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Reviews for February 13th, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic

Directed by P.J. Hogan.

Based on the books Confessions of a Shopaholicand Shopaholic Takes Manhattan by Sophie Kinsella. Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher), a New Yorker obsessed with shopping, has finally maxed out all of her credit cards and owes a lot of money that she can’t afford to pay to the credit card companies. She desperately wants to work for the fashion magazine Alette, run by a French woman, Alette Naylor (Kristin Scott Thomas), but instead ends up applying for a job at Successful Saving magazine which happens to located in the same office building. Even though she has no experience in the world of publishing, the magazine editor, Brandon (Hugh Dancy), hires her for the temporary job. Her first article entitled “"The Girl in the Green Scarf” becomes an instant sensation and garners her some recognition in the fashion industry as a witty writer who knows how to advice shoppers about how to save money. Soon enough, she and Brandon flirt with one another and she gives him some fashion advice. Little does he know that Derek (Robert Stanton), the guy who’s often calling her at work, isn’t her creepy ex-boyfriend, but rather a creepy debt collector from a credit card company. Despite a plot filled with contrived and cheesy moments and virtually no palpable romance between Rebecca and Brandon, what makes the film mildly engaging is its lively, energetic cast, especially Isla Fisher who radiates plenty of offbeat charisma much like Reece Witherspoon did in Legally Blonde. Julie Hagerty has a few funny one-liners in her brief scenes. It’s also quite amusing to watch John Goodman and the scene-stealing, Joan Cusack, as Rebecca’s quirky parents. Fortunately, the screenplay by co-writers Tracey Jackson, Tim Firth and Kayla Alpert has a few sharp and witty moments, especially as it attempts to satirize shopaholics. There aren’t any truly profound insights to be found here, but its message about not yielding to the temptation to buy things that you don’t really need is a welcome one. Director P.J. Hogan, who also directed My Best Friend’s Wedding and the bittersweet Australian gem Muriel’s Wedding, keeps the pace moving briskly and adds a terrific soundtrack so that there’s rarely a moment that drags. Ultimately, at a running time of 105 minutes, Confessions of a Shopaholic manages to be an often contrived, but breezy, occasionally witty and mildly amusing comedic satire with a delightful cast.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2.
Released by Touchtone Pictures.

Friday the 13th

Directed by Marcus Nispel.

After Pamela Vorhees gets killed on June 13th, 1980, her son, Jason seeks revenge against anyone who sets foot on Camp Crystal Lake. Years later, a group of horny young adults camp out on Crystal Lake and, soon enough, Jason immerges from the woods to slaughter them all, leaving one victim alive and holding her captive. Clay (Jared Padalecki) arrives six weeks later to search for his sister, Whitney (Amanda Righetti), who went missing around that area. It also happens that he bumps into a second group of horny young adults are on their way to drink booze, have sex and smoke weed at Camp Crystal Lake. Neither of those youths have a clue as to what kind of danger lurks within those woods. Avid horror fans will be pleased to see Jason emerging to kill his victims in the dark of the night and even during the daytime. Very little of the plot actually makes sense while the characters themselves have no charm or any redeemable personality and often behave like airheads, although they do look quite attractive. Why can’t there finally be a horror film with at least a somewhat intelligent youth who knows better than to go to a shed alone at night in the middle of nowhere? Director Marcus Nispel, who also responsible for directing the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, includes unique deaths for each victim to try to avoid tedium, but doesn’t succeed. Too much of the film feels like more of the same cat-and-mouse chase that you’ve seen before, especially in the recent 3D horror film, My Bloody Valentine. However, this remake of 1980’s Friday the 13th has nothing refreshing or new to offer other than a meaner Jason who uses a wider variety of weapons to kill his innocent victims. The graphic gore, creepy scenery and the eerie musical score don’t provide any real scares, except for a few cheap shocks on occasion. At a running time of 95 minutes, Friday the 13th has a sexy cast, lots of blood ‘n guts and nudity, but lacks the palpable thrills and chills of the original.
Number of times I checked my watch: 4.
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.


Directed by Matteo Garrone.

Based on the book by Roberto Saviano. In Italian with subtitles. In Naples, Roberto (Carmine Paternoster) gets a job in the waste disposal industry dumping toxic waste throughout the district. His tough boss, Franco (Tony Servillo), a money launderer, barely reacts when Roberto walks off the job one day. Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato) delivers hush money to families who support the local mob, known as the Camorra. Soon enough, he gets caught up in violent outbursts of gunfire that take place. Pasquale del Preto (Salvatore Cantalupo) works as the mob’s tailor and tries his best to stay out of trouble. After all, he does have a wife and child at home, so he needs to support them while staying alive. In one of the most devastatingly brutal subplots, Totò (Salvatore Abruzzese), only 13-years-old, feels very eager to join the Camorra mob family, so he tries to get a job as a drug pusher and learns how to properly use a gun. Finally, there’s Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone), two adolescents obsessed with Scarface, who reenact acts of violence and goof around guns, but, soon enough, they get caught up with the real violence of the Camorra. Director/co-writer Matteo Garrone, who also directed The Embalmer, goes for an appropriate cinéma vérité that makes you, the viewer, feel merely like a spectator a voyeur into the intersecting lives of all these characters who go about their daily routines in Naples. The dimly-lit and somewhat grainy cinematography effectively enhances the film's overall grim atmosphere. It’s quite emotionally devastating to watch the young Italian teenagers behave with such anarchy and delinquency while increasingly putting their life in great danger. What causes them to be so violent and hateful? Garrone doesn’t present easy answers nor does he explore the dynamics of the teenagers’ family life, but one can deduce that their aggressive behavior comes from both their nature and their nurture. While there isn’t a clear protagonist here, the Camorra mob family as whole substitutes for the protagonist because each of the subplots and characters revolve around it either directly or indirectly. At a running time of 137 minutes, Gomorrah is an equally riveting, brutally honest and horrifying drama.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1.
Released by IFC Films. Opens at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Two Lovers

Directed by James Gray.

Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) moves back into the apartment of his mother, Ruth (Isabella Rossellini), and father, Reuben (Moni Monoshov), located in Brighton Beach. He helps his father out at a dry cleaning store, but doesn’t feel content to be working there. Michael Cohen (Bob Ari), a family friend, wants to merge his own chain of dry cleaning stores with Reuben’s store. At a family dinner party, Leonard meets Michael’s daughter, Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), and he shows her his photograph collections in his room. Sandra seems very interested in him and wants to continue seeing him, but he’s just not that into her nor does he know what he really wants out of life or love, for that matter. When he meets Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), a sexy, blonde neighbor who just moved into the building, he now goes back and forth between seeing those two women, hoping that neither will find out about the other. Michelle has troubles of her own including an addiction to drugs and that she’s seeing a wealthy boyfriend, Ronald (Elias Koteas), whom she’s just not that into. Perhaps she doesn’t know what she wants either. Leonard, though, seems rather naïve because he doesn’t know how to maturely handle relationships with other people, especially with women. When Michelle explicitly tells him that she feels like he’s like a brother to her, he fails to grasp what that really means and doesn’t seem to respect her feelings. Director/co-writer James Gray, who had only written and directed crime drama such as The Yards, We Own the Night and Little Odessa in the past, tackles the romantic drama genre with mixed results. The character of Leonard comes across as so childish and occasionally quixotic in his behavior that it makes it difficult for you to sympathize with him. He needs a lot of therapy and growing up to do before he could date either of the two women. There’s one particularly awkward scene when he goes on a dinner date with both Michelle and Ronald, who, predictably, has a man-to-man chat with him once Michelle briefly leaves the table. Meanwhile, as he continues to see Sandra, who’s very nice and caring to him all along, but he’s still too immature to figure out whether she’s right for him or not. It’s quite sad to watch him play with her good heart in such a selfish way. Sandra simply deserves to be treated better. Fortunately, Joaquin Phoenix, in his last film role, gives a raw, emotionally charged performance as Leonard. You can sense that there are many layers of pain and suffering inside of him that, perhaps come from some sort of traumatic events in his childhood. Had Gray explored those pains more thoroughly with better character development, you would have been able to get inside his head, so-to-speak, much more easily, rather than feeling as though you’re observing him, coldly, from a distance. At a running time of 110 minutes, Two Lovers is a somewhat emotionally hollow, often meandering romantic drama buoyed by strong performances.
Number of times I checked my watch: 4.
Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

Under the Sea 3D

Directed by Howard Hall.

This lively 3-D IMAX documentary, narrated by Jim Carrey, transports you into the depths of the Indonesia and Papua New Guinea’s Coral Triangle, Australia’s Cape Catastrophe as well as the Great Barrier Reef, where a variety of marine life flourishes. The colorful organisms shown onscreen include shrimp, crabs, cuttlefish, Australian sea lions, jellyfish, mollusks, sea turtles, lionfish, and octopus, sea snakes and frogfish, among others. Both children and adults will be dazzled by the eye-popping visuals, especially in 3-D. You’ll have the impression of being submersed underwater while surrounded by many large and small, beautiful sea creatures that are just barely at arm’s length. Director/co-writer Howard Hall, who also directed the IMAX short documentaries Deep Sea and Into the Deep, includes not only exquisite cinematography, but an impressive musical score that, surprisingly, avoids the song “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid, although you’ll probably be tempted to at least hum it throughout. Occasionally, Hall also includes some witty narration and visual humor to enliven the seriousness so that the film doesn’t become too pedestrian or lose the attention of its younger audience. The highlights include adorable sea lions that come toward the camera to give you kisses. In another segment, there are two male cuttlefish that desperately follow a large female cuttlefish in hopes that she will mate with them, if she chooses to. Then there’s also a crab that gets under jellyfish to use it as a protective shield. Part of the 40-minute running time includes footage of an ocean floor that looks lifeless and deteriorated because of the effects of global warming. The anti-global warming message, fortunately, remains coherent, timely and vital for children to learn without being too preachy for adults. Under the Sea 3D, ultimately, manages to be a delightful, breathtaking, lively and gently illuminating documentary that must be experienced on a giant IMAX screen.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0.
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and IMAX Corporation. Opens at the AMC/Loews 68th & Broadway IMAX Theater.

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