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Reviews for April 15th, 2011

The Conspirator

Directed by Robert Redford

      Robin Wright gives a brave, convincingly moving performance as Mary Surratt a mother of two who stands accused of being a co-conspirator in the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Little did she know that her son, John (Johnny Simmons), who's hiding out, actually belonged to the group of conspirators. Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), her lawyer, must defend her so that she doesn't get wrongfully hanged for the crimes that her son committed. Danny Huston plays the arrogant prosecutor Joseph Holt, Evan Rachel Wood plays Mary's daughter, while Alexis Bledel shows up as Frederick's wife who doesn't quite approve that her husband has taken Mary's side.

      The screenplay by James Solomon feels a bit pedestrian at times and could have had smoother transitions between scenes as well as more organic dialogue. What saves The Conspirator from losing its dramatic momentum, though, are the strong performances along with Robert Redford's impeccable skills as a director given the terrific cinematography and production designs that enrich the the film.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Roadside Attractions.
Opens nationwide.

The Double Hour

Directed by Guiseppe Capotondi

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Opens at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Landmark Sunshine Cinemas.

The First Beautiful Thiing

Directed by Paolo Virzi

      Bruno (Valerio Mastandrea), a college professor, awakens while stoned in a park on his birthday. He returns to his apartment where he lives with his girlfriend, Sandra (Fabrizia Sacchi). Something’s the matter with him psychologically, but it’s not immediately clear what those issues might be. His sister, Valeria (Claudia Pandolfi), whom he tries to avoid, arrives at his workplace to inform him that their mother (Stefania Sandrelli) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has very little time to live. She persuades him to visit her. When he reaches the hospice, he begins to recall the experiences from his childhood which have shaped the way he is today during his adulthood.

      Writer/director Paolo Virzi along with co-writers Francesco Bruni and Francesco Piccolo have woven a tender, sensitive screenplay that blends drama and tragedy with just the right amount of comedy. It’s often very difficult to integrate flashback sequences effectively within a narrative, but, in this case, those scenes which show Bruno’s younger years growing up with his mother, sister and father, fit in smoothly while holding your interest . The more you observe Bruno’s past, the more curious you’ll be to learn more about it. The same can be said for the evolving dynamics between him, his sister and mother which gradually become clear. Each and every member of the cast gives a solid, convincingly moving performance, so you’ll find yourself engrossed in both the present-day story as well as the past one. Bruno’s revelations and epiphanies aren’t particularly profound or surprising for that matter, but, on a positive note, none of the moments during which Bruno comes to terms with his past and bonds with his mother veer toward melodrama or corniness. At a running time of just under 2 hours, The First Beautiful Thing, Italy’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film, manages to be a tender, captivating and well-acted drama abundant in humor and heart.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Palisades TartanEntertainment.
Opens at the Angelika Film Center.

Fly Away

Directed by Janet Grillo

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by PMKBNC and New Video.
Opens at the Village East Cinema.

The Princess of Montpensier

Directed by Bertrand Tavernier

Based on the short story by Madame de La Fayette. In French with subtitles.

      In France 1562, during the religious war between the Protestants and Catholics, Marie de Mézières (Mélanie Thierry), an aristocrat, truly loves Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel), her cousin and friend since childhood. However, her father, Marquis of Mézières (Philippe Magnan) promises the Duke of Montpensier (Michel Vuillermoz) that the Philippe (Grégoire Leprince Ringuet), the Prince of Montpensier, will marry her. She becomes his wife while secretly seeing Henri de Guise on the side. Concurrently, the Count of Chabannes (Lambert Wilson) falls in love with Marie when he looks after her while Philippe fights away in battle. The Duke eventually marries Catherine (Judith Chemla), Henri’s younger sister who’s now Marie’s mother-in-law which only complicated matters.

      Despite a few rousing action scenes of swashbuckling, there’s really not that much to keep you truly captivated here. The romantic elements of the plot feel contrived mostly because Mélanie Thierry gives a bland performance. She lacks the requisite charisma to carry the film as a leading lady which, in turn, leads to a lack of chemistry between Marie and Henri. Whenever she’s with Philippe or the Count of Chabannes instead of Henri, you won’t feel any kind of heartbreak or shed any tears that you might have done if there were indeed chemistry to found. On a purely aesthetic level, the film looks appropriate to its time period thanks to director/co-writer Bertrand Tavernier’s exquisite use of set designs, lighting and costumes which certainly help to add much-needed layers of richness and authenticity to the film. At an excessive running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes, The Princess of Montpensier is fleetingly rousing with impressive production values. It’s often lackadaisical and contrived with a bland performance by the beautiful, but uncharismatic Mélanie Thierry.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by IFC Films.
Opens at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

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