Week Ending 1/6/23
A few stragglers
I anticipated moving into some new releases this week to start 2023 off with genre fare (there’s no better month for horror outside of October than the January doldrums) since the window to receive FYC screeners seemed closed. And then came the emails from holdouts Focus Features and Sony Pictures Classics with all the titles I had tried to get before GWNYFCA voting. So, that meant adding more to the watchlist prior to OFCS voting on 1/15. It also meant finally having an excuse (as if I should have needed one) to watch my first Akira Kurosawa due to one of those late stragglers being LIVING.
Next week will definitely have at least one of those new genre titles, though. My SKINAMARINK link is already burning a hole in my inbox because I honestly want to watch it more than anything else to see if it lives up to the festival hype.
As mentioned last week, my Best Posters of 2022 piece is also now up at The Film Stage for anyone interested. And my Top Ten Movies piece should have gone up an hour before this newsletter was set to hit inboxes. So, apologies if that second link isn’t active. It should be. Hopefully it reminds people that they really need to watch GOD’S COUNTRY.
What I Watched:
(now on Digital HD; VOD on 1/9)
I have no clue what I’m supposed to think after watching James Gray’s ARMAGEDDON TIME. From the graffiti title card to the ultimate moral of the story being that letting your friends with obvious systemic disadvantages down is okay because life isn’t fair and at least “you tried,” it all ends up feeling like WHITE GUILT: THE MOVIE. Because it has the potential to actually say something. We watch the casual racism at dinner only to eventually have Grandpa Aaron (Anthony Hopkins) tell young Paul (Banks Repeta) that it’s his duty as the offspring of Jewish survivors of Cossack violence to stand-up for the Black and Hispanic population. And all he learns as a result is to embrace the status quo.
So, maybe that’s the real message: America is screwed. You have Jews sitting around the television bad-mouthing Ronald Reagan minutes before revealing their own bigotry—unable to separate action from intent. You have Dad (Jeremy Strong) telling Paul that it does suck to have to watch inequality play out, but dealing with that pain is their burden for being “thankful” they have a leg up. Hand-wringing therefore is enough to earn a clean conscience as those left fending for themselves, if not abused and/or killed, like Johnny Davis’ (Jaylin Webb) dreamer are kicked to the curb yet again because prejudice and privilege isn’t theirs to have to endure. Gray adds Fred Trump (John Diehl) as a “villain” of sorts, but really he’s just an empty vessel since Paul’s own family projects his same ideals of “winning” life.
Shooting it all with a veneer of nostalgia becomes confusing because I’m not sure whether Gray is asking us to look back with fondness or rage. It’s probably a bit of both, but I’m not sure what an audience member like me can take from it to feel the former. Not when it literally gives Paul an imaginary vision of Grandpa patting him on the back for failing to do the right thing because there will always be more opportunities in the future. Not when every adult besides Aaron dismisses Paul’s desire to be artistic (even the one person who compliments his talent) by calling him “slow.” I get the comparison point, though. Where Johnny is told by his own race that he’ll never be an astronaut, Paul is told by whites and Jews alike that he’s worthless unless he pursues an “elite” vocation. But it’s not the same.
Anne Hathaway is wasted as Paul’s mother (she’s inconsequential to the plot beyond being the target of her son’s rebellious temper and the “good cop” passing him onto Dad’s “bad cop”). Strong gets a couple really nice moments that would mean something in a film with something more to say than “we did our best.” Repeta is good as the lead, but it’s tough to truly appreciate his internal wrestling matches when he constantly chooses self-preservation as though it’s not just his right to do so, but also the correct choice to make because of “personal responsibility” and all that—you know, what Trumpers say now about mask mandates and anything remotely adjacent to common good. Webb is thus the one true standout (beyond Hopkins’ small role). His Johnny understands everything that’s happening. It’s a deeply tragic role that deserves more than being present to absolve everyone else’s guilt by assuring them that they wouldn’t be able to change his fate anyway.
(now streaming on Amazon Prime)
After four years living together and becoming best friends in college, this is the last chance Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and Sean (RJ Cyler) have to hit the frat house graduation party scene. So, to mark the occasion, Sean has procured passes to all seven of the major events in order for them to become the first two Black men to ever complete the so-called “Legendary Tour.” Unfortunately, before they can hit the pregame and get their night started, they notice the door to their house is open. Assuming their third roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) subjected them to a robbery, they’re unprepared to find an addition instead: an unconscious Emma (Maddie Nichols) on the floor.
Carey Williams’ EMERGENCY eases us into the underlying themes on race with a comedic prologue wherein Kunle and Sean’s white “Blasphemy and Taboo” professor decides to casually say the n-word before singling them out as the only Black students in the class to tell everyone how they feel. While Kunle attempts to find an appropriate excuse, Sean is having none of it. We laugh at the scenario and juxtaposition as Williams and screenwriter K.D. Dávila hope we will, right up until Sean asks whether Kunle has ever been called that word with intent. After thinking about it, he realizes the answer is “No.” That’s all Sean needs to drop the subject. His BFF might be Black and able to intellectually understand its weight, but he’s never had the experience to truly understand.
I honestly didn’t catch this distinction at the time because it’s played off like another joke with a quick, knowing cut. I should have known, though, considering Dávila is also the Oscar-nominated writer/director of the short film PLEASE HOLD. The way she weaves humor and drama together to ensure her audience absorbs the message without feeling preached to is impressive. A lot of it comes from visual gags that Williams sprinkles throughout (I love the BLM sign on the white Neighborhood Watch couple’s yard as they film what they presume is a drug deal simply because their subjects are Black), but most of the success lies in just how deftly the filmmakers handle the inevitable shift towards real life and death stakes.
Because EMERGENCY could be dismissed as a lark for a majority of its runtime if you’re not paying close enough attention. When the bottom drops out, though, it hits hard. We’re talking about two Black men and their Latino friend figuring out what to do with the incapacitated white stranger in their house. Call the police and hope they don’t arrive with guns drawn? Or drive to the hospital and hope they don’t get pulled over to … drawn guns? Dávila and Williams mine the complexity of this conundrum with entertainment and authenticity—pitting Kunle’s trust in the system as the happy son of doctors against Sean’s distrust after growing up in a much different world. It leads to an emotional catharsis bolstered by an epilogue as empowering (ignoring white guilt) as it is tragic (PTSD) since that aforementioned understanding can never be put back into the bottle.
HIT THE ROAD [Jaddeh Khaki]
(streaming on Showtime and also available on VOD/Digital HD)
What a stunning feature debut from Panah Panahi (son of Iranian filmmaking icon Jafar Panahi). As heartbreakingly raw in its depiction of a family confronting an uncertain future apart as it is effusively alive with love’s joy, HIT THE ROAD takes us through remote desert villages en route to the Iranian-Turkish border in search of a promise of freedom. Panahi starts it off like a simple road trip with Mom (Pantea Panahiha), Dad (Mohammad Hassan Madjooni), eldest son (Amin Simiar), and youngest son (Rayan Sarlak) cooped up in a borrowed car eating pistachios and singing along to pop songs before gradually lifting the curtain on motives and ambitions. Is someone following them? Did someone bring a cell phone against orders? Discretion is king.
Why? Because they can’t know who knows what or who they can trust beyond the car. They can’t even trust everyone in the car since Sarlak’s infinite wealth of feral energy makes it so anything he knows might be screamed in public without warning (he delivers a delightfully deranged performance that perfectly offsets the otherwise serious dramatic underpinnings). So, the family pretends Simiar is getting married and they’re all just driving to keep him company and say goodbye as he leaves the country to start his new life. They pretend whatever transpires at their real destination (a meeting ground of smugglers and the families being left behind) will only be temporary despite knowing in their hearts they may never see their son again. It’s a lot to process—especially when trying to conceal emotions so as not to accidentally ruin the game.
The way the actors interact is authentic and fun with Mom looking through a photo album of all Simiar’s bed-wettings as a child like its a collection of art to Dad constantly messing with Sarlak in the hopes distraction and jokes keep his wild impulses reigned in. Add the presence of a sick dog that was supposed to have been put down as another ticking time-bomb of tragic life lessons for Sarlak to learn and there’s little time to really sit and consider what it is that’s going on. Talk about selling their house, paying bail, and whether Dad’s broken leg and toothache are real comes and goes in an instant, coloring the proceedings with important context that’s ultimately rendered unnecessary when compared with this family’s impending separation.
That’s all stuff for tomorrow. HIT THE ROAD is about today. Making new memories together. Remembering the ones they already share. Laughing and crying (just don’t let the others see you) as they pretend this solemn excursion is actually a vacation. Because it is … until it’s not. And the pain should only be temporary if all goes according to plan. Simiar shouldn’t worry about anything but moving forward. Mom and Dad shouldn’t worry about anything but ensuring Sarlak is given the childhood he deserves now that Simiar has grown out of his own to set his new course. And Sarlak shouldn’t worry about anything but superheroes, young crushes, and drawing on windows in permanent ink. Hope and innocence always come first.
(streaming on Criterion Channel and others; available on VOD/Digital HD)
Leave it to a remake to finally get me to watch an Akira Kurosawa film at age forty. Yeah, yeah. Cinephile jail and all that. While Bill Nighy’s Oscar chances via LIVING probably shouldn’t have dictated my introduction into the legendary director’s expansive catalog, IKIRU being my first experience didn’t disappoint. Because beyond the acting and the story (co-written alongside Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni with loose inspiration from Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan llych) is the magnificent mise-en-scène. I’m talking next level blocking wherein no faces are ever covered and every head in frame (even through reflection) is crucial to that specific moment. And then there’s the constant use of “walls” blocking Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) from the rest of the world until he so ardently bursts through his office door at the end of act two. Nothing is accidental.
It can’t be. Watanabe doesn’t have time for superfluity or confusion—not when he only has six months to live. Not when he’s desperate to find meaning in what few days he has left. He wants it to be with his son Mitsuo (Nobuo Kaneko), but that ship has sailed due to a deep-seated resentment neither man knew existed until the moment to be vulnerable and honest forces them to raise their defenses and push each other away further. He thought it could be booze (he’d never bought himself a drink until after discovering he had stomach cancer, rendering it into poison), gambling, and excitement, but he simply doesn’t have the stamina to comply. So, he latches onto an employee (Miki Odagiri’s Toyo) in the hopes her joie de vivre might rub off on him. Except, of course, that truly living isn’t external. Watanabe just needs to find something he can be passionate about on his own terms.
It’s the simplicity of the message and the avenue with which he finds it that resonates because it was right there in front of him the whole time. Where this type of story often tries to complicate things by twisting itself into pretzels for a reconciliation between father and son or an IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE-esque look into everything Watanabe has forgotten he was, Kurosawa and company allow hard truths to stand. He won’t find common ground with his son. It’s not wholly his fault (he was dealt a rough hand with the early passing of his wife while Mitsuo reciprocates his pragmatism regardless of whether it was learned or constructed), but it is his reality. So too is the fact that Watanabe lived a mostly forgettable life as a mummy wasting every minute as a slave to bureaucratic inefficiency.
It’s only right then that his last gasp push to make his mark and understand what life could have brought him if only he’d opened his eyes earlier is busting through the governmental red tape he helped affix. There are piles and piles of papers on his desk that he’s stamped and transferred to other departments so they too could stamp and transfer them again (Douglas Adams must have seen the fantastic opening sequence of mothers trying in vain to clean-up sewage in their neighborhood before writing THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY). All he must do is pick one of those proposals up and spearhead its fruition himself to lend his job the purpose it was supposed to have before politics (not government) ruined progress. As Toyo knows, doing something that makes you feel good even though it’s difficult and draining makes all the difference.
And with a stroke of genius, IKIRU shows us the spoils through the drunken accounts of those who were so lost in the same doldrums that they didn’t even realize what they were witnessing. It’s a rousing mechanic that augments the comedic elements running throughout the film while also reinforcing the overall message stating that we have the power to change our lives if only we find the courage and determination to follow through when no one else will. Because there is an epiphany that occurs. The men who worked alongside Watanabe for thirty years do recognize the lesson he learned without having to receive their own fatal prognosis. Unfortunately, that passion is drilled out of us at a young age due to an education system preparing us to do our part for the economy rather than teaching us how to save humanity. We champion heroes so easily because we’re too beaten down to acknowledge we wouldn’t need them at all if we only worked together to create rather than indefinitely stall.
(now streaming on Netflix and available on VOD/Digital HD)
There’s not much to Jessica M. Thompson’s THE INVITATION. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up to you. I personally didn’t have high expectations, but they were met. And despite what many are saying about its lack of plot/subterfuge being unforgivable, I wasn’t ever bored by the pacing or minimal narrative. I’m honestly not sure what they hoped screenwriter Blair Butler would deliver differently since it’s not like she set something more elaborate up before forgetting about it.
It is what it is: a tale of empowerment on gender, racial, and economic lines. Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) is a Black artist living paycheck to paycheck with gig jobs in NYC who recently lost her mother, the last remaining member of her known family. She takes a DNA test on a whim to see what might be found about the distant British heritage her relatives only knew as rumor. Lo and behold, she’s matched with a very white cousin (Hugh Skinner’s Oliver) who explains she’s a “scandalous” piece of their wealthy legacy before inviting her to a wedding at an even richer family’s estate to the applause of his kin for discovering their bloodline wasn’t cursed with all men after all.
THE INVITATION’s first half plays like a budget GET OUT once Evie is whisked away to the white world of old English money while her funny friend (Courtney Taylor’s Grace) jokes she’s asking for trouble. The second half is a budget READY OR NOT with secrets revealed and her subsequent violent attempt at escape. You’d obviously be better off watching both those films, but that doesn’t mean this one isn’t at least worth a look. Emmanuel is great. Thomas Doherty’s Walt could charm even the biggest skeptic in the audience. And Sean Pertwee, Stephanie Corneliussen, and Alana Boden are having a ton of fun.
It’s ultimately an actors’ film as a result. The story throws Evie into the deep-end of a strange land to discover the wolves surrounding her. That’s it plot-wise. Some characters try sweet talking her into thinking otherwise. Some enjoy playing with their food insofar as daring her to realize the truth. And we watch to see how or if she’ll break free. So, it lives or dies by how much you’re willing to just hang with the cast as they chew scenery and pretend we didn’t already know what’s really going on (names like De Ville and Renfield prove nobody’s hiding anything). If Thompson would have legitimately pushed the envelope at any point, my “fine” might have even turned into a “good.”
(streaming on Disney+ and available on VOD/Digital HD)
Whether Disney/Pixar could have done better marketing LIGHTYEAR before people went to theaters and saw the opening text to explain what it was they were doing with this film isn’t up for question. They should have. The question we must ask is whether LIGHTYEAR succeeds at being the fun, 90s-era sci-fi adventure they set out to create. Because that’s what the STAR TREK meets STAR WARS pastiche of this fictitious world always was. Andy in TOY STORY had a toy based on his favorite character from his favorite film. Just like someone his age would watch BACK TO THE FUTURE or JURASSIC PARK, he watched Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) accidentally maroon his ship on a hostile planet only to spend decades trying to get back home.
It’s honestly everything I would have asked for out of the experiment tasked to director Angus MacLane, co-writer Jason Headley, and the rest of the “braintrust” at Pixar. Buzz is everything you would think he would be when extrapolated from the abridged version of the character that Tim Allen has voiced as a toy since 1995. He uses the catchphrases in context. His demeanor and code have true intergalactic stakes to bounce off. He’s exactly what you get from a Captain Kirk-archetype who’s ready and willing to risk his life and ignore direct orders to be the hero when no one else will. It just so happens that doing so also means losing four years with the people he loves (namely his best friend and commander Alisha Hawthrone, as voiced by Uzo Aduba) every time he attempts another four-minute test run of the necessary hyperdrive crystalline fuel.
So, it’s no surprise that his latest return flight finds everything he knew gone and the city built in his absence (once everyone decides it’s okay to just stay while Buzz continues his Sisyphean quest to complete the mission he failed) overrun by laser-shooting robots under the power of Zurg (James Brolin). Nor is it surprising that his lone wolf will find himself needing to relearn how to play nice considering he’ll never be able to save the day alone. Whether Alisha’s astrophobic granddaughter (Keke Palmer’s Izzy), her anxious (Taika Waititi’s Mo) and hostile (Dale Soules’ Darby) comrades, or Buzz’s robotic therapy cat (Peter Sohn’s SOX) are the team he’d have picked to be by his side is irrelevant. They’re all he has and, ultimately, all he needs.
I had a great time with these characters and the obvious 90s-era action aesthetic straight down to the overly-serious opening studio credits. Sohn is a delight. Isiah Whitlock Jr. is inspired casting for the commander who wants to ground Buzz. And Evans and Palmer are everything you’d want from an odd couple pairing, more alike than they’d initially admit, generations apart. Some of the jokes are top-notch (meat-bread-meat, white noise, etc.) and the fight sequences are exciting to go along with their obvious comedic beats. This isn’t TOY STORY. Nor should it be. It’s not full-on satire like SPACEBALLS or GALAXY QUEST either. LIGHTYEAR is an approximation of what an energetic kid in the mid-90s would have glommed onto. It’s a nostalgia bomb and it works.
(now in limited release)
One shouldn’t set out to remake a classic of cinema lightly, so it’s nice to see that Oliver Hermanus’ LIVING (adapted from Akira Kurosawa’s IKIRU by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro) stays as true to the source as you could hope. There are obviously differences both culturally (the third act at a drunken wake shifts to the next morning’s train ride) and narratively (this version is forty minutes shorter), but the melancholic spirit of inspiration remains. Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy) couldn’t allow himself to be that boy in the corner waiting to be called home any longer. He would make certain to force Death into waiting until he was done playing.
That in itself is a shift considering IKIRU’s Watanabe is sparked into action upon discovering his former employee was so happy because she was finally doing something that had meaning to her. Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood) isn’t doing anything like that here—in fact, she’s not even doing what she thought she would upon leaving the Public Works office Williams oversaw. It’s seeing her as a beacon of light outside that reminded him of those childhood days in the street from before the daily grind of the capitalist machine stripped away his hopeful optimism. And those childhood days that subsequently bring his mind back to the park those women proposed so many times only for him to perpetually bury it under a stack of papers.
It’s therefore a nice change insofar as removing “career” from the equation. The message is less about finding your purpose in work as much as in life. It just happens that Mr. Williams’ work can give it to him in this instance. You need that since IKIRU’s other messaging is ultimately pushed to the background this time around. You get a sense of the dissolution of family with his son, but not nearly as potent considering the stiff upper lip of repression making it less about resentment than stodginess. The same can be said about the bureaucratic satire of the whole thanks to an almost complete erasure of Williams’ boss Sir James (Michael Cochrane) as a vain contrast to his newfound modesty. Circumstances are less important here. They exist as scaffolding rather than integral context.
While that perhaps makes the whole less weighty in its drama, these decisions do allow Nighy to be the central driving force above plot (an Oscar nomination should be forthcoming). That’s not a slight on Takashi Shimura at all, but an acknowledgement that this film relies on the subtleties of performance more because of how much was stripped away in the adaptation process. LIVING is about Williams learning the lessons shared rather than the lessons themselves. The same can be said about Jamie Ramsay’s gorgeous cinematography being more about aesthetics in composition than narrative and metaphoric representation. That’s what seventy years and a different cultural backdrop provide: an excuse to honor an artwork’s legacy while also making it your own. Hermanus and company succeed.
A MAN CALLED OTTO
(now in theaters)
The success of Marc Forster’s A MAN CALLED OTTO owes a lot to the source material. I haven’t read Fredrik Backman’s bestselling A MAN CALLED OVE, but I’ve never heard an ill word spoken about it. Couple that with Hannes Holm’s wonderful Swedish adaptation in 2015 and it begins to look like screwing up its story is impossible. That’s not to say Forster and screenwriter David Magee don’t find themselves lending an unfortunate Hollywood sheen that renders the result much more cloyingly over-the-top than its predecessor. Only that it wasn’t pushed far enough to ruin its exceeding charm.
It’s great to see Tom Hanks get the opportunity to act this year too. Regardless of your opinion on the quality of his ELVIS role, Baz Luhrmann had him portraying a cartoon character. And while no one could beat what Rolf Lassgård provided the titular role from Backman’s novel, I dare say Hanks comes close. He plays Otto straight from start to finish, the gruff voice and dead eyes a perfect juxtaposition to his earnest “I’m not unfriendly” when accused of such by new neighbor Marisol (Mariana Treviño is an absolute delight). Because he isn’t a mean person. He simply refuses to suffer fools (even if, in his mind, everyone else is one).
Watching Otto thaw as Marisol’s family’s presence distracts him from his goal of suicide (to rejoin his wife who passed six months prior) is as heartwarmingly funny as it is grief-strickenly sad. The use of flashbacks helps provide context for his faulty thought process (they’re well shot with Truman Hanks and Rachel Keller delivering saccharinely dreamlike performances from Otto’s memory rather than reality) while side players Cameron Britton, Mack Bayda, and Juanita Jennings keep him honest as far as understanding he wasn’t always this bad.
Otto is a man who lived for his one true love and forgot how many others ended up loving him too along the way. His journey back should resonate with anyone who ever felt emotionally lost as its inspiring tearjerker trajectory is one that audiences should love. It’s ultimately redundant since OVE is so effective. But it’s pretty good where English-language remakes are concerned.
ON THE COUNT OF THREE
(now streaming on Hulu and available on VOD/Digital HD)
Kevin (Christopher Abbott) tried to kill himself three days ago. It wasn’t a cry for help either as he’s battled demons since childhood, trying to hold them at bay by whatever means possible only to find himself unchanged. Val (Jerrod Carmichael) has lived a rough life too, but he’s never thought about suicide until his best friend’s attempt. The numbness he felt upon finding out coupled with the depression that’s set in after realizing the life he’s currently living has become a prison forces him to wonder if maybe Kevin had it right. Maybe they’ve both run their course and the time to end it is now. So, Val breaks him out of the psych ward, puts guns in both their hands, and starts counting to three.
Screenwriters Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch (co-creators of “Ramy” with its star Ramy Youssef) aren’t necessarily breaking the mold when it comes to ON THE COUNT OF THREE putting two men with a death wish and nothing to lose onto a collision course with fate, but they’re definitely using it to deliver a melancholic black comedy that can’t help itself from ultimately providing an uplifting and hopeful message that even the bleakest futures have the potential for joy. Both Val and Kevin need the freedom that having no tomorrow affords to finally do the things they’ve never allowed themselves to do—namely confronting the monsters from their pasts.
Val’s father (J.B. Smoove’s Lyndell) beat him and his mother, terrorizing them to the point where he hasn’t been in contact for over a decade. Kevin’s child psychologist (Henry Winkler’s Dr. Brenner) sexually abused him. They’ve each been let down by figures that should have protected them, subsequently becoming the only person the other could ever truly rely on. That’s why Val knows his idea of double suicide can work. But despite Kevin having just attempted it on his own, the knee-jerk prospect supplies whiplash just the same. So, he asks for the day first. One last hurrah to get their affairs in order and perhaps some payback too. Unsurprisingly, nothing goes quite to plan.
Therein lies the brilliance of the film. The script and Carmichael’s direction (this is his debut) propels us forward for an eighty-six-minute thrill ride with tension constantly being ratcheted up for what seems like a perpetually postponed release. That’s what happens when you have no plan or rhyme and reason. Val and Kevin are running full speed towards the unknown. The most innocuous moments of the day might bring the most painful trauma flooding back while the most dangerous ones might supply introspective pauses that make them reconsider what they’re doing. In the end, however, we realize that their love for one another is immovable no matter what they decide.
It hits hard too. There are so many instances of heartfelt or painful recognition and confirmation from Kevin’s fear of violence contrasting with his desire to enact it to their old boss Donny (Lavell Crawford) proving just how easy it was to be what these kids needed when those who should have refused. We’re experiencing an episode of “This is your life” via hindsight that has as much chance of guaranteeing they’ll pull the trigger as it does throw the guns away. Abbott and Carmichael bare their souls on-screen as a result, their anguished suffering present for the world to see as clearly as their characters have from the beginning. It’s a wake-up call that’s unafraid to acknowledge the complexity of existential terror.
(now on VOD/Digital HD)
It’s all in the title. Literally in the case of Michael Ausiello’s memoir’s subtitle. Figuratively in the case of Michael Showalter’s film (adapted by David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage). Because there’s no reason to call something SPOILER ALERT unless you’re giving away the game. Everyone involved knows this, so they don’t try to hide anything when opening things up to find Michael (Jim Parsons) lying face-to-face opposite his dying husband Kit (Ben Aldridge) in the latter’s hospital bed. There’s purpose in it too since knowing allows us to absorb rather than anticipate. We aren’t here to wonder whether they’ll escape with more time. We’re simply here to witness what they did with the time they had.
The ride is fun—especially at the start. Parsons and Aldridge are sweetly awkward and charming during their courtship with plenty of situational and conversational laughs culminating in an unforgettable apartment reveal (try and make sure that’s one spoiler you do avoid). These men are veritable opposites who find bliss when together even if things get a bit shaky leading up to the diagnosis. Because no matter what was going on to pull them apart (careers, frustrations, etc.), they still loved each other on a level beyond mere attraction. It’s why Kit knew he didn’t want Michael to have to watch another loved one die of cancer. And why Michael was never not going to be by his side.
Beyond a TV-sitcom construct that Michael retreats into when things get hard, the film is pretty straightforward and honestly quite similar in scope and emotions to Showalter’s THE BIG SICK. Some of the personality that one had due to its subjects being the screenwriters (and star) does get lost here, but not enough to sour the experience. If anything it just renders some scenes bland—both because they’re familiar and because there are enough jolts of comedy (see Shunori Ramanathan’s entrance as Oncologist #3) and intrigue (the deathbed scenes gets an unexpectedly jarring diversion) to make you wonder why there weren’t more. In the end it’s an effective tearjerker with solid and stable marks across the board (extra points for the supporting cast thanks to Sally Field and Bill Irwin stealing scenes as Kit’s parents).
Cinematic F-Bomb -
THE 355 comes in as a new 2022 addition to the collection this week. (Substack apparently can’t handle an embedded gif, so you’ll have to click over for a smoother experience. Or see everything at cinematicfbombs.com.)
New Releases This Week:
(Review links where applicable)
Opening Buffalo-area theaters 1/6/23 -
EO at North Park Theatre
“Sadly, like BALTHAZAR, EO just wasn't for me. Because while the whole is enjoyable, it's also fleeting. I'm glad to have experienced the journey, but that's it.” - Full review at jaredmobarak.com.
LAKIRO at Regal Elmwood & Transit
M3GAN at Dipson Amherst & Flix; AMC Maple Ridge & Market Arcade; Regal Elmwood, Transit, Galleria & Quaker Crossing
A MAN CALLED OTTO at AMC Maple Ridge; Regal Transit
Thoughts are above.
Streaming from 1/6/23 -
MUMBAI MAFIA: POLICE VS THE UNDERWORLD - Netflix on 1/6
THE PALE BLUE EYE - Netflix on 1/6
“It gets much darker than I anticipated and excels at maintaining an air of sophisticated drama while also delving into some horror corners. A solid piece all-around.” - Full review at HHYS.
THE HATCHET WIELDING HITCHHIKER - Netflix on 1/10
NOISE - Netflix on 1/11
Now on VOD/Digital HD -
THE MENU (1/3)
“The third act proves somewhat rushed and messy, the joke finding its limits with apparently nowhere to go. Thankfully, however, Mylod and company do stick the landing, pivoting back to cold, calculating finality.” - Full review at HHYS.
“There's a poetic nature to the whole too as Baghdadi avoids strict narrative plotting for emotional through lines. She shows just enough via expressions, body language, and actions to understand motivations and attitudes.” - Full review at The Film Stage.
CANDY LAND (1/6)
DARK GLASSES (1/6)
PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH (1/6)
“It's a kitchen sink-type, chaotic race through the magical dark forest with life lessons, flashbacks, and the irreverent humor we've come to love from this franchise.” - Full review at HHYS.
From the press kit archive:
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