By Roger Costa
The scandal involving Wall Street and GameStop and its disastrous financial consequences becomes an intriguingly smart, funny, exciting and relatable modern thriller in the hands of director Craig Gillespie. Authentic and distinguished, the director hasn’t gotten the respect he deserves yet, despite crafting some very good titles so far. “Lars and The Real Girl”, “Fright Night”, “I, Tonya”, and “Cruella” tell for themselves. Perhaps now, Gillespie’s time for recognition has come with this ensemble financial scam drama fueled by incredible performances such as Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Vincent D’Onofrio, America Ferrera, Pete Davidson, Anthony Ramos, Talia Ryder and more top-class stars. Seen through the perspective of the regular guy Keith Gill, a YouTuber nerd who understands the game of money and figures out Wall Street’s strategy to blank out millions of people’s bank accounts, the film is amusing and well elaborated in its aesthetic, piercing together various subplots and displaying them as pieces of a fun money-strategy puzzle. It has got all the elements, good quality and shape of an Academy contender, which includes a push for Gillespie in the Best Director race. Dano nails it in the leading role, making the nerd who turns into a mega profit, one of the most compelling characters of the year. An amusing and old-fashioned look at the American Dream, Gillespie achieved what few films can: entertain both the young and the old-school generations.
(Sony Pictures. 9/20. Regal Union Square, AMC Empire).
Armenia’s selection for next year’s Oscars is a poignant, sensitive and sarcastic dramedy about reconnecting to your roots and finding out you didn’t really do the right choice. Well, depending on the case. For our protagonist here, Charlie an Armenia-born, American-raised man who returns to his homeland after many decades to learn about his ancestors and origins, he believes he has made the right move. Mistaken by a communist influencer, he is thrown into jail, but finds console as he compulsively watches the lives of a family accross from the window of his cell. Gradually, the viewer understands that those are actually memories of his childhood, before his family was murdered, creating an instant attachment, especially when it comes to his deeply affecting connection to his grandmother. Directed by Michael A. Goorjian, who also stars as the protagonist, it is a well-done and heartbreaking story about the importance of family, the strength of the human spirit and resilience, and the catastrophe of political intolerance.
(Variance Films. 9/20. Quad Cinema).
IT LIVES INSIDE
Addressing cultural identity, ancestry and both the risky influence of modern behavior over principles and traditions, Bishal Dutta’s feature debut is an appealing and haunting horror thriller but it suffers from trying too hard to impress. And it just doesn’t. At first interesting and involving, the story of an American-Indian teenager in denial of her cultural identity until she faces an unknown evil force, turns into a dragging, meaningless self-proclaimed study on the issues most teens must confront in now-a-days America: acceptance, depression, competition, insecurity, violence. These social and emotional obstacles come as metaphors in the form of the evil she unleashes along with her school friend, the heroine Samidha (played by Megan Suri) must confront them in order to save herself and her family. The ideas here are great but nothing evolves or get a coherent treatment. The actors also don’t do much to entertain or to turn their characters into likable people: they act dull and their lines won’t help either. Coming out of SXSW Festival with mixed reactions, this ambitious intercultural ghost-hunting horror won’t do the work for those looking for a hellish scary night.
(NEON. 9/21. AMC Newport, AMC Jersey Gardens, Regal Battery Park)
FAREWELL, MY CONCUBINE
Spanning 50 years in Chinese modern history seen through the experiences of two prestigious Peking Opera actors, director Chen Kaige’s intoxicatingly beautiful and near-perfect classic drama immerses the audience in its depiction of love, lust, artistic devotion, betrayal and patriotism like few films could. “How many beating does it take to become a star?” asks one of the kids enduring the harsh, exhaustive and painful training program at the Peking Opera Academy. A place where the rejected, orphaned children becomes accomplished and athletic artists, singers, and varied performers, serves as the stage for a tragic Queer love story, between a boy who is forced to “turn into” a girl, filling the female parts for their Operas, and his buddy, who takes him under his wing since his arrival. The film looks at this unique relationship, a mix of brothers and lovers, and how things change when a woman comes along, the extraordinary Gong Li, forming an unusual love triangle. Kaige invites the viewer for a unique, epic, gorgeously shot and marvelously told story of sacrifice, endurance, determination and compassion. Nominated for 2 Oscars in 1994, Best Foreign Film and Best Cinematography, this is a film to see over and over again, each time discovering different layers of beauty and secrecy in its powerful, poetic, incredible compositions of images. The performances are superbly touching, the violence is shocking, the visual is so glamorous and the plot incredibly accurate and gripping. This 4K Restoration rings in the right time screening along the Awards contenders of the year. It is a masterpiece, one of the best films ever made.
(Film Movement. 9/22. Film Forum)
THE ORIGIN OF EVIL
France’s rising diva, Laure Calamy gives another example of her screen-presence power, as dominatrix as ever in this dark thriller with hints of sophisticated comedy, masterly helmed by Sebastien Marnier. She plays Stephane, a mysterious woman who claims to be the abandoned daughter of a millionaire. The troublesome charming woman raises suspicions especially from the wealthy aging man’s merciless daughter and his confused, extra-spoiled wife. Aware of everyone’s flaws and fragilities, she takes advantage of the situation and immerses herself into the family’s personal matters, which includes connecting to a rebellious teenager and their maid, while hiding some facts herself as well. A highly entertaining and brilliantly written female saga, it is a wonderful mix of suspense, comedy and tragedy. Plus it is a strong vehicle for Calamy to display her addicting cynicism and cruel charms. She is the flame burning through everything in this wickedly fun work about identity, the meaning of home and financial despair.
(IFC Films. 9/22. IFC Center, Alamo Drafthouse)