New Fest 2009 (June 4th - June 19th, 2009)
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(Please check back soon for capsule reviews of over 15 more films. Full reviews will be added only for films with distribution as their theatrical release date approaches.)
The Art of Being Straight
Directed by Jesse Rosen.
Jon (Jessie Rosen), 23-years-old, moves from New York to Los Angeles in order to “take a break” from his longtime girlfriend. He moves in with Andy (Jared Grey), his friend from college, and hangs out with Andy’s buddies who behave like frat boys. Jon struggles to feel at home with them, but often feels alienated and confused, especially about his own sexual preference. To make matters even more confusing for him, he goes to work at an ad agency where his gay boss, Paul (Johnny Ray Rodriguez), comes onto him and, soon enough, he dates and has sex with him. Jon’s friend, Maddy (Rachel Castillo), a lesbian, also questions her sexual identity when she develops a crush for her next door neighbor, Aaron (Peter Scherer), while still being in a relationship with her girlfriend, Anna (Emilia Richeson). Jon and Maddy had once dated before she came out of the closet. Should Jon give in to his attraction to men or will he be unable to muster the courage? Writer/director Jesse Rosen explores that interesting question without enough sensitivity or insight into what Jon’s truly thinking and feeling. You never really get a chance to get to know him and, thus, his character seems bland and forgettable. Jesse Rosen himself plays Jon, but he lacks the required charisma and warmth to carry the film. On the other hand, Rachel Castillo steals the show with her abundant charisma, great comedic timing and panache, much like Lizzy Caplan did as Janis in Mean Girls. At a very brief running time of only 1 hour and 11 minutes, The Art of Being Straight manages to be mildly engaging with an initially intriguing premise and brief moments of wittiness, but ultimately falls flat as a drama. Its bland protagonist, along with a lazy, unimaginative screenplay, leaves you feeling unmoved and underwhelmed. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Regent Releasing. Opens June 5th, 2009 at the Quad Cinema.
Directed by Monika Treut.
In German, Mandarin and English with subtitles. Sophie Schmitt (Inga Busch), an artist from Hamburg, still grieves over the murder of her Taiwanese lover, Ai-ling (Huan-Ru Ke). For her latest artwork, she creates a video installation dedicated to Ai-ling and exhibits it in Taiwan. Mei-li (Ting-Ting Hu), a reporter, approaches her at the exhibit and asks her for an interview which she declines. She nonetheless shows up uninvited at Sophie’s apartment and continues to pressure her for that interview. Soon enough, Sophie and Ai-ling become romantically involved with one another as Mei-li learns more about Sophie’s past and her relationship with AI-ling. The screenplay by director/co-writer Monika Treut gyrates between the present day scenes with Mei-li and the past showing how Sophie met and fell in love with Ai-ling. A few of the transitions between past and present flow smoothly while others simply lack fluidity and take away from the dramatic momentum. There’s also a little mystery surrounding whether or not Ai-ling’s uncle, Chen Fu (Jack Kao), who owns a Chinese restaurant, might actually be her father. How and why did Ai-ling die? Who murdered her? Those are some of the questions which the audience and Mei-Li want to know and remain a mystery until the end. Treut also includes an unnecessary, gimmicky subplot involving supernatural visions which Sophie experiences throughout. It’s initially intriguing to try to figure out how all of those supernatural events will ultimately make sense and connect in the large scheme of things, but, those events make the plot confusing and awkward while distracting from the modicum of dramatic momentum. Unfortunately, the dialogue feels stilted and the performances mediocre at best. The romantic chemistry between Sophie and Ai-ling falls flat, although the dynamic of how their relationship evolved is mildly engaging. Ghosted manages to be an initially intriguing, but tepid romantic drama suffering from stilted dialogue and distracting, gimmicky ghost story. Number of times I checked my watch: 5 Released by First Run Features. Opens July 31st, 2009 at the Quad Cinema.