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Reviews for December 7th, 2007

The Band's VisitDirected by Eran Kolirin.
In Hebrew and Arabic with subtitles. An Egyptian Police Band, led by Tawfiq (Sasson Gabai), accidentally end up in the small town of Bet Hativkva, Israel, rather than Petach Tikva, where they’re supposed to play at a concert the next day. Cultures clash and friendships ignite as Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), a café manager, allows Tawfiq and his band members to stay with her and Itzik (Rubi Moscovich) overnight. First-time writer/director Eran Kolirin deftly blends comedy and drama with a very gentle touch. There aren’t any big plot twists or the good guy/bad guy shtick. Instead, by focusing on atmosphere and character development, Kolirin brings out the comedy in unexpected moments, some of which feel offbeat and bizarre yet help to enrich the characters. The best scene takes place at a roller-skating rink where one of the band members teaches Itzik how to overcome his shyness around women—and to stop him from hearing the sound of the ocean every time he talks to one. Sasson Gabai gives a very strong performance full of charisma as Tawfiq, but it’s Ronit Elkabetz who adds lots of panache as Dina. Watching her and Tawfiq gradually connect as two lonely human beings feels surprisingly poignant. It’s very rare to find such an intelligent, poignant comedy with brilliant cinematography, attention to detail and true-to-life moments. If only the Academy Awards would have accepted this as an entry for Best Foreign Film rather than deeming it ineligible because it has too much English. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: Very High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas for one week only.

Dirty Laundry

Directed by Maurice Jamal.
Upon returning to his dysfunctional Southern home after a 10 year absence, Patrick (Rockmond Dunbar) discovers he has a young prodigal son, Gabriel (Aaron Shaw). Patrick’s single mother (Loretta Devine) insists that Gabriel’s mother had died in a tragic accident involving a careening bus and barbeque sauce. Chaos ensues when Daniel (Joey Costello's Ryan) shows up at the door and admits that he’s Patrick’s boyfriend. The terrific ensemble cast also includes the talented Jenifer Lewis as Patrick’s loudmouth, annoying aunt, Terri J. Vaughn as his compassionate sister, and Maurice Jamal (who’s also the film’s writer/director/producer) as his homophobic brother. In a pivotal scene, Evelyn keenly admits about her family that “This ain’t Soul Food and we ain’t the Cosby’s.” Despite a contrived plot that occasionally gyrates between sitcom and soap opera, writer/director Maurice Jamal allows for each actor and actress to shine above the material and to breathe life into every scene. It’s also a showcase for Loretta Devine’s scene-stealing performance, which garnered her a much-deserved Best Actress award at the 2006 American Black Film Festival. With its inspiring, uplifting messages about accepting others for who they are, being open and honest toward others and, most importantly, following your heart, Dirty Laundry also deservedly won the Audience Award at that festival. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Entertainment Value: Moderately High. Spiritual Value: Highly Moderate. Released by CodeBlack Entertainment and 20th Century Fox. Opens at Clearview Chelsea 9.

The Golden Compass

Directed by Chris Weitz.
Based on the trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. 12-year-old Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) travels up north as the assistant of Mrs.Coultier (Nicole Kidman), who might have something to do with the abduction of Lyra’s best friend, Roger (Ben Walker) and other young students. Daniel Craig briefly shows up as Lyra’s uncle who examines fairy dust that holds the key to connecting parallel worlds. At some point, Lyra is given a golden compass that can answer any question truthfully. Writer/director Chris Weitz, (also the writer/director of the much different American Pie) fails to include enough tension or thrills to make this as entertaining as other films of its kind like Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia. Even Stardust had a more exciting plot and memorable characters. The plot here just seems too mind-boggling, especially for kids who will end up scratching their heads or perhaps even falling asleep from the boredom. Even the special effects don’t look particularly special—the “green screens” are quite obvious in many cases. Fortunately, its running time is only 113 minutes rather than over two hours, but, in a desperate attempt to promise a sequel, the so-called “ending” has the most annoying cliffhangers ever put to celluloid. It makes you wonder why you bothered watching The Golden Compass in the first place. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired, as long as you suspend your disbelief. Released by New Line Cinema.

Grace is Gone

Directed by James C. Strouse.
Stanley Philipps (John Cusack) takes his two young daughters on a road trip while trying to tell them that their mother, Grace, recently died serving in the Iraqi War. Lately, a surge of anti-war films have been coming out in theaters, but Grace is Gone marks the first one that presents its messages very gently and subtly. First-time director James C. Strouse opens the film as Stanley attends a group meeting for military wives and, soon enough, he receives information that his wife. Grace, has died in the war. For the rest of the minimal plot, he drives around with his two kids, who may or may not understand what happened to Grace. John Cusack’s emotionally strong performance doesn’t compensate for poor character development and many scenes that feel tedious. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the film being a “slice of life”, but the main problem is that it’s a mostly uninteresting and unremarkable slice. Unfortunately, the audience never gets a chance to meet Grace before she went into the army, so it’s difficult to imagine her in the way that Stanley imagines her. Even at a running time of 85 minutes, Grace is Gone overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by The Weinstein Company. Opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

The Man in the Chair

Directed by Michael Schroeder.
Cameron (Michael Angarano) a high school teen, summons the help of a grumpy ex-gaffer, Flash (Christopher Plummer, adding some gravitas), to make short film. Flash introduces him to other burnt-out elderly friends at the Motion Picture retirement home, who are willing to help him with the film as well—even to write it. Writer/director Michael Schroedor eventually switches gears from focusing on the relationship between Cameron and Michael to focusing on he retirement home community, which suffers from poor living conditions. How can Cameron save the community, make Flash happier and win the Short Film Festival competition at the same time? It all sounds too contrived and convoluted. Schroeder includes flashy editing that tries to be stylish but ends up simply headache-inducing and pretentious. It’s great that he references many classic films including Citizen Kane, His Girl Friday, The Fischer King and others, but that just proves his passion for cinema. Man in the Chair, unfortunately, fails to showcase his true talent for making cinema. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Outsider Pictures. Opens at the AMC Empire 25.


Directed by David Wall.
David Wall gives a decent performance as Father Jonathan Keene, a priest who arrives at a small fishing town one week before Christmas to shut down a parish. He gives the parish’s priest, Father Simeon Joyce (Sean Patrick Brennan), one last chance to save the parish. A few local townspeople agree to participate in a Nativity play, but the woman who plays Virgin Mary looks too old to play her. Father Keene tries to convince a beautiful librarian, Marjorie (Kerry Wall), to play her instead. Writer/director David Wall does a great job of combining strong character development and some dry humor along with poignant, heartfelt scenes which never feel too melodramatic or cheesy like in August Rush. By creating such a human drama, David Wall allows the surprises come from the characters rather than from the plot, so they don’t seem contrived. After mean-spirited movies this season that center around Christmas like Fred Claus or dreary, unimaginative ones like This Christmas and The Perfect Holiday, it’s a breath of fresh air to discover Noëlle as a warm, true-to-life and moving drama with characters you truly care about. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Gener8xion Entertainment and Volo Films. Opens at AMC Empire 25.


Directed by Guy Ritchie.
Jake (Jason Statham) defends himself against Dorothy (Ray Liotta), a gangster/casino owner who lost to him during a gambling match. The best way to describe the plot any further is to imagine any other Jason Statham movie but with many confusing and awkward scenes which fail to generate any real excitement. Even War had more thrilling action sequences than this incoherent mess, which has been gathering dust since 2005. Writer/director Guy Ritchie includes the same headache-inducing visuals and fast-paced editing from Snatch. At least Ray Liotta adds some brief comic relief just by showing off his trademark “crazy eyes”. Number of times I checked my watch: 12. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

The Sasquatch Gang

Directed by Tim Skousen.
Slacker comedies have been far and few since the 80’s and 90’s, although Dude, Where’s My Car? and Napoleon Dynamite tried to invigorate them. Along comes The Sasquatch Gang, about nerdy outcasts, Gavin (Jeremy Sumpter), Hobie (Hubbel Plamer) and Maynard (Rob Pinkston), who think they’ve found traces of Bigfoot in a park. Their slacker neighbors, Zerk (Justin Long) and Shirts (Joey Kern), participate in some shenanigans that affect Gavin and friends. Writer/director Tim Skousen heavily dumbs down the plot and includes lots of stereotypical characters—like a fat kid who often gets picked on and a nerdy girl who looks beautiful with a slight makeover. The laughs come sporadically while most comedic attempts fall flat, but at least it’s all funnier and outrageous than Napoleon Dynamite--Jon Heder even has a cameo here to remind you of it. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired as long as you check your brain at the door. Released by Screen Media Films. Opens at the Village East Cinemas.

Strength & Honor

Directed by Mark Mahon.
Sean Kelleher (Michael Madsen) recently lost his wife to serious illness and, after killing an opponent during a boxing match, vows never to box again. Now that his young son is dying, he challenges Smasher O'Driscoll (Vinny Jones) to a boxing match in order to pay for the operation which can save his life. Despite a decent performance by Michael Madsen and important messages about valuing, honoring family and having strength (both physical and mental), this drama feels contrived and unfocused at times with poor character development. Writer/director Mark Mahon does create some plot tension, but too much of the dialogue lacks organic qualities, which make many crucial scenes seem hackneyed. Strength and Honour ultimately feels as bland, pedantic and forgettable. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Slowhand Releasing. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris

Directed by Raymond De Felitta.
Whether or not you’re familiar with the one-time jazz legend Jackie Paris, this unfocused documentary will only keep you mildly engaged. Director Raymond De Felitta clearly admires Jackie Paris and tries his best to showcase the best of his music—some of which has never been publicized before. The most fascinating part of Jackie’s life though is when his fame faded out and he was long forgotten, but De Felitta fails to explore this transitional period in his life deeply enough. More interviews with Jackie would have helped instead of interviewing many of his fans and friends. Most importantly, De Felitta doesn’t really address why he deserves to get his fame back now after all these years of hibernation. Sure, in some ways, the music can speak for itself, but, for those looking for true insights, it’s not substantial. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Outsider Pictures. Opens at the Cinema Village.

The Walker

Directed by Paul Schrader.
Woody Harrelson gives a strong performance as Carter Page, an escort who gets involved in a murder case. One of his clients, Lynn (Kristin Scott Thomas), returns to his car all shaken up after claiming that her husband has been murdered. Did she commit the murder? If so, what’s her motive? If not, then who did murder him? All of these questions create some tension within the first half of the film, especially when investigators suspect Carter as the murderer. However, writer/director Paul Schrader fails to maintain the tension in the second half with some seemingly unnecessary scenes that drag and poor character development of other potential suspects. For example, other clients who have befriended Lynn and Carter include Natalie (Lauren Bacall) and Abigail (Lily Tomlin), but they’re most one-note characters. A truly great murder mystery is supposed to be fun to solve and have an intricate puzzle that makes you think. Despite a terrific cast, The Walker, on the other hand, ultimately feels confusing and dull. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by THINKfilm. Opens the Angelika Film Center and Regal 64th and 2nd.

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