August - Directed by Austin Chick.
Tom (Josh Hartnett) and his brother Joshua (Adam Scott) struggle to keep their startup company ďLandshark.comĒ alive during the dotcom boom in August of 2001. Tomís cocky attitude gets him into more trouble than he expected. He even cheats on his wife (Emmanuelle Chriqui) with his ex-girlfriend (Naomi Harris). Rip Torn plays Tomís father who tries to discourage him from continuing to be in the internet business. Despite a very intriguing first act that has a lot of meat on its bones and suspense, the suspense wanes turning the film into a dull, uninvolving and tedious ride. That Josh Hartnett is well-cast here and delivers a believable performance as the deceptively charming and confident Tom. Thereís clearly more to Tom than meets the eye, but the lazy screenplay by Howard A. Rodman doesnít allow for the complexity to be explored enough to keep you truly riveted. Also, Tom and his wife have no chemistry nor is there any between him and his ex-girlfriend. On a positive note, there are a few moments that almost feel provocative and compelling before those sensations fizzle out like a helium balloon losing its air. In a nutshell, Augustís deflation of suspense and intrigue can be compared to a slick-looking car that has a full tank of fuel, but simply doesnít go anywhere because the faulty engine (the script) keeps on stalling. Perhaps a more competent driver (director) would have had better success at starting the engine after a thorough check-up (script re-write). Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Released by First Look Pictures. Opens at the Village East Cinema.
Days and Clouds - Directed by Silvio Soldini.
In Italian with subtitles. When Michele (Antonio Albanese) confesses to his wife, Elsa (Margherita Buy), that he lost his job and is going broke, their marriage gradually deteriorates. Theyíre now forced to sell their house for a smaller one and to desperately find jobs to support themselves. Michele, meanwhile, snaps back at his 20-year-old daughter, Alice (Alba Rohrwacher), and their relationship also becomes dysfunctional. Ideally, married couples vow to love one another through thick and thin, but, in reality, itís easier said than done. Elsa and Michele essentially go through challenging tests of their fortitude and of their love for one another. Despite a plot that occasionally drags and has few surprises, much of it feels absorbing thanks to Margherita Buyís raw, emotionally-charged performance as Elsa. Her amazing acting ability allows her to master a broad range of emotions including sadness, anger, frustration and joy. The sensitive, organic screenplay by director/co-writer Silvio Soldini breathes life into what could have otherwise been a dull, depressing and tedious film. Soldini also includes breathtakingly beautiful cinematography and an appropriately slow pace to let the scenes breathe, so-to-speak. Elsa and Michele actually seem like a real couple whose marriage becomes jeopardized as they grapple with the consequences of poverty. Itís quite moving to watch as they question the meaning of their own lives as well as their priorities. Ultimately, Days and Clouds manages to be a vivid, engrossing and subtly powerful drama. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Film Movement. Opens at the Quad Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Death Defying Acts - Directed by Gillian Armstrong.
During 1926, Harry Houdini (Guy Pearce) develops a romance with Mary McGarvie (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a woman who pretends to be a psychic so that she can receive $10,000 for channeling his dead mother from the grave at a staged performance. She and her young daughter, Benji (Saoirse Ronan) try to charm Houdini, although his manager, Mr. Sugarman (Timothy Spall) seems suspicious of their hidden agenda. Comparisons to The Illusionist and The Prestige are inevitable while watching this romantic drama/thriller, but it doesnít have any real surprises or suspense up its sleeve. Harry and Mary have nil romantic chemistry, although they do look attractive together. Admittedly, itís quite awkward to hear Catherine Zeta-Jones use a British accent for the role and sheís not particularly believable using it either. The only actress who truly shines here is Saoirse Ronan, whom you might recognize from Atonement. Co-writers Tony Grisoni and Brian Ward simply fail to bring any of the characters to life and to include enough dramatic tension to keep you immersed into the story. Much of the second act feels stale and drags not because of a slow pace, but because of a ho-hum script that lacks imagination. On a positive note, director Gillian Armstrong has a knack for using visually striking imagery, beautiful costumes and impressive set design. If only more attention were given to the screenplay itself and its characters, Death Defying Acts would have been much more riveting and engrossing rather than just mildly engaging. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by The Weinstein Company. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinemas.
Eight Miles High - Directed by Achim Bornhak.
In German with subtitles. Based on a true story. Throughout the 60ís and 70ís, Uschi Obermaier (Natalia Avelon) becomes a supermodel and joins the hippie movement while having an on-and-off relationship with Dieter Bockhorn (David Scheller) and befriending Keith Richards (Alexander Scheer) of The Rolling Stones. Poor acting, subpar directing and a lazy screenplay by writer/director Achim Bornhak make for a boring, vapid and tedious experience that lacks the basic need for plot and character development. Natalie Avelon certainly looks sexy, but doesnít have enough material to sink into her role as Uschi. Bornhak doesnít give the audience a reason to care about Uschi or even to like her. So what if she disrobes and often has sex? Is that what he considers as entertainment? It would have been at least somewhat helpful if he added a little insight into the counterculture of that era or into the mind of Uschi. Too many scenes drag and donít have enough intrigue to hold your attention. At an excessive running time of 114 minutes, Eight Miles High overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 18. Released by Music Box Films. Opens at the Cinema Village.
The Exiles - Directed by Kent MacKenzie.
Mary (Mary Donahue), a Native American woman, tries to cope with her alcoholic, neglectful husband, Homer (Homer Nish), who aimlessly spends his time with his friend, Tommy (Tom Reynolds). Those looking for a strong plot or character development should look elsewhere; the most important and interesting character happens to be the district of Bunker Hill in Los Angeles, where the film takes place. Writer/director Kent MacKenzie abandons the convention three-act structure of Hollywood plots and seems to care more about capturing an atmosphere of raw authenticity through the use of cinema veritť. Many of the black-and-white shots resonate a rather somber feeling that parallels the alienation that Mary, Homer and Tommy experience as Native Americans living in Los Angeles. Originally filmed in 1961 on a shoe-string budget, The Exiles has finally, and deservedly, been picked up for distribution and restored in this gloriously-looking new print by the UCLA Film & Television Archives. If youíre willing to forgive the film for its minor technical issues, such as poor post-production dubbing, and donít mind an abrupt ending that requires some extrapolation and leaves you wanting more, youíll find the The Exiles to be a truly absorbing and life-embracing experience. It doesn't overstay its welcome at a running time of only 72 minutes. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Milestone Films. Opens at the IFC Center.
Garden Party - Directed by Jason Freeland.
In the city of Los Angeles, teenager April (Willa Holland) tries to stop posing nude for cash, while Sally (Vinessa Shaw), a realtor who deals pot with her office employee, Nathan (Alex Cendese). Joey (Patrick Fischler), one of her clients, happens to also be Avrilís photographer. Finally, thereís Sammy (Erik Scott Smith), an aspiring, homeless musician whoís looking for places to crash the night. The plot seems intricate and filled with many different characters, but thereís not enough dramatic tension to fuel most of the film and it ends up feeling convoluted. Writer/director Jason Freeland never gives the audience a real reason to care about any of the characters or their wants/desires. The most interesting, yet poorly developed subplot involves Sallyís desire to get revenge over guy who posted her nude photo on the internet 10 years ago. Freeland jumps around between each subplot with transitions that donít feel smooth enough to maintain momentum. Moreover, none of the actors have a chance to shine because the dialogue sounds bland. It would have been helpful had he infused much more comic relief and imagination, although thereís a brief scene that does generate some laughter with witty lines. If Freeland had got rid of some of the subplots and focused on just one or two, Garden Party would have been at least a somewhat fun and refreshing party rather than a bland and unsurprising one. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Released by Roadside Attractions. Opens at the Village East Cinema.
Harold - Directed by T. Sean Shannon.
Harold (Spencer Breslin), a 13-year-old with early male pattern baldness, moves to a bigger town with his mother (Ally Sheady) and stuck-up older sister, Stella Maeve). At his new high school, he gets bullied by other kids as well as a mean gym teacher, Coach Vanderpool (Chris Parnell). The friendly school janitor (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), also an outcast, helps to boost Haroldís self confidence. Although the premise feels refreshingly original premise and the cast give lively performances, much of the film suffers from its blend of contrived drama and silly comedy with poor comic timing. Many characters confuse Harold for an older man, which creates awkward situationsói.e, a horny old neighbor comes onto him, a doctor says that he has the prostate of a 10-year-old, he goes to a strip club, and, in one of the most cringe-worthy scenes, he pretends to be his sisterís father when her boyfriend picks her up for a date. Director/co-writer T. Sean Shannon has essentially written a one-joke movie lacking in imagination. He simply doesnít take the interesting premise far enough and aims for lowbrow humor that falls flat on its face. Brief appearances by Nikki Blonsky, Fred Willard and Colin Quinn, even along with the outtakes, fail to save Harold from becoming unfunny, unmoving and somewhat dull. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Released by City Lights Pictures. Opens at the AMC Loews VII.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army - Directed by Guillermo del Toro.
Hellboy (Ron Pearlman) must use his strength and power to stop the evil Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) from awakening the Golden Army which will destroy the world. Meanwhile, Hellboyís girlfriend and sidekick, Liz (Selma Blair), declares that sheís pregnant, so more is at stake for him to defeat evil. His other sidekick, Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), happens to fall in love with Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), Prince Naudaís sister. What ensues includes plenty of action sequences, setting design and make-up/CGI effects that feel thrilling and exciting. Just like in the first Hellboy, thereís also some sly, dark comic relief that pokes fun at the genre. Writer/director Guillermo del Toro excels at setting up beautifully intricate, imaginative visuals that leave you feeling dazzled, similar to the effect of his visuals in Panís Labyrinth. If youíre able to suspend your disbelief and forgive the film for a brief, silly musical number that seems out of place, Hellboy II will provide you with mindless entertainment for 110 minutes. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by Universal Pictures.
Meet Dave - Directed by Brian Robbins.
Dave Ming Chang (Eddie Murphy) crashes into Earth where he befriends Gina (Elizabeth Banks). It turns out that Dave isnít human, but a spacecraft controlled by a miniature captain (Eddie Murphy) and among other members of the crew, such as No.2 (Ed Helms) and No.3 (Gabrielle Union). The crew must retrieve a small orb that would save their planet. Josh (Austin Myers), Ginaís young son, happens to have found the orb, but itís now in the hands of a school bully. Meanwhile, two dim-witted cops, Dooley (Scott Caan) and Knox (Mike O'Malley) investigate the mysterious crash and suspect that aliens. Much of the plot consists of silly humor, but, fortunately, thereís enough witty satire and a few comical moments to compensate. If youíre a fan of Eddie Murphy how desperately he tries to be funny and over-the-top, youíll be able to tolerate his performance here. Everyone else will be slightly irritated and annoyed. The romance between Dave and Gina is sweet although very contrived and awkward. Fortunately, director Brian Robbins maintains a swift pace and keeps the running time at an ideal 90 minutes. The members of the supporting cast, especially those on the ďspaceshipĒ, provide some decent laughs and surprises every now and then. Look at the bright side: at least Meet Dave is more harmless and watchable than Norbit and The Adventures of Pluto Nash, as long as you donít mind checking your brain at the door and suspending your disbelief. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by 20th Century Fox.
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired - Directed by Marina Zenovich.
This mildly fascinating documentary covers the events leading up to Roman Polanski fleeing the U.S. after his conviction for raping a 13-year-old model, Samantha Gailey. Anyone unfamiliar with the case or who just know the basics will be somewhat intrigued by the details surrounding how the judge mistreated Roman Polanski and how the U.S. media painted him as a monster. Director Marina Zenovich incorporates interviews with Polanski and Zenovich along with archival footage of the 1977 case. Zenovich wants the audience to feel sorry for the harsh treatment he went through in the U.S. justice system. He claims that he didnít know that having sex with a 13-year-old is considered unlawful in this country because in Poland there are different laws. Does that legitimize his actions, though? Throughout the interviews, Polanski seems calm, reserved and articulate, but thereís not enough insight that goes into his mind to get to know him as a human being. Roman Polanski has some interesting revelations and is well-edited, but it too often gyrates between the positive and negative aspects of his situation without proper analysis and synthesis of all the facts and opinions, which leaves you feeling a bit empty and wanting more insight. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by THINKfilm. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
The Stone Angel - Directed by Kari Skogland.
Based on the novel by Margaret Laurence. Hagar (Ellen Burstyn), 94-years-old, resists her son, Marcin (Dylan Baker) from sending her to nursing home. Meanwhile, she recalls her youth when she met her husband, Bram (Cole Hauser), and rebelled against her strict father (Peter MacNeill). Hagarís other son, John (Kevin Zegers), had a girlfriend, Arlene (Ellen Page), although Hagar didnít approve of their relationship. Just as expected, Ellen Burstyn delivers a terrific performance as Hagar and truly sinks her teeth into the role. Itís difficult to take your eyes off of her whenever sheís onscreen. Writer/director Kari Skogland does a decent job of smoothly jumping back and forth between Hagarís present and past. Many scenes feel compelling because you always want to know what happened next in Hagarís life, even if the events were somewhat traumatic to her. Whatís missing, though, is a richer character study of Hagar in order to have a sense of her thoughts and feelings. Merely watching the experiences of her younger self isnít enough to keep you truly absorbed like in other more emotionally powerful films like The Notebook which also involved a journey down memory lane. On a positive note, the picturesque scenery along with convincing performances, especially by Ellen Burstyn, and a plot filled with palpable tension, makes for an engaging and compelling drama that simply isnít as absorbing as it could have been with a more sensitive screenplay. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Vivendi Entertainment. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinemas.