Frozen River - Directed by Courtney Hunt.
In a small New York town near the Quebec border, Ray (Melissa Leo), a mother of two who can’t afford her trailer home anymore, meets Lila (Misty Upham), a Native American from a local Mohawk reservation. Lila convinces her to smuggle illegal immigrants in the back of her trunk from across the frozen St.Lawrence River as a means to help her make enough money to save Ray’s trailer home. Meanwhile, Ray’s teenage son, T.J. (Charlie McDermott) stays at home with his younger brother, Ricky (James Reilly). Ray, initially, doesn’t quite get along with Lila and just wants her husband’s car back that she had stolen. It’s interesting to watch how the two of them become unlikely friends with one another. Writer/director Courtney Hunt gradually builds up the plot tension as Ray becomes involved full throttle in Lila’s smuggling scheme and gets more desperate for money. Hunt knows that in order to keep you immersed in the story, she needs to create believable characters. Ray might not be particularly likable based on her actions, but at least there’s more to her than meets the eye. Moreover, Melissa Leo sinks into the role of Ray with utter conviction and delivers a truly raw performance. The other strong character in the film is the snowy location itself which adds to the somewhat foreboding atmosphere much like in Fargo. Despite a third act that ties the plot a little too neatly with all of its contrivances, Frozen River still manages to be a mostly compelling drama. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss - Directed by Alex Holdridge.
Two lonely people, Wilson (Scoot McNairy) and Vivian (Sara Simmonds) meet through an online personal ad on New Year’s Eve. Shot in black-and-white throughout the streets of Los Angeles, the plot follows a standard formula in terms of the expectations you have for a romantic drama, but it unfolds in such a natural and imaginative way that it makes for a thoroughly refreshing experience, much like when watching Before Sunrise or Once. Wilson and Vivian start their relationship by getting on each other’s nerves. It feels quite absorbing and even a bit suspenseful to watch how they gradually become more and more flirtatious and realize how much they truly have in common. Writer/director Alex Holdridge allows the dialogue to flow smoothly with some well-needed comic relief, charm and sweetness without any corny or pretentious moments. Although not as unforgettably classic and brilliant as Annie Hall or When Harry Met Sally…, In Search of a Midnight Kiss still makes for a warm, satisfying date movie that has more palpable romantic chemistry than the average romantic drama. Most importantly, it will leave you feeling uplifted and hopeful about embracing life and find your love if you haven't already done so in all the hustle-and-bustle of the Computer Age. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by IFC Films. Opens at the IFC Center.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor - Directed by Rob Cohen.
Rick (Brendan Fraser) and his wife, Evelyn (Maria Bello), teams up with his son, Alex (Luke Ford), to defeat Han (Jet Li), a 2,000 year old emperor who reawakes to destroy the world. The plot feels like a rip-off of the last Indiana Jones film, but with much more corny dialogue and silly action sequences. Brendan Fraser delivers a very wooden performance while Maria Bello seems uncomfortable in her role which Rachel Weisz had in the last two Mummy films. Even Michelle Yeoh as a sorceress, Zi, can’t save the film from being so frustratingly bland. Director Rob Cohen includes lots of special effects and visually striking scenes, but the pacing feels awkward between the action and family bonding moments. A romantic subplot involving Alex and Zi’s immortal daughter (Isabella Leong) come across as unintentionally funny rather than believable. Had those and other unnecessary diversions been excluded, the film’s pace would have been much tighter and it would have held onto at least some of its momentum throughout. At a excessive running time of 112 minutes, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor often drags ultimately lacks the required thrills, suspense and surprises to hold your attention, even if you suspend your disbelief and check your brain at the door. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by Universal Pictures.
Sixty Six - Directed by Paul Weiland.
In 1966 England, 12-year-old Bernie Reubens (Gregg Sulkin) has his bar mitzvah scheduled on the same day as the World Cup. No one will attend his ceremony if does indeed enter the final World Cup match. Bernie does everything he can to make England lose the prior matches while everyone else in the town wants England to win. His father (Eddie Marsan) struggles to support his poor family. Helena Bonham Carter, refreshingly typecast, gives a solid performance as Bernie’s mother while Stephen Rea adds brief gravitas as Bernie’s doctor who treats him for asthma. Gregg Sulkin, as Bernie, brings plenty of charm and charisma to the film which keeps you thoroughly engaged in it. He’s an outsider in many ways, but one that most people can relate to and root for. Co-writers Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan blend the drama with just the right amount of comedy to balance the film. They wisely don’t let the dialogue become too preachy or overly sentimental while still uplifting your spirits by the third act. Director Paul Weiland, who had also directed Made of Honor, does an adequate job of moving the film at a quick pace without any scenes that drag. Be sure to stay through the end credits for a surprise that makes the film even more realistic and interesting. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by First Independent Pictures. Opens at the Village East Cinema and Regal 64th and 2nd.
Stealing America: Vote by Vote - Directed by Dorothy Fadiman.
This mildly fascinating, repetitive documentary tackles the issue of voting fraud in the United States elections. Everyone already knows that corruption in politics already exists in America and that our so-called democracy has virtually vanished. During the 2004 elections, there were serious problems with voting in Ohio, where town with predominantly black populations experienced significant delays in voting—some people had to wait up to 11 hours and decided not to vote. Moreover, there were “glitches” in the voting machines that selected “Bush” whenever some citizens voted for “Kerry”. Director Dorothy Fadiman shows many examples of fraud through footage and interviews, such as a computer expert who admits to being asked to rig a congressman’s election. Despite the inclusion of all these redundant observations, she fails to synthesize them in a way that would be investigative, provocative and truly revelatory. Stealing America: Vote by Vote merely scratches the surface of a very important issue that should have been explored much more intensively and analytically so that it wouldn’t feel so frustratingly underwhelming and incomplete. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Released by Direct Cinema. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Swing Vote - Directed by Joshua Michael Stern.
The U.S. Presidential elections come down to a single vote belonging to Bud (Kevin Costner), a single dad who lives with his 12-year-old daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll), in the small town of Texico, New Mexico. Presidential candidate Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) and President Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer), who wants to be re-elected, both start rigorous ad campaigns to convince Bud to vote for them. Meanwhile, a local news reporter Kate Madison (Paula Patton) tries to get exclusive interviews with Bud to shed a light on his newfound fame. Bud isn’t the type of citizen who cares much about politics and he refuses to vote, much makes matters very difficult. Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane round out the cast as campaign managers for the two candidates. Kevin Costner certainly adds some charm to his role as Bud and manages to be oddly likable, but the real surprise here is Madeline Carrolle who generates real charisma, warmth and authenticity, much like Abigail Breslin displayed in Little Miss Sunshine. She’s the ray of sunshine in an otherwise mediocre film that loses steam throughout the second act. Director/co-writer Joshua Michael Stern includes an uneven balance of comedy, drama and satire without going far enough in either genre---although there’s one surprising scene reminiscent of the brilliance of the political satire Wag the Dog. If only the screenplay were much smarter and consistently imaginative and the directing a bit smoother, Swing Vote would have been much more compelling, profound and memorable. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Touchtone Pictures.