The Gardener, directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, sheds light on the multifaceted Baha'i faith. Mohsen and his son, Maysam, visit the Baha'i gardens in Israel. Both of them have different views on the religion. Mohsen argues many points about the strengths and positive aspects of the faith; his son perceived Baha'i and other religions in a more negative light because he believes that religion leads eventually to violence and oppression. Maysam goes to Jerusalem with a film camera to further comment about religion. Meanwhile, Mohsen films a gardener going about his daily work at the garden which may seem boring to Marsam, but, as Mohsen wisely observes, the gardener is not just working, he's also meditating while tending to the flowers. The gardener turns out to be very spiritual indeed especially when he tells Mohsen that the flowers are reacting negatively to his son---whether you think the gardener is full of B.S. or not depends on how open minded and spiritual you are yourself. Fortunately, The Gardener remains contemplative, well-balanced and fascinating without veering into preachiness or heavy-handedness. You'll find it to be provocative no matter what your religion is. It opens at the Quad Cinema via KDK Factory. Zipper: Coney Island's Last Wild Ride, distributed by The Cinema Guild, opens at the IFC Center. Although you do learn about the Zipper's history and how much people love the ride, this documentary isn't fundamentally about the Zipper; the elephant in the room is how real estate firm Thor Equities and Mayor Mike Bloomberg see Coney Island as a means to make more money by re-zoning the famous beachfront amusement park and redeveloping it. In turn, many small businesses that gave Coney Island so much character were forced to close. Councilman Domenic Recchia believes that a new indoor water park ride at a hotel will be a great part of the Coney Island experience. Joe Sitt, president of Thor Equities, doesn't seem to grasp that the addition of new restaurants like Bubba Gump Shrimp would change Coney Island for the worst, not for the better. Destroying essential parts of Coney Island like the Zipper isn't really progress; it's capitalism in its ugliest form. Chances are that when Sitt and Bloomberg studied finance and/or economics, they were brainwashed to think that greed is good, that everything is about maximizing profit, and that if it's legal then it must also be moral. Maximizing profit by re-zoning and redeveloping Coney Island, while legal, is quite immoral because of how it affects the character and small businesses that have been an integral part of Coney Island for years. Director Amy Nicholson does a great job of following the "progress" of Sitt and Bloomberg, but doesn't include enough of the human element when interviewing Eddie Miranda, the owner of the Zipper. She assumes that anyone watching this doc will already be emotionally invested in the loss of the Zipper. In just 1 hour and 17 minutes, she does provide you, though, with a reader's digest of Coney Island's tragic fate. Zipper ultimately serves as a gentle, informative elegy for Coney Island which will never be the same again.
The year is 2154. Wealthy individuals have escaped to a mansion-filled utopia in outer space called Elysium. Any diseases can instantly be cured through a machine. Everyone who's poor remains on Earth where overpopulation persists. After Max (Matt Damon) gets terminally ill when accidentally exposed to radiation at work, he realizes that he desperately needs an escape plan to reach Elysium to be cured. His childhood sweetheart, Frey (Alice Braga), whom he had promised to take to Elysium some day in the future, could use some medical treatment for her leukemia-stricken young daughter. Spider (Wagner Moura), the leader of the resistance movement on Earth, offers him the opportunity to escape to Elysium under one condition: that he kidnap CEO John Carlyle (William Fichtner) and download highly classified information from his brain. The two people who remain obstacles in his quest are Kruger (Sharlto Copley), a bounty hunter, and Delacourt (Jodie Foster), Secretary of Elysium.
After the smart and suspenseful District 9, writer/director Neill Blomkamp returns with yet another sci-fi action film. Elysium starts out on a provocative note as learn about the dystopian futuristic Earth and the distant Elysium. Roughly 30 minutes or so of exposition pass before Max finally embarks on his attempt to kidnap the CEO. The little that you do learn about Earth and especially Elysium is not enough, though. Once Max hunts down the CEO, Elysium essentially becomes a nearly non-stop action, dumbed-down action film. It grows increasingly tedious, and the CGI effects, while impressive, have diminishing returns. The flashbacks to the interactions of Max and Frey when they were kids are unnecessary and redundant. The few twists later in the 2nd act don't feel like twists because they're not really surprising. Moreover, the use of shaky cam during the action scenes doesn't add much except for nausea. More time spent getting to know the people of Elysium or at least its governing members would have given the film the modicum of depth that it needed or at least a break from all of the mind-numbing action.
Elysium's worst sin, though, is that it under-uses the uber-talented Jodie Foster who barely has a total of 20 minutes of screen time, and only a minute or so together with Matt Damon. Moreover, neither Damon nor Foster give their best performances here---Foster's performance even borders campiness at times. They're both underserved by the weak script that favors CGI and action over character development and intelligence. None of the characters are particularly memorable or worth caring about which means that any of the scenes meant to generate poignancy fall flat. Ultimately, Elysium is yet another shallow, dumb blockbuster that could easily be turned into a video game.
Abe Benjamin (Tomas Herrera), a documentary filmmaker, sets out to find a very unique bicycle which become a task that's easier said than done when others like billionaire Joe Panda (Joseph Guido) and his security team, B-Rad (Bryan Bermingham) and Blake Braughman (Jason Karcz), search for the bike concurrently. What does time-traveling, a little girl and a woman named Wildrose have to do with Abe Benjamin's quest? The details of Whensday's plot and how they connect are among its many charms, so spoiling them would ruin your own sense of adventure and surprise as you watch them unfold. This is the kind of film that you have to see to believe. To describe it or even to label it in terms of genre wouldn't do it any justice---some of the best films can't be classified in any particular genre(s). Much of it feels anarchic and even a bit weird, campy and crazy but it never goes over-the-top nor does it veer into the realm of pretention. Parts of it may loosely channel Terry Gilliam, Wes Anderson and David Lynch, yet Whensday still maintains its own idiosyncrasy, originality and brilliance. You'll find yourself laughing and scratching your head while you're at the edge of your seat from start to finish.
Unlike many modern American films, Whensday remains unpredictable and inspired from start to finish. Moreover, co-directors Tomas Herrera, Ben Mozer, Andrew Schneider and Doug Usher make the most out of the low budget with the creative costume/set designs, special effects and top-notch cinematography. The film has a very professional look and, most importantly, has more style and imagination than any of the $100+ million-budgeted films that Hollywood keeps spewing over and over these days. The actors give decent performances, and it helps that none of them are recognizable because that makes the film even more refreshing. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, Whensday is a delightfully weird, invigorating and brilliant slice of indie cinema heaven. It's destined to become a cult classic. Please be sure to stay until after the end credits for a brief stinger.