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Reviews for April 30th, 2010

Harry Brown

Directed by Daniel Barber.

Harry Brown (Michael Caine), an ex-Marine, recently lost his wife to cancer and now lives alone in an apartment complex. His apartment overlooks a pathway that leads to tunnel where local thugs gather. Those thugs are responsible for murdering Harry’s good friend, Leonard Atwell (David Bradley), whom he had often played chess with. Two police detectives, Alice (Emily Mortimer) and Terry (Charlie Creed-Miles), show up to investigate the murder by questioning Harry as well as some of the local thugs, but they don’t end up with any leads. Harry essentially focuses on his 2nd stage of grief: anger. Soon enough, he takes justice into his own hands by exacting revenge on the group of delinquent thugs for murdering Leonard. Watching Harry hunt down those thugs and shoot ‘em up one by one wouldn’t be such a guilty pleasure if it weren’t for Michael Caine’s terrific performance that’s reminiscent of his portrayal of Jack Carter in Get Carter. Harry has been through a lot throughout his life, including his wartime experiences, which have become a heavy burden for him, so his rage as a vigilante may not be legal or moral, but at least it makes sense given his mental state. Director Daniel Barber’s stylish lighting, colors and editing along with the musical score add to the overall grim and foreboding atmosphere. The plot does take a while to get going because screenwriter Gary Young includes a lengthy first act that finds Harry wallowing in his sorrow---that is, until he fearlessly kills his very first thug. From that point on, you’ll find yourself at the edge of your seat and cheering Harry on as he continues his revenge killings. Expect to be disgusted and shaken up by the behavior and appearance of some of the thugs, one of home looks so disfigured by his drug addiction that he looks like Frankenstein’s monster. At a running time of 1 hour and 37 minutes, Harry Brown manages to be a suspenseful, grim and unflinchingly brutal revenge thriller anchored by Michael Caine’s brave and captivating performance.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Samuel Goldywn Films.
Opens at the AMC/Loews Lincoln Square, AMC Empire 25 and Angelica Film Center.

The Human Centipede

Directed by Tom Six.
Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie ) and Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams), two friends from America on a European vacation in Germany, seek help in the middle of the night because their car breaks down as a result of a flat tire. They stroll into the woods where they notice an isolated villa in the distance. Little do they know that a sadistic ex-surgeon, Dr. Josef Heiter (Dieter Laser), resides. Upon arriving to his home, they don’t even realize that he’s behaving suspiciously cold and shady toward them, so they stupidly believe that he’ll actually call for assistance so that they could get back on the road again. He gives them each a glass of water which puts them to sleep and, soon enough, they wake up strapped to a bed in his basement. Another beds-strapped victim, Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura), a young Japanese man who doesn’t speak a word of English, can be found near them. Dr. Heiter explains to them in excruciating detail how he’s about to connect all three of them together via their gastric system to form the very first human centipede---he’s already made a dog centipede which he buried in his backyard. That explanatory scene is actually the most frightening one because it introduces very disgusting procedures that no sane human being would even want to imagine. Lindsay desperately tries, but fails to escape before the doctor re-captures him. Any intelligence audience member would already know by then whom among the victims will be the middle part of the centipede. Writer/director Tom Six decides not to include scenes which show the doctor actually connecting them together and, instead, just shows the initial part of the surgery which involves removing the knee cap. The rest of the film delves into how the doctor trains his new centipede how to feed itself and, eventually, how to walk. Those scenes come across as darkly comical and just plain disgusting. You’ll find a modicum of suspense as the centipede tries to escape and goes through a cat-and-mouse chase with the doctor, but it’s difficult to care about the centipede’s demise to begin with because the three victims have virtually zero backstory and seem dimwitted more often than not. Dieter Laser is very well-cast, though, as Dr. Heiter, because he looks very creepy, and, moreover, it’s a guilty pleasure to watch him give such a convincingly deranged performance that makes his sadistic role quite memorable. At a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, The Human Centipede manages to be disgusting and unnerving on a visceral level despite diminishing imagination and not nearly enough surprises. Dr. Josef Heiter is the new Hannibal Lecter.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by IFC Films.
Opens at the IFC Center.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Directed by Samuel Bayer.

Dean (Kellan Lutz) falls asleep at a diner and experiences a nightmare where a badly burned man with sharp blades on his fingers cuts him. Dean’s girlfriend, Kris (Katie Cassidy), witnesses him killing himself, but little does she know that the sadistic serial killer from his nightmare is pushing Dean’s hand as it holds the knife, thereby forcing him to slash his own throat. The same killer begins to terrorize Kris in her nightmares and, eventually, terrorizes her ex-boyfriend, Jesse (Thomas Dekker), Jesse’s friend, Quentin (Kyle Gallner), and Quentin’s classmate, Nancy (Rooney Mara), as well. Upon discovering some old photos, Nancy and Quentin discover the connection between them and the rest of the nightmare—plagued victims. They also learn that sadistic killer’s name is Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) and find out how he got burned-to-death to begin with. While the screenplay co-written by Wesley Strick and Eric Hesserer doesn’t offer anything particularly surprising or refreshing for that matter, at least its characters aren’t annoying to the extent that you’d want them to be killed. Sure, neither of them seems realistic or truly relatable, but they’re likeable and somewhat more intelligent than your average clueless horror victims. Director Samuel Bayer keeps the pace moving along briskly and includes stylish, slick cinematography and nifty special effects. Don’t expect a lot of gore, though. The real question is whether or not Jackie Earle Haley makes a good substitute for Robert Englund as the notorious Freddy Krueger. Krueger comes across as less horrifying this time around, although he’s still undeniably creepy and has some witty one-liners every now and then. A decent horror film should have some sort of an interesting backstory and not resort to just one kill after another with no rhyme or reason. Fortunately, this remake has a moderately intriguing backstory albeit one that’s far from profound or imaginative. Most scenes, such as one that takes place in a bathtub, bedroom and another in a school hallway, will please fans of the original film. At a running time of 1 hour and 35 minutes, A Nightmare on Elmstreet is mindlessly entertaining, slick and stylishly creepy albeit deficient in real surprises and visceral scares. It’s a cut above the recent slew of horror remakes.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

Please Give

Directed by Nicole Holofcener.

Kate (Catherine Keener) lives with her husband, Alex (Oliver Platt), and teenage daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele), in a nice Manhattan apartment. She and Alex search for recently bereaved people so that they could buy the deceased’s furniture to sell at their vintage furniture store for marked-up prices. On top of that they, bought the apartment of their elderly next door neighbor, Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), so they hope that she will pass away soon so that they’ll be able to expand their current apartment into hers. Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), one of Andra’s granddaughters, works as a radiologists and spends her time taking care of Andra. Amanda Peet plays Rebecca’s older sister, Mary, who works at a massage parlor. Everyone has their own problems they’re dealing with. Kate feels guilty about her wealth, so she gives a homeless man $20 and refuses to let her daughter buy expensive jeans. Alex yields to temptation by cheating on his wife upon receiving a massage from Mary at the spa. Let’s just say for now that he’s happy to see her in more ways than one as he lays on his back on the massage table. Rebecca struggles to deal with her stubborn grandmother while a romance blossoms between her and Eugene (Thomas Ian Nicholas), the grandson of one of her clients who sets her up with him. Mary stalks the girlfriend of her ex-boyfriend probably out of insecurity and jealousy. Finally, Abby feels ashamed and embarrassed of her zits, especially a big one on her nose, and desperately wants to change her wardrobe by purchasing very expensive jeans. Given so many characters and intersecting subplots, you would think that the film would be close to 3 hours long. Each character’s problems could easy be fleshed upon in an entirely separate film. Unfortunately, the screenplay by writer/director Nicole Holofcener gyrates very unevenly and too often between drama, comedy and romance to the extent that it doesn’t latch onto the right tone and, most importantly, it doesn’t find the right balance between those three genres. As such, it suffers from a sort of identity crisis because it often meanders while never quite succeeding in being truly engrossing/heartfelt as a drama and romance or funny and smart as a comedy. Holofcener populates the film with so many characters and never lets them breathe so that you can get to know them better and truly care about them, so you’ll find them remaining somewhat emotionally distant from you. What keeps Please Give afloat are the amusing moments that range from witty to dry humor, and, on top of that, the engaging performances, particularly by Rebecca Hall who shines with charisma and warmth as Rebecca, help to keep you marginally engaged as well. At a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, Please Give manages to be fleetingly amusing, charming and harmless with a terrific cast, but often meanders, lacks bite, and unevenly juggles comedy, drama and romance.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Sony Pictures Classics.
Opens at City Cinemas 1,2, 3, Regal Union Square 14 and AMC/Loews Linoln Square.

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