Reviews for November 30th, 2007
Badland-Directed by Francesco Lucente. Jerry (Jamie Driven), suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in the war in Iraq, murders his wife and two sons and then goes on the lam with his young daughter, Celina (Grace Fulton). He fakes a suicide and tries to start a new life with her in a a small town far away. With poor acting, sub-par directing and a contrived screenplay by director Francesco Lucente, there’s really not enough to hold your attention. Lucente hammers his point about the negative effects of the war over and over to the point of exhaustion. Many scenes drag and feel awkward. Moreover, you never really understand what’s going on inside Jerry’s head because he doesn’t really open up to anyone. Grace Fulton’s performance comes close to Madison Pettis’ annoying over-acting in The Game Plan. At an excessive running time of 160 minutes, Badland overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 9. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Copex Distribution. Opens at the AMC Empire 25.
Directed by Adrián Caetano. In Spanish with subtitles. Based on a true story. During 1977 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the secret police kidnaps Claudio (Rodrigo De la Serna), among a few other young men, detains him and tortures him for information which he doesn’t have. At first glance, the scenario seems a lot like Hostel given how ruthlessly evil the kidnappers are and that they don’t make their motives quite clear—they seem to want some kind of information that will get the victims into trouble. However, these men happen to be wrongfully “arrested” and
“imprisoned”, which makes you wonder if the U.S. government is treating suspected terrorists in Iraq with the same kind of abuse and torture—you’ll have to see the upcoming documentary Taxi to the Darkside to learn about the true horrors.
Co-writer/director Adrián Caetano includes gritty cinematography and fast pacing which helps to add some tension. However, the character development is rather poor. There’s not enough of a first act establishing the character of Claudio when he’s not under such dire circumstances, so it’s difficult for you to truly care about him. The escape itself is not even remotely as suspenseful or believable as in Stalag 17 or The Great Escape, though. On a positive note, a decent performance by Rodrigo De la Serna helps to keep you at least mildly engaged in the by-the-numbers plot. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by IFC First Take. Opens the IFC Center.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly-Directed by Julian Schnabel. In French with subtitles. Based on a true story. Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) suffers a stroke that paralyzes him everywhere except for his left eye, which he uses to communicate by blinking. Gradually, the audience learns more and more details about Jean-Dominique as he recalls memories of his family, friends and profession as an editor of Elle. His speech therapist (Marie-Josée Croze) helps him to communicate the words of his new book, which Claude (Anne Consigny) dictates by his hospital bedside. Director Julian Schnabel’s choice to place the camera from Jean-Dominique’s point of view takes a while to get used to at first and feels a bit pretentious, but eventually it hooks you into the film as if you’ve entered a portal of his mind just like in Being John Malkovich. You feel what he feels and you see what he sees. With exquisite cinematography, a terrific musical score and an incredibly raw performance by Mathieu Amalric make this a powerful, unique and unforgettable experience. Just don’t sit too close to the screen or you’ll feel nauseous from some of the visuals. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Miramax Films. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Nina's Heavenly Delights-Directed by Pratibha Parmar. Nina (Shelley Conn) ditches her fiancé at the altar and returns home to Glasgow for the funeral of her father, who left behind the family restaurant. She prepares for a cooking competition with the help of a chef, Lisa (Laura Fraser), who she falls in love with. Despite a premise that could have been both funny and moving, instead many scenes fall flat from contrived writing and awkward directing. Nina and Lisa have very little chemistry together and her family lacks the warmth you expect to find like in other films such as East is East and even Blow Dry. At least director Pratibha Parmar includes a lively soundtrack and scrumptious-looking food. If you do manage to make it through to the end, keep in mind that there’s an additional scene after the end credits. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Regent Releasing. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Oswald's Ghost-Directed by Dan Katzir. Although this provocative, timely documentary doesn’t come close to solving the JFK assassination for good, it does make a strong argument that there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude that Lee Harvey Oswald had killed him or if he was framed. The media, especially, and politicians jump to conclusions too soon. Interviews with a number of experts, such as Dan Rather and Norman Mailer, help to connect the conspiracy theories from the 60’s to those of 9/11. An interesting point is that if the government lied about the Vietnam War, why couldn’t they possibly be lying again? Director Dan Katzir also provides some important details about Oswald’s background which point to some of the thought-provoking conspiracy theories. What makes it all even more complicated is that Oswald was murdered, leaving behind this so-called “ghost” that refuses to provide any clear-cut answers. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Seventh Art Releasing.. Opens at Cinema Village.
Protagonist->- Directed by Jessica Yu. This dull, tedious documentary connects the experiences of Hans Joachim Klein, Mark Salzman, Mark Pierpont and Joe Loya to Euripides, an Ancient Greek scholar who wrote dramatic plays. Hans was once a German terrorist who joined a revolution; Mark Salzman somehow sought tranquility through martial arts; Mark Pierpoint became anti-gay despite that he was once gay; finally, Joe enjoyed robbing banks. Unfortunately, even though these four men each have very distinctive problems in their life, none of the interviews serve to do anything more than to acknowledge them over and over. Director Jessica Yu should have chosen only one of these subjects and focused on them more deeply—or perhaps even in a therapeutic way. Why not at least include a female subject as well? On a positive note, she briefly includes some creative puppetry scenes to re-enact some of Euripedes’ work. If only the interviews were much more focused and provocative, this could have been a much more entertaining and insightful film. Number of times I checked my watch: 7. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by IFC First Take. Opens at IFC Center.
The Rocket-Directed by Charles Binamé. Roy Dupuis plays Maurice Richard, a.k.a. The Rocket, a hockey player who, during the 1930’s, struggles to lead the Canadians to glory in the National Hockey League. There’s a lot at stake for him because he wants to impress his wife (Julie LeBreton) and to rise out of poverty so that her father will be poverty. Some scenes feel a bit contrived, but, fortunately, Roy Dupuis gives a convincing performance as Maurice and the same can be said for his coach played by Stephen McHattie. Director Charles Binamé includes exquisite cinematography and impressive set/costume designs which help to give the authentic feeling of the 1930’s. Non-hockey fans will feel a bit lost watching the sports action, but, much like last year’s Invincible, this based-on-a-true-story sports drama has much more heartfelt drama than sports action. Although it does drag a bit given its running time of 124 minutes, it’s quite refreshing to watch a character-driven sports movie that doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Moderately High. Released by Palm Pictures. Opens at Cinema Village.
Tony 'n Tina's Wedding-Directed by Roger Paradiso. Get ready to meet the loud, crazy family of Tony (Joey McIntyre) and Tina (Mila Kunis) during their wedding celebration from the perspective of a seemingly drunk wedding cameraman. Her control-freak mother (Krista Allen) has anger problems and yells at the caterer for trying to save money by excluding an ingredient from a dish. Meanwhile, a pregnant family member drinks booze and smokes. Adrian Grenier briefly shows up as Tina’s ex-boyfriend who wants her back, although that’s the closest you get to an actual plot. Director Roger Paradiso filmed all the scenes with lots of improvisation and it often shows, but the actors lack comic timing, so it makes for an excruciatingly headache-inducing and unimaginative experience. Almost everyone in this film comes across as vulgar and annoying. At least they don’t break out into song—although they do dance. For a much funnier movie about a loud, crazy family, please check out the far superior My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Keep in mind those who attend the midnight screenings of this at the IFC Center while wearing a wedding dress will get in for free. Number of times I checked my watch: 14. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired as long as you check your brain at the door. Released by Emerging Pictures. Opens at the IFC Center at Midnight.