TRIBECA22: ‘An Act of Worship’ Review

An Act of Worship is an important documentary examining the treatment of Muslims in the United States.

Courtesy of Capital K Pictures

6.5/10

Documentaries are an important part of cinema. Sadly they never get their just dues and sometimes get largely ignored at festivals. As someone who has worked on a documentary, the extensive work that is done on them is incredibly respectable. Documentary filmmaking is just as important as narrative films and when it comes to film festivals I make it a priority to watch some documentaries. At Sundance, I watched some great documentaries like Tantura, A House Made of Splinters, and The Territory. Alas, I was approached to watch this documentary film that highlights the past 30 years of Muslim American lives in the United States.

Anyone who does not see the world with rose-colored glasses can easily see that the past thirty years in the US have seen a massive increase in Islamaphobia. Islam is the second-largest religion in the world. Yet in the United States, the lives of Muslim Americans are constantly under attack and used as political targets. The main goal of Nausheen Dadabhoy’s An Act of Worship is to examine the past 30 years through its various subjects and express the need for change. The film uses archival footage and interviews with various family/friends of the people included in the documentary.

The film is far from being perfect and that is okay because that should not be its main priority. The film excels at expressing its message through its execution by using some emotionally raw interviews. Learning about each person in this film was one of the best parts of this film whether it was about the women who were running for office or the various people who are still separated from their families. I found the examination of three big eras pre-9/11, post-9/11, and Trump’s presidency. Ultimately, the film is held back by its uneven pacing which makes the narrative drag throughout the runtime. The last two acts of the film are where it lacks and eventually fell apart before it recuperated in the last fifteen minutes.

Ultimately, even with its lackluster pacing, the film is still important to watch and that is why I recommend it. As someone who is not Muslim, I connected to the parts of the film where they discuss being separated from their families in other countries. I also gravitated a lot toward the discussion of cultural differences between the generations in the family. The idea of belonging to several identities is important to me so when the film touches on that I was pulled back in. The message of the film is more important than its execution. It’s pieces of art like this that remind us of the various steps that we need to take in making our country a better place for everyone. Whenever this makes its way out to the public or if you can catch a screening I highly recommend giving this a shot.

Watch An Act of Worship at the Tribeca Film Festival by visiting their website and buying a ticket for its remaining screenings.

TRIBECA22: ‘Family Dinner’ Review

Peter Hengl’s eerie horror thriller is a mix of predictability and promise inside of its tense narrative.

Courtesy of WTFilms

7/10

Continuing with my Tribeca Film Festival coverage this year, we will talk about my first Midnight Film experience. I usually cannot stay up to the ungodly hours of midnight films because I get too tired to stay awake past 11 PM. Well, this time I did not have to stay up but I could watch some of the midnight selections at this year’s festival. The topic of body positivity is important to me and whatever that means to those who deal with various insecurities with their bodies. I am not the socially acceptable thin white body that is shown on the internet and media that we consume. So when someone decides to touch upon this subject and discuss the various themes of feeling comfortable in one’s skin. Thus, I watched my second film of the festival, Peter Hengl’s Family Dinner.

In the film, we follow the journey of Simone or how her family calls her “Simi” played by Nina Katlein who plans to spend the Easter holiday with her Aunt Claudia (Pia Hierzegger). Claudia lives with her partner Stefan (Michael Pink) and her son Fillip (Alexander Sladek). Everything looks like it’s normal until Simi starts to notice unusual behavior by her cousin Fillip. After helping her aunt find Fillip the hesitant aunt allows Simi to stay until Easter Sunday. Claudia takes her insecure niece under her wing as she starves her to help her lose weight. Written and directed by Peter Hengl in his feature film debut.  What follows is a journey of nightmare-fueled family dinner for the ages. 

Peter Hengl’s script is not the easiest to get behind with its uneven pacing and predictability. That’s not to say that all of the writing is flat, the characters of Claudia and Simi are fantastic while Fillip and Stefan feel one-dimensional. That’s not to say that there is nothing in this film that works because Peter Hengl’s direction is fluid as he patiently travels to the conclusion of his film. The visual language and sound design of the film are exquisitely crafted to help the atmosphere of the picture. Family Dinner is coated in a beautiful minimal muted color palette that helps bring out the horror elements of the film. The contrast and highlights help provide the feeling of unease while its oddly calming score helps the audience come down from the tension. The film fails at forming a cohesive narrative with a lackluster first half and an entertaining second half. Ultimately, the film’s themes hold the film together making it worth watching along with its good performances. I am interested to see where Peter Hengl’s career goes and would love to sit down and watch another film of his. Even with its problems, Family Dinner was entertaining and I would recommend everyone watch it when they get the chance. I can see this finding life on a service like Shudder where the horror fanbase can really help boost its visibility.

Watch Family Dinner at the Tribeca Film Festival by visiting their website and buying a ticket for its remaining screenings.

TRIBECA22: ‘The Visitor’ Review

Martin Boulocq crafts a vastly interesting and powerful look at a man at crossroads with himself, his family, and the changing landscape of his country.

Courtesy of FiGa Films

8/10

It is always a great honor to participate as part of the press for a film festival. As you have seen we have been on quite the kick covering Sundance early in the year and wrapping up our coverage of the 38th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Well, from June 8th to the 19th we are covering Tribeca Film Festival. Of course, I am honored and very happy to be able to check out all these films that are playing virtually. Now, let’s get into the first film that I had the chance to watch, and stay tuned for all the coverage to come from Tribeca on the site!

If you know me you know that I love international cinema, so when I was contacted to look at Martin Boulocq’s The Visitor it was a no-brainer that I was going to watch this film. The picture is director Martin Boulocq’s fourth feature, written by him and Rodrigo Hasbún. The film’s exquisite cinematography is crafted by Germán Nocella. The movie stars newcomer Enrique Aráoz, César Troncoso (The Pope’s Toilet), Mirella Pascual (Whisky), Svet Ailyn Mena, Romel Vargas, and Teresa Gutiérrez. In The Visitor, we follow the journey of ex-convict Humberto (Enrique Aráoz) who returns home after finishing his jail sentence. Humberto returns home and tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter but is met with hostility and resistance by his father-in-law who runs a major evangelical church in his town. The Visitor examines the environment of Bolivia that is under influence by the evangelical church’s presence of neocolonial practices.

Martin Boulocq crafts the film with power and excellence from a superb script. Enrique Aráoz’s commanding performance arrests the viewer’s attention and provides a stellar execution of his role of Humberto. The film is masterfully crafted through its precise visual language through the fluid use of wide and close-up shots that allow for scenes to breathe. The thematic characteristics of the film provide interesting commentary on the rising power of evangelicalism and the way it preys on the hearts of vulnerable people. The film does not stop there as it closely examines familial dynamics and the class divide in Bolivia. The thematic language is examined with a decisive approach that allows the film to flow well and present its message clearly. The film is a bit rocky with its pace where the first half does not work as much as the second, but it makes it up with a patient third act. However, even with its problems the film is powerful and is one to look out for if it ever makes its way out to the public. This is definitely a high recommendation, especially for those who are interested in the growing landscape of Latin America and its social climate.

Watch The Visitor at the Tribeca Film Festival by visiting their website and buying a ticket for its remaining screenings.

‘Lux Æterna’ Review

Lux Æterna is a stellar chaotic work from the French provocateur’s mind as he explores when the creative process goes wrong.

CREDIT: Les Cinémas de la Zone

9/10

I had to make sure that Vortex was not the last film from Gaspar Noé that I got the chance to watch on the big screen. Lux Æterna has been easily one of my most anticipated films to watch since I learned about the film in 2019. I waited and waited forever to hear some sort of news about this film coming to the United States but nothing ever happened. That was until this year when Yellow Veil Pictures acquired the North American theatrical and home media distribution rights to the film. I was so happy that this film would finally be released after three years of waiting around for some sort of glimpse into this chaotic visual poem from Noé. I researched and found a showing at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and finally, I would watch my most anticipated film from 2019.

Lux Æterna is a visual essay from the enfant terrible, Gaspar Noé. The film made its premiere out of competition at the 2019 edition of the Cannes Film Festival. The film stars Charlotte Gainsbourg, Béatrice Dalle, and Abbey Lee along with some regulars from the rest of Noé’s catalog. In the film, we follow the stressful life of a film set led by the director, Beatrice. If you have ever been on a set you understand a lot of the things that can go wrong. It seems that the set begins to crumble apart as the authority is stripped from Beatrice, and the actresses begin to have their boundaries crossed by the crew. All while Beatrice is trying to craft a film about witches that gets stressful with every minute. As the chaos ensues, the women must find a way to cope with the loss of their agency.

Gaspar Noé has once again provided us with a visual spectacle that deals with his anarchistic style while providing nuanced commentary on the film industry. A visual masterpiece of a film, Lux Æterna, catapults into madness on-screen that forces the viewer to never look away from it. The last 15 minutes of the film is a complete assault of the five senses in pure Gaspar Noé fashion as it flashes strobe lights creating the hellish nightmare of losing control. Gainsbourg, Lee, and Dalle superbly provide performances that truly speak volumes about the everyday lives of the people they are representing. Where Gaspar Noé lacks in the runtime of the film he makes up by providing each second with his unique approach to the narrative. Even if this is not as great as his past work like Climax, Love, or Irreversible, Noé finds a way to provide his style while pushing the limits of his narrative in Lux Æterna. Art is difficult to make and Noé is here to remind us that things could get ugly real fast.

Watch Lux Æterna in theaters or on home media coming soon to Blu Ray.

‘Men’ Review

Alex Garland’s newest film is a stylized incoherent film that tries to fill in the cracks of its narrative with poignant symbolism.

CREDIT: A24

7/10

Alex Garland has been steadily creating a body of work worth noting down as one of the best of the last couple of years. I was a big fan of his first film, Ex Machina. I found his style and approach to the overarching narrative to be exquisite. It is easily one of my favorite films of all time plus who doesn’t love watching Oscar Isaac dance in that iconic scene. He would continue on with his next film, Annihilation, which polarized audiences with its mixed reviews. I have heard great things about his FX show, Devs, but have yet to sit down and actually watch it. Needless to say, when the first trailer was released for Men I was eager to watch it. Well, let’s talk about this new horror film from writer and director, Alex Garland.

Men, written and directed by English filmmaker, Alex Garland. The film marks Garland’s return to the silver screen after 2018’s Annihilation. The film stars Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, and Paapa Essiedu. In Men, we follow the journey of Harper (Jessie Buckley) who relocates to the English countryside after her husband commits suicide. Well, the story is not as straightforward as it sounds since a constant presence of toxic men appears around the town that begins to harass her. As Harper tries to figure out what is happening she also must confront the nature of her past marriage and the effects of toxic masculinity that surround the nightmare she is living in.

As always I want to start with the positives because I dislike filling my reviews with constant negativity. I hope that with even the worst experiences I have with films I try to find something that works within the film I am watching. Sometimes there are films that have only one thing that I found captivating and it is important to me to point it out. Jessie Buckley is an incredible actress and her very nuanced work within this film is beyond captivating. It reaches into the deepest levels of your heart and finds a way to universally connect with you. The same can be said about Rory Kinnear’s multiple roles that manage to get so far under your skin to make you uncomfortable. Rob Hardy’s stellar photography throughout the film really captures the visual motifs and atmosphere of the area that Harper is inhabiting. Finally, throughout the film the sound design, visual effects, and score work so well together to form a really creepy tone for the film.

Nonetheless, Men is far from being the perfect film and is Alex Garland’s weakest film to date. The script even though providing interesting themes can never find a coherent execution to present them. Alex Garland has a lot of interesting themes to explore like toxic masculinity and the generational culture of toxicity, but the film never finds a way to concisely represent it. The film’s pacing drags throughout the second act of the film. Once the film reaches its third act it repeatedly beats you over the head with its imagery that the message gets lost within its use of symbolism. As great as the frames looked the message behind the frames constantly got lost within the shuffle of the execution. Even though it doesn’t work for most of its runtime, Men is still an interesting film that is deserving of a rewatch to fully capture what the film is saying. The third act is a glorious display of horror, but we will see what the road leads for Alex Garland. I am still on his hype train, and I am looking forward to what comes next from his directorial efforts.

Watch Men in theaters.