Mandy Patinkin also stars in this “Let me tell you my story” sequel that takes “Wonder” and lessons about doing the right thing and kindness back to The Holocaust.
Mandy Patinkin also stars in this “Let me tell you my story” sequel that takes “Wonder” and lessons about doing the right thing and kindness back to The Holocaust.
“Sniper” movies are a combat genre all their own thanks to the fatal attraction of the loners — usually two-person teams — who do the work, hit-men or women in uniform, a one-or-two-shooter “surgical strike.”
Many a first-person shooter video game has sniper characters. Check the Internet Movie Database out — scores of titles built around snipers, many of them spin-offs of a seminal Tom Berenger B-movie from the early ’90s — “Sniper.”
The Ukrainian thriller “Sniper: The White Raven,” hews to that Berenger/Billy Zane film’s formula, with its own Ukrainian twists. It’s built on vengeance, a lone shooter mowing down Russians and their in-country lackeys during the 2014 Russian invasion, and a present-day 2022 epilogue.
It’s based on the experiences of a real-life Ukrainian soldier, and unlike most any sniper movie you can think of, this time, we see how such super-shooters are selected and trained.
“Nobody likes snipers,” the hard-as-nails “Cap” (Andriy Mostrenko) growls to his recruits, in Ukrainian with English subtitles. “They are insidious and elegant.” They can kill with stealth and any number of weapons, none of them all that high-tech. Because “It’s not the rifle that makes a sniper. It’s intelligence and endurance.”
Aldoshyn Pavlo stars as Mykola, a hippie pacifist when we meet him, married to an artist (Maryna Koshkina) who is expecting their first child, living lightly on the land in a dugout house they built, using electricity from a windmill they installed. They’re cute and odd enough to make local TV in their corner of Donetsk.
Mykola bikes to work and teaches his disinterested students physics. But he gets their interest when he turns a punk’s spitballs into a lesson on the mathematics of velocity.
When tensions boil over after Ukraine removes its corrupt Russian puppet president, the stealth invasion begins. Mykola and wife Nastya are in the middle of nowhere, is a somewhat camouflaged house. They must be “spies,” the newly-unmasked Russians declare. One seriously rough-handling of the civilians later and she’s dead and he’s left for dead.
Ukrainian militia help with the burial, but they don’t trust the guy the locals nicknamed “Digger,” because of his dugout house, either. Mykola must convince them he’s no longer a pacifist, that he craves revenge. He will go by the code-name, “Raven,” he says, getting WAY ahead of himself.
The militia bootcamp training montage shows how little regard the officers and fellow recruits have for the long-haired teacher. But his math skills get him noticed when he raises his hand for the sniper recruiters.
Yeah kids, you’ve got to be able to do a lot of calculating when you’re choosing your shot.
“The White Raven” follows our grieving widower, toting his wife’s carved raven totem, into combat to carve fear on the black hearts of the enemy, one dead goon at a time.
Labeling sniper films “genre” pictures works because almost to a one — “Sniper” to “American Sniper,” Saving Private Ryan” to “Enemy at the Gates” — they all boil down to The Ultimate Test. There’s always “a shooter with talent,” as Barry Pepper’s character declares in “Private Ryan.” A sniper-vs-sniper duel is inevitable.
That said, Marian Bushan’s film does a splendid job with the preliminaries, doesn’t leave out the morality of having to shoot a familiar face, and doesn’t omit the consequences of mistakes.
The action climax is solid, tense and exciting. And if you’re wondering why Russian generals are as rare as white ravens, stick around for the coda.
Rating: Rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity.
Cast: Pavlo Aldoshyn, Maryna Koshkina and Andriy Mostrenko
Credits: Directed by Marian Bushan, scripted by Marian Bushan and Mykola Voronin. A Well Go USA release.
Running time: 1:51
Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” an “event” movie that isn’t about action or actors in tights, is heading towards a $31.5 million opening, and is projected at this point to edge the latest weekend of “Maverick” ($30).
Thursday night previews — which included Tuesday night paid previews for one title — show “Elvis” jump-starting its weekend with $3.5 million, “Black Phone” set up by the horror crowd with a $3 million bonus. But Friday “The King” pulled away, with $12.7 million as its Thursday-Friday take.
Yes, Deadline.com confirms. An older audience is showing up, mostly female, and they’re sitting through a 2:39 film about a music icon who died in 1977.
Younger folks, you’re missing out. It’s worthy of the label “event.”
“Top Gun: Maverick,” crossed the $500 million mark at the domestic box office this week, and shows little sign of exiting soon. A small drop-off, weekend to weekend means the sequel will pull in $30.
“Jurassic World Dominion” looks to earn $26 million or so.
“The Black Phone” is also headed north of the $20 million mark this weekend, opening at $23.2, thanks toa $10 million and change Thursday/Friday take. That’s good, not spectacular, for a horror film opening, and I’d expect fans to show up at this critically-acclaimed thriller in bigger numbers than currently projected. But horror makes a lot of money, typically, opening night. So maybe not.
“Lightyear” is having a steep dive second weekend. Maybe $18? I didn’t think that one played. “Joyless.” Word must be getting around. That’s a 60% drop from opening weekend. Pretty steep for a Pixar movie. Maybe it’s time to leave “Toy Story” alone.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is winding down, another $1.76 which suggests it’ll lose screens and taper off before hitting $410-415.
“Everything Everywhere all at Once” has cleared $66 million, and might not clear $67.
“Bob’s Burgers” and “Bad Guys” are finishing their animated runs right around $31 and $96, respectively.
The most perilous minefield in the movies might be daring to explore teen sexuality on screen.
Raunchy farces use the cover of comedy, because everybody knows taking this subject seriously risks crossing the line into straight-up exploitation. And whatever notoriety you want for your film, few are going to embrace the scandal of turning up on a “hot teen sex” web search.
Those are the stakes for filmmakers’ Iliana Estañol and Johanna Lietha’s “Lovecut,” a never-sordid but somewhat sterile survey of sexuality in the social media age set amongst the young, beautiful and under-parented in Vienna. They take care to avoid the whole “hot teen sex” trap by limiting nudity and keeping their focus on the young couples, their challenges and the life-altering dead-ends they can drift into trying to figure out love and sex on their own.
Everybody in the movie has secrets. Each of them is homeless, recklessly rebellious or otherwise damaged going in. And all of them end up in relationships limited or doomed by the digital nature of dating for this generation.
Anna and Jakob (Sara Toth and Kerem Abdelhamed) are in the white-hot heat stage of their affair, always in search of the next place they can “do it,” and capture what they do on video. Instagram keeps taking down Anna’s exhibitionist displays of their ardor. But if they want to move in together, the older (maybe 19) Jakob has an idea — uploading their videos to paying porn sites.
“But what if our friends see them?” Anna frets, as if their friends aren’t seeing them in bed, on rooftops or wherever the next sexual selfie is set.
Besties Luka and Momo (Luca von Schrader and Melissa Irowa) are bar and club-hopping teens on the loose, each providing the other with cover and a sense of security as Luka drags Momo — who likes playing with the assumed name and guise of “Olga, from Russia” — along on a Tinder date with Ben (Max Kuess).
Luka is all about messing around. “I don’t want a relationship,” she insists (in German with English subtitles). “Me either.” And “No FEELINGS,” she insists.
Momo isn’t content being the third wheel for Luka’s “no feelings” hook-ups. But her relationship with Alex (Valentin Gruber) is strictly online, video calls for mutual, semi-clothed masturbation. She’s anxious to meet in person, but Alex isn’t.
The “secrets” here range from the obvious to the genuinely surprising, and all point to what we “know” about someone based on their social media profile and the superficial nature of the love connections.
Everybody’s young and sexy in their streak-dyed hair, top knots, torn fishnets, short skirts or belly-baring shirts. Getting beyond that is where everything turns messy — “too old for her,” probation, greed, “using” people, exhibitionism and the like doom every affair captured here, a generation digitally trapped in a learning curve that earlier ones never had to contend with, although each era has its own challenges.
For all their film’s surface intimacy, Estañol and Lietha have the hardest time connecting the viewer with these kids. We may see their flaws and emphasize with their challenges, but there’s a clinical distance to the portrayals, a Teutonic iciness that robs them of emotions.
Nobody cries at what they’re going through, no one loses her or his temper at the way whoever they’ve hooked-up with uses them.
The drama is limited to a few mild parental outbursts, a lot of measured, under-challenged acting-out, plenty of episodes where things come to a head and yet don’t. Not really.
This milieu, kids flopping from apartment to house-breaking to checked-out hotel room that the maids haven’t cleaned yet, has an earthy promise that rarely delivers. Younger viewers may find a character to identify with, but the movie presents us only with superficialities — the hot guy on probation, the “virgin” who wants not just experience, but a real boyfriend.
And the message of “Lovecut,” that there is no “learning” through all this, unless it’s learning to manipulate each other and get away with murder with your parents, is just dispiriting.
Rating: unrated, sex, nudity, alcohol abuse, all involving teens
Cast: Sara Toth, Max Kuess, Kerem Abdelhamed, Luca von Schrader, Melissa Irowa and Valentin Gruber.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Iliana Estañol and Johanna Lietha. A Film Movement release.
Running time: 1:34
The rest of the “team” he assembles to take down the great evil menacing the universe makes its bow.
Looks fun, and by July 8 we’ll all need a laugh and a reason to duck into a cold cineplex.
“Good Madam” is a tight, lightly-chilling horror tale from South Africa, a parable of a housekeeper and what “life in service” can mean, in a supernatural sense, in the former Apartheid state.
And how this relatively simple story has twelve listed screenwriters may be the ultimate example of sharing the credit in what is always described as the ultimate “collaborative” art form.
Tsidi (Chumisa Casa) and her little girl Winnie (Kamvalethu Jonas Raziya) have just shown up at the door of the elderly, wealthy woman her mother works for. Tsidi, who was raised by her grandmother, was forced out of the house by greedy, manipulative family members when she died. As her baby daddy (Khanyiso Kenqa) is an undependable lump, mother Mavis, “Sisi” (Nosipho Mtebe) is who she turns to.
She and her mother aren’t close, and the reason is as obvious as the first ting-a-ling of the bell that elderly Diane summons Mavis with. Mavis couldn’t get away to attend her own mother’s funeral.
As we see her 60ish mother on her knees, scrubbing floors, teetering on step stools to dust light fixtures and hear her mother sternly remind her daughter of “the house rules,” we get a bad feeling about what’s going on here. This is something beyond the whitewashed version of such relationships — “devotion.” Tsidi says the obvious out loud.
“She has you living under Apartheid!”
But mother-daughter quarrels and flashbacks to the testy family meeting that cost Tsidi her home are just sideshows. As she pokes around the house, things start to happen. That husky who stuck his head in the door and gave her a look?
“Oh, he died years ago.”
When Winnie notices her mother turning paranoid and obsessed, Mom’s words of comfort are no comfort at all.
“It seems this house doesn’t like Mama.”
Director and co-writer (with many others) Jenna Cato Bass saves most of the jolts here for the third act. The patient pacing means we’re allowed plenty of time to wonder who or what and in what form the “Good Madam” is behind that locked bedroom door, which neither Tsidi nor Winnie should ever attempt to open.
“Rules of the house,” remember.
The dialogue, in English or Xhosa (play it with closed captioning on), is spare and often argumentative. Piecing together relationships and the final twists requires your undivided attention.
But the story has hints of Edgar Allan Poe and other masters of horror about it, and is clever enough to be well worth a look, no matter how many credited screenwriters it took to come up with it and polish into the production screenplay.
Rating: unrated, violence, profanity
Cast: Chumisa Casa, Nosipho Mtebe, Kamvalethu Jonas Raziya, Sanda Shandu and Khanyiso Kenqa
Credits: Directed by Jenna Cato Bass, scripted by Babalwa Baartman, Jenna Cato Bass, Chumisa Cosa, Chris Gxalaba, Khanyiso Kenqa, Steve Larter, Sizwe Ginger Lubengu, Nosipho Mtebe, Kamvalethu Jonas Raziya, Sanda Shandu, Siya Sikawuti, Peggy Tunyiswa. A Shudder release.
Running time: 1:32
Labor Day, all you people will see why ol’Rodg always stays in hotels.
Movies that take us beyond showing gun violence as entertainment are rare. It’s not just the immediate, factual consequences of what happens when a human being is shot, the damage done and the trauma of the moment that we rarely see. The void that comes after the horror is mostly undiscovered country.
“Peace in the Valley” is an indie drama that goes there, a quietly compelling account of what comes next and the varying responses of a newly-widowed mother to the tragedy that happened almost right in front of her.
It was just supposed to be a short stop at the supermarket, a trip to pick up items needed for ten-year-old Jess’s (William Samri) science project. We see Dad (Michael Abbott Jr.) indulge the kid, egg him on to race against the clock so they can get in and out, and Mom (Brit Shaw) try to temper that irresponsible joke.
And then we hear the first shots. As John herds his family into the back and sprints to the sound of the gunfire, Ashley weeps and we hear the unmistakable rat-a-tat firing of a semi-automatic weapon.
“Peace in the Valley” isn’t about a shooter, that shooter’s motives, the machine-gun makers, marketers and apologists, or any other victims. It’s about this family’s response to the aftermath, the empty feeling that the funeral engenders, the late arrival of John’s more devil-may-care brother (also Abbott) and what he’ll do to comfort his nephew and sister-in-law.
“Peace” mainly rests on the shoulders of Shaw, a veteran of TV guest-shots and small parts in little-seen features, and she doesn’t disappoint. Ashley is sullen enough around “Uncle Billy” to suggest that they have history, that she knows this tactless, camo-clad jerk a little too well. Her comforting mother (Dendrie Taylor) is little comfort, and her suggestion that “It’s ok to need help” gets dismissed.
The last thing Ashley wants is the “pointless pity party” of a support group, she says.
But overwhelmed and acting-out, ducking into the local honkytonk to drink and get hit on, and not rebuff it, tells her she might be wrong. Even the bar singer hitting on her recognizes her.
“I guess I’m pretty famous right now.”
Self help in a group setting is a must, but only fellow griever Sandra (Nicky Buggs) seems relatable to Ashley.
With clingy, hyperactive Jess fighting in school and begging her to let him join gun culture with fun Uncle Billy, who tactlessly invites him to “go see if we can nab us a buck,” weeks after his father was gunned down, Ashley needs all the help she can get.
Writer-director Tyler Riggs, of “God’s Waiting Room,” finds a few twists and turns to throw at us in this somewhat novel variation on a timeworn “grief” melodrama. The occasional seriously sad exchange stands out as much as the sexual come-ons, which are jarring and generic thanks to their grating male writer-director’s point-of-view “tells.”
Punches are pulled and things left unsaid in Ashley’s disapproval of her tactless brother-in-law’s hunting invitation. But in this corner of the world, being anti anything to do with firearms is not something the pickup truck set says aloud.
“Peace in the Valley” is a good film, showing a lot of promise behind the camera and in front of it. Hopefully somebody will pick it up and distribute it, and soon. Because if there’s any country that needs to consider how crushing and disruptive gun violence is, it’s this one.
Rating: unrated, sex, profanity, smoking
Cast: Brit Shaw, Michael Abbott Jr., Nicky Buggs, William Samri and Dendrie Taylor
Credits: Scripted and directed by Tyler Riggs. Reviewed at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Running time: 1:28
The documentary as autobiography has been around for a while, with filmmakers like Ross McElwee (“Sherman’s March”) turning “personal essay” films into exercises in family history and a soul searching exploration of one’s place in it.
Filmmaker and sometime actress Rebecca Huntt makes a Millennial-defining statement on the genre with “Beba,” an alternately searing and scalding piece of family history that doesn’t spare the beautiful narcissist doing the examining, either.
“I am the lens, the subject, the authority,” she declares in voice-over behind images of her on the beach, walking the New York streets and the like. “Violence lives in my DNA. I use it to hurt those closest to me.”
A film eight years in the making, shot on sumptuous, saturated (16mm) celluloid, “Beba” explores “the curses of my family slowly killing us,” seeing herself as the product of her striving and succeeding immigrant parents and her trainwreck siblings, and her place within that circle of pain.
Her father fled Trujillo’s dictatorial oligarchy and its “ethnic cleansing” of the Dominican Republic to New York, where after the shock of seeing 1960s Bedford Stuyvesant , vowed to get out of there and move his family to Central Park West. Which, after marrying a rebellious middle class Venezuelan college graduate, he did.
Huntt, whom her mother nicknamed “Beba,” and her two older siblings, lived with their parents in a crowded rent-controlled one-bedroom apartment at that tony address, “the poorest kids in Central Park West.”
She talks with her doting, proud Dad and her reluctant mother. And while we don’t know how they made a living and managed to lift this family into the middle class, we start to get a hint of Beba’s grievances, how she doesn’t really “get” her father, and heaps blame on her stern, fair-skinned mother, who snippily cuts off the interview in the middle of Rebecca’s accusation of “microaggressions.”
“I am going to war,” she warned us in the opening voice over, “and there will be casualties.”
Existential angst is laid bare in this self-portrait masquerading as family photo album. We don’t really hear from her estranged brother Juancarlos, just that he made Beba cry on a family drive to Disney World “and that’s the last time my brother remembers our father talking to him.” Her free spirited, pot smoking, rebel sister Raquel whirls through a chain-smoking walk/chat that reveals little but her restlessness, “agoraphobia” Beba says.
Director of photography and camera operator Sophia Stieglitz got years of shots of model-slim and pretty Rebecca/Beba as she debates “privilege” with her mostly-white college crowd, remembers a Latin lover who killed himself and weeps while singing a sad Dominican song at a karaoke bar and narrates her story in voice over.
Still, the Disney World trip and Central Park West clues hint at a pretty normal, middle class upbringing. Rebecca got into prestigious Bard College, indulged by her favorite professor (interviewed here), who recalls her seemingly taking that education for granted, she was shaped by an upscale and free thinking school where Mia and Ronan Farrow, Tom Ford, Todd Haynes, Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest and the rich lads who formed Steely Dan matriculated and where the great philosopher Hannah Arendt once taught.
She studied abroad, and chose Ghana in West Africa for that. Rebecca Huntt all but demands that we ask, “What is this spoiled, entitled brat’s problem?”
She talks about Blackness in identity politics terms, but we aren’t shown specific examples of barriers and burdens associated with race and class. She moves back home some time after college, and admits her callous treatment of her and describes the ongoing war with her brother that includes his cruel sabotage — in her eyes — of a coveted job interview in film production.
And she finds the most pretentious turn of phrase for wanting to learn to cook for herself, “making time for the ritual of cooking.”
Yes, there are eye-rolling moments at her expense aplenty. But as we remember this is her film and that her portrayal is under her control, we appreciate the bluntness, the “snitching” she’s doing on her family, whom she confesses may “never speak” to her again, and herself.
Her family’s history, and her own racial status, help explain Beba’s angst. And if she’s asking DNA-deep questions, looking for answers and somewhat adrift and perhaps not wholly self-aware as she does it, maybe that’s a hallmark of her generation.
“Beba” is not a feat she’ll be able to repeat, not with herself and her family as subject matter. She’s unlikely to ever have the many years it took to make this deep dive. Thanks to this beautiful, nakedly honest film, she could be a filmmaker and a screen presence to watch. Or this could be that one movie she has in her.
Either way, Huntt laid it all out there and put it all on the screen and let the family-rending chips fall where they may, and she should be celebrated for having the guts to strip herself and those around her this naked with her snitching.
We are all heroes of our own stories, victims of our own tragedies. And as Huntt reminds us, at times we can be the villains, as well.
Rating: R, for language (profanity)
Cast: Rebecca Huntt
Credits: Scripted and directed by Rebecca Huntt. A Neon release.
Running time: 1:20
“My Donkey, My Lover & I” is one of the unexpected filmgoing delights of this summer. It’s a French road comedy in which the “road” is a famous French hiking trail pioneered by a legendary Scottish writer, the vehicle a donkey and the journey one of romantic self discovery through beautiful scenery, cozy hostels and homey dining rooms..
So, “Eat, Bray Love” it is, then.
Titled “Antoinette dans les Cévennes” when it came out in France, it’s about a French fifth grade teacher out to meet a lover in the The Stevenson Trail, a multi-day trek through the Cévennes region along a route Robert Louis Stevenson took with a donkey named Modestine, from Puy-en-Velay to Ales.
Antoinette Lapouge (Laure Calamy) wasn’t planning on taking this trip, at least not alone. When we meet the vivacious 30something she is changing into a fancy costume in her classroom, and topping that inappropriate overexposure by leading her kids in an end of year performance of a too sexy love ballad.
Parental eyebrows are raised, especially when Antoinette, in a fit of passion, takes over the singing at the end. And then we see who this exhibition was for. Vladimir (Benjamin Lavernhe) is the father of one of her students. The second they can grab a moment alone, they’re going at it.
But their little “vacation” together is off. He’s married and he’s taking a donkey hike with the wife and daughter. Antoinette may not be a hiker, or an experienced donkey handler, or even somebody who knows how to tie a proper slipknot. That doesn’t keep her from impulsively booking such a trip on that same trail herself.
We’ll see who ruins whose vacation, won’t we?
A Hollywood version of this story would have played-up the mayhem Antoinette causes or might cause by finding and crashing her lover’s family vacation. It would have leaned hard on the quirky eccentrics she meets on the trail and milked stubborn donkey jokes for all that they’re worth.
Writer-director Caroline Vignal, inspired by Stevenson’s “Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes,” goes for something gentler, if just as light. It’s a quirky spiritual journey in the tradition of “The Way,” whimsical and soulful, but with swearing and braying.
Right from her first meal with a table full of strangers in a hostel, Antoinette is interrogated, mocked for doing things the Stevenson way with a donkey, which is an added hassle, and gently-and-not-so-gently judged for her life choices, her affair with a married man — the father of a student, no less.
“You’re right,” she giggles, in French with English subtitles. “Shame on me.”
Her over-sharing that first night sets up a running gag. Antoinette makes this trek in notoriety. Her plans to “stumble into” the lover and his family are widely known, and sometimes scorned. Almost every hostel keeper and many others on the trail know her story.
And if you don’t know how to curse in French, her interactions with Patrick the Irish donkey are a great primer and another running gag.
The donkey is just enough of a character in this film to register, a critter who only walks when she talks to him. Her talking, on these 20 or so kilometer a day hikes, is filled with chatter about Vladimir, what she loves and what she hopes, her anger and her despair and longing for this unavailable mate.
Naturally, when the donkey finally meets Vlad, his wife (Olivia Côte) and child, he’s had time to form an opinion of them.
“My Donkey” is a travelogue with weepy moments and grace notes — Antoinette breaking down at the sight of a loving, hostel-running couple and their kids, and then comforted by the story of why Stevenson took his own solitary trek told to her by sympathetic husband Idriss (Denis Mpunga).
The picture gets by on such moments, but even the meandering that goes on between them is cute and has its own charm.
If you’re looking for low-exertion a summer escape movie with a bucket list travel destination as its setting and a donkey and the hapless, lovelorn sap who rides him as its stars, “My Donkey, My Lover & I” certainly fills the bill.
Rating: unrated, sex, nudity, profanity
Cast: Laure Calamy, Benjamin Lavernhe, Olivia Côte and Denis Mpunga
Credits: Scripted and directed by Caroline Vignal. A Greenwich Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:36
Roger Moore's film criticism, against the grain since 1984.
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