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Reviews for January 31st, 2014

Brightest Star

Directed by Maggie Kiley

      A young man (Chris Lowell) falls in love with Charlotte (Rose McIver), a girl from his Astronomy class at college, and the two become boyfriend and girlfriend. She eventually dumps him because she doesn't like that he's financially unstable, has no sense of purpose in life and slacks off more often than not. Still reeling from the break-up, he dates a new girl, Lita (Jessica Szohr), whose father gives him a boring corporate job at his company. At least the job is a financially stable one that would've made Charlotte impressed of him. Soon enough, he takes that as an opportunities to seek out Charlotte in hopes of rekindling their romance.

      With a more sensitive and organic screenplay, Brightest Star could have been a much more heartfelt and wise romantic dramedy. Instead, co-writers Maggie Kiley and Matthew Mullen opt for a sitcomish approach that glosses over the bumps on its protagonist's road as though they were afraid to dig a little deeper and go a little darker. Much of what transpires feels too neat and tidy---in other words: it feels Hollywood. The story of the young man's romance with Charlotte is told via flashback after she dumps him. It wouldn't have made much of a difference has it been told linearly, so use of flashbacks seems gimmicky and ultimately unnecessary. . Chris Lowell does give a decent performance, but the contrived screenplay undermines him. and, the always-reliable Allison Janney adds some panache as an astronomer in her brief scenes toward the end, but it's too little, too late.

      Brightest Star's most significant weakness, though, is in its unrealistic character arc. When the protagonist experiences epiphanies and changes, the changes don't come across as believable; it's as though they happen merely because the plot has to move from point A to point B. He does have likable qualities and his quest to find love is something relatable in itself, but his character never truly comes to life. Also, why do the screenwriters choose to not give him a name? He's a human being after all. The true test of the power of any film is whether any of its characters or scenes stick with you after the end credits roll. In this case, none of the characters or scenes resonate, and you're left feeling empty. At a running time of only 1 hour and 20 minutes, Brightest Star is shallow, contrived, toothless and ultimately forgettable.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Gravitas Ventures.
Opens at Quad Cinema.

Documentary Round-Up

      One of the most unique docs opening this weekend is Tim's Vermeer about the quest of a scientist/inventor, Tim Jenison, to find out once and for all how Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer was truly able to paint such photo-realistic paintings 150 years before the invention of photography. Did he use optical instruments to acheive the photo-realism? If so, would that really be cheating? Jenison sets out to find the answers by using optical instruments himself to see if he mimmick Vermeer's method of painting, assuming that he used the aid of instruments. He even goes to the extent of re-creating a room precisely the way it's shown in one of Vermeer's paintings. Directed by Teller (of Penn & Teller), Tim's Vermeer maintains a quiet suspense as the mystery unfolds with a few surprises along the way. Even when the suspense begins to wane, it's still fascinating food for thought about art, truth and the importance of not taking anything for granted. Admittedly, though, you might find yourself asking "What's the point to all of this? Does it really matter?" initially, but the significance becomes more clearer as the film progresses. Teller wisely focuses on Jenison's quest without going off on distracting tangents, so there's never a dull moments---in fact, there are even a few moments of comic relief as Jenison proves himself to be not only smart, but funny to boot. Tim's Vermeer deserves to become a sleeper hit because it equally entertains both mainstream and art-house audiences. 12 O'Clock Boys follows Pug, a 13-year-old boy from the inner city of Baltimore whose only aspiration is to join a dirt-biker gang called The 12 O'Clock Boys. The gang is well known, especially by the cops, for dangerously and illegally driving their bikes pointing straight up toward the sky, and they often outrun the police. When they don't outrun the police, they're either captured or, in some cases, crash and die during the chase. Director Lotfy Nathan takes a rather observational approach to the doc by including footage of Pug's daily life and that of The 12 O'Clock Boys doing what they do best: riding their dirty bikes. Much of that dirt-bike footage feels exhilarating to watch and looks very well-shot. You may even forget that you're watching a documentary during those scenes. Unfortunately, where this doc comes up short-handed is when it comes to delving more profound into the root causes of Pug and the gang's anti-social, subversive behavior. Is society/culture or bad parenting to blame? Or perhaps it's a combination of both. Moreover, is their behavior a systemic or systematic problem? The solutions to the problems may not be easy, but Lotfy Nathan squanders the opportunity to at least try to explore possible answers/solutions and to provide a broader context. At a too-brief running time of 1 hour and 15 minutes, 12 O'Clock Boys is often well-edited and thrilling, but leaves you with more questions than answers and feels incomplete.

Love is in the Air

Directed by Alexandre Castagnetti


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Focus World.
Opens at Quad Cinema.

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