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Reviews for August 22nd, 2008

Death Race
- Directed Paul W.S. Anderson.

Jensen Ames (Jason Statham), an ex-con framed for his wife’s murder, must compete in a dangerous, high-speed car race with other inmates at prison called “Terminal Island”. Joan Allen, typecast here, plays the bitchy warden who oversees the races and promises Jensen his freedom if he wins the races. The film plays like a literally video game with a Round 1, Round 2 and Round 3 and flashy, captioned introductions to each racer. Anyone expecting cool deaths and action sequences will be sorely disappointed. Unfortunately, director Paul W.S. Anderson doesn’t know how to create any real tension during the many races with all the subpar cinematography that looks and feels too choppy and nauseating. Jason Statham adds a morsel of charisma to a role that has virtually zero substance and imagination. It’s as if he’s playing the same tough characters he did in past films such as War and Crank. Unless you’re in the mood for a big headache, Death Race ultimately fails to entertain even if you’re able to check your brain at the door and suspend your disbelief for 89 minutes. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by Universal Pictures.

- Directed Patrick Creadon.

This provocative documentary tackles the very timely and important issue of National debt, which has plagued the United States for nearly 200 years. In turn, American citizens increasingly suffer financially because they have to pay higher taxes on everything. It’s quite enraging to hear the empty promises of politicians who claim that they’ll fix the economy and lower the National debt, which is so high now—$8.7 trillion!—that it may be virtually impossible to turn back and solve the problem. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean that it’s completely hopeless, though. Director Patrick Creadon interviews former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker and the executive director of Concord Coalition, Robert Bixby, as they try to raise awareness of how serious the National debt problems are and what will happen in the future if something isn’t done to solve it. Through charts, graphs and other visual aids along with voice-over narration, Patrick Creadon provides information and explanations for all those unfamiliar with how the economy works. Not surprisingly, members of the public look clueless when asked to define National debt or to try to quantify it. The most significant part of the film, though, occurs too briefly when college students from this otherwise lazy, selfish and ignorant generation courageously and honestly voice their thoughts on the status quo of America’s terrible economy and raise other college students’ awareness of our dangerously high National debt. If only there were more brave individuals from this generation who can find the guts to speak their mind rather than letting incompetent politicians to continue destroying our economy and, worst of all, making it more difficult for future generation to afford to live. The truly important question that remains is: What will it take for this generation to finally wake up and start protesting about important issues for a change? Be sure to stay through until after the end credits for another startling statistic. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by Roadside Attractions. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

Momma’s Man
- Directed by Azazel Jacobs.

Mikey (Matt Boren), a married man in his 30s, decides to move in with his mother (Flo Jacobs) and father (Ken Jacobs) in New York City without telling his wife back in Los Angeles. Essentially, Mikey goes through an early midlife crisis that forces him to behave like a child who can’t part from his beloved parents. Both his mother and father become worried about him and try different ways of reaching out to him emotionally to try to figure out what’s wrong, but he stubbornly refuses to start acting his age and go back to his wife like a grown man should do. Writer/director Azazel Jacobs excels at writing very unstilted dialogue that flows organically as if you were watching a documentary. Each of the performances, especially those of Flo and Ken Jacobs (the director’s real-life parents), is warm, understated and utterly convincing without being over-the-top or grating. Moreover, there’s a very laidback atmosphere throughout the film that feels quite calming. On the other hand, it would have been much more insightful and moving Mikey opened himself up more to the audience so that they could grasp precisely what’s going through his mind. Perhaps he could have spoken his heart and mind out to a close friend instead of repressing all those feelings and thoughts. He obviously needs to see a really good shrink to sort out his serious problems. Throughout the stay at his folks’ apartment, the plot tends to meander a bit, but it does pick up some momentum during the third act. Ultimately, Momma’s Man manages to keep you mostly engaged in its story with its tender script, but it lacks any real surprises, revelations or insights to make it a truly memorable, moving and refreshing experience. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by Kino International. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.

The Sensation of Sight
- Directed Aaron J. Wiederspahn.

Finn (David Strathairn), a school teacher who goes around his small, quaint town selling encyclopedias, tries to make sense of a tragedy that he had witnessed. The answers to his profound questions don’t come too easily to him or to the audience, but each step of the way, he gets closer and closer to having an epiphany. Writer/director Aaron J. Wiederspahn has written a non-linear plot structure filled with small, yet vivid characters and subplots interconnected in the least expected ways. He doesn’t resort to conventional storytelling by giving information to the viewer bit by bit while allowing there to be some mystery. In a way, the audience experiences a quest to find meaning/significance within the film just like Finn goes on his own unique quest. Some parts tend to drag, though, and the inclusion of quotes from classic philosophers distracts from the overall momentum of the film. Fortunately, David Strathairn delivers an understated, warm and very convincing performance as Finn. He’s the heart and soul of the film and helps you to immerse yourself within his character’s spiritual journey. If only the screenplay were trimmed a bit and didn’t occasionally drag, The Sensation of Sight, at a lengthy running time of could have been much more compelling and emotionally resonating. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Monterey Media. Opens at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater.

Trouble the Water
- Directed by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal.

This provocative and important documentary follows the experiences of Kim and Scott Roberts, a married couple who survived the catastrophes of Hurricane Katrina while living in the Ninth Ward district of New Orleans. The couple recorded some footage on the day before the hurricane and once the hurricane arrived, with all the floodwater rapidly rising. It’s equally infuriating and sad when a New Orleans woman, trapped in her attic, desperately calls a 911 operator only to be told that help cannot arrive at that time. If you thought the worst part was over when the storm ended and the flooding receded, think again. Every American should feel ashamed at how our government, particularly FEMA, handled the catastrophe with such slow and negligent response that it should be downright criminal. Co-directors Tia Lessin and Carl Deal wisely allow Kim and Scott Robert to recall what they went through in vivid detail. Words cannot adequately describe the powerful images from the aftermath of Katrina, though, which make the Ninth Ward district looked like it was devastated by war. The couple struggles to receive financial aid from FEMA that would help them to survive on the basic needs of food and shelter. It’s very inspiring and uplifting to watch how they both have grown as individuals from such a harrowing experience that turned their life upside down, particularly Kim who channels her anger and frustrations through singing rap music. From start to finish Trouble the Water manages to be a thoroughly engrossing and powerful film that must be seen by every American and, especially, by our incompetent government members who ought to be ashamed of themselves. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Zeitgeist Films. Opens at the IFC Center and the Faison Firehouse Theatre.

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