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Reviews for August 26th, 2009


Directed by Jennifer Steinman.

This profoundly engrossing documentary focuses on how 6 women from America cope with grief after each had lost a close member of their family. Anne, whose 15-year-old daughter, Grace, committed suicide, lives in San Francisco with her husband. Debbie, a paramedic from Northern California, lost her son, Garrett, when he was struck by a drunk driver by. Mary Helena, an African-American actress/storyteller from Wisconsin, recalls how her son, Aaron, died during a triple-homicide. Barbara lives in the town of Dixon, California, and lost her, Jason, in a head-on collision, which, in turn, had a detrimental effect on her marriage. 22-year-old Lauren from Oakland, California, lost her older brother, Teveston, to gang violence. Finally, Kathy, a mother from Santa Rose, California, lost her son, Mike, in a motorcycle accident. Director Jennifer Steinman wisely allows each of these 6 women to recount, one-by-one, how their loved one had been killed, how they felt during those tragic moments and how it had affected their own life to this very day. Steinman follows them to South Africa where they all bond with one another for 17 days while taking care of little orphans who suffer from poverty and wide range of physical ailments, such as AIDS. Itís equally poignant and fascinating to watch them interact with other mothers in South Africa who also lost their dearest ones and share their pain. In between the many moments where the women openly express their sorrow, there are also some glimmers of hope to be found. Have these women found closure to their grief throughout this physical and spiritual journey? Have their wounds fully healed? It takes a lot of courage for these women to not only come together, but to discuss their grief so openly and to cry in front of the camera. Even after the pain finally leaves, the scars will always remain. In reality, nothing can completely fill the void of a loved one, but at least coming together with others who suffer from similar forms of grief, acknowledging and sharing oneís pain and sorrow, while helping others around them improve their lives, can help one to come closer to some sort of closure and catharsis or, as the expression goes, to turn life's lemons into lemonade, a task thatís much easier said than done. At a running time of 80 minutes, Motherland manages to be a deeply moving, illuminating and inspirational documentary.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Gigantic Releasing.
Debuts online at where it can be streamed for the price of only $2.99 for 3 days
of unlimited viewing.

Taking Woodstock

Directed by Ang Lee.

Inspired by a true story. Based on the book Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life by Elliot Tiber and Tom Monte. In 1969, Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin) moves from Greenwich Village, New York back to his parentsí Catskills home in upstate New York, where theyíre struggling to run their family-run business, El Monaco Motel. To help boost much-needed revenue for the motel, Elliot agrees to buy a permit for one dollar that would give him the right to have a summer even held there. He agrees to sell the permit to Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff), a young producer who couldnít get permission to hold a music and arts festival in Wallkill. Little does Elliot or his mother (Imelda Staunton) and father (Henry Goodman) know that the three-day music and arts festival will bring 500,000 of people from all over the country, causing traffic to be backed up for miles and miles. Neighbors, Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy) and his wife Miriam (Pippa Pearthree) kindly allow the festival to spread into their 600-acre dairy farm. Liev Schreiber plays Vilma, a cross-dressing ex-Marine who protects the Teichberg family from having to deal with mobsters who try to extort money from them. Underrated actor Emile Hirsch plays a crazy Vietnam War vet, and Paul Dano and Kelli Garner briefly show up as hippies who invite Elliot to chill out and smoke in their van. The screenplay by James Schamus starts out strong and promising, balancing offbeat humor and drama, but once the festival kicks into gear, it feels tedious, bland and lazy. Elliot simply doesnít seem interesting enough as a character and neither do anyone else for that matter. A subplot involving his newly discovered feelings, which wonít be spoiled here, could have been fleshed out much more so that it wouldnít come across as so contrived and ho-hum. On a positive note, director Ang Lee does a great job of combining music, set design, costume design and cinematography, including creatively using split screens during the Woodstock festivities, to create the free-spirited mood during that unique event that has been remembered to this very day. At a running time of 2 hours, Taking Woodstock manages to be initially compelling with a fine ensemble cast and impressive cinematography, but suffers from an often bland screenplay thatís deficient in character development, imagination and emotional resonance.
Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Focus Features.
Opens at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and expands nationwide on August 28th, 2009.

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