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Reviews for June 27th, 2008

All in This Tea
- Directed by Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht.

This documentary follows tea expert David Lee Hoffman as he travels to China in search of the finest tea to import into the United States. Through his experience and knowledge of what makes a truly good tea, he can quickly distinguish between chemically processed tea leaves and natural, organic ones just by taking a brief whiff of them. Interestingly, part of his endeavors include to bridge the gap between farmers who grow the tea and companies who mass produce and export it to other countries. Little do the tea companies know how valuable these farmers are when it comes to providing truly great tea. Co-directors Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht do a terrific job of focusing on David Lee Hoffman’s journey without deviating too much into his background. After all, the documentary is about tea; not about him. Nonetheless, there’s still enough information explaining what makes David Lee Hoffman so passionate about tea and what makes it more complex than meets the eye. In turn, you’ll feel intrigued and somewhat enlightened, especially while watching a brief scene when Werner Herzog shows up to poetically describe what kind of memories and sensations a tea come to him when drinking it. All in This Tea will ultimately help you to appreciate and to understand the true value of a good tea even if you’re more of a coffee lover. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Flower Films. Opens at the Cinema Village.

Elsa & Fred
- Directed by Marcos Carnevale.

Fred (Manuel Alexandre) , an elderly widower, moves into a new apartment building where he meets Elsa (China Zorrilla), who had a minor car crash with the car belonging to his daughter, Cuca (Blanca Portillo). Realising that she can’t afford to pay for the damage , Fred returns the check back to Elsa and pays it from his own pocket. Thus begins a sweet, tender and occasionally funny romance between two aging people. At times they even flirt with each other like teenagers, especially Fred who seems shy and reserved as opposed to Elsa who’s very talkative and full of energy. Gradually, Elsa awakens within him a passion for life. Both China Zorrilla and Manuel Alexandre gives very strong performances that often tug at your heart. Their romantic chemistry feels more and more palpable the more they spend time with one another. Writer/director Marcos Carnevale includes a few contrived dramatic moments and scenes that feel like a soap opera , but for the most part, he wisely maintains focus on Elsa and Fred’s relationship while also including some interesting surprises along the way that reveal a lot about the characters. With its upbeat messages about embracing life, following your dreams and, most importantly, following your heart’s desires, Elsa & Fred manages to be a heartwarming, wise and life-affirming romantic drama for all ages. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Mitropoulis Films. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.

The Last Mistress
- Directed by Catherine Breillat. .

In French with subtitles. During 1985 Paris, a young, seductive woman, Vellini (Asia Argento) has a steamy love affair with Ryno de Marigny (Fu'ad Ait Aatou) who’s engaged to Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida). The more Ryno feels unable avoid the temptation to engage in sexual relations with Vellini, even after Hermangarde’s grandmother, Marquise de Flers (Claude Sarraute) keeps an eye on his indecent behavior. Despite lavish costume and set design and exquisite cinematography, the rest of the film falls flat as a drama and romance. Even the brief sex scenes don’t add much to provoke or grab your attention. Asia Argento merely gives a mediocre performance, although she certainly looks sexy which makes it easier to see why Ryno succumbs to her temptations. Writer/director Catherine Breillat fails to enliven the film with any real sense of tension or intrigue. Moreover, Ryno de Marigny seems like a boring character, so there isn’t anyone to care about or to root for. Too many scenes feel tedious and the plot occasionally meanders in all of its dullness. At a running time of 115 minutes, The Last Mistress often drags and overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by IFC Films. Opens at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Red Roses and Petrol
- Directed by Tamar Simon Hoffs.

Based on the play by Joseph O’Conner. When Enda Doyle (Malcolm McDowell) dies, his children, Catherine (Susan Lynch), Johnny (Max Beesley) and Medbh (Heather Juergensen) along with his wife, Moya (Olivia Tracey), gather together for his wake. Gradually, more and more revelations about the dysfunctional family come to light, especially as they watch Enda’s confessional video diary that he left them before dying. Malcolm McDowell delivers a strong performance as the patriarch of the family, but, unfortunately, the weak, bland screenplay doesn’t allow the character he plays to truly stand out. Writer/director Tamar Simon Hoffs includes a few interesting surprises and dark comic relief along the way which keep you engaged. However, without bringing any of the characters to life, it’s difficult to truly care about them and to be absorbed into their lives. Watching some scenes feel like a soap opera or a ho-hum, ultimately forgettable Lifetime Channel movie. Perhaps the first act should have shown how the Doyle family members behave separately, before Enda’s death. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the well-chosen soundtrack does slightly enrich the film’s atmosphere, but not enough to make it a truly powerful or moving experience. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Released by World Wide Motion Pictures Corporation. Opens at the AMC Empire 25.

- Directed by Peter Askin.

This mildly fascinating documentary focuses on Dalton Trumbo, a screenwriter who was blacklisted as part of the Hollywood Ten from 1947 to 1960. He certainly proved to be a sharp and brave man as he defended himself in front of the government. All he wanted was to have free speech according to the First Amendment and, along with the other nine blacklisted screenwriters, he made sure to plead the Fifth Amendment which would implicitly incriminate him. Director Peter Askin incorporates archival footage of interviews with Trumbo along with present day readings of his letters which had previously been turned into a play. A wide range of actors lend their voices to Trumbo as they read the letters, namely Joan Allen, Michael Douglas, Liam Neeson, Nathan Lane, Donald Sutherland, David Strathairn, Brian Dennehy, Josh Lucas and Paul Giamatti. Occasionally, the transitions between the letter-reading and the old footage tend to be quite awkward and jolting rather than smooth and flowing. Some of Trumbo’s writings are surprisingly funny in a dry, witty sort of way—those parts are read by Nathan Lane and Paul Giamatti. Unfortunately, while it’s informative to find out the experiences of Trumbo and how he stood his own ground, there’s not enough analysis into his actions and thoughts based on film experts and/or those who knew him personally. More interviews with filmmakers, friends and, perhaps, film professors would have added some provocative insight and made Trumbo much more engaging to watch and revealing. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

- Directed by Andrew Stanton.

WALL-E (voice of Ben Burtt), a lonely robot, has the sole purpose to collect waste on Earth ever since humans had left the planet 700 years ago. His only friend is a cockroach and he spends some of his leisure time watching Hello Dolly!. When humans send EVE (Elissa Knight) to Earth to eliminate traces of human life, WALL-E falls in love with her at first sight and hitches a ride back onto the spaceship where human beings have been living for the last 700 years. Up until that point, there’s practically no dialogue except when WALL-E says his name to EVE and vice versa. However, despite that, their romantic chemistry still feels palpable thanks to the amazing CGI animation that adds emotional movements in their body—-or machine—-language. The first part of Wall-E is filled with awe-inspiring, quietly beautiful moments that speak volumes in their utter simplicity. In the second half, when Wall-E reaches the spaceship to follow EVE, the film lets out its pro-environment, pro-human and anti-corporate messages while still engaging your eyes and ears with plenty of hauntingly beautiful scenes. All of the humans happen to be overweight, lazy and easy to manipulate—-i.e. when an advertisement says that “the new red is blue”, their shirts immediately change to blue. The ship’s captain (voice of Jeff Garlin) has his own agenda to dispose of a plant that EVE found on Earth, but WALL-E desperately tries to stop him before the last remaining sign of human life on Earth disappears. Writer/director Andrew Stanton, who also wrote and directed Finding Nemo, has once again created a truly extraordinary film filled with brilliant, colorful CGI effects and a terrific musical score which bring back memories of E.T, Short Circuit and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Don’t walk into this film expecting to watch a hilarious comedy or a thrilling adventure; it's a poignant, romantic drama sprinkled with a dash of social satire. The magic of Wall-E lies in its many small details and dialogue-free moments, such as an unforgettable sequence when WALL-E dances with EVE in outer space while using a fire extinguisher. Ultimately, Wall-E deserves to be regarded as an animated classic with its gently moving and magical moments along with its important reminders to stop being vain and materialistic, to stay healthy, to protect the Earth’s environment and to think about and care about the most important topic of all: EVOLUTION. Watching this marvelous film will not only remind you that we’re truly in the new Golden Age of animation, but it will also make you proud of being and, most importantly, feeling human. It's the kind of film that you can watch repeatedly and fall in love with in different ways each time. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Walt Disney Pictures.

- Directed by Timur Bekmambetov.

When Wesley (James McAvoy), an insecure office worker, meets Fox (Angelina Jolie), he joins her secret assassin team where he learns to toughens up and, most importantly, to shoot with 100% accuracy just like his father once did. Anyone expecting a logical plot with realism and lots of character development should look elsewhere. Once Wesley teams up with Fox, the film becomes a non-stop, fast-paced thrill ride. James McAvoy’s strong acting ability (which he also demonstrated in Atonement) allows you to root for him as an everyday guy who’s caught up in rather intense situations. As always, Angelina Jolie truly sizzles just like she did in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The real surprise here, though, is Morgan Freeman who adds some gravitas and delivers some of the best lines of the film. Director Timur Bekmambetov has a flair for stylish visuals and knows how to give the audience an adrenaline rush with all the action. Admittedly, though, the occasionally shaky camera work can be quite nauseating until you get used to it and the excessive use of gore is a bit much for those with a weak stomach. Keep in mind that there are a few interesting twists near the end, although one of them seems rather gimmicky. If you’re a fan of slick action sequences, cool cars, hot babes and can tolerate mindless entertainment, Wanted truly delivers as an ultraviolent action film from start to finish. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Universal Pictures.

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