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Reviews for April 25th, 2008

Baby Mama
- Directed by Michael McCullers.

Kate (Tina Fey), a single businesswoman, discovers that she’s infertile, so she hires Angie (Amy Poehler) to be her surrogate. Greg Kinnear plays Kate’s love interest, Rob, while Steve Martin has a small role as the quirky owner of the organic food store chain where Kate works at. The most fun scenes to watch are those where Angie and Kate play off of each other’s differences: Angie is unmannered, ditzy and dumb while Kate is serious, uptight and well-mannered. Most of the comedic attempts fall flat from either being too forced, repetitive or just plain juvenile. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s chemistry slightly enlivens the dull plot, though. Writer/director Michael McCullers combines drama, romance and comedy with awkward transitions that simply don’t allow the film to gel. He should have included more smart, witty dialogue rather than insulting the audience with old, inane jokes and moments that feel contrived. Anyone expecting insights about motherhood or friendship won’t take anything away from Baby Mama while those expecting to laugh and have some light, diverting entertainment will be somewhat underwhelmed and disappointed. Released by Universal Pictures. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Universal Pictures.

Bomb It
- Directed by John Reiss.

This hip, engaging documentary traces the history of graffiti and how it has evolved. Way back in the 1960’s, an artist known as Cornbread initiated the graffiti movement by spraying graffiti (a.k.a. bombing and tagging) throughout Philadelphia. More and more artists in many parts of the world decided to find the freedom through graffiti while, concurrently, going against authority. Director John Reiss takes his camera globally as artists from Săo Paulo, Tokyo, Paris and South Africa where graffiti artists discuss how important “tagging” is to them and what it means within their culture. Even though Reiss doesn’t delve deeply enough into the life of each artist so that you’d get to know them, at least he gives them a voice which allows them to express the way they truly feel and to debunk any stereotypes that label them as mere punks, rebels or anarchists. These artists not only risk getting arrested, but their own lives are at stake whenever they scale buildings and climb onto trains. Some people think that adding graffiti to public property defaces it while others believe it brings out its liveliness and energy. The truly interesting question, which doesn’t quite have an insightful/informative answer here, is whether or not graffiti artists are channeling their aggressions through graffiti productively or not. Should graffiti be considered as art just like any other kind of artwork? Regardless of where you stand on the issue of graffiti, you’ll be thoroughly entertained by Bomb It. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Antidote International Films, Inc. Opens at Cinema Village.

- Directed by Marcel Langenegger.

When Jonathan (Ewan McGregor), an accountant, befriends a lawyer, Wyatt (Hugh Jackman) and falls in love with a seductive call girl who just goes by the name of S (Michelle Williams), his life suddenly becomes chaotic and mysterious as he discovers that Wyatt and S aren’t what they seem to be. The precise twists and turns of the plot will not be revealed here, but it’s worth mentioning that once S disappears, the film’s atmosphere feels much like that of a David Lynch film. Ewan McGregor has the acting chops to make his character quite appealing as does the charismatic, sexy Michael Williams. Their sex scenes together are quite steamy and erotic—be sure to keep an eye out for a brief erotic scene between Wyatt and an older call girl played by Charlotte Rampling, who adds some gravitas. It’s both intriguing and suspenseful to watch whenever Wyatt plays all sorts of tricky mind games with Jonathan as the plot progresses. The screenplay by Mark Bomback has a fair share of smart twists, but eventually they become gimmicky and implausible which makes the plot a bit preposterous and convoluted. Fortunately, director Marcel Langenegger knows how to work the camera to add some slick visuals and stylish editing which helps to build more tension before it ultimately fizzles out. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by 20th Century Fox.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
- Directed by Jon Hurwitz and Jay Schlossberg.

Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) end up in a Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorists after they bring a bong onto an airplane which everyone thinks is a bomb. Upon their escape from Guantanamo, they go on a wild adventure to prove their innocence. They meet up again with Neal Patrick Harris who, of course, smokes up a joint with them as they run away from the law. Avid fans of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle will be pleased to know that this sequel has plenty of sex, drugs, nudity and toilet humor just as expected. Co-writers/directors Jon Hurwitz and Jay Schlossberg pile on so many jokes, ranging from politics to ethnicity, that at least some of them manage to be laugh-out-loud funny while others fail to pack a real punch. Fortunately, John Cho and Kal Penn have the same hilarious chemistry together that they had in the first film. Harold and Kumar aren’t quite the Cheech & Chong of this generation, but they certainly come close enough to draw comparisons. Watching them behaving stupidly and irresponsibly is quite amusing, even if it requires you to suspend your disbelief and check your brain at the door. Be sure to stick around after the end credits for an additional scene. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by New Line Cinema.

Strandard Operating Procedure
- Directed by Errol Morris.

This well-edited, yet unsurprising documentary treads the same water as last year’s Taxi to the Darkside by showing the inhumane torture and abuse of suspected terrorists at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Members of the Military Police Company who worked at the jail explain in interviews how they were poorly trained to interrogate the prisoners and were merely following orders. Some of the interviews, photos and re-enacted footage are quite moving and maddening to watch and listen to. However, director Errol Morris goes overboard with excessive style, but too little substance. More intriguing interviews with government officials at a higher level of power could have illuminated new insights rather than repeat old, obvious facts with not enough synthesis. At a running time of 117 minutes, Standard Operating Procedure occasionally drags and overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Up the Yangtze
- Directed by Yung Chang.

This fascinating documentary focuses on the harmful effects of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China. Young men and women working aboard a luxury tourist boat on the Yangtze describe the many problems their families face because of all the flooding caused by the dam. Many impoverished civilians must work overtime to support their family who might be displaced very soon, like many others, by the flooding. Like the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, the same could be said for the image of flood waters swallowing up land and homes built on it. Instead of angrily pointing fingers at politicians and others, director Yung Chang wisely allows the frustration to come from the many images, sight and observing the way that local civilians respond to the ongoing crisis. It’s quite a poignant way to open your eyes to a very critical environmental, economical and social problem going on in China which has to be solved immediately. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by First Run Features. Opens at the IFC Center.

Without the King
- Directed by Michael Skolnik.

This compelling and informative documentary focuses on how King Mswati III neglects many important social and economical issues where he reigns, Swaziland, the only the country in the world that remains an absolute monarchy. King Mswati, whose father had a total of 110 wives, has 12 wives, too many cars, a huge, luxurious home and even has the money travel by a private jet. Meanwhile, the rest of the country suffers from extreme poverty, diseases such as HIV/AIDS and social unrest. The images of impoverished, malnourished young kids in Swaziland will break your heart, especially the way their government neglects them. At least they look Through insightful interviews with the King himself and one of his daughters, Princess Sikhanyiso, as well as many civilians in Swaziland, it’s clear that the country has many serious problems, especially regarding the constant threat of an uprising against the King. Princess Sikhanyiso spends her time trying to assimilate to the different culture in America while attending college in Los Angeles. She, unlike her father, acknowledges that there are big problems in her native country, although it’s a little over simplistic when she claims that she’ll improve the status quo in Swaziland. If only it were that simple for her because in order to do that, she’d have to rebel against her own greedy, power-hungry father. From start to finish, Without the King will not only keep you amazed and riveted, but will open your eyes to its many social, political humanitarian and economic issues plaguing the world’s only absolute monarchy, Swaziland. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by First Run Features. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

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