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Reviews for November 18th, 2011

The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch

Directed by Jérôme Salle

      Based on based on the comic book series by Jean Van Hamme and Philippe Francq.

      After someone murders Nerio Winch (Miki Manojlovic), the billionaire CEO of Winch International Group, the head of the W. Group’s board of directors, Ann Ferguson (Kristen Scott Thomas), tries to locate Nerio’s illegitimate son, Largo (Tomer Sisley), who stands to inherit a whopping 65% of the conglomerate’s shares. Largo, though, happens to be incarcerated in a Brazilian prison for drug trafficking. He escapes from prison to take his rightful inheritance and to seek vengeance against those responsible for his father’s murder. The closer he gets to the bottom of the murder, the more he realises that no one can really be trusted, not even his romantic interest, Lea (Mélanie Thierry), or Ann.

      Director/co-writer Jérôme Salle should be commended for keeping the audience at the edge of their seats from the very first frame when someone throws Nerio’s body overboard from his luxurious yacht. Many people stand in the way of Largo’s desperate attempt to reach the W. Group’s headquarters in Hong Kong before it’s too late to accept the inheritance. Basically, it’s race against time to save his life as he crosses paths with his enemies while, concurrently, recalling his childhood memories of his father. The flashback scenes are very well integrated into the story, and provide a decent amount of backstory so that humanizes Largo instead of turning him into a mere plot device. Just as expected, Kristen Scott Thomas gives a devilishly good performance as the conniving Ann, while Tomer Sisley carries the film quite well in the title role. He’s great during the dramatic as well as the action scenes. On that note, it’s worth mentioning that Salle makes the most out of the picturesque locations and action sequences which provide plenty of exhilarating, enormously entertaining thrills. Sure, some of what transpires is far from realistic, but, just like in any action thriller, suspension of disbelief should be expected from audiences who seek entertainment at its purest and most visceral form.

      At a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes, The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch manages to be an exhilarating, thrilling and thoroughly suspenseful action thriller.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Opens at the Cinema Village.
Released by Music Box Films.

In Heaven, Underground

Directed by Britta Wauer

      This poignant and surprisingly breezy documentary focuses on the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery located in a quiet area north of Berlin. Since its inception way back in 1880, it has remained intact throughout the Nazi regime, and to this very day it holds roughly115,000 graves. The plethora of trees growing through its premises makes it look like some sort of enchanted forest. New visitors find themselves easily lost because the sections of the cemetery are poorly organized. There’s clearly more to Weissensee Jewish Cemetery than meets the eye. If you think you’re about to watch some heavy, emotionally devastating documentary, think again.

      Director Britta Wauer captures the beauty, sadness, wonder and charm of the cemetery not only through the images of the cemetery itself, but also through interviews with its employees, nearby residents and visitors. Rabbi William Wolff devotes a lot of his time toward working at the cemetery. Another employee recalls how he met the love of his life while working there in his youth before she was taken away from him and killed during the Holocaust. A husband and wife describe what it was like to move into the former home of a caretaker on the grounds of the cemetery. There’s also some talk of paranormal activities that some have witnessed---that aspect of the film could easily turn into yet another documentary altogether. A few birders arrive to count the hawks’ fledgings, and a tomb restorer shows up as well. All of those perspectives of cemetery help to enrich the film and provide interesting even somewhat amusing anecdotes.

      Even though In Heaven, Underground is only 90 minutes, it covers so much ground so that by the time you’re done watching it, you’ve learned so much about the cemetery’s history, what the cemetery means within the context of history, and what it feels like to actually be there. It’s a wondrous, captivating and genuinely heartfelt documentary that embraces life without ever resorting to preachiness, hyperbole or corniness.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Opens at the Cinema Village.
Released by Seventh Art Releasing.

Joy Road

Directed by Harry A. Davis

      Tony Smalls (Wood Harris), a lawyer, grew up in the rough, impoverished neighborhoods of Detroit where gang violence is rampant, but he has since moved away from that environment and joined the middle class. When his sister, Nia (N'Bushe Wright), informs him that her boyfriend, Big Boy (Christian Mathis), has been arrested for a triple homicide, Tony agrees to become his defense attorney to prove his innocence. The deeper Tony and Nia get into the investigation, the more they realize that their own lives are in danger from those who try to do everything in their ability to stop them from finding out the true identity of the murderer. No one can be trusted which makes for a very unpredictable and bumping journey toward justice for both of them.

      Writer/director Harry A. Davis deftly combines suspense, action and drama in a way that’s, for the most part, captivating. The audience discovers the revealing bits of information precisely when Tony and Nia discover them, so you’ll feel surprised at the same time that they feel surprised, and disappointed when they’re disappointed. Had Davis provided too much information or foreshadows for the audience, the element of surprise and suspense wouldn’t quite be there to the same extent. There’s certainly a lot of tension to be found throughout the film because a lot remains at stake for both Nia and Tony. It would have been interesting, though, had Davis provided more of a back story to Big Boy to allow you to care about him as a human being more instead of merely rooting for Tony and Nia. Moreover, Tony doesn’t really come across as a razor-sharp lawyer, and the courtroom scenes seem awkward, too brief and unrealistic. The messages about hope and justice (or injustice for that matter), while somewhat inspirational and important, comes across as tacked-on and simplified rather than profound. Those are minor setbacks, though, for what’s essentially a riveting, gritty, palpably entertaining drama.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Opens at the AMC Empire 25.
Released by Blazar Media Group and 99 Ways Entertainment.

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