Reviews for April 16th, 2010
The City of Your Final Destination
Directed by James Ivory.
Based on the novel by Peter Cameron. An Iranian-American graduate student at Colorado University, Omar Razaghi (Omar Metwally), must persuade the family of Uruguayan novelist Jules Gund to give him the authorization to write a biography about the deceased novelist. His girlfriend, Deirdre (Alexandra Maria Lara), urges him to travel all the way to Uruguay, uninvited, to the Gund estate even though he had received a letter denying him the authorization. Upon his arrival at the countryside estate, Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg), Gund’s former mistress, greets him and lets him stay there temporarily. He also meets Gund’s brother, Adam (Anthony Hopkins), Adam’s gay lover, Pete (Hiroyuki Sanada), and Gund’s widowed wife, Caroline (Laura Linney), who initially treats him with hostility. Adam gives him the approval write the biography under one condition: Omar must smuggle jewelry out of the country. Arden warms up to him as well and, gradually, falls in love with him which threatens his relationship with Deirdre. Guess who shows up out-of-the-blue just as they’re in love with one another? The screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala takes its time to unfold as Omar gets to know the members of the Gund residence and gains their trust. Gradually, Omar learns more and more about the life of Jules Gund as he listens to them reminiscing about their memories of him. That story alone would have been more interesting than watching this one centered on Omar who’s a rather boring, dull and forgettable character. Perhaps an actor with more charisma and betters skills at handling nuances should have played him instead because Omar Metwally’s performance is simply too wooden and bland to bring the protagonist to life. Everyone else around Omar, though, gets their own moment to shine, especially the reliable-as-always Laura Linney who has a few moving scenes. The underrated actress Norma Aleandro also shows up to steal some scenes albeit rather briefly. Director James Ivory moves the film along at a leisurely pace that occasionally drags, but at least it allows you to take in all of the beautiful, lush scenery and the exquisite set designs. With tighter editing, better pacing and sharper, less contrived dialogue, you would have felt more engrossed and immersed into the story rather than remaining at such a cold distance. At a running time of 1 hour and 54 minutes, The City of Your Final Destination is an overlong, strained and poorly-paced drama with that suffers from Omar Metwally’s bland performance and excessive style over substance. It can’t be saved by an otherwise terrific cast, beautiful scenery and exquisite production values. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Screen Media Films. Opens at the Paris Theatre.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Directed by Bansky.
This wildly entertaining documentary, narrated by Rhys Ifans, follows the shifting dynamics between French shop keeper/amateur videographer Thierry Guetta and the notorious street artist Bansky. Guetta is so obsessed with using his video camera that he records almost everything non-stop, everywhere, including such footages a toilet flushing. He’s mostly interested in capturing street artists at work, so when he discovered that one of his cousins happens to be a street artist that goes by the name of Space Invader, he traveled all the way to Los Angeles with his camera to capture him on the streets. While at a Kinko’s, he befriended and earned the trust of another street artist, Shepard Fairey, who let him follow him around the city as he illegally hung up his artwork and even gave him the task of finding good locations for the art. Fairey’s the artist responsible for designing the stylish “Hope” poster with Obama’s face on it. Even though Guetta shot a lot of footage of many street artists, he still hadn’t met the one artist he had always wanted to film: Bansky. When he finally got that opportunity and tells Bansky that he’s making a documentary out of all the footage, Guetta squanders career as a documentarian because Bansky viscerally hated the version of the film that he had seen. That’s the point at which Exit Through the Gift Shop becomes a refreshingly twisted and unpredictable documentary. Guetta suddenly decided to become a street artist himself, under the pseudonym Mr. Brainwash, and, on top of that, opened up his own gallery showcasing his artwork in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Bansky, whose voice remains altered and face in a shadow to hide his true identity from the audience, points the camera at Guetta to film his every move. To explain what happens as Guetta struggles to open up his gallery would be to spoil all the fun and excitement. You don’t have to be fan of street art to be totally immersed in this documentary because the artists onscreen are filled with lots of charisma, a sense of humor and candidness. At a running time of 1 hour and 27 minutes, Exit Through the Gift Shop manages to be a wildly entertaining, funny, suspenseful and invigorating documentary regardless of whether you’re a fan of street art or not.Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Producers Distribution Agency. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Directed by Matthew Vaughn.
Based on a comic strip by Mark Millar and John S. Romita Jr. 14-year-old Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a comic book geek who’s bullied at school, decides to don a superhero costume and fight crime just like a superhero would. A near-death experience during a confrontation with criminals sends him to the hospital, but ends up being a blessing in disguise because he ends up with metal plates in his bones which boost his strength. He dubs himself with the pseudonym “Kick-Ass” and quickly becomes a media sensation---he even creates his own Myspace page where anyone can give him assignments to fight crime by posting on the website. Soon enough, he meets and teams up with two more aspiring superheroes, namely, Damon Macready (Nicholas Cage) a.k.a. Big Daddy and his 11-year-old daughter, Mindy (Chloë Grace Moretz) a.k.a. Hit-Girl, to kill a mafia kingpin Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong) who’s responsible for murdering Damon’s wife. In a very amusing turn of events, Frank’s son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), dons a superhero costume as well and dubs himself as “Red Mist.” Director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn blends deftly action, comedy and social commentary with so much fun, excitement and thrills that you’re always left hungry for more. Sure, there’s plenty of violence and blood spilled, but it’s all very stylized much like in Kill Bill, so won’t be grossed out or repulsed. The plot does take its time to kick into full gear because the first act delves the social life of Dave, but once he’s out of the hospital, the film picks up momentum and never loses it. Fortunately, Vaughn films the action without using pretentious or shaky camera techniques, so you’re actually able to follow what’s happening without experiencing nausea. The real surprise here, though, is the scene-stealing Chloë Grace Moretz who you might recognize from 500 Days of Summer. She has so many witty lines of dialogue as Hit-Girl and, on top of that, you’ll find it a lot of fun to watch her fight during the many unforgettable action scenes, none of which will be spoiled here. At a running time of just under 2 hours, Kick-Ass is an exhilarating, brilliant and outrageously funny thrill ride. It’s one of the most wildly entertaining, rousing and crowd-pleasing action films of the season. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Lionsgate. Opens nationwide.
No One Knows About Persian Cats
Directed by Bahman Ghobadi.
In Persian with subtitles. Two close friends, Négar (Negar Shaghaghi) and Ashkan (Ashkan Koshanejad), recently released from prison in Iran, decide to form an indie rock band in hopes of performing gigs in Europe because the Iranian government has banned Western music in Iran. They not only need to scout for musicians to join their band while evading the authorities, but also to get visas and passports so that they could travel abroad. Those goals become rather arduous for them because good musicians are hard to find and visas to Europe are very expensive. So, with the help of DVD bootlegger Nader (Hamed Behdad) who joins them as their band manager, Négar and Ashkan struggle to form their band and, in a very amusing scene, travel to a farm where they observe musicians performing in a cow barn---and there’s some reaction shots from the annoyed cows. Director/co-writer Bahman Ghobadi takes a seemingly simple and thin premise and turns it into a complex, moving and very honest drama about these young, aspiring musicians who risk their lives to follow their passion for performing rock music. It’s quite refreshing and unique to watch such a story unfold because there aren’t any narrative films around nowadays that depict and illuminate the struggles that underground musicians go through in Iran day by day without resorting to euphemisms. This particular story represents a microcosm of the ordeals that transpire for many other aspiring artists there. Most importantly, Ghobadi deftly adds a touch of comic relief to ease the heaviness of the dramatic scenes which get slightly heavier and heavier in tone as the plot progresses. It’s also interesting to note the symbolism found in the film’s title because, in ways that become clearer in one brief, but harrowing scene, Négar and Ashkan share similarities with the cats or even dogs in Iran which, according to the law, must remain indoors, hidden from the outside world. Thanks to the sensitive screenplay and convincing performances, Négar, Ashkan and Nader each come across as true-to-life characters who are appealing and, especially when it comes to Nader, charismatic, so there’s never a contrived or bland moment to be found. At a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes, No One Knows About Persian Cats is genuinely poignant, compelling and unflinchingly honest with just the right balance of dramatic tension and comic relief. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by IFC Films. Opens at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Pornography: A Thriller
Directed by David Kittredge.
Mark Anton (Jared Grey), an ex-porn star, meets his manager, Billy (Nick Salamone), who persuades him to allow a mysterious fan of his interview him on camera for $40,000. He had not been found ever since that interview where something sinister may or may not have occurred to him. 14 years later, Michael Castigan (Matthew Montgomery), a writer doing research for his book about the history of pornography, investigates to disappearance of Mark after discovering a snuff film hidden in the walls of his new apartment that he moves into with his boyfriend, William (Walter Delmar). The images in the video show Mark strapped down and being tortured to death by an unknown assailant, but the video itself isn’t in good condition, so he goes to video store that sells porno films and tries to get it fixed there. In the third and final plot strand, a porn star-turned-filmmaker Matt Stevens (Pete Scherer), writes , directs and stars in his directorial debut film entitled The Mark Anton Story. Strange occurrences slow down the production as Matt must grapple with what’s real and what’s not. Writer/director David Kittredge has woven an intricate, complex mystery that’s somewhat convoluted and elliptical to the point of being frustrating at times, but, for the most part, it remains intriguing and suspenseful. He blurs the line between reality and fantasy in a way that’s clever at times because it requires you to pay close attention to particular details and lines of dialogue, one of which is repeated toward the end as a reminder of its significance. Pornography isn’t a thriller in the conventional sense because there’s no cat-and-mouse chases or formulaic, pedestrian solutions to the mystery. The mystery becomes so tangled up within the border of reality and fantasy that you’re left with more and more questions than answers as it progresses and, concurrently, you’ll find yourself re-interpreting earlier scenes from a whole new perspective. It’s also worth noting that the editing and cinematography itself is quite stylish and adds a visual richness to the film. At a running time of 1 hour and 53 minutes, Pornography: A Thriller manages to be frustratingly elliptical and slightly convoluted, but unconventionally and intriguingly structured enough to maintain suspense amidst its tangled web of blurred realities.Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by Triple Fire Productions. Opens at the Cinema Village.
The Secret in Their Eyes
Directed by Juan José Campanella.
In Spanish with subtitles. Based on the novel by Eduardo Sacheri. Benjamin Espósito (Ricardo Darín), a retired investigator at a criminal court, decides to write a novel based on an unsolved crime that had been committed twenty-five years ago. He visits the judge, Irene (Soledad Villamil), who worked with him as his supervisor on the murder case back then. She also happens to be his love interest. As a writes the novel, he recalls the events surrounding the investigation of the murder and rape of a young woman. Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), his best friend and colleague at the time, teamed up with him to try to solve the case. None of intricate details of the murder mystery will be revealed here because to spoil the surprises and twists would be to ruin all the intrigue and suspense. Director/co-writer Juan José Campanella shifts back and forth between the older, gray-haired version of Benjamin as he’s struggling with his memories of the investigation and the younger version of him as he’s investigating the case. Campanella deftly blends drama, mystery, suspense, romance and even a little comedy along the way. There are so many layers to the plot that it might take multiple viewings to appreciate each one. Ricardo Darín gives a warm, heartfelt and charismatic performance as the likable Benjamin. Benjamin gently shows his affection toward Irene when they were working together, so, fortunately, that subplot never distracts from the film’s momentum as a mystery/thriller. In one particularly captivating, unforgettable scene that will probably have you at the edge of your seat, he and Sandoval go on a foot chase of the fleeing killer at a stadium. The Secret in Their Eyes, winner of the 2010 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, is an above average crime thriller because it has a solid beginning, middle and end with suspenseful scenes and believable characters throughout as well as an ending that takes you by surprise while, in retrospect, stays within the logic and reason of the film’s context so that it doesn’t veer toward silliness or preposterousness. At a running time of 2 hours and 7 minutes, it manages to be a riveting, unconventionally intelligent and engrossing murder mystery boasting solid performances and a delicate balance of intrigue, thrills, romance and comedy. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.