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Reviews for August 30th, 2013

Abigail Harm

Directed by Lee Isaac Chung

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Almond Tree Films.
Opens at Quad Cinema.

Afternoon Delight

Directed by Jill Soloway

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by The Film Arcade and Cinedigm.
Opens at Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

Documentary Round-Up

      Now playing at the Film Forum is Tokyo Waka: A City Poem, a documentary about the crows in Tokyo from many different perspectives. Crows have been plaguing Tokyo for many years, and the image of a crow has profound meanings. Directors by John Haptas and and Kristine Samuelson interview a variety of individuals ranging from a homeless woman to a zookeeper, Buddhist priest and a tofu seller each of whom has some insights about crows based on their own experience. There's much more to crows than meets the eye. Footage of people getting attacked by crows will send shivers down your spine a la Hitchcock's The Birds. They attack to shoo people away if they walk under their nest. One Tokyo resident admits that he's afraid of crows after a crow injured his head when he was a kid, and he heard that if he were to look up at a crow, it could poke his eye out. There's more to crows than meets the eye, though. You'll see footage of crows placing nuts on roads as a means of getting them cracked by the cars that run over them. Some drivers go out of their way to run over the nuts. In other footage that must be seen to be believed, crows steal cloth hangers to build their nest, and rip off hair from animals for the same purpose. Not everything in Tokyo Waka is amusing, though. Watching a crow trying to cut its way out of a bag after being trapped feels quite sad---the co-directors don't dwell on that; they let you come to your own conclusions. Perhaps they or other filmmakers could delve into the inhumane treatment of crows in another doc. Tokyo Waka manages to be insightful, surprising and amusing. Cat lovers will rejoice because it screens with CatCam, a 16-minute film directed by Seth Keal, which literally follows a cat that wanders around suburbia wearing a tiny camera built by its owner. Prepare for your funny bone to be tickled by the unexpected adventures of the seemingly benign cat.

Instructions Not Included

Directed by Eugenio Derbez

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Pantelion Films.
Opens nationwide.

The Last Christeros

Directed by Matias Meyer

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Cinema Tropical.
Opens at Anthology Film Archives.

The Lifeguard

Directed by Liz W. Garcia

      29-year-old Leigh (Kristen Bell) feels unhappy about her life, so she leaves her job as a newspaper journalist in New York City and moves back in with her parents, Justine (Amy Madigan) and Hands (Adam LeFevre) in the suburbs of Connecticut. There, she reconnects with her friends from high school, namely, Todd (Martin Starr) and Mel (Mamie Gummer), and gets a job working as a lifeguard at a condo-complex pool. Mel and Todd each have issues of their own: Mel isn't sure if she wants to start a family with her husband, John (Joshua Harto). while Todd has yet to come out of the closet. Leigh befriends two teenagers, Little Jason (David Lambert) and Matt (Alex Shaffer), who chill and smoke weed with her, but she crosses moral and legal boundaries when she has a sexually-charged affair with 16-year-old Little Jason.

      Writer/director Liz W. Garcia's screenplay has the basic ingredients that make for a compelling character-driven drama: flawed characters are at turning points/crises in their lives and who are in the process of going through epiphanies. Leigh behaves immaturely and isn't particularly likable, but that's okay because it makes her more interesting. Unfortunately, Garcia undercooks the ingredients and barely scratches the surface of emotions that boil within Leigh. She doesn't really give Leigh enough of a chance to express her thoughts and feelings in ways that would have added depth to the role. Just when The Lifeguard starts veering into dark territory, it cops-out and goes back to a lighter tone while over-simplifying and sugar-coating the "solutions." The relationship between Leigh and her parents, which could have provided more insight into the source of Leigh's issues, remains under-explored. Moreover, Leigh's character arc feels incomplete and inorganic.

      Each member of the cast delivers a solid performance, especially David Lambert and Alex Shaffer, but they're undermined by the weak, underwhelming screenplay. Sure, it's refreshing to watch a character-driven film with a female protagonist, but The Lifeguard is too ultimately shallow and unsophisticated to be a truly satisfying, emotionally rewarding oasis in the midst of summer filled with loud films which also lack depth.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Screen Media Films.
Opens at Cinema Village.

The Terror Live

Directed by Kim Byeong-woo

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by CJ Entertainment.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.

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