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Reviews for February 8th, 2008

Bab’Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul
- Directed by Nacer Khemer.

In Arabic with subtitles. Bab’Aziz (Parviz Shahinkhou), a blind dervish, travels with his granddaughter, Ishtar (Maryam Hamid), across the desert in search of a rare gathering of dervishes. Throughout the journey, Bab’Aziz tells Ishtar a story about a prince who shuns the world around him in order to contemplate his soul through a reflection in water. Bab’Aziz and Ishtar meet a man who searches for his lover who ran away from him. The plot can be observed as a physical journey and as a spiritual journey. Unfortunately, the physical journey lacks focus and only feels mildly compelling while the spiritual journey of the characters doesn’t have enough insight into what changes they’re going through on a metaphysical level. Bab’Aziz merely tells the story of the prince rather than interpreting it. Writer/director Nacer Khemer assumes that the audience already has the wisdom about Sufi culture to make sense out of everything that happens, but those don’t know much about it will feel as lost as Bab’Aziz and Ishtar are wandering through the desert. On a positive note, there’s some beautiful Sufi music and breathtaking landscapes to help sooth your soul a bit. If only the plot itself were more profound, this could have been a much more moving and powerful experience. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Typecast Releasing. Opens at Cinema Village.

The Band's Visit

Directed 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 Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Fool’s Gold
- Directed by Andy Tennant.

Just after Ben (Matthew McConaughey) and Tess (Kate Hudson) have divorced, Ben stumbles upon a map that might lead him to find treasure from a ship that sank 300 years ago. Bigg Bunny (Kevin) also wants the treasure and uses his team of gangsters to stop Ben from finding it. Luckily, Ben ends up on a ship owned by a wealthy man (Donald Sutherland) that Tess happens to work on. Together again, they try to find the hidden treasure in the Caribbean. What follows could have been an exhilarating adventure comedy, but instead ends up quite bland and often drags. Kate Hudson and McConaughey have terrific chemistry just like they did in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Also, what kind of a foreign accent is Donald Sutherland trying to pull off? It sounds like a cross between British and French, but it just sounds irritating and unnecessary. At least director Andy Tenant includes plenty of colorful shots of the Caribbean and some partial nudity to provide some eye candy. In order to mildly enjoy this contrived, tedious film, it’s best that you check your brain at the door first. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None, as long as you check your brain at the door. Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.

The Hottie & the Nottie
- Directed by .

Nate (Joel David Moore) wants to date his childhood crush, Cristabel (Paris Hilton), but she can only date again if her very ugly best friend, June (Christine Lakin) also finds a date. Plenty of outrageous, gross-out situations ensue involving moldy toenails, popped zits and albino stalkers. Paris Hilton certainly looks sexy and, just as expected, gives a very bland performance. Much of the comedy aims for There’s Something About Mary and Shallow Hal and half of it falls flat while the other half manages to generate cheap laughs. The script by Heidi Ferrer has a bit of a mean spirit to it, but not nearly as much as in Superbad. At least the character of Nate is somewhat likable and doesn’t get on your nerves. Just be sure to check your brain at the door and to suspend you disbelief or else you’ll lose some brain cells while watching this. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Regent Releasing. Opens at AMC Empire 25.

How to Rob a Bank
- Directed by Andrews Jenkins.

Jinx (Nick Stahl), a bank robber, accidentally gets locked in a bank vault with Jessica (Erika Christensen) while the rest of the robbery team holds people hostage above them. Terry Crews is poorly miscast as a police officer who tries to negotiate the robbers. The plot essentially begins right smack in the second act as Jinx and Jessica already become trapped together without any introductions to who they really are or where they come from or anything interesting about them. Writer/director Andrews Jenkins fails to generate any real suspense given the stilted dialogue and many awkward scenes shot at awkward, headache-inducing angles. Even if you suspend your disbelief like when watching a typical heist film, How to Rob a Bank ultimately lacks imagination and often feels tedious and pretentious. Number of times I checked my watch: 12. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by IFC First Take. Opens at the IFC Center.

In Bruges
- Directed by Martin McDonagh.

Two hitmen, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), hide out in Bruges, Belgium for their next mission. Ray wants to quit his job when he accidentally kills a young boy behind a priest he also kills. Their menacing crime boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) disapproves of Ray’s quitting and threatens to kill him. Meanwhile, Ray meets a sexy film director and pisses off her boyfriend, who happens to be another of Harry’s hitmen. Despite strong performances by Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and, especially, Ralph Fiennes, writer/director Martin McDonagh relies too much on mean spirited humor that belongs in a Farelly brothers’ movie, like when Ken makes fun of fat tourists in the first act. The banter between Ray and Ken tries to be as witty and funny like in Pulp Fiction, but it often feels too forced. Moreover, the character, so-to-speak, of Bruges itself seems more interesting and appealing than any of the other characters. Eventually, the plot turns into a cat-and-mouse game between Harry and Ray that goes on a bit too long just for the sake of adding some more graphic violence, but not enough suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Focus Features. Opens at Angelika Film Center and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.

London to Brighton
- Directed by Paul Andrew Williams .

In French with subtitles. Kelly (Lorraine Stanley) and a preteen runaway, Joanne (Georgia Groome), escape from London to Brighton to avoid a pimp, Derek (Johnny Harris). The plot begins the second act when Kelly and Joanne desperately run away from London seeking refuge in Brighton. Through flashbacks, it becomes clearer what they did to piss off Derek’s boss (Sam Struell) who now wants to catch them dead or alive. Many scenes feel difficult to watch because of all the intensity and grimness. It’s as if something terrible were about to happen to the characters, but you just don’t know when or how. Writer/director Paul Andrew Williams builds the suspense and mystery effectively through the occasional flashbacks until the revelatory third act. If only he were to slow the pace down a bit so that the audience can get to know the two victims a bit more—such as what Joanne’s life at home was like before she ran away. The cat-and-mouse chase becomes slightly repetitive as the film progresses and it could certainly use some comic relief to alleviate the very dark, monotonous tone. Fortunately, the solid performances, particularly by Loraine Stanley, keep you somewhat immersed in the very intense plot. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Entertainment Value: Moderate High. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Outsider Pictures. Opens at Cinema Village.

Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show
- Directed by Ari Sandel.

Whether you enjoy this documentary depends on how much you can tolerate listening to Vince Vaughn and his comedy crew talk about their careers in comedy and pretty much promote themselves during a 30 day tour across America. Ahmed Ahmed, Bret Ernst, John Caparulo, and Sebastian Mansicalco are each comedians struggling to gain attention with their stand-up acts. Since they can’t earn a real living doing these stand-ups, they moonlight at other jobs such as waiting tables. Director Ari Sandel allows the audience to get to know them all, as well as their parents, but there’s not enough attention given to any particular comedian. Therefore, none of them get a chance to shine front stage or backstage. The clips from their comedy acts are too brief and the laughs are merely sporadic. Sandel even goes off on a tangent to show how the Wild West Comedy Show helped to raise funds during Katrina, but he forgets to show what makes them so funny to begin with. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Picturehouse.

A Walk to Beautiful
- Directed by Mary Olive Smith and Amy Bucher.

In English and Amharic with subtitles. This profoundly moving documentary focuses on five Ethiopian women who suffer from fistulas which they developed from obstructed childbirths: Ayeha, Almaz, Zewdie, Yenenesh and Wubete. They are unable to control their urine and, in some cases of double fistulas, their bowels, and become ostracized by the family and communities. Local hospitals refuse to treat them because their condition isn’t considered as important as other conditions and because they are poor. Luckily for them, a Fistula Hospital has opened in Addis Abba, many miles away from their village. Listening to the women recount their suffering feels very heartbreaking. It’s quite uplifting to watch missionary doctors devote their time and care for these women. Not only do they treat them and, in most cases, cure them, they also educate them on how to deal with future pregnancies. Co-directors Mary Olive Smith and Amy Bucher do a terrific job of addressing the serious problem that these impoverished women and others face in Ethopia and that it can be diminished with more obstetric physicians who take care of them during their pregnancy. The solution may not be that simple, but at least other people should become more aware of the urgent need to find a practical one in a country that doesn’t have the luxuries that America and other much more advanced countries have. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Very High. None is required or desired. Released by Engel Entertainment. Opens at Quad Cinema.

Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins
- Directed by Malcolm D. Lee.

Roscoe Jenkins (Martin Lawrence), a talk show host, leaves Hollywood to visit his family for the 50th anniversary of his parents (James Earl Jones and Margaret Avery) in Georgia. There, he reunites crazy brothers (Michael Clarke Duncan and Mike Epps) and his sister (Mo’Nique). His childhood sweetheart (Nicole Ari Parker) shows up with his cousin (Cedric the Entertainer) and he tries to win her over. Meanwhile, he loses chemistry with his wife (Joy Bryant). The ensemble cast adds lots of energy to an otherwise dull film filled with one silly slapstick scene after another. Writer/director Malcolm D. Lee, Spike Lee’s cousin, goes too far with some of humor and fails to include any real drama—do we really need to watch a poodle having an orgasm while having sex and shooting up into the sky? If only Lee could have ground the film in reality to make both warm and funny rather than juvenile and inane, this could have at least have been considered mildly entertaining. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Universal Pictures.

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