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Reviews for August 22nd, 2014

Documentary Round-Up

      Expedition to the End of the World, directed by Daniel Dencik, follows a group of scientists and artist aboard a schooner who explore northeast Greenland. They set out for their expedition with an open mind and the hope of finding new species. The scenery looks breathtakingly gorgeous, just as expected, but the real surprises here are twofold: one, the interesting transitions from a classical music soundtrack to heavy metal music from Metallica as you watch the landscapes, and, two, the formlessness and aimlessness of the doc's content. That first surprise pays off because it makes you step back and contemplate why the director chose that music in particular. However, the second surprise doesn't pay off, though. The doc covers a wide variety of themes and issues while jumping from one to the other very quickly sans any particular purpose. Dencik asks the schooner's crew members to explain they perspectives on the purpose of life, but he asks them that question at the very end of the doc with only 10 minutes left to go. A loaded question like that needs much more time for analysis and further exploration. You can't help but wonder what Werner Herzog would've done with this documentary: at least it would've probably been much more than just pretty scenery and interesting music. Argo Pictures opens it at Film Forum. Kabbalah Me can best be described as a Reader's Digest version of Kabbalah. Co-directors Steven Bram and Judah Lazarus barely scratch its surface while interviewing a variety of individuals, including, not surprisingly, Orthodox Jews and rabbis, each of whom has found spiritual guidance in the practice of Kabbalah. Bram travels from Brooklyn to the Wailing Wall in Jeruselem to find answers as to the meaning of Kabbalah. It would have been helpful if he were to have some kind of thesis, multifaceted arguments or at least more provocative questions in order for audiences to gain insight or revelation. It's interesting, though, to observe how Bram's friends and family react to him practicing Kabbalah for the first time. Without exploring Kabbalah more profoundly, Kabbalah Me, is amusing, much like its title, but often shallow and incomplete. First Run Features opens it at the Quad Cinema. Also via First Run Cinema at the Quad is K2: Siren of the Himalayas, far superior to any of the other docs opening this week. Director Dave Ohlson follows a group of mountain climbers, namely, Fabrizio Zangrilli, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Jake Meyer and Chris Szymiec, as they try to ascend Mount K2, the second highest mountain in the world in hopes of reaching the summit or at least beating the record of 7,654 meters set by The Duke of Abruzzi back in the early 20th Century. These men and women risk their lives for doing what they love to do best, so it's equally inspiring and thrilling to watch them ascend K2 while braving the elements. The footage that Ohlson captures is quite breathtaking in a way that no Hollywood production would be able to replicate. It's also beneficial that he doesn't film it in 3D like the recent mountain-climbing doc Beyond the Edge. K2 might not be as powerful and brilliant Touching the Void, but, at a running time of only 1 hour and 15 minutes, it's thoroughly captivating, and demands to be seen on the big screen.

Are You Here

Directed by Matthew Weiner


Number of times I checked my watch: 6
Released by Millenium Films.
Opens at AMC Empire.


Directed by Joel Soisson


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by IFC Midnight.
Opens at IFC Center.

If I Stay

Directed by R.J. Cutler


Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

Love is Strange

Directed by Ira Sachs

      Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) have been living together for the past 39 years, and finally get married to one another. Soon after, George loses his job as a music teacher at a Catholic school when the archdiocese learns of his gay marriage. He and Ben can no longer afford to live in their apartment, so they have no choice but to find other living arrangements while they look for an apartment they can afford with their new financial constraints. George moves in with his friends, Roberto (Manny Perez) and Ted (Cheyenne Jackson); Ben moves in with his nephew, Elliott (Darren Burrows), and his wife, Kate (Marisa Tomei), along with their teenage son, Joey (Charlie Tahan).

      Character-driven, gentle and deeply human, Love is Strange ranks among the most genuinely heartfelt films of the year. Just when you think the film will go in a preachy direction by pitting Ben and George against the Catholic church, it goes in a refreshingly different direction by exploring how each of them adapt to their new living situations, and how their relationship evolves while living apart from one another. Not a moment rings false, and, unlike many films, it gets more interesting and complex as it goes along. Each character comes across as lived-in and there's more to them than meets the eye, even the supporting characters such as Joey. The fact that Sachs keeps the running time down to 94 minutes is a testament to writer/director Ira Sachs' talent and discipline as a filmmaker; if this were 2 hours or longer, it would've overstayed its welcome.

      Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias trust you as an intelligent member of the audience by not force-feeding you or hitting you over the head with any messages. The moments of comic relief work well while the darker moments feel understated without veering into melodrama or pretension. None of this would have worked without the fine cast each of whom is well-cast. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina give career-best performances that deserve awards recognition. You can sense Ben and George's love of one another on a palpable level from start to finish which makes Love is Strange all the more engrossing and quietly powerful.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Sony Pictures Classics.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

May in the Summer/a>

Directed by Cherien Dabis


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Cohen Media Group.
Opens at Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

The Possession of Michael King

Directed by David Jung


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Opens at AMC Empire.

See You Next Tuesday

Directed by Drew Tobia


Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Devolver Digital Films.
Opens at Cinema Village.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Dimension Films.
Opens nationwide.

When the Game Stands Tall

Directed by Thomas Carter


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by TriStar Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

Winter in the Blood

Directed by Alex Smith and Andrew J. Smith


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Kino Lorber.
Opens at IFC Center.
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