The Babysitters - Directed by David Ross.
When Shirley (Katherine Waterston) messes around with Michael (John Leguizamo), one of the married men whose children she babysits, she decided to turn her babysitting services into a call-girl service. Soon enough, she becomes a pimp, recruiting other girls from her high school, including her best friend, Melissa (Lauren Birkell), Nadine (Halley Wegryn Gross) and Brenda (Louisa Krause). Although Katherine Waterston, daughter of Sam Waterston gives a decent performance, that’s not enough to save the initially provocative and sly plot that quickly veers toward silliness and looses its momentum once her character becomes a call girl None of the characters are interesting, believable or developed enough for you to root for or care about, especially Shirley and the unlikable Michael. Only Michael’s wife (Cynthia Nixon) has some likable qualities, but her character is sadly underused. Writer/director David Ross can’t decide whether to take it all seriously or to poke satirical, sleazy fun at the life of high school girls à la Heathers. Therefore, many situations come across as either awkward or merely insipid. Ross tends to rush crucial scenes, particularly in the first act and then again in the messy third act, which leaves some distracting plot holes. If only he could have injected more wit, humor and intelligence into the script, it could have been so much more sizzling and engaging. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Peace Arch Entertainment.
Before the Rains - Directed by Santosh Sivan.
Based on the segment “Red Roofs” from The Desert Trilogy: Yellow Asphalt. In 1937 Kerala, India, Henry Moores (Linus Roache) has an affair with his housemaid, Sajani (Nandita Das). When her domineering husband, Rajat (Lal Paul), discovers that she has an affair, he sets out to hunt down her secret lover. Sajani pretends to have been killed by escaping and leaving a garment of hers in the river. Meanwhile, T.K. Neelan (Rahul Bose) helps Henry, his friend, to keep the affair and the rest of the events a secret from Rajat as well as Henry’s wife (Jennifer Ehle). The first act sets up a lot of potential suspense, but it all fizzles out by the tedious second act that simply feels too dull. Screenwriter Cathy Rabin should not have allowed the audience to know as much as Henry does about what happens between him to Sajani which would have added much-needed mystery and tension to the film. Predictability in a romantic drama or comedy is acceptable, but a dramatic thriller, it makes the proceedings rather uninvolving. Moreover, the mediocre performance by Linus Roache and other cast members fail to enliven this often bland film. On a positive note, director Santosh Sivan includes exquisite cinematography, lots of beautiful scenery and a terrific musical score, but that’shere’s not enough to truly compel you. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Released by Roadside Attractions. Opens at the Paris Theatre and Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
Bloodline - Directed by Bruce Burgess.
This provocative documentary investigates the “Bloodline” conspiracy which claims that a secret society called Priory of Scion has withheld evidence of a marriage between Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, the existence of their children as well as their descendents. Anyone who was intrigued by The Da Vinci Code will be similarly intrigued as director Bruce Burgess travels to France to meet with individuals indirectly associated with the Priory of Scion, some of whom prefer to be left anonymous. During the interviews, Burgess asks important questions regarding what precisely the Priory of Scion is hiding from the public in regards to the bloodline conspiracy. Jesus Christ might have not been crucified at all and, therefore, wasn’t the Son of God. Those are pretty controversial theories, but the problem here is that Burgess fails to prove all that coherently through the evidence. It’s somewhat refreshing that Burgess confesses his skepticism of some of the authenticity of the evidence, though, which is something that Michael Moore wouldn't have the humbleness to do if he were to direct this documentary. All of the archaeological findings of ancient artifacts from around Christ’s time along with the existence of secret chambers and the fact that Burgess has his phone tapped leads one to believe that the Priory of Scion must be hiding something or else they wouldn’t be so secretive and defensive. Since they won’t cooperate to admit it or deny it, somebody has to link all the evidence to prove or disprove the bloodline theory so that the case is finally solved. Bloodline doesn’t reach a concrete solution, but at least it finds very intriguing evidence that could lead our generation closer to finding one through further investigation and exploration without taking anything for granted. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Cinema Libre Studio. Opens at the Village East Cinemas.
The Fall - Directed by Tarsem Singh.
Based on the film Yo Ho Ho. During the 1920s, Roy (Lee Pace), an injured stuntman, tells a fantastical tale to Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a little girl also staying at his hospital. The tale involves the Black Bandit (Lee Pace, again), an Indian (Julian Bleach), an Italian (Robin Smith), an African slave (Marcus Wesley) and, you guessed it, Charles Darwin (Leo Bill). What follows is a schizophrenic film that feels sappy during the hospital bedside scenes in reality while feeling outrageous and bizarre during the fantasy segments. Just trying to make sense out of those segments will already give you a headache from so much illogic, as if you were watching a Terry Gilliam film such as the equally messy Tideland. Director/co-writer Tarsem Singh adds plenty of visual panache and interesting use of colors to entertain your eyes, but when it comes to the plot itself and how it connects to the reality, it all turns chaotic, bland and underwhelming. At The Fall is unpredictable and has a few surprises here and there, but that doesn’t make it entertaining enough. For a much more intelligent, ludicrous, consistently unpredictable, unforgettable and visually stunning film that also has a crazy midnight-movie feeling to it, please check out El Topo. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Released by Roadside Attractions.
The Memory Thief - Directed by Gil Kofman.
Lukas (Mark Webber), a tollbooth clerk, becomes obsessed with the Jews’ suffering during the Holocaust and gradually loses his mind. He even volunteers at a Holocaust foundation where he transcribes testimonies and ends up interviewing a survivor, Mr. Zweig (Jerry Adler), whose daughter, Mira (Rachel Miner), he romances. A strong performance by Mark Webber and Jerry Adler help to keep you immersed in an otherwise by-the-numbers drama that fails to be emotionally involving. The subject matter itself is quite moving, but the real problem lies in the way that writer/director Gil Kofman unfolds it with too little subtlety and not enough moments of true insight into the character of Lukas. His transformation from a bored/alienated man to a mentally unstable one simply lacks credibility. Unlike poignant and smart films, such as Freedom Writers and The Believer, which also incorporated the Holocaust into a modern drama, The Memory Thief leaves you feeling unmoved and ultimately underwhelmed. With a stronger, more sensitive and organic screenplay, this could have been a much more powerful and riveting drama. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Seventh Art Releasing. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Noise - Directed by Henry Bean.
When David Owens (Tim Robbins) gets fed up of all the noise from car alarms in New York City, he takes matters into his own hands by smashing car windows, dismantling the alarms and placing a sticker labeling himself as “The Rectifier” on each car. Concurrently, the relationship with his wife, Helen (Bridget Moynahan), deteriorates the more fed up he becomes. Even the noise of a leave blower ticks him off when they try to move to suburbia to escape the city. Tim Robbins plays David with conviction and seems to be having fun with his role during a few comedic moments. It’s not as strong a performance as his own in Arlington Road, where he plays a sinister madman, or that of Michael Douglas in Falling Down, though. The screenplay by writer/director Henry Bean looses its momentum once David focuses his actions toward trying to get the attention of the Mayor Schneer (William Hurt). That’s when the plot starts to become ludicrous, over-the-top and even abit tedious. How many times does Henry Bean have to prove to the audience that David hates car alarms? Noise would have been consistently intriguing and insightful if the script had taken the issue of noise more seriously, especially during the unrealistic court room scenes that’ll make you feel like you’re watching My Cousin Vinny all over again. At least that film aimed for satirical comedy and wasn’t meant to be taken too seriously while Noise fails as a comedic satire or a dramatic one for that matter. That doesn’t mean it won’t hold your interest, but it ultimately doesn’t add up to a whole lot of beans like it should. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by THINKfilm. Opens at AMC Village 7 and AMC Empire 25.
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies - Directed by Michel Hazanavicius.
In French with subtitles. Inspired by the OSS 117 novels by Jean Bruce. In 1955 Egypt, OSS 117 (Jean Dujardin) goes on a mission to restore peace in the Middle East and to investigate the death of another OSS agent, Jack Jefferson (Philippe Lefebvre), while replacing him as the head of the chicken corporation. Of course, OSS 117 has his own personal secretary, the sexy Larmina (Berenice Bejo). What ensues is a bizarre cross between a James Bond movie and Austin Powers. Jean Dujardin, looking slick and debonair like Sean Connery yet acting juvenile, gives a charismatic and energetic performance. His comical facial expressions are almost as funny as those of the talented actor Louis De Funès. Director Michel Hazanavicius includes a top-rate production design that gives a very authentic 60’s feel to everything from the costume/setting design to the cinematography and even to the musical score. Those expecting the plot to be hysterically funny will be slightly disappointed because most of the situations come across as merely amusing and silly. Nonetheless, OSS 117 is still a breath of fresh air. Since it was a box office hit back in France, there are already plans for it to have a sequel, which would be quite welcome. For a truly underrated French slapstick comedy that will surely make you laugh out loud, please rent The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob. Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by Music Box Films. Opens at Landmark Sunshine Cinema and City Cinemas 1, 2, 3.
Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead - Directed by Lloyd Kaufman.
Just when you thought the stripping zombies in Zombie Strippers and the zombie sheep in Black Sheep reached far enough into the depths of lunacy, comes the musical horror comedy Poultrygeist which features, you guessed it, zombie chickens. When Arbie (Jason Yachanin) joins the workforce at the American Chicken Bunker, zombies start showing up and kill those around them relentlessly, turning them into more chicken zombies. Meanwhile, Arbie’s ex-girlfriend, Wendy (Kate Graham), boycotts the fast food restaurant with a bunch of picketers who are part of C.L.A.M., a lesbian revolutionary group. When the zombies aren't killing and the employees/customers aren't getting killed, both break out into song. Director/co-writer Lloyd Kaufman knows how to please his horror fans by including plenty of in-your-face, cheap, sickening gore and some nudity to go along with it. Anyone familiar with insane, macabre Grindhouse films (what other kinds are there?) would know how to get a kick out of Poultrygeist by either laughing at it, with it, or both. You can also look at it as a statement against fast food restaurants, especially KFC, where, believe it or not, there’s an FDA-approved neurotoxin called MSG (MonoSodiumGlutamate) inside the food that overstimulates your brain cells to the point of actually killing them without you even realizing it. For all the intelligent humans out there who are hopefully reading this review, please take note of the fact that the FDA allows food, beverage and drug companies to hide MSG in ingredients such as “gelatin”, “citric acid”, “barley malt”, “malt extract” and the very vague ingredients “spices” and “natural flavors/flavoring”. If we as smart consumers were aware of MSG in food as much as the characters in Poultrygeist are aware of the zombies in the fast food restaurant, perhaps we'd know to stay away from them before they can do any further harm to us. Click here for more important information about hidden MSG and here to learn about what specific foods to avoid that have hidden MSG. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Troma Entertainment. Opens at the Village East Cinemas.
A Previous Engagement - Directed by Joan Carr-Wiggin.
On vacation in Malta with her family, Julie Reynolds (Juliet Stevenson) secretly reunites with Alex (Tchéky Karyo), her ex-lover from 25 years earlier. Alex desperately wants to rekindle their love and even pops up unexpectedly at their villa to introduce himself to her husband, Jack (Daniel Stern), a boring insurance man more obsessed with solving jigsaw puzzles than with paying any attention to Julie. Will Julie give in to her feelings toward Alex or suppress them to continue her seemingly happy marriage with Jack? What will Jack do if he learns of his wife’s secret love affair? It’s a real pleasure to watch Juliet Stephenson give such a radiant, heartfelt performance and to shine in every scene she’s in. Likewise, the underrated actor Tchéky Karyo resonates plenty of charm as Jack, which helps for you to understand why Julie had fallen in love with him 25 years ago. Fortunately, writer/director Joan Carr-Wiggin keeps the drama balanced with just the right amount of comedy to keep it all feeling light and breezy. A subplot involving a single red-headed woman, Grace (Valerie Mahaffey), who woos Jack and teaches him how to salsa dance seems a bit contrived, but only a harsh cynic would complain about that and other minor contrivances, which don’t diminish all the funny, heartwarming and endearing moments. Moreover, you’ll wish you could spend a vacation in Malta, too, with all of its breathtakingly gorgeous and tropical scenery. If you’ve enjoyed other pleasantly diverting romantic comedies, such as Under the Tuscan Sun, you’ll feel easily enchanted by A Previous Enagement. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Palisades Pictures. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Refusenik - Directed by Laura Bialis.
In English, Hebrew and Russian with subtitles. This suspenseful, informative and moving documentary charts the 30-year struggle of “Refuseniks”, Russian Jews who escape repression by successfully emigrating away from the Soviet Union in 1989. Their government, largely influenced by the anti-Semitism of Joseph Stalin’s administration, refused their request to emigrate and even punished them for their requests in Soviet Gulag concentration camps. It all sounds like a tragic repeat of the Nazi fascism found during the Holocaust. Through fascinating interviews with brave Refuseniks, such as Natan Sharansky, who recall how they were treated so inhumanly. In a particularly poignant interview, a Refusenik describes how she was denied the right to attend university to further her education even though she was an excellent student. Director Laura Bialis wisely allows the tension to build as the Refusenik’s freedom draws closer and activists protest in the United States on their behalf. It’s quite inspiring to observe how the Refuseniks mustered all their courage, hope and persistence to escape their repression and seek the liberty which had been unjustly denied from them for so many years. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by The Foundation for Documentary Projects. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Speed Racer - Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski.
Based on the animated series “Speed Racer” by Tatsuo Yoshida. Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) competes in a car racing competition with the help of Trixie (Christina Ricci), Racer X (Matthew Fox) and Taejo (Rain). Meanwhile, Royalton (Roger Allam), the head of the corrupt Royalton Industries whose driving contract Speed turned down, tries to make sure that Speed loses the car races. John Goodman and Susan Sarandon play Speed’s parents. Despite dazzling CGI effects and lots of colorful, psychedelic eye candy, everything else falls apart because of a weak script, poor directing and wooden performances. Emile Hirsch proved he has the acting chops to be the film lead in Into the Wild, but the material here simply doesn’t allow him to come to life. Co-writers/directors Andy and Larry Wachowski assault your eyes with too many fast-moving special effects that it eventually becomes quite nauseating. Some scenes are unintentionally funny when they should be dramatic, especially when characters open their mouths to say a corny monologue that drags the film on and on. Also, none of the races feel thrilling since you can’t figure out what’s going on during the race—none of them are even shown from beginning to end. Even little kids will be bored after the 90-minute mark because at a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes, Speed Racer overstays its welcome for everyone old and young. Number of times I checked my watch: 9. Released by Warner Bros.
Surfwise - Directed by Doug Pray.
This lively and surprisingly insightful documentary focuses on the nomadic life of the Paskowitz family, led by patriarch Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz. All 11 of them lived in a 24-foot camper and spent their days surfing when they weren’t scrounging for food. Their 9 children lived a free-spirited life without attending school or having any friends while Doc disciplined any bad behavior very strictly go the extent that they were afraid of him. Director Doug Pray does a great job of weaving in old footage of the bizarre family with new, recent interviews as they await a family reunion after many years of not seeing one another. Listening to Doc’s alternative philosophies of life, happiness and sex—he even blames the decline of American civilization on the fact that most Americans are bad at having sex—is equally thought-provoking and funny. Whether you think he’s crazy or not, it’s hard not to be entertained and to feel refreshed by his strange sense of humor, his panache and boldness. He wisely states that he gave wisdom to his children, which they couldn’t have gotten in college. School gives students knowledge, but the crucial tool of wisdom can only be learned through the experience of life itself. It’s quite fascinating to watch how Doc’s children reminisce about their childhood and how their upbringing has shaped them as adults in the present day. Ultimately, Surfwise is a quite unique documentary that, despite its title, doesn’t focus on surfing, but manages to be quite spiritual, funny, insightful and thoroughly engaging. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at the IFC Center.
The Tracey Fragments - Directed by Bruce McDonald.
Based on the novel by Maureen Medved. Tracey Berkowitz (Ellen Page), a 15-year-old, runs away from home while searching for her younger brother, Sonny (Zie Souwand). Ellen Page shines as a darker, more rebellious version of her character in Juno. The thin plot would’ve been too thin had director Bruce McDonald followed a linear path to progress it. Instead, he splits the screen into many fragments so that you observe each nonlinear scene from a different angle and then, hopefully, piece it all together in your mind. That’s very demanding for the audience and makes the experience initially refreshing and exciting, but it eventually becomes pretentious, distracting and headache-inducing. Screenwriter Maureen Medved includes a few witty and sarcastic lines of dialogue and two hilarious scenes when Tracey has a session with a cross-dressing psychiatrist. A stronger dose of that kind of quirky comedy throughout the entire, loose drama would have given it more liveliness and energy once its crazy editing style gets old. Fortunately, The Tracey Fragments just slightly overstays its welcome at a brief running time of 77 minutes. Had it been much longer, it would have been very painful and much more tedious to sit through. For a much smarter use of inventive editing that actually serves a purpose besides for sake of being different, please check out Memento. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by THINKfilm. Opens at the Village East Cinemas.
Unsettled - Directed by Adam Hootnick.
This mildly insightful documentary follows the withdrawal of Israelis from the Gaza Strip during 2005. The settlers who prefer to stay put in their homes include surfers Meir and Lior as well as Neta, a religious filmmaker. On the pro-withdrawal side are Yuval and Tamar, two soldiers among many others who must evacuate Israelis from their homes in Gaza according to the commands of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Meanwhile, Ye'ela, an activist, tours the country to express her support for the withdrawal. Director Adam Hootnick does a decent job of getting to know the six Israelis caught up on different sides of the withdrawal issue. You’re able to see the settlers’ pain and suffering from having to leave their home which feels quite moving for anyone who has felt attached to something that was threatened to be taken away. Neta and her mother stay in their home even though the deadline to evacuate has passed. The footage of them confronting the soldiers and begging them to let them stay is devastating to watch, especially as the settlers ask them to take a look at their conscience for a change rather than robotically follow command. If only the solution were that easy. Unfortunately, Unsettled fails to add any insight to what might have solved the withdrawal issue more efficiently and appropriately. Interviews with sociologists or politicians would have helped to add some practical insights/analysis to examine the situation rather than to just merely observe it unfold. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by Resonance Pictures. Opens at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater.
Vice - Directed by Raul Inglis.
Max Walker (Michael Madsen), a burned-out police detective, joins Salt (Daryl Hannah) to figure out why other cops on their team have been killed one by one after a drug bust doesn’t go as planned. As Max gets more and more paranoid, it turns out there might be internal corruption, so everyone’s life is at stake. Writer/director Raul Inglis includes too much dialogue that characters awkwardly yell to substitute for the lack of tension. It’s hard to care about any of the characters when every other word coming from their mouth is the “F” word. Some of the stilted dialogue comes across as unintentionally funny. Unfortunately, none of the performances manage to enliven the monotonously dark, messy and dull plot that gets more and more over-the-top as it progresses. Unlike the Street Kings which followed the action thriller formula quite entertainingly even though it lacked surprises, Vice not only lacks surprises, but also doesn’t have enough real suspense, thrills or a believable drama to truly hold your interest from start to finish. Number of times I checked my watch: 7. Released by 41, Inc. Opens at the AMC Empire 25.
What Happens in Vegas - Directed by Tom Vaughan.
Newlyweds Jack (Ashton Kutcher) and Joy (Cameron Diaz) try to annul a marriage they can’t remember because they were drunk at time in Vegas. When Jack wins a $3 million jackpot at a casino using Joy’s quarter, they both go to court to fight for jackpot. The judge (Dennis Miller) gives them an unconventional way to solve their issue: spend 6 months together as a married couple and whoever bails out first, loses the jackpot. What ensues is a mixture of slapstick comedy and toilet humor as Jack and Joy play pranks with one another and find ways to irritate. Even though screenwriter Dana Fox has a formulaic script that doesn’t have any refreshing scenes or ideas, at least it follows the romantic comedy formula well enough to keep you entertained and occasionally laughing. Just because the characters behave stupidly and end up in dumb situations doesn’t necessarily imply that the script is actually dumb as well. In other words, despite lots of clichés within the plot and a brief moment when Jack urinates into a sink, you won’t loose too many brain cells. Fortunately, Ashton Kutcher has more onscreen chemistry with Cameron Diaz here than he did with Brittany Murphy in the consistently inane and unfunny romantic comedy Just Married. Director Tom Vaughan knows how to keep the pace moving fast enough so that not a single scene drags. He also wisely ends the film at slightly over 90 minutes, the ideal running time for a romantic comedy. Please be sure to stay after the end credits for an additional scene. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by 20th Century Fox.