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Reviews for March 11th, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

      Aaron Eckhart stars as Michael Nantz, a staff sergeant who leads a marine platoon when aliens invade Los Angeles. Scientists had initially thought that the approaching space ships were merely asteroids, but they soon learn the harsh truth. Throughout their intense battles, the marines eventually let Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez), a technical sergeant in the Air Force, as well as veterinarian Michelle (Bridget Moynahan) and civilian Joe Rincon (Michael Peña) join them. Joe brings along his son, Hector (Bryce Cass, while Michelle brings her nieces Amy (Jadin Gould) and Kirsten (Joey King). Director Jonathan Liebesman has essentially made a loud war film with non-stop action and virtually zero character development. The camera shakes so frequently during the action sequences that you’ll find it difficult to actually see what’s happening clearly. Tension should fundamentally derive from the script instead of shaky camera movements, but screenwriter Christopher Bertolini fails to generate any because of the pedestrian, dull script that treats its characters like mere cardboard cutouts. You won’t find yourself rooting for anyone. Bertolini leaves no room for interpretation as he spells everything out for you, even when it comes to the alien’s true motivations.

      At least Skyline and 2012 offered oodles of unintentionally funny dialogue to keep you entertained, but, in this case, there’s only about five minutes worth of it when Nantz gives a painfully corny pep talk. Much of Battle: Los Angeles feels tedious and, worst of all, boring. Where’s real comic relief as a form of levity when you need it? Every war film must have at least a little comic relief if writer and director truly respect the audience. There’s none of that to be found here, though. Even the bombardment special effects become tiresome and unspectacular eventually. At a running time of 1 hour and 56 minutes Battle: Los Angelesmanages to be tedious, lazy and thoroughly nauseating with no palpable thrills or excitement to be found. The asinine script and excessive use of shaky-cam will make your eyes and ears bleed simultaneously.
Number of times I checked my watch: 8
Opens nationwide.
Released by Columbia Pictures.

Black Death

Directed by Christopher Smith

      In the year 1348, Ulric (Sean Bean) leads a group of warriors who set out, by order of the Bishop, into the marshlands of Europe to investigate rumors of a village that hasn’t been hit by the Black Death plague that’s been spreading throughout the continent. There are also rumors of what’s known as a necromancer, someone who brings the dead back to life, who might be found in that village. Ulric picks Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), a monk, as his guide through the dark, treacherous marshlands. Osmund has an ulterior motive that becomes apparent once he, Ulric and the rest of the warriors reach the village. Langiva (Carice van Houten), an herbalist, turns out to be the leader of the villagers, but there’s more to her than meets the eye. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Dario Poloni takes an initially intriguing premise and turns it into a meandering, bland experience. Poloni awkwardly blends the genres of action, drama and horror----sure there’s a fair amount of violence to be found here, but violence alone isn’t scary. It’s alright that none of the characters is particularly likable or even moral for that matter; what’s not acceptable, though, is that neither of them has enough of a backstory to be engaging or worth rooting for. Ulric and his warriors take a while to finally reach the village, and once they arrive there, the film’s tensions and thrills should have waxed, but instead they wane because of the weak script that essentially rushes through those important scenes. Watching the warriors walk through the marshland before their arrival at the village feels tedious eventually.

      On a positive note, Christopher Smith establishes a mostly creepy, foreboding atmosphere through the impressive cinematography. Everything from the costumes to the set designs looks authentic to the time period----if only the dialogue were as believable and engaging. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, Black Death is atmospheric and initially intriguing, but often meandering and ultimately forgettable. It's deficient in enough scares, thrills and palpable tension to keep you thoroughly captivated.
Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Opens at the Cinema Village.
Released by Magnet Releasing.

Certified Copy

Directed by Abbas Kiarostami

      James Miller (William Shimell), a British author, arrives in Tuscany to promote his new book titled “Certified Copy .” After giving a lecture about authentic and fake art, he meets a woman (Juliette Binoche) from the audience and autographs the copies of his book that she brings with her. She’s originally from France and currently owns an art gallery. She and James walk through the small village of Lucignano where people mistake them for husband and wife. They decide to play around with that fantasy, so for the rest of their long walk, they feign the roles of husband and wife. Concurrently, they feign arguments, discussions and sentiments, but soon their experiment leads to real emotions that inevitably arise. Writer/director Abbas Kiarostami has essentially created a seemingly light study of a marital relationship albeit a fake one. Who’s to say that real married couples don’t fake their emotions as well? Admittedly, it does take a few minutes for you to become fully engrossed in the conversations between James and the unnamed woman because they do talk a lot and, eventually, bicker like a real husband and wife would probably do. Much of what transpires between the two of them makes a lot of sense once you recall the insights about originality and copies which James makes during the lecture.

      If it weren’t for Juliette Binoche and William Shimell’s organic, well-nuanced performances, listening to their characters constantly talk would have become quickly tiresome and frustrating. Shimell should be especially commended because this marks his first acting role. Kiarostami shoots them both with such fluidity that you can’t help but feel immersed in their brief encounter. Moreover, it’s worth mentioning that the picturesque, quaint village of Lucignano becomes a character in itself and adds layers of richness, tranquility and even some earthiness to the film; had they walked through a city like New York, it certainly wouldn’t have been the same kind of experience and atmosphere. At a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes, Certified Copy manages to be quietly engrossing and fascinating with well-nuanced performances by Juliette Binoche and William Shimell.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Opens at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Released by IFC Films.

The Desert of Forbidden Art

Directed by Tchavdar Georgiev and Amanda Pope.

Please check back soon for a full review.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Opens at the Cinema Village.


Directed by Dana Adam Shapiro

Please check back soon for a full review.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Opens at the Village East Cinema.
Released by Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Red Riding Hood

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

      Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) pines to run away with her true love, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) despite that her parents have arranged for her to marry a wealthy young man, Henry (Max Irons), instead. Valerie and Peter’s plans get thwarted when villagers find her younger sister killed by a werewolf. A group of villagers travel to where they assume the wolf’s lair is and kill a wolf there. Little do they know that they were supposed to hunt down a werewolf; not a regular wolf. The villagers call upon a werewolf hunter, Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), to help them find and kill the werewolf that remains skulking in or around the village, hungry for his next victim. Solomon informs the villagers that the werewolf will be terrorizing them for the next three days until the blood red moon disappears. It can be killed by silver and by stepping into holy ground. Most importantly, one of the villagers may actually be the notorious werewolf. Screenwriter David Johnson fails to generate any palpable chemistry between Valerie and Peter. They’ve been childhood friends, so, given the rules of the genre, they automatically must be meant for each other. Gary Oldman has a lot of fun in his role and makes the most out of the stilted dialogue. Julie Christie adds some much-needed gravitas as Valerie’s grandmother who gives her the iconic red cloak. Johnson seems to prefer to spoon-feed the audience with lots info thereby leaving no room for subtlety.

      What keeps the film at least mildly engaging is the suspense that comes from to trying figuring out the true identity of the werewolf and to spot the red herrings along the way. The final plot twist, which won’t be spoiled here, makes sense in retrospect. Moreover, director Catherine Hardwick includes a striking use of color and lighting that gives many scenes an almost dreamlike look while giving other scenes an eerie atmosphere. She also uses camera angles that imply that someone, probably the werewolf, is in the process of eavesdropping. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, Red Riding Hood is an often suspenseful, visually stylish and atmospheric whodunit despite a hackneyed romantic subplot and plenty of stilted dialogue to boot.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Opens nationwide.
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.

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