'Menashe' review: It's a father-son tale like you've never seen before - Silver Screen Beat
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‘Menashe’ review: It’s a father-son tale like you’ve never seen before

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To be completely honest, whenever I attend a film festival, I usually don’t have the highest of expectations when walking into some of the movies being shown there. For the most part, a lot of them are from first-time filmmakers who are fresh out of school and looking to sell their movie to potential distributors. However, that certainly isn’t the case with Menashe, which I was lucky enough to catch at the 17th edition of the Phoenix Film Festival this past weekend.

Menashe, which had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival back in January and was acquired by A24, the indie studio behind the likes of best picture-winner Moonlight and fellow hits such as The Witch, Ex Machina, and Green Room, tells the story of a grocery store clerk who is desperate to maintain the custody of his son Rieven after his wife passes away. Sure, you’re probably thinking, “we’ve seen that story a thousand times in other movies.” But Menashe is something different, and much more special.

Joshua Z. Weinstein, who also co-wrote Menashe with Alex Lipschultz and Musa Syeed, took to the New York Hasidic community in Borough Park, Brooklyn, to give this unique father-son tale an authentic glimpse into the lives of these ultra-Orthodox jews who, seemingly, live in a much different world from our own. Their tradition-bound culture clearly states that a mother must be present in every home and, with that, Rieven is due to be adopted by his strict, married uncle, who does not have much respect for Menashe and believes that he never properly cared for his wife or his son.

Thankfully, for Menashe, the local Rabbi is generous enough to give our main character a chance to spend just one week with Rieven before the memorial for his wife which will be held in Menashe’s small, yet somewhat cozy-looking apartment that is complete with two beds and a small kitchen, as well as a tiny box which serves as a tiny little home to a chick he gifts to his son early on in the movie. It doesn’t take long for us to realize that, without his son, Menashe practically has nothing in his life.

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Menashe’s dead-end job pays next to nothing while his harsh manager lectures him about forgetting to mop up the floors at the end of the night, and things only get worse when he destroys $1,000 worth of fish during a delivery after the doors of his van fly open. Despite the incident, Menashe still builds up enough courage to ask his boss for a loan for his wife’s memorial, to which his superior responds with a number of vicious remarks that ultimately send him on his way back home empty-handed.

One of the first films to be performed entirely in Yiddish in nearly 70 years, except for one brief scene where Menashe decides to down a 40oz bottle of Malt Liquor with his Puerto Rican co-workers in the stock room of the grocery store, Menashe certainly isn’t your typical father-son tale. In the beginning of the film, we get the sense that, while Rieven loves his father, their relationship isn’t on the best of terms since the death of Menashe’s wife. There’s no hostility, but something isn’t right, especially when Menashe comes to pick up his son from school and Rieven refuses to get into the vehicle until his father offers him a gift.

Throughout the story, we see the relationship between Menashe and Rieven blossom into a warm, loving relationship while light is finally shed on a notoriously private community where smartphones and televisions are practically non-existent. It’s authentic in the sense that we see how these people live their lives from day to day whether it’s spent praying, drinking, or working a dead-end job with an asshole manager. For 81-minutes, it truly feels as if you’re living in the New York Hasidic community—Weinstein perfectly captures that world in a way that has never been done before.

Menashe shows a way of life that is so different from our own, yet, somehow makes itself relatable in terms of family, community, and connection.

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‘Incredibles 2’ review: Pixar delivers a dazzling sequel worthy of its beloved predecessor

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Incredibles
DISNEY/PIXAR

Fourteen years after the release of the original, everyone’s favorite super family (sorry, X-Men) returns in Incredibles 2, which audiences will undoubtedly enjoy just as much as its predecessor because of the many parts that make the film so…ahem…incredible. It’s a worthy sequel that our current superhero-ridden American film scene so desperately needs.

Incredibles 2 picks up right where Pixar’s beloved 2004 animated classic left off: with a villainous new threat to the city known as The Underminer looking to wreak havoc. The Parrs and other superheroes are still seen as criminals, but when Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is recruited by a pair of philanthropic siblings (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener), they believe they will be able to change the public’s perception for good. While Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) struggles to stay out of the spotlight and control the kids, a new threat arises known as Screenslaver, who is determined to put an end to supers once and for all.

Like many others, I was initially upset when I found out that this movie occurred directly after the events of the first, but it thankfully provides a smooth transition into the next part of the Parrs’ story. Even though the two films were released more than a decade apart, it seemed like no time had passed at all in this universe and the movie even contains more relevant social issues while keeping it entertaining for children—the main focus being Elastigirl, who is certainly the shining star of this film.

Hunter brings so much life to this character, as she is able to portray both the nurturing mother side and ass-kicking heroine side excellently. Elastigirl’s arc provides a great, original premise that is still reminiscent of the first movie yet is geared towards a new, more critical generation of moviegoers. This makes for a great dynamic between Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible, as the latter is constantly being forced to deal with his own masculinity. Having to take care of the kids while his wife is away saving the city was obviously tough for the macho man, but his development and acceptance throughout the course of this movie was progressively pleasant to watch.

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Another character with interesting development was baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile). We were left on a bit of a cliffhanger from the original Incredibles movie that Jack-Jack had an abundance of peculiar powers, and in this film, those powers are explored even more. Along with the monster that he can turn into, shooting lasers from his eyes, and setting himself on fire, seeing Jack-Jack’s naive infancy clash with his crazy abilities made him a hilarious scene-stealer.

The humble daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and the reckless son Dash (Huck Milner) unfortunately have less memorable roles in the film, but it’s worth noting that the re-casting of Dash (he was originally voiced by Spencer Fox) was a smart move, though, as Milner has a much more child-like sense of wonder and confidence in his voice. Other fan-favorite characters making a return in the sequel include Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and Edna Mode (Brad Bird) and they still live up to their previous, legendary reputations.

For an animated feature, editing is never much of a specialty, but this film shatters that expectation. Some of the most comedic moments in the film were made hilarious due to the Stephen Schaffer’s quick, efficient editing, which helps add to the overall excitement on the film. Brad Bird’s (who also directed the film) script is excellent too, as the twisting reveal of the antagonist was hidden quite well. However, Screenslaver did not get as much physical screen time as the character deserved and, throughout the entirety of the film, the villain had a digitally eerie presence that could have been much more flushed out, but there was still plenty of substance to make the character threatening.

One of the most memorable parts of the first film was its jazzy and high-energy score, which Michael Giacchino once again delivers in this second installment. The best new element of this sequel, though, was its more fluent choreography and action scenes. All of them involved Elastigirl (rightfully so), as her scenes were just pure, exhilarating, fun. As for the animation, it’s just like any other Pixar movie we’ve seen in recent years: gorgeous.

Incredibles 2 succeeds expectations in almost every possible way, as Disney and Pixar once again prove that they can make a better superhero film than, well, many other studios out there from the past ten years. While sequels that come this late are usually hit or miss, this fantastic family film doesn’t just hit, but smashes. Oh, and for all of the ’90s babies out there: get ready for the nostalgia to really kick in the moment the movie starts.

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‘Hereditary’ review: Ari Aster’s horrifying feature debut will shake you to your very core

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Toni Collette Hereditary
A24

Writer-director Ari Aster’s feature debut Hereditary is a dark, deeply disturbing family drama intertwined with a gut-wrenching horror film that is, without a doubt, one of the most frightening movies audiences will ever have the pleasure of experiencing. Led by an awards-caliber performance by a distraught, unhinged Toni Collette, this nightmarish tale of family, loss, and grief is destined to continue to haunt its viewer, even long after they’ve left the theater.

“She was a very difficult woman,” Annie Graham (Collette) says at the funeral of Ellen, her 78-year-old mother who had been dealing with a number of mental illnesses in her final years. The only member of the family who appears to be taking the loss of the Ellen particularly hard is Annie’s daughter, Charlie (newcomer Milly Shapiro), while her first-born son Peter (Alex Wolff) and husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) seem like they could care less. Annie even asks her husband at one point after they arrive home from the funeral if she should be acting sadder than she really is, which is understandable considering the fact that she shared a very complicated, somewhat disastrous relationship with her mother.

In an effort to better cope with the loss of her mother, Annie decides to attend a bereavement support group, where she awkwardly discloses a number of disturbing details about her family history and traumatic childhood to a group of some very concerned-looking fellow attendees, including how her father starved himself to death and how her teenage brother hanged himself just years later. She even mentions how she feels alienated inside her own family. Little does Annie know, though, that a vital turning point in the film is about to lead her to her breaking point and the events that follow will uncover something even worse than just family woes—something malevolent that has already begun to manifest within the Graham family without their knowledge.

Aster, whose 2011 short film The Strange Thing About the Johnsons still makes me shudder with horror just at the thought of it to this day, introduces himself as a masterful horror maker with Hereditary. Aster’s dread-inducing script and well-orchestrated direction are flawless, and his crafty way of slowly building up tension and unleashing it like one big, fiery ball of horrific fury upon the viewer’s every emotion is nothing but pure brilliance. He’s a madman in the greatest sense.

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Not only is Hereditary an incredible achievement from a storytelling perspective, but a technical standpoint too. Pawel Pogorzelski’s stunning cinematography captures every detail so well, including one very key scare near the film’s climax, and his long, extended takes seem somewhat reminiscent of those in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic The Shining. Additionally, Colin Stetson’s eerie ensemble of woodwind and brass instruments provide a superb score that accompanies each image on the screen perfectly, while Jennifer Lame and Lucian Johnston’s editing takes us from one scene to another with such remarkable efficiency.

As for the cast, Aster gives every performer a bit of room to shine, but it’s Collette and Wolff as the mother-son duo from hell that steals the show in Hereditary. Both characters come with a lot of bottled up emotional baggage and, over the course of the film’s final two acts, all of those emotions come pouring out one after the other. This is when Collette and Wolff are at their best, scaring the hell out of you and making you feel, well, probably a little sad and depressed. Byrne’s character does an exceptional job of trying to keep tensions in the household at ease, but even he begins to reach his breaking point as well, fearing for the well-being of his family.

Shapiro, perhaps known for her role as Matilda Wormwood in Matilda on Broadway, plays the strange, tongue-clicking Charlie in a way that no other young talent probably could. Her character’s very presence on the screen is unsettling, and the fact she spends much of her time holed up the family treehouse while creating creepy little totems made from household items and dead animal body parts is just straight up disturbing. “I want grandma,” she tells Annie in one scene right after the funeral, revealing the close-knit relationship she had with Ellen. “You know you were her favorite, right?” her mother responds.

By the time the Hereditary reaches the end of its wicked, shocking finale, it becomes clear to the viewer that what Aster has created here is destined to be hailed a new horror classic, much like it already has by critics who have been raving about it since the Sundance Film Festival and Southwest by Southwest earlier this year. It sticks with you, lingering, always, and its devilish intentions will, undoubtedly, have done their deed. Have fun sleeping after watching this one, kids. You’ll never look at that dark corner of your room the same ever again.

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‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ review: Ron Howard delivers a solidly entertaining galactic heist movie

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Solo: A Star Wars Story
LUCASFILM LTD.

Despite the loss of original co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller due to so-called “creative differences,” rumors of Lucasfilm ushering in an emergency acting coach to help star Alden Ehrenreich “more convincingly channel [Harrison] Ford’s swashbuckling effect” in the original Star Wars trilogy, and numerous other reports of a big-budget Hollywood production gone-to-hell, Solo: A Star Wars Story turned out pretty well, for the most part.

Indeed, Solo begins just like any other installment in this long-running intergalactic franchise with a static blue text that reads, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” followed by an ellipsis with an extra dot on the end, of course. However, similarly to 2016’s stand-alone Star Wars hit Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the movie is not introduced by John Williams rousing, iconic theme song, nor are we given a traditional opening crawl.

When we first meet young Han (Ehrenreich), it’s on his home planet of Corellia, where he and his companion Qi’Ra (Emilia Clarke) are like a futuristic Bonnie and Clyde, doing odd jobs for a notorious gang headed up by the reptilian-looking crime boss Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt). Little does Proxima and her gang know, though, that Han and Qi’Ra have hatched a plan to leave Coriella once and for all.

Oh, and little do Han and Qi’Ra know that their plan to escape Coriella would run amok, leading Han to a dangerous life of an Imperial mudtrooper and, Qi’Ra, well, we don’t really know how she ends up where she does. But Han’s decision to fight for the Empire ultimately pays off as it leads him not only to his two-centuries-old Wookiee pal Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), but also a little gang of career criminals comprised of Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Val (Thandie Newton), and Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau) that will unexpectedly allow him to cross paths with Qi’Ra once again.

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While it would’ve been exciting to see what sort of fun, comedic flare Lord and Miller would’ve brought to the table with Solo, veteran director Ron Howard, who reportedly re-shot 70% of what the two previous directors had already done, works with Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan’s script just fine. Perhaps Howard plays things just a little too safe, not bringing anything particularly new or exciting to this stand-alone story, but he handles the material just fine.

Ehrenreich is genuinely outstanding as the title character, flawlessly bringing young Han to life in a way that is his own, and yet he somehow still manages to stay true to Ford’s iconic scoundrel we all know and love from the original trilogy. Harrelson’s Beckett is also wonderful, bringing a certain sense of charm, wit, humor, and excitement with him wherever he goes. Clarke is great too, and by the third act, you’ll constantly be questioning Qi’Ra’s true intentions.

But it’s Donald Glover’s smooth, charismatic Lando Calrissian that really stands out in Solo, and it’s a shame that he isn’t provided with more screen time than he gets. When Lando is on screen, though, it’s a real treat, especially when he’s with his co-pilot, L3-37 (voiced by Pheobe Waller-Bridge), a self-made droid assembled from astromech and protocol parts. Their chemistry is impeccable and always delightful to watch—maybe even more so than Han and Chewie’s.

There’s also a lot to admire about Solo from a visual perspective, whether it’s Bradford Young’s gorgeous lighting and cinematography, Neil Lamont’s outstanding production design, or Dave Crossman and Glyn Dillon’s stylish costumes, especially when it comes to Lando and his many colorful capes. Even if you can’t get invested in the story, there’s no denying that Solo is one hell of a dazzling, visual feast.

Fans will undoubtedly be divided when it comes to Solo: A Star Wars Story, much like they were when Disney released Rian Johnson’s sequel Star Wars: The Last Jedi last December, and it’s easy to see why. Solo just isn’t a movie for everyone, and that’s OK. But there’s certainly enough space-based heist shenanigans and fan service to please, at the very least, even the most casual of Star Wars fans.

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