Three Dramas from Mongrel Media
Easier with Practice (February 21/14)
Inspired by a magazine article, Easier with Practice follows struggling writer Davy Mitchell (Brian Geraghty) as he engages in a phone-sex affair while on a book tour - with the film detailing the consequences of said affair after Davy finally arrives home. Filmmaker Kyle Patrick Alvarez has infused Easier with Practice with an almost excessively low-key feel that does, at the outset, hold the viewer at arms length, as it's initially difficult to work up any real interest in the central character's ongoing exploits or his relationship with his sardonic brother (Kel O'Neill's Sean). The only real exception to this, in the movie's early stages, are Davy's continuing phone conversations with his mysterious yet open-hearted paramour, with the strength of these saucy chats essentially compensating for the otherwise inert atmosphere and ensuring that Davy becomes an increasingly compelling figure as time progresses. There eventually reaches a point, then, at which the viewer can't help but fall into step with Alvarez's ultra-subdued modus operandi, and the movie, in its second half, becomes far more engaging than one might've initially expected - with Easier with Practice's transformation into a compelling character study perpetuated by the emphasis on Davy's real-life relationships (including his tentative coupling with Marguerite Moreau's Samantha). The film ultimately manages to establish itself as an engrossing portrait of a shy, damaged individual, with Geraghty's continually stirring performance going a long way towards cementing Easier with Practice's place as an erratic yet rewarding little indie.
Fill the Void
Set within Tel Aviv's ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community, Fill the Void follows Hadas Yaron's Shira as she's pressured to marry the husband (Yiftach Klein's Yochay) of her dead sister - with the film, for the most part, detailing the turmoil that ensues as Shira attempts to make her decision. The movie, before it succumbs to its oppressively deliberate pace, paints a vivid picture of life within this cloistered community, as first-time filmmaker Rama Burshtein has infused the proceedings with an atmosphere of impressive authenticity that's impossible to resist. The emphasis on the characters' low-key exploits, coupled with an assortment of uniformly stellar performances, contributes heavily to the film's compulsively watchable vibe, and it's worth noting, too, that Burshtein has done a strong job of peppering the narrative with intriguing tidbits and fully fleshed-out supporting characters. (In terms of the latter, there's an ongoing subplot revolving around a single thirtysomething that's compelling enough to warrant a spinoff film.) And although Burshtein does provide an eye-opening look into a surprisingly backwards culture, Fill the Void has been saddled with an almost excessively lackadaisical sensibility that wreaks havoc on its tenuous momentum - which ensures that the second half isn't quite as effective (and affecting) as the first. (The inclusion of a handful of engrossing sequences, eg Shira and Yochay discuss their potential marriage, buoys the viewer's interest on a consistent basis, however.) The end result is an entertaining yet uneven debut from a promising new filmmaker, with the movie's brisk running time certainly ensuring that it's never quite able to wear out its welcome.
Omar (February 17/14)
Omar follows the title character (Adam Bakri), a Palestinian freedom fighter, as he's forced to work as an informant by an Israeli police officer, with the film detailing Omar's continuing efforts at both maintaining his friendships and holding the cops at bay. There's little doubt that Omar fares best in its opening half hour, as filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad does a nice job of initially drawing the viewer into the perilous landscape inhabited by the various characters - with the compelling atmosphere heightened by the efforts of a superb cast. (Bakri's impressively charismatic and engrossing turn as the sympathetic central character is matched by a strong supporting cast, to be sure.) The film's promising tone, perpetuated by some decent action and a relatively interesting doomed-lovers subplot, persists right up until around the halfway mark, after which point Abu-Assad begins suffusing Omar with misguided and palpably underwhelming elements - including a fairly major plot twist that's left unexplained and stripped of context. It doesn't help, either, that the narrative reaches a point wherein it could logically end and yet the film chugs along for an additionally 20 minutes, with the drawn-out third act ensuring that the shocking act of violence that closes the proceedings hardly packs the punch that Abu-Assad has obviously intended - which ultimately cements Omar's place as a disappointingly half-baked endeavor that could (and should) have been much better.