We have wrapped up an entire pandemic summer, and fall is looking a little grim, but now is not the time to lose hope. Here are four more movies about dreaming and remembering to help keep us all going.
Opening on the big screen at the Century Napa Valley and XD — and at West Wind Drive-ins in San Jose and Sacramento — Natalie Krinsky’s “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is shaped like an old-fashioned romantic comedy, hitting all the old familiar beats, from the comic relief best friends to the hero’s final grand gesture.
But it checks off all the old boxes with fresh new ink, cheerfully representing and giving power and love to people of all shapes and colors and sizes, rather than just good-looking white people.
On the same night, Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan, “Miracle Workers”) loses her boyfriend and her job as an assistant in a hip New York gallery, she drunkenly jumps into a car driven by Nick (Dacre Montgomery, “Stranger Things”), thinking it’s an Uber, and we have a traditional meet-cute.
Nick is trying to open a hotel, and Lucy, who has long collected mementos from several old boyfriends, is inspired to start her own gallery made up of such “broken heart” stories, in the lobby.
Of course, the most recent ex tries to get back in the picture, and Nick has a secret that drives Lucy away for a time, but, on the whole, “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is all about laughing, finding beauty in lost things, needle-drops, and silly dancing.
Molly Gordon (“Booksmart”) and Phillipa Soo (“Hamilton”) are wonderful highlights as Lucy’s protective best friends, Amanda and Nadine, swiftly and hilariously trading barbs, and moving well above and beyond the traditional “best friend” characters, who usually care only about the lead’s love life.
The supporters, including Nathan Dales, the unspeaking boyfriend of Amanda, and Arturo Castro as Nick’s partner and pal, provide so many laughs that the poor leads come off as the least funny of all.
But Viswanathan is so bubbly and joyous with her rapid patter and total lack of inhibition, that in this time of deadly viruses, violent weather, and hateful politics, she becomes an essential tonic.
The Broken Hearts Gallery
Starring: Geraldine Viswanathan, Dacre Montgomery, Molly Gordon, Phillipa Soo
Written and directed by: Natalie Krinsky
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
The documentary “Our Time Machine” opens with a quote from H.G. Wells about how memories can take us back in time, and dreams can carry us forward. The movie continues with these beautiful sentiments in mind, and comes out as a moving, beautiful work.
The Shanghai-based artist known as Maleonn is the son of a legendary Peking Opera director, Ma Ke, who — as he keeps stating — directed over 80 plays in his time. But now he has a form of dementia and is quickly losing his memory.
Maleonn decides that he needs to pay tribute to his father before time runs out. He writes a play about a son traveling back in time to rescue his father’s fading memories, and begins building an elaborate series of life-size robot puppets, and even an airplane with huge, flapping wings, to stage it.
The play quickly becomes more expensive than anticipated, and pre-production goes on for years past the originally planned six months.
Co-directors S. Leo Chiang and Yang Sun cut smoothly back and forth between the awe-inspiring behind-the-scenes views of the play, with black-clad actors practicing the subtle, graceful movements of the puppets, and Ma Ke’s downward spiral, unable to remember even what the year is.
Each section beautifully complements the other, the puppets enhancing a sense of physical being, and the family relationships heightening the emotional. The movie is further balanced by the presence of two incredible women, Ma Ke’s longtime wife Ma Duo, and Maleonn’s co-director on the play, Tianyi Huang.
At only 80 minutes, “Our Time Machine” certainly could have gone on longer to reveal the eventual outcome of the play, but happily, it finds a perfect way to wrap up, touching on tragedy, love and hope.
Our Time Machine
Starring: Maleonn, Ma Ke, Ma Duo, Tianyi Huang
Written by: S. Leo Chiang, Bo Li
Directed by: S. Leo Chiang, Yang Sun
Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes
Collectors of VHS tapes have sprung up everywhere in this age of digital streaming, and the new exploitation thriller “Rent-A-Pal” should appeal to them, not only in its midnight-movie exploitation vibe, but also in its fetishizing of the old tapes themselves.
“Rent-A-Pal” contains loving close-ups of black tape winding around silvery machine heads, but also includes moments of physical tapes being used in acts of violence and madness.
A feature writing and directing debut by Jon Stevenson, the movie, set in the early 1990s, takes a surprising amount of extra time to find genuine empathy and understanding for its characters.
Main character David (Brian Landis Folkins) is a schlubby nerd with pale, uncool clothes, a smushed-down hairstyle and hopelessly middle-aged glasses. It would have been easy to ridicule him, but the movie instead finds his kind, lonely center — or at least until the bloody climax.
David takes care of his aged mother (Kathleen Brady), who suffers from dementia, and lives full-time in her basement. He has subscribed to a video dating service, but after six months has yet to receive even a nibble. So he goes in to record a new tape.
His testimonial turns out beautifully, an honest, endearing speech about kindness, but, in a moment of savage cruelty, he’s told it’s too long and he must do another one.
On the way out, he finds a tape in a bargain bin. On the tape is Andy (Wil Wheaton, forever known as Wesley Crusher on “Star Trek: The Next Generation”), who promises that they are going to be good friends.
Video Andy seems to talk directly to David, and seems to listen. They have drinks, and play “Go Fish” together. When David unexpectedly, happily, connects with the sympathetic, adorable hospice caregiver Lisa (Amy Rutledge), Andy actually seems jealous.
Unfortunately, after establishing clear, interesting relationships between the four main characters, “Rent-A-Pal” then takes a brutal, gory turn that follows a different emotional through line, and one that doesn’t really seem to make sense.
In a movie this compact and enclosed, the rules of the game ought to have been a little more clearly established. It’s good enough for long enough to deserve a look, but as it stands, “Rent-A-Pal” sadly leaves off with the clacking, rattling sound of an “eject.”
Starring: Brian Landis Folkins, Wil Wheaton, Amy Rutledge, Kathleen Brady
Written and directed by: Jon Stevenson
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang’s “The Hole” may have seemed like one of his lighter films when it was released in 1998, at least compared to masterpieces like 2001’s “What Time Is It There?” and 2003’s “Goodbye Dragon Inn.”
Now, in a restored re-release, available as part of the Roxie Theater’s virtual cinema program (https://www.roxie.com/the-hole/), “The Hole” proves to be an eerily prophetic and timely movie, perhaps better now than it ever was.
It’s set in the final week of 2000. A mysterious disease has wracked the globe, causing sufferers to behave like rats, skittering on all fours and seeking darkness.
In one infected neighborhood, residents are asked to evacuate, as the water will be shut off as of midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Shopkeeper Hsiao Kang (Lee Kang-sheng) stays behind. A plumber drills a hole in his floor, connecting his apartment with the unnamed female neighbor below, and beginning a rivalry.
The downstairs neighbor (Yang Kuei-mei) is dealing with incessant flooding, and has begun hoarding toilet paper!
“The Hole” moves to the sound of very little dialogue, and the thrum of a constant rainfall. From the balconies of the apartment building, falling bags of trash (it is no longer being collected), silently drop like the corpses of birds or forgotten angels.
And, out of nowhere, appear a few dreamlike, cabaret-style musical numbers!
It’s deadpan to the point of zaniness. Leading man Lee is a frequent, if not constant figure in Tsai’s movies, rarely revealing any kind of facial expression, even though his presence is both anchoring and sublime.
Tsai’s films are connected by the silent and the dreamlike, and also by the nonstop flow of water, both live-giving and destructive. A second look at “The Hole” all these years later reveals it to be more than scant, and, indeed emerges as something quite… whole.
Starring: Lee Kang-sheng, Yang Kuei-mei, Miao Tien, Tong Hsiang-Chu
Written by: Yang Pi-ying, Tsai Ming-liang
Directed by: Tsai Ming-liang
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes