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Reviews for January 30th, 2015

Alien Outpost

Directed by Jabbar Raisani

      General Dane (Adrian Paul) leads the U.S. military's Outpost 37, namely, Frankie Fiorello (Sven Ruygrok), Alex "Omo" Omohundro (Joe Reegan), and Ryan Andros (Reiley McClendon), to fight the aliens known as "heavies" over a decade after the heavies lost a war against mankind back in the year 2021. They risk their lives in their final effort to destroy the last remaining heavies.

      Writer/director Jabbar Raisani combines talking-head footage of the soldiers along with footage from their mission which does create a sense of realism as if you were indeed watching a "documentary." He adheres to the primary rule of found-footage films by not casting any recognizable actors. He also avoids the temptation of bombarding audiences with non-stop action sequences that would have led to exhaustion or nausea. When the action does arrive, though, the special effects look decent given the low budget.

      Unfortunately, Alien Outpost pales in comparison to a much better film about humans battling aliens, District 9, not just in terms of CGI effects, but in terms of story and characters as well. The story here simply feels like it's being stretched too thinly with no surprises, complexity, depth or shreds of poignancy. This probably would have worked better as a short because even at 90 minutes it does overstay its welcome.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by IFC Midnight.
Opens IFC Center.

Amira & Sam

Directed by Sean Mullin

      Sam (Martin Starr) has just arrived in New York City from serving as a U.S. soldier in Iraq. He meets Amira (Dina Shihabi), the neice of his former Iraqi translator, Bassam (Laith Nakli). When she runs into immigration problems that could lead to deportation, Sam volunteers to hide her in his apartment. They gradually develop a romance despite being from very different cultures. Meanwhile, Charlie (Paul Wesley), his cousin, a hedge fund manager, hires him as a consultant and persuades him to wear his army uniform in front of prospective clients to gain more respect despite that he's no longer serving in the army.

      The screenplay by writer/director Sean Mullin lacks nuance and subtlety, but the charms of its leads help to save it from downing in banality. Everything is telegraphed from the very beginning, so if you're hoping for any kind of suspense, you'll be somewhat disappointed. Much of what Sam and Amira go through feels contrived and with resolutions that unfold too neatly while the dialogue comes across as stilted as though it were only there to simply move from cardboard characters from Point A to Point B. The subplot involving Sam's new job as hedge fund consultant works well though, and adds an interesting, darker edge to the film---fortunately, Amira & Sam isn't cloyingly saccharine and lightweight like last week's romance, Song One.

      Casting director Billy Hopkins deserves much kudos for selecting Martin Starr and Dina Shihabi to play opposite each other because they have chemistry, charisma and plenty of charm together. In other words their performances rise above the clunky, sitcom-ish screenplay, and therefore make the film slightly more engaging in terms of emotional and entertainment value. It's also worth mentioning that Amira & Sam avoids getting too preachy and schmaltzy while not overstaying its welcome at an ideal running time of roughly 90 minutes.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Drafthouse Films.
Opens at Cinema Village.

The Devil's Violinist

Directed by Bernard Rose


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Freestyle Releasing.
Opens at Quad Cinema.


Directed by CÚline Sciamma


Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Strand Releasing.
Opens Village East Cinema and Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

Hard to Be a God

Directed by Aleksey German


Number of times I checked my watch: 6
Released by Kino Lorber.
Opens at Anthology Film Archives.


Directed by Deon Taylor


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Well GO Entertainment.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.

Wild Card

Directed by Simon West


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Lionsgate Films.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.
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