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Reviews for April 28th, 2010

The Duel

Directed by Dover Kosashvili.

Based on the short story by Anton Chekhov. In a quaint town by the seaside, Laevsky (Andrew Scott), a government official, lives with his married mistress, Nadya (Fiona Glascott), while her husband is away. Little does she know, at least for now, that he husband has died. During a meeting at a restaurant with his friend, Samoylenko (Niall Buggy), Laevsky asks him for advice about the best way to tell Nadya that he wants to leave her, especially before she learns about her husbandís death. Von Koren (Tobias Menzies), a zoologist, overhears that conversation and immediately develops an aversion toward Laevsky because of his sinful thoughts which cause him to look down upon him and, in turn, to challenge him to the titular duel. Laevsky, in the eyes of Von Koren, is an immoral, degenerate person whoís a stain on the human race not only for his plans to leave Nadya, but for compulsively gambling and drinking, which, not surprisingly, leads him to experience financial woes. If Von Korenís analysis of Laevsky were so accurate and simple, though, because Von Koren should speak for himself: he behaves arrogantly, inconsiderately and rudely toward Laevsky, so heís certainly no role model. The screenplay by Mary Bing fails to bring any of the characters to life because of stilted dialogue that often sounds awkward and inorganic, even given the colloquialisms of the late 19th Century. Itís worth mentioning, though, that the scenery, set designs, costumes and the choice colors adds some richness and vibrancy to the film, especially given the attention to intricate details all of which look authentic to that particular time period and, at times, feel breathtaking to admire on the big screen. Fiona Glascott gives a radiant, well-nuanced performance as the genuinely beautiful, graceful yet fragile and imperfect Nadya. Sheís the heart and soul of the film and, during her emotional breakdown in one particular scene, youíll find yourself somewhat sympathizing with her. At a running time of 1 hour and 35 minutes, The Duel manages to be a character-driven, sporadically tender drama filled with breathtaking scenery, exquisite production values and a radiant performance by the genuinely beautiful Fiona Glascott, but suffers from stilted, awkward dialogue that often keeps you at an emotional distance from ts flawed characters.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by High Line Pictures.
Opens at the Film Forum.

Ghost Bird

Directed by Scott Crocker.

This suspenseful and illuminating documentary follows the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a bird that scientists had labeled as extinct over sixty year ago. It may or may not still be extinct, depending on whom you believe. When a bird watcher canoes near the town of Brinkley, Arkansas, back in 2005, his video camera records what he believes to be an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The image, though, is a bit blurry, and thereís not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable and scientific doubt that itís truly the long-thought-extinct bird. Conversely, one canít safely conclude that it isnít extinct because, after all, just like Donald Rumsfeld once wisely stated (and whose brief clip is shown in the film), absence of evidence isnít evidence of absence. The potential reemergence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker causes a sensation in the town of Brinkley as bird watchers, tourists and the media flock there in hopes of finding that must-needed concrete, photographic evidence of the birdís existence. Director Scott Crocker offers well-balanced perspectives by interviewing a wide array of experts, ranging from a biologist, Dr. Jerome Jackson to Curator of Ornithology at Yale, Dr. Richard Plum to blogger Tom Nelson and to Nancy Tanner, wife of Ivory-billed Woodpecker expert Dr. James Tanner. Crocker also adds a bit of comic relief by showing the humorous ways in which the town of Brinkley adapted to the new media frenzy and the sharp rise in the number of visitors---in fact, a barber went to the extent of initiating hairdo which she called the ďWoodpeckerĒ while a hotel changed its name to Ivory-Billed Inn. Will someone be lucky enough to find concrete evidence of the bird once and for all? No matter what, youíre in for a suspenseful journey as everyone desperately searches for it while others continue to be skeptical. Audience members who arenít familiar with the species of bird will find it useful when the experts describe background information about the bird, especially when it comes to its unique physical features that distinguish it from similar birds, and how deforestation led to its potential extinction. At a running time of 1 hour and 25 minutes, Ghost Bird manages to be well-balanced, provocative, illuminating and suspenseful.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Small Change Productions.
Opens at the Anthology Film Archives.

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