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The Dry

Based on the bestselling novel by Jane Harper and directed by Robert Connolly, The Dry follows Aaron Falk (Eric Bana), a federal agent who returns to his hometown to investigate a gruesome homicide. What looks to be a murder-suicide, leaving a father, mother and son dead and an infant child an orphan, is slowly unraveling to be something quite different. Falk is no stranger to the community but is ultimately unwelcome given his connection to the mysterious death of a teenage girl some 20 years ago. The story alternates between the two mysteries as Falk finds himself trying to solve both.

An enthralling drama, perfectly paced, the mystery unfolds so methodically that it keeps its viewer enthralled. Eric Bana carries this movie beautifully.  A must-see for any true crime fanatic.

The Dry is distributed by IFC Films.

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time

“I have written again and again about ordinary people who have tried to behave decently in an indecent society.”

Kurt Vonnegut

One of the greatest writers of the 20th century, Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), is the subject of a new documentary by filmmaker Robert Weide and co-directed by Don Argott. Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time is a comprehensive look at the life and work of a brilliant mind through the eyes of a close friend. This documentary has been a long time in the making. Weide had first approached Vonnegut back in 1989 and started filming in 1994. Audiences sees lots of now archival footage of Vonnegut out and about, launching his last novel Timequake, interviews with Vonnegut’s children and nephews and extensive footage of Vonnegut and Weide’s close friendship.

The film explores Vonnegut’s childhood in Indiana, the trauma that drove his creativity after serving in WWII, his family life, his fruitful career as a magazine writer, the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five and much more. Because the filmmaker was a close friend of Vonnegut’s this biography already comes with some bias. I don’t feel like this hurt the film because it watches as a love letter from a friend to a cultural icon than perhaps a straightforward documentary. That adds a layer that fans of Vonnegut will appreciate. It reminded a bit of Martin Scorsese’s documentary A Letter to Elia (2010).

“Vonnegut took huge social, philosophical, existential, and religious issues and filtered them through this great sense of humor, this sort of grounded, simple, Midwestern sensibility. He was a humorist in the same vein as Mark Twain.”

Robert Weide

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time is distributed by IFC Films and available to rent on demand.

Monday

Mickey (Sebastian Stan) and Chloe (Denise Gough) are two thirty-something American expats living abroad in Athens, Greece. On one alcohol-fueled night, they meet at a party and their attraction is instant. After waking up naked on the beach the next day, Mickey and Chloe are inseparable. Chloe decides to stay behind with Mickey and they give a romantic relationship ago. The story follows them on a series of Fridays all leading up to an important Monday when Mickey will be able to resume shared custody of his son.

Directed by Argyris Papadimitropoulos, Monday meanders, which matches its beach-side vibe but does not necessarily make for an engaging plot. Chloe and Mickey are complex characters which makes them interesting but they require a particular type of viewer to sympathize with them and their journey. With that said, Denise Gough is a fantastic actress and adds gravitas to an otherwise breezy story. Worth watching for her performance.

Monday is distributed by IFC Films

AFI Fest: Citizen Ashe

Directed by Rex Miller and Sam Pollard, Citizen Ashe is a thoroughly engrossing documentary about the professional and personal life of tennis pro and activist Arthur Ashe. The film follows his journey from his humble beginnings in Richmond, Virginia, to his rise in a sport dominated by white men, to the Civil Rights era and to his unfortunate early demise due to AIDS related pneumonia. Ashe bridged the divide between the white and black communities with his entrance into the world of professional tennis. He broke barriers as a black man in the sport but knew that ruffling feathers would keep him being accepted. However, the calling to activism grew within him and he took strides to be more outspoken about the plight of his community. He used his platform to speak out about civil rights and the AIDS epidemic and to encourage the next generation of tennis players. The documentary was made with the blessing of his widow Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe and includes interviews with his brother, his mentee John McEnroe and more.

Citizen Ashe recently premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of the Documentaries programming. The film hits theaters in early December followed by a broadcast premiere on CNN and streaming on HBO Max.

AFI Fest: To What Remains

If you visit the island of Peleliu in Palau, you’ll find a quiet, tropical oasis. But had you been there over 75 years ago during the Battle of Peleliu, you would have encountered utter chaos. The site of one of the most brutal battles of WWII, many Americans perished in Peleliu, some never to be recovered. That’s until Dr. Pat Scannon came along. Determined to repatriate American MIAs who lost their lives there, he started Project Recover, a grassroots effort to search for the more than 80,000 Americans who went MIA during WWII, with a particular focus on searching the waters and the island of Peleliu for the remains. Every step of the process is handled with the utmost respect for the deceased and their families. 

Several years ago Project Recover was the subject of a fascinating 60 Minutes segment. And today we have a full-length documentary for us to better understand and appreciate this patriotic mission.

Directed by Chris Woods, To What Remains chronicles the 2018 recovery mission and takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster. It features veterans, in particular one who fought in the Battle of Peleliu, and details the ripple effects this trauma had on the servicemen. Some survivors visited the island, some preferred to leave it in the distant past, and all were haunted by the deaths of their fellow servicemen who remained MIA. The documentary features stunning imagery of underwater missions. At times the film felt disjointed and I would have liked to have learned more about the planning and execution of the recovery missions. However, it’s an important piece, especially for anyone with an interest in WWII and American military history.

To What Remains recently premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of their Documentaries programming slate. It hits theaters early December. Visit the film’s official website for more information.

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