Thursday, April 22, 2021

Being 'Together' and finding 'Touch' both seem shrewder than 'Vanquish'

A few brief thoughts on a trio of indie films you might find in various places:

Harrison and Helms certainly do shine "Together."
"Together Together," opening Friday in a quartet of Greater Cleveland theaters, provides an often charming, occasionally silly look at having a baby from a rather surprising perspective.

With biological clock ticking, fortysomething Matt (Ed Helms) wants and needs to be a dad so makes a payment arrangement with 26-year-old Anna (Patti Harrison) to become his gestational surrogate.

In the hands of producer/director/writer Nikole Beckwith, who coaxes the standard competent work from Helms and a remarkably likable performance from standup comic Harrison, some real movie chemistry is made. Beckwith's uncomplicated ending should touch a few hearts, too.

By the way, Harrison, who grew up in Orient, Ohio, honed her comedic chops as a member of the Black Sheep improv group at Ohio University. Of course, she's also a regular on the Hulu series "Shrill," and has been a voice artist in a number of animated productions, including the current Disney film, "Raya and the Last Dragon."

Rated "R" by MPAA: some sexual references and language; 1:27: $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Newcomer Aleksandra Szczepanowska, another producer/director/screenwriter making a name for herself, actually one-ups the aforementioned Beckwith in a film simply called "Touch." In fact, not only did the filmmaker become the first western woman to shoot an indie feature in the People's Republic of China, her performance in the leading role certainly will open some eyes, too.

Szczepanowska recently told a Film Daily interviewer that her good-looking movie was most inspired by Kar-Wai Wong's "In the Mood for Love," and "Touch" viewers actually might recognize both plot and visual similarities to that year-2000 beauty. In the same interview, though, she explained that "the first kernel" of inspiration came more than 15 years ago when she actually encountered a blind massage specialist during a previous visit to China. 

No surprise here then that Szczepanowska, as a westerner seeking permanent residency and getting little help from her jerky husband, seeks comfort -- among other things perhaps -- from a blind masseur (Jiangwe Yuan) whose sensitive ways allow him to see right through her during a chance meeting in the park.

From there, various senses take charge, not to mention unexpected changes of attitude on the part of both the husband (Jun Yang) and the mysterious lover, each suddenly helping to shape it all into this nifty little thriller.  

Just concluding a lengthy festival run, during which it won a variety of awards in some cities, "Touch" debuts Monday exclusively in the U.S. on Amazon TVOD.

Not rated by MPAA (but with erotic references and a few intense moments); $ $ $ out of $5

Finally, action junkies might find something to embrace in "Vanquish," while the rest of  us likely will have to settle for a one-liner from a bad guy happily quipping: "I heard you killed more people than Quentin Tarantino."

Otherwise, laughs mostly come unintentionally in this dreadfully shot, mercilessly gratuitous crime drama from writer/director George Gallo, the same guy who gave us "Bad Boys" and the fabulous "Midnight Run," albeit almost 35 years ago.

Here, though, he offers up the often great Morgan Freeman, as a "heroic" cop blackmailing a "protege" (tough gal Ruby Rose) into making a series of cash pick-ups during one long night. (Well, at least it seemed long.)

Now, in the spirit of leaving everything to the imagination, the hows and whys of the blackmail attempt -- and even the words in quotation marks above-- will not be explained here. Simply watch it if you must.

"Vanquish" is now showing at the Atlas Cinemas Diamond Center 16 in Mentor, Ohio, as well as on Digital and On Demand outlets everywhere.

Rated "R" by MPAA: bloody violence, language, some sexual material and drug use; 1:36; $ and 1/2 out of $5

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