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Reviews for May 31st, 2013

American Mary

Directed by Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska

      Mary Mason (Katherine Isabelle), a medical student who aspires to be a surgeon, struggles to pay the bills, so she finds herself lured into the underground world of body modification surgery. A woman resembling Betty Boop in voice and appearance, Beatress (Tristan Risk), approaches Mary and gives her more clients. Her passion for body modification surgery becomes more fervent when her professor, Dr. Grant (David Lovgren), date rapes her. She exacts revenge on him in sick and twisted ways through surgery. Cue the lame-brained detective who can't figure out why Dr. Grant has disappeared after confronting her.

      American Mary starts out as a refreshingly inventive horror film albeit with more bizarreness than scares, but once the revenge element kicks into gear, it becomes increasingly asinine and dull. Co-writer/directors Jen and Sylvia Soska, a.k.a. the Soska Sisters, include plenty of blood and guts during the torture scenes, and the nifty special effects make those sights look real much like in the Saw franchise---there's nothing stylized about the violence here. Torture porn, though, isn't scary or creepy in and of itself; it's merely disgusting, sadistic, vomit-inducing and shocking. The Soska sisters, unfortunately, fail to take the revenge narrative or the detective elements far enough. Sure, there's a little bit of background info that adds a modicum of depth to the role of Mary in the beginning, but character and plot development quickly go to the backburner while the blood-and-guts come to the forefront.

      Roger Ebert once stated that horror doesn't need a big star because the horror is the star. But there's simply no horror to be found in American Mary. Why is it even called American Mary to begin with? If it's a commentary on modern American society's tendency to often resort to body-modifying surgical procedures, i.e. cosmetic surgery, then it's not a particularly insightful or surprising commentary. If it's trying to say that we live in shallow times, again, it doesn't say that particularly well or insightfully. So, without anything interesting to say, American Mary is ultimately just a mindless exercise in sadism that's neither scary nor a guilty pleasure.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by XLrator Media.
Opens at Village East Cinema.

The East

Directed by Zal Batmanglij

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Opens at AMC/Loews Lincoln Square and Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

I Do

Directed by Glenn Gaylord


Jack (David W. Ross), a gay British photographer living in New York, becomes the surrogate father of his niece, Tara (Jessica Tyler Brown), after his brother dies in a car accident. When his visa expires and cannot be renewed, he gets advice from an employee of the U.S. Department of Immigration to enter a fake marriage if wants to receive a green card. Same-sex marriages, although legal in New York, aren't accepted as legal marriages the federal level, so he must marry a female. Coincidentally, his lesbian friend, Ali (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), happens to be single and agrees to risk the possibility of jail time by marrying him. At a party, he just so happens to meet Mano (Maurice Compte), a gay architect from Spain with who him falls in love.

      I Do could have been a much more memorable and moving drama if there were a more organic screenplay. Following a formula and experience predictability aren't negative qualities as long as the formula is followed effectively without becoming banal or sacrificing intellectual or emotional value. Screenwriter David W. Ross moves from plot point A to plot point B in a rather clunky and contrived fashion that leaves a lot of underdeveloped relationships in its path. It's not quite clear why Ali would risk so much just to help her friend enter a fake marriage. Did I mention that the Tara, the young niece, happens to be a precocious child? You don't really get a palpable sense of the love between Jack and Mano, or the friendship between him and Ali, who lets him spend a lot of time away from her with Mano even when the Immigration Department is expected to show up to check up on their "marriage". Too many coincidences happen to Jack that by the 4th or 5th one, you'll find yourself rolling your eyes while becoming emotionally disengaged.

      The contrived plot and cardboard characters could have been forgivable if the leading man, David W. Ross, were to have some charisma and warmth, but he lacks those two qualities. Instead, the much-needed albeit ephemeral charisma and warmth can be found in the performances of those in supporting roles, namely, Alicia Witt as Jack's widowed sister-in-law and Mickey Cottrell as Jack's good friend who introduces him to Mano. With more screentime, those two talented actors could have saved I Do from sinking from its banality and clunkiness.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Gravitas Ventures.
Opens at Quad Cinema.

The Kings of Summer

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by CBS Films. enter>
Opens at Landmark Sunshine Cinema and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.

Shadow Dancer

Directed by James Marsh

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Magnolia Pictures.
Opens at Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

The Wall

Directed by Julian Pölsler


Based on the novel by Marlen Haushofer, The Wall centers around an unnamed woman (Martina Gedeck) who travels to a remote hunting lodge in the Austrian Alps with her two friends (Ulrike Beimpold and Karl Heinz Hackl). Everything seems to be going fine until the two friends decide to take a walk to nearby village and don't return. The woman searches for them the next day and, upon walking down a path with her friend’s dog, Lynx, she bumps into an invisible wall that traps her from going further into the civilized world. Her attempts to get the attention of one of the townspeople are futile because they appear to remain frozen in time--although their water does flow from a fountain. She tries to escape via her car, but the car crashes right into the wall without going through it. While she struggles to survive with the basic necessities for survival day by day, she writes in a journal.

      On its surface, The Wall is a tale of one woman's struggle to survive while trapped by a mysterious wall. It could have easily become a strange Sci-fi horror film, although, it veer into psychological horror territory. The unnamed woman learns how to brave the elements of nature and to hunt for food, but her real transformation can be found innately as she changes the way she views the world and herself. Through voice-over narration, she explains how time became meaningless to her. She becomes more spiritual and even finds a certain level of tranquility. Beneath The Wall's surface lies a spiritual, emotional and psychological journey that embraces life despite how close the woman is to death at any moment.

      Martina Gedeck, the heart and soul of the film, gives a raw, tour de force performance that shows how she impeccably sinks her teeth into a complex role. One can only imagine what it was like for her to shake off the role emotionally and physically especially toward the end of the film, so kudos to her for pulling it off so effectively. The way she narrates is filled with so much feeling and conviction that you never grow tired of the narration. If there were a lesser talented actress instead of Gedeck, the narration and the film itself wouldn't be as engrossing.

      Director/co-writer Julian Pölsler moves The Wall at a leisurely pace that takes a while to get used to, but it fits well with the film's themes and allows you to become fully absorbed and transfixed by everything without feeling rushed. The slow pace also gives you time to deeply ponder the film's many lyrical symbolisms---not just the wall itself, but the frozen townspeople, the black crows and the white crow. You'll also find yourself stunned by the haunting, picturesque scenery which must be viewed on the big screen. Pölsler doesn’t provide you with much background info about the woman or even an explanation of why and how the wall exists. By leaving a lot of room for interpretation, he has made a deeply moving, complex and thought-provoking parable that you won’t soon forget.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Music Box Films.
Opens at IFC Center.

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