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Reviews for August 15th, 2008

Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer
- Directed by Robby Cavolina and Ian McCrudden.

This lively yet incomplete documentary charts the career of Anita O’Day, a jazz singer who gained fame in the 1940s. She struggled with many obstacles throughout her career, such as alcoholism. Also, she divorced four husbands and suffered from drug addiction which got her sent into prison for a few years. Co-directors Robby Cavolina and Ian McCrudden include well-edited, stylish cinematography, but they don’t delve into any of the darker sides of Anita O’Day which would have made the film much more provocative and compelling. Instead, they merely provide the chronological facts and scratch the surface about her rising career in the world of jazz. Just by watching the many archival clips of her singing, it’s clear that she has plenty of talent and passion in her voice. Interestingly, one of the interviewees claims that considers her more of a musician than a singer. Footage from her interviews with Bryant Gumble and Dick Cavett along with more recent interviews from a few years ago, help to show her vibrant, articulate and charismatic personality. Sociopsychologist Erving Goffman once stated that everyone has a life “backstage” (personal) and “frontstage” (impersonal). In Anita O’Day there’s simply not enough insight or revelations about her personal life “backstage”. As such, it serves as a mildly fascinating introduction to a very talented singer/musician who deserves a much more well-rounded tribute. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by Palm Pictures. Opens at the Cinema Village.

Fly Me to the Moon
- Directed by Ben Stassen.

In 1969, three young houseflies, Nat (voice of Trevor Gagnon), IQ (voice of Philip Bolden) and Scooter (voice David Gore), hitch a ride to the moon on the Apollo 11 spacecraft. Meanwhile, Nat’s grandpa (voice of Christopher Lloyd) stays home on planet Earth along with his mother (voice of Kelly Ripa). Although the CGI-animated flies look unexpectedly adorable and cute, there’s not much going to entertain its target audience of little kids. The screenplay by Domonic Paris includes many failed attempts at generating real humor, wit or even visual gags while leaving a painful dullness and tedium that lasts from first frame to last. Sometimes a CGI films can be mildly engaging as long it has great visuals and sound. However, director Ben Stassen fails to impress your eyes or ears with subpar sound design and mediocre animation. Worst of all, because the film is presented in 3-D and requires complimentary 3-D glasses, it will take your eyes a while to adjust to the images and will lead to eye strain and nausea. On the bright side, at least Fly Me to the Moon isn’t as consistently nauseating and amateurish as Happily N’Ever After, but it does make the recent Space Chimps look like a masterpiece by contrast. If you do happen to be awake by the end of the film, be sure stay for a clip showing Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon during the real Apollo 11 mission. Number of times I checked my watch: 12. Released by Summit Entertainment.

A Girl Cut in Two
- Directed by Claude Chabrol.

In French with subtitles. Based on a true story. Gabrielle (Ludivine Sagnier), a sexy young woman working as a weathergirl, falls in love with two different men: Paul (Benoit Magimel), a wealthy young man close to her age, and less wealthy married man, Charles (François Berléand) old enough to be her father. When she isn’t playing with the men’s hearts, they play with her’s. As the plot progresses, it’s clear that Gabrielle lacks the required agility to balance two lovers, although she doesn’t really project her weakness in the eyes of men. Director/co-writer Claude Chabrol does a decent job of breathing life into the character of Gabrielle so that you can sense her fragility and feel sorry for her. Ludivine Sagnier’s powerfully seductive performance also helps to keep you somewhat absorbed. However, the screenplay itself lacks imagination and surprises, making the plot feel slightly tedious. Intelligent viewers will be able to figure out most of what occurs from the first scene when Chabrol throws in a not-so-subtle foreshadow. Once the inevitable event occurs later in the second act, the film becomes contrived and convoluted. Moreover, it’s very redundant and unnecessary to actually show a scene when Charles saws Gabrielle into two halves during a magic show. With a more intelligent, intricate and imaginative script, A Girl Cut in Two could have been so much more riveting and emotionally resonating rather than somewhat bland and underwhelming. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by IFC Films. Opens at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Henry Poole is Here
- Directed by Mark Pellington.

Henry Poole (Luke Wilson), a depressed man diagnosed with a terminal illness, abandons his fiancée and moves into a dilapidated house in suburbia. His next door neighbor, Esperanza (Adrianna Barraza), believes that a watermark on his outside wall resembles Jesus Christ. It even mysterious bleeds. Soon enough, other religious people, including a priest, Father Salazar (George Lopez), gather outside Henry’s house to get a glimpse of the so-called miracle. Henry, on the other hand, refuses to believe in miracles and wants everyone to leave him alone. Will his budding romance with Dawn (Radha Mitchell) help him to have faith? Will he help Dawn’s young daughter, Millie (Morgan Lily), to start talking again? Screenwriter Albert Torres fails to make you care about any of the characters. Too many scenes feel bland and the plot often meanders with so underdeveloped subplots. Worst of all, the dialogue tends to be very preachy, repetitive and corny with poor attempts at generating laughter. Luke Wilson tries his best to rise above the material, but the weak screenplay never bring his character to life. Director Mark Pellington, who excelled at directing the taut thrillers The Mothman Prophecies and Arlington Road, can’t seem to get a firm grasp at how to skillfully direct this drama. He includes many songs on the soundtrack that pound you over the head and irritate you as if the preachy dialogue didn’t do that already. On a positive note, Radha Mitchell’s radiates warmth much like Virginia Madsen’s performance in Sideways, and Adrianna Barrazza, the Oscar-nominated actress from Babel, adds some gravitas to an otherwise pretentious and very contrived film. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by Overture Films.

Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer
- Directed by Jon Knautz.

After monsters murder his family during a childhood camping trip, Jack Brooks (Trevor Matthews), a plumber, has a second chance to fight monsters when his night-school science professor, Professor Crowley (Robert Englund), awakens an ancient curse and turns into a monster. Jack attends therapy sessions with Dr.Silverstein (Daniel Kash) to deal with his anger problems while his girlfriend (Rachel Skarsten) loses interest in him. Whenever Jack isn’t battling monsters, the plot seems to be treading water with too much exposition as if the film were stuck in the first act for an hour. Unfortunately, it takes a while to enter the second act when the ancient monster curse fully awakens and changes Professor Crowley into a complete monster. Had director/co-writer Jon Knautz brought out the monsters much earlier on, it would have added much more fun and excitement. At least he could have included some tongue-in-cheek humor during the non-action scenes rather than trying and failing to expand on the character of Jack Brooks. On a positive note, when the action sequences finally show up, they give you a well-needed rush of adrenaline. Most of the deaths are appropriately gory and icky while the monsters have great make-up design which will briefly please all of those eager horror/sci-fi fans. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Brookstreet Pictures and Anchor Bay Entertainment. Opens at the Pioneer Theater.

One Bad Cat: The Reverend Albert Wagner Story
- Directed by Thomas G. Miller.

This somewhat provocative, but underwhelming documentary about Reverend Albert Wagner, an artist who overcame a troubled life filled with sinning and racism by becoming a painter at the age of 50. He claims that G_d inspired him to paint and he hasn’t stopped doing so until his death at the age of 83. Director Thomas G. Miller tells the story of his difficult life through candid interviews with Reverend Albert Wagner and with his ex-wives, one of whom hasn’t really forgiven him for molesting their daughter. It’s slightly fascinating to observe his various artworks which externalize his pain and deal with serious, personal issues such as racism. He managed to get his artworks into a museum and generate some income by selling them to some art collectors. Unfortunately, the interviews don’t explore his inner thoughts deep enough. You get sense that his mind is often at work and that he has plenty to say, but he doesn’t get a chance to fully open up here other than to confess his sins. On a positive note, his strong belief in G_d, in starting his life afresh and in learning from his past mistakes to become productive and purposeful, are quite inspiring. With further exploration of Reverend Albert Wagner’s beliefs, One Bad Cat could have been more enlightening and compelling to watch. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Tesseract Films. Opens at the IFC Center.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars
- Directed by Dave Filoni.

Anakin Skywalker (voice of Matt Lanter) and young Ahsoka Tano (voice of Ashley Eckstein) go out on a mission to return Jabba the Hutt’s son back to Jabba while Obi-Wan Kenobi (voice of James Arnold Taylor) tries to stop Count Dooku (voice of Christopher Lee) from spreading his evil. The decision of director Dave Filoni to give a very stylized look to the characters’ faces makes them seem cold and bland, which tends to be distracting whenever they speak. None of the voice-over work is particularly noteworthy except for Samuel L. Jackson’s as Mace Windu. Moreover, you’ll feel like you’re watching a video game during the battle sequences. At least little kids will be able to stay awake and marvel at the plenty of cool, loud action sequences and laugh at a few sight gags thrown around here and there, but adult Star Wars fans will be quite bored and long to see the live action version of Star Wars from 1977. Number of times I checked my watch: 9. Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
- Directed by Woody Allen.

While vacationing in Barcelona, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) both fall in love with a Spanish painter, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). Soon enough, his emotionally unstable ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz), enters the picture and further complicates matters of the heart. What could have turned into a messy, melodramatic soap opera instead turns into a light and breezy romantic dramedy with mostly likable characters. Javier Bardem gives a charismatic performance as Juan Antonio and it’s easy to grasp what Vicky, Cristina and Maria Elena all see in him. None of the plot’s dynamics will be revealed here, but it would have been much more moving, though, had writer/director Woody Allen focused the film on one protagonist, whether it be Vicky, Cristina or Juan Antonio, to get inside their head. Instead, the audience serves merely as an outside spectator with a narrator (Christopher Evan Welch) occasionally guiding the way. Allen allows each of the three sexy female stars to shine, especially the radiant Penélope Cruz, but the most radiant and seductive character, by far, is the city of Barcelona itself which looks breathtakingly gorgeous with its bright, colorful and sunny locales. Fortunately, the film succeeds in both the comedy and drama department with some witty lines and neurotic characters typical of a Woody Allen film. There aren’t any moments of sheer brilliance like in the classic Manhattan or Annie Hall, but at least Vicky Cristina Barcelona manages to be a pleasantly diverting and engaging for both your eyes and ears. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by The Weinstein Company.

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