Review: Go home, ‘American Night’, you’re drunk.

AMERICAN NIGHT

Art and life collide in this stylish and wildly entertaining neo-noir thriller. When a highly coveted Andy Warhol painting suddenly surfaces, it triggers a chain reaction of danger-filled events for a colorful group of characters including: a forger turned art dealer (Jonathan Rhys Meyers); a mobster and painter (Emile Hirsch) with a penchant for scorpions; a seductive museum conservator (Paz Vega); and a stuntman and wannabe ninja (Jeremy Piven). Filled with daring double-crosses and surprising twists and turns, the race for the painting comes to an explosive conclusion…one American Night.


Playing like a graphic novel, with characters’ names scrawled next to their introduction, the gunfire is chaotic and aplenty. I watched this a 2-hour film a second time to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I think I still am. Even after my second viewing, American Night remains confusing in its non-linear storytelling. Listen, I wanted to love this film. The potential is there.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers does his best to make American Night engaging. His character, John, attempts to make amends in love and begin an honest career. He’s strong as ever, in true neo-noir fashion. Though try as he might, he cannot hold up an uneven narrative that relies on cliché over concept. Jeremy Piven steals the show. The seriousness in which his character desires to be a ninja becomes the much-needed levity in all these convoluted shenanigans. I would happily watch an entire film about him. Emile Hirsch is the son of a New York City Mafia boss Michael Rubino, whose love of art plays above all else. That, and perhaps, his ego and an incredibly random love for scorpions. The performance goes from levelheaded to absurd based on the script. Hirsch takes it all in strive with 100% commitment.

Here’s what doesn’t work for me; it takes 1 hour and 25 minutes for the stories to finally overlap after living them from different perspectives. The runtime would benefit from a 20-minute shave. Some of the delivery from ancillary characters reads as hokey. Okay, a lot of the dialogue does. The film includes one of the most ridiculous sex scenes ever. It seems like a laughable excuse to have Paz Vega appear naked onscreen.

Here’s what’s great; the framing of scenes, the use of neon, and the main cast. The final reveal occurs 5 seconds before the credits. Oh, the credits. If the visual continuity of the rest of the film was as snappy as this, American Night would have made a slicker impact. This is the pop art-inspired, cool factor that could have punched up the film into cult status. It’s got a real Pulp Fiction energy, but a lot has to be done for this to be a cinematic work of art.


In Theaters, on VOD, and Digital October 1, 2021


Directed by: Alessio Della Valle

Written by: Alessio Della Valle

Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Emile Hirsch, Jeremy Piven, Paz Vega, Michael Madsen

Run Time: 123 minutes

Rating: R

Genre: Thriller, Action


 

SXSW21 review: ‘Lily Topples The World’

LILY TOPPLES THE WORLD

WORLD PREMIERE – Documentary Feature Competition

LILY TOPPLES THE WORLD follows 20-year-old sensation Lily Hevesh – the world’s most acclaimed domino toppler and the only girl in her field – as she rises as an artist, role model, and young woman.  Filmed for over 3 years across countless cities and featuring appearances by Jimmy Fallon, Katy Perry, Will Smith, YouTuber Casey Neistat, and a steady stream of Gen-Z creators, LILY TOPPLES THE WORLD is a coming-of-age story cloaked within a unique portrait of an artist, a story of how passion and artistry can make dreams come true, and an unlikely American tale of a quiet Chinese adoptee who transforms into a global artistic force with over 1 billion YouTube views.  From director Jeremy Workman (The World Before Your Feet) and from executive producer Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), in her first film in a producing role.

I accidentally stumbled upon domino toppling videos on YouTube with my 3 and 5-year-old. We went down a rabbit hole of competition and exhibition videos and haven’t looked back. Little did I know that one of the best domino artists in the world was already on our radar. Lily Hevesh builds mesmerizing creations. SXSW21 doc Lily Topples The World follows Hevish on a journey of self-discovery and entrepreneurship.

After her freshman year, Lily decides to leave college to pursue dominoes full-time, despite finally feeling like she’s made real friends. When you step back, it’s easy to see the metaphor from this choice in respect to her artistry. This was the first domino in what would become Lily’s journey to conquer her own goals, both through social media, business, and personal growth. Patience, creativity, and engineering are only a few attributes it takes to master domino toppling. There’s real math involved, but Lily also manages to make it accessible through classes and her lovely disposition. She is incredibly generous and humble with her fan base. Her male peers respect the hell out of her. It was so refreshing hearing the way they spoke of her talents. Her goals are huge. Lily wants her own brand of toppling domino. She and her father pound the pavement to find a partner to make the best product that’s ever existed. Can she hustle the corporate world and navigate her artistry at the same time? Lily might be small in stature but she is a huge force to reckon with. She knows her stuff. You’ll be in awe of her ability to own a room, regardless of who is around her, all while maintaining grace, poise, honesty, and ambition.

In the doc, we learn about her adoption, her childhood, and during the course of filming, we watch her grow into a fully self-aware young adult. Mixed with her simply stunning domino displays, Lily Topples The World gives parents and kids hope that nonconforming is still magical. You’ll find your niche in the world and they’ll always be people who want to be part of it. Happiness begets happiness. Kelly Marie Tran executive produces for the first time. After experiencing her own racist backlash from her role in Star Wars, backing a project about a Chinese American girl who also receives vile troll comments feels right. Lily Topples The World is triumphant. Lily Hevesh is the kind of role model we need on screen.

Directed by Jeremy Workman

Produced by Jeremy Workman & Robert J. Lyons

Executive Produced by Kelly Marie Tran

Edited by Jeremy Workman

Cinematography by Michael Lisnet & Jeremy Workman

DOC NYC 2020 review: ‘CRUTCH’

SACHI CUNNINGHAM and CHANDLER EVANS’ 

CRUTCH

AT DOC NYC

Two decades of exclusive access, plus a lifetime of archival footage depict Shannon from his early years to his rise as an award-winning dancer and cutting-edge performance artist. CRUTCH examines Shannon’s controversial street performances as he exposes a myriad of prejudices disabled people encounter in public on a daily basis.

Crutch is about Bill Shannon‘s extraordinary life. Shannon wants to be recognized as a performance artist, and rightfully so. As a dancer since the age of three, I can attest to how the physical and emotional energy toll performing can have. Like many dancers, my body is ravaged from the work I asked it to do when I was younger. But I wasn’t faced with the challenges that Bill Shannon faced from childhood. Bill Shannon is on another level from us all. He is a relentless artist and it’s magic.

He grew up making home movies, being a daredevil, skateboarding, and creating a new language for dance, all while having a rare degenerative hip condition. He is a provocateur. Exploring his own pain and emotional hurt by placing others into his realm. He essentially created “What Would You Do?” scenarios before it was mainstream. As a breakdancer and choreographer, he presented the world with evolutionary milestones in thinking and accepting. But this is only a sliver of what he deals with and tries to effect. This doc tackles ableism at its core. He uses his filmed setup moments to organically teach an audience about the human mind. It’s a refreshing perspective that will grab your attention. He never lets up. His innovation is astounding. That’s true artistry. Crutch pushes past cynicism to teach and entertain and delight.

www.docnyc.net

 

Review: ‘The Artist’s Wife’ creates drama through truth.

 

Claire (Lena Olin) lives a domestic life in the Hamptons as the wife of celebrated artist Richard Smythson (Bruce Dern). Once a promising painter herself, Claire now lives in the shadow of her husband’s illustrious career. While preparing work for his final show, Richard’s moods become increasingly erratic, and he is diagnosed with dementia. As his memory and behavior deteriorate, she shields his condition from the art community while trying to reconnect him with his estranged daughter and grandson from a previous marriage. Challenged by the loss of her world as she knew it, Claire must now decide whether to stand with Richard on the sidelines or step into the spotlight herself.

Lena Olin and Bruce Dern star in Tom Dolby‘s newest film The Artist’s Wife. While Olin plays the wife of a world-renowned artist, the film is centered on her. She has clearly given her entire life to serve and care and nourish her husband’s talent, but her emotional patience has finally run out, and rightfully so. Olin’s performance is like watching a masterclass in acting because it is not “acting”, she is living in this role. Her effortless grace and honesty explode off the screen. Dern, ever the master himself, brings precision and sadness to his character’s circumstance that you will love and hate him all at once. It is captivating.

The screenplay by Dolby, Nicole Branding, and Andi Nazemian about is a woman’s reawakening and the pressures of a caretaker. It skillfully highlights perceived gender roles. At some points actually taking an ax to them. The exploration of the ripple effects of dementia on a family unit certainly rings true. The manic behavior, the confusion, the disdain, and anger all come to a head. It’s tragic and very real.

The cinematography is beautiful. The soundtrack is a spectacular collection of indie hits. I especially adored the placement of Us by Regina Spektor. It’s joyful and perfect. The Artist’s Wife is about loss. But it is also about self-care. It is about sacrifice. Tom Dolby has presented us with a complex look at the human spirit through art and love. You will be entranced from every perspective.

September 25 release date in select theaters and on VOD.

**Official Selection **
Palm Springs International Film Festival
Mill Valley Film Festival Hamptons Film Festival
Whistler Film Festival

RT: 95 min

Review: ‘Maudie’ brings Sally Hawkins into the Oscar race.

Based on a true story, MAUDIE charts the unlikely romance between Maud Lewis, a folk artist who blossoms in later life, and the curmudgeonly recluse, Everett.

Maud, bright-eyed but hunched with crippled hands, yearns to be independent, to live away from her protective family and she also yearns, passionately, to create art. When she answers an ad for a housekeeper for the reclusive Everett, a local fish peddler, the two strike up an unlikely romance. Maud’s determination for her art, along with her partnership with Everett, blossoms into a career as a famous folk artist, bringing them closer together in ways they never imagined.

Maudie is the story of two misunderstood people who yearn for physical and emotional connection. Finding one another at their loneliest, Maud and Everett form a seemingly unlikely bond navigating their way from work relationship to honest intimacy. The script has a quiet beauty, with cinematography that is as vibrant as Maud’s unique artwork. Sally Hawkins‘ performance in the titular role is nothing short of award-worthy. While portraying real life folk artist stricken with severe arthritis, each movement seems both physically pained and balletic all at once. Ethan Hawke steps outside his usual cool guy fare to portray a rather rough around the edges fishermonger. Their chemistry on screen is an absolute joy to watch. Maudie is an unusual love story that will capture your heart and touch your soul.

Original Art from Maud Lewis

** Official Selection of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival **

In Theaters June 16, 2017

Starring:
Sally Hawkins (HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, BLUE JASMINE)
Ethan Hawke (BOYHOOD, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN)
Kari Matchett (“Covert Affairs”, “24”)
Gabrielle Rose (THE SWEET HEREAFTER, IF I STAY)
Zachary Bennett (“Orphan Black”)

Directed by: Aisling Walsh
Written by: Sherry White

‘Big Eyes’ Interview: Liz’s chat with screenwriters Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski

BIGEYES

I was lucky enough to attend the press junket for Tim Burton‘s new film, BIG EYES (review coming soon!). Afterwards, I had the opportunity to sit down with the incredibly talented and successful writing partners Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander. Read More →