Saturday, September 7, 2019

Watered down, and quirky familial

I’m in the New York area for the month. Some of the films being reviewed may or may not coincide with movies opening or screening in the Detroit area.

I wanted to shoehorn a couple of films into late afternoon and evening time slots to round out a day in Manhattan, so took myself to Landmark Theatres still new and shining W. 57th Street cinemas, the nicest of any Landmark property I’ve been in with a very cool bar but smallish screening rooms but with deeply upholstered and comfortable seats. The Ooey Gooey Butter Cake Ice Cream was  terrif.

The first film was Russian director Viktor Kossakovsky’s Aquarela (Portuguese for watercolor). From newspaper ads the film seemed a knockout about the power of water. So I was expecting massive scenes of water in all its terrifying grandeur. Having just read David McCullough’s Johnstown Flood I had an even great appreciation of water’s force and destructiveness. But I was less than impressed with this documentary. The film opens prosaically on an icy river in Russia where rescue workers find cars that have plunged through the ice. The first half hour of screen time is spent simply showing how vehicles are retrieved including with jerry rigged winches – interesting but hardly edge of seat stuff. The film gets more intriguing as we’re taken along a Nordic coast where glaciers break apart and fall into the sea, generating enormous waves and showery mists. Then there’s a sailboat with a courageous crew slicing through icy and stormy waters. The film abruptly cuts to a warm climate and flooding in Miami, and to a giant waterfall in Venezuela, among other scenes. These are all absorbing shots. But the thought repeatedly went through my mind: how difficult would it have been to simply place a camera and, with a little skill, record these scenes? I concluded it wouldn’t have been all that difficult.

The second film, Hannah Utt’s Before You Know It, is a quirky, farcical very New York story about a theatre family trying to make a living in Greenwich Village. The patriarch Mel is played by Mandy Patinkin and the story revolves around he and his two daughters, Jackie (Jen Tullock) and Rachel, played by the director. The real theme of the movie, despite its offbeat artsy characters, is growing up and taking responsibility. Along the way there are comical and very unlikely twists as the sisters discover a whoopingly unexpected family secret. Patinkin’s portrayal of a demanding eccentric impresario seemed a little stale - ever since Patinkin grew that beard he’s really taken on attitude. Utt’s acting as the serene serious older sister is passible. But the real shining acting comes from Tullock, a joy to watch as she’s naturally spontaneous in a role that more than demands it. Alec Baldwin as a shrink has a small part and Judith Light as the unexpected Sherrell is, well, simply bizarre, appropriately or not.

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