb says, as his own testimony confirms, that he is "the antithesis of the archetypal artist fueled by drugs, alcohol, and chaos," and he is set apart as a person by his "obsessive quest to balance family with a creative life." "In Geoff McFetridge: Drawing a LIfe, director and fellow artist Dan Covert offers unprecedented access into Geoff's multifaceted world, painting an intimate portrait of a man guided by intention and authenticity." This is indeed borne out by the film itself.

    The Calgary Herald review of this film continues with the description that "He is shown to be an obsessive workaholic and a 'control freak' who is nevertheless happily married and a devoted father to his two daughters." The Herald confirms that "He has done work for massive corporations, including designing Pepsi billboards and Apple watch faces" (though this corporate work isn't stressed in the film), but he "remains uncompromising in his vision" and "turns down '87 percent' of the work he is pitched and refuses to take meetings with potential clients because he 'hates meetings.'"

    McFetritdge emerges as one who to a remarkable extent has learned to be his own man. What his style is, is a matter of showing rather than telling. Obviously he has a certain "look" or way of visualizing that people like. But no one comes in from outside to try to describe that. This is an insider's, an intimate, picture of the man. This may seem a shortcoming of the film, but it is what it is and is also its strength and its appeal. It also dates itself a little bit by having a Covid section at the end; and its cheery score is relentlessly conventional. Geoff's own direct-to-camera monologue sets the tone throughout, while his story is illustrated with carefully assembled stills and archival footage of his life.

    He is forthright and articulate in defining who he is and what he does. "The downfall of design," he says, is in being anonymous." This is a key transition line to a description of how, to create a personal artistic legacy and compensate for this anonymity of commercial design, he painstakingly began making art for himself, to hang on the wall and having shows, the first ones of screen prints, early paintings taking three months to complete. He is unusual, it is remarked, in consciously balancing his ubiquitous graphic design with paintings of which he has these exhibitions. He really balances out the two activities - even though he admits smilingly that he is not an "in-demand" artist as a gallery painter. He has, nonetheless, shown in New York, a ruthless venue but also a sign of having arrived.

    The fine art Geoff McFetritdge does comes out of the same imagery as the graphic design, and looks like commercial art transplanted to gallery settings: it can be described as simplified human figures twisted and distorted somewhat in the manner of Matisse combined with abstraction. But he does a variety of work in a variety of media, including watercolors that he paints when he is traveling, which look different and can be an alternate source of visual ideas.

    The film has Spike Jonze, Sofia Coppola, his assistant, wife, photographer, and other associates as talking heads, but its ubiquitous presence is Geoff McFetridge himself, addressing the camera and talking about himself. He has a deep, firm voice. He inspires confidence. Part of this is that he is so physically vigorous. Not only does he declare himself to live healthy - no drinking or smoking, he is shown trail running, ultramarathoning, skateboarding, surfing, cycling, and skiing; and incidentally, dancing just for fun at home with his eldest daughter.

    Geoff's wife since before all this relentless activity started, Sara Devincentis, also appears, as well as Frances and Phoebe, their two daughters. He explains that Sara, Frances, and Phoebe are absolutely essential to his being and his art-making. The photographer Andrew Paynter, who has documented his work - his David Douglas Duncan, he suggests - also appears. McFetridge counts on. Paynter to save his fine art work from oblivion.

    Considered from a fine art background, the work of both kinds may seem less interesting than the man himself. It is his wholeness and the wholesomeness of his family life, his energy, his skill and openness in talking about himself that are memorable. In its ability to convey the satisfying life this film winds up being an interesting portrait, and its use of the artist and the people around him to tell his story, natural and organic, feels very successful.

    A final scene shows Geoff receiving an award before an audience of designers that shows him to be well recognized by his peers. But the film makes clear that a happy life, a happy wife, happy daughters, and happy pets are the real priorities in his life, and friends and admirers suggest he's got it figured out, that his success is internal as well as external. May he live long and continue to prosper.

    The film was written by Erik Auli with Dan Covert, Amy Dempsey, and Tara Rose Stromberg. The cinematography of Claudio Rietti and Daniel Vicheone provides an appropriate bright, sunny look.

    Reviewed in Hollywood Reporter by Justin Lowe.

    Geoff McFetridge: Drawing a Life, 80 mins., debuted at Austin (SXSW) Mar 12, 2023. In theaters NYC, Jun. 21, 2024; Los Angeles, Jun. 30; available on VOD via Gravitas, Jul. 2, 2024.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-10-2024 at 05:58 AM.

  10. #25
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    LYD ( Sarah Ema Friedland, Rami Younis 2023)



    Defeat of Planet of the Apes

    This new entry into the "Planet of the Apes" franchise is intermittently engaging, lively, and full of grand scenes. But it's a misfire. Both the filmmaking and the writing are lacking in that je ne sais quoi that made the originals gripping and hypnotic. Besides which this too-long film takes too much time getting started, and then at the end doesn't really go anywhere.

    The whole power of the ape world is lessened for a simple reason: rather uninteresting humans - just one, really - have been allowed to take over. The concept is that over many, many generations - the time line is necessarily vague - dominance has shifted back and forth. Something went wrong. A magic pill, or whatever, that was supposed to make humans smarter made them dumber, literally mute, and apes smarter. The whole idea is a confusion. This was nonetheless the original "Planet of the Apes" concept that goes back to the Pierre Boulle novel and its original 1968 film. But that had Charlton Heston. You didn't necessarily like him, but he was powerful, the essence of charismatic human hubris. Kingdom lacks a big human star.

    What actually happens this time is a diminution. A handful of apes link up with a shapely Netflix star from Britain, Freya Allan, known here as Mae. This is an uninteresting, vague character and a mediocre actress. How disappointing when she took over the action and broke into an ill-defined ruined industrial-scientific complex to capture a thingy she brings to another pretty woman to - well, no use trying to explain, but it doesn't do the apes any good, or us.

    The notable element here is that Caesar, the perpetual ape dictator-prototype (though played by someone new this time called Kevin Durand, not Andy Serkis anymore) gets a chance to conduct a real Hitlerian grand rally. If only the sequence could have been t night, and lighted and photographed in the style of Leni Riefenstahl, it might have been something. Unfortunately Caesar gets overthrown afterward too easily. It seemed quite implausible that he'd suddenly have no supporters left at all. But the last part of this movie just seems clumsy and confused.

    The old "Planet of the Apes" movies, some of them anyway, were magical, so full of drama and giant personalities. Maybe we should just be talking about the new technology. Of course: CGI and performance capture, which no doubt have been improved on even further here. But they were already well developed at least a decade ago with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. So we would just be talking about little technical tweaks. What counts most is the story, the acting and the dialogue.

    Even though a couple of recent ones were good, the heyday of "Planet of the Apes" was the Seventies: 1968, 1970, 1971, and 1971 were the original films when it was all fresh and exciting even if it was a bit spun-out and they were uheven. That was when we cared. Nothing more recent, starting when Tim Burton's 2001 redo came out., has had quite the original frisson. Burton had a notable cast including Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Paul Giamatti, Estella Warren and Kris Kristofferson. (Burton's "Planet" do ranked at the bottom though on a Vulture ranking list of all ten films that came out last week.) Matt Reeves' 2014 Dawn of Planet of the Apes, by the way, had the longtime player of Caesar, the grandiose ape leader, Andy Sirkis, along with the charismatic child actor Kodi Smit-McPhee, who was then 18, and Gary Oldman and Ken Russell.

    If we talk about money, $90 million to $170 million have been spent on the five twenty-first-century "Planet of the Apes" movies, and a relative pittance on the early ones - even allowing for how much more the dollar was worth back then. But ultimately though in science, fiction making us believe in the created world is all-important, it's not about the money. It's about the story and the human values.

    Rupert Wyatt's 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes was pretty fine stuff, great cast (though the "human" roles were underused), great story, with lively, risk-taking acting from James Franco. Critics preferred Matt Reeves's 2014 Dawn of Planet of the Apes, which was more grand and grim and had fancier CGI. So it goes: it seems this franchise brings out people's worst taste. But this new entry in the franchise, with its muddled storyline and unnecessary length, still ranks worse with the critics than Rise of.... And they're so right.

    Kingdom of the Planet of the Aapes, 145 mins., debuted in many countries May 8, 9, and 10, 2024. Screened for this review May 14 at Hilltop Century, Richmond, CA. Metacritic rating 66%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-14-2024 at 08:51 PM.

  11. #26
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    ART COLLLEGE 1994 (Liu Jian 2023)

    LIU JIAN: ART COLLEGE 1994 艺术学院 (2023)


    Animation evokes a Nineties Chinese art school populated by slackers

    The academic world is notoriously tough material for fiction. That goes as well for art school, as shown by Liu Jian's 2D animation on the subject. As Leslie Felperin truly says in her Biennale Hollywood Reporter review, this film shows "a knack for evoking the rhythms" of "dorm-room debates." But such debates go over material you got tired of a long time ago. Thus Jessica Kiang's Variety review types Art School 1994 as "amiable but overlong." Wendy Ide points out in her Berlin Screen Daily review, the Nineties were a time of "seismic change" in China. This film is a quiet echo of that. Its slacker poses and trying on of radical attitudes could not have happened otherwise. At this point, however, they may be of interest mainly to ciné-sinologists, or western art school grads of a certain age who don't mind reading subtitles of the talky student debates.

    Liu JIan is a specialist in animation who previously made Piercing, about the financial crisis (2010) and Have a Nice Day about an attempted theft (2017); I reviewed the latter, finding its appeal, and its action, a bit wan. But appeal there was, and is here, both for visuals and content.

    Those three top reviewers from leading trade journals covered the new film and it showed at the Berlinale for reasons, one of which is the involvement of two of China's major directors, Jia Zhangke and Bi Gan, to play voice roles here.

    It's the young men, mostly long-haired, often with unlit cigarettes in their mouths, some with little mustaches, who do most of the debating. Working on a painting or sculpture (or piece of conceptual art) isn't much more cinematic than working at a writing desk, but we do see studios. Traditional ones are compared with oil painting ones: they smell cleaner. Gouache painting is disrecommended: it can run if it gets wet. Acrylic is spoken well of: it's permanent. A couple of guys are working on an big painting, and another one slashes it. Whether painting is even valid anymore is considered.

    There is an older guy who never got admitted to the school but hangs out at it all the time. He is debunked, but later turns out to become successful - one of several illustrations that actually going to art school isn't what makes you into an artist, any more than writing school makes you into a writer. What it is, is a place to hang out and be cool (or nihilistic). Or it's a way to find a girlfriend or boyfriend (and one girl trashes another for planning on marrying a dull, safe boy - and she runs away). Most importantly, from the art point of view (apart from learning techniques and media and being provided with materials and studios to work in), it's a way to meet people. To this end, some students wind up being dealers or curators, and galleries come looking for emerging talent.

    Dorm bull sessions are carried on by these long-haired young men with dead cigarettes in their mouths. Does making money matter? Is traditional art the way to go? They often long for travel to the West. Sometimes they simply wonder if art matters - or is the only thing that speaks to the soul - or if anything matters. They cite Sartre, "Madame Bovary's Lover" [sic], Van Gogh's sunflowers, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and many other mainstays of western culture. There is almost an equal number of young women, several studying singing.

    What's special here is the "seismic change" - that China is coming alive and opening up to the West at this moment. It's also a time when getting someone a new Walkman was a big deal and computers and cellphones aren't seen. The internet was just getting ready to explode. People just talk here. These art students are aware of western art and artists but not directly in touch with them. It varies: Zhang Xiaojun (Dong Zijian) is keenly aware of Kurt Cobain, who's just died, his best friend Rabbit/Dai Zhifei (Chizi), less so. The school, as represented in Professor Feng (Wang Hongwei), is not ready to embrace the adoption of anything outside traditional Chinese art.

    There are conflicts about pairings in the women's dorm and glimmerings of attractions on both sides, but little happens other than a chaste date. There are breakthroughs of understanding, moments of intellectual (and maybe aesthetic) excitement, doubtless plans made for the future. But nothing decisive happens. This is about being in art school, and Liu has already shown in Have a Nice Day that he isn't much into decisive plot action. It's all about the talk and the atmosphere. Maybe that evokes Éric Rohmer, more likely Richard Linklater, as Felperin suggests, or maybe not. Pleasant but underwhelming.

    Art College 1994 艺术学院, 118 mins., debuted Feb. 24, 2023 at Berlin in competition, showing also at Vienna, Sydney, China and Melbourne. Originally screened for this review as part of the Jul. 14-30, 2023 New York Asian Film Festival. Now distributed by Deknalog, it opens Friday, April 26, 2024 at Metrograph-in-Theater and on VOD via Metrograph-at-Home, as part of Liu Jian x 2 alongside the director's Berlinale debut feature animation Have a nice Day.

    The entire cast/voice list is as follows:
    Rabbit/Dai Zhifei (Chizi), Zhang Ziajun (Dong Zijian), Lin Weiguo (Bai Ke), Xie Caixia (Li Jiajia), Zhao Youcai (Huang Bo), Shou Ma/Ma Yongfu (Renke), Angel (Ziao Yu), Gao Hong (Papi), Hao Lili (Zhou Dongyu), Xiao Mei (Bu Guanjin), Li Baichuan (Xu Zhiyuan), Curator (Peng Lei), Chubster/Luo Hao (Bi Gan), Hu Tianming (Wang Hongwei), The Owner of Tape Store (Shen Lihui), Wu Yingjun (Da Peng), Professor Feng (Wang Hongwei), Afro Hair Chubster (Zeng Hongyu), Afro Hair SKinny (Liu Jian), Section Chief (Zhang Dasheng), Chen Zianyu (Huang Lu), Gu YongQing (Jia Zhangke), Student A (Duan Qi), Student B (Yang Cheng), Student C (Zhang Chenlu), Boss Lady (Fanf Jun), Er Ge (Duan Lian), Guo Sixiang (Kevin Tsai, 'Taiwan, China), A De (Du Haibin), Bar Girl (Hu Wenxin), Zhang Daydong (Zhang Zixian), Young Man A (Xu Lei), Young Man B (Guo Xiaoruo).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-25-2024 at 09:42 PM.

  12. #27
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    HAO ARE YOU (Dieu Hao Do 2023) Berlin & Beyond


    A sprightly documentary exploration of family background does not reinvent the genre but is assured

    This documentary about the international squabbles of a Chinese family. The 36-year-old filmmaker Dieu Hao Do, who grew up in Germany, sets out to learn the stories. This family, he explains, has fled two wars, from China to Vietnam, then from Vietnam to Germany. Along the way, seven siblings stopped speaking to each otherm some for many years. All blame communism for the problems.

    His mother is in Germany. So is his father and his sister, who was born in Vietnam and is six years older. His father has dementia. He can say questions to him, but his father cannot answer. His mother recounts life in Vietnam under the communists and cries.

    There's a side story: his father had another wife and family but left them to be with his mother, who was stigmatized as a home wrecker.

    He grew up in Saxony beside two other families from Vietnam, the others ethnic Vietnamese, his from the Chinese minority there. His uncles and aunts live on three continents - not talking. In the film, he goes out to talk to them, one by one.

    Number 1, the eldest, is an alcoholic retired businessman living alone in HongKong. He describes the communists in Vietnam in simple, dismissive terms. Most of his time is psent talkngh about his father having a mistress, his early estrangement. Number 2 is in Los Angeles.

    From Kino-Zeit: (from the German:)
    However, the documentary is only of limited cinematic interest. It is too permeated by an almost pedagogical distance, and here one would have liked to feel the author's passionate voice more strongly. As in the plot of the documentary itself, Do tries so hard to unite all the family poles in such an unbiased way that it is not really clear what he actually wants to tell. At some point you lose track of who is at odds with whom, until the documentary becomes almost luridly private. Although it is impressive to see how vulnerable and sensitive the individual family members still are, how they cannot forgive anything, how they are still driven by their frustration with life, and how clear it becomes what the collective silence has done to everyone, it does seem a little too privatized.
    More historical, social context and more information on the social conditions as well as more personal impressions of those affected would have given the documentary a stronger emotional and political core. Unfortunately, one omission is that the alienating migrant experience in Germany does not play a role here, despite the attack on the Vietnamese refugee camps in Rostock in 1992. Especially as Do is unfortunately not a particularly talented narrator in the voice-over, so that the emotional pain, which can be sensed here in some places, is not tangible enough.
    Cinematic poetry has Dos

    Translated with (free version)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-01-2024 at 11:42 PM.

  13. #28
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    NOWHERE SPECIAL (Uberto Pasolini 2020 )



    A single father finds out he is soon to die and looks for a family to adopt his little boy

    The film is set in Northern Ireland and the father John, sensitively played by James Norton, is a window washer soon to die of an unspecified disease with no family. Social services are providing care for him with 4-year-old Michael (Daniel Lamont) and helping him interview potential adoptive parents. (The whole screenplay was spun out of a notice the filmmaker found in a newspaper.)

    The threat of sentimentalism inherent in the premise is off-putting and the idea of using a small boy in such a role feels uncomfortable. Which is silly because the topic is serious and child actors just like playing roles, at best anyway. In the event, Lamont beautifully creates on screen this thoughtful, introspective boy with eloquent eyes. The older actor and the younger show a profound rapport developed offscreen.

    The film alternates sessions where John plays with the boy or takes him to and from school and when he seeks prospective adoptive parents. It seems a rather unusual process, his interviewing them, in the company of Shona (Eileen O’Higgins), a young adoption agency trainee, with the boy in tow not knowing what it's about but perhaps gradually guessing.

    So we review with John the quickly rejected "smug poshos" (as Cath Clarke's Guardian review calls them); the couple who say they were hoping for a baby; a man who has a rabbit and disses dogs, while Michael has expressed his longing for a puppy. Several couples are "cartoonishly awful" (Clarke) which is "jarring". The right one is obvious, though deciding still seems impossible anyway.

    Perhaps the film's greatest success, apart the justly praised quality of not being maudlin (even if steering narrowly close), is the portrait it draws, thanks to the actor and restrained but clear writing, of a working man with a tough childhood and a wild youth behind him who turned into a mensch when his wife abruptly returned to her native Russia after their baby's birth and he committed to raising the boy alone. James Norton plays this, and all the little tests of daily inner farewells to life and the boy he loves and has lovingly raised and the people met with day to day who fall short.

    He's not always saintly. When a jerk trashes his window-washing he tells him "I am not your mate" and comes back and throws eggs at the windows.

    John draws out the choosing far beyond the limits of the agency's practice and there's pressure to decide. He avoids telling Michael anything, though the boy must absorb some of what's pending. He hears "adopt" and asks what it is, and when told, tells his dad, "I don't want to adopt." Only near the end Michael pulls out the recommended book on death for small children, When Dinosaurs Die. The rapport of the two actors renders this moment both mysterious and satisfying.

    This movie has a keen eye for the undesirable person and the worthy one. But in its care to avoid sentimentality, at times it becomes stingy of emotion and incident. Nonetheless it does lead us through some hard thinking about life's most crucial leave-taking and truth-telling moments.

    Writer-director Uberto Pasolini, who was born in Rome, is a nephew of the director Luchini Visconti and related to the Pasolini dall'Onda winemaking family rather than Pier Paolo. His two other most recent films also concern dying without family members to help.

    Nowhere Special, 95 mins., debuted Sept. 10, 2020 at Venice, showing at many other international festivals in 2020 and 2021. It released in cinemas Jul. 16, 2021 in the UK and Ireland, and in numerous other countries. Its US theatrical release comes Apr. 26, 2024 in New York and Los Angeles. Metacritic rating: 72%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-25-2024 at 10:00 PM.

  14. #29
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    RIPLEY (Stephen Zaillian 2024)



    Stephen Zaillian steals Patricia Highsmith's debut Ripley novel

    What's off kilter about the new Netflix Highsmith adaptation, "Ripley," which as a longtime fan of the novels I nonetheless could not resist? First and foremost it's the gifted Irish, openly gay star, Andrew Scott, known and loved for his performances as Moriarty in "Sherlock," the naughtily sexy priest in "Fleabag," and the central character in the admired and cherished film of late last year, All of Us Strangers. Adam White, in the Independent, and he's not alone, holds that Scott is "all wrong" for this "otherwise decent Netflix adaptation." "Ripley isn’t at all the disaster it could have been, primarily because its source material is so strong that you’d have to be incredibly dense to screw it up too badly," he says. That is my own basic starting point. He goes on with the warning: "But it’s haunted by the spirit of past adaptations, unable to wrestle free from the shackles of earlier perfection." White also says, in opening, "To describe Tom Ripley as a conman" (i.e. as the Stephen Zaillian Netflix series does) "feels like doing the character a disservice. Patricia Highsmith’s most prolific creation – he appears in five of her novels written over 37 years – is more of a phantom, a lover of shiny things who glides, charmingly if opaquely, through some of the ritziest places on earth." Granted. "He collects identities and riches, while racking up an impressive body count." And then he concludes: "To many he’ll always bear the face of Matt Damon, who played the role in 1999’s glamorous adaptation of Highsmith’s first novel featuring the man, The Talented Mr Ripley. And that, sadly, may be the undoing of Netflix’s new attempt."

    The "The Ripliad," Patricia Highsmith's five-novel series, testifies to how popular her deep dive into the sociopathic mind was and is. She takes us and keep us inside the head of a man doing really evil things, murder, theft, fraud, so we become him, and then she lets him get away with it. He never gets caught, and is able to go from anonymous poverty to enjoying wealth and elegant high living. The source material is not only "so strong," as Adam White says, but is a template for a wide variety of versions, as any great character or theme is. Tom Ripley after all is essentially a chameleon.

    Thus we can imagine him as Matt Damon, or Alain Delon, or John Malkovich, and now as Andrew Scott. And none of them is "right," if we want an exact copy of Patricia Highsmith's character. Damon is too guilty and insecure and bothered by his gayness (so far from Highsmith's original conception to , in my opinion, allow Minghella's fiilm to be the authoritative version many seem to ant to make it): the "real" Ripley would never feel any of those feelings. Minghella's film is undoubtedly very well done in some ways as a recreation of Highsmith's first Ripley story, but it gets the main character essentially wrong, makes him too soft, and gives him complications he doesn't have. From this character you can't imagine the further books spinning out.

    As for Clément's French-language Ripley, Delon is too beautiful and sensuous, but how can we mind that? However, the film commits the unforgivable sin, in Highsmith's eyes, of letting Tom get caught at the end. But the way the film ends, just before that entrapment happens, at an almost orgasmic moment of sensuous pleasure, is wonderful, and this is a peak moment for Delon in his prime. Malkovich, who plays the later Tom in Caviani's Ripley's Game, living a luxurious European life, is a super-confident, snobbish criminal sociopath: the absolute confidence with which the actor enacts his quick, conscious-free murders and cruelties is delicious to watch. No one could do this better. Malkovich's Tom is just a little too hard and evil: the careful Highsmith reader knows that. But Caviani's thriller is a cool portrait of the sociopath as high-level arriviste, unseen anywhere else.

    Zaillian's Ripley is "all wrong," the Independent's White says, because Highsmith's Ripley is "an eerily calm social climber" who is"charming and naive" when he's not braining people with heavy objects, Scott plays him as more of "an overt ghoul" who is "oozing sociopathic menace" and looks like a dangerous type in his "leather jacket" and "greased-up hair" and can't be seen as a "high society interloper." White's too polite to mention another thing. Both Scott and Johnny Flynn who plays Dickie Greenleaf, whose identity Ripley steals, are in their forties, Flynn 41 and Scott 47. You wonder how Dickie's shipping magnate father (Kenneth Lonergan) could have thought them Princeton classmates.

    But Zaillian's series is meant as a gruesomely real horror movie, an arty, beautiful one, whose grim noir quality is dialed up and slowed down, a quality exemplified by the agonizing and central sequence in the boat. Everyone says dp Robert Elswit's black and white cinematography is another main character in Zaillian's series, playing out the director's love of gray, cloudy days. On the one hand in Italy that may seem not that easy or appropriate, but the "look" evokes Italian film from the great period, especially Antonioni. Zaillian is riffing constantly off drabness and awkwardness - while many of the scenes are natty and grand.

    When Zaillian's and Scott's Tom Ripley arrives at Atrani on the Amalfi Coast where Dickie and his sort-of girlfriend Marge (Dakota Fanning) are living, it's the most picturesque and beautiful place, and Dickie's hilltop villa grand and spectacularly situated. But for Ripley it's just a struggle walking "su su su," "up up up," getting out of breath, and staging a very awkward first meeting. He's not in good shape, either, for climbing lots of stairs. What do you remember? The round cupola and grand residence? No, you remember, mainly, Ripley's sweaty climb.

    But even Daniel Fienberg, whose review for Hollywood Reporter is one of the new version's most ardent apologies, has to admit that the drawn-out-ness if its key (and most violent) sequences, though being one of its main points of interest, also goes more than a little too far. "I’m not going to claim there aren’t places where Ripley feels indulgently protracted," Fienberg writes. "I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that if you trimmed the shots of staircases and leering sculptures, you’d lose an hour." Fienberg excuses that, and claims that "Zaillian and Elswit," the cinematographer, "make the series so rapturously pretty that my attention never waned." Really? But this is home viewing. How many breaks did he take? Didn't his finger ever linger over the fast-forward key?

    If this works, it does so because it's all so strange and yet somehow real. It's a low-key, drawn out horror movie. And it shows how excruciatingly hard it may be to kill people if you're basically an amateur. And many people love it. The interesting thing about "Ripley" is the wide range of reactions, some utterly hating, others adoring, Metacritic with it's okay-but-not-great overall score of 75%, a gentleman C, in between. The Netflix "Ripley" is a weird experience, another facet in the Highsmith game. It's the Highsmith adaptation that comes closest to being a grand and glorious flop (or a very pretentious one -- see Mike Hale's review in the Times that ends "Auteur! Auteur!"), but one thing is sure: it's great series to debate, the chat about - and a touchstone to judge critics by.

    This new older Tom Ripley Andrew Scott so adeptly, if for both us and, by his admission, agonizingly, plays is closer to Malkovich's than to Delon's or Damon's. Whether his Tom has the potential of turning into the posh Sybarite with the cool harpsichordist wife and the Palladian villa in Tuscany of Caviani's film is uncertain, but why not?

    Scott's Tom "sells things." It's what he does, he tells someone after Dickie is out of the way. (That enables lots of plot detail and escapes from the book's slightly implausible forged will.) You begin to feel as if Zaillian and Scott in fact have stolen Highsmith's story in order to dismantle it and sell it off - to an unsuspecting public. And you wonder what they're going to do with certain elements of it that they have no use for.

    Watch the Netfix "Ripley" if you can, or must. But please above all watch Caviani's Ripley's Game, and read Highsmith.

    "Ripley," an 8-part Netflix mini-series from the Patricia Highsmith "novels" (chiefly just the first one, The Talented Mr. Ripley, though with a cameo appearance by John Malkovich hinting at subsequent volumes). Premiere April 4, 2024. Metacritic rating: 75%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-27-2024 at 06:59 PM.

  15. #30
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    CHALLENGERS (Luca Guadagnino 2024)



    Can't we just be friends?

    Fundamentally Challengers qualifies as a sports movie, one centered on the game of tennis and developed in a triangular love and a three-way rivalry ending in a climactic game when everything is decided. But because it's Luca Guadagnino "back in form," it's exciting, different, and a bit of a tough watch. It may work better on the third viewing - unless you're highlyl adept at following and decoding sudden, scrambled flashbacks, because it's made up almost entirely of a network of them. Music is something this director is especially good at and attentive to, as showed very much in HBO's "We Are Who We Are." Here there is a heavy overlay of songs and blasts of loud techno music. The latter stands for two kinds of high energy, of sexual excitement or the thrill off a pro tennis match. For the sake of the movie they may be inseparable: tennis is sex, and being great at tennis is super-sexy. Sometimes the staccato dialogue is almost drowned out by the tunes, just the way sometimes in a tennis match you may not see where the ball went or what kind of shot gained the point.

    There are three actors who go through their paces, and they are in championship form in both senses: they are only pretending to be tennis pros, but they are lean and fit enough to be that, and they inhabit their roles seamlessly and intensely. Though also at times with a light touch.

    It begins with a big match at the New Rochelle Tennis Club in the present time between Art Donaldson (Mike Faist) and Patrick Zweig (Josh O'Connor). Art is a multiple grand slam whose career has declined, and this low level tournament is an attempt to relaunch him. Patrick has never done that well but he is hoping to take off from here. Most of the action comes through multiple flashback points, until the closing scene of the match when it's allowed to ride through to its rather strange end. Something decisive, if indefinable, happens in that match. But Challengers doesn't imply that winning or losing one match can dchange everything. Or does it? See what you think.

    We encounter Patrick and Art as teenagers, promising tennis players and best friends. They've won an important doubles match together. (The two actors look madly young in this sequence.) The way they run around together is comical and fun, and that mood helps lighten later, more serious moments. Now they are watching Tashi (Zendaya) play, and they're in awe. They seem to want to possess her, though they have no right to.

    They're more than doubles partners, boarding school roommates, and best friends. They're joined at the hip; they're like brothers, almost twins - perhaps more than that. For indefinable complex reasons, together they dive for Tashi, flirt with her, try to get her number. She knows who they are and refuses, saying she doesn't want to be "a home wrecker" (though they deny that their relationship is like that). These passages are the freshest in the film and seem where Guadagnino is most at home, with the boyishness and sexual confusion. Do Patrick and Art want Tashi or just want to play like her? Or make out with her together, which is more or less what happens?

    Whatever happens thereafter, the answer to the question above is emphatically No. They can be rivals, lovers, enemies, but never friends.

    Bear in mind that what follows isn't presented chronologically, but in intense flashes we have to reassemble in our minds. In sequences that follow, just when Tashi is peaking, she has a terrible (unspecified) knee injury. She tries to keep playing but her chance at being top seeded is gone, and she gets involved with, then married to, Art, and gives up playing for coaching him. But she also has an affair with Patrick. She and art have a kid, whose creation and care are barely touched on. Not a total tennis orphan, because there is a grandmother. This isn't about that - or much about anything but music, tennis, and these three people.

    In several scenes just prior to the final court battle we find that Patrick no longer even has a working credit card and winds up having to sleep in his car in the New Rochelle Tennis Club parking lot prior to the match. He has never done as well as Art has done working with Tashi and now is unshaven, scruffy, sleepy, and hungry. You won't remember Prince Charles or any kind of English accent whether royal, expat, or Yorkshire. O'Connor's character is a loser but the actor is at the top of his game. He has a kind of greasy sheen here that may be the most memorable character of the three, though as Tashi Zendaya radiates a hard, lean sexiness that cuts like a knife, and as Art, Faist's physicality is commanding. Guadagnino, who excels at the sensual, here triumphantly adds that element to the athletic.

    The rapid time shifts and the the loud techno keep you on your toes, and evoke the continually renewed adrenalin rush of a professional tennis match. The overwhelm we may feel parallels lives with big choices dominated by the external force of a competitive sport. The individualism and intensely competitive mood of tennis as a aport - one might say narcissism and killer instinct - are essential here. At the same time, Challengersisn't about tennis so much as about the confused allegiances and rivalries that dominate these tennis-obsessed lives. An early scene where Art and Patrick are finally in a bedroom together with Tashi has an emblematic shot where she sits at the bottom of the bed with them on either side of her. She draws them toward her and kisses them, but then she draws them toward each other to kiss each other. But they can't share her, and Patrick is excluded. Everything gets messay after that, but Guadagnino and his writer Justin Kuritzkesm who also penned his upcoming historical film Queer, pesent the mess neatly, in capsules, like the order of a tennis game. But there is a John McEnroe moment from Patrick here, and we see a record number of rackets thrown and smashed.

    Everything about the tennis play in Challengers is fudged a bit, most of all the end of the final match, which goes a tad too slow and uses a smidgen too much slo-mo, though as usual in tennis dramas, the principals must look convincing on the court and in the gear and learned how to serve. As things progress, the tennis becomes more and more turbulent and abstract; at the end the camera appears to be almost attached to the balls. O'Connor and Faist and Zendaya don't have to actually play professional-quality tennis, of course, and the matches are a little twisted and abstract.

    At the end, the question is which of the two men will win this final, present-time match. Will it really matter? Tennis isn't great because of who wins. The fun will be putting the pieces of this movie back together. Powerful, wildly energetic material to work with, thanks to the actors, to the director, to the score composers duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and thanks to the dpSayombhu Mukdeeprom.

    Challengers, 131 mins., debuted in many countries April 18, 2024 and thereafter. Watched for this review at Century Hilltop April 26. Metacritic rating: 83%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-26-2024 at 08:21 PM.

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