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Reviews for June 13th, 2008

Beauty in Trouble
- Directed by Jan Hrebejk.

In Czech with subtitles. Marcela (Ana Geislerová) and her two children move into the house of her mother (Jana Brejchová) where her husband, Jarda (Roman Luknár), goes to off prison. Her mother’s stubborn and stingy boyfriend (Jana Brejchová) stays there as well and bothers her children with his strict rules such as asking before consuming any kind of food. Soon enough, Marcela falls in love with Evzen (Josef Abrhám), the man who sent Jarda to jail for stealing his car, although one Jarda’s employees at his chop shop was the actual driver. What could have been a convoluted, messy drama instead feels quite organic, compelling and endearing thanks to Ana Geislerová’s raw performance as Marcela. Some of the subplots seem a bit contrived and could have used more fleshing out, but at least the screenplay by Petr Jarchovský keeps you intrigued with very human characters. Even though they’re not all particularly likable, you end up caring about what happens to them throughout the film. It’s also worth mentioning that director Jan Hrebejk includes a terrific soundtrack with well-chosen songs, namely “Falling Slowly” from the movie Once. At a running time of 110 minutes, a few scenes drag, but, for the most part, Beauty in Trouble doesn’t overstay its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by Menemsha Films. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.

Blue Planet
- Directed by Franco Piavoli.

This documentary, originally made in the early 80s, captures the stunning sights and sounds of nature. Simple things such as water flowing through an icy stream turn it into a marvelous work of art. The same can be said for trees blowing in the wind and insects in their daily routine, such as a spider trapping its victim. Visually, the film looks a lot like Microcosmos with its many close-ups, but the main differences are that here there’s no accompanying musical score and that human beings are included as part of nature. Director Franco Piavoli wisely allows the soothing sounds of nature to become a form of music. If you look around at nature, you’ll realize that G_d is a true artist. How do you think he would feel if his artwork would be destroyed by mankind? Even though Blue Planet isn’t a real statement against global warming or pollution, it does remind you appreciate and cherish the many wonders of nature which should be preserved in all of its pristine beauty. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Opens at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater.

Chris & Don: A Love Story
- Directed by Tina Mascara and Guido Santi.

This poignant documentary charts the May-December romance between author Christopher Isherwood and painter Don Bachardy, thirty years his junior. Chris and Don met during the summer of 1952 when Don was a teenager. They quickly developed a special bond with another that lasted forever. Even after Chris died in 1986, Don still loves and cherishes him to this very day. Co-directors Tina Mascara and Guido Santi do a terrific job of incorporating archival footage of Chris and Don in their younger years interacting as writer and artist who seem inseparable wherever they go. Some people looked down upon them because of their age difference, but that didn’t really matter to them. There’s a very imaginative and witty animation scene showing a cat, representing Don, and a horse, representing Chris, form a unique friendship where the cat depends on the horse like a son to a father. It’s quite endearing to watch Don, now much older, recall moments from his relationship with Chris. You can truly feel the passion in his voice. Likewise, the diary entries of Chris, read by Michael York, help to get into Chris’ mind and to sense his warmth, compassion and intellect. Chris & Don manages to be a thoroughly compelling, fascinating and profoundly moving love story with such a palpable romance at its center. No narrative depiction could acheive the same powerfully emotional resonance. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Zeitgeist Films. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

The Incredible Hulk
- Directed by Louis Leterrier

After an experiment turns Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) into a giant green monster, a.k.a. The Hulk, he must avoid General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) and defend himself against a doctor, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), who wants The Hulk’s power to use for military purposes. Bruce happens to be in love with the General Ross’ daughter, Betty (Liv Tyler). Soon enough, Emil turns into a giant green monster as well and a battle with The Hulk ensues. For those looking for character development or an imaginative, refreshing plot should look elsewhere. Unlike Ang Lee’s The Hulk, this version has more action, better special effects and a much more dumbed down plot that’s easy to follow without being too nauseating. Edward Norton is very well cast here as well as Tim Roth and William Hurt. Liv Tyler as Betty, on the other hand, doesn’t have much to do other than look pretty and yearn for her beloved boyfriend. Her scenes with Bruce seem a bit cheesy. Screenwriter Zack Penn wisely keeps the story focused on the action without too many unnecessary subplots. Sure, some of the dialogue sounds contrived and stilted, but why would you expect realism from a summer blockbuster? Ultimately, The Incredible Hulk is a superficial, loud, dazzling and thrilling form of mindless entertainment, as long as you don’t mind checking your brain at the door and suspending much of your disbelief. Please be sure keep an eye out for a cameo from another Marvel Comics character. Released by Universal Pictures.

Love Comes Lately
- Directed by Jan Schütte.

Based on the short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer. While traveling to give lectures, Max (Otto Tausig), a fiction writer in his eighties, falls asleep and imagines a story about Simon (Tausig, again), a shy aging man who meets two younger women, Rachel (Caroline Aaron) and Esperanza (Elizabeth Pena) who flirt with him. The narrative then shifts back to Max’s life as he give his speech and later flirts with a younger, ex-student of his, Kaddish (Barbara Hershey). Unfortunately, despite a decent performance by Otto Tausig, the plot moves so slowly and has such low dramatic tension that it often drags. Scene-stealing Tovah Feldshuh briefly shows up to add some gravitas as Ethel, a widow who flirts with Harry (Tausig, again), a character from Max’s short story entitled “Old Love.” Writer/director Jan Schütte fails to enliven any of the characters whether they’re part of Max’s stories or from Max’s life. Moreover, the transitions between reality and fantasy feel rather awkward and abrupt. With a tighter, livelier and more organic script, Love Comes Lately could have been much more emotionally resonating and engaging rather than mostly bland and meandering. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by Kino International. Opens at the Quad Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

My Winnipeg
- Directed by Guy Maddin.

This “docu-fantasia” is an homage to the city of Winnipeg, Canada, where writer/director Guy Maddin grew up in. Anyone familiar with his previous films, such as Brand Upon the Brain!, Cowards Bend the Knee and The Saddest Music in the World knows that he’s not only a great filmmaker but an artist who remains true to himself and refuses to abide by conventional rules of filmmaking. His visual style here is filled with black-and-white colors and stylish editing which can be quite hypnotic at times. A few scenes seem so bizarre that they border pretentiousness and may be headache-inducing, but at least he balances all that with some offbeat humor. B-movie actress Ann Savage portrays his stern mother while Amy Stewart plays his sister. Guy Maddin made the right choice by not casting himself in the film; instead, representing Maddin is Darcy Fehr. Through the use of images, sounds, voice-over narration and scenes of stilted dialogue, Maddin creates a strangely beautiful and lyrical portrait of the city of Winnipeg, Canada from his own, unique point of view. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by IFC Films. Opens at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Quid Pro Quo
- Directed by Carlos Brooks.

Isaac (Nick Stahl), a radio journalist, investigates a bizarre subculture where a group of people who have a fetish for pretending to be paraplegics. During his internal investigations, he meets the wheelchair-bound Fiona (Vera Fermiga), who shares secrets about the subculture in exchange for information from him. Although the first act is initially intriguing and provocative, the plot quickly loses its momentum and becomes vapid, tedious and unimaginative. Isaac and Fiona develop an awkward romance that simply lacks chemistry. Writer/director Carlos Brooks could have kicked the thrills and mysterious elements of the film up many more notches or at least have included some well-needed insight into the bizarre subculture that Fiona belongs to. On a positive note, the cinematography looks great with interesting colors and slick set designs, but that’s not nearly enough to keep you thoroughly engrossed and engaged. Number of times I checked my watch: 9. Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

To the Limit
- Directed by Pepe Danquart.

In English and German with subtitles. This exhilarating documentary follows the rock-climbing adventure of Alexander and Thomas Huber, two brothers who rigorously train to break the record of speed climbing up a 3,000-foot rock formation, El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park. It takes the average climber usually a few days to reach the top, but these two fearless brothers think they can do it in only two-and-half-hours. Merely looking up at what they’re about to climb will send goose bumps down your spine. Director Pepe Danquart wisely puts the audience in the heat of the action during the ascent with plenty of riveting suspense as the Huber brothers risk their lives every single moment along the way. Just like any brothers, they don’t always get along with one another and their personalities are quite different, but it’s hard to deny that they truly found their little niche in life. Their passion for rock climbing feels quite palpable throughout. Moreover, they love the excitement of adventure and feeling so alive as opposed to the mundane qualities of life outside of rock climbing. The serene nature all around them looks colorful and picturesque with all of its pristine beauty captured expertly on camera. From start to finish, To the Limit manages to be as thrilling and awe-inspiring as Touching the Void, another superb documentary about brave climbers. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by First Run Features. Opens at the Cinema Village.

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