Reviews for June 5th, 2009
Directed by Jia Zhangke.
In Mandarin with subtitles. This illuminating combination of documentary and docudrama focuses on Factory 420, formerly known as Xindu Machinery, an aviation factory located in Chengdu, China, which is in the process of being demolished and replaced by an upscale, high-rise, upscale apartment and shopping complex called 24 City. Employees from the factory who had once worked there during the 1950’s and 60’s 1950 reminisce about their experiences, especially when there were layoffs. On their last day of work, the factory workers ate dinner together, but most of them felt too dejected to eat, yet one worker recalls how she encouraged them to do so nonetheless. Co-writers Jia Zhangke and Zhai Yongming include some fictional characters played by actors or actresses amongst the real-life interviews, so unless you recognize the actors/actresses by face, you won’t be able to tell the difference between what’s fiction or nonfiction. The fictional characters’ testimonies are based on interviews of real workers. One “employee”, nicknamed Little Flower, played by Joan Chen, discusses her love life and how she’s happy being single now after many failed relationships. A coworker who once had a crush on her shows up later on in her life. She admits that it made her feel uncomfortable when he admitted to her that he couldn’t ask her out back in her younger years because he was poor and wanted to wait until he became wealthier. Instead of bombarding the viewer with historical facts in a dry, pedantic fashion, director Jia Zhangke gradually informs the audience about the evolution of Factory 420 and how its changes have impacted the thoughts and sentiments of its workers to this very day. There’s also some footage of workers collectively singing songs such as “The Internationale,” which has eloquent lyrics. The exquisite cinematography and images, such as images of the factory being demolished, add to the overall emotional resonance, even during the silent moments, which speak volumes more than words are capable of expressing. At a running time of 1 hour and 47 minutes, 24 City manages to be compelling and provocative with powerful images and quietly moving interviews that shed light on impact of social, economical and political changes on factory workers in China. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by The Cinema Guild. Opens at the IFC Center.
The Art of Being Straight
Directed by Jesse Rosen.
Jon (Jessie Rosen), 23-years-old, moves from New York to Los Angeles in order to “take a break” from his longtime girlfriend. He moves in with Andy (Jared Grey), his friend from college, and hangs out with Andy’s buddies who behave like frat boys. Jon struggles to feel at home with them, but often feels alienated and confused, especially about his own sexual preference. To make matters even more confusing for him, he goes to work at an ad agency where his gay boss, Paul (Johnny Ray Rodriguez), comes onto him and, soon enough, he dates and has sex with him. Jon’s friend, Maddy (Rachel Castillo), a lesbian, also questions her sexual identity when she develops a crush for her next door neighbor, Aaron (Peter Scherer), while still being in a relationship with her girlfriend, Anna (Emilia Richeson). Jon and Maddy had once dated before she came out of the closet. Should Jon give in to his attraction to men or will he be unable to muster the courage? Writer/director Jesse Rosen explores that interesting question without enough sensitivity or insight into what Jon’s truly thinking and feeling. You never really get a chance to get to know him and, thus, his character seems bland and forgettable. Jesse Rosen himself plays Jon, but he lacks the required charisma and warmth to carry the film. On the other hand, Rachel Castillo steals the show with her abundant charisma, great comedic timing and panache, much like Lizzy Caplan did as Janis in Mean Girls. At a very brief running time of only 1 hour and 11 minutes, The Art of Being Straight manages to be mildly engaging with an initially intriguing premise and brief moments of wittiness, but ultimately falls flat as a drama. Its bland protagonist, along with a lazy, unimaginative screenplay, leaves you feeling unmoved and underwhelmed. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Regent Releasing. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Autism: Made in the U.S.A.
Directed by Gary Null and Manette Loudon.
This provocative and illuminating documentary exposes the cover-up of how toxins, such as mercury found in vaccines, cause autism. According to Dr. Gregory Ellis, PHD, CNS, “Autism is upon us because it’s the outcome of dousing every living being with an overload of toxic substances, including vaccines.” Vaccines have many potentially harmful ingredients, namely, human albumin, MSG, bovine serum, hamster ovary cells, thimerosal, aluminum hydroxide, monkey kidney tissue and formaldehyde. Dr. Lawrence Palevsky, MD, a board certified pediatrician, stresses that, among those ingredients, the most toxic one is thimerosal because it contains ethyl mercury, a toxin to cell replication. Even a trace amount of mercury can lead to cell damage. You may wonder, “Where the evidence of that damage?” at the point, but you’ll see it in footage of mercury rapidly destroying the fibrils of a neural cell. It’s quite inspiring to watch many people gather together in front of celebrities, such as Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey and Robert Kennedy, Jr., who barely speak out along with Gary Null about the dangers of vaccines and their link to autism. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention mandates that every child must receive as much as 40 different vaccines, but what are their justifications for the need of those vaccines and, most importantly, their safety? The evidence, or propaganda, that they use to “prove” the safety comes from unreliable, biased and even fraudulent scientific studies. Meanwhile, mainstream media are suppressed and are under a lot of pressure to not disclose the statistics from independent studies that point to the true harms of vaccines. Co-directors Gary Null and Manette Loudon wisely interview parents whose children developed autism at a very young age. They purchased pharmaceutical drugs as a means to treat the disease, but the autism didn’t go through remission. Also, they discuss how they learned about homeopathic treatments which detoxified their children’s body and, within weeks, their children showed improvements in health and, in some cases, even had full recoveries from autism. Everyone ought to know, though, that a diet that’s 100% natural does not imply that it’s a safe one because the FDA allows for synthetic ingredients, such as MSG, to be considered as natural. This widespread cover-up of vaccines’ and other toxins’ links to autism is very similar to the cover-up of hidden MSG (please click here for more info), which everyone young or old, rich or poor, deserves to be aware of. Ask yourself the following questions: Why are food and drugs regulated by the same administration and not separate ones? Are the FDA, CDC and other organizations crossing moral boundaries by being part of the cover-up of health hazards that lead to suffering and/or death? To all those who believe that everything should be in moderation, do you really think health abuse also be in moderation? There’s no use being so simple-minded and naïve. You have every right to think, to freely express your opinion(s), to ask questions, to get angry and, above all, to be fully informed about the dangers of toxins, whether they’re in vaccines, food or the environment. Ultimately, Autism: Made in the U.S.A. manages to be an illuminating, provocative and brave documentary that serves as a vital wake-up call for the sake of truth, democracy, good health and, above all, the evolution of mankind.Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Gary Null & Associates. Opens at the IFC Center.
Directed by Johan Renck.
Nancy Stockwell (Maria Bello) has lost her romantic spark and sexual chemistry with her husband, Albert Stockwell (Rufus Sewell). As the film opens, she’s in the car with Louis (Jason Patric), a man she had met on the internet and who agrees to have inflict pain on her through sado-masochistic behavior. Before her meeting with Louis, Nancy seeks a therapist, Carol (Amy Brenneman), who tries, unsuccessfully, to figure out the root of her problems. What makes Nancy so lonely? What did she see in Albert in the first place when she married him and how did their love begin to wane? Albert waits while his wife remains missing for a few days and then goes searching for her, suspecting that something dark and sinister must have happened to her. The audience already knows the truth about Nancy’s whereabouts by that point, so there’s no suspense during throughout much of the film. Maria Bello delivers a performance as Nancy that’s so raw, brave and powerful that she commands your attention whenever she’s onscreen. If only she were to have a decent script to work with. Co-screenwriters Pamela Cuming and Lee H. Ross jump back and forth in chronology, which eventually becomes pretentious and irritating while lacking any palpable intrigue, intelligence or surprises. Why not slow the film down a bit and allow the audience to get to know Nancy, Albert or Louis a little better. They each seem like one-dimensional characters that simply never come to life or get fleshed out enough, so it’s difficult to care about what happens to either of them. Some of the dialogue, especially spoken by Albert, sounds awkward and stilted. Director Johan Renck includes stylish visuals and a brisk pace, but the musical score often sounds too loud, grating and headache-inducing, like a crazy music video—-not surprisingly, Renck has a lot of experience directing music videos throughout the past decade. At a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes, Downloading Nancy boasts a raw, brave performance by Maria Bello and a stylish cinematography, but suffers from too much style over substance. Its dull, stilted screenplay has poorly developed characters and lacks any real suspense. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Strand Releasing. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.
Directed by Todd Phillips.
Merely a few days before his wedding, Doug (Justin Bartha) drives all the way from Los Angeles to Las Vegas with his two best friends, Stu (Ed Helms), a dentist, and Phil (Bradley Cooper), a schoolteacher, as well as his fiancée’s brother, Alan (Zach Galifianakis). Stu hasn’t told his controlling girlfriend, Melissa (Rachel Harris) the truth about where he’s going and neither has Doug told his fiancée, so they all hope that it stays a secret. After one night of gambling and heavy drinking, they wake up in a luxurious suite with a hangover and absolutely no recollection of the prior night’s events. Stu misses a tooth, the rooms looks like a mess and, to top it all off, they find a baby in the closet and a tiger in the bathroom. Just when you think that the crazy, mysterious events stop there, it turns out that Doug has gone missing, they had somehow stole a police car and Stu has gotten married a stripper named Jade (Heather Graham). Co-writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have written what deserves to be a classic, R-rated comedy that won’t be forgotten any time soon. What makes it a classic? First of all, there’s lot of hilarious, quotable dialogue and situations that get more and more outrageously funny. Most comedies nowadays either have a very funny first half and then the laughter tapers off in the second half or just sporadic moments of laugh-out-loud comedy every now and then. In this case, though, the laughter comes fast and consistently without any dull moments in between. While much of the humor is indeed crude, rude and lewd, it’s nonetheless refreshingly intelligent and grounded, at least to some extent, in reality, much like in Old School, which Todd Phillips had also directed. Each member of the cast here gets a chance to shine, especially Zach Galifianakis as Alan, a.k.a. Fat Jesus, and they play off of each other with terrific comedic timing. Ultimately, The Hangover manages to be outrageously funny, refreshingly witty and smart. It’s a non-stop laugh riot that’s destined to become a comedy classic. Please be sure to stay through the end credits for more R-rated hilarity as the credits roll. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released Warner Bros. Pictures. Opens nationwide.
Herb & Dorothy
Directed by Megumi Sasaki.
This fascinating and charming documentary focuses on Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, a married couple who collected over 4,000 artworks in their small one-bedroom Manhattan apartment during the course of 45 years. Herb had met Dorothy at a dance club when she was a librarian and he worked as a postal clerk. Ever since they got married and lived together in the 1960’s, they collected mostly Minimalist and Conceptual artwork, but only under the conditions that it’s affordable, easy to carry with them, and could fit inside their humble abode. They bought artworks from many different struggling artists, such as Richard Tuttle, Chuck Close, Sol LeWitt, Robert Barry, Lucio Pozzi and Julian Schnabel, whose careers they helped to boost. Director Megumi Sasaki includes many warm, charming and revealing interviews with Herb and Dorothy as they reminisce about the artworks that they had collected. It’s quite inspiring that, despite having over 4,000 artworks, they never sold a single piece to anyone. Dorothy candidly admits that, eventually, people used to ship their artworks to them, but had always sent it right back because she and Herb prefer to discover artworks on their own. Herb reveals that only one coworker at the post office eventually discovered that he’s actually a collector in the art world, but he would rather keep that secret hidden for a while, which shows his modesty. When asked what attracts him to artworks that he likes, Herbert says that his eye catches whatever looks beautiful to him. He and Dorothy don’t explain that statement further, nor do they have to, because, sometimes, innate feelings can be difficult to put into words, especially when it comes to defining beauty. It would have been interesting, though, had Sasaki asked them what happens when they both disagree about whether or not to buy a particular artwork. Whom would win that argument? In 1992, Herb and Dorothy agreed to donate their huge artwork collection to the National Gallery of Art, in order to properly preserve their artworks. Watching a total of five large moving trucks filled with their artworks taken from their small apartment feels like watching Mary Poppins magically taking out an umbrella and other objects from her handbag. Herb & Dorothy ultimately manages to be a fascinating, warm and delightfully charming documentary that finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Arthouse Films. Opens at the Cinema Village and The Beekman Theatre.
Land of the Lost
Directed by Brad Silberling.
Based on the TV series by Sid and Marty Krofft. After a humiliating interview with Matt Lauer on the “Today” show, Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell), a quantum paleontologist, has given up his research on finding a portal into another dimension with tachyons. He now spends his time teaching science at elementary school. One day, Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel), a research assistant, shows up at his classroom and urges him to continue his research, so he quickly invents the device, but hasn’t even tested it out yet. Soon enough, he, Holly and Will (Danny McBride), their tour guide, end up going through the portal together into another dimension, the Land of the Lost, where dinosaurs roam the planet. They encounter Chaka (Jorma Taccone), an ape-like creature who now joins along in their adventure. Rick has angered a Tyrannosaurus Rex by making fun of its brain as almond-sized, so now he must do everything in his ability to avoid death. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas includes too much repetitive, silly humor that falls flat. For example, there’s a lengthy scene when Rick gets bitten by a blood-sucking bug while singing a song and then ends up with a huge red bump on his back after fainting from losing so much blood. Even Ferrell’s talents as a comedic actor don’t help to induce laughter during that scene and a few others. Sure, there are some sporadically funny moments, but they’re fleeting. Director Brad Silberling includes cheap-looking special effects and lots of action sequences, none of which feel thrilling or exciting, though. Too many scenes drag with so much dullness and lack of imagination that you’ll find yourself wishing the adventure were over much sooner. At a running time of 1 hour and 33 minutes, Land of the Lost is sporadically funny, but it lacks palpable thrills and suffers from a bland, lazy script. Even Will Ferrell can’t save the repetitive, inane and uninspired humor from often falling flat. Number of times I checked my watch: 5 Released by Universal Pictures. Opens nationwide.
Directed by Martin Provost.
In French and German with subtitles. Based on a true story. During the early 20th Centuty, Séraphine Louis (Yolande Moreau), a middle-aged aspiring painter, works as a housekeeper in the small town of Senlis outside of Paris. When she’s not cleaning, sweeping or serving tea, she’s wandering out to observe nature while gathering a variety of ingredients to turn into paint. The ingredients include animal blood, soil and oil from candles. At night, she spends her time painting on huge canvases. One day, Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), a German art critic and collector, notices her paintings and decides to buy them. He encourages her to paint more paintings with such vivid colors that come to life. Soon enough, World War I separates Wilhelm and Séraphine, but they reunite after the war. As he helps her to gain both fame and wealth, she suffers from a mental breakdown that eventually leads her into a mental institution. If only the character of Séraphine would come to life as much as her painting so, then the drama would be much more engrossing. Director/co-writer Martin Provost offers too little insight into the mind of Séraphine. You get to watch her painting along with others’ reactions to her paintings, yet she still remains at an emotional distance emotional from the viewer. Many scenes tend to drag a bit with sluggish pacing that end up making your eyelids feel heavier rather than keeping you wide awake and truly captivated. On a positive note, Provost includes beautiful cinematography with exquisite set and costume designs that add authenticity. Yolande Moreau, the heart and soul of the film, gives a strong and sensitive performance as she sinks into the role of the titular character with ease. It’s not as memorable a performance as that of other actresses who played painters, such as Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo in Frida, but at least it helps to slightly invigorate the film. At an excessive running time of 126 minutes, Séraphine boasts a raw and convincing performance by Yolande Moreau along with exquisite cinematography, but it often drags and suffers from lack of insight into the life and mind of Séraphine which keeps it from being an emotionally resonating experience.Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Music Box Films. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Directed by Aaron Woodley.
When Carter (Ryan Lynn) was a teenager living in Tennessee, he ran from his abusive, alcoholic father, Roy (Bill Sage), while taking his mother and younger brother, Ellis, along with him. Now into his adulthood and living in New Mexico, Carter (Adam Rothenberg) learns that Ellis (Ethan Peck) has leukemia, so he agrees to take him on a road trip all the way to Tennessee in hopes that their estranged father will be able to donate his bone marrow for a transplant operation. Their car breaks down and, soon enough, they hitch a ride with a diner waitress, Krystal (Mariah Carey), who joins them on their road trip while running away from her abusive husband, Frank (Lance Reddick). Frank happens to be a state trooper, so now he uses his power to paint Roy and Ellis as criminals on the lam for kidnapping his wife.
Unfortunately, the screenplay by Russell Schaumburg fails to generate any real drama or intrigue, with the exception of a somewhat suspenseful car chase. None of the characters truly come to life and the performances are mediocre at best, so it’s difficult to care about what happens to any of them. Perhaps a lengthier first act showing Carter and Ellis spending more time with their parents during their teenage years would have helped because the brief flashbacks don’t really add anything particularly interesting. A subplot involving Ellis trying to muster the courage to reunite with his high school girlfriend, who’s now a teacher, falls flat with contrivance. On a positive note, though, director Aaron Woodley does include picturesque scenery and cinematography throughout the road trip as Ellis likes taking photographs along the way. While slow pacing usually works to create a somber, pensive mood, here it just makes a lot scenes drag. At a running time of 90 minutes, Tennessee has beautiful scenery and brief suspense, but that’s not nearly enough to keep you immersed or captivated in the often contrived story or any of its poorly developed characters. Number of times I checked my watch: 5 Released by Vivendi Entertainment. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.