by Jason Osiason

Rye Lane: When the romantic comedy genre is being pushed away from theaters, it was a welcome surprise to watch Rye Lane at Sundance completely blind and entirely from the buzz I heard rumbling days before its press screening. What was delivered was something truly authentic under a usual genre formula, a feel-good romantic comedy and London love letter that confines an authentically kinetic British spirit and humor that I would include in the pantheon of movies under Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. The film is about two broken characters, Dom and Yas, that meet by chance in a bathroom stall. Both are handling personal crises in entirely different ways. Dom is the emotionally forward of the two, while Yas holds an overconfident shield. These polar opposite personality types can instantly start the healing process for one another. What ensues next is a combination of the walk-and-talk format you’ve seen featured in films such as the Before Trilogy, but with distinctive kinetic energy, cutaways, and a wild uproar of encounters from their past relationships until they realize what the audience knew all along that they’d get together. Predictable as some of the plotting is, it’s also sharply observed, achieved with impactful visual flair, and collectively earned with the fantastic chemistry of its lead actors. [B+]

Passages: The riveting opening sequence of Ira Sachs’ brilliant new film Passages is captured in a single continuous take and displays Franz Rogowski’s Tomas carefully completing the final shot of his latest motion picture under his careful control and guidance, which particularly sets the mood as he single-handledly unravels his own world. Immediately drawn to Agathe at the film’s wrap party, played by Adele Exarchopoulos, Tomas immediately has sexual relations as the party wraps up, but what sets this affair apart is he’s a gay man and is having sex with a woman for possibly the first time. He tantalizingly reveals the matter to his husband, played by Ben Whishaw, in a way that implies an open relationship, but never with the opposite gender. Previously a one-time affair, Tomas is instead smitten and assumingly falling in love with Agathe, thus initiating Sach’s broken love triangle crusade relying heavily on the everchanging mood, emotion, anxiety, and the film’s heavy stylization to evoke the friction and desperation of its three leading characters. All three performances have the actors at the very top of their game as they’re being pulled underneath the relentless and emotionally unsatisfied Tomas. The sex scenes featured curiously do not portray full frontal nudity by Sach’s intentional choice implying the characters are exposing their innermost desires than being honest with the reality at hand. The dialogue and visual observations feel docu-driven as we observe sober and well-pointed dialogue between the film’s characters. It’s also probably Sachs’ most accomplished film to date, with his heaviest European influence yet featuring a devastatingly visceral final sequence sending you directly into Tomas’ headspace during a long passage of time that is gorgeously and effectively directed. [A-]

Earth Mama: Earth Mama is a gorgeously made, visually immersive, moving, and unflinching depiction of poverty and single motherhood. The story features Gia, a single and pregnant woman in the poorer neighborhoods of early 2000s San Francisco. She works at a Kodak-like photo studio with Dominike Fike of Euphoria and music industry fame. Her children are stuck in foster care, and she is weighing her options of possibly putting her soon-to-be newborn baby up for adoption. Director Savannah Leaf has created an incredibly moving portrait of the challenging obstacles a young mother faces in a harsh working class and poverty-stricken environment in a world that seems against her, but without ever losing her sense of dignity. The cinematography is also gorgeous and features a gutting performance from newcomer Tia Nomore that feels authentic. Unlike we’re watching someone act out scenes, her final one destined to leave you wiping away tears upon exiting the theater, even if not everything that precedes it, lands decisively. [B]

Still: A Michael J Fox Movie: A by-the-numbers but expertly biographical documentary directed by the great Davis Guggenheim that tackles everything from Michael J. Fox’s rise to fame and how he balanced it all to receiving a life-changing and devasting Parkison’s disease diagnosis at a young age that felt like karma for his steadily rising fame. The film closes out with his substance abuse trauma that stemmed from his diagnosis and how it impacted the rest of his long career and raising a tight-knit family. Some of my favorite moments of the film were learning the backstory of Fox filming Back to the Future and Family Ties simultaneously and the intense schedule he had to work through in pulling that off. With the help of recreated cutaways and swift editing, it cleverly matches the anxiety Fox likely felt for the entire shoot. The film is most moving when we’re behind the scenes with Michael J. Fox as he tackles his illness head-on with physical therapists and the inevitable injuries that stem from such a diagnosis. As the title suggests, Fox was always the type of personality you could not keep still, and while he’s plagued with an illness, that is just that; it’s also the motivating factor on how he will never let it defeat or define who he is. [B]

Cassandro: Gael Garcia Bernal is phenomenal as the tenacious mucha libre cross-dressing wrestler Cassandro, who changes up the historical tradition in 1980s Mexico in what is typically a highly masculine sport. He fixes his matches to win against Lucha libre wrestlers who previously dominated him using doses of his feminity and his new identity. Suffice it to say, the crowd eats it up, and he becomes a Mexican phenomenon that inspires hope and resilience across the population. Despite a modest running time, Cassandro begins on a promising path of a traditional sports biopic with fun quirkiness and brass humor but quickly stretches itself thin without an overall more eventful story. Cassandro changes up the sport, and that’s exciting. Still, many of the following narratives don’t hold significant character or match stakes, as well poorly implemented flashback elements featuring his father before the tragic end of his mother’s relationship. The wrestling sequences start incredibly exciting but also drag along like the rest of the film, which had me anticipating the closing credits. Much of the script’s faults could be forgiven in more skillful or stylized hands that would elevate much of what was excitingly teased early on. [C+]


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