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Reviews for March 29th, 2013


Directed by Pablo Berger

      In 1920s Spain, a young girl, Carmencita (Sofia Oria), lives with her wicked stepmother, Encarna (Maribel Verdú), in a large mansion after her grandmother (Angela Molina) dies. Carmencita never got a chance to meet her mother because she died at childbirth. Little does she know that her father, Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a former matador paralyzed after a bullfight injury, can be found in a room on the 2nd floor of the house---a room that her wicked stepmother forbids her to enter. Years later, Carmencita, now a teenager (Macarena García), she suffers from amnesia after surviving a murder attempt by Encarna, and joins a group of 7 dwarves who dub her Blancanieves and teach her how to bullfight.

      You've never seen a reimagining of the classic Snow White tale quite like this one before. Blancanieves, although a silent black-and-white film, says more, looks more dazzling and entertains much more than any of the talkie versions of the tale.Carmencita's reunion with her father is one of the film's many magical, enchanting scenes that can't be described, just experienced. Casting director Rosa Estévez deserves kudos for choosing actors/actresses who have very expressive faces, ideal for a silent film. Maribel Verdú, in particular, is perfectly cast as the stepmother who you know is wicked from the moment that she had set her eyes upon Antonio at the hospital where she worked as a nurse.

     Writer/director Pablo Berger infuses the film with breathtaking visuals and includes a well-chosen soundtrack that wonderfully compliments the images. Everything from the costume design to the set design, lighting and editing are top-notch. Beyond those aesthetic pleasures, though, are the films charms and surprising moments of poignancy, wit, humor and wonder. Not a single scene drags or falls flat, so prepare to be captivated and mesmerized from start to finish.

      Blancanieves offers so many surprises and brilliance that it makes for an invigorating, crowd-pleasing experience that feels nourishing for your mind, body and soul. It's destined to become a sleeper hit.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Cohen Media Group.
Opens at The Paris Theatre and Angelika Film Center.


Directed by William Dickerson

      Jackson Alder (Neil Hopkins), a thirty-something ad exec from Los Angeles, wakes up in his Jeep Cherokee after getting knocked unconscious from an accident. The problem? His car happens to be buried under a large pile of mud off the side of a highway because the accident occurred during a mudslide. Has initially has no recollection of the moments leading up to the accident, but he gradually starts to remember them piece by piece. Meanwhile, as he struggles to stay alive and to escape, he looks at video clips of his beloved wife, Laurie (Brea Grant), on his iPhone.

      A truly great suspense thriller should be grounded in realism, so it's a testament to director/co-writer William Dickerson and actor Neil Hopkins that Detour, for the most part, achieves that crucial feat. For just under 90 minutes, Dickerson and Hopkins make you feel like you're trapped in the buried car right along with Jackson. What ensues is the equivalent of a roller coaster ride with pockets of calmness and even a little hope between all of the moments of suspense, horror and intensity. The levity comes in the form of video clips from Jackson's happy moments with his wife. If Detour didn't have any of that vital levity, it would feel exhausting and overwhelming. To be fair, Dickerson and co-writer Dwight Moody could have rewarded the audience with an additional scene after the last one because the way that the film ends, which won't be spoiled here, seems somewhat abupt.

      Hopkins gives a raw performance that helps you to be emotionally invested in his plight from start to finish. It probably took him a while to shake off his role emotionally and physically. What makes Jackson a character worth rooting for in particular is that he's more clever and charismatic than your average horror/thriller protagonist. He attempts to stay alive using the limited tools he has in quite inventive ways. So, if you're an intelligent audience member, chance are that you'll find him to be relatable and to ask yourself the inevitable yet frightening question, "What would I do in that situation?" while watching the film.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Level 1 Entertainment.
Opens at Cinema Village.

Documentary Round-Up

      The award for the most hilarious, bizarre and provocative documentary of the week goes to Room 237, directed by Rodney Ascher. If you think you've grasped the meaning of The Shining by watching it a number of times, think again. Can The Shining be truly about the Holocaust? The genocide of Native Americans? Or perhaps Kubrick was trying to confess that he faked the moon landing, according to another theorist? Are these fanatics of The Shining merely spewing conspiracy theories or conspiracy facts? Are the theorists insane or brilliant? Those answers are left up to you as the intelligent, critically-thinking viewer, but there are some arguments to be made for both sides of the coin. After all, there's always a fine line between genius and madness. Watching this doc is like going down a rabbit hole. Each theorist explains their theories and backs them up with their own logic via examples directly from the film that which will baffle and perplex you more often than not. Are they reading too much into the film or was Kubrick brilliant enough to leave those theories encoded so elaborately within the film? Either way, the result is the same: by the end of Room 237, you'll never look at The Shining the same way again, and you'll want to watch it forward, backards and forwards-and-backwards simultaneously. Sundance Selects opens the doc at the IFC Center and Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. If you're interested in human rights issues, The Revolutionary Optimists, co-directed by Maren R. Monsen and Nicole Newnham, will opens your eyes to the conditions found in the slums of Calcutta, and how the creation of one school, Prayasam, led to an ongoing revolution that helped its inhabitants to escape poverty and inhumane living conditions. The slums have no easy access to drinkable water, there are millions of child laborers throughout India, and 47% of Indian girls get married before they turn 18. Amlan Ganguly founded Prayasam to give the children intrinsically valuable, long-lastiung tools that they could use to ameliorate their lives and those around them. Those tools include education and mentorship. Those tools will hopefully be passed down the generations, but that's easier said than done. The doc puts a human face on the issue by following the lives of four children from the slums, namely, Priyanka, Shika, Salim and Kajal and Kajal. It's equally suspenseful, moving and inspirational to watch as charismatic, 11-year-old Salim and other kids come together to try to pursuade the government to improve their water system. They even draw a map of their area together, a map that could not be found on Google. The Revolutionary Optimists provides practical, realistic hope that impoverished, uneducated people can escape from their inhumane conditions and learn how to speak out as long as they have the right tools to rise above, and that they don't think that it's acceptable to settle for inhumane suffering. Shadow Distribution opens the doc at the Cinema Village. Just when you thought you knew every story of heroism from the Holocaust comes the vital, riveting doc Rescue in the Phillippines, directed by Russell C. Hodge and Cynthia Scott. The five Freider brothers, Cincinnati businessmen whose cigar business was in Manila, helped 1,200 Jews to escape Nazi persecution by getting them jobs in the Phillippines and providing them with money and shelter. Manuel Quezón, the Phillippines' President, along with Dwight D. Eisenhower and the United States high commissioner to the Phillippines, Paul V. McNutt, also aided the rescue mission. In just 60 minutes, Rescue in the Phillippines uses archival footage and interviews to tell the suspenseful story, beginning with a basic, yet essential summary of the horrifying events of the Holocaust, such as Kristallnacht. You'll breathe a sigh of relief when you learn that the Phillippine government cared about saving the Jews and that the Freider brothers were just as heroic as Oscar Schnindler. A frightening, yet powerful question remains unanswered: Why did so many other countries remain apathetic toward the horrors of the Holocaust during that time? Would they still be apathetic if something similar were to happen today? Three Roads Communications opens Rescue in the Phillippines at the Quad Cinema.

Family Weekend

Directed by Benjamin Epps

      All that 16-year-old Emily (Olesya Rulin) wants is for her workaholic, neurotic mother, Samantha (Kristin Chenoweth), and deadbeat, bohemian artist dad, Duncan (Matthew Modine), to behave like normal, attentive parents. When they, along with her siblings, Lucinda (Joey King), Mickey (Robbie Tucker) and Jackson (Eddie Hassel), fail to show up at her uber important jump rope competition, Emily decides to take matters into her own hands, literally. She drugs her parents and ties them to a chair in hopes of teaching them some crucial family values throughout the course of one weekend.

      Anarchic, silly, contrived and cartoonish are among the words that describe Family Weekend. What could have been a hilarious, witty screwball comedy or smart, perceptive family dramedy becomes neither. All of the character comes across as essentially caricatures with little to no backstory or complexity. Sure, they all behave like they need therapy, but certainly not without a licensed therapist who would probably detect a lot of narcissism within that family. Emily, as organized, articulate and caring as she seems on the outside, is probably just as mentally ill as her parents and siblings. Nonetheless, the screenplay by Matt K. Turner requires you to root for her, and that's okay---a protagonist can be unlikable as long as they're true to life which isn't the case here. Having Emily's preteen sister, Lucinda, dress like the prostitute from Taxi Driver and quote her lines is amusing albeit slightly creepy at first, but by the 3rd time the joke is repeated, it's just plain creepy. Moreover, the film lacks warmth, and its ending will make you roll your eyes because it feels so inane, unrealistic and tacked-on, like a "Hollywood" ending. In other words, the character arcs aren't the least bit believable or well-thought out. Please see Little Miss Sunshine for a sophisticated, character-driven dysfunctional dramedy that makes you laugh and cry without insulting your intelligence.

      On a positive note, though, director Benjamin Epps moves the film at a brisk enough pace, and makes the most out of the one setting, the house, where 99% of the film takes place without it feeling theatrical. Moreover Olesya Rulin and Joey King both add a sprinkle of panache with their lively performances. If only the screenplay gave them more to chew on.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Arc Entertainment.
Opens at Clearview Chelsea Cinemas.

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