Tag Archives: Tori Hanes

Infinite Noise

32 Sounds

by Tori Hanes

Sound is the disregarded miracle of life. Its gravity against the wandering human spirit is a given that’s processed through an apathetic gaze. The dimension that invisible vibrations give to a fleeting, complicated, finite life is the epicenter of documentarian Sam Green’s latest piece, 32 Sounds

Through the exploration of 32 unique sounds, Green examines the net this simple sense casts into every aspect of life. He taps philosophers, composers, scientists, Hollywood engineers (practically, anyone who’s devoted their life to noise) to share their interpretation of the illusive.

Through this dissection, a common theme is identified and isolated: loss. The fleeting nature of life paired with the millisecond reverberation of sound finds fraternity easily. When we extend this to captured sound- the mating call of a nearly extinct bird cooing for its deceased mate, or a voicemail greeting from a loved one passed on – the interwovenness of our existence and the ability to hold the senses that gift us interpretation is astounding.

Green connects loss, the fleeting human experience, and sound throughout the film. He starts by immediately concocting these theories, then attempts to let the film find itself through the interview process. Without Green at the wheel, the message begins to meander and loses footing to absurdity. Green has a strong, interesting message here –sometimes, he just gets lost in his own spectacle. 

Audience members will likely leave 32 Sounds reexamining their connection to the most elusive sense. They’ll let the hum of fluorescents, the padded thud of their feet on a living room rug, and the blare of a faraway horn sweep them into a symphony of miracle. And that, in and of itself, is the miracle of life.

iCaramba

iMordecai

by Tori Hanes

Ah, the great dismay of reviewers everywhere: putting to word the film that is, in all respects, just fine. 

Good intention, beating heart, a splattering of fine performances… a contrived story, weird relationships, and dramatically confusing decisions. Comme ci, comme ça. 

Holocaust survivor turned Miami Beach grandfather Mordecai Samel is played by Judd Hirsch – and let’s be honest here. The man’s 88 years old. This in and of itself is worthy of praise.

Mordecai is forever changed by the purchase of an iPhone. This singular point sprouts approximately 12 plots that messily attempt a parallel run, including: 

  • A flailing cigar business run by Mordecai’s perpetually disgruntled son, Marvin (Sean Astin)
  • A wholeheartedly strange relationship with a member of a Nazi bloodline
  • A bizarrely convenient dementia diagnosis 
  • A budding, introduced-and-forgotten art career

Any of these could’ve, and probably should’ve, been the primary plot. Instead, they bob and weave to and fro, knocking each other off course for the chance at a fleeting moment in the sun. 

The contexts surrounding this film are, unfortunately, more interesting than the movie itself. Filmmaker Marvin Samel created iMordecai as a joyous tribute to his father, and that palpable love is present throughout the 102 minute run time. Mordecai Samel did survive the Holocaust in a Siberian orphanage, and he did create a happy life in sunny Miami. His son claims to have learned the craft of filmmaking through online classes, accumulating his knowledge to create the cinematic experience of his father’s golden years.

Hilariously, iMordecai is touted as a “true story – the bold, true story of an older man learning how to use an iPhone.” Of course this is a hyperbolic simplification, but the nature of the claim feels about as asinine as that. It’s a glaring example of the lack of perception toward what makes this movie interesting. Mordecai Samel, the man at the center, is the heart, pumping blood to every far reaching vein. When the film turns a tourniquet on itself, it loses.

Overall, the plot’s messy but comprehensible. The direction is jarring but understandable. The cast is stacked, the performances are solid, but the characters are left-footed. iMordecai is digestible in every way but forgettable just the same.

(Senior) Women Talking

Chantilly Bridge

by Tori Hanes

Time: the paramount unreasonable force, promised to break most any sacred bond Earth has to offer. Navigation through the inevitable – birth, death, marriage, divorce, getting drunk with your friends – will be the muse of filmmakers until our rock stops spinning.

Chantilly Bridge is, in so many ways, a unique viewing experience. Going in completely blind, it’ll take unfamiliar audiences a hefty portion of their viewing time and brain power (unless they constitute the aid of ol’ pal Google) to decipher that this film is a sequel. Its predecessor, Chantilly Lace, was released 30 years ago into the warm reception of television movie stardom. Director and co-writer Linda Yellen returns for Chantilly Bridge, leaning on presumed familiarity like a splintered crutch to shape her wobbly narrative. Initially enlisting confusing flashbacks to scoot forward a clunky and unimpressive premise, Bridge eventually cracks the crutch over their good knee and sprints forward toward the meat of the film: the character chemistry.

The cast is loaded with veteran talent, including Talia Shire, Ally Sheedy, JoBeth Williams, Helen Slater, Jill Eikenberry and Lindsay Crouse, who all reprise their roles from ’93. The chemistry is palpable, and the film relies on improvisation to fill in the massive gaps between loose plot beats. These moments of filler snuggled within the “story” are to be savored. They’re teeming with the authenticity that makes film viewing a life affirming experience. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to find yourself intertwined in a conversation steered by women who deeply, irrevocably, unconditionally care for each other, you’ll feel Chantilly Bridge’s genius stir the deepest cockles of your heart.

What’s maddening is the production’s backward desire to hinder enjoyment. The cinematography makes the film’s made-for-tv roots obvious: intensive exposure and lighting, clinical color palettes, and jarringly un-inherent shots. Often, speakers will be out of frame for incredibly long beats while the camera lingers on a polite listener. This coincides with the clunky moments of obvious scriptedness – when Chantilly Bridge attempts to be a film, it largely fails. When it allows itself to be a vehicle for female friendship, it astounds.  

Through the nauseatingly winding start, an angry thought flickered: “how can a film say so much and mean nothing?” As the women on screen selflessly shared the complexities of connection and joy, the same thought reemerged in the shape of an ashamed trickle: “how could I have been so stupid?”

Police State

I Got a Monster

by Tori Haines

An unrelenting look at the prescriptive police corruption plaguing Baltimore’s system, I Got A Monster stares the repeatedly topical topic straight down the barrel.

Director Kevin Abrams follows dogmatic defense attorney Ivan Bates’s journey of taking down the city’s most prolific group of badged criminals: Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force, headed by Sgt Walter Jenkins. Navigating the audience through the twists of the cold judicial system while Jenkin’s victims ride shotgun, I Got A Monster succeeds as a deeply educational piece.

The documentary’s strength is also its weakness. In its need to present information, the doc often loses sight of the angry, desperate, and necessary call-to-arms at the center of its message. The moments of true emotional catharsis come in the form of first-person testimonies from the lives Jenkins ruined at random. Devastated and infuriated, the victims recount their traumatic experiences with Baltimore PD’s racial profiling and corruption. These vignettes are the soul of the piece – where the film finds moments of true nuance, ethos, and bravery.

However, the balance of testimony offers scattershot cold legal expertise, with advisors desperate to spell out each step of Jenkin’s downfall.

The stark difference between the two testimonial styles feels left-footed, almost like audiences need to fully switch sections of the brain to properly interpret the speaker on screen.

I Got A Monster is not a documentary playing in the sandbox of multiple, shifting perspectives of opinion. To an extent, fans of documentaries expect and enjoy the feeling of whiplash. This piece is tough, in a way, because nary a soul alive would be able to justify the cruelty and corruption of Walter Jenkins. However, the complete unity of ideologies is what causes the awkward back and forth of ethos vs. facts. Finding some middle ground that gives audiences the touch of a differing perspective (for example, I would’ve loved to hear Jenkin’s legal defense team’s moral justifications) could’ve helped unify the important message as opposed to dissecting it.

I Got A Monster gives a voice to the handful of the men and women who had their agencies, freedoms, and, in some cases, beliefs of a just world ripped from them. The platform Abrams created for them is, in and of itself, worthy of praise and viewing. 

While I Got A Monster often feels like a disjunct narrative, the people behind the Monster make it worthwhile.

Three Men and a Baby

The Donor Party

by Tori Hanes

Ah, the days of early aughts romcoms. Do you remember turning off your brain for 90 full minutes while the cinematic equivalent of white noise lulled you? Could it be considered brave for a film released in 2023 to pivot on its heels back to this genre of gooey nothingness? If so, The Donor Party by director Thom Harp deserves a Purple Heart.

Following wanna-be mother Jaclyn (Malin Ackerman) through her misguided – and frankly, morally challenged – quest for self-insemination, The Donor Party does little to endear itself to audiences through its clunky plot. The hook- one night, three unknowing sperm “donors”, and a woman watching her biological clock click closer to midnight- is one better left in the aughts.

The story bobs and weaves awkwardly, causing fatigue for both the audience and, seemingly, the performers. The cutesy setup of quirkily tricking men into fatherhood immediately stings and continues to rest like a hot iron branding the forearm.

The film finds its footing through the natural chemistry and charisma that the performers practically beg you to acknowledge. Having pulled a crew of stealthily loaded comedic talent, Harp allows for long moments of play from his actors. In these beats of palpable improv, the humor, depth, and charm of The Donor Party shimmers.

Rob Corddry, Bria Henderson, Erinn Hayes, and Dan Adhoot bring a warmth and passion so rarely seen in mid-to-low-budget romcoms that it’s occasionally staggering. A particular scene with Erinn Hayes (who plays up-tight, accidentally drugged host Molly) lamenting to Jacyln about her march toward stagnation while high off her rocker in a pool strikes as one of the more sincere moments in the recent memory of movies.

It’s fun. The story gets caught up in itself at the expense of any sort of meaning, the plot feels icky at times, but Harp couldn’t have picked a more affable crew. If you’ve long missed the washing glow of aughts-based goof, The Donor Party is for you.

Crimes and Punishment

Kompromat

by Tori Hanes

Two full hours of grit, sweat, and anxiety from all participants, both in the film and out. That’s what you can expect from the latest by director Jerome Salle. 

Kompromat is one of those unnerving instances for reviewers where your technical training and study of film confuses your internal perception. The film excels where it is meant to: it’s tense to the point of unbearable anxiety. It’s forcibly eye-opening, and it’s nauseatingly realistic. Lead actor Gilles Lellouche gives a standout performance as a grounded, gritty, desperate, resourceful anti-hero. The story, while seemingly convenient at times, builds masterfully while swerving down winding thoroughfares. 

The viewing experience itself can be defined as less than pleasant. While Salle succeeds at delivering a hard-to-watch movie, he also creates… a hard-to-watch movie. 

With something so viscerally unsettling, you might expect your worldview to be heightened as a result of the painstaking two hours spent. Kompromat doesn’t exactly succeed in this – it paints the illustration of a wrongly accused straight, white, French man in Russia’s highly unprogressive society. All facts and facades we’ve seen at play before. So it begs the question, what is the point?

The point, quite bluntly, seems to be tension. Building it, releasing it, savoring it. If the film makes you break a sweat, the crew can pat themselves on the back.

Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. Draping the background with a seemingly pressing political story convolutes the film’s actual intention. If Kompromat could be obvious in its goal, a more palpable connection between audience and film could be forged. Instead, there seems to be some thrashing in the netting Salle creates.

While Kompromat excels at holding a consistent fever pitch, it allows itself too much freedom. The two-hour runtime feels like a dumbbell lowering suffocatingly onto your chest. The film’s consistency in story and performance through the overly long run is a testament to Salle’s command of scene and pace but shows a streak of overindulgence. 

If your New Year’s resolution is to elevate your heart rate for 2 hours at a time, pick this up. If breaking a sweat while sitting on your couch isn’t appealing, you may want to skip out on Kompromat

Hard Where

Human Resources

by Tori Hanes

Are you one of those unfortunate movie-goers cursed with the gift of common sense? Do you find yourself balling your fists until your palms bleed, cheeks flushed, screaming at your screen: “why don’t you just LEAVE, dammit!” If so, Human Resources may not be the most enjoyable viewing experience for you.

An important caveat to this conversation is the semi-spectacular circumstances surrounding the film’s creation: first-time director Braden Swope wrote and presumably directed this film at the ripe age of 19. When I – and perhaps you – conjure the hazy memories of those formative years, the image of writing, directing, and editing a feature film doesn’t ring familiar. And the competence with which the feature is shot and edited is reason for praise. Kudos given where kudos are due.

Unfortunately, those may be the only kudos Human Resources receives in this review. Almost all the film’s shortcomings can be boiled to one issue: jagged, uneven exploration of tone. Demonic happenings in a creepy family hardware store headed by a clueless coward (Hugh McCrae Jr. playing protagonist Sam Coleman) – this plot synopsis sounds like a lobbed softball ready to orbit into a campy homerun. Sadly, the film is never able to reach that altitude. Instead, it dances ever so delicately around camp’s sharp edges, cutting itself while attempting entry. 

Without a playful side, the story begins to disintegrate into sickeningly serious – and of course, a tale this absurd requires overarching lightness to remain authentic. When the film loses whatever small touch of camp it had, fluorescent light blasts over its many flaws: a silly-but-not-endearing script, often comically bad acting, and obvious story holes. Without the backbone of camp, Human Resources becomes a flaccid mass. 

Human Resources cashes any moment of audience intrigue as permission to veer the wrong way down the road. As the intricate mystery begins to come together in a semi-satisfying way, the film adds on an additional 30 minutes that suffocates the momentum. An unseen twist is teased, and the reveal launches audiences back into eye-roll territory. When yin swallows yang, all that’s left is an unspectacular circle.

If you’re going to invest almost 2 hours in a modern horror flick, pick up something like Ready Or Not. Human Resources will fill you with all of the dread, none of the camp.

Bulletproof

2nd Chance

by Tori Hanes

Impurity, hate, forgiveness, rebirth. The repeated image of a man shooting himself in the gut may not seem like the ideal piece of media to use to examine these heavy themes, but 2nd Chance by Ramin Bahrani proves time and again that face value has no place in its 90 minutes.

2nd Chance delves into brazen shock value. At first, this feels cheap and unwarranted. The image of a man repeatedly shooting himself in his bulletproof vest, grimacing, then firing at undeserving coke bottles leaves a bitter taste on the tongue. 

It becomes apparent, however, that this is not shock for shock value. Instead, this is the jaw-dropping life that Richard Davis has led for the past 70 or so years. If anything, Bahrani’s mission is to make Davis’s massive eccentricity somewhat digestible and justifiable.

It doesn’t take much to revel in Davis’s contradictions: his passionate drive toward realizing the American dream makes him familiar, yet his twisted morals pose him as alien.

The structure we’ve come to know and expect with modern-day documentaries is, in a word, boring. 2nd Chance does little to stray from the usual twists and calculated catharsis of others in its genre. Where it differs and excels is in the conscious effort to avoid making the filmmaker an important character. While many documentarians crave that command, inserting themselves into the narrative, Bahrani takes a diligent backseat. He acts as a firekeeper, poking the embers to evoke flames while distancing himself from the heat. 

The film portrays Davis’s flip from eccentric business mogul to undoubtedly narcissistic sociopath. However, Bahrani gracefully captures Davis authentically in his moments of shortcoming. This light touch becomes especially gratifying as the largely unredeemable Davis himself twists that sympathy toward hatred. 

Among the twists and turns, Bahrani brings forth some of the most genuine moments of human catharsis perhaps ever shown on screen. The contradiction these moments deliver takes the film from intriguing to masterful.

You may not expect the inventor of bulletproof vests to deepen your connection to humanity. 2nd Chance delights in flipping your expectations and pulling the trigger, whether you’re protected or not.

The Unusual Suspects

The Four Samosas

by Tori Hanes

A stew of early aughts comedies, Wes Anderson stylistic aspirations, and a refreshingly silly story, Four Samosas by director Ravi Kapoor is 80 minutes of numbing comfort. Following a rag-tag team of perpetual underachievers through a hilariously low-stakes heist, the film does little to garner a reaction – a trait that serves the goofy atmosphere well, but fails to earn genuine interest. 

Perhaps the most delightful aspect of Four Samosas is its incredibly linear plot. There is something palpably refreshing about allowing a film to happen to you as opposed dedicating intense brain power to it. There are no opinions to be formed, no intellectual thoughts to force… just relaxing silliness unfolding easily and inconsequentially. In a climate of 2.5-hour movie minimums, sometimes an 80-minute flick sprinkled with Bollywood-inspired gags is a welcome change. 

Of course, pure enjoyability does come at a narrative cost. The story is largely uncompelling, often sacrificing potential moments of emotional catharsis for gags. This comes back to bite in the third act, where the film attempts to cash in on a handful of undercooked themes. For example, protagonist Vinny (Venk Potula) has a briefly explored strained relationship with his newly religious father. Their introductory scene leans more humorous than expository, making their eventual dramatic blowout feel awkwardly unearned. If the film had dedicated more time to being genuine, the resulting payoffs would be more robust. Instead, anything past skin-level emotion becomes Four Samosas’s weakest point.

It’s a shame Vinny’s emotions aren’t explored further, as Potula shows a capable range of expression. His performance shines brightest when compared to his other, more obviously layman co-stars. While Potula delivers a largely authentic, strong character, the supporting cast are more over-the-top, endearing amateurs. This feels like the result of mismatched talent levels and directing concentration.

Though Four Samosas has all the charm and little of the wit of its retro inspirations, the 80-minute pure comedy is a refreshingly light treat for audience palates.

System Failure

You Resemble Me

by Tori Hanes

How easy it is to cast mindless blame, right? How thoughtless an act to blindly hate those constructed to be our villains. The easiness of hate comes from the idea of the “other” – an unknown enemy, distant and different. The metaphorical peeling of the onion, cathartic and harrowing, is how first-time director/co-writer Dina Amer makes the “other” the protagonist of You Resemble Me.

You Resemble Me expedites this connection to the “other”, forcing bitter tears to stream down unready cheeks. Following alleged suicide bomber (later found to be homicide victim) Hasna Ait Boulachen through her twisted and harrowing past, Amer examines the universal pipeline from neglect to radicalism. 

Amer strengthens this story with overarching themes. Whether it be a victim of abuse’s search for family, neglect manifesting into harm, or yearnings for connection, there is a strong and present backbone throughout Hasna’s tragic tale.

These ideas act as an anchor for Hasna’s orbit, and for the cast of performers. Young Hasna (Lorenza Grimaudo) embodies the fitful spirit being darkened by trauma, while adult Hasna (Mouna Soualem) shows mature yearnings. 

Each performance surrounding the two leads molds itself to represent one of Amer’s themes. While this creates a spotlight around Hasna as a character, it dims the other actors – a tragedy of sorts, as the actors’ potential screams for opportunity.

While the delve into trauma is successful at humanizing, the pipeline effect Amer relies on leaves little room for nuance. This creates a tunnel vision rehashing of an incredibly complex existence, boiling down to its more traumatic cause-and-effect moments.

The discomfort in becoming what you’ve been bred to fear is the soul of You Resemble Me. Audiences who choose to engage will unwittingly participate in slicing the onion, with tears to show for it.