“Cha Cha Real Smooth” – Sundance Review

Cooper Raiff’s second feature “Cha Cha Real Smooth” elicited just about every emotion or feeling imaginable. There are moments that are so joyous, others that induce a strong anxiety, and it’s just an all around emotional rollercoaster. It all builds to a film that feels so real and while obviously a narrative feature film, feels documentarian with its naturalistic dialogue and down-to-Earth performances.

Alexander (Cooper Raiff) is coming right out of college and isn’t sure what life will hold for him. After his girlfriend travels away to Barcelona, he moves back home to save to eventually join her. Over the summer, he finds a way to get a job as a party-starter for the local bar mitzvahs where he meets the autistic Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) and her mother Domino (Dakota Johnson). Andrew and Domino share great amounts of chemistry, despite her lawyer fiancé Joseph (Raul Castill) who is also found to be out of town. Andrew is no stranger to his attraction towards older women, something the film isn’t shy to show after the Licorice Pizza-like dynamic in the opening scene of the film where he professes his love to Bella, a party-starter who he is brutally in love with.

Other dips and peaks of “Cha Cha Real Smooth” showcase the neatly cared for relationships between Andrew and his bi-polar mother (Leslie Mann), his recently tied down younger brother David (Evan Assante) looking for relationship advice to finally grab his first kiss, and the lovely moments with Lola which were some of the best scenes of the film. Andrew is incredibly patients with her, and like she says when asked by her mother what she thinks of him being a sitter for her: “He probably would not treat me like a baby.” They grow quite attached to each other, creating a bond for life.

Another over-riding relationship is that of Andrew and his new step-father (Brad Garrett) that he can’t stop butting heads with, until he shows his true affection and commitment to his mother after a kerfuffle at another bar mitzvah Andrew is party-starting. The car ride after, you can see an incredibly sudden change in attitude after Andrew sees this isn’t just a man that has invaded his family’s life, but a man who makes his mother happy. He’s a man who takes so much off of her plate, and will do anything to protect her and keep her safe.

What the film keeps coming back to is that spark between Johnson and Raiff, having so many flirtatious moments together the screen cries without their little moments together. They almost cross that barrier several times, but it becomes clear that while Andrew refuses to give up on her while she just enjoys being around something who makes her feel alive. He’s the exact person that is so dangerous to the fragility of Domino’s life. He’s so free and able to do anything with his life, he’s 22 and she’s old as she says.

Plot and everything aside, Cooper Raiff’s performance is so grounded and feels nothing short of real. There are moments when he’ll just be at work or laying on the floor looking through his phone and will just mumble out a meme (i.e. “You’re not that guy, pal”). In other films it’s something that feels so entirely forced, but when executed in a nonchalant way, where it isn’t played as a joke but a clue in to the character and what goes on in their head, it works very well and credits to his performance just can’t be said enough. This trickles down as well to other performances, which prove Raiff’s skills as a director/screenwriter to be equally as strong.

Overall, the film has a lot of the American indie-film-premiering-at-Sundance vibes that are expected with the characters trying to find themselves, but when it’s done right and the audience can plug themselves in to the characters within, it elevates from being a niche indie drama, to being something incredibly grounded that teeters the line between that narrative drama and real-life experience. It joins the canon of films about self-discovery and moving on in life without those who made such a huge impact on you. And if it all leads to getting to spend time with Dakota Johnson and a score co-written by Este Haim, doesn’t that make it all worth it? I rest my case.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” earned itself the Audience Award at Sundance where it competed in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, and was recently picked up by Apple TV+ so by year-end expect to catch this film streaming.

My Rating:

“Judas and the Black Messiah” Sundance 2021 Review

Wow. Shaka King has given us something that is so powerful. I can’t even begin to talk about how much this film is going to affect people.

Every. Single. Performance. Is. Incredible.

They joke that Lakeith’s character should get an Academy Award in this movie, and I would be shocked if he, Daniel Kaluuya, Jesse Plemons, or anybody else in this movie isn’t part of next year’s nomination list. This year, 1969, has been covered so much in the past couple of years and while that was.. man 52 years ago, everything going on back that is as relevant then as it is now. Racial inequality and police brutality (to put it lightly) are constantly at the forefront of discussion at both points in time. I wish we could look back and say.. wow what crazy times folks like that lived in. But the reality is, it’s not much better now.

It is.. a haunting film in that regard and in others. But I honestly do not have much else to say right now. This is something that needs to be seen. Luckily, you won’t have to wait much longer as it is being released in theaters and HBO Max on February 12th. Please, seek this out.

My Rating: 4/5

“On the Count of Three” Sundance 2021 Review

Alright I love this so much. I loved the performances, the writing, the suspense being felt the entire time.

And it makes sense that Jerrod Carmichael is a comedian, because as dark as this movie seems based on the premise, it’s a dark comedy and I love that a lot. Sometimes the one-off jokes made seem a bit much, but overall; I don’t know it was just really entertaining and interesting and I liked it a lot. The overall mixture between comedy and seriousness is a line that is walked very confidently in this film.

Christopher Abbott man.. he’s really been doing it for me lately. With Possessor and Black Bear from last year alone, he’s been in so much that I absolutely love. And everything I see him in I start to love him even more. Interesting that the cast members from GIRLS that are out there doing really interesting stuff are the boys from girls.

I honestly don’t have a lot to say about this film, but I feel like I should. I responded to this a lot. I think I just have to mellow around with this in my mind for a while, and I 100% need to watch it again. This will not be for everybody, and there are parts of it that are a bit.. much if you’ve been in this world. For me, the ending (while expected) was that for me, a bit much.

Seek this out, if you think you can. I’m sure this will make its way around and A24 I’m looking at you to take care of it.

My Rating: 4/5

“John and the Hole” Sundance 2021 Review

I’m gonna be repetitive as hell and say how much this feels like a Yorgos Lanthimos movie. With the out there plot, as well as a dark and sinister feel.

I honestly didn’t expect much from this, mostly just joking: “What if there was a hole”. And I probably still will. But I liked this more than I thought that I would! It has a hole! And John! What more could you ask for?

I do think this film would have been bumped up for me had the ending changed. It does feel a bit weird to have a.. happy ending for lack of a better term. It just doesn’t feel right for this movie. I think that last pool scene should have been it.

But alas, it was not. Charlie Shottwell was pretty good in this. A bit stiff at times with dialogue but overall I liked the performance. Everybody else was pretty good too. I bet this is gonna be picked up by Blumhouse. I don’t think it has the appeal of A24 like people are saying it does. But I bet Blumhouse could market this pretty well!

My Rating: 2.5/5

“I Was a Simple Man” Sundance 2021 Review

Maybe we don’t deserve to go so easily

This film is so beautifully acted.

I honestly was bored at first and couldn’t see where this was going. Then we see Masao start to get sick. And as time goes, not only does Masao come to terms with his eventual death, but the viewer does as well.

Personally, I’ve never died. But damn if the process doesn’t scare the fuck out of me. It looks like it hurts. It hurts to watch Masao as he knows what’s coming and rejects most assistance, refusing to explain what’s going on to the doctors. Even though he knows what’s coming, he still puts himself through it.

The jumps in time, fleeting memories really, are so beautiful. They tell of the time of Hawaii becoming a state, Masao running away in his youth, all things that would fundamentally change him as a person. Before.. he was so simple. But when he ran away, his parents and siblings would die. And he would become angry. Then his love would die, and he would become a sad shell of the simple man he used to be.

This is a bit of a slow burn, but if that’s your thing (I know it is for me) it’s definitely worth your time. Seek this out, I can’t recommend it enough.

My Rating: 3.5/5

“Cryptozoo” Sundance 2021 Review

I had no idea what to expect going into this.

I knew that the voice cast was pretty cool, the animation was gonna be interesting, and that a bunch of mythological creatures would be present.

And I think I’ll start with the animation, which was pretty awesome. Hand drawn animation is always really cool to me, and I’ll always appreciate it so much. I think it was really neat, and had so many interesting quirks and cool little things.

As for the voice cast, there were some cool names but I don’t think it was very.. good? Seemed very stiff to me. But otherwise, I thought it was fine.

I think this film is just not for me. There wasn’t anything for me to latch on to with the story. While being amazed with the different animations and creatures, that’s all there was for me.

My Rating: 2.5/5

“Passing” Sundance 2021 Review

“You’d think they’d be satisfied being white”
“Who’s satisfied being anything?”

I think one of the most interesting parts of this film is how Irene is constantly avoiding direct eye contact, in a sort of fear of those in public seeing her true skin color. As Hugh says, she could pass if she wants to. And she replies, maybe I do.

Other than the obviously beautiful black and white cinematography, which is absolutely necessary for a story of this nature, the sound is incredible. Every sound is intentional and can sometimes be deafening.I mention how the black and white cinematography is necessary because that’s how people are viewing the world in that time. Are people black, or white? And it lends a hand with the lighting to alter the complexion of the actors.

And not just the cinematography but the performances (Tessa, Ruth, Andre, Alexander) are incredible. All of the technical aspects really. Cinematography, sound design, the score, production design, costuming, etc. It all comes together and shines through the screen!

And another thing is how much Irene likes to ignore the terrible things that happen in the world. With the collapsing of a man on the sidewalks of New York, the only thing she wants to do is get far far away. And later the talk of the lynching of the man from Little Rock. Because she can pass, it’s a bit easy for her character to ignore tragedy and issues of race. But for her darker skinned family, it is everything to them. As Andre Holland’s character says, they (white folks) hate us (black folks).

I’m unfamiliar with the source material, and as a white man, I can not relate. But the actors, the scripting, the directing, all lend a hand to make you feel what they do. I liked this quite a bit. Make your way to see this!

My Rating: 3/5

“Wild Indian” Sundance 2021 Review

WILD INDIAN is a film about the different paths that arise for people after experiencing traumatic events in their childhood.

I really loved the concept, but ultimately I feel like it falls a bit flat. It starts very strong, but I think otherwise fails as a character study, and I didn’t really feel anything for Makwa, any sort of relief or regret of what he did. He shows that of course, but again, did I feel it? Not really. Ted-o I think was a really interesting character that I wish we could have dived more into. I would have loved to see maybe more of his downfall.

The story references and tries to mirror the story of Cain and Abel, which I think is a really interesting way to take a story like this, and I like that side of the film a lot. It’s just focused on so little unfortunately and is quickly forgotten, similar to the flashback images at the start and end of the film.

Overall, I think the cinematography by Eli Born is beautiful, as well as the dark brooding score by Gavin Brivik. There’s so much here that you can like, but I think there’s also reasons why not to. 
But really I think the most distracting/disappointing part was Jesse Eisenberg. I love Jesse, don’t get me wrong. I think he’s great in everything I’ve seen him in. But the presence of him being in a total of like 3 minutes of the film, seems like a bit of a miscast.

The director and writer, Lyle Corbine, seems that he has a lot going for him and he should definitely have your sights on him for the future. Can’t wait to see what else he’s able to work on and accomplish!

My Rating: 3/5

“One for the Road” Sundace 2021 Review

The soundtrack, the cinematography, the performances. So much about this that I loved! Overall, I thought it was a bit long. But once you realize it’s really two sides of a coin that come together to tell one story of the downfall and reconciliation of a friendship, the runtime works in the film’s favor.

One of the things most clear in this movie is the heavy focus on characters and their relationships with each other. Everybody feels very thought of with a special personality embodied in each. The actors do a great job of taking the words on page and translating those to feelings we can experience. We feel the heartbreak, the fun, and the remorse.

Wong Kar-wai’s influence is heavy in this film and it’s evident from the first few minutes of the film. But it’s no wonder, he produced the film! Showing that he not only has an eye for cinema for himself, but can spot that in other people and will support them heavily.
Personally, I prefer Side B of this film, which is sort of the same way I felt about Chungking Express, a film that I saw a lot of in this. With the two parts, memories being intercut into scenes, and the down-to-earth performances seen and felt.

I liked this movie a bit. This was my first film from Sundance 2021 and if anything, all it does is raise the bar for my expectations of the rest of the festival. I think that, again, it’s a bit long and the viewer can struggle to put things together. But it does a good job of not holding your handing and letting you catch up and figure things out. Keep an eye out for this one.

My rating: 3.5/5