The Children of Huang Shi - Directed by Roger Spottiswoode.
During the Japanese occupation of China in 1937, George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a young British journalist, tries to help sixty orphans in Huang Shi, China journey to find safety and liberty. He falls in love with an Australian nurse, Lee (Radha Mitchell), at the orphanage, while receiving support from Chen (Chow Yun Fat) and Madame Wang (Michelle Yeoh). Jonathan Rhys Meyers gives a decent performance in a role that, unfortunately, doesnít truly come to life. The opening scenes feel quite intense and dramatic, but once George reaches the orphanage, the plot becomes mostly bland and tedious. Itís quite moving to watch him interact with the orphans who gradually learn to appreciate aide, except for one stubborn orphan who refuses any help from him. The romance between George and Lee comes across as hackneyed and contrived. Unfortunately, co-writers Jane Hawksley and James MacManus fail to develop the characters fully enough so that you care about them as human beings. Director Roger Spottiswoode does include great cinematography and some gorgeous scenery, but thatís not enough to keep you fully absorbed and engaged. At a running time of 114 minutes, The Children of Huang Shi overstays its welcome and occasionally drags. Please be sure to stay through the end credits for footage of the real-life children of Huang Shi whose story this film is based on. For a much more powerful and unforgettable film, which documents the history and survivors of these tragic events, please check out Nanking. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens at the Paris Theatre and Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
Heavy Metal in Baghdad - Directed by Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti.
In English and Arabic with subtitles. This intriguing documentary follows the struggles of Acrassicauda (Latin for ďblack scorpion), the only heavy metal band in Iraq. The band only managed to play in a few concerts since 2003 and have risked their lives every day for their passion for heavy metal. Co-directors Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti include fascinating interviews with the band members as they express how they feel with the war going on all around them. More provocative questions would have helped to illuminate any solutions/suggestions they might have to ending the war, but itís clear that the band wants to escape from it all through music. The lyrics of their songs express their beliefs somewhat, though, so be sure to pay close attention to the words. Itís equally sad and gripping to watch as the band becomes displaced out of their homes in Baghdad and end up as refugees in Damascus while still desperately trying to keep their passion for heavy metal aliveóand to keep themselves alive as well. Anyone who has ever felt a passion for anything in life will feel inspired by the abundant courage, energy and perseverance found in the intrepid heavy metal band Acrassicauda. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Arts Alliance America and Vice Films. Opens at Clearview 62nd & Broadway.
Insidious - Directed by Jerry Schram.
Donny (James Schram), a 21-year-old independent filmmaker, gets into escalating trouble when he seeks help from mob boss, Gigetto (Augustus Diorio), as he tries to collect debts people owe him. The rest of the messy, confusing plot involves a murder mystery and a bunch of lowlifes who may or may not be deceptive. James Schram gives a mediocre performance that fails to enliven the unimaginative screenplay that doesnít have a single believable or engaging scene. Writer/director Jerry Schram includes too many unlikable, poorly developed characters who spew out stilted dialogue. It wouldíve been beneficial had he infused some much-needed humor into the film or at least a refreshing plot rather than one that feels stale from the very beginning. Ultimately, Insidious is like a car that just sits there without starting because not only does it lack fuel, but its driver doesnít seem to know how to how to ignite the engine, which is probably all broken-up on top of all the other problems. Number of times I checked my watch: 9. Released by Romantic Troubadour Entertainment. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Postal - Directed by Uwe Boll.
In the small town of Paradise, Dave (Dave Foley) helps his unemployed nephew Dude (Zack Ward) to make money by stealing Krotchy Dolls, which the Taliban happen to want as well, but for much different reasons. Director Uwe Bollís controversial movie is many things, but itís certainly not boring, especially for those who enjoy laughing at and/or with his silly moviesói.e, the unintentionally funny medieval action adventure In the Name of the King. What ensues in the crazy plot is plenty of dumb, equally offensive comedy that tries to reach new lows with each silly gag. Anyone sensitive to trashy humor, ethnic/racial humor or political humor will definitely be shocked and disgusted by what they see and hear onscreen. However, everyone else who has an open mind and can check their brain at the door should find guilty pleasure by watching all the zany, over-the-top outrageousness that pokes fun of everything imaginable and will test their boundaries for offensive humor, much like Borat did. If youíre looking pointless sex, drugs, nudity, violence and non-stop, mean-spirited insanity, Postal provides plenty of it from start to finish. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Strand Releasing. Opens at the Cobble Hill Cinemas in Brooklyn.
War, Inc. - Directed by Joshua Seftel.
The former US Vice-President and current CEO of Tamerline (Dan Aykoyd) sends Hauser (John Cusack) to Turaqistan to assassinate a Middle Eastern oil minister, Omar Sharif (Lyubomir Neikov). To get access to the minister, pretends to be the companyís tradeshow producer. Marisa Tomei plays a reporter who befriends him during his mission while Joan Cusack provides a breath of fresh air in a small role as his secretary. Ben Kingsley is underused as Walken, a rithless CIA boss. Finally, Hillary Duff rounds out the ensemble cast as Yonica Babyyeah, an Asian pop singer whose wedding Hauser organizes. The outrageous plot has plenty of imaginative concepts that simply fail to mold together effectively because of the poor directing of Joshua Seftel and the weak screenplay by co-writers Mark Leyner, Jeremy Pikser and John Cusack. Too many scenes make you feel like youíre watching an over-to-the-top midnight movie with excessive style and not enough substance. The comedy often falls flat on delivery and everything else including the drama and some action fizzle out by the time the over-the-top ending comes around. Compared to Dr.Strangelove, War, Inc. lacks the brains and heart to go beyond its weirdness. Weirdness just for the sake of weirdness ultimately feels pretentious and exhausting no matter what actors are onscreen. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by First Look Pictures. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.