Harvard Beats Yale 29-29
This mildly fascinating documentary focuses on the events that led to the famous football game when between Harvard Crimson and Yale Bulldogs way back in November 23rd, 1968. The crimson football players were the underdog team that wasn?t expected to play such an amazing impressive game against the superior Bulldogs. Director Kevin Rafferty interviews many of the players from both teams, including Tommy Lee Jones of the Harvard Crimson, who give detailed accounts of that important football game. Jones even goes on a brief, humorous tangent when he talks about his college roommate. A different football player had even gone out with Meryl Streep at that time. Unfortunately, the cinematography comes across as a bit distracting and awkward at times when the camera cuts off the interviewees? face so that a portion of it appears out-of-frame. Those unfamiliar with the sport of football will be slightly bored and wonder the overarching question, ?So what?? However, avid football fans will certainly be quite engaged by watching the footage of the game and by listening to the players analyze the game with so much vividness, passion and enthusiasm, as if recollecting one of the greatest moments in their lifetime. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Kino International. Opens at the Film Forum.
In Dutch with subtitles. Martin (Marcel Musters) and his ex-wife, Roos (Elsie de Brauw), meet at restaurants where they discuss their troubled, reclusive son (Stijn Koomen), who connects with a samurai sword more than he does with anyone around him. None of the dialogue by writer/director Mijke de Jong actually functions as a way to move the plot forward; it functions merely as a slice-of-life, almost like in the ?mumblecore? genre except without so much talking. The real dramatic tension occurs subtly during the silent moments, so it?s very important to play close attention to small details such as facial expressions and posture. De Jong also shows skill with her cinematography which includes medium shots of Roos? rebellious son, but closer, warmer shots of Martin and Roos together. Admittedly, the excessive use of close-up shots eventually feels uncomfortably awkward and pretentious. With interesting choices of set design, lighting and the balanced structure of the thin narrative with a similar beginning and end shot, Stages manages to be an intelligent, low-key drama that occasionally drags and becomes quite demanding. However, truly patient and perceptive audience members will find it to be at least mildly engaging and absorbing to watch. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Lemming Film. Opens at the Film Forum.
Frontrunners - Directed by Caroline Suh.
This mildly fascinating documentary focuses on the election campaigns of four high school student who compete for student union president. Hanna Frieman, a perfectionist who has lead the cheerleading and dance squads at the school along with acting in school plays and in Todd Solondz? Palindromes. She shows off her enthusiasm for winning quite openly. Michael Zaytsev, has a lot of popularity, especially among the ladies for his good looks, but he?s also known for having a huge ego. Alex Leonard is a tall athlete who plays basketball, but lacks experience in school politics. Finally, there?s George Zisiadis, who has a lot of experience in school politics and works diligently at everything. Although his attitude is more relaxed than Hanna Frieman?s, he goes to the extent of setting up a lounge with a curtain in his locker area to speak to student reporters. Among the four candidates, only George and Hanna seem to be taking their campaigns with seriousness and critical thinking. It would have been much more insightful and provocative had director Caroline Suh went beyond merely showing the candidates? experiences as they campaign. More personal interviews with each candidate would have helped you to grasp what their political visions/ideas are specifically and to figure out who comes closest to Governer Palin in terms of stupid, inarticulate responses. That would have also heightened the documentary?s dramatic element so that you?d be able to latch onto a candidate?s ideas rather than just the image that they project. What are their thoughts about George W. Bush and former presidents, for that matter? While Frontrunners manages to be timely and has flashes of provocative moments, its lack of insight and intrigue feels like a missed opportunity to truly explore the political mindset of this generation. . Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Oscilloscope Pictures. Opens at the Film Forum.
RocknRolla - Directed by Guy Ritchie .
One Two (Gerard Butler) and his buddy, Mumbles (Idris Elba), gets involved in the world of gang violence when he gets a loan from a smarmy crime boss, Lenny (Tom Wilkinson), who has a hidden agenda. The plot becomes increasingly complex and twisted as One Two meets Stella (Thandie Newton) and steals a precious painting that gets him into serious trouble. Although there are plenty of action sequences to be found here along with stylish cinematography, the thrills that one expects to come along with such a film seem to be missing. Too much of what happens onscreen feels like more of the same, like a lazy, tedious version of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch, also written/directed by Guy Ritchie. He knows how to cast the right actors for the appropriate roles, especially Tom Wilkinson who really sinks his teeth into the role of a vicious mobster. What about adding some comic relief, though? There?s a mildly funny sex scene, though, that takes place with very fast paced, wildly imaginative editing which helps to briefly invigorate an otherwise tired and underwhelming action/crime film. Ultimately, RocknRolla has too much style and not enough substance, imagination or surprises to justify its excessive running time of 114 minutes. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Warner Bros.
Virtual JFK: Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived - Directed by Koji Masutani.
This initially provocative, yet incomplete documentary imagines what the Vietnam War would have been like had President John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated. Through plenty of archival footage, it?s quite clear that JFK did everything in his power to avoid going to war with other countries, i.e. Cuba, Russia and Vietnam. In other words, he didn?t cave in to the pressures of his advisors no matter how many times they tried to convince him to start a war. How many times does the audience have to get pounded over the head that JFK avoided war, though? Director Koji Masutani includes a lot of evidence to support his thesis, but there?s not enough analysis of the all the facts and, worst of all, the conclusion comes across as very weak and unsurprising. Also, he designates too little time to extrapolate what the events would be like after Kennedy?s assassination, so that section of the film seems incomplete and a bit rushed. Perhaps Masutani should have sharpened/expanded his thesis to make search for the conclusion much more complex and revealing. Virtual JFK: Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived tackles a compelling and timely subject matter, especially given that we?re in an election year, but, at a running time of only 80 minutes, it ultimately lacks any new insights and feels underwhelming and incomplete. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Global Media Project and Sven Kahn Films. Opens at the Film Forum.
The Pool - Directed by Chris Smith.
In Hindi and English with subtitles. In Goa, India, Venkatesh (Venkatesh Chavan), an 18-year-old housekeeper at a hotel, goes around town with his best friend, Jahangir (Jahangir Badshah), selling plastic bags. When Venkatesh spies on a wealthy man (Nana Patekar) who tends to his garden and, mysteriously, never swims in his pool, he decides to meet the man and ends up working as his gardener. Soon enough, Venkatesh befriends the man?s rebellious daughter, Ayesha (Ayesha Mohan). Each actor essentially gives an understated performance that feels utterly believable. The real achievement here, though, goes to director/co-writer Chris Smith?s organic screenplay that breathes life not only into every character, but into every scene as well. He does a masterful job of telling a simple story that has brief, unforced moments of complexity and poignancy. One of the most simple, yet powerful moments occurs when the wealthy man says to Vekatesh that the most powerful weapon is the tongue, not a gun. The film has many other small, yet captivating moments that stay with you. On top of that cinematography looks lush, colorful and picturesque while the well-chosen musical score compliments the scenes. The Pool manages to be a refreshingly wise, understated and very human drama full of warmth and tenderness. Most impressively, it holds your attention and keeps you absorbed without resorting to any clich?s, contrivance, or pretentions from start to finish. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Vitagraph Films. Opens at the Film Forum.
Tropic Thunder - Directed by Ben Stiller.
When studio executives threaten to shut down the production of ?Tropic Thunder?, the director (Steve Coogan) strands the five stars of the film, Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), Jeff 'Fats' Portnoy (Jack Black), Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.), Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), in a jungle hoping to get enough footage to keep the production alive. None of the jokes or visual gags will be spoiled here, but it?s worth noting that Robert Downey, Jr., performing in blackface, often steals the show with his terrific comic timing. The only other scene-stealer is the smarmy, chubby studio executive played by a barely recognizable Tom Cruise. Unfortunately, director/co-writer Ben Stiller fails to keep the comic momentum flowing continuously and, instead, opts for too much recycled humor that tends to get old pretty fast. At least the actors seem to be having a great time onscreen and give off plenty of energy and chemistry together that keeps you mildly engaged. If you have an open mind for outrageous, silly, offensive and gross-out humor, you?ll tolerate most of the film, especially the fake trailers for the actors of the film-within-the-film. Everyone else will feel mostly underwhelmed and wishing there were a smarter and funnier screenplay for the talented actors. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Paramount Pictures.
Boy A - Directed by John Crowley.
Jack (Andrew Garfield), an ex-con recently released on parole from prison, comes to terms with his troubled past as he starts a new life in Manchester. His caseworker, Terry (Peter Mullan), supervises his parole and becomes like a father figure to him. Meanwhile, Jack develops a romance with a young woman, Michelle (Katie Lyons). Although much of what happens throughout the plot lacks surprises and feels a bit emotionally draining, what saves the film from being stuck in mediocrity is Andrew Garfield?s heartfelt, utterly convincing performance as Jack. The audience already knows that Jack has done something terrible in his past. Writer/director John Crowley wisely exposes the particular details of those past events gradually through flashbacks. What happens to Jack as his past comes back to haunt him feels very real because you?re able to grasp what?s going on in his mind. Even the gritty cinematography allows you immerse yourself in the story while the quiet, somber moments help you to care about Jack as a complex human being. He?s not simply bad nor is he good; he?s somewhere in the middle. Boy A explores these gray areas with just the right amount sensitivity, intensity and raw tenderness to keep you thoroughly absorbed and engaged. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by The Weinstein Company. Opens at the Film Forum.
Full Battle Rattle - Directed by Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss.
This underwhelming documentary focuses on the U.S. Military?s simulation of an Iraqi village in the Mojave Desert in California. Real Iraqi women pretend to be innocent civilians under pressure from soldiers who take over their village. There?s also simulated bombings and gunfire along with a medical response team for the victims. The soldiers also learn how to greet Iraqis in Arabic. Co-directors Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss opt to including more show than tell, even though much of what you observe demands analysis and exploration. Watching the many different forms of simulations eventually becomes tedious and lacks the surprise factor that it initially brought. It?s essentially a lazy cop out that directors choose to place so much burden on the audience to come up with their own interpretations of what they see and hear. What about including some intriguing, provocative interviews that get into the heart of the matter and to answer very basic questions like, ?So what??. Compared to many other recent documentaries about the U.S. Military, Full Battle Rattle doesn?t add up to enough beans to be insightful, shocking or powerful. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by The Film Sales Company. Opens at the Film Forum.
Encounters at the End of the World - Directed by Wernor Herzog.
This fascinating, wildly entertaining documentary features the nature found in and around Antarctica?s McMurdo station, where only a 100 people live and spend their time studying their environment. The frozen, white landscape along with the surrounding buildings makes it all seem like it?s located on the moon, far from civilization. Surprisingly, the community does have a yoga center and an ATM for all of its scientists and researchers. Director Werner Herzog manages to take the mundane qualities of the Antarctic and make them quite offbeat, funny and strangely beautiful. Even the scientists who initially seem to lead boring lives, actually have a lot of interesting anecdotes to talk about regarding their many eccentricities and observations. For example, one individual spends leisure time, entertains crowds by contorting her body into a piece of luggage. Another person discusses how he gave up a life of banking to become a driver of the Ivan the Terra Bus?wittily, Herzog asks him if he were a taxi driver in the past. There?s also plenty of stunning visuals of the Antarctic nature, ranging from the icebergs to the pristine underwater life. If you ever wondered whether penguins might be gay or insane, now?s your chance to find out. Werner Herzog captures the shear beauty of the Antarctic landscape and notes how cathedral-like the images of the ice look from under water. No words can truly describe the feeling of watching G_d?s many wonders, especially in such a remote area. Wisely, Herzog points to the threat of global warming, but without being preachy?the existence of plants enshrined in a frozen structure for preservation speaks for itself. From start to finish, Encounters at the End of the World never ceased to amaze with many witty observations and breathtaking images that remind you that G_d is a true artist when it comes to nature. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by THINKfilm. Opens at the Film Forum.
Derek - Directed by Isaac Julien.
This mildly engaging, yet mostly dull documentary focuses on the life of artist/political activist Derek Jarman. After attending art school in London during the 60s, he found the innate strength to become a true artist. In the 70s and 80s, he wrote and directed unconventional, experimental films such as Caravaggio, Sabastiane and Edward II. When he learned that he was HIV positive, he had the courage to admit it to the public. That was around the time that Margaret Thatcher, a.k.a. ?The Iron Lady?, ruled the United Kingdom as prime minister who also belonged to the Conservative party. He became a political activist and, at age of 52, died of AIDS. Director Isaac Julien blends lots of footage of Derek Jarman from an early 90s interview which allows Derek to explain his life in his own words. Unfortunately, none of the interviews have enough intrigue or insight to keep you truly engaged. Footage of his good friend, Tilda Swinton, walking down the streets of London and occasionally narrating doesn?t add much and feels distracting from the overall momentum of the film. With more insight Derek Jarman (i.e. from an art historian) and more synthesis of all , Derek could have been as compelling, provocative and well-rounded as the recent documentaries about artists Dreams with Sharp Teeth and Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by The Film Sales Company. Opens at MoMA.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - Directed by Steven Spielberg.
In 1957, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) hunts for a mysterious Crystal Skull along with ancient buried treasure. Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), meanwhile, leads a group of Soviets who also want to find the skull and treasure, so she tries to force Indiana to give her his expert advice. Soon enough, Mutt (Shia LeBeouf) joins Indiana on his quest. The first hour of the plot has a terrific balance of humor, action, suspense and wittiness. Once Indiana and Mutt head to Peru on their adventure, the tone suddenly becomes a bit silly rather than humorous. At least still plenty of exciting, thrilling action to spare and, moreover, Indiana has a great quirky chemistry with Mutt. None of the plot?s details will be spoiled here, but it does get slightly convoluted and drags a bit in the middle of the second act. Fortunately, Director Steven Spielberg includes plenty of awe-inspiring scenery and CGI effects along with dazzling action sequences. None of them are particularly realistic and the more you think about them, the more ludicrous they become, but, then again, action adventures aren?t always meant to be true-to-life. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ultimately succeeds as an escapist, forgettable thrill ride and nothing more, as long as you?re willing to check your brain at the door and to suspend your disbelief for 2 hours. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Paramount Pictures.
Battle for Haditha - Directed by Nick Broomfield.
Ramirez (Elliot Ruiz) leads a platoon of U.S. Marines on a mission in Haditha, Iraq to retaliate a roadside bomb that killed one marine and left two others wounded. The Marines killed twenty-four Iraqis, including children, during the retaliation. Although the intense drama initially unfolds from the perspective of the Marines, it soon moves to the point of view of the insurgents who plant the roadside bomb. Then there are also scenes showing how an Iraqi family and other civilians react to all the events going on? it?s particularly infuriating how the U.S. Marines use aggressive force whenever invading their homes to hunt for potential terrorists. By observing the events from different perspectives, you?re immediately provoked into thinking about who?s truly good and who?s truly evil while, concurrently, the line between the two becomes more and more blurry. Writer/director Nick Broomfield uses the effects of cin?ma-v?rit? to hook you into the film as if it were all happening before your eyes like in a documentary. The utterly convincing performances from the entire cast, especially Elliot Ruiz, also helps to make it all seem very real. Fortunately, Broomfield doesn?t resort to preachy dialogue to convey his message that war is hell and, more importantly, that the U.S. government has been deceiving its own soldiers, as well as the public, that there?s a justified reason to go into war with Iraq. It?s quite maddening and sad the way that the mainstream media in the U.S. reports the events in an untrue, unethical way that paints the U.S. as the ?good guy?. Meanwhile, the Marines, who are essentially the U.S. government?s puppets, become the scapegoats for all the unjust violence as if they were the criminals. For that matter, what or who defines just violence as opposed to unjust violence? Most importantly, how can our own government deceive us about the truths of war and where the blame for its consequences should truly go to? Thanks to powerful, honest and eye-opening documentaries such as Battle for Haditha, the government can't always get away with lying/manipulating/deceiving the intelligent members of the public. That doesn't mean they won't continue to lie to us, though, as long as ignorant citizens and other sheep who take everything for granted continue to find a voice in this "democratic" country. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Hanway Films. Opens at the Film Forum.
Stuff and Dough - Directed by Cristi Puiu.
In Romanian with subtitles. Ovidiu (Alexandru Papadopol) accepts a job as a courier for Mr. Ivanov (Razvan Vasilescu) and embarks on a road trip at 10 AM with his friend, Vali (Dragos Bucur) and Vali?s girlfriend, Betty (Iona Flora), to deliver six mysterious boxes from Constanta to Bucharest by 2 PM sharp. Throughout the trip, the three young adults either bicker with one another or talk a lot and say very little. The only real dramatic tension occurs briefly when a red jeep follows them and, after they pull over on the road, the driver smashes their window and tries to hurt them before they escape. Writer/director Cristi Puiu, who also wrote and directed The Death of Mr.Lazarescu a few years after this directorial debut, has a knack for including dialogue that flows organically, which heightens the realism. Just because scenes feel realistic doesn?t mean they?re entertaining to watch, though. Unfortunately, not much stuff happens to hold your interest here. Too many scenes drag while the characters remain bland and poorly developed. A more imaginative screenplay with sharper dialogue would have helped to keep you thoroughly engaged rather than mostly bored by the lack of sufficient dramatic tension or any kind of tension for that matter. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by Mitropoulos Films. Opens at the Film Forum.
Alexandra - Directed by Aleksandr Sokurov.
In Russian with subtitles. Alexandra (Galina Vishnevskaya) visits her grandson, Denis (Vasily Shevtsov) at his army base where she struggles to adapt to the new environment. She observes many things about the base, as if she were an inspector, such as how they all live in filth without showering enough, the miserable heat and awful stenches. It?s clearly hard for her to find an oasis to rest her mind until she goes out to the marketplace to buy groceries and meets Malika (Raisa Gichaeva), a similarly warm and kind elderly woman who invites her into her home. Writer/director Aleksandr Sokurov takes his time to move the plot gradually and organically without any contrivances or over-the-top performances. What?s amazing is that even though there?s no real enemy in sight, there?s a sense of dream looming above all those soldiers as if something bad will happen eventually. Aleksandr Sokurov might as well have filmed the army base scenes in black-and-white given his use of washed-out colors which appropriately accentuates the starkness of the setting. By the time Alexandra is over, you will never want to set foot in such an almost horrifyingly bleak army base. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Entertainment Value: Moderately High. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by The Cinema Guild. Opens at the Film Forum.
Shotgun Stories - Directed by Jeff Nichols.
In a small Arkansas town, three unnamed brothers, Son (Michael Shannon), Boy (Douglas Ligon) and Kid (Barlow Jacobs), attend the funeral of their father who they all resent. When Son curses out his father and spits on his grave, it sets a chain of events that leads to a fight between them and their half-brothers, especially Mark (Travis Smith). What could have been an intense, gripping, character-driven film instead feels rather tedious and unimaginative with a sluggish pace that often drags. Raw performances by Michael Shannon, Barlow Jacobs and Travis Smith help to enliven up the plot a bit, but not enough to keep you truly engaged by the sluggish-moving plot. Writer/director Jeff Nichols does a decent job of creating a laidback atmosphere that highlights the quaintness of the small town, which seems like a character of its own. Scenes of silence, though, don?t always translate into something intrinsically deeper?here it just feels vapid and boring. It would have been helpful if Nichols had included some comic relief to counter the monotonous, serious tone as well as more organic dialogue to breathe some life into the dull characters. Number of times I checked my watch: 9. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by International Film Circuit. Opens at the IFC Center.
Meat Loaf: In Search of Paradise - Directed by Bruce David Klein.
This documentary focuses on the behind-the-scenes experiences of Meat Loaf throughout his 2007 world tour promoting the music DVD ?Bat Out of Hell III? for 18 months. Meat Loaf comes across as a neurotic and stubborn person, often ignoring his voice coach?s advice to get some sleep and not yell before a concert. His critics complain that his duet with a 28-year-old co-singer, Aspen Miller, while rubbing up against her makes him look like a creepy pedophile, but both Meat Loaf and Aspen Miller claim it?s not meant to be taken seriously. Director Bruce David Klein does a decent job of documenting what he does to prepare for concerts and how he reacts to them afterward. He wisely avoids excessive concert footage to focus more on Meat Load rather than his music. However, avid fans of Meat Loaf will feel slightly underwhelmed because Klein fails to include enough revelatory insight about Meat Loaf that gets into how his mind truly works. More interviews would have helped, especially after the 2007 world tour when he probably had more time to sit down and talk. Keep an eye out for a brief cameo by Dennis Quaid, a good friend of Meat Loaf who also knows how to rock on with a guitar. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Entertainment Value: Highly Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Voom HD Pictures, Atlas Media Corp., and 10th Street Entertainment. Opens at the IFC Center.
Blind Mountain - Directed by Li Yang.
In Mandarin with subtitles. Bai (Huang Lu), a college student, travels to a small village in northern China where De Gui (Yang Youan) forces her to either become his bride or pay a hefty amount of money which he paid for her. She repeatedly tries to escape through the surrounding mountains to try to return home to her father. When De Gui physically abuses Bai, it?s easy to hate him and, in turn, feel sorry for Bai. On the other hand, a young man (He Yunle) she meets at the village comes across sweet, kind and romantic. Her desperation to find freedom feels quite palpable from start to finish. Writer/director Li Yang does a great of creating a sense of stark realism throughout and moves the pace slowly so that you gradually absorb all the surroundings and get to know the characters without any contrivances. The location of the small village itself seems like a character given its remoteness from the rest of civilization?mountains surround the village all around as if trapping it and nearest big town is much more than just a walk away. Fortunately, a grounded performance by newcomer Huang Lu as Bai allows you to be totally immersed by the emotionally stirring and occasionally gripping drama that unfolds. At a running time of 102 minutes, Blind Mountain never overstays it welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Moderately High. Released by Kino International. Opens at the Film Forum.
Blindsight - Directed by Lucy Walker.
This documentary, about six blind Tibetan teenagers who find the courage to climb up a 23,000 ft. mountain, feels thoroughly captivating and awe-inspiring from start to finish. The teens belong to a school for the blind run by Sabriye Tenberken, who manages to convince Erik Weihenmayer, a blind man who had successfully climbed Mt.Everest, as a leader to guide them up Lhakpa Ri, the mountain adjacent to Mt.Everest. It?s amazing to watch as they trek out under freezing temperatures while climbing the steep, treacherous mountain. Director Lucy Walker includes breathtaking scenery along the way and, wisely, allows for some poignant scenes as you get to know the blind teenagers, such as one who reunites with his father after many years. Sabriye and Erik have very thought-provoking arguments about how far to push these blind climbers and whether or not to turn back. Some interviews with the teenage climbers as they go up the mountain would have been interesting rather than merely observing them with the camera. Blindsight ultimately highlights the power of courage, tenacity and hope in following whatever dreams you have in life. In turn, you?ll feel better about who you are as a person and, perhaps, find a purpose to your life which will make it feel truly fulfilled. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Robson Entertainment. Opens at the IFC Center.
Chop Shop - Directed by Ramin Bahrani.
12-year-old Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco) and his 16-year-old sister, Isamar (Isamar Gonzales) struggle to make a living together in Willet?s Point, a.k.a. the slums of Queens, New York near Shea Stadium. They both dream of refurbishing a dilapidated food truck to sell tacos in while Alejandro works at a ?chop shop?, an auto repair shop that uses stolen car parts. The drama between Alejandro and his sister somewhat escalates when he discovers what she really does when she goes out at night. Each actor hasn?t had experience acting in a film before, yet they?re all surprisingly convincing in their roles?in fact, the chop shop owner, Rob, is played by a realchop shop owner, Rob Sowulski. The setting of Willet?s Point becomes a character in itself, full of small details that make it seem like an uncivilized part of the world with lots of mud, filth, hard labor and poverty all around. Writer/director Ramin Bahrani has a knack for creating absorbing slices-of-life that flow like cinema verit?. Like with his last film, Man Push Cart, he wisely keeps many scenes understated without preachiness so that you become entranced by the film once you gradually get used to its characters, surroundings and small interactions which underscore a longing to escape poverty and to just survive the many hardships of daily life. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Koch Lorber Films. Opens at the Film Forum.
Ezra - Directed by Newton I. Aduaka.
Ezra (Mamoudu Turay Kamara), an African teen, is forced to join rebel militants as a child and kills entire villages including his own parents. Seven years later, he confronts his troubled past in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. His sister (Mariame N?Diaye) whose tongue was chopped off by rebels, recalls what she witnessed him doing during the attacks. Throughout Ezra?s experiences, he falls in love with Miriam (Mamusu Kallon), although two lack real chemistry together. Mamoudu Turay Kamara gives a decent performance in an otherwise by-the-numbers film that has brief moments of intensity, but lacks an emotional pull. Co-writer/director Newton I. Aduaka awkwardly blends in the courtroom scenes involving the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with flashbacks from Ezra?s experiences. It would have been sufficient to focus more attention on getting into the psyche of Ezra rather than on his actions, which are quite disturbing to watch. There?s simply not enough insight from Ezra?s point-of-view to allow you to feel truly engrossed by his important story. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by California Newsreel. Opens at the Film Forum.
Spiral - Directed by Adam Green and Joel David Moore.
When Mason (Joel David Moore), a lonely telemarketer, starts losing his mind when he befriends Amber (Amber Tamblyn), an upbeat employee at his job. His boss and so-called friend, Berkeley (Zachary Levi), only makes him feel even more disconnected to the real world. Joel David Moore, who can also be seen in The Hottie & the Nottie, has a much more interesting and complex role here and handles it quite convincingly without going over-the-top in his performance.Co-directors Adam Green and Joel David Moore do an impressive job of creating a hypnotic, somewhat chilling atmosphere through lighting, set design and sound effects which effectively parallel Mason?s descent into insanity. The tension truly builds once Amber discovers that he?s hiding something very disturbing in his desk drawers. The romantic relationship between them, though, feels a bit contrived and some scenes feel confusing even after the twisty, surprising third act. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Entertainment Value: Moderately High. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Anchor Bay Entertainment. Opens at Landmark Sunshine Cinema. DVD Release Date: February 19th, 2008.
The Silence Before Bach - Directed by Pere Portabella.
In Spanish, Catalan and German with subtitles. This semi-documentary incorporates the music of Bach through visuals and small narratives to show its timelessness. A truck driver delivers a piano while listening to Bach music and trying to convince his coworker to appreciate Bach. In another narrative, a tour guide discusses Bach in relation to St. Thomas? church. Director Pere Portabella?s decision not to be too informative about Bach makes this documentary a bit dull and tedious. At times, it feel like you?re watching Into Great Silence given the excruciatingly slow pace and some scenes that lack sound whatsoever, such as the opening scene. Unlike the recent documentary In Search of Mozart, there?s no narrator here to guide you along nor does anyone provide any interesting insights about Bach. So, unless you?re an avid fan of Bach and already familiar with his history, you?ll be underwhelmed and bored by The Silence Before Bach. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by First Run Features. Opens at Cinema Village.
First Sunday - Directed by David E. Talbert.
The Pirates Who Don?t Do Anything - Directed by Mike Nawrocki.
The Business of Being Born Directed by Abby Epstein.
Woman on the Beach -
The Killing of John Lennon- Directed by Andrew Piddington.
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