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Reviews for November 21st, 2008

The Betrayal

Directed by Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath.

In English and Lao with subtitles. This profoundly moving documentary focuses on the experiences of Thavisouk Phrasavath, a young man whose mother emigrated with him and his seven siblings from Laos to Brooklyn, New York when the United States dropped many bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War. Communists took over the country, which led to a lot of violence and arrests as well as to Thavisouk’s father separating his family to attend a re-education camp. Once the Phrasavath family arrived in Brooklyn, they thought they accidentally arrived in Africa because they saw so many African Americans walking around. They ended up living in a cramped apartment shared by other families. Thavisouk’s mother recalled how she had thought that America was like heaven and, when she discovered the truth about all the poverty, drugs and other problems going on, she became disappointed. Thavisouk describes in vivid detail how he assimilated to a troubled life in New York and how he tried to overcome his new responsibilities as the patriarch of his family. His mother barely knows any English and she even admits that she’s afraid of her own children. It’s quite emotionally stirring to watch him call his long-distant father to try to get some financial support from him. Co-directors Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath do a terrific job of capturing the emotional rollercoaster ride that the Phrasavath family went through for years. In many ways, their story represents a microcosm of the experiences of many other immigrants who also fled their war-torn countries only to deal with many more socioeconomic troubles in the USA, the so-called Land of Opportunity. The Betrayal ultimately manages to be an absorbing, provocative, compelling and revealing documentary that highlights the importance of sticking together as family and finding the courage, maturity and initiative for basic survival as well as overcoming the hardships that life inevitably, and sometimes even unexpectedly, brings. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by The Cinema Guild. Opens at the IFC Center.


Directed by Byron Howard and Chris Williams.

Bolt (voice of John Travolta), a dog on a television show, mistakenly believes that his owner, Penny (voice of Miley Cyrus) has been kidnapped by a evil, green-eyed man who’s just a fictional part of the show to increase ratings. In an attempt to save Penny, Bolt runs out of his cage, but accidentally ends up in a crate on its way to New York City. Little does Bolt know that he’s just an average dog who doesn’t really have any special powers. What makes this CGI-animated film so fun to watch is not only the impressive special effects, but the lively sidekicks that tag along with Bolt throughout his adventure. Mittens (voice of Susie Essman) a sardonic, lonely cat, joins him and the two have some very amusing scenes together when she tries to teach him how to behave like a normal dog. The scene-stealing Rhino the hamster (voice of Mark Walton), along with some pigeons, provide much-needed comic relief. None of the jokes or visual gags will be spoiled here, but it’s worth mentioning that both adults and children will be entertained. Although not as hilarious, exhilarating or touching as Pixar Animation movies such as Ratatouille, Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, Bolt still manages to be mostly fun, thrilling and engaging for everyone young and old. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Henry May Long

Directed by Randy Sharp.

In 19th century New York City, Henry May (Christian Camargo), a young man who suffers from drug and alcohol addiction, has one month to pay thousands of dollars that he borrowed back to his boss. One day, he bumps into his old friend Henry Long (Brian Barnhart), who claims to be dying of a terminally ill disease. The two share a special bond of friendship and try to find a way to escape their troubled lives. Writer/director Randy Sharp has a knack for using well-chosen set and costume designs along expert use of lighting and cinematography to create an authentic feel of the time period. There’s also an exquisite musical score that adds another layer of richness to the film. Unfortunately, the screenplay itself fails to bring any of the characters to life. Henry May and Henry Long both seem like complex individuals who also delve into a complex relationship with one another, but their chemistry, whether it be friendly or romantic, isn’t palpable. Likewise, none of the performances stand out mostly likely because the script doesn’t have enough for the actors to really chew on. Much of the film feels tedious with not enough dramatic tension or any other kind of tension on screen. At a running time of 99 minutes, Henry May Long has great production values, but often drags with its bland, meander screenplay. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Axis Company. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.


Directed by Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore.

Les (Michael Rapaport), a lonely parking meter cop, participates in a clinical study for Special, a drug designed to inhibit self-doubt, which makes him feel and behave like a superhero. Everyone around him believes he’s crazy when he keeps on crashing into walls. In his mind, though, he thinks that he’s actually going right through walls and levitating off the ground along with having other superpowers. Soon enough, he dons a superhero costume and hits the streets to try to fight crime while the police hunt him down. It’s refreshing to see the underrated Michael Rapaport in a lead role that shows his ability to master a broad range of emotions along with great comic timing. However, co-writers/directors Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore infuse the genres of drama, comedy, action, mystery, satire and tragedy with mixed results. They should have fleshed out the satirical elements a bit further to reflect more about how the drug company can be so deceptive, shady, unreliable, negligent and downright evil.Is the drug company trying to cover-up their own tracks by kidnapping Les in order to save their reputation and profits from going downhill? (Please read this interview if you're wondering just how shady drug companies can be in the real world.) The plot becomes a bit tedious, chaotic and ho-hum once it veers toward drama and tragedy later in the second act. With a more biting, bold and imaginative screenplay, Special could have been much more compelling and provocative. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Magnet Releasing. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.


Directed by Catherine Hardwicke.

Based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer. Bella (Kristen Stewart), a teenage girl, moves into the home of her father (Billy Burke) in a small town where she falls in love with another teen, Edward (Robert Pattinson), who happens to be a vampire. Those who read the book know the strong romance that Edward and Bella have, but here, they barely seem like friends let alone acquaintances. Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg includes too many contrived scenes filled with stilted dialogue that distracts from the overall momentum of the film even if you’re able to suspend your disbelief. None of the action scenes feel particularly thrilling or exciting, despite the use of decent special effects. Director Catherine Hardwicke moves the pace too quickly at times and ends crucial scenes rather abruptly. Some of the camera shots look so rushed in way that gives a direct-to-video quality to those scenes. At an excessive running time of 121 minutes, Twilight overstays its welcome, often drags and, ultimately, underwhelms. Hopefully, its sequel, New Moon, will have more thrills and less awkward and cringe-worthy moments onscreen. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Summit Entertainment.

Were the World Mine

Directed by Tom Gustafson.

Timothy (Tanner Cohen), a gay high school student, participates in the high school musical rendition of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” where he plays the role of Puck. The drama teacher (Wendy Robie) would like everyone at the school to try out for the play, but the homophobic basketball coach (Christian Stotle) doesn’t want to ruin his team’s reputation because they’d be trying out for female roles. Hilarity ensues when Timothy concocts a love potion that turns straight men gay and straight women lesbian. Soon enough, Timothy’s mom gets hit on by her best friend and the coach makes out with the school principal. It takes a while for the plot to truly get into full gear in terms of its imaginative twists and comic energy. During the first act, Timothy struggles to fit into the social circles at school while, occasionally, breaking into song. Those scenes feel awkward, but once writer/director Tom Gustafson turns the film into more of a comedy in the second act, it starts to become pleasantly diverting. Each member of the cast, especially Wendie Robie and Tanner Cohen, seem to be having a lot of fun in their roles and add plenty of charisma. Gustafson also moves the film along at just the right brisk pace so that there’s rarely a dull moment. It’s also worth mentioning the terrific, lively soundtrack. Were the World Mine manages to be an imaginative and diverting film as long as you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for 96 minutes. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by SPEAKproductions. Opens at the Cinema Village.

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