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Reviews for February 27th, 2009

An American Affair

Directed by William Sten Olsson.

In 1963, Adam Stafford (Cameron Bright), a 13-year-old, insecure Catholic boy who gets bullied at school, has a crush on Catherine Caswell (Gretchen Mol), a sexy, older blonde woman who moves into an apartment in plain sight from his bedroom window. It turns out that she happens to be involved in a hot affair with President John F. Kennedy while her ex-husband Graham (Mark Pellegrino), a CIA agent, and his boss (James Rebhorn), might be using her as a spy for an assassination plot against JFK. She agrees to pay Adam to work at her garden to tear it down. When he comes back home late one night after throwing paint around with Catherine, Adamís parents, Mike (Noah Wyle) and Adrienne (Perrey Reeves), who work as political journalists, learn about their relationship and forbid him to continue spending time with her. What dark secrets might Catherine be hiding from Adam and how will they affect his relationship with her? The witty screenplay by Alex Metcalf gradually builds dramatic tension as Catherine gradually reveals more and more of herself, emotionally, to Adam. The more Adam spends time with her, the more he discovers that thereís much more to her than meets the eye. Fortunately, Gretchen Mol sizzles in the emotionally complex role of Catherine. Both Adam and Catherine seem generally likable despite all of their problems, so youíll care about them as flawed human beings. The way that they bond together to inspire one another in different ways feels quite moving at times, especially later in the second act. While a few of the plotís twists come across as slightly contrived in the way that they unfold, they donít diminish the dramatic tension. Director William Sten Olsson, in his feature film directorial debut, wisely includes authentic set and costume designs, brisk pacing and a well-chosen musical score so that thereís rarely dull moment from start to finish. Ultimately, An American Affair manages to be a captivating, witty and poignant drama that doesnít overstay its welcome at an appropriate running time of 92 minutes.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1.
Released by Screen Media Films. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

Crossing Over

Directed by Wayne Kramer.

In the city of Los Angeles, Max Brogan (Harrison Ford), an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer, raids a sweatshop where he finds an illegal immigrant, Mireya (Alice Braga), hiding there with her young son. He takes her to be deported and looks for someone to take care of her son. Maxís partner, Hamid Baraheri (Cliff Curtis), an Iranian, invites Max to his fatherís naturalization ceremony. Zahra (Melody Khazae), Hamidís sister, has disgraced her family by dressing and behaving in ways that arenít according to her religionís traditions. In yet another subplot, Gavin Kossef (Jim Sturgess), and his girlfriend, Claire Sheperd (Alice Eve), realize that they canít stay together as a couple in American because both of their green-cards have expired. Gavin teaches music at a Jewish school and hopes that his limited experiences in the Jewish religion will get him a new green-card. Claire has a car accident with a car that belongs to Cole Frankel (Ray Liotta), a married man who happens to be a green-card application adjudicator, and, soon enough, Cole convinces her to be his mistress for two months in exchange for an instant approval of her application for a green-card. Just when you thought that the plot already feels quite convoluted, more characters are introduces, such as Coleís wife, Denise (Ashley Judd), an immigration defense attorney involved in a case about a young orphan from Nigeria who she wants to adopt. In the least convincing plot thread, Taslima (Summer Bishil), a Bangladeshi teenager, gets into trouble with the law when she writes an essay where she appears to be siding with the 9/11 terrorists. Given the unsubtle words in that essay, youíll also be under the impression that she sympathizes with the terrorists even though she denies it. Writer/director Wayne Kramer interweaves so many poorly developed subplots and underdeveloped characters that it makes for a nauseating, messy experience. Any of those subplots could have been easily fleshed out more into a separate film of their own. None of the actors or actresses has a moment to truly shine because of the often contrived dialogue. Moreover, Kramer has a poor sense of pacing and transitions between scenes so that when the plot turns its focus onto another subplot, it loses it dramatic momentum. There are certainly some provocative messages about the status quo of immigration in America and what it means to become an American, but none of those messages convincingly gel. In other words, itís as if all of the intriguing messages and interesting thoughts simmer chaotically in the same pot, but they never actually reach a boil and, therefore, remain undercooked throughout. Ultimately, Crossing Over manages to be sporadically provocative, but often convoluted and dull with undercooked messages and ideas.
Number of times I checked my watch: 4.
Released by The Weinstein Company.

Robert Blecker Wants Me Dead

Directed by Ted Schillinger.

In this provocative documentary, Robert Blecke, a New York Law School professor, speaks out about his beliefs that the death penalty should be used more often, but only a criminal has been proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, to have taken the life of another human being whether itís through rape or murder or other means of killing. On the surface, it sounds like he believes in ďan eye for an eyeĒ, but itís much more complicated than that because he wants death row inmates to at least come to terms with their crime and to admit full responisibility so that they could understand why they deserve capital punishment. Thereís a lot of human emotion involved in that process. One of the inmates on death row happens to be Daryl Holton, a man who shot his four children to death back in 1997. During 2005, Blecker visits him in the Riverbend Maximum Security Prison to openly and honestly discuss with him his views on the death penalty to try to get Holton to open up to him as well. Itís intriguing to watch how they, essentially, become friends the more that Blecker asks difficult, penetrating questions which require Holton to be self-reflective and to dig deep into painful memories. In turn, Blecker question his own morality and views about the death penalty, especially when Holton refuses to take full responsibility for his criminal actions. Director Ted Schillinger, in his feature film directorial debut, wisely includes a lot of captivating footage showing Blecker and Holton having discussions with one another as well as Blecker in his office trying to make sense out of everything that transpired as the day of execution gets closer and closer. It would have more insightful, though, had Schillnger explored what particular events throughout Bleckerís life made him so passionate about the death penalty to begin with and so brave enough to talk about it. Would Holton deserve the death penalty had he taken the life of an animal, such a dog, or does the death penalty just apply when someone murders a human being? How does he feel about a Buddhist meditation process called Vipassana which has been used in some prisons as a means for inmates to reach a state of inner tranquility? Nonetheless, despite these minor shortcomings, Robert Blecker Wants Me Dead manages to be a compelling, provocative and illuminating documentary that will inspire you to intelligently reexamine your own beliefs about the death penalty.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0.
Released by Atlas Media Corp. Opens at the Cinema Village.

Samís Lake

Directed by Andrew C. Erin.

For the one-year anniversary of her fatherís death, Sam (Fay Masterson) takes her four friends, Franklin (Stephen Bishop), Dominik (Salvatore Antonio), Kate (Sandrine Holt) and Melanie (Megan Fahlenbock), along on a weekend getaway in a cabin located at Samís Lake where she had spent her childhood years. Another young adult, Jesse (William Gregory Lee), who used to be good friends with Sam, joins the group to party and just have as much fun as possible. As they sit around a campfire and tell scary legends to one another, little do they know that some sort of a vicious killer lurks somewhere around Samís Lake to terrorize them. Is the killer human or a supernatural entity? What does the killer really want? Writer/director Andrew C. Erin doesnít answer these questions so easily or quickly and, therefore, allows for a modicum of mystery and suspense as someoneóor something---spies on the young adults from a distance. When Franklin goes to a dilapidated, abandoned house and discovers a diary, thatís when the filmís horror elements start to take into effect. The surprises and twists, none of which will be revealed here, come a bit too abruptly after a rather tedious cat-and-mouse chase through the woods. Writer/director Andrew C. Erin includes very little gore and, instead, opts for creating a generally creepy atmosphere through the use of set design, cinematography, lighting, editing and the eerie musical score. Unfortunately, the scenes meant to be frightening mostly end up falling flat while the mystery surrounding the killerís identity eventually becomes silly and contrived. Anyone who has ever seen a horror film before, especially Friday the 13th or Cabin Fever, should know that when a group of friends go to a secluded cabin by a lake surrounded by a picturesque landscape, terror is imminent. Ultimately, avid horror fans will find Samís Lake to be a stylish and well-edited, but mostly tedious and bland horror film lacking in thrills, chills or any real surprises.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3.
Released by Cinema Epoch. Opens at the Cinema Village.

The Trouble with Romance

Directed by Gene Rhee.

Four different couples go through awkward moments in their relationship over the course of one night at the same hotel. The first segment has Jill (Jennifer Siebel Newsom) lying on a bed with her current boyfriend, Jack (Kip Pardue), and having foreplay with him while she sees hallucinations of her ex-boyfriend. Naturally, Jack thinks that sheís crazy and, when she excuses herself into the bathroom to deal with the ghost of her ex-boyfriend, he takes the opportunity to call his friend in hopes that he gives him sound advice. Should he stay to have sex with her or should he just flee the hotel room? In the next vignette, David Eigenberg, whom you might recognize from Sex and the City, plays Paul, a husband whose wife, Karen (Josie Davis), blindfolds him on a hotel bed as he waits for a surprise: another woman wants to be join them in a Mťnage ŗ trois. How will Paul react to his wifeís new desire to spice up their sex life? Does Karen have a hidden agenda perhaps? Next, thereís Jimmy (Roger Fan) whose girlfriend, Stephanie (Emily Liu), decides to end their three-year relationship because heís often shallow, behaves rudely toward her, and pays more attention to his buddies than her. Will they find a way to patch things up or is their relationship officially over? Will she forgive him for defecating on a photo of her that she finds stuck in the toilet? In the final vignette, Charlie (Jordan Belfi), a lonely young man, hasnít had sex in a while and decides to have it with a sexy prostitute, Nicole (Sheetal Sheth). Heís too naÔve to figure out that her kindness and attention toward him is part of her business routine rather than any real emotions. Nonetheless, he gets closer to her and tries to ask her out on a date despite sheís just not that into him. Each of the four vignettes shows how stupid and foolish men can be and how love has its confusing moments. Unfortunately, the contrived screenplay by director/co-writer Gene Rhee fails to generate any real drama, comedy or romantic chemistry for that matter. On top of that, the performances are mediocre at best while the cinematography seems very amateurish, like what youíd expect to find in a typical direct-to-video movie. At a running time of 88 minutes, The Trouble with Romance often drags with poorly developed characters, awkward pacing and stilted dialogue that has no new or refreshing insights about love, romance or modern relationships.
Number of times I checked my watch: 6.
Released by Sweet Violet Films/Girls Club Ent. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

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