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Reviews for July 25th, 2008

American Teen
- Directed by Nanette Burstein.

This highly entertaining, yet somewhat vapid documentary follows the lives of five high school seniors at Warsaw Community High School. Have you ever wondered how teenagers think, feel and interact with one another? You might get a few truthful glimpses watching them on camera here, but those are fleeting moments. The wide variety of teens--ranging from a jock, an artsy girl, a dorky, shy guy, a handsome guy and a prom queen—come across as characters from a typical teen movie. Sociopsychologist Erving Goffman once wrote that everyone has a life “backstage” which is much more personal and natural than their life “frontstage.” American Teen shows a lot of what happens to the teens “frontstage” and you’ll be able to relate to some of their dreams, hopes, frustrations and regrets at least to some degree. However, there’s not enough of their “backstage” that delves into their complex emotions. It’s as if director Nanette Burstein were asking you to be the therapist and come up with your own ideas of what’s wrong with each teen. Why not include some interviews with the parents of the teens who are the ones who nurture them to begin with? Burstein seems to care more about creating a dramatic arc with some suspense and, while she does keep you engaged through terrific editing as well, she misses the opportunity to dig into the teenagers’ minds which would have added much more insight and interesting revelations. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Paramount Vantage. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, AMC Empire 25 and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.

The Animation Show 4
- Directed by Various Directors.

Co-produced by Mike Judge, this compilation of animated short films from all around the world. The films vary from irritating and grotesque (Yompi the Crotch-biting Soup) to disturbing (Raymond) to witty (Psychotown) to morbid and to dryly funny (This Way Up). The highlights, though, include the very imaginative and smart film Western Spaghetti, showing how spaghetti is prepared to eat with unexpected art and crafts---i.e, Post-Its represent slices of butter. Then there’s the hilarious, deadpan Angry Unpaid Hooker, where a man tries to get rid an unpaid hooker in front of his girlfriend, but what ends up happening is pretty funny and unpredictable. There’s also the sweet and tender John and Karen, where a polar bear flirts with a penguin. Each short has its own type of humor, so, unless you have a very broad sense of humor, any open mind and don’t mind bizarre and offbeat concepts, you’ll enjoy most of The Animation Show 4. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Opens at the IFC Center.

- Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass.

Four friends, Matt (Ross Partridge), Chad (Steve Zissis), Michelle (Greta Gerwig) and Catherine (Elise Muller), retreat to an isolated cabin in the woods to write a screenplay about a villain who terrorizes people with a bag over his head. Their retreat turns for the worst when someone with a bag over their head scares them there just like in their screenplay. Is it some kind of sick prank or has somebody really decided to turn their life into a living hell full of fear? What begins as a funny drama with organic, realistic dialogue (known as “mumblecore”) turns into a mess once the plot veers toward Blair Witch territory. If you’re afraid of the dark, you might be almost as scared as the characters feel during a few scenes. Co-writers/directors Jay and Mark Duplass mix too many genres all at once: romance, drama, “mumblecore”, horror, satire and comedy. The film fails to succeed in any of those genres, though. Once the silly, implausible, unsatisfying third act comes around, you’ll wish the writers had just focused on and excelled in two or three genres and not tried to be too gimmicky with such a chaotic, poorly-structured script. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens at the AMC Empire 25 and Landmark Sunshine Cinemas.

Bustin’ Down the Door
- Directed by Jeremy Gosch.

This lively and engaging documentary, narrated by Edward Norton, charts the struggle of three Australian surfers and two South African ones to gain recognition and sponsorship during the 1970’s when surfing was merely a hobby. These surfers, namely Mark Richards, Peter Townend, Ian Cairns and the South Africans, Shaun and Michael Tomson, have always loved the ocean and to risk their lives surfing those huge waves. It wasn’t until Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew wrote an article for Surfer Magazinethat boosted their fame and eventually turned surfing into a much more competitive and recognized profession. Director Jeremy Gosch interweaves archival footage along with plenty of breathtaking, stunning footage of surfing. Through fascinating interviews, the surfers recall how they realized that they could finally consider surfing as a way to make a real living rather than just a way to barely pay rent. Their clash with Hawaiian surfers was a bit dramatic as the Hawaiians thought they, along with many other surfers, took advantage of their generosity, which led to altercations. The method that they came to peace with the Hawaiians is quite insightful and inspiring. It’s truly inspirational, though, how the underdog surfers follow their dream with persistence, courage and passion to rise to the top and to make their mark in the world of surfing. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Screen Media Films. Opens at the Village East Cinema.

CSNY: Déjà Vu
- Directed by Bernard Shakey.

This provocative and mildly engaging music documentary focuses on the rock band CSNY as they perform throughout America during 2006. The letters CSNY stand for the last name of the musicians: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young. The four musicians spread their anti-war, anti-Bush sentiments through the lyrics of their music. Some concert attendees, especially in the South, complain that they came to hear CSNY’s old music, but instead got preached about politics and the war. The attendees’ responses reflect the ignorance of many poorly educated Americans who don’t have respect for someone else’s viewpoints and freedom of speech. What’s wrong with facing harsh realities through music? Other attendees clap, cheer and sing along with the music. In a particularly moving moment, the band includes photographs of all the thousands of soldiers who died serving their country in the Iraqi War. It would have been more interesting, though, had director Bernard Shakey interviewed the CSNY musicians in depth to give the audience more background information about what makes them so outspoken about the war to begin with—besides the obvious similarities this war has with the Vietnam War. At least their message is clear: this dumbed-down generation has to wake up and realize that the leaders of our country have lied to us all along about the motivations behind us going to war. Hopefully, younger musicians will one day have the courage to speak their mind about the realities of the world through music and lyrics as well. Does anyone have an idea for a song about global warming? Ultimately, CSNY: Déjà Vu shows you that music can indeed be a powerful medium that can channels your emotions of anger and frustration and, through its lyrics, it can also reach out and make you think. It may not be able to change the world, but it can help you to change the way you look at the world. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by Roadside Attractions. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.

Late Bloomer
- Directed by Go Shibata.

In Japanese with subtitles. Sumida (Masakiyo Sumida), a lonely, sex-crazed handicapped man, wants to kill everyone around him. However, Nobuko (Mari Torii) and Aya (Sumiko Shirai), two sexy women whom he hits on, don’t really pay much attention to him nor does his disabled friend Take (Naozo Hotta). As Sumida gradually becomes alienated from the world around him, he goes on a murderous rampage. What makes the film somewhat compelling is itsstylish visuals which make the most out of a low budget. Some scenes feel very nauseating and pretentious while others feel intense and serve as a fine way to externalize Sumida’s crazy mind. It would have been helpful had writer/director Go Shibata included more comic relief to balance all the dark, disturbing moments. Unfortunately, not much happens in terms of surprises or interesting twists and, even at a running time of only 83 minutes, Late Bloomer overstays its welcome.Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Tidepoint Pictures. Opens at Two Boots Pioneer Theater.

Man on Wire
- Directed by James Marsh.

This thoroughly fascinating and riveting documentary focuses on how French stuntman Philippe Petit dared to cross the World Trade Center’s twin towers on tightrope in 1974. Petit had always dreamed of using tightrope to walk across the twin towers and his girlfriend helped him to prepare for the very risky stunt. Crossing to the other side of the towers, though, is just half of the battle. The other half had to do with illegally trespassing into both towers to set attach the ropes appropriately. Petit assembled a small team who helped him plan the big event up until he set foot on the long tightrope. Director James Marsh includes many compelling interviews with Petit, his girlfriend and his team, who all discuss their experiences in vivid detail and articulately. Moreover, Marsh also stages reenactments of key moments from the big event, such as when Petit and his team hid from the guards at the top of the towers and had to wait until early morning to complete their mission. You’ll watch in awe and thrilled as the stunt unfolds before your eyes. It’s quite frightening and unnerving even though you already know the outcome. Man on Wire spends less time delving into the aftermath of the stunt when police took him away and he was psychoanalyzed for possible insanity. By showing the events through the perspective of Petit, you’re able to see through his seemingly craziness and notice his courage, passion for life, and physical/intellection strengths which will inspire you to believe that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to no matter what the obstacles are. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

No Regret
- Directed by Leesong Hee-il.

In Korean with subtitles. Sumin (Lee Young-hoon), an art student, works at a factory during the day and as a prostitute in a gay karaoke club at night. His life changes when Jaemin (Lee Han), who happens to be factory boss’ son, falls in love with him and continues to pursue him even though Sumin would rather be left alone. Both men come from different classes and backgrounds—Sumin is a poor orphan while Jaemin comes from a wealthy home. It turns out that Jaemin is about to get married to a woman, but his feelings for Sumin get in the way. A solid, engrossing first act leads to a second act that feels somewhat tedious as Sumin often rejects Jaemin no matter how many times they meet. It would have been interesting had writer/director Leesong Hee-il included more information about how those two characters grew up. They could have discussed their childhood and revealed other moments from their lives through a heart-to-heart discussion, but their discussions here lack substance which makes it difficult to comprehend what Jaemin sees in Sumin to begin with. Why allow the audience to get inside Sumin’s head more? Even a little narration would have helped with that. The way that that the third act unfolds seems a bit contrived and sudden, especially when it comes to Sumin’s actions. On a positive note, No Regret does have some poignant scenes that tug at heart along with decent performances that keep you mildly engaged. If only the film had more character depth and profound dialogue, it would have been much more emotionally powerful. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Regent Releasing/Here! Films. Opens at the Cinema Village.

The Order of Myths
- Directed by Margaret Brown.

This mildly fascinating, poorly documentary tackles the origin and evolution of the Marti Gras celebration in New Orleans. People have been celebrating Marti Gras since 1703 in Mobile, Alabama during a time of racism. Still today, racism exists in the celebrations taking place in New Orleans. There’s one celebration for whites and another for blacks. Unfortunately, director Margaret Brown plays it too safe by showing each celebration in all of its details, but not properly analyzing/synthesizing all of the observations. The interviews with Marti Gras celebrators from this generation show that the tradition has certainly stayed alive. However, the real unanswered question is: So what? It should be infuriating that racism still exists. By not exploring that provocative theme further, Brown misses a great opportunity to add much needed meat to her film. The Order of Myths ultimately leaves you feeling underwhelmed and yearning for much more insight. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Released by The Cinema Guild. Opens at the IFC Center.

X-Files: I Want to Believe
- Directed by Chris Carter.

Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) help the FBI to investigate the abduction of an FBI agent. Throughout the investigation, Mulder summons the help from Father Joe (Billy Connolly), a pedophile priest who claims to have visions of the missing FBI agent. Scully, on the other hand, seems hesitant to believe Father Joe’s supernatural experiences. Amanda Peet plays the FBI who leads the investigation while Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner plays her partner. After an initially suspenseful, taut and thrilling first half, the suspense gradually fizzles out in the second half . Director/co-writer Chris Carter reveals too much information too soon, leaving the audience a few steps ahead of Mulder and Scully. Once the audience knows who's behind the killings and figures out their motive early, that takes away most of the fun and smart surprises that should've been there like in the first X-Files movie and the series. It's getting tiresome and clichéd to watch victims being abducted ,tortured and experimented on by the bad guys in movies--can't they come up with something more original? At least the films feels mildly engaging and doesn't have any cringe-worthy or unintentionally funny dialogue—after all, this isn't The Happening ! Please be sure to stay through the end credits to watch an additional scene. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by 20th Century Fox.

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