Movie Reviews: New Releases for March 4 | Buzz Blog

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Movie Reviews: New Releases for March 4

The Batman, Fresh, Huda's Salon, Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts and more

Posted By on March 3, 2022, 9:00 AM

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click to enlarge Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones in Fresh - HULU
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  • Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones in Fresh
2022 Oscar Nominated Short Films – Documentary ***1/2
Let’s face it: The Academy Awards are often more about honoring good intentions than honoring great work. That can be particularly true in documentary categories, but this group of nominees proves to be a terrific mix of urgent subjects and inventive filmmaking. Three Songs for Benazir is probably least effective of the five; it feels like something that desperately needed to be a feature in profiling a young Afghani man in a Kabul refugee camp contemplating joining the military. And Ben Proudfoot’s The Queen of Basketball might be the most conventional in its brief profile of pioneering 1970s women’s basketball star Lusia Harris, though it benefits greatly from Harris’ own enthusiastic first-person narration of her long-ago exploits. The other three, however, are all gripping and creative, in different ways. Jay Rosenblatt’s When We Were Bullies finds the filmmaker exploring an incident from his Brooklyn schoolboy youth when he participated in the bullying of a classmate, with animated cutouts contributing to the contemporary interviews by suggesting we never fully escape some childhood events. Matt Ogens’ Audible takes the subject of the Maryland School for the Deaf’s football team, and focuses on impressionistic moments rather than simplistic “underdog sports movie” uplift. The best of the bunch, and possibly the Oscar favorite, is Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk’s Lead Me Home, exploring homelessness in three major American cities over four years. The faces and stories are heartbreaking, to be sure, but the style the directors bring to those stories—like drone shots passing by block after block of tent cities, or juxtaposing the morning routine of a person experiencing homelessness with those behind windows whose “normal” lives seem out of reach—turns it into a real work of art. Available March 4 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

After Yang ***1/2
Kogonada’s 2017 debut feature Columbus was a masterful example of finding profound emotion in quiet, restrained filmmaking; his follow-up, adapting a short story by Alexander Weinstein, manages to be nearly as rich and resonant. In an unspecified near future, married couple Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) have employed a “technosapien” android big brother named Yang (Justin H. Min) as a companion and cultural teacher for their adopted Chinese daughter, Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). When Yang abruptly stops functioning, Jake’s attempts to get him repaired ultimately reveal an inner life he was never aware of. Kogonada manages to mix in a little formal playfulness with his simpler master-shot compositions, including a banger of an opening credits sequence and hiccupping editing that evokes the way our own memories replay in our heads. The depth of the story, however, comes from the way Yang doesn’t simply serve one metaphorical function. This is a tale of how parents introduce the concept of death to their children, of discovering how easy it is not to really know the members of your own family if you don’t care enough to pay attention, of the way we can turn technology into the thing that raises our kids, and all of that swirled into a familiar science-fiction motif of what truly defines humanity. It’s patient, lovely and warm—or, to put it more simply, it’s Kogonada. Available March 4 on Showtime. (NR)

Ascension ***1/2
Considering how episodic this Oscar-nominated documentary is, it’s a testament to the skills of director Jessica Kingdon and her editing team that it comes together not just as a series of fascinating vignettes, but as a fully-realized portrait of workers in a new Chinese economy. Kingdon visits several different kinds of work environments in contemporary China—from factories of every possible type, to would-be social-media influencers—plus new opportunities that have sprung up for trainers preparing others to succeed in the more free-market Chinese world. Some of the stops on Kingdon’s journey are no-brainers for grabbing a viewer’s interest; it’s hard to deny the unique notion of a “boot camp” for new company employees that indoctrinates them into connecting their identity with the company’s success, or the perverse appeal of watching the fabrication of sex dolls. Yet she also stumbles upon wonderful individual moments, like a hard-ass trainer of personal security guards abruptly losing his macho when he’s stung by a bee, and conversations about the relative value of “human rights” vs. “making a good living.” Collectively, Ascension’s individual scenes present a new China with tremendous complexity, making it clear how much this 21st-century economic juggernaut has folded its own distinctive cultural quirks into a system that strives to look like America—for better, and for worse. Available March 4 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

The Batman ***
See feature review. Available March 4 in theaters. (PG-13)

Dear Mr. Brody ***1/2
The previous documentaries by director Keith Maitland—including The Eyes of Me and Tower—demonstrated his willingness to stretch the form beyond predictable structures, and that creativity is part of what makes this exploration of a fascinating American-history footnote more than just a quirky character study. In January 1970, 21-year-old Michael Brody—heir to a margarine-company fortune—publicly announced his willingness to give away millions of dollars to those who were in need, leading to an avalanche of letters requesting that financial assistance. Part of the film is devoted to the story of Brody himself, with contemporary interview subjects like his then-wife and a high-school friend supplementing archival footage that captures Brody’s volatile moment in the spotlight, which included an attempt to resolve the Vietnam War. But Maitland also digs into the thousands of never-opened letters sent to Brody, tracking down their writers and learning the stories of what led them to ask a stranger for help. It’s a delicate balance between those two components, yet Maitland manages to connect them with a melancholy recognition of the different ways people can be on the margins, and left without the resources they need to emerge from chaos. Through one troubled man, and the many people who thought he could be their savior, Dear Mr. Brody paints a heartbreaking portrait of American brokenness. Available March 4 via (NR)

Fresh ***
When a movie attempts to make a thematic point using a stomach-churning, over-the-top premise, it’s worth asking whether the result is worth it. And the answer here is … mostly? Fed up with the results of dating apps, Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) takes a chance on Steve (Sebastian Stan), the guy she meets-cute at the grocery store. When their first official date turns into spending the night together, a weekend getaway doesn’t seem like a terrible idea—except that it is. What follows the credits at the 30-plus-minute mark gets pretty grisly, based on a notion that turns women into literal commodities, in a manner that plenty of other reviews will choose to give away. Here, suffice it to say that the two central performances are both terrific in distinctive ways—Stan going gleefully bonkers, and Edgar-Jones having perhaps the tougher task in conveying the way that women sometimes learn to perform the role that the abusive men in their lives expect of them. And there’s a surprisingly affecting message in Lauryn Kahn’s script about female unity, and the power that can come from sticking together and not being part of the problem. Director Mimi Cave finds creative ways to present body horror that stays just this side of too off-putting—your mileage may vary, naturally—but kind of runs out of the most interesting material well before the extended climax. Fortunately, Cave and Kahn get their point across despite a cavalcade of bloodletting that feels less potent than the psychological drama. Available March 4 via Hulu. (NR)

Huda’s Salon **1/2
The fact-based story that drives writer/director Hany Abu-Assad’s film is undeniably compelling, but there’s a frustrating structural choice at the heart of it that keeps it from feeling completely successful. In the occupied Palestinian territories, new mother and housewife Reem (Maisa Abd Elhadi) is drugged, photographed in a compromising position and blackmailed by her hairdresser, Huda (Manal Awad), who is working for the Israeli Secret Service trying to force women to become informants. But when Huda’s herself is taken by Palestinian resistance fighters who obtain her store of photos, Reem faces yet another potential threat. The narrative is ultimately divided almost evenly between Reem’s terrified attempts to escape a seemingly hopeless situation, and the tête-a-tête between Huda and her resistance interrogator (Ali Suliman). Individually, each part has solid material—the former, in Abd Elhadi’s growing desperation, and the latter in the philosophical exchanges involving who the real villain in this scenario is. And while both of those parts find their roots in a misogynistic Palestinian society that puts women in no-win situations all the time, the shifts between cinematic suspense thriller and stage-y psychological drama are too abrupt to allow those potentially fascinating ideas to land. Everything about Huda’s Salon works in isolation; it just doesn’t always work when put together. Available March 4 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom **
Sometimes you watch a non-English language film, and you just know that it’s destined to get a Hollywood remake. The Oscar-nominated Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom would totally be one of those features, if it weren’t already, for all practical purposes, a remake of a Hollywood movie. It’s the story of a Bhutanese man, Ugyen (Sherab Dorji), who’s reluctantly performing government-mandated service as a schoolteacher, when he really wants to leave the country to become a professional singer. When he asks to be released from the final year of his commitment, he is instead assigned to the most remote school in the country, in the mountain village of Lunana. If that sounds a lot like the plot of Doc Hollywood, that’s basically the vibe: arrogant city boy forced into service of a rural community, and thereby destined to learn very important life lessons. Writer/director Paw Choyning Dorji offers some spectacular mountain vistas against which the story unfolds, which occasionally distracts from familiar elements like the local woman Ugyen connects with, and the folksy wisdom he begins to incorporate into his life. But even the obvious character arc feels less then satisfying, in part because the filmmaker spends an unusually long time on the arduous multi-day hike to Lunana, before he can even begin his emotional journey. Everything we hear people say about how much Ugyen has grown, and given to his students, is just that: stuff we hear, but don’t see. This time, (Doc) Hollywood did it better. Available March 4 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

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