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Reviews for March 2nd, 2012

Monday Morning

Directed by Nat Christian

      Thomas Bach (Victor Browne), an affluent, right-winged radio host from Minneapolis, is about to run for the U.S. Senate, but when he receives an unexpected phone call from a former high school friend who claims that he had gotten her pregnant, he travels all the way to Los Angeles to meet her in Skid Row. There, a mysterious bad lady hits him over the head hard enough to cause him memory problems. He doesn't remember his name, job title or his social class, so he's now under the impression that he belongs with the homeless people in Skid Row. There's a lot at stake for Thomas including his life, livelihood, future job at the Senate, and the relationship with his very worried girlfriend, Catherine (Molly Kidder). Neither she nor his colleagues know where to find him.

      The screenplay by Nat Christian amalgamates the elements of drama, thriller, politics, social commentary and magical realism with mixed results. On the one hand, the premise of Thomas learning harsh lessons by joining the homeless who he had once looked down upon sounds quite provocative and intriguing. Christian does offer the viewer many surprises along the way, so the plot never feels predictable or ho-hum. Moreover, he depicts the lifestyles of the homeless realistically and unflinchingly without shying away from showing the complete act of a homeless woman defecating on the sidewalk. The final scene, which won't be spoiled here, comes across as equally bold and haunting. If only Christian were as bold with his sociopolitical messages rather than focusing a lot on the dramatic thriller elements throughout the second act, perhaps the film would have had a lot more bite. A little more comic relief would have also helped to offset the plot's very dark themes, and it would have been less heavy-handed had Christian trusted the audience's intelligence more--i.e. when Thomas' homeless friend states, rather obviously, that she used to be pretty back in high school. At least he trusts the audience enough to not provide more information about the mysterious bag lady, thereby leaving some well-needed room for interpretation about who she really is and why she hit Thomas for that matter.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Opens at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills, CA.
Released by The New York Times.

The Salt of Life

Directed by Gianni Di Gregorio

      60 year-old Gianni (Gianni Di Gregorio) lives with his wife (Elisabetta Piccolomini) and daughter (Teresa Di Gregorio) in a Rome apartment. After recently retiring, he goes through a mid-life crisis as he fears the consequences of growing old. His best friend, Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata), encourages him to spice up his life by finding a younger woman. Meanwhile, he has to deal with his nagging mother (Valeria de Franciscis Bendoni ) who calls him she needs him to come over to fix her television (and for other "emergencies.) In one of the films many amusing scenes, Alfonso introduces him two gorgeous young woman over lunch, and tells them lies about Gianni to try to impress them. It's no help when Cristina (Kristina Cepraga), the caretaker of Gianni's mother, tells Gianni that she had a dream where he was her grandfather.

      . Once again, writer/director Gianni Di Gregorio blends comedy, romance and drama so smoothly and realistically that it's difficult to describe the film much like it's hard to describe life itself. For audiences who are still wet behind the ears when it comes to maturity, this might seem like a rather simple and slight premise. Mature audience members, though, will be able to look beneath the film's surface and to notice and appreciate the complex emotions that Gianni goes through as he comes to terms with old age. You may not truly understand his emotions or relate to them per se, but that doesn't make them any less engrossing or believable. Like life itself, The Salt of Life is simply complex.

      Practically every scene oozes with charm and warmth that's quite relaxing. The same can be said for the performances which are so natural that you'll think you're watching a documentary. The cinematography also maintains naturalism while the well-chosen musical score keeps the tone upbeat without being too distracting. Even the humorous moments are done quite tastefully and gently without going over-the-top. Those scenes are genuinely funny because they're grounded in reality--they don't feel tacked-on like in most movies nowadays.

      Di Greggorio clearly has a passion for life with all of its mystery, beauty and wistfulness, but, most importantly, he's not afraid to express such a passion through film unpretentiously. It's the kind of pure, genuinely heartfelt, and very human drama that's rarely made anymore these days. The experience of watching this delightful follow-up to Mid-August Lunch is like sipping a refreshing glass of lemonade (spiked with a hint of booze) on a hot summer day.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Opens at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Released by Zeitgeist Films.

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