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Reviews for June 6th, 2008

The Go-Getter
- Directed by Martin Hynes.

Mercer (Lou Taylor Pucci) goes on a road trip in a stolen car to find his long-lost half brother, Arlen (Jsu Garcia). Zooey Deschanel radiates plenty of genuine charm and charisma as Kate, the owner of the car who contacts Mercer by calling her own cellphone, which Mercer also stole. Surprisingly, instead of being mad at him for his crimes, she lets him off the hook under one condition: he must update her on what he’s doing throughout the road trip. It’s quite interesting to watch how Mercer and Kate gradually become friendly with one another despite the awkward long distance relationship factor. Along the way, Mercer meets up with his childhood classmate, Joely (Jena Malone), who’s now promiscuous and addicted to drugs. Fortunately, writer/director Martin Hynes doesn’t veer toward stoner comedy à la Harold and Kumar and instead opts for a smart, witty, funny and occasionally heartfelt drama. The visual ways he shows Mercer and Kate interacting with one another over the cellphone looks very imaginative and feels quite livelier than expected. Ultimately, The Go-Getter is a refreshingly offbeat journey well worth taking. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Peace Arch Entertainment. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

Kung Fu Panda
- Directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson.

Po (voice of Jack Black), a panda who dreams of joining a martial arts team called The Furious Five, gets chosen by the wise turtle Oogway (voice of Randall Duk Kim) as the new Dragon Warrior. Soon enough, Po goes on a mission to restore peace to the small Chinese village by fighting against the evil tiger Tai Lung (Ian McShane). Dustin Hoffman provides the voice of Master Shifu, Po’s disciple. Despite stunning CGI effects and a well-chosen, lively ensemble of actors and actresses to voice the characters, much of the plot feels bland and lacks the required energy to make it rise above being mildly entertaining. The screenplay by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.has sporadically funny scenes, but none of them manage to truly stand out or to make you laugh-out-loud. Moreover, the few thrilling moments will mostly amuse little kids; everyone else will feel mostly bored. On a positive note, at least co-directors keep the plot moving at a fast pace and the running time at an ideal, harmless 95 minutes. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Paramount Pictures.

The Mother of Tears
- Directed by Dario Argento.

Sarah (Asia Argento), an art student, opens an ancient urn which awakens the “mother of tears”, a powerful witch who spreads murder and suicide throughout Rome. A trio of deformed people brutally kill Sarah’s assistant while a little monkey watches. While the police investigate the murder, Sarah discovers that she has supernatural powers that allow her to hear and see her mother, who used to be a good witch and now guides her through her experiences. The plot gradually becomes more and more ludicrous as it progresses--there’s a big difference between an intricate, imaginative plot and a messy, implausible one that’s found here. Asia Argento looks sexy and appealing onscreen, but she lacks the required acting chops to carry the film as the protagonist. Unfortunately, the underrated Udo Kier only has a small role which adds a modicum of gravitas. Director/co-writer Dario Argento fails to build any real tension because of so many plot holes that don’t make much sense, even within the context of the fantastical plot itself. How much disbelief does he expect the audience to suspend? An over-the-top, rushed third act merely adds to the insanity of the plot. Lots of cheap gore and a chilly musical score don’t compensate for the deficiency of real scares, which makes The Mother of Tears a silly, forgettable B-movie at best. On a positive note, at least it’s not as unintentionally funny as the 2006 remake of The Omen. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by Myriad Pictures and The Weinstein Company. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and AMC Empire 25.

On the Rhumba River
- Directed by Jacques Sarasin.

In Lingala with subtitles.

This often moving and engaging documentary focuses on the music of Antoine Kolosoy, a.k.a. Papa Wendo, a Congolese musician who invented rumba during a time of oppression. Back in the 1960’s, dictator Mobuto Sese Seko caused genocide and lots of poverty throughout the Congo. Wendo’s rumba music was, and still is, a way of rising above suffering and embracing life. Director Jacques Sarasin includes plenty of footage showing Wendo and other musicians playing rumba music. The camera often moves closely to their faces and hands to show how joyous, passionate and warmth that they feel while performing. Footage of their poverty-stricken homes and the polluted Congo River reflects the harsh reality about the society that they live in. Unfortunately, there’s not enough information about Wendo’s life outside of his passion for rumba. More provocative interviews would have allowed for much-needed insight for those unfamiliar of Congolese history or of Wendo. It’s quite inspiring and uplifting, though, how the Congolese turn to music as a source of escaping their hardships and as a way to come together and to feel free as a culture in unison. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by First Run Features. Opens at Village East Cinemas.

The Promotion
- Directed by Steve Conrad.

Doug (Seann William Scott), an assistant manager at a supermarket, competes with Richard (John C. Reilly) for the position of manager at a new store. Doug’s wife (Jenna Fischer) cheers her husband on and even agrees to buy a new house with him., Doug and Richard get along like oil and water—Doug being the serious water, while Richard as the oil who’s not afraid to let loose, mingle with co-workers and joke around. Much of the comedy relies on the performance John C. Reilly, who has a knack for comic timing and manages to generate some dry, offbeat humor. Seann William Scott, on the other hand, has the burden of being typecast in a serious role, but lacks the acting chops to be remotely believable. Unfortunately, writer/director Steve Conrad includes an awkward balance of comedy and drama without going far enough with either genre. It’s worth mentioning that there are few laugh-out-loud moments, but not enough surprises, imagination or refreshing and memorable dialogue as in the quirky comedy Office Space. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Dimension Films. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and AMC Empire 25.

Take Out
- Directed by Shih-Ching Tsou and Sean Baker.

In English, Mandarin and Spanish with subtitles. Ming Ding (Charles Jang), an illegal immigrant from China, has until the end of the day to pay his debts to the loan sharks who smuggled him into America. He works at a Chinese take out restaurant and hopes that the tips he makes during his delivery routes will pay off his debts. A thoughtful and considerate co-worker, Young (Jeng -Hua Yu), helps Ming by allowing him to secretly take over his deliveries for the day. Ming has left a wife and child back in China and, at times, his pining to reunite with them feels quite palpable. What follows is an absorbing drama that doesn’t have a singly pretentious bone in its body. Charles Jang gives a convincing performance in a role that speaks more volumes during the silences and moments of contemplation than whenever he speaks. Co-writers/directors Shih-Ching Tsou and Sean Baker infuse the film with a cinema verité atmosphere and organic dialogue that, fortunately, lacks contrivances and preachiness. Like in other cinema verité films such as Chop Shop and Man Push Cart, it’s the small details that enrich the film with authenticity while turning the simple plot much more complex. Most importantly it allows you to care about its very human characters and to feel their emotional pain as you watch their life unfold onscreen. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by CAVU Pictures. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

When Did You Last See Your Father?
- Directed by Anand Tucker.

Based on the novel by Blake Morrison. Blake (Colin Firth) recalls the memories of his father, Arthur (Jim Broadbent), who’s now dying from cancer. Those flashback scenes show Blake as a child, played by Bradley Johnson, and the time spent with his mother (Juliet Stevenson) as well. The rest of the flashbacks are quite ho-hum as the teenage version of Blake (Matthew Beard) flirts with Sandra (Elaine Cassidy) as well as with Rachel (Carey Mulligan), who has the hots for his dad more than him. What make the drama absorbing are the strong performances, particularly by Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth. Their scenes together feel tender and heartbreaking, especially toward the third act. Director Anand Tucker includes beautiful cinematography, but some of the transitions between past and present seem slightly abrupt. The screenplay by David Nicholls, unfortunately, fails to include enough scenes with Arthur interacting with Blake so that you’d get an idea of what made Arthur such a special father. There’s simply not enough moments that allow Blake or Arthur to come to life so that you care about them as human beings. Also, a few scenes tend to drag and some moments feel a bit bland and contrived. With a tighter, more detailed and less by-the-numbers script, When Did You Last See Your Father? could have been a much more powerful and memorable experience. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan
- Directed by Dennis Dugan.

After faking his death, Zohan (Adam Sandler), an Israeli Mossad agent, hides out in New York City where he becomes a hair stylist called Shaggy Coco, while trying to avoid his Palestinian nemesis, Phantom (John Turturro). Concurrently, Zohan falls in love with the salon’s owner, Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui). What ensues is a typical Adam Sandler vehicle filled with low brow humor, silliness and over-the-top, contrived scenes. Sandler tries his best to be funny while using an Israeli accent as does Turturro with a Palestinian one. Fortunately, most of the visual humor works, especially when Zohan tries to impress all of his elderly clientele in the least expected yet hilarious ways. Even though the jokes do get a bit repetitive, the cast at least seems to be having a lot of fun onscreen—especially Lanie Kazan in a very promiscuous role. Adam Sandler fans expecting a brainless comedy will feel very entertained, while everyone else will role their eyes at the level of stupidity and cheap gags that screenwriters Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow stoop to. As long as you’re willing to check your brain at the door and completely suspend your level of disbelief, You Don’t Mess the Zohan will be a mildly enjoyable, diverting, although forgettable comedy at the very least. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by Columbia Pictures.

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