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Reviews for August 19th, 2011

The Hedgehog

Directed by Mona Achache

      11-year-old Paloma Josse (Garance Le Guillermic), wise beyond her years, lives in an apartment in France with her mother, Solange (Anne Brochet), father, Paul (Wladimir Yordanoff), and older sister, Colombe (Sarah Le Picard). She has decided that after 165 days, on her 12th birthday, she will kill herself, but beforehand she will complete visual records of her experiences at home via her father’s old camcorder. Paloma’s perspective on life itself begins to change when she develops a friendship with Renée (Josiane Balasko), the building’s concierge who had been hiding away from others like a hedgehog. Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa), a new Japanese tenant, also befriends Renée while reawakening and reinvigorating her on both emotional and physical levels.

      The intelligent screenplay by writer/director Mona Achache balances its somewhat heavy dramatic elements with tenderness, warmth and, most importantly, a sense of humor. Paloma’s observations as she records her family and describes them one-by-one is quite amusing and filled with witty comments. From the get-go, Paloma seems far from an ordinary child because of how wise, articulate and mature she comes across as, but, despite those strengths of hers, she has a lot to learn about life just like any child does. Fortunately, wit, symbolism and humor permeate throughout most of the film. The Hedgehog is fundamentally thought-provoking and delightful celebration of how anyone, young or old, can come out of his or her shell and to embrace life while learning how to value it more through new friendships. It would not be possible for Paloma and Renée to change as human beings if they wouldn’t have formed friendships with each other as well as with Kakuro.

      Each actor/actress gives a terrific performance, but the stand-out here is Josiane Balasko who’s convincingly moving as Renée. She sinks her teeth with ease into the complex role of Renée while mastering a wide range of emotions that she most often conveys with her facial expressions. The performances are so natural that you’ll truly care about Renée, Paloma and Kakuro because they’re the kind of rare, true-to-life characters that will stay ingrained in your mind long after the end credits roll.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Released by NeoClassics Films.

The Last Circus

Directed by Álex de la Iglesia

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Opens at the Cinema Village.
Released by Magnet Releasing.

One Day

Directed by Lone Scherfig

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Opens nationwide.
Released by Focus Features.

Programming the Nation?

Directed by Jeff Warrick

      Have you ever wondered about the existence of subliminal messages in society? In this provocative documentary, director Jeff Warrick not only finds the empirical evidence of subliminal messages, but also explores what their purposes might be. You’ll find those messages in many different parts of the media from TV ads for products (or even for campaign ads) and movies to sub-aural messages in clothing department stores and in some rock music lyrics. We’ve all become, essentially, programmed to behave or think in a certain way by the government, mass media and corporations (and their marketing firms) use subliminal messaging to seek either more money, power, control or some combination of those three possible motivations. In many ways, the use of subliminal messages is Orwellian in nature and poses a severe threat to democracy. As frightening as it may sound, we’re all pretty much sheep and will continue to be so until we wake up and learn how to process information through critical thinking—after all, it was Hitler who was said “How fortunate it is for governments that the people they administer don’t think.”

      Director Jeff Warrick interviews a wide variety of experts ranging from a congressman to authors and others including Professor Noam Chomsky, “Democracy Now!” host/producer Amy Goodman and Hilton A. Green, who assisted director Alfred Hitchcock when he worked on Psycho. Each interview could easily be expanded into a separate documentary because it’s filled with a wealth of information which would probably be completely new for the average American. There are also a few moments of well-needed comic relief to be found. It would have been more effective if there were better and smoother transitions between each interviewee.

      Programming the Nation?, nonetheless, serves as a vital wake-up call and manages to be simultaneously entertaining, provocative and enraging--just as all harsh truths, sans euphemisms, should be presented.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Released by International Film Circuit and Buzzledom.

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