Reviews for March 26th, 2010
Directed by Atom Egoyan.
Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore), a gynecologist, suspects that her husband, David (Liam Neeson), a music professor, might be cheating on her after he misses a flight home and she reads a text message sent to him by one of his female students. She hires Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), a high-end prostitute, merely meet and converse with David in order to learn whether or not he’ll try hit on her. The situation gets out of hand when Chloe claims that David had yielded to her seductions by having sex with her. Catherine even asks her for all of the juicy details and, all-of-a-sudden, finds herself physically attracted to her. She and Chloe engage in a sexually-charged relationship and, soon enough, Chloe also tries to seduce Catherine’s teenage son, Michael (Max Thieriot). The screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson has its fair share of thrills and intrigue up until the scene where Chloe and Catherine initiate their steamy affair, but, after that, the suspense wanes and the plot begins to feel rather convoluted, unimaginative and somewhat silly. Moreover, too much is spelled out and spoon-fed to the audience rather than allowing them to use their intelligence to deduce or infer from any subtleties (which, in this case, don’t really exist). It’s as if Wilson didn’t quite know what to do with the material from that point on and, therefore, the plot’s momentum essentially runs out of steam. Fortunately, Amanda Seyfried’s sizzling scenes as Chloe along with Julianne Moore’s raw, brave and honest performance as Catherine help to invigorate the film and to keep your eyes mostly glued to the screen. Director Atom Egoyan, who also directed Adoration, Where the Truth Lies and Exotica, includes an appropriately brisk pace, exquisite cinematography and a well-chosen musical score. If only he were to have a tighter screenplay with a much less preposterous third act, Chloe would have been consistently brilliant and suspenseful. At a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes, Chloe manages to be a seductive and mostly intriguing erotic thriller that eventually loses steam and veers toward silliness while failing to trust the audience’s intelligence. Amanda Seyfried sizzles, though. Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens at the Regal Union Square 14, Clearview Chelsea, City Cinemas 1, 2 & 3 and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square 13.
Directed by Conor McPherson.
Michael Farr (Ciarán Hinds) lives with his two young kids (Eanna Hardwicke and Hannah Lynch) and still grieves over the death of his wife two years earlier. When he’s not writing supernatural fables, he works as a chauffeur for authors who must travel to the annual Literary Festival taking place in the Irish seaside town of Cobh. He meets Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle), a London-based author of a book entitled The Eclipse, who might be able to help him figure why he’s seeing all sorts of strange apparitions because she had once seen a ghost back when she was 11-years-old. They both gradually get to know one another even while they’re haunted by their past. Lena tries to forget about an affair she had in the past with author novelist Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn), who’s now an alcoholic, aggressive man fighting demons of his own. Director/co-writer Conor McPherson deftly combines drama, romance, suspense and horror with just the right touch of brief comic relief that serves as a form of levity. At its core, though, the plot poignantly centers around the relationship between Michael and Lena as they both have to deal with a lot of baggage from their past that weighs down on them throughout their percolating romance. The ghosts that Michael sees can be taken literally or, more interestingly, metaphorically because they could signify that he’s haunted by his tragic past regarding his beloved wife’s death which he still hasn’t overcome. It’s also worth mentioning superb performances by the underrated Ciarán Hinds and Iben Hjejle, both of whom sink their teeth into their roles with ease. McPherson maintains a gently eerie mood that keeps you engaged at the edge of your seat as you’re wondering how everything will culminate precisely and whether or not Michael will be able to find a sense of tranquility because, after all, he’s a kind-hearted man who deserves to be happy. The scenery of Ireland becomes a character of its own that slightly adds to the foreboding, chilling atmosphere throughout. At a running time of 1 hour and 28 minutes, The Eclipse is an unconventionally tender, heartfelt, well-acted and intriguing ghost story that offers both style and substance. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.
Gay.com Triple Bill
Directed by Bill Humphreys, James Bolton and Raúl Marchand Sánchez.
Gay.com’s triple bill series includes Just Say Love, directed by Bill Humphreys, about a carpenter Doug (Robert Mammana) who meets Guy (Matthew Jaegar) at a construction site and the two gradually grow closer to one another, on both a physical and, eventually, on an emotional level. Doug has been bottling his homosexual feeling throughout his life and lives with his wife who’s expecting his child. He leaves for several months to take care of her instead of spending time with Guy. The poignant, sensitive screenplay, based on the stage play by David J. Mauriello, brings the characters of Doug and Guy to life organically so that there’s never a contrived or melodramatic moment to be found. Mammana and Jaegar’s raw, heartfelt performances help to ground the film in a way that makes you forget that the film is shot on a theater set, which reminds you precisely how powerful, well-written dialogue along with great acting can have the ability transport your heart and mind. Another film in the triple bill series is Manuela & Manuel about Manuel (Humberto Busto), a drag queen performer who prefers to be called Manuela, still pines over his long-time boyfriend who recently left him and still has hope that he’ll return to him someday. His best friend, Coca (Elena Iguina), discovers that she’s pregnant and persuades him to pretend to be her fiancé because the real father of her baby can’t be found. Soon enough, she introduces Manuel to her mother and father and as he tries, unsuccessfully, to hide his femininity. Writer/director Raúl Marchand Sánchez includes too many silly and highly unrealistic situations that simply try too hard to play for laughs and, instead, end up falling flat. Nonetheless, it never becomes a boring, dull or tedious film thanks to the lively cast each of whom seems to be having a great time in their roles. The third film in the series, Dream Boy, based on the novel by Jim Grimsley, centers around the awakening of a physically attraction between two teenagers, Nathan (Stephan Bender) and Roy (Max Roeg), who become friends with one another as study partners. They live in a religious rural community where homosexuality is strongly looked down upon, so the two struggle to hide their homosexual feelings from others. Writer/director James Bolton offers a very honest and heartfelt look at the struggles of young gay lovers living in very intolerant and homophobic society. As the plot veers drama into a heartbreaking tragedy that won’t be spoiled here, it also transitions into magical realism that comes across as too awkward and distracts from the drama’s momentum, therefore making you feel somewhat less engrossed and immersed in the lives of the characters. Released by Regent Releasing. Opens at the Chelsea Clearview Cinema.
Just Say LoveNumber of times I checked my watch: 0 Manuela & ManuelNumber of times I checked my watch: 2 Dream BoyNumber of times I checked my watch: 1
Directed by Robert Saitzyk.
Charlie Shepard (Joseph McKelheer), a modern day faith healer, lives in a small town in Alaska with his wife Rebecca (Jessie Ward) and young son. He has a fervent devotion to God even while he and his wife have marriage issues to deal with. One night, an unknown assailant breaks into Charlie’s home and brutally murders his wife and son without any clear motives. Half a year later, Charlie has yet to overcome that tragedy and, since then, has moved to a new home and abandoned his faith in God. Sarah (Courtney Halverson) shows up in town out-of-the-blue and persuades him to follow her into her home to help heal her father’s grief. Little does he know that he’ll get more than he bargained for after meeting her ill-tempered brother, Luke (Cory Knauf). Luke confronts Charlie about a dark secret of his which won’t be spoiled here, but it’s worth mentioning that the drama become more and more intense during those confrontations. Unfortunately, though, the screenplay by co-writer Cory Knauf and director/co-writer Robert Saitzyk fails to be moving because the dialogue feels rather stilted and awkward rather than organic, but the plot does offer a few surprising turn of events in the third act. It even veers toward preachiness at times which makes it difficult to immerse yourself in the story of these tragic lives On a positive note, the performances by Cory Knaud and Joseph McKelheer are decent enough to keep you engaged while the mystery of Luke and Sarah’s purpose in the film add a little bit of suspense. Saitzyk makes the most out of the Alaskan landscape which enriches the film with many visually striking images and interesting use of symbolisms that will compel you to ponder their meaning within the larger context. At a running time of 1 hour and 39 minutes, Godspeed manages to be often contrived, stilted and awkwardly preachy albeit occasionally suspenseful and filled with haunting visuals. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Lightyear Entertainment. Opens at the Cinema Village.
How to Train Your Dragon
Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders.
Based on the book by Cressida Cowell. Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel), a teenager Viking, lives with his dragon-slaying father, Stoick (voice Gerard Butler), on the Isle of Berk. Stoick desperately wants Hiccup to follow the Vikings’ tradition by becoming a dragon-slayer. One day, Hiccup finds a wounded dragon called a Night Fury, which he eventually names Toothless. He’s unable to kill it and, instead, decides to tame it and even goes to the extent of replacing its missing tailfin so that it could fly once again. Soon enough, Hiccup saddles up onto Toothless and trains it how to carry him as it soars through the air. What will it take for him to convince his father and the rest of the village, including kids around his age from his dragon-slaying bootcamp, namely, Ruffnut (voice of Kristen Wiig), Tuffnut (voice of T.J. Miller), Fishlegs (voice of Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Snotlout (voice of Jonah Hill) and Astrid (America Ferrera), that there’s a way to make peace with the dragons that they’ve been fighting all along? Hiccup finds himself in quite a complicated dilemma when he’s forced to face off a seemingly menacing-looking dragon in front of a large crowd that cheers him on to a kill it. The screenplay by Adam F. Goldberg, Peter Tolan and co-directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders follows a standard formula for an action-adventure, but at least follows it very well and balances it with a nice touch of drama that never feels too contrived or distracting from the film’s overall momentum. Many animated films have an overall problem of excessive style over substance or, in other words, stellar special effects but a not-so-stellar story. Fortunately, How to Train Your Dragon has a captivating and heartwarming story as well as spectacular CGI animation that looks dazzling in 3-D. Moreover, Hiccup and Toothless’ moments of bonding with one another as they gain each other’s trust will remind you of the bond between Elliot and E.T. The CGI animators have done a terrific job of making Toothless look menacing for one moment and then friendly, warm and even adorable the next with its facial expressions, especially its eyes. At a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes, it’s an exciting, thrilling, soaring adventure with the rare combination of dazzling visual effects and a heartfelt story that’s captivating for everyone both young and old. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Paramount Pictures. Opens nationwide.
Directed by Matthew Bonifacio.
27-year-old Neil Perota (Carmine Famiglietti) still lives with his parents in Brooklyn and suffers from a serious obesity problem because he weighs over 300 pounds and can’t stop his addiction to food. Two days before the wedding of his sister, Theresa (Sharon Angela), Neil suffers a heart attack which causes her to postpone the wedding two months later and to downsize it. Theresa’s drunken husband (Lou Martini) confronts Neil by blaming him for the postponement of the wedding and by pointing out his obesity problem in front of everyone. Neil decides to take the first step in solving his problem by leaving Brooklyn to briefly live in a countryside trailer. His friend, Sacco (Michael Aronov), who suffers from drug addiction, joins him on his journey toward weight loss. In a somewhat corny and contrived subplot, Neil develops a romance with a local waitress, Lara (Miriam Shor), even though she’s married. He allows to her to cut his hair and, in a very stilted scene, to take his virginity after asking him right off the bat if he’d like to have sex. The director/co-writer Matthew Bonifacio boldly tackles the issue of obesity which has been a serious problem plaguing many people all over the world, especially in America, where many people prefer eating cheap, convenient, processed food loaded with potentially neurotoxic flavor enhancers (i.e. MSG and Aspartame) rather than consuming fresh, unprocessed food. Earlier this month, Donna Simpson, a 42-year-old mother who currently weighs over 600 pounds went public that she’s trying to reach 1,000 pounds and allows viewers to pay to watch her eat on her website. She, unlike Neil in Lbs., is a microcosm of the apathy, stupidity, simple-mindedness, and selfishness that’s plaguing our society when it comes to important matters such as health. At least Neil yearns to lose weight and knows that a change of environment can help him reach that goal while open up emotionally to warm people, such as Lara, who show that they care about him. Bonifacio could have easily done without the tacked-on romantic subplot involving Neil and Lara so that he could have fleshed out the main plot strand of Neil’s mission much more and delved more organically into his thoughts and feelings instead of rushing his battle to become fit---although many people often forget that fit does necessarily mean healthy. On a positive note, Carmine Famiglietti gives a heartfelt and charismatic performance that allows for you to root for him and to feel inspired by him throughout his physical and emotional battles to fight his ongoing addiction to food. Lbs. ultimately manages to be an inspirational drama that’s somewhat unfocused and occasionally veers toward contrivance and oversimplification, but remains engaging thanks to Famiglietti’s brave, warm and charismatic performance.
(If you care about your health and/or that of others, please click here to read my article and research about the cover-up of hidden MSG, a potential neurotoxin which, according to Carol Hoernlein, ex-food scientist at M&M Mars, is both harmful and addictive. Decide that for yourself, though. )
Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by Truly Indie. Opens at the Village East Cinema.
Waking Sleeping Beauty
Directed by Don Hahn.
This mildly fascinating documentary charts the rebirth of the Disney animation during the second Golden Age of Animation in the late 80’s and early to mid 90’s. Walt Disney, co-founder of Walt Disney Studios with his brother, Roy, died back in 1966 and, for over 2 decades, the company has been struggling to make lightning strike again after the first Golden Age of Animation when Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had opened. The Black Cauldron in 1985 was a failed attempt to ignite a new Golden Age because it was a box office failure that simply failed to catch on with audiences. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which won over both critics and audiences back in 1988, however, did ignite the new Golden Age. Subsequently, the brilliant animators at Walt Disney Studios made The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Beauty and the Beast and Aladin, all of which were great successes at the box office and with critics. Director Don Hahn, who actually serves as one of the producers of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, combines behind-the-scenes footage with voice-overs and clips from some of the animated films. Animation lovers will get a kick out of watching how a rough cut of Beauty and the Beast (not yet colored-in) garnered a long standing ovation when it debuted at the New York Film Festival. Not surprisingly, many storyboard sketches made by the animators were tossed away into the garbage before those classic animated films were selected. Interestingly, The Little Mermaid wasn’t green-lit at first because it was too reminiscent of the box-office hit Splash. Hahn also briefly shows the escalating tensions between CEO Michael D. Eisner, vice chairman Roy E. Disney, and chairman of the movie division, Jeffrey Katzenberg, but those tensions aren’t explored nearly enough to provide any real insight or revelations. Hahn could have also dug deeper by asking the animators what they think are they basic elements that turn an animated film into a classic to begin with. Is it all about finding a good story or is it more about taking risks? What advice would these animators and executives have for aspiring animators of today’s generation? At a running time of 1 hour and 26 minutes, Waking Sleep Beauty is marginally fascinating and well-edited, but has too much potatoes and not nearly enough meat for audiences hungry for insight about the second Golden Age of Animation. This would make a great double-feature with Walt & El Grupo, a documentary about the first Golden Age of Animation.Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by Walt Disney Studios. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.