Archive for February, 2016

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Weiner

It’s easy to imagine a parallel universe in which Anthony Weiner successfully repented of his sins (or never committed them in the first place) and won an unlikely victory in the race for mayor of New York City. In that universe, one can only speculate on what could have been in the embattled politician’s future.

The contrast between that once-bright future and Weiner’s corresponding fall from grace, is made all the more Shakespearean in this searing, at-times-uncomfortably intimate documentary, which tracks the meteoric rise, fall, resurgence and final explosion of an American political career.

“Weiner,” the film, is shot with astounding access to Weiner, the man’s, inner circle. That access was no doubt expected to produce a much different, and much more positive story, and it makes the inevitable trainwreck all the more daunting as it approaches.

But the film also succeeds at humanizing a man who became a national punchline. Weiner is shown here as passionate, energetic, sympathetic and deeply, deeply flawed. The film juggles the laugh out loud humor of a campaign in crisis with the profound sadness of watching a family and marriage nearly torn apart by scandall.

That no other politician would allow this level of exposure, combined with the singular drama of Weiner’s personal story, creates a documentary experience with few equals.

Grade: A

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Joshy

After his wedding is canceled, Josh (Thomas Middleditch) and his friends meet up for what would have been Josh’s bachelor party.

Boasting a strong ensemble of those-guys-you-know-from-tv (Adam Pally, Nick Kroll, Jenny Slate, etc.) Joshy is an ambling, improvisational dramedy that, were it not for the charm of its actors, would likely fall flat. But the energy from the ensemble manages to keep the aimlessness on the rails and distract from the otherwise thin goings-on.

Grade: B-

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Sand Storm

Set in a Bedouin village in southern Israel, “Sand Storm” is a quietly powerful story about women trapped in a suffocatingly patriarchal community. The film is centered on Layla (Lamis Ammar) and her mother Jalila (Ruba Blal-Asfour), separated by a generation that overlaps traditional and modernism. Layla is allowed to study, but is hiding a boyfriend from her father, who has recently taken a second wife while ignoring Jalila and her children.

The authenticity of the culture depicted in “Sand Storm” is elaborately but not showingly detailed. But much of the film’s tension relies on social constructs that could benefit from more explanation for an international audience. It’s apparent that there are deeply rooted customs at play, which threaten the livelihood and happiness of these women, but without knowing that those customs are, its difficult to gauge some of the stakes.

Grade: B

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The Hollars

The quirky family dramedy is a perennial staple at Sundance, and the genre’s demands are thoroughly satisfied by “The Hollars,” directed by The Office’s John Krasinski. This is a film where an aloof son (Krasinski) is summoned home due to the ill health of a parent (in this case, character actress Margo Martindale) and the reconnection to his past jars him out of a rut so he can face his future.

It’s a familiar formula, but one that is successfully executed by the incredible ensemble cast, which includes Charlie Day, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Josh Groban and perfect human Anna Kendrick. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt, and it goes down smooth.

Grade: B+

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Jim: The James Foley Story

James Foley, a freelance war correspondent, was the first American citizen killed by ISIS. His 2014 death, a grueling videotaped beheading after almost two years in captivity, was a watershed moment for the nation, and one that is given the weight it deserves in “Jim: The James Foley Story.”

Both a tribute to Foley and conflict journalism, “Jim” follows Foley’s work in Libya and Syria, before transitioning to his capture and the failed attempts by his family to negotiate a release. The story benefits greatly from first-hand interviews with Foley’s fellow captives, which are dramatized in understated, quasi-abstract vignettes that keep the emotion right where it belongs: the harrowing account of torture, resilience and camaraderie among a group of international journalists.

The film captures the anger and frustration of Foley’s family, openly critical of the U.S. government’s response to his abduction, and also blend of pride and regret they feel out of love for their brother and son and the weight of his absence. Both intimate and sprawling, told in quiet moments and scenes of explosive horror, “Jim” is the kind of documentary that takes days to shake off.

Grade: A

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