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***Opening Night Film***

The Walk

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

      Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) had always been fascinated with wire-walker despite the disapproval of his father. He hones his wire- walking skills under the tutelage of Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), his mentor. After walking across the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral, he decides sets his goals even higher by planning to walk across the World Trade Center with the help of a few men who he recruits. Charlotte Le Bon plays his girlfriend, Annie.

      Based on Philippe Petit's autobiography, To Reach the Clouds, the screenplay by writer/director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Christoher Browne fails to effectively bring the story of Petit to life because it opts to wow the audience with spectacular visuals rather than explore the character of Philippe Petit and his relationships. It feels as though the plot moves from point A to point B in a pedestrian fashion while remaining afraid to go darker or shed light on Petit's eccentricities. Having Petit narrate the film from the torch of the Statue of Liberty is very tacky, distracting and awkward---almost as distracting and awkward as Joseph Gordon-Levitt's attempt at a Parisian accent. There's very little room left for interpretation because the narration explains everything to you as though you're not smart enough to figure things out on your own. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does give a decent, charismatic performance, though, so at least The Walk becomes somewhat captivating thanks to his talents as an actor.

      What The Walk feels quite deficient at is what I call truly special effects: warm, subtlety, nuance, tenderness and other forms of humanism. Its CGI, especially during the last 25 minutes or so, look dazzling, awe-inspiring and expensive, but they're merely standard effects since there's nothing actually special about them. The doc Man on Wire had truly special effects because it made you feel a wide range of human emotions and leaves you inspired; The Walk feels mechanical and ultimately leaves you cold and uninspired. One would have to be an unsophisticated, shallow person to be so easily pleased by the sights of CGI without demanding and yearning for humanism, a truly special effect.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Columbia Pictures.
Opens nationwide on October 2nd, 2015.

Steve Jobs

Directed by Danny Boyle

      In 1984, Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) launched the first Macintosh computer. Four years later, he launched NeXT, and in 1988 he launched the first iMac. Behind-the-scenes drama includes with his programer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg, his marketing guru (Kate Winslet), Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). Meanwhile, Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) desperately wants him to meet with his estranged daughter, Lisa (Makenzie Moss), whom he won't even acknowledge is his own daughter.

      Stylish, well-acted, but emotionally inert, Steve Jobs lacks a sensitive, smart screenplay by Aaron Sorkin that would have turned it into a powerful biopic. Boyle films three parts of the film with different film stock starting with grainy stock in the beginning. While Steve Jobs is nice to look at given the slick cinematography, it fails to get inside Jobs' head. The best performance belongs to Kate Winslet who steals every scene that she's in. More scenes with her would've definitely made the film more captivating. Frankly, the behind-the-scenes drama isn't particularly riveting or interesting for that matter despite the musical score that tries to tell you how serious it is. When Steve Jobs finally tries to delve into Jobs' complex relationship with his daughter toward the end, it feels too tacked-on and "Hollywood." The Steve Jobs documentary directed by Alex Gibney is far more powerful, engaging and illuminating. If only this biopic were to have as much substance as it has style.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Netflix.
Opens at AMC/Loews Lincoln Square. Opens nationwide on October 23rd.
***Closing Night Film***

Miles Ahead

Directed by Don Cheadle

      Don Cheadle gives a tour de force performance as the legendary jazz musician Miles Davis who battled drug addiction. A persistent reporter, Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor), inquires about Davis' life, so the film flashes back and forth between different time periods in his life. This is a very messy, uneven and unconventional biopic that doesn't quite hook you on an emotional or dramatic level, but it does have plenty of atmosphere to keep you mildly engaged at least. Davis seems like a very interesting, complex character, though, so it's disappointing that Cheadle neglects to delve deeper into his head to give audiences a closer look about what might have been going on inside of it. Miles Ahead essentially goes dark, but it doesn't get profound enough. Perhaps a documentary about Miles Davis would have done him much more justice because by the end of this biopic, you'll still wonder what made Davis truly tick, what made him such an iconic figure for so many years and, most importantly, what he was like "behind the curtain", so-to-speak.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Release by Sony Pictures Classics.
Opens in select theaters.

Bridge of Spies

Directed by Steven Spielberg

      Tom Hanks stars as James Donovan, an insurance attorney hired by the U.S. government to negotiate the release of a captured Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), whose plans was shot down over Russian during the Cold War. He leaves his wife (Amy Ryan) at home while going overseas to do the most challenging work he's ever done in his career.

      Although Bridge of Spies begins intriguingly, it merely teases audiences with the promise of nail-biting suspense initually when someone unknown shoots at the windows of James Donovan's home while his wife and children are inside. Those feelings of paranoia and suspense goes away quickly and never comes back. Instead, the film becomes a slow-burning drama that holds your attention with strong perfromances by Tom Hanks and, most impressively, by Mark Rylance. This is very much a quiet, sophisticated drama for adults which alone is quite refreshing given that too many Hollywood films nowadays are made for teenagers and can be turned into a video game. In other words, it feels like an old-fashioned Hollywood film. The camerawork, set designs, lighting and music are all exquisite. Where Bridge of Spies becomes weaker is when it comes to how dry and pedestrian its plot feels. There's not enough comic relief, and the characters' actions become less thought-provoking as the film progresses. As with many Oscar-bait films, this one also suffers from overstaying its welcome at a bloated running time of 2 hours and 22 minutes.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Opens nationwide on October 16th, 2015.


Directed by John Crowley

      Set during the 1950s, Brooklyn follows Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) as she immigrates from Ireland to Brooklyn, New York where to finds a job at a department store. She falls in love with Tony (Emory Cohen), but upon returning to Ireland, she romances Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson).

      Tender, sweet and heartfelt, Brooklyn is a sweeping romance that will win your heart over without making your eyes roll. Saoirse Ronan gives the best performance of her career which will surely get her at least an Oscar nomination. The screenplay by Nick Hornby has just the right balance of romance, drama and comic relief. Each of the actors generates a sense of warmth onscreen, although Ronan radiates the most charisma. She's absolutely captivating in every sense of the word, and she makes you truly care about whether or not the character she playsh will end up romantically happy. She and Emory Cohen have palpable chemistry. Kudos to Crowley for trusting the audience's patience because this isn't one of those fast-paced films for the ADD crowd nor does it overdo its stylish cinematography (the costume, set designs and warm color palette deserve a mention, though). It's also among the few awards-worthy films to not overstay its welcome at a running time of 111 minutes. Prepare to be enchanted and engrossed by this beautiful story.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Opens in select theaters on November 4th, 2015.


Directed by Todd Haynes

      During the 1950's, Carol (Cate Blanchett) is unhappily married to Harge Aird (Kyle Chandler). When she sets her eyes upon a younger woman, Therese (Rooney Mara), she and her develop romantic feelings for one another. The more time they spend with one another, the more suspicious Carol's husband gets, so the only person that she can turn trust with her secret affair is her best friend, Abby Gerhard (Sarah Paulson).

      Beautifully shot and superbly acted by the always-mesmerizing Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, Carol remains mildly captivating thanks to those two positive qualities. However, its greatest flaw that sinks the film is the lack of chemistry between Carol and Therese. If you can't feel the romance between them, then you won't end up caring about whether or not they end up together. There's a certain coldness that permeates through the film where there really should be warmth instead. Moreover, an introduction of a gun in one of the scenes during the second act merely teases you with the prospect that Carol will become darker and more thrilling, but, alas, it never quite elevates from its underwhelming sense of mediocrity.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by The Weinstein Company.
Opens on November 20th, 2015 at The Paris Theatre and Angelika Film Center.

The Lobster

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

      After his wife divorced him, David (Colin Farrell) gets exiled to a hotel in a city where he must find his soul mate or else he will turn into the animal of his choice, a lobster. The hotel's manager (Olivia Colman) makes it clear that guests are strictly forbidden from masturbation, although the hotel's maid (Ariane Labed) can help the guests with those matters if needed. Anyone who's part of the Loners group can get killed by other guests who get perks for killing them. Throughout his stay, David befriend a Lisping Man (John C. Reilly) and a Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) while romancing a Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz).

      To call The Lobster bizarre wouldn't do it any justice. Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou have concocted a film filled with surrealism, dark humor, tragedy, romance and mystery. While the plot has man far-fetched details, it makes a very interesting commentary about the pressure of society and love if you look at it as a parable. The first 2/3s of The Lobster are wildly entertaining in a sort of offbeat and wickedly funny sort of way. Colin Farrell gives a decent deadpan performance as do the very well-cast John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw. The pacing is rather slow at times which is refreshing, but mainstream audiences used to watching tentpole films will find it too slow most likely. On a visual level, the cinematography, set designs and drab colors compliment that film's melancholic tone---by no means is this an uplifting crowd pleaser. Unfortunately, the third act is where The Lobster begins to fizzle out a bit in terms of its imagination and oomph, and it also starts to feel somewhat dull and repetitive concurrently. At least it can be said that it's the one of the most original films in quite a while. If audiences are willing to overlook some of its third act flaws, it could become a cult classic.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by A24 Films.
Opens in select theaters.

Son of Saul

Directed by László Nemes

      Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian Jew, is forced to assist the Nazis as they exterminate Jews in the gas chambers at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. One day, he comes across a dead boy in the death chamber, and feels an immediate connection to him as though he were his very own son. He desperately seeks to take the boy's corpse, to find a rabbi and to give him a proper Jewish burial.

      From the first frame until the last, the spellbinding Son of Saul unflinchingly immerses you in the experiences of its protagonist. You hear what he hears, you see what he sees and you'll also feel what he feels. Writer/director László Nemes and co-writer Cara Royer wisely keep the film lean in its story with minimal use of dialogue thereby trusting you as an intelligent audience member who can think and feel without being hit over the head with being told how and what to think and feel. There's a constant sense of dread throughout the film and suspense as you hope that Saul succeeds with his plans to give the boy a proper Jewish burial. It helps tremendously that Géza Röhrig is very well-cast by Éva Zabezsinszkij because he gives a very convincingly moving performance filled with a truly special effect called humanism. His face looks very expressive, so you can grasp what he's thinking and feeling even when he's not speaking. Images, sounds and atmosphere speak louder than words.

      Nemes and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély allow the camera to follow Saul very closely--he's always in the frame--which helps to hook you in even further on an emotional level. You'll find many quietly powerful, emotionally devastating scenes that will stay with you for a long time after the end credits roll. Interestingly, though, there's nothing in terms of gore to gross you out; Nemes and Royer leave that to your imagination thereby those scenes psychologically horrifying. Together with editor Matthieu Taponier, they keep the running time down to an ideal 107 minutes because it if it were past the 2 hours mark, it would have been too exhausting. Ultimately, Son of Saul is one of the most powerful Holocaust films since Schindler's List.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Sony Pictures Classics.
Opens at Film Forum and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on December 18th.


      Michael Moore's Where to Invade is insightful when it comes to the positive aspects found in other countries that might surprise you, i.e. free college, nice policemen, delicious and healthy cafeteria food at schools, no homework, paid honeymoons for workers and so on. While each of the segments are illuminating and even a bit amusing as well as comical (Moore still has his sense of humor intact), what's missing is how we could feasibly implement those positive aspects here in America. Each country is like a different machine, so boasting about one particular machine part doesn't mean that it would necessarily fit in America's complex machine. Also, to look at the positive side of each country while neglecting to even mention its context, i.e. the corruption of each country, isn't helpful. As such, this doc feels incomplete and a bit naive overall although its heart is in the right place. De Palma, directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, manages to be the best doc of this year's New York Film Festival. It's equally insightful and enormously entertaining even if you're not a huge fan of Brian De Palma's work. The fine balance of illuminating talking heads with De Palma himself along with clips makes for an essential doc for anyone seeking to grasp how De Palma's mind works as a filmmaker. This isn't anything like the kind of supplemental material you'd find in DVD extras. Don't be surprised if you'll feel like re-watching some of De Palma's films after gaining a new perspective on him thanks to this well-editing and thoroughly engaging doc. Much less engaging is the doc No Home Movie, directed by Chantal Akerman. Natalia, Akerman's mother, is the doc's subject, and she's filmed in her Brussels apartment during the months leading up to her death. Tedious, slow and, worst of all, boring, No Home Movie takes a lot of patience to endure, and can only be recommended to Akerman completists. Its running time of nearly 2 hours makes it even more of a chore to sit through. The title of No Home Movie must be ironic.


Avi Offer
The NYC Movie Guru
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