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Reviews for April 22nd, 2009


Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield.

This enchanting, yet unenlightening nature documentary, narrated by James Earl Jones, shows breathtaking footage of a mammals and birds from around the planet. A mother polar bear emerges from hibernation with her two baby cubs in snow of the Antarctic. They travel together toward the sea in search of food. Watch as one of the cubs slips and slides up a steep, icy slope only to realize that it’s going in the wrong direction. A large number of Mandarin ducklings struggle to fly as they get out of their tree and fall, one after the other, onto a pile of leaves on the ground. What appear to be hundreds if not thousands of caribou migrate together. In another more darker and dramatic scene, lions and elephants fight near a watering hole. Then there’s a starving male polar bear desperate to kill a walrus cub while the adult walruses use their sharp tusks to fight back and defend the poor little cub. Co-directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield include plenty of dazzling, colorful visuals that please both your eyes and ears, but, when it comes to providing insight or any real surprises, it falls short. James Earl Jones’ booming voice sounds great, but often the narration itself sugarcoats what you’re watching in a way that makes it less dark which, in turn, makes it less realistic and honest. Some of the narration even feels too dumbed down and “cutesy”, even for little kids, much like in the similarly bland Arctic Tale. However, it doesn’t become preachy or hit you over the head with it’s the important message about global warming. At a running time of 90 minutes, Earth has lots of stunning visuals and wonders of nature to behold, but ultimately lacks insight and never really achieves the exhilarating heights and palpable poignancy of March of the Penguins.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2.
Released by Disneynature. Opens nationwide.

Treeless Mountain

Directed by So Yong Kim.

In Korean with subtitles. Jin (Hee Yeon Kim), six-years-old, and her younger sister, Bin (Song Hee Kim), move into the apartment of their aunt (Mi Hyang Kim), a.k.a. Big Aunt, located in another city, while their mother (Soo Ah Lee), sets out to find her estranged husband. It turns out that their alcoholic aunt doesn’t have the patience take care of them and, instead, treats them coldly. She gives them a little pink piggy bank and tells them that when it’s full, they should expect their mother to return. It’s quite interesting to observe how Jin and Bin use their youthful spirit and false sense of hope to escape boredom and survive both physically as well as mentally. They catch grasshoppers, cook them and sell them to local children at school in hopes of filling up their piggy bank. Bin befriends a handicapped boy whose mother warmly invites her and Jin to have a snack at her house, but that experience doesn’t come close to the bond they have with their beloved, but absent mother. Soon enough, by the request of their mother, Big Aunt sends them to their grandparents who live on a farm all the way out in the countryside of South Korea. Will Jin and Bin find a way to grow accustomed to their new surroundings without their mother present? Writer/director So Yong Kim has woven a simple, yet quietly absorbing and captivating drama that doesn’t resort to contrived moments, plot twists or melodrama as a means of keeping you engrossed and entertained. Many scenes have a “slice of life” feel, so-to-speak, and capture the young girls’ sadness with well-nuanced subtlety that doesn’t hit you over the head. The expert cinematography, which includes many close-up shots of Jin and Bin, adds some richness and liveliness to the film. Occasionally, though, the pacing gets slow to the point of dragging while there’s a little tedium to be found at times, especially since nothing that girls do generates any dramatic suspense or tension. Instead of focusing on plot tension, So Yong Kim captures, in understated ways, the feelings and thoughts that Jin and Bin experience together throughout their time away from their mother. Treeless Mountain occasionally drags, but it nonetheless manages to be a quietly engrossing, well-nuanced and sensitive drama filled with exquisite cinematography.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3.
Released by Oscilloscope Pictures. Opens at the Film Forum.

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