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Reviews for August 13th, 2010

Animal Kingdom

Directed by David Michôd.

*Full review coming soon*

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Sony Pictures Classics.
Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Eat Pray Love

Directed by Ryan Murphy.

Based on the best-selling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert. Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) works as a writer and lives with her husband, Stephen (Billy Crudup), a lawyer, in New York City. She falls out of love with him, divorces him, and moves in with her new, younger lover, David Piccolo (James Franco), an actor in an off-off-Broadway play. It’s not quite clear what she sees in him other than his good looks because when she first sees him onstage, she practically drools over him as if she were an immature, desperate teenager. Before you know it, she ends their relationship and decides to travel to Italy, India and Bali in hopes of discovering herself. Her good friend, Delia (Viola Davis), sums up her problems rather simplistically: she’s one of those women who married young, realized that she no longer dreams of living in a nice house with a picket fence, and now needs to go see a therapist. The long trip she’s about to embark on provides her with therapy through her experiences with food, prayer and love. In Italy, she learns how to fill a bathtub with water, makes new friends, tries to pronounce Italian words, and indulges in as much food as possible. The pasta dish she eats alone looks so viscerally scrumptious that it deserves to be nominated for a Best Supporting Role award. In India, she visits an ashram where she meets Richard (Richard Jenkins), a highly spiritual Texan man who nicknames her “Groceries” because she’s almost always eating. In Bali, she bonds with the very healer Ketut Liyer (Hadi Subiyanto) and falls in love with the charming Felipe (Javier Bardem), a Brazilian, divorced father whom she initially meets when he accidentally strikes her with his car while she rides on her bicycle. It’s clear that she sees him as a kind-hearted, wounded and charismatic man, but it’s far from clear what he actually sees in her to begin with. Their romance feels so hackneyed that you might want them to break up. Screenwriter Jennifer Salt together with director/co-writer Ryan Murphy make it difficult to like or even care about Liz because she comes across as a narcissistic, superficial and boring person. Julia Roberts smiles that iconic smile of hers so often that by the 130th time she shines it, it had already lost its magic. Diane Lane gave a much more convincingly moving, well-nuanced performance in Under the Tuscan Sun, a superior film which treads similar waters, but with a smarter script, less schmaltz and more comic relief. What never loses its magic, though, is the picturesque scenery wherever Liz goes. At a lengthy running time of 2 hour and 13 minutes, Eat Pray Love manages to be overlong, repetitive, too simplistic, and bland despite oodles of breathtaking scenery. It’s like a healthy dish that looks aesthetically pleasing, but lacks flavor and needs a more talented chef.
Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Columbia Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

The Expendables

Directed by Sylvester Stallone.

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) leads a team of mercenaries who go on a mission in South America where they must overthrow General Gaza (David Zayas), a ruthless dictator. The team includes Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Yin Yang (Jet Li) and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews). Another team member, Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) stays behind while the rest of his team goes to combat. Tool (Mickey Rourke) used to be part of the team and now works as a tattoo artist. Upon arriving in South America, they try to defeat another set of bad guys: James Monroe (Eric Roberts), a CIA agent who has gone rogue, and his tough sidekick, Paine (Steve Austin). Meanwhile, Barney flirts with a sexy woman, Sandra (Giselle Itié), who’s actually General Gaza’s daughter. How can you not love an action movie with characters that have names like Toll Road, Yin Yang, Paine and tool? Whenever director/co-writer Sylvester Stallone veers toward dramatic moments that try to give some background info about each member of the team, that’s when the film’s momentum briefly wanes. Fortunately, director/co-writer Stallone knows what action fans want because he keeps the pace moving briskly while overloading the film with plenty of explosions, gun fire and well-choreographed fights that provide an incredible rush of adrenaline. Some of the dialogue sounds so silly and stilted that you can’t help but laugh at it---then again, what kind of action fan cares about believable dialogue? Suspension of disbelief is a must in order to get the most bang for your buck from this kind of mindless entertainment. It’s fun to just sit back, forgive the inane, implausible plot, and just watch these macho action stars do what they do best: kick some ass. At a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes, The Expendables is a down and dirty action adventure, and the best escapist entertainment around. Check your brain at the door for non-stop rowdy, riotous and raucous fun.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Lionsgate.
Opens nationwide.

Neshoba: The Price of Freedom

Directed by Micki Dickoff and Tony Paganoi.

This provocative, well-balance and profoundly moving documentary focuses on the 2005 Neshoba County trial where the State of Mississippi indicted 80-year-old preacher Edgar Ray Killen for the murder of three civil rights activists, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, that had occurred back in 1964. The first 30 minutes or so of the documentary go into details about the events leading up to the three activists’ murders, a.k.a. “Mississippi Burning,” and how their bodies were found in the river, how their families had reacted. Chillingly, those who were responsible for the murders, namely Edgar Ray Killen, remained free for 41 years until, finally, they went through the wheels of the justice system just like they should have done in the first place. Co-directors Micki Dickoff and Tony Pagano wisely provide you with background information about the Mississippi Burning murders so that you not only grasp the narrative, but also feel the pain that the victims’ families went through as they reminisce and open up emotionally in front of the camera in present-day interviews. Dickoff and Pagano show you the horrors of those tragic events without resorting to euphemisms. If you’ve never been to the town of Philadelphia in Neshoba County, Mississippi before, you’ll be disgusted, shocked and even a bit angry to learn that the vast majority of townspeople are still racist to this very day. Discussing the issue of racism can get a local into serious trouble---and even death. It’s nearly miraculous that the co-directors managed to convince Edgar Ray Killen to be interviewed on camera and even more miraculous that he speaks so candidly. You’ll find yourself either laughing at how that kind of racist monster can live with himself and have the nerve to say that it’s acceptable for him to think that blacks and white shouldn’t mix together just like species of birds shouldn’t. How can his wife put up with such a man? Even though he explicitly states that he doesn’t want to kill black people, who’s to believe such a deranged, morally corrupt individual to begin with? If he wanted to kill black people, do you really think he’d tell us that? Fortunately, the co-directors don’t pass judgment onto him and, instead, let his own words and those of others, along with the outcome of the riveting trial, to speak for themselves. They even humanize him at times, such as when he’s going about his daily activities, i.e. chopping wood, and discuss how lucky he was for surviving an accident when a tree trunk fell on him. Someone in the town’s committee who’s not racist hits the nail on the head when he states that subtle forms of racism still exist today and deeply disturb him. Someone else later on suggests that the U.S. government should be worried first and foremost about racism, a form of terrorism, in its own country. To hear a Neshoba county policeman say that the KKK’s good outweighs their bad elements will make your ears bleed. Another triumph of the film is when it comes to how it balances the heavy, enraging and tragic subject matter with comic relief along with uplifting, inspirational messages to take with you that never become too preachy or corny. At a running time of 1 hour and 27 minutes, Neshoba: The Price of Freedom manages to be provocative, well-balanced, unflinchingly honest and profoundly moving with just the right amount of comic relief and non-preachy, inspirational messages.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by First Run Features.
Opens at the Cinema Village.

Peepli Live

Directed by Anusha Rizvi and Mahmood Farooqui.

*Full review coming soon*

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by UTV Motion Pictures.
Opens at the Village East Cinemas, Big Cinemas Manhattan and AMC Empire 25.

The People I've Slept With

Directed by Quentin Lee.

*Full review coming soon*

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by People Pictures and 408 Films.
Opens at the Chelsea Clearview Cinemas.

Salt of This Sea

Directed by Annemarie Jacir.

*Full review coming soon*

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Lorber Films.
Opens at the Quad Cinema.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Directed by Edgar Wright.

Based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Twenty-three-year-old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) lives with his gay roommate, Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin), in Toronto and plays bass guitar in a band called Sex Bob-omb. Mark Webber and Allison Pill play Steven and Kim, the other band members of the band. Scott dates a 17-year-old catholic high school girl, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), while still struggling to overcome a bad break-up with his former girlfriend-turned-rock-star Envy Adams (Brie Larson). When he meets the new girl in town, Ramona V. Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he instantly develops a crush on her and neglects Knives. In order to win Ramona over, though, he must defeat her seven ex-boyfriends in a one-on-one battle with each of them. Anna Kendrick plays Scott’s younger sister, Stacey, who provides advice for her brother. Fortunately, the often funny and imaginative screenplay by Michael Bacall and director/co-writer Edgar Wright balance whacky, tongue-in-cheek fantasy elements with a touch of realism that makes for quite a diverting adventure for you, the audience, as well as for Scott. Take, for example, Scott’s off-the-wall battle with one of Ramona’s exes, Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), a movie star who’s so annoyingly cocky that you’ll be happy to see Scott defeat him in a hilarious way that won’t be spoiled here. In another scene, when Scott has to fight off the “vegan police” along with another ex, Todd (Brandon Routh). Each defeat ends with some video game points shown on screen. To ground the film in some form of reality, Bacall and Wright give Scott and Ramona a character arc so that by the time the game…err…the film ends, they’ve each overcome their own weaknesses: Scott learns to toughen up and stand up for himself with more confidence while Ramona faces her many ex-boyfriends who are far from as sweet and nice to her as Scott is. Your sympathy for Scott will depend on how much you can tolerate Michael Cera’s performance as a socially awkward, soft-spoken character for the umpteenth time. He’s well-cast here, though, because he’s great at convincingly playing those kinds of characters, which makes it much funnier to watch the seemingly wimpy-looking Scott defeat Ramona’s tough-looking, evil exes. At a running time of nearly 2 hours, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is often funny, delightfully tongue-in-cheek, character-driven and wildly imaginative. It’s a refreshingly witty, diverting adventure that blends fantasy and realism while never taking itself too seriously.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Universal Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

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La Soga

Directed by Josh Crook.

At the age of ten, Luisito (Fantino Fernandez) lives in a poor neighborhood in the Dominican Republic where drug dealers control the streets. One day, he witnesses a brutal criminal, Rafa (Paul Calderon), viciously murdering his father (Nelson Baez), a butcher. Luisito has been bent on revenge against Rafa ever since that tragic day that haunts his memories. Twenty years later, Luisito (now played by Manny Perez) works for the head honcho of the Dominican Republic’s secret police, General Colon (Juan Fernandez). The General gives him an assignment to hunt down Rafa once and for all, a challenge that’s too irresistible for Luisito to turn down because of his thirst for revenge. As he kills more and more criminals on his path to find Rafa, he becomes a media sensation for all the killings and has a new nickname: La Soga. Meanwhile, he reunites with Jenny (Denise Quiñones), his childhood sweetheart whom he hasn’t seen since he was ten. Little does she know that he’s actually the notorious La Soga. Director Josh Crook along with screenwriter Manny Perez have woven a captivating, suspenseful thriller that offers some twists and turns Rafa becomes more paranoid about who to trust. Perez gives a strong performance that convincingly portrays Luisito as an angry, violent man tormented by the murder of his beloved father years ago. You’ll actually find yourself rooting for him because even though he crosses many moral boundaries, you can palpably sense and grasp, based on the environment and culture he grew up in, that he has no means of solving his deep-rooted problems other than by committing acts of violence. The film’s minor weaknesses include an excessive use of flashback sequences that become too distracting and irritating, and the contrived romance between the naive Jenny and Luisito. It’s worth mentioning that the terrific, pulsating musical score together with the stylish cinematography help to add to the intense mood. At a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes, La Soga manages to be a captivating, well-acted, intense and suspenseful thriller that suffers from excessive flashbacks and a contrived romantic subplot.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by 7-57 Releasing.
Opens at the Village East Cinema and AMC Empire 25.

Tales from Earthsea

Directed by Goro Miyazaki.

*Full review coming soon*

Number of times I checked my watch: 6
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Opens at the Angelika Film Center.

They Came to Play

Directed by Alex Rotaru.

This delightfully entertaining and inspiring documentary follows contestants from the Fifth International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, hosted by the Van Cliburn Foundation, as they compete in their piano skills for the top prize of $2,000. Each contestant who’s interviewed comes from a different cultural background and has a profession, such as real estate, internal medicine and professional tennis, that’s far from the field of piano. None of them have earned a living from playing the piano, but, when they’re at the piano, there’s virtually no difference between them and professional piano players who do actually earn a living because they seem passionate, skilled and enthusiastic while taking themselves seriously. Do you remember when a previously non-famous, seemingly amateurish singer named Susan Boyle astonished everyone with her amazing voice when she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” during the TV show Britain’s Got Talent? That’s the kind of reaction you’ll probably have when you listen to contestants start playing the piano here. They play a variety of classic music composed by great composers such as Beethoven which aren’t easy tasks to accomplish at all. Director Alex Rotaru skillfully blends lively interviews with the contestants in a way that humanizes them by bringing out their passion, joy, sadness and frustrations. Esfir Ross steals the show with her, charisma, abundance of energy and sense of humor which will make you laugh out loud at times. She could easily become a stand-up comedian if she wants to because of her impeccable comedic timing. Even the judges admit that they noticed how much she enjoys joy she radiates during her performance. In a few amusing anecdotes, one contestant states that he had played the piano with his toes during his early childhood, another contestant’s page turner leaves her crucial music notes behind, and, in yet another anecdote, a technician explains how the piano’s bench became wobbly during the competition and needs to be fixed before someone breaks it completely and injures him/herself. The many rounds of the competition itself will have you at the edge of your seat as you cheer for whomever you choose to root for. Even if the contestant you chose doesn’t end up winning, you’ll still feel overjoyed by the fact that they gave it their best shot and, most importantly, turned their passion for piano-playing into something beautiful and magical. At a running time of 1 hour and 31 minutes, They Came to Play is delightfully entertaining, heartfelt and inspirational. It will keep you at the edge of your seat while making you cheer, laugh and feel genuinely awestruck by the sheer beauty of each piano performance.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Area23a and 88 Films.
Opens at IndieHouse Cinema.

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