Reviews for August 21st, 2009
The Baader-Meinhof Complex
Directed by Uli Edel.
Based on the book by Stefan Aust. During late 1960’s in Germany, Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek), among others, form the Red Army Faction (RAF), a group of young radicals who use terrorism as a means to rebel against fascism in their country. They also strongly opposed the government’s bureaucracy, the Vietnam War and American Imperialism. Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), a political journalist, found the courage to report about their actions and ideology so that the public would gain somewhat of an understanding of their group. The initial scenes set up the events that lead to the formation of the group in 1968. The head of the German police force, Horst Herold (Bruno Ganz), tries to grasp the RAF’s true intentions and motivations as he and his taskforce try to capture them before the next terrorist attack. After they’re captured and jailed, Andreas and Gudrun go through a lengthy trial which gives them a platform for their group’s ideologies. A new generation of RAF members awaken, this time by other youngsters, Brigitte Mohnhaupt (Nadja Uhl) and Peter-Juergen Boock (Vinzenz Kiefer), while the original founders remain in prison and stand trial. Director/co-writer includes so many action sequences, explosions and brutal killings that it makes for a very intense ride, at least at first. Eventually, though, the palpable intensity tapers off as the action becomes more tedious and dull and as the plot grows more complex and intricate. The screenplay could have used slightly more nuance and quieter moments to allow for the audience to get to know the members of the RAF or others, such as journalist Ulrike Meinhof, so that they’d be memorable characters that come-to-life. The performances are all strong, though, especially those of Moritz Bleibtreu and Johanna Wokalek as well as Martina Gedeck and the underrated Bruno Ganz. There’s also plenty of stylish cinematography and a well-chosen musical score that adds some tension. At a lengthy running time of 2 hours and 30 minutes, The Baader Meinhoff Complex manages to be an initially riveting and provocative thriller filled with intense action sequences and strong performances, but the suspense and thrills wane as the convoluted plot becomes slightly dull and monotonous. Number of times I checked my watch: 3Released by Vitagraph Films. Opens at the City Cinemas 1, 2 & 3 and Angelika Film Center.
Directed by Issa López.
In Spanish with subtitles. Four young women, among many others, compete for the title role of the film version of the telenovela “Maria Enamorada.” Eva Gallardo (Patricia Llaca), the soap opera actress who has played Maria Enamorada throughout its long run on television has been considered too old to play the role in the film version. She does everything in her power, including blackmailing, to make her producer, Alejandro (Julio Bracho), who’s also her former lover, to give her back the role. The four young contestants profiled include Yesenia (Daniela Schmidt), a sexy, self-confident hairdresser from Mexico City. Then there’s also Catalina (Diana Garcia), a factory worker from the dangerous city of Juarez, where many women have gone missing. Ximena (Ana Layevska), a wealthy, white, blonde girl from Guadalajara also competes along with Francisca (Maya Zapata), a well-mannered, down-to-earth, young Zapotec Indian woman living in the rural town of Oaxaca. Whom will you root for to win the competition? No matter whom you root for, each of the contestants given a backstory are quite interesting and lively. There’s more to them than meets the eye. Writer/director Issa López fuses together the genres of satire, comedy and melodrama with mixed results. At times, though, the comedic attempts fall flat with poor timing or because of the repetitive tongue-in-cheek humor that loses its oomph eventually. It’s delightful and amusing to watch the wickedly funny ways that some of the contestants go to try to get what they all want (fame, fame and more fame) without regarding others’ feelings. However, what’s not explored is what they will do with that fame once the winner finds it. Will they be able to adjust to their new lifestyle and survive the world of celebrity? All of the actresses seem to be having a great time in their roles, though, and radiate a lot of energy onscreen. If only the screenplay were as consistently intelligent, gutsy and biting as in the deliciously dark satire Drop Dead Gorgeous or even half as imaginative and outrageous as Christopher Guest’s hilarious “documentary” Best in Show, it would have been a much more memorable and rewarding experience. At a running time of 106 minutes, Casi Divas manages to be mildly engaging, wickedly funny and peppy with a lively ensemble cast, but it could have used a stronger dose of imagination, satirical bite and wit. Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by Maya Entertainment. Opens at the City Cinemas Village East and AMC Empire 25.
Fifty Dead Men Walking
Directed by Kari Skogland.
Inspired by the book by Martin McGartland and Nicholas Davies. Based on a true story. In 1988 Ireland, 22-year-old Martin McGartland (Jim Sturgess) spends his time as a hustler of stolen goods on the streets of Belfast. He agrees to become an informant for a British intelligence agent codenamed Fergus (Ben Kingsley) to spy on the Irish Republican Army (IRA). When IRA members kneecap his good friend, Frankie (Conor MacNeill), that fuels his anger toward the IRA even more and compels him to take matters into his own hands by infiltrating into the IRA. Soon enough, he and another friend, Sean (Kevin Zegers), join the IRA as hitmen under the guidance of IRA member Mikey (Tom Collins), and witness numerous tortures. His work as a double agent, not surprisingly, threatens his relationship with his girlfriend, Lara (Natalie Press), who struggles to take care of their baby, Patrick. Writer/director Kari Skogland, who previously directed The Stone Angel, deftly blends action, suspense and drama without veering into any contrived, distracting or unnecessary subplots that would take away from the film's overall momentum. The focused plot remains taut throughout, especially during the many gritty scenes depicting the IRA’s violence. At the heart of the drama, there’s the engrossing performance by underrated actor Jim Sturgess as Martin. You’ll probably find yourself rooting for his character and caring about him thanks to the character-driven screenplay. It’s quite fascinating to observe the dynamics of his relationship with Fergus and how his work as a double agent threatens his own life and that of his family as well. Ben Kingsley, as always, delivers an utterly captivating and convincing performance that adds some gravitas. Skogland also includes stark visuals, stylish editing and brutal violence that provide plenty of intensity. At a running time of 117 minutes, Fifty Dead Men Walking manages to be a viscerally intense, gripping and character-driven thriller filled with pulse-pounding action, strong performances and stylish, gritty cinematography. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Phase 4 Films. Opens at the Quad Cinema and AMC Empire 25.
Five Minutes of Heaven
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel.
Back in 1975 Ireland, 16-year-old Alistair (Mark Davison) became a member of a Protestant gang, Ulster Volunteer Force. One of his assignments was to kill a 19-year-old Catholic boy, Jim Griffin (Gerard Jordan), but, after killing him, he spared the life of his 11-year-old brother, Joe (Kevin O’Neill), who watches his brother get brutally murdered. Thirty years later, Alistair (now played by Liam Neeson) has already served 12 years in jail and spends his time mentoring prison inmates about facing their conscience and expressing their remorse. Joe (now played by James Nesbitt) works at a factory and lives with his wife and two daughters. He still hasn’t overcome the fact that his deceased mother (Niamh Cusack) blamed him for not stopping the murder of his older brother. Both Alistair and Joe separately head off to a location where they’ll meet to confront one another as part of a televised reality show. As they sit in the backseat on the way to their destination, they both recall their painful memories and express their thoughts and feelings about the upcoming meeting. Joe arrives there first and tells Vika (Anamaria Marinca), a production assistant, that he’d be glad to have his own five minutes of heaven by killing Alistair. Screenwriter Guy Hibbert gradually builds up tension as that crucial meeting draws closes and closer. He also balances the heavy subject matter with dry comic relief. Is Joe merely joking or dead serious when he announces his desire to kill Alistair? What will Alistair and Joe say to one another when they finally meet? Will they both handle their grief, regrets and pent-up anger maturely like civilized men? Those are just a few questions that keep you intrigued throughout the intense, suspenseful film. It’s also worth mentioning that both Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt deliver spellbinding performances that tackle a wide range of emotions, which helps to keep your eyes glued to the screen. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel, who previously directed Downfall, enhances the tension through the cinematography, pacing and stylish editing all the way through the pulse-pounding third act, which won’t be spoiled here. Five Minutes of Heaven manages to be a 90-minute tour de force of suspense and intrigue with outstanding, powerhouse performances by James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson. It’s one of the most rousing and provocative thrillers of the year. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by IFC Films. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.
Directed by Quentin Tarantino.
In English, German, French and Italian with subtitles. During WWII, Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a.k.a. “The Jew Hunter,” searches for a Jewish family who has allegedly been hiding out inside a farmhouse. He kills every member of the family except Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), who’s able to escape. Three years later, Shosanna works as the owner of a luxurious cinema in Paris. She meets Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), a Nazi war hero, who’s instantly enamored with her. It turns out that he’s the star of the Nazi propaganda film Nation’s Pride and convinces the Minister of Propaganda, Dr. Goebbels (Sylvester Groth), to premiere the film at that particular cinema and to invite only the High Command members of the Nazi party. Shosanna sees this as an opportunity to come up with a plan to kill all of Nazi elites, including Colonel Hans Landa, together during the premiere. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) leads “The Basterds,” a group of Jewish soldiers who viciously hunt down and scalp Nazis. They go on a special operation to gain access to the premiere in order to kill Nazis there. The only way they can get into the premiere, though, is by attending it with Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), a popular German actress who also serves a secret agent. Revealing any more of the plot would spoil its many surprises. Writer/director Quentin Tarantino skillfully combines the genres of action, suspense and drama balanced with just the right amount of zany, tongue-in-cheek and dark comedy. Everything from the cinematography, fast pace and special effects to the musical score will give you a rush of adrenaline, but the real pleasure here are the performances, especially by the scene-stealing Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz, along with the witty, Tarantinoesque dialogue. Just like in Kill Bill, Tarantino includes plenty of stylized violence that raise eyebrows, but he knows how to make revenge seem so consistently fun and exciting. Despite its lengthy running time of 2 hours and 32 minutes, Inglourious Basterds manages to be sensationally entertaining, relentlessly suspenseful and thrilling with a terrific ensemble cast and wickedly funny and witty dialogue. Tarantino fans rejoice! Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by The Weinstein Company. Opens nationwide.
My One and Only
Directed by Richard Loncraine.
In 1953, Ann Devereaux (Renée Zellweger) returns to her New York apartment where she discovers her cheating husband, Dan (Kevin Bacon), a band leader, in bed with another woman. She decides leave him, hitting the road in a brand new Cadillac with her two sons, George (Logan Lerman), an aspiring actor, and Robbie (Mark Rendall), an aspiring theater actor, in hopes of finding a wealthy guy who will marry her. They stop over in Boston, where she dines at a restaurant with a potential husband, Wallace (Steven Weber), who steals money from her purse and ditches her while she’s in the bathroom. Harlan (Chris Noth), tough military man, offers to pay for her meal and, soon enough, lets her move into his luxurious home with her two sons, who don’t quite like his aggressive behavior and desire to have control over them, so eventually they all ditch him and hit the road again. In Pittsburgh, she meets her ex-boyfriend, Charlie Correll (Eric McCormack), who no longer finds her attractive. Ann moves onto another guy, Bill (David Koechner), the owner of a paint store where she now works at. Little does she know that Bill already has a wife and has lied to many other women about it while engaged to them. She eventually has no choice but to move into the house of her sister Hope (Robin Weigert). The meandering screenplay by Charlie Peters has a few endearing and amusing moments, but it jumps around too much without really developing any of its themes or characters enough. Ann loves her sons despite that she’s too self-centered and focused on money to get to know who they truly are as human beings---she doesn’t even know George’s favorite color or favorite book, Catcher in the Rye. The plot could have used a heavier dose of reality, such as a preposterous scene that when a pair of hitchhikers threaten to rob them. There’s also a poorly developed subplot involving George going out with a red-headed girl, Paula (Molly C. Quinn), and treats her with respect. On a positive note, director Richard Loncraine wisely moves the film along at a brisk pace and includes great period detail from the set designs to the costume designs that add authenticity. If only the script were so organic and true-to-life, it would have been a much more engrossing experience. At a running time of 108 minutes, My One and Only boasts a charming cast and superb production design along with briefly amusing and heartfelt moments which get bogged down by bland dialogue and an unfocused plot that often meanders. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Freestyle Releasing. Opens at AMC Loews Village 7 and the Paris Theatre.
Directed by Vicky Jenson.
Now that Ryden Malby (Alexis Bledel) has graduated from college, she wants to settle down in a luxurious loft and get a job at a publishing house. When Jessica Bard (Catherine Reitman) gets the job instead, Ryden must move back into her childhood home, where her father, Walter (Michael Keaton), mother, Carmella (the underrated Jane Lynch), little brother, Hunter (Bobby Coleman) , and grandmother, Maureen (Carol Burnett) , reside together. She also has a best friend, Adam (Zach Gilford), an aspiring musician who’s quite infatuated of her, but she’s unsure of her feelings toward him. Her father gets her a job at a luggage store that he manages. There, she happens to run into the stuck-up, egocentric Jessica when she shows up as an annoying customer. Soon enough, she meets and makes out with her neighbor, David (Rodrigo Santoro), a young man from Brazil who happens to be a commercial producer and, also, happens to offer her a small job on a commercial set. The asinine screenplay by Kelly Fremongoes from one contrived, awkward situation to another without any real sensitivity toward its cardboard characters and their thoughts and feelings. Ryden comes across as a rather boring young woman, so it’s not quite clear what David or Adam see in her to begin with beyond her good looks. The juvenile humor falls flat more often than not. Watching Ryden’s father stepping in poop the first time isn’t any funnier than the second time it occurs. The same goes for he accidentally runs over David’s or when he and the rest of the crazy Malby family catch Ryden and David making out on inflatable couch. Carol Brunett briefly adds a modicum of some much-needed comedic oomph to the drama as Ryden’s boorish grandmother. At a running time of 88 minutes Post Grad often drags and falls flat as a stale, contrived drama and painfully unfunny comedy with forgettable, cardboard characters. Number of times I checked my watch: 5 Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Opens nationwide.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez.
11-year-old Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett) lives in the suburban town of Black Hills with his older sister, Stacey (Kat Dennings), mother (Leslie Mann) and father (Jon Cryer), who both work for Black Box, Inc., a technology company that sells a box-shaped gadget that can transform into a wide variety of useful devices. The company’s CEO, Mr. Black (James Spader), has two young children, Cole (Devon Gearhart) and Helvetica (Jolie Vanier), who both bully Toe at school. One day, Toe stumbles upon a rainbow-colored rock which turns out to be a wishing rock. The Rainbow Rock ends up in many different hands throughout the town, causing chaos ranging from crocodiles to a booger monster, a superintelligent baby who can read minds, tiny aliens in spaceships and character that turns into a dun beetle. William H. Macy briefly shows up as a Dr. Noseworthy, a mad scientist whose germophobia has reached such an extreme that he has completely sealed his house and only goes outside wearing a Hazmat suit. A truly great family movie should find the right balance between entertaining older and younger audiences. However, in this case, little kids will probably find themselves mildly amused while everyone else will probably find themselves often bored by the lack of smart humor and the excessive use of cheap-looking special effects. The screenplay by writer/director Robert Rodriguez mixes up the chronology of the events by fast-forwarding and rewinding through a series of five segments or “shorts”, hence the title. That seemingly interesting structure doesn’t really help to invigorate the silly, juvenile and unfunny plot that lacks real thrills and excitement while falling short on imagination. It’s quite vomit-inducing to watch a large booger monster chasing Toe throughout Mr. Noteworthy’s house. At an ideal running time of 89 minutes, Shorts has fleeting moments of excitement and thrills, but too often veers into silliness, inanity and blandness while ultimately failing to entertain older and younger audiences simultaneously. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Warner Bros. Pictures. Opens nationwide.
Directed by Piyush Jha.
In Hindi with subtitles. Sikandar (Parzan Dastur), a 14-year-old Muslim boy whose parents were killed by jihadists 10 years earlier, lives with his aunt and uncle in a small countryside town in Kashmir, India. He’s often bullied at school and enjoys playing soccer with other students at a field. One day, he meets Nasreen (Ayesha Kapoor), a girl from school whose father works as a Muslim, peace-loving politician. As they walk together down a path on the way back from a soccer game, Sikandar finds a pistol and decides to keep it. Little does he know what kind of trouble that pistol will eventually bring him. Zahgeer Quadir (Arunoday Singh), an insurgent, serves as his mentor who teaches him how to properly hold and aim the gun, but it becomes more and more evident that Sikandar should think twice before trusting him so blindly and naively as the plot progresses. Will Sikandar be able to survive the escalating danger that he gets into? Will his relationship with Nasreen endure throughout all the physical conflicts? Fortunately, the sensitive screenplay by writer/director Piyush Jha develops the character of Sikandar enough so that you care about what happens to him. Jha also includes picturesque scenery that’s easy on the eyes along with a well-chosen soundtrack. It’s equally poignant and intriguing to watch how he changes psychologically from the very moment that he picks up the pistol and how his relationship with Nasreen evolves. Later on, the plot becomes more intense and suspenseful as Sikandar must avoid getting caught by militants who are hunting him down. Forgivably, though, the third act does feel a bit contrived with twists and turns that aren’t particularly well thought-out in hindsight. At a running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, Sikandar loses steam toward the end, but, nonetheless, manages to be a fascinating and heartfelt drama filled with suspense, intrigue and lush cinematography. Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by Big Pictures. Opens at the Big Manhattan 1.
World’s Greatest Dad
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.
Lance Clayton (Robin Williams), a high school English teacher, lives in the suburbs of Seattle with his 15-year-old son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara). Kyle plays videogames, surfs for porn on the web and often behaves boorish and stubborn toward others while being treated as an outsider in school. Unlike his father who’s good at writing and intelligent, he’s a bit dense and when it comes to writing essays, he confuses the word “precipitate” for “perspire.” He and his father have a very dysfunctional relationship and even his best friend, Andrew (Evan Martin), hasn’t really gotten to know him well enough to understand him. Meanwhile, Lance has his own problems to worry about when it comes to his failure to get his own writings published and to fill up the poorly-attended poetry class that he teaches. He’s also secretly dating Claire (Alexie Gilmore), an art teacher who many students find attractive, and when Kyle joins them on a date, he takes pictures of her panties with his cell phone under the table. Halfway into the film, a certain tragedy strikes, which won’t be spoiled here, eventually changing Lance’s reputation as a writer and father as well as the how others view Kyle. Writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait, who previously wrote and directed the sick and twisted comedy Sleeping Dogs Lie, combines elements dark comedy, satire and drama with mixed results. The screenplay feels a bit contrived and melodramatic when it aims for poignancy, such as a lengthy scene where Lance repeatedly cries. As the plot gets darker and unpredictable, it could have used much more biting, perceptive and clever dialogue. On a positive note, it’s refreshing to watch Daryl Sabara tackle a meatier role as well as Robin Williams in a slightly more subdued and serious role compared to his usual comedic roles. At a running time of 95 minutes, World’s Greatest Dad manages to be unpredictable and mildly engaging with decent performances, but suffers from an uneven balance of dark comedy, drama and satire with too much awkwardness and not enough bite. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
X Games 3D: The Movie
Directed by Steve Lawrence.
This dull documentary follows the events of the 2008 X Games in Los Angeles, where athletes compete in a variety of extreme action sports, such as snowboarding, skateboarding, cars, motorbikes, and motor cross. Skateboarders, namely, Bob Burnquist, Danny Way and Jake Brown, all face rigorous competitions even though they’ve been injured a number of times. Danny Way recounts how many different ways and places he had broken his bones, yet you can still find him skateboarding. Shaun White, who was featured in the exhilarating documentary First Descent, has essentially become a celebrity in the world of snowboarding. A truly great documentary should find the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually as well as emotionally. Unfortunately, director Steve Lawrence fails to generate any sense of excitement, suspense or intensity while the brief interviews don’t really add anything in terms of much-needed insight into the life and mind of the X Games athletes. Why not provide much more background information about the athletes so that you can get to know them beyond the information that’s readily available about them on the internet or on ESPN? The footage of the X Games themselves provides some rush of adrenaline during the many stunts thanks to the stereoscopic 3D effects which look stunning up on the big screen. However, the “wow!” fact eventually becomes wanes as it becomes tedious to watch stunt after stunt after stunt with not enough explanation as to what the rules of the game are or how they’re even scored for that matter. You’d expect to be at least somewhat riveted watching the competitions unfold, but they’re actually surprisingly lacking in tension from start to finish. Moreover, the narration by Emile Hirsch seems more distracting and over-simplified when it should have been much more illuminating. At a running time of 92 minutes, X Games 3D: The Movie has stunning 3D visuals which briefly provide a rush of adrenaline, but it often feels too dull while lacking insight and suspense as well as palpable excitement. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Walt Disney Pictures. Opens nationwide.