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Coming soon: reviews of Somewhere in Queens, Polite Society, and Sisu
The Philadelphia Film Society presents SpringFest 2023
The seventh annual PFS SpringFest film festival wrapped up on Sunday night, after presenting 18 films in three days on both screens at the Philadelphia Film Center. As usual, the festival featured a selection of films that had debuted at Sundance, South by Southwest, and other recent film festivals, with several of them scheduled to arrive either on streaming services or local theaters within weeks.
Somewhere in Queens
The festival began Friday night with the directorial debut of longtime sitcom star Ray Romano, who also stars as Leo, a middle-aged sad sack from the titular borough who works with all of his male relatives in a construction company—work to which Leo seems spectacularly ill-suited.
He sees his chance at a change when his teenaged son (Jacob Ward) begins to emerge as a basketball star, around the same time he gets his first girlfriend (Sadie Stanley, who played the main character’s girlfriend on the locally set TV series The Goldbergs). The film even spotlights Philly briefly, when the son visits Drexel for an interview with the coach.
Somewhere in Queens didn’t work for me, for a variety of reasons. The family is played as an increasingly loud and profane collection of Italian American stereotypes that reminded me of Viggo Mortensen’s relatives in Green Book, with comedian Sebastian Maniscalco appearing in both. The teenaged son is almost a non-entity as a character, while Leo makes a weird decision that’s both indefensible and poorly explained. And while Laurie Metcalf does fine work as Leo’s wife, she often seems off in her own movie.
The film develops a strong sense of place in its Queens neighborhood, but overall, this is a misfire. Somewhere in Queens opens Friday, April 21, at the PFS Bourse and other area theaters.
We Are Lady Parts creator Nida Manzoor’s Polite Society is a film that takes a lot of swings, and connects on nearly all of them. This is an audacious work combining the influence of several genres and succeeding at all of them.
Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya play sisters Ria and Lena, from a family of South Asian immigrants to the UK. Ria dreams of becoming a stuntwoman for the movies, while Lena has recently dropped out of art school and gotten engaged to a mysterious, handsome man (Akshaye Khanna).
The film has a wide range of inspirations: everything from Bollywood to heist films to martial-arts genres to, eventually, sci-fi. The future groom’s mother (Nimra Bucha) emerges as the main antagonist, although I won’t dream of spoiling the how and why.
Polite Society has lots of fight scenes, and they’re a lot more audacious than is typically the case for fights between teenaged sisters, or high-school classmates. The third act, especially, is a highlight. It comes out in theaters nationwide on Friday, April 28.
The latest from Finnish auteur Jalmari Helander is set during the Lapland War, the brief conflict during World War II between Finland and the Nazis. It’s a gritty, beautifully photographed story of a solitary gold prospector (Jorma Tommila) who fights a battalion of Nazis and triumphs, both gloriously and very violently.
The protagonist, Aatami Korpi, is a lot like the Bear Jew from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards—a man of mystery whose nearly superhuman proclivity for killing Nazis leaves the Third Reich in awe and fear. That is, if the Bear Jew had been much older, not Jewish, and a Finnish gold prospector.
Sisu is a local term hard to translate into English, meaning something like a “white-knuckled form of courage and unimaginable determination,” as we’re told in a title card at the beginning.
The film has already drawn lots of comparisons to Mad Max: Fury Road, and while I wouldn’t put it quite on that level, it’s still highly enjoyable.
Sisu comes out nationwide on Friday, April 28.
Also recommended from SpringFest: BlackBerry, Stephen Curry: Underrated, Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, and Carmen.
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