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Reviews for March 18th, 2011

0s & 1s

Directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko

Please check back soon for a full review.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Opens at the Rerun Gastropub Theater in Brooklyn.

Alabama Moon

Directed by Tim McCanlies

Based on the novel by Watt Key.

      Eleven-year-old Moon Blake (Jimmy Bennett) live with his Pap (J.D. Evermore) in the forests of Alabama where he has learned essential survival skills. Pap reminds him not to trust the government and to always run away from them so as not to get captured. When Pap died from an infection after breaking his leg, Moon buries him and agrees to follow his fatherís advice to trek all the way to Alaska to meet up with other people who dwell in the forests. The local sheriff (Clint Howard) captures him, though, and sends him to a boysí home, Pinson, where he struggles to adjust to a completely new lifestyle that doesnít involve wearing dirty clothes, hunting and sleeping outdoors. At Pinson, befriends Kit (Uriah Shelton) and Hal (Gabriel Basso), who initially bullies him. Using his skills as an adventurer, he hatches a plan to help him along with the rest of the kids to escape from the boysí home.

      The screenplay by co-writers Watt Key and James Whittaker blends drama and adventure with just the right amount of poignancy, excitement and comic relief to keep older and younger audiences captivated. Itís very inspiring to observe how Moon learns, a posteriori, the value of friendship, compassion, hope and perseverance. A little bit more time could have been spent, though, expanding on the relationship between Moon and his beloved father as well as how they use more of their survival skills. The scenes involving the sheriff and, later on, a lawyer, Mr. Wellington (John Goodman), feel somewhat silly and contrived, but theyíre far from boring. Jimmy Bennett, the heart and soul of the film, gives performance will help to keep you engrossed in the story, especially during the tragic scenes. Hopefully he will continue to choose interesting roles such as this one that allow him to showcase his charisma and amazing talent as an actor. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes, Alabama Moon is big-hearted, inspirational and forgivably contrived with just the right amount of poignancy, excitement and comic relief to keep older and younger audiences captivated

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Opens in Birmingham and Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida.
Released by Screen Media Ventures.


Directed by Stevan Mena

    In the small town of Minersville, Pennsylvania, a ruthless serial killer, Graham Sutter (Brett Rickaby), kidnaps a 6-year-old boy, Martin, as he plays on a swing set. Five years later, Graham treats Martin (Spencer List) as if he were his very own son and has taught him to help kill his innocent victims in an abandoned meat factory. As it turns out, Martin canít feel any physical pain. Allison (Alexandra Daddario) has just moved into town to live with her aunt, Karen (Kathryn Meisle), uncle, Jonathan (Michael Biehn), and younger cousin, Wendy (Peyton List), because her parents had died. She soon meets William (Nolan Gerard Funk), who rides a motorcycle, and eventually dates him despite her fatherís disapproval of him. Meanwhile, Graham continues to hunt down, torture and kill his victims in the presence of Martin. Will Allison find Grahamís hidden abode? Will she risk her life to save Grahamís victims, kill Graham and free Martin? Writer/director Stevan Mena offers virtually no reasons for you to care about the answers to any of those questions because all of the characters come across as frustratingly dimwitted, uninteresting and bland. Allison not only hasnít watched a single horror film in her life apparently, but she also has very little common sense. The screenplay has more unintentional human than palpable scares. For instance, when Allison enters the dark, abandoned building, she repeatedly yells ďHello? Is anybody there?Ē as if sheís too stupid to realize that thereís something fishy going on there. She throws caution to the wind and doesnít even act scared. Then when she sees Martin stabbed in the hand and bleeding, she goes to the extent of asking him if heís okay. The inanity waxes as the plot progresses.

      As Roger Ebert once wisely stated, horror doesnít need big stars because the horror itself is the star. Putting aside the mediocre performances, torture porn and gore alone do not result in true scares, and after the Saw series, theyíre no longer shocking either. Any intelligent horror fan will be able to predict most of the fake scares here. Menaís last film Malevolence, the sequel to Bereavement, at least had some clever twists and psychological horrors that didnít feel cheep.On a positive note, Mena does include expert cinematography that adds a modicum of eeriness to the film. Please be sure to stick around after the end credits for a stinger. At a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes, Bereavement is Palinesque, bland and increasingly silly with oodles of unintentional humor instead of what every horror fan expects: palpable scares.

Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Opens at the Village East Cinema.
Released by Crimson Films.

The Butcher, the Chef & the Swordsman

Directed by Wuershan

A tale of revenge, honor and greed follows a group of misfits that gets involved with a kitchen cleaver made from the top five swords of the martial arts world. Be prepared for highly stylized violence and outrageously funny sight gags. Some of the camerawork feels a bit nauseating at first and the story itself gets pretty anarchic and preposterous, but it's all mostly fun as long as you check your brain at the door.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Opens at the AMC Empire 25.
Released by China Lion Film Distribution.

The Gift to Stalin

Directed by Rustem Abrashev

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Opens at the Cinema Village.

The Music Never Stopped

Directed by Jim Kohlberg

Based on the short story ďThe Last Hippie,Ē by Oliver Sacks, M.D.

      Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci), a young man in his 30ís, suffers from a brain tumor before reuniting with his estranged mother, Helen (Cara Seymour), and father, Henry (J.K. Simmons), at the hospital. The removal of the tumor leaves him with long term memory loss whereby he canít create new memories. His parents desperately want to reconnect with him after nearly two decades of being apart from. The particular reason why Gabriel had left home in the first place, which wonít be spoiled here, becomes clear later on. Upon doing research on brain injuries, Henry finds Dr. Dianne Daly (Julia Ormond), a music therapist he hires to try to get Gabriel to reconnect with him and his mother as well as to create new memories through the healing power of music. Dr. Daly chooses songs from the 1960ís, the era that Gabriel grew up in, to try to achieve those goals. Henry never really liked any of the rock and roll bands that Gabriel likes, though, such as the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, but nowís his chance to find a way to appreciate it. Mia Maestro plays Celia, a cafeteria worker whom Gabriel succeeds in flirting with thanks to Dr. Daly who introduces him to the Simon & Garfunkel song ďCecilia.Ē

      The screenplay by co-writers Gwyn Lurie and Gary Marks combines dramatic moments with just the right amount of warmth, humor and pathos. Flashbacks tend to be difficult to incorporate effectively, but, in this case, they donít feel distracting, awkward or excessive. Itís very rare to find such a genuinely heartfelt film that establishes a well-developed, realistic bond between a father and a son that doesnít veer toward melodrama. Sure, there are some corny moments, but, if you think about it, life itself has its fair share of corniness and thereís some truth to be found in it. You will probably find elements within the evolving dynamics of Henry and Gabrielís relationship that youíll be able to relate to your relationship with your own father. Anyone who has ever listened to a song and felt some kind of feeling will be able to grasp what makes Gabriel connect emotionally with the 60ís rock and roll music. That kind of music had lyrics with depth and meaning, unlike most of todayís music thatís inundated with essentially empty lyrics. Itís also worth mentioning that first-time director moves the film along at an appropriately leisure pace without any scenes that drag. Moreover, the impeccable attention to details of the different time periods helps to add a sense of authenticity to the film.

    J.K. Simmons gives a convincingly moving performance, by far the best of his entire career. Heís the true heart and soul of the film because he successfully tackles a wide range of emotions with all of its nuances. The same can be said for the other actors, especially Lou Taylor Pucci whoís just as underrated and infinitely talented as J.K. Simmons. At a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes, The Music Never Stopped is deeply moving, powerful and inspiring. It radiates a rare glow of humor and warmth. J.K. Simmons gives by far the best performance of his career.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Opens at AMC/Loews Village 7, Regal E-Walk, AMC/Loews 84th St., and the Beekman Theatre.
Released by Roadside Attractions.

Tornado Alley

Directed by Sean C. Casey

Please check back soon for a full review.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Giant Screen Films.

Winter in Wartime

Directed by Martin Koolhoven

Based on the novel by Jan Terlouw.

      In 1945 Holland, a 13-year-old boy, Michiel (Martijin Lakemeier), witnesses a plane crash whereby a British pilot, Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower), safely parachutes out of the plane, avoids getting killed by Nazi officers, and secures himself a underground hideout. Michiel befriends Jack and provides him with food unbeknownst to his father, Johan (Raymond Thiry), the town mayor whoís friendly with the Nazis. Ben (Yorick van Wageningen), Michielís uncle, a Resistance fighter, temporarily lives with Michiel and Johan. The plot gets increasingly suspenseful when Jack kills a Nazi officer and gets seriously injured. Michiel desperately searches for his sister, Erica (Melody Klaver), a nurse, and persuades her to secretly tend Jackís wounds. In a somewhat contrived subplot that could have been fleshed out a little more, Erica and Jack fall in love with one another.

      At its core, the screenplay by co-writers Mieke deJong, Paul Jan Nelissen and Martin Koolhoven focuses on the perspective of the rebellious Michiel as he puts his life in jeopardy to save Jack. The Nazis could somehow find Jack at any given point during the narrative, so itís up to Michiel, and eventually Erica, to keep him safe and effectively hidden. Michiel comes across as a kind-hearted, brave albeit slightly naÔve teenager whoís at a turning point in his childhood whereby heís learning the harsh realities of life, so the film remains engrossing as a coming-of-age drama. As a war film, it doesnít have many action sequences, but the ones that do transpire are thrilling and exciting. Youíll feel as though you were watching a big blockbuster made for millions of dollars because the action scenes look so realistic and impressive. Just when you think the film will veer toward one way, it veers toward another that takes you by surprise. Youíll find yourself riveted more often than not, but itís not the kind of suspense thatís over-the-top; director Martin Koolhoven instead gradually builds it up until the intense third act which has a very surprising, non-gimmicky twist which wonít be revealed here. At a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes, Winter in Wartime is an engrossing, well-directed war drama that will keep you at edge of your seat.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Opens at the Quad Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Released by Sony Pictures Classics.

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