De Lo Mio
Diana Peralta's drama about two sisters (Sasha Merci and Darlene Demorizi) raised in New York who return to the Dominican Republic to clean out their late father's house with their estranged brother (Héctor Aníbal) is every bit as quiet and intimate as the premise suggests, but just as much to its detriment as to its benefit. On the plus side, the three actors have a believable sibling chemistry, meaning just as much of a sense of a lived-in affection as there is a tension, and as they sort through belongings and have their reminiscences, it feels like an authentic peek into these characters' lives. But while the personal dimension to the piece registers, the low key vibe, observational style, and purposely thin plotting add up to a lack of drive and urgency, and a muted connection to the film, even with some nicely rendered details sprinkled through its slim 77 minutes.
Writer/director Rashaad Ernesto Green and young actress Zora Howard proved to be a formidable creative combination back in 2008 with the powerful, wrenching short film Premature, which rightly earned the top short film prize at the American Black Film Festival that year. Eleven years later, the two reunite for a feature film that shares a title but only some vague similarities. Howard, now in her 20s, has a co-writing credit with Green here, and, as she did in the earlier work, plays a teen, but instead of focusing on a very specific crisis in her life, she and Green are here more concerned with the whole spectrum of experience that comes with that most eventful summer right after graduating high school. Chief among these for college-bound, aspiring writer Ayanna is a new romance with a slightly older musician Isaiah (Joshua Boone). Their initially idyllic love affair soon comes to reflect the turbulence that naturally comes with one's coming of age, as her own sense of self becomes clouded in her new and exciting situation, and her youthful impetuousness leads to consequences that require her to take charge and responsibility. The beats may be familiar here, but the music, so to speak, is fresh and engrossing, thanks to the vivid authenticity of Green's capture of Harlem, and, most of all, that Howard's committed, charismatic performance, which further confirms she is a face to watch.
Rául Juliá: The World's a Stage
The late Raúl Juliá may be remembered--and justly celebrated--for his work in feature films (particularly, for kids of many generations, as Gomez Addams from the '90s The Addams Family movies), but Ben DeJesus's affectionate, comprehensive biographical documentary spends most of its time giving proper shine to the long, storied career on stage that paved his path to success on the silver screen. It was far easier said than done for him, even with his charisma, singing voice, and classically trained chops he honed during his youth in San Juan, Puerto Rico--that latter point all too predictably being an issue with the lily white powers that be in the established New York theater scene. But his was a talent and drive not to be denied, and after first making his mark in the Big Apple in classical productions aimed at underserved, largely minority audiences (a harbinger of his later social activism beyond the arts), he would eventually be headlining major productions such as Shakespeare in the Park's The Taming of the Shrew alongside Meryl Streep--a most irresistibly charming excerpt of which is included here. But even with the insight into his career and how it influenced many Latino artists that followed, there is just as much into who he simply was as a person, for family members get just as much interview time here as do luminaries such as Edward James Olmos. All of this makes for a beautifully rendered portrait of and tribute to an all-time great who departed the world's stage much too tragically soon.