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Reviews for July 4th, 2008

Diminished Capacity
- Directed by Terry Kinney.

Based on the novel by Sherwood Kiraly. Cooper (Matthew Broderick), a political columnist with short-term memory loss, travels from Chicago to Illinois where he looks after his uncle, Rollie (Alan Alda), who suffers from dementia. When Rollie claims to have a valuable baseball card he wants sell, the two hit the road along with the sexy Charlotte (Virginia Madsen) to a baseball convention back in Chicago. Unfortunately, not much happens that’s not moving, insightful or funny. The screenplay Sherwood Kiraly has a few moments of wit, but he includes too much stilted dialogue and contrived scenes that fail to keep you absorbed or engaged in the story. None of the characters are particularly believable, either. Matthew Broderick gives his usual wooden performance—would somebody please tell Ferris Bueller to give him back his charisma and energy? Even Alan Alda and Virginia Madsen fail to add much-needed liveliness to the bland, monotonous plot that often drags. With a more organic, funnier and imaginative plot and interesting characters, Diminished Capacity could have been much more entertaining, moving and memorable. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by IFC Films. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Clearview Broadway and 62nd.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
- Directed by Alex Gibney.

This lively, fascinating, well-researched documentary covers the life of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, a writer/journalist who became well known for his highly personal, edgy and “gonzo” journalism during the ‘60s and ‘70s. His direct experiences on the road with the Hell’s Angels gave him full access into their lives and made him into a brave journalist when he wrote the book about them. Rolling Stone Magazine hired him to write for them and his gutsy article about the Kentucky Derby continued to show off his craziness and delusions. What made him crazy and delusional? Director Alex Gibney points to the most obvious factor: the effects of his drug habits. His controversial writing peaked when he covered the 1972 Presidential campaign which pitted George McGovern against Richard Nixon—a liar and a crook, not much different than our very own President, George W. Bush. Johnny Depp, of course, narrates the segments that show the clips from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which he had starred in. Through stylish, fast-paced editing and many footage and interviews, i.e. with Hunter’s wives, Gonzo not only entertains and intrigues, but also keeps you compelled by its many timely and profound insights about politics, journalism, writing and the importance of bravely maintaining one’s freedom of speech even during times of censorship or fascism. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

We Are Together
- Directed by Rosser Goodman.

Trevor Holden (Brent Gorksi) dumps his drug-addicted boyfriend, Darrell (Christopher Wyllie),Jake (Jay Brannan), he starts a relationship with a clean guy, Ephram (Eli Kranski). However, Trevor still has feelings for Darrell, who claims that he’s sobering up and can change, but Trevor’s best friends, Andie (Melissa Searing) and Jake (Jay Brannan) don’t quite believe him. These remnant feelings inhibit his new relationship with Ephram, a friendly, kindhearted doctor. Despite decent performances and competent cinematography, there’s not enough romance, drama or comedy to fuel the contrived, dull and meandering plot. The screenplay by Brent Gorksi has lots of stilted dialogue and corny scenes that lack authenticity. All of the scenes with Trevor and Darrell have nil romantic chemistry and, on top of that, both of them seem one-dimensional characters. With such poor character development, you never end up truly caring about Trevor or his love life. It’s alright that it doesn’t add anything new or interesting to the romantic drama genre, but if only it followed the genre’s formula while keeping you engaged in its plot and characters. Even at an ideal running time of 88 minutes, Holding Trevor often drags and, ultimately, overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 9. Released by Regent Releasing/Here! Films. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

- Directed by Scott Prendergast.

Salman (Scott Prendergast) moves into the home of his sister-in-law, Leslie (Lisa Kudrow), to take care of her two children while her husband serves in the National Guard in Iraq. Leslie helps him to find a job at an empty office building which should help find a direction for his seemingly aimless life. Little does he know that the job entails wearing a large blue costume known as “Kabluey” and standing on the side of a deserted road handing out advertisements for office space. Much of the humor derives from the uncomfortable conditions and awkwardness of Salman’s new job. His uptight, heavyset boss doesn’t appear to care much about him nor his name—she even pronounces his name as “salmon” initially. Her apathy continues as she forgets to pick him up from the side of the road after work and refuses to have a real conversation with him. In a nutshell, Salman seems to be living in a “ghost world” filled with mundaneness and alienation. Lisa Kudrow gives a convincing, dramatic performance as Leslie here, but it’s the deadpan performance of Scott Prendergast that truly stands out. Brief scenes with Christine Taylor and Terri Garr add more bizarreness to the thin plot. Prendergast also serves as the film’s writer/director. He effectively balances the drama with just the right amount of offbeat comedy/satire to keep you somewhat immersed into the story. While Kabluey isn’t quite as funny and surprising Office Space and nor is it as poignant, insightful and imaginative as Ghost World, at least it manages to be oddly refreshing and mildly engaging. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Regent Releasing/Here! Films. Opens at the Cinema Village.

Very Young Girls
- Directed by David Schisgall and Nina Alvarez.

This provocative, yet incomplete documentary tackles the issue of teenage prostitution in America, where the average girl who sells sex for money is 13. The footage captured shows how pimps drive around late at night to find young girls to exploit. Not only do they find them, but they brainwash them through by acting like a father figure or protector. Some pimps even physically abuse them so that they have no choice but to become a prostitute. Co-directors David Schisgall and Nina Alvarez do a decent job of raising awareness of the prevalence and danger of teenage prostitution, but they merely scratch its surface. They don’t delve deep enough into the topic to provide true insight. When the camera focuses on GEMS (Girls Educational Mentoring Services), which helps to support and provide shelter for the young prostitutes, it would have been helpful to hear more revelations from the girls who go through the program. Even the interviews with executive director/founder of GEMS, Rachel Lloyd, lack substance and feel underwhelming. At a running of only 83 minutes, Very Young Girls could have been much more powerful, intriguing and enlightening with more piercing questions. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Swinging T. Productions. Opens at the IFC Center.

We Are Together
- Directed by Paul Taylor.

This powerfully moving documentary focuses on South African children who lost their parents to AIDS and overcome their hardships by forming a choir. The Agape Orphanage where they live provides them with the community and resources needed for them to survive both physically and spiritually. One of the orphans, Slidile Moya, narrates part of the film and discusses her thoughts and feelings regarding her older brother, Sifiso, who had been diagnosed with AIDS. Director Paul Taylor does a great job of infusing interviews along with footage of the difficult experiences that the orphans go through. Death is all around them and, in many ways, the orphanage gives them hope to live and be happy. It’s truly uplifting to watch and listen to the children singing. Admittedly, though, it would have been interesting if translations of the lyrics been included as subtitles, but the meaning of the songs can be easily felt through the way that they sing the songs with such emotion. We Are Together will ultimately inspire you to try to make a difference not only in your life but in the lives of others, particularly those who suffer from the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. Moreover, it’s a reminder that the power of music, especially when it comes from the heart, can lift your spirits while allowing you to fully embrace life and to find light at the end of the tunnel. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Palm Pictures. Opens at the Cinema Village.

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