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Reviews for January 18th, 2008

27 Dresses
- Directed by Anne Fletcher.
Katherine Heigl gives a charming performance as Jane, a young woman who has been a bridesmaid 27 times throughout her life and finally wants to settle down with her boss, George (Edward Burns),who she’s secretly in love with. The problem is that George falls in love with her sister, Tess (Malin Akerman), and plans to marry her. Meanwhile, Kevin (James Marsden), a reporter writing an article about Tess, desperately tries to win Jane over and even berates her with post-its and phone calls despite that she constantly rejects him. Director Anne Fletcher relies heavily upon the charisma of the ensemble cast which, fortunately, helps to keep you engaged. However, the script by Aline Brosh McKenna often feels awkward, contrived and cheesy in a way that makes you roll your eyes. Katherine Heigl and James Marsden in particular give convincing performances and their characters are quite appealing—although Kevin can be creepy at times and Jane occasionally seems a bit mean. Ultimately, 27 Dresses is a harmless and pleasant film that looses steam toward the end but still remains somewhat charming and uplifting. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by 20th Century Fox.

- Directed by Joseph Cedar.
In Hebrew with subtitles. Based on a true story and on the novel by Ron Leshem. In 2000, Israeli soldiers guard Beaufort, a fortress near the Lebanese border, while waiting for their final withdrawal from Lebanon. Liraz (Oshri Cohen) commands the unit, but he, just like his soldiers, don’t quite understand what he’s doing risking his life up on Beaufort. They’re all basically stuck there together as missiles unexpectedly strike their area and a bomb explodes. Co-writer/director Joseph Cedar does a great job of heightening the reality and suspense through cinematography, pacing and strong character development. Anyone who calls this a war film hasn’t really understood it at all. It’s more about the relationship and mental state of the Israeli soldiers as they contemplate the meaning of war and death while trying to find a purpose to their life—and basically, to survive. Many scenes feel poignant and gripping while others are thought provoking given how you can relate it to how the U.S. soldiers probably feel in Iraq: lost, confused and, above all, misled by their government. It’s quite horrifying to watch the Israeli soldiers here endure such pain and suffering, but just imagine how even more horrifying it would be for them to try to adjust back to life at home where they truly belong. Beaufort is ultimately a disturbing, timely and important film. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Kino International. Opens at Quad Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Cassandra’s Dream
- Directed by Woody Allen.
Two brothers, Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell), desperately need money, so they ask some from their wealthy uncle (Tom Wilkinson), who requests that they murder a man as a favor in order to receive the money. Just like in Greek tragedy, the murder leads to inevitable chaos—Terry’s guilt gradually eats away at him to the point of insanity. Both Ian and Terry have girlfriends and, of course, try to hide their dark secret from them. Writer/director Woody Allen goes back to Match Point territory with a grim plot that has a few twists here and there. Unfortunately, it all feels ho-hum, contrived and unimaginative. The dialogue lacks the trademark Woody Allen bite and too many scenes end abruptly and awkwardly with poor pacing. What keeps you mildly engaged, though, are the strong performances all across the board, especially Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell, along with the terrific score by Phillip Glass. If only the characters and plot were at least remotely believable, this could have been a very powerful film rather than a mundane, forgettable drama lacking in any real suspense or insight. Number of times I checked my watch: 7. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by The Weinstein Company.

- Directed by Matt Reeves.
Rob (Michael Stahl-David), Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), Jason (Mike Vogel), and Lilly (Jessica Lucas) struggle to survive in New York City when, all-of-a-sudden, a huge monster attacks the city. Their friend, Hud (T.J. Miller) tags along while filming everything they go through. Your perspective is actually from Hud’s camera, so there’s lot of Blair Witch-style, shaky footage that’ll make feel a bit nauseous at first. Director Matt Reeves opens the film on a rather tranquil note as all the potential victims gather to celebrate a birthday party. It takes 20 minutes into the film for the monster to finally arrive, but once it does, Cloverfield feels like one thrilling roller-coaster ride into a frightening situation. The group does everything possible to avoid getting killed and joins Rob as he desperately tries to head uptown to save his girlfriend, Beth (Odette Yustman). A few contrived scenes in the second half of the film diminish the realism, but not the intensity of the suspense. No spoilers of what the monster looks like or what happens to the potential victims will be mentioned here, but be prepared for a very distressing, draining and somewhat nauseating experience, especially if you watch it up on the big screen. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Paramount Pictures.

Day Zero
- Directed by Bryan Gunnar Cole.
Three best friends, Feller (Elijah Wood), Dixon (Jon Bernthal) and Rifkin(Chris Klein), have 30 days to report to the military during a draft while struggling to make sense of their lives. Each of them reacts in their own way to the military draft: Feller dislikes it, but forms a list of things to do before the he enters the military; Dixon, a cab driver, feels excited about it even after he has a new girlfriend who prefers for him to stay; Rifkin, who’s married, strongly dislikes it and does anything he can to avoid it. He even attempts to enter a gay lifestyle by going to a gay club, where he ends up gay-bashing someone. Unfortunately, screenwriter Rob Malkani fails to bring any of these characters to life despite what seems like plenty of room for character development. The unfocused plot often meanders while going off into poorly developed tangents, such as a subplot involving Dixon’s relationship to a young girl who had been raped. Director Bryan Gunnar Cole includes too many awkward pauses and slow-paced scenes that diminish your attention even further. Even though the premise of a military draft suggests lots of plot tension and insight, there’s not enough of either one of those. Elijah Wood, Jon Bernthal and Chris Klein give decent yet unremarkable performances which don’t help to enliven a dull and tedious film. Number of times I checked my watch: 12. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Unfortunately, none. Released by First Look Pictures. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.

Mad Money
- Directed by Callie Khouri.
Bridget (Diane Keaton) persuades Nina (Queen Latifah) and Jackie (Katie Holms) to rob the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank where they work as cleaning ladies. Bridget’s husband (Ted Danson, yes he’s back!) eventually joins their scheme, which involves switching some locks and hiding money in their undergarments. Each of the women has their own reason for needed the money and, of course, once they steal enough to pay their debts, they want more. The inane plot, told through flashback while they get interrogated, becomes more and more implausible as it progresses. How gullible do they think the security at the Federal Reserve or the audience, for that matter, really is? This marks the least annoying performance by Diane Keaton in a long while—it’s still hard to forgive her for going over-the-top in The Family Stone and Because I Said So, though. Fortunately, director Callie Khouri moves the film along at a light and breezy pace and allows her female actors to add some much-needed liveliness to the silly, unsurprising plot. Number of times I checked my watch: 5 Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired as long as you suspend your disbelief and check your brain at the door. Released by Overture Films.

Still Life
- Directed by Jia Zhang-Ke.
In Mandarin with subtitles. A miner (Han Sanming) and a nurse (Zhao) search for their spouses during the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, which gradually floods the village of Fengjie. With its slow pace and thin plot, Still Life lives up to the implications of its title. Writer/director Jia Zhang-Ke does a better job at creating a somber mood through cinematography, set design and the use of muted colors—this could have been in black-and-white and had the same effect. Unlike the director’s last film, The World, this one often drags and fails to be memorable, insightful or engaging. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by New Yorker Films. Opens at the IFC Center.

Taxi to the Darkside
- Directed by Alex Gibney.
This timely, provocative documentary focuses on the tragic experiences of Dilawar, a taxi driver arrested by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and sent to prison where American interrogators inhumanely tortured him while suspecting him of terrorism. It’s equally heartbreaking and horrifying to watch the reenactments of what he went through—his hands were held up and bound tightly. Numerous times he was kicked and degraded while being blindfolded. Director Alex Gibney wisely includes fascinating interviews with some of the interrogators who now express guilt and remorse, although they admit that they were merely following orders. The torture that Dilawar endured seems even more terrifying than any scene in Hostel or Saw because of how real it is and that many other prisoners go through the same experience. What’s even more shocking and maddening is that our own incompetent government is behind all of this. Worst-of-all, just like immature toddlers, they have often tried downplay the amount of torture that goes on, although, eventually, the Dilawar’s torturers did get punished by the law—but after Dilawar died from his injuries. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by THINKfilm. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.

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