TELL ME WHO I AM – movie review

TELL ME WHO I AM
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ed Perkins
Cast: Alex Lewis, Marcus Lewis
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 10/2/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

Poster

When Cain asked God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he may have meant the question to be rhetorical and, indeed, he got no response. This is a question that many families around the world ask, with different answers offered depending on whether siblings are close or distant. There’s no doubt that Ed Perkins’ film “Tell Me Who I Am,” to be streamed on Netflix as of Oct. 18, provides an answer for one English family, one with an apparent aristocratic background, living in a spacious country house in one of the Home Counties (those areas that surround London such as Berkshire, Essex and Surrey).

The story written by twin brothers Alex Lewis and Marcus Lewis has been published in 2013, available on Amazon for under $11, doubtless giving the readers more answers and details than can be found in this too-brief documentary. While Alex and Marcus are the same age, we in the audience can believe that Marcus has been the dominant one, his brother’s keeper. And this is all the more so since Alex suffered a traumatic motorcycle accident when he was eighteen, leading to full-scale amnesia. His life is really starting over. His memories are gone, though Marcus has been game to briefing him about their lives together. Yet for over three decades, there is one series of incidents that Marcus had repressed and has been unwilling to tell Alex all these years. A series incidents changed Marcus’s life, made him refuse to forgive his father on the old man’s deathbed while Alex was perfectly willing to do. It’s as though Alex would say to Marcus, “He’ll be dead in days or hours: what’s the problem?” In most cases that’s the least a son can do. Apparently, though, dad has been an enabler in a series of horrendous acts of perversity, and Marcus (correctly, I think) had been reluctant to bringing those childhood events back into Marcus’s mind. Until now.

It would be unfair, a spoiler, for a review to reveal just what happened to cause severe family dysfunction, as if Agatha Christie revealed the name of the murderer on the front page of “And Then There Were None.” Suffice it to say that “Tell Me Who I Am” is not a study of amnesia, but rather than it uses Alex’s amnesia as a catalyst to tell a story. The problem I have, perhaps a minor one, is that this tale of repression would find a better home on the stage. Even the movie divides the 85 minutes into three acts. Ed Perkins, whose short TV documentaries include “Bare Knuckles Fight Club” (Brits competing without boxing gloves), “Comic Store Heroes” (about the largest comic book store in the U.S.) and “If I Die on Mars” (looking into why people would volunteer on a suicide mission), evokes solid performances from Alex and Marcus.

The brothers, who do almost everything together (including some strange activities ending when they were 14), run a successful business. Specifically they are among the founders of Fundu Lagoon in Pemba, Zanzibar, a hotel known throughout Africa. Now if you want to open up “Tell Me Who I Am” into a two-hour action story, you’d do well to follow the lives of the twins from debutante balls in the 1950s to raves on a remote Pacific island in the 1990s right up to the creation of this magnificent hotel on a multi-cultural African island built in part by locals who had never seen a white person before.

85 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

AMÉRICA – movie review

AMÉRICA
Lifelike Docs
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Chase Whiteside, Erick Stoll
Screenwriter: Chase Whiteside, Erick Stoll
Cast: América, Diego, Bruno, Rodrigo, Luis
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/3/19
Opens: September 13, 2019 at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image

América

In “The Seven Ages of Man” found in Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It,” the Bard concludes:
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

In other words though it may be better than the alternative (only sometimes), old age is a pitiful part of life, even worse if the elderly spend it alone or adrift in a terrible nursing home. But sans everything? Not so, say directors Chase Whiteside, Erick Stoll in their documentary “América.” This is Erick Stoll’s freshman full-length movie though you might figure his politics if you see “Good White People,” his short doc about gentrification. For his part Chase Whiteside unfolds his first full-length doc, though figuring his politics from his short feature “Lifelike,” about a taxidermist, doesn’t sound political, but who knows? Documentary shorts are not easy to find even in New York.

While Americans are known to put their elderly and fragile oldsters into nursing homes, it’s a cliché that Chinese would never elect to do this but rather to care for the parents, who gave them so much, at home. Now it turns out that some Mexicans are doing the same for their grandmother, América, who is 93 years old at the movie’s opening and, though suffering from dementia, she can recognize the terrific grandchildren who are caring for her. “América” is filmed over three years first in Puerto Vallarta where Diego can be found riding a unicycle through a crowd and later demonstrating at least amateur level acrobatics with his brothers Bruno and Rodrigo.

The brothers’ grandmother América lives in the state of Colima, a woman who may no longer be a vibrant human being but who lucks out by having grandsons to take care of her. Diego is the most committed. He bathes her, talks to her, kisses her while straightening her hair, and forces her to exercise when all she wants to do is return to her bed. In one scene he demonstrates tough love by insisting that she stand up straight, though América wants at least to hold his hand.

Ironically, when she suffers a fall, her son Luis is blamed and sent to prison for eight months though he is quite innocent of bad intent, and it falls to the brothers, already submerged in América’s care, to get their father released. How they pay for a lawyer, and how they deal with a judge’s offer to release the man for 25,000 pesos ($1400) is not clear though the three argue, but finances and commitment to América are debated among the three, in one case leading to a physical fight. The good thing about the whole affair is at least the three threesome are together again. At times they come across like philosophers in conversation, though we have no idea how much education they’ve had.

We learn something about the Mexican social care system, a country that is awash with drug murders but still funds social workers who seem genuinely to care for their clients—at least while director Stoll’s camera is on them. (The directors share stunning fluency in their editing while Stoll doubles as director of photography.) At fifty-two minutes in length viewers will gain insights into extreme old age, grandchildren, and the social and legal systems of our friends to the south.

52 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

THE STRANGE ONES – movie review

THE STRANGE ONES

Vertical Entertainment
Director:  Lauren Wolkstein, Christopher Radcliff
Screenwriter:  Christopher Radcliff
Cast:  Alex Pettyfer, James Freedon-Jackson, Emily Althaus, Gene Jones, Melanie Nicholls-King, Olivia Wang
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/17/17
Opens: January 5, 2018

click for larger (if applicable)

There’s just so much you can do with mood, unless your name is spelled Ingmar Bergman.  The directors, Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff, whose résumés are fill with shorts and videos, hope to capture audience attention through ambiance and mystery, but ultimately, the gaps in the narrative and the questions that are never answered prove frustrating.  The best thing about the film, though, is the music, and woodsy  photography, which takes place in rural New York State, could serve as a tourist brochure to entice people who think that the Big Apple is the only place in the state worth visiting.

The film is divided into two halves, the first involving Nick (Alex Pettyfer), a hunky fellow in his twenties, and his teen road-trip companion Sam/Jeremiah (James Freedson-Jackson).  Though they claim to be brothers on a camping trip, we sense that this is not true, considering that an opening shot shows young Sam facing a huge blaze that could serve to cover up a felony.  Each of the two has some specific traits that appear as though parts of his DNA.  The older man varies in temperament for caring and tender, regularly asking the boy if he’s having fun, but in one particular situation, a burst of temper that finds him slapping his companion.  Sam’s feelings come across often like a blank slate.  When the two stop at a motel and Kelly (Emily Althouse), the flirtatious manager, asks the boy about his older companion, Sam trashes the man, calling him a liar and worse.  Usually, though, he is morose, communicating blank stares at the questions that people ask him.

During the second segment, Nick is mostly out of the picture.  Centering on the teen, directors Walkstein and Radcliff see the lad as a runaway, one who is taken in by a camp using the labor of teens in return for bed and board, though Gary (Gene Jones), the head counselor, as it were, takes a keen interest in Sam despite, or because of, being faced mostly by the boy’s signature stares.  What sort of camp is this, where teen runaways are taken in and cared for by a benevolent manager who seems to grant residence to young people in trouble?

The principal mysteries remain throughout.  We never find out the relationship between Sam, who has been calling himself Jeremiah, and Nick, who has little in common with his cryptic pal.  Though points are made about Sam’s relationship to his dad, we are never certain of their bond or lack of affection, with the hint that perhaps the father has been abusing the boy.  Since Sam describes his nightmares to the counselor, we may think of the possibility that everything that looks real is actually the teen’s dream, and the nightmares he suffers are real life.  That’s just a guess.   After a while, the effect of mood drifts away and we are left with, what’s up?

Rated R.  82 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – C+