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Reviews for January 20th, 2012

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos

Directed by Kazuya Murata

      Edward and Alfonse Elric desperately search for the mythical Philosopher's Stone which has the power to turn them back into healthy humans. Edward needs an new arm and leg that he had lost when using human alchemy to bring his mother back to life---Alfonse, in turn, lost his body and now has his soul stuck in a robot. Meanwhile, Ashleigh, another alchemist, escapes from prison thereby leading to Ed and Al going on the hunt for him in Table City, a metropolis inhabited by people called the Milos who are oppressed by the fascist state of Creta. Julia, Ashleigh's sister, joins Ed and Al's quest to find the Philosopher's Stone, and struggles to save Milos from being destroyed forever.

      A truly great animated film should not only have stellar animation, but also an imaginative story with compelling characters. Fullmetal Alchemist, fortunately, has each of those qualities. The screenplay by Hiromu Arakawa and Yűichi Shinbo finds just the right balance between provoking the audience intelligently and entertaining them. Lots of animated films nowadays are dumbed-down and filled with over-simplifications, but Fullmetal Alchemist trusts the audience's intelligence given its intriguing plot that offers some clever twists and surprises up its sleeve. None of those twists or surprises ever feel gimmicky. It's also worth mentioning that the plot doesn't become too convoluted or confusing. Fans of the animated series will be satisfied while those unfamiliar with the series will still be able to follow the plot along easily through the much-needed exposition. Important facts are repeated enough so that you'll remember them later on. Moreover, its characters have depth and complexity making this an above average anime film.

      Director Kazuya Murata moves the film at fast enough pace with plenty of dazzling animation with meticulous attention to detail in both the foreground and background --almost as much as you'd find in a Miyazaki film. The action sequences will make you feel quite exhilarated without going over-the-top.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Opens at the Cinema Village.
Released by Eleven Arts.


Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Please check back soon for a full review.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Opens nationwide.
Released by Relativity Media.

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

Directed by Chad Freidrichs

      This captivating, engrossing and enraging documentary focuses on what might have caused the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe, a urban housing project located in St. Louis, and built in the 1950's before being demolished in 1972. The housing project served as a way of providing affordable residences for the lower class. Why was it demolished? That turns out to be quite a loaded question with many different---and frightening---answers.

      Fortunately, director Chad Freidrichs includes enough perspectives, including the ones from Pruitt-Igoe's former residents, to make for a very well-rounded, thorough examination of the issue at hand. He wisely understands that Pruitt-Igoe is a microcosm for many problems that have been and will continue to plague cities throughout the country. After all, given that we live in a cosmopolitan, everything that happens to someone else effects us in some way, shape or form even if it's indirectly. While it's true that the Pruitt-Igoe housing project became dilapidated, with elevators that reaked of urine, and violence, prostitution and drugs could be found there, the underlying question is: Why didn't anyone stop it from reaching to that point? Not all of its residents were violent---that was a stereotype back then. Racism was surely an issue that played a factor in Pruitt-Igoe's demise, but there's much more to it than that. There's also the issue of poor urban planning which made it difficult to sustain the government-funded project which relied on the income of lower-class residents. Urban economic growth in St. Louis transmogrified as suburbanization boomed in the 1950's. The many interviews with former residents are quite moving, insightful and provocative. Even the beginning of documentary where a resident passes by the location that Pruitt-Igoe was at makes for quite a chilling experience.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Opens at the IFC Center.
Released by First Run Features.

The Viral Factor

Directed by Dante Lam

      Jon (Jay Chou), an IDC agent, goes on a mission to help escort a bacteriologist doesn't go as planned. A nefarious government agent, Sean (Andy Tien), kills the bacteriologist, steals his deadly virus, kills Jon's girlfriend and shoots Jon in the head, leaving him with a serious head injury. Informed by doctors that he has only two weeks to live, Jon visits his mom, (Elaine Jin), who tells him that he has an older brother, Man Yeung (Nicholas Tse), whom she abandoned many years ago when she left his dad, Man Tin (Liu Kai-chi). He goes searching for Man Yeung, who just so happens to be a criminal-on-the-run. Soon enough, Man Tin, Man Yeung and virus specialist Dr. Rachel Kan (Lin Peng) help Jon hunt down Sean before he spreads deadly virus worldwide to profit from its vaccine.

      Director/co-writer Dante Lam masters the genre of action thriller, but when it comes to the dramatic elements that try to tug at your heartstrings, that's where the film tends to falter. The scenes where Jon bonds with his mother and, later, with his father, feel contrived and tacked-on, which needlessly increases the already-lengthy running time of 2 hour and 2 minutes. The action sequences, though, feel quite exhilarating and stylish, although by the 1,000th gunshot, you might feel a bit exhausted and numb. Fortunately, the plot remains easy-to-follow from start to finish, so you won't be confused, but it would have been better if Lam had edited down the number of action sequences and made the dramatic scenes less corny and contrived.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Opens at the AMC Empire and AMC/Loews Village 7.
Released by China Lion.

Watching TV with the Red Chinese

Directed by Shimon Dotan

Please check back soon for a full review.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Opens at Big Cinemas Manhattan.
Released by Roam Films.

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