Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering, directed by Eric Merola, is a fascinating, eye-opening and enraging exposé on Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's cover-up of Laetrile, an affordable drug that showed positive results in battling cancer. A research scientist at MSKCC, Dr. Kanematsu Sugiura, was the one who conducted the experiment with lab mice showing evidence that Laetrile reduces cancer cells, but MSKCC did everything in their power to suppress that information. Dr. Ralph Moss, a science writer at MSKCC during the 1970's, explains how he exposed the cover-up resulting in him getting fired from MSKCC. His account is quite vivid, detailed and at times riveting Perhaps Merola could have incorporated a few re-enactments to provide some variety instead of merely talking heads (the Daniel Ellsberg exposé The Most Dangerous Man in America, Man on Wire and Project Nim a prime example of how to make a doc thoroughly entertaining via reenactments). The talking-heads approach, though somewhat dry, would have resulted in boredom were it not for how interesting Dr. Ralph Moss seems as a subject. He's not only brave and smart, but also articulate and charismatic. It's also helpful that the running time is only 75 minutes; were it 90 or longer, it would have become exhausting. Merola Productions opens Second Opinion at Cinema Village.
Jamie Marks is Dead
While collecting rocks by a river one day, Gracie (Morgan Saylor) discovers the body of Jamie Marks (Noah Silver), a high school teenager who goes to school with her. Even school officials don't know whether he died by suicide or homicide. What's known about him, though, is that he was shy, quiet and bullied. Another student, Adam (Cameron Monaghan), feels guilt over the fact that he wasn't able stop others who he witnessed bullying Jamie inside a school bathroom. Adam meets Gracie at a shrine for Jamie, and soon the two become friends. That friendship becomes a bit complicated when Gracie points out to Adam that Jamie has risen from the dead as a ghost. Gracie tries to avoid the ghost of Jamie, but when Adam encounters him, he develops a friendship with him as well. Meanwhile, Adam's mother, Linda (Liv Tyler), becomes friends with Lucy (Judy Greer), the alcoholic driver who run her over leaving her paralyzed.
Just when you think that Jamie Marks is Dead will become a murder mystery or a case against teen bullying, it turns into something even more richer, surprising and unpredictable: a drama about suppressed feelings rising to the surface and about the struggle to overcome guilt through blossoming friendships. Both Adam and Lucy experience unexpected friendships: Linda with Lucy and Adam with Jamie's ghost. That ghost serves as a metaphor for Adam's struggle to come to terms with his emotions and to overcome his guilt over not stopping Jamie from getting bullied. Performance-wise, everyone is believable and well-cast, especially Noah Silver who you may recognize from The Giver.
Writer/director Carter Smith does an great job of keeping the film's atmosphere foreboding, enigmatic and, at times, almost dreamlike. He doesn't rely on gore or gimmicky plot twists. Most importantly, he leaves room for interpretation without spoon-feeding you or hitting you over the head. In other words, there's a lot going on beneath the film's surface so it'll take someone who's not shallow to recognize that and to appreciate even though it's understated. The plot takes its time to unravel while leaving you with more questions than answers, but, to be fair, there's nothing inherently wrong with being confused. This isn't your average coming-of-age film which makes Jamie Marks is Dead all the more refreshing, unique and un-Hollywood.
Kundo: Age of the Rampant
During the final days of the Joseon Dynasty in 1859 Korea, the rich, tyrannical government has enslaved its people ensuring that they stay impoverished and complacent while the rich rule the land. A group of peasant bandits, a.k.a. Kundo, including Dochi (Ha Jung-woo), come together to rise up against the tyrants. More specifically, they fight them in battles in hopes of defeating them once and for all.
Not surprisingly, Kundo has many action set pieces with stunts that feel initially thrilling at least on a visceral level. A good action film, though, needs more than just thrilling action scenes. The screenplay by Jeon Cheol-hong is where most of the films problems can be found because the dialogue ranges from silly to dull, and there's not nearly enough comic relief. In one particularly awkward scene, someone lunges at someone else to kill them while saying "I'm going to kill you!". That kind of dialogue treats the audience like infants. The characters, especially Dochi, isnt particularly memorable or interesting for that matter. Stories about the 99% revenging against the 1% have been told many times before, so there's nothing new or refreshing about that. Underdog stories will continue to be told no matter what because there's something exciting about watching them pitted against those who have power over them, even if you can easily predict the end result. If only Kundo weren't so shallow, dull and pedestrian, it would have reached its full potential when it comes to providing entertainment. At 1 hour and 40 minutes, at least it's much shorter and therefore less exhausting to sit through than The Hunger Games.
The Last of Robin Hood