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Reviews for January 25th, 2008

The Air I Breathe
- Directed by Jieho Lee.

Based on an ancient Chinese proverb. In four interconnecting subplots, Happiness (Forrest Whitaker) loses a gamble at a horse race and goes through desperate measures to get more money. Please (Brendan Fraser) has the ability to see into the future and falls in love with a Sorrow (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who’s singing career is just beginning to flourish. Love (Kevin Bacon) desperately tries to find the right blood type so he could cure his dying lover, Gina (Julie Delpy). Meanwhile, a pernicious mob boss, Fingers (Andy Garcia), invests in a record deal with Sorrow. The messy, convoluted plot unfolds with so many cuts and leaps in chronology that it causes more headaches and confusion rather than any real suspense or thrills. Too many scenes seem pretentious and even silly, as if you were watching the equally mind-boggling Southland Tales, but without the dark humor. There’s nothing wrong the performances, which are all pretty solid. However, co-writer/director Jieho Lee fails to engage the audience with poorly developed characters. Not only is it difficult to understand where the plot is going, but, unfortunately, it’s not easy to care about it or any of the characters for that matter. Number of times I checked my watch: 9 Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by THINKfilm. Opens at AMC/Loews Village 7 and AMC Empire 25.

Alice’s House
- Directed by Chico Teixeira.

In Portuguese with subtitles. Alice (Carla Ribas) has an extramarital affair with Nilson (Luciano Quirino), who’s married to one of her clients at the beauty parlor she works on. Meanwhile, she’s losing control of her three sons, Lucas (Vinicius Zinn), Edinho (Ricardo Vilaca) and her youngest, 15-year-old Junior (Felipe Massuia), who comes of age. Alice and her sons still live with her mother (Berta Zemel) who owns the apartment, although they want her to go to a retirement center. Writer/director Chico Teixera does a great job of developing the characters enough so that they seem true-to-life and interesting. Many scenes capture tender human moments while others are more heartbreaking, like when Alice has a breakdown and yells at everyone in her household to get out. What’s missing, though, is a focused dramatic core because too much of the plot goes all over the place—kind of like the chaos of life. There’s also not enough attention on Alice, the central character. Perhaps Teixeira should have made the grandma the central character instead because she has experienced a lot and wisely observes what goes on around her. A film it feels somewhat similar to in terms of its “slice of life” atmosphere is Raising Victor Vargas, which has a more interesting and emotional powerful plot than this slightly convoluted and underwhelming drama. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by FiGa Films. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.

How She Move
- Directed by Ian Iqbal Rashid.

Raya (Rutina Wesley) befriends Bishop (Dwaine Murphy) and joins his all-male competitive dance team, JSJ. Her older sister recently died from a drug overdose, so she does everything she can to stay away from that kind of lifestyle by showing off her dance moves to a rival dancer, Michelle (Tre Armstrong). She also wants to impress her mother (Melanie Nicholls-King), who initially thinks that dancing is just a waste of time. If you’re seen other similar dance movies such as You Got Served and Stomp the Yard, you’ll be rolling your eyes at how familiar this by-the-numbers plot feels. Rutina Wesley gives a charismatic performance, though, so that helps to keep you mildly engaged. How She Move only feels exciting during the dance sequences which look very much like flashy MTV music videos, while the drama scenes feel ho-hum and dull by comparison. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Paramount Vantage.

Lost in Beijing
- Directed by Li Yu.

In Mandarin with subtitles. Liu Ping Guo (Fan Bingbing) gets raped by her boss, Mr.Lin (Tony Leung Ka-fai), at the massage parlor she works at. When she becomes pregnant, she convinces him that he’s the father of her child and must pay for childcare. Meanwhile, Mr.Lin’s wife (Elaine Jin) sleeps with Liu’s boyfriend, An Kun (Tong Dawei), when he finds out that Mr.Lin slept with Liu. An Kun doesn’t believe that the baby’s father is Mr.Lin and tries to find out the truth. Such a chaotic plot would typically induce headaches, but in this case, it’s actually quite engaging and easy-to-follow thanks to a sensitive, well-written script by screenwriter/director Li Yu as well as convincing performances from each of the four actors. Yu also includes exquisite cinematography of modern day Beijing. Keep in mind that some of the lengthy, eyebrow-raising erotic sex scenes make the NC-17 Lust, Caution look like Disney film by comparison. The second half of the film has some interesting twists and turns in its plot, but it starts feeling a bit tedious and contrived. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Entertainment Value: Highly Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Opens at Film Forum.

Orthodox Stance
- Directed by Jason Hutt.

This mildly fascinating documentary follows the rise of Dmitriy Salita, a 24-year-old Russian immigrant and Orthodox Jew who defies expectations by following his passion to become a professional boxer. He started boxing at the age of 13 with his younger brother and since then, he decided to start training in boxing even though he can’t fight during the Holy days of the Jewish year. His trainer happens to be the legendary, 80-year-old Jimmy O' Pharrow who trained Hilary Swank for her role in Million Dollar Baby. It’s inspiring to watch how he respects his Jewish traditions by davening, observes the Sabbath and keeps Kosher throughout his rise to fame. Director Jason Hutt does a decent job of chronicling the events of Dmitriy’s rise in an easy-to-follow way, like an amazing Rocky Balboa tale. Sociologist Erving Goffman once wrote that everyone has a “front stage” life and a “back stage” life. In Orthodox Stance, there’s simply too many tedious scenes of Dmitriy struggling to gain publicity and not enough glimpses of him “backstage”. More one-one-one interviews with him would have helped to add some much-needed insight into what goes on inside his head throughout his experiences. Ultimately, this lack of insight diminishes the emotional power of this otherwise mildly fascinating and somewhat tedious documentary. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Oxbow Lake Films. Opens at Cinema Village.

- Directed by Sylvester Stallone.

Please note: This is not a re-release nor is it a remake of the 1982 film of it the same name—it’s actually a sequel. In Thailand, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) must save a Christian missionary, Sarah (Julie Benz), who’s kidnapped and tortured by pernicious Burmese militants. Stallone gives a wooden performance as does Julie Benz. There are also plenty of action sequences and gruesome deaths to entertain Rambo fans who don’t expect much. Stallone does an adequate job as the director, filming the action without too many nauseating camera movements. Those who care about a coherent plot or interesting characters or memorable dialogue will be quite disappointed. Just be sure to check your brain at the door before watching this or else you’ll feel like you’re losing some brain cells. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Lionsgate.

Trailer Park Boys: The Movie
- Directed by Mike Clattenburg.

Ricky (Robb Wells), Julian (John Paul Tremblay) and Bubbles (Mike Smith), a group of dim-witted friends living in a trailer park, team up to plan the “Big Dirty” to steal from a large coin collection at a movie theater. Just as you expect, the plan doesn’t go exactly as they planned it because of stupid mistakes. Co-writer/director Mike Clattenburg clearly goes overboard with stereotypes: all the male characters are stupid, even the drunk trailer park sheriff, while the women are ditzy and promiscuous. Nobody’s seems remotely likable and the excessive stupidity comes off as annoying rather than funny. Old School at least had an intelligent, hilarious script even though its characters were dim-witted and did stupid things, but this silly attempt for a comedy simply has an inane script that quickly runs out of steam within the first half hour. Be sure to check you brain at the door or else you’ll feel like you’re losing brain cells while watching this. Number of times I checked my watch: 8 Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Cavu Pictures and Screen Media Films. Opens at AMC Empire 25.

U2 3D
- Directed by Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington.

This exhilarating documentary is much more than a U2 concert film: it’s like actually attending a U2 concert and experiencing it, mostly, up close. You’ll be dazzled by the stylish lighting display as the cameras zoom in and out of the stage. It’s a no-brainer that if you’re not a U2 fan, listening to their music will bore you and it’s difficult to hear the actual lyrics with all the noise. For everyone else, co-directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington give you a one-of-a-kind experience for less than the price of a concert ticket. Most importantly, the 3D effects only make the film more captivating and significantly enhance your aural and visual experiences. Stay tuned throughout the end credits for an amazing animation sequence set to U2 music. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by National Geographic Entertainment. Opens at AMC/Loews Lincoln Square in glorious IMAX.

- Directed by Gregory Hoblit.

FBI agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane), in charge of cyber crimes, hunts down a serial killer who tortures people to death on an untraceable website. The more hits the website gets, the faster the victims die in the live video streams. Her younger partner, Detective Griffith Dowd (Colin Hanks), tries to help her solve the case. What could have been an edge-of-your-seat thriller instead feels dull and tedious because co-writers Robert Fyvolent, Mark R. Brinker, Allison Burnett show you the identity of the serial killer within the first 30 minutes. The rest of the plot simply connects the dots between Jennifer and the killer without any mystery or suspense. For those who have seen Saw, none of the torture methods are particularly surprising or shocking, just somewhat sickening. Director Gregory Hoblit does a satisfactory job of creating creepy moods through cinematography, sound editing and, especially, the setting design of the killer’s hidden dungeon. It’s too bad that such an intriguing plot becomes more and more contrived and unrealistic as it progresses to its preposterous, over-the-top third act. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Screen Gems.

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