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Reviews for December 5th, 2008

The Black Balloon

Directed by Elissa Down.

Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) struggles to deal with his autistic brother, Charlie (Luke Ford), while starting a romance with Jackie, (Gemma Ward), a girl from his high school whom he meets during swim class. Toni Collette plays Charlie’s mother, Maggie, and delivers a terrific performance just as expected. His father (Erik Thomson) doesn’t give much attention to Maggie nor to his two children. Maggie leaves Thomas the job of taking care of Charlie, whose mental condition often leads to embarrassing moments for Thomas. For example, Charlie streaks naked and, somehow, ends up in Jackie’s house and urinates in the bathroom while she takes a shower. Later, he soils himself and makes a mess out of the excrement while Thomas has to clean it up. Director/co-writer Elissa Down awkwardly blends drama, romance and a touch of comedy with mixed results. She has had first-hand experiences living with autistic children and her knowledge of their condition certainly shows. Admittedly, it’s much more moving and interesting to watch Thomas gradually learn to tolerate Charlie’s behavior than to watch him falling in love with Jackie. That romantic subplot simply comes across as contrived, tacky and poorly developed. When it comes to the film’s dramatic elements, though, there are some tender moments that tug at your heart, especially whenever Charlie and Thomas interact with one another. Ultimately, The Black Balloon manages to be an uneven, yet slightly engrossing drama that could have been much more emotionally stirring with a more focused and organic screenplay.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3.
Released by NeoClassics Films.


Directed by Yen Tan.

In English, Italian and Mandarin with subtitles. Jeff (Adam Neal Smith), a young man whose best friend, Mark, recently died in an accident, invites Mark’s online lover, Andrea (Alessandro Calza) to visit him in Dallas, Texas from all the way in Italy. The two gradually get to know one another as they discuss about Mark’s past. In many ways, the lowkey dramatic tensions onscreen come from the two characters’ thoughts and feelings, some of which are explicitly expressed while most of them appear to be subtle and implicit. Director/co-writer Yen Tan doesn’t rely of gimmicky plot twists or overstuff the film with lots of characters. Instead, he wisely and tenderly focuses on the interactions between Jeff and Andrea as they share some moments of passion. Tan leaves the interpretations of what those moments mean for the audience to come up with, although it would have been more interesting had he allowed for some more insight into what Jeff and Andrea truly feel about their situation. Perhaps neither of them knows how to express their feelings yet because of their grief. Some of the dialogue does tend to feel contrived, long-winded and tedious while the performances are mediocre at best. Ultimately, though, Ciao manages to be a mostly tender drama that could have been much more powerful and memorable with a more organic and wiser screenplay.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3.
Released by Regent Releasing/Here! Films. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.


Directed by Ron Howard.

Based on the play by Peter Morgan and on actual events. In 1977, three after years after his resignation as President of the United States, Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) allows for British talk show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) to interview him. Nixon needs the money he’d receive for the interview and sees it as an opportunity to redeem himself to the American public while Frost wants to boost his own career. Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) advises Nixon throughout the four-part interviews while journalists James Reston (Sam Rockwell) and Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) help out Frost. Frank Langella delivers a performance as Nixon that’s so utterly convincing that it’ll surely lead to at least an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He master Nixon’s voice and body language in such a way that you forget you’re watching Frank Langella act. Michael Sheen and all of the supporting actors also give solid performances. Director Ron Howard gradually builds up tension until the actual interview occurs. It’s quite engaging to watch the complex dynamic between Frost and Nixon, especially during the first part of the interview when Nixon rambles on and on without letting Frost jump in to ask meaty questions, such as about the Watergate scandal. Those who have never watched the real interview between Frost and Nixon back in 1977 or who didn’t grow up during that era will be amazed at how such a rotten bastard of a President finally manages to grow a conscience and show his true emotions. Hopefully, while watching Frost/Nixon, this generation will notice the many similarities between George W. Bush and Richard Nixon. Frost/Nixon doesn’t overstay its welcome at a running time of 122 minutes and will keep you thoroughly captivated from start to finish.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0.
Released by Universal Pictures.

Let Them Chirp Awhile

Directed by Jonathan Blitstein.

Bobby (Justin Rice), an aspiring screenwriter in his 20s living in Manhattan, takes care of a female friend’s dog while dating a college freshman, Dara (Lauren Breckenridge). His best friend, Scott (Brendan Sexton III), lives with his girlfriend, Michelle (Pepper Binkley), while cheating on her by having a sexual relationship with Ariel (Amy Chow). Meanwhile, Hart (Zach Galligan), a successful, cocky playwright, has sex with Michelle after the opening of his off-Broadway show. Theorganic screenplay by writer/director Jonathan Blitstein has interesting characters, panache and comic relief to keep you engaged. Bobby, who looks a lot like cross between Woody Allen and a younger version of Nicholas Cage, manages to be a genuinely likeable character. He’s not any less neurotic than Scott, Dara and Michelle are. Sure, the characters all love to talk a lot and say very little, but the dialogue isn’t as rambling as much as in Mumblecore films such as Funny Ha Ha or Mutual Appreciation, which actor Justin Rice also starred in. Blitstein includes some obvious odes to Annie Hall, 2001: A Space Odyssey and, in more subtle ways, to films of Godard. Let Them Chirp Awhile doesn’t have any real surprises or particularly memorable characters, but at least it boasts an intelligent screenplay with lively and witty dialogue to keep you feeling engaged and refreshed without any pretentiousness.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1.
Released by Jonathan Blitstein Enterprises. Opens at the Cinema Village.

Nobel Son

Directed by Randall Miller.

After going on a date with City Hall (Eliza Dushku), Barkley (Bryan Greenberg) gets kidnapped by James (Shawn Hatosy), a young man who claims to be his illegitimate half-brother. Barkley’s Nobel Prizing-winning father, Professor Eli Michaelson(Alan Rickman), refuses to pay the ransom and, soon enough, both James and Barkley concoct an elaborate revenge scheme that has to do with stealing a slick car at a shopping mall. Bill Pullman plays the detective hired to solve the kidnapping case, Mary Steenburgen plays Barkley’s mother and Danny DeVito briefly shows up as an obsessive-compulsive neighbor. As the plot progresses, it becomes more and more ludicrous, convoluted and contrived. Alan Rickman adds some much-needed pizzazz to his role as a seemingly charming professor who sleeps with his students. Unfortunately, director/co-writer Randall Miller fails to generate any real suspense because of an unimaginative screenplay with silly twists that could be easily foreseen by any intelligent audience member. It would have been more interesting had he just shown the kidnapping scheme from the perspective of the detective so that there’d be at least a little mystery involved. Instead, there are too many perspectives onscreen, so you already know everyone’s intentions, whether hidden or unhidden. Moreover, Miller includes a very irritating musical score to accompany many scenes as if it would add some much-needed tension. If a slick car and a hot babe are all you need to enjoy a movie, then, by all means, watch Nobel Son. However, if you’re looking for an intelligent script, credible characters and decent thrills, you’ll end up disappointed and underwhelmed.
Number of times I checked my watch: 5.
Released by Freestyle Releasing.

Punisher: War Zone

Directed by Lexi Alexander.

Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson), a.k.a. The Punisher, hunts down criminals and does everything in physical capabilities to kill them. One of those criminals happens to be Jigsaw (Dominic West), a Mafioso whose face Frank had severely disfigured. Wayne Knight (yes, Newman from “Seinfeld”) plays Frank’s weapons supplier, Micro, while Dash Mihok and Colin Salmon play detectives on the hunt for The Punisher. Anyone coming into this sequel to 2004’s The Punisher know not to expect any amazing plot/character development or smart dialogue. Instead, it’s all about the cool action sequences with plenty of violence and gore. On those three terms alone, director Lexi Alexander delivers precisely what fans want and nothing more or less. Sure, the dialogue often sounds so stupid it’s funny and the acting is mediocre at best, but who cares? There’s lots of dark, tongue-in-cheek humor, graphic violence, stylish and cinematography, fast-paced editing, and awesome kills, some of which are quite hilarious to watch. As long as you’re an avid fans of The Punisher series and don’t mind checking your brain at the door for 107 minutes, Punisher: War Zone serves as mindless, action-packed entertainment and a guilty pleasure.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2.
Released by Lionsgate.

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