Reviews for October 19th, 2007
30 Days of Night-Directed by David Slade. Sergeant Eben (Josh Hartnett) struggles to stay alive along with other survivors when bloodthirsty vampires, lead by Marlow (Danny Huston), run amok in a small Alaskan town for 30 days of night. This so-called horror film would work best as a midnight movie given that it’s more unintentionally funny than scary. If the plot were a type of cheese, it would easily be Swiss. How could any humans survive the bitter cold—well below zero—without being bundled up from head to toe? Director David Slade includes plenty of blood-and-guts and some music to generate a few cheap shocks, but forgets about creating a truly scary atmosphere. Sadly, the vampires look like variations of Marilyn Manson and the sounds they make are somewhat funny at best. It doesn’t help that Josh Hartnett gives a wooden performance here and that every day (or night, rather), feels like more of the same over and over like in Groundhog Day, but with a very dull cast and blandness up until the cheesy, silly ending. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Columbia Pictures.
Black + White + Gray-Directed by James Crump. This documentary about the May-December relationship between photographer Robert Mapplethorp and curator Sam Wagstaff manages to be mildly entertaining as it chronologically charts their personal and professional relationship until both died of AIDS in the late eighties. Through equally informative and fascinating interviews, director James Crump shows how Sam Wagstaff’s personality and lifestyle changed because of his relationship with Robert, who came from a much more free-spirited and poor lifestyle. It sounds like a simple analysis, but the way it’s discussed in the interviews makes it somewhat complex and intriguing. At a running time of a mere 77 minutes, Black + White + Gray doesn’t overstay its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Arthouse Films. Opens at Cinema Village.
DarkBlueAlmostBlack-Directed by Daniel Sánchez Arévalo. Jorge (Quim Gutiérrez), a young janitor taking care of his ill father (Hector Colome), is stuck in a love triangle between Paula, the imprisoned girlfriend of his brother, Antonio (Antonio de la Torre), who’s also imprisoned, and his childhood sweetheart, Natalia (Eva Pallares). Antonio requests Jorge to impregnate Paula because he’s impotent. Meanwhile, Jorge’s best friend, Israel (Raul Arevalo), spies on his father having sexual relations with a male masseuse and, soon enough, has homosexual feeling of his own. The convoluted plot sounds like two-movies-in-one, although the performances are all strong and convincing. Writer/director Daniel Sánchez Arévalo does an admirable job of including the necessary character development so that you care about Jorge and Israel, but it would have been nice to focus more on Jorge’s struggles both in trying to find true love and a job where he’s happy at. Many scenes do feel compelling, but, as a whole, the film lacks a strong sense of purpose and fails to generate much in terms of poignancy or true insight into the life of its many interesting characters. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Strand Releasing. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Gone Baby Gone-Directed by Ben Affleck. Two private detectives, Patrick (Casey Affleck) and Angie (Michelle Monaghan), investigate a kidnapping of a little girl. They discover that it all has something to do with drug money, which makes them go further and further into dangerous situations. A suspenseful first and second act turns into a terribly convoluted and contrived third act that almost has as many endings as the last Lord of the Rings. Casey Affleck gives a mediocre performance, not nearly as amazing as he was in The Assassination of Jesse James. More scenes with Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman would have helped. Co-writer/director Ben Affleck spends too much time trying to progress the plot but forgets about character development, especially toward the gimmicky third act. On a positive note, Affleck includes impressive use of cinematography, settings and musical score to convey a gritty atmosphere. If only he had fully fleshed out the characters more and tightened the third act, this would have been a much more engrossing film. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Miramax Films.
Meeting Resistance-Directed by Steve Connors and Molly Bingham. A timely and provocative documentary about the thoughts and experiences of Iraqis who resist America’s occupation of their country, Meeting Resistance charts treaded waters. Co-directors Steve Connors and Molly Bingham interview a variety of people from regular civilians and scholars as well as some who actually participated in acts of violence or are related to those who did. Much like in Brian de Palma’s Redacted, the American occupation seems more like a nuisance than something beneficial, which isn’t particularly surprising or revealing. However, it’s nonetheless quite frightening given then that American soldiers are still occupying Iraq today. One interviewee poses a very question that will send shivers down your spine just thinking about: What if the Iraqis occupied America and tried to take control of its people? This documentary adequately tries to put you in the Iraqis shoes, which is certainly no easy task. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by International Film Circuit. Opens at Cinema Village.
Out of the Blue-Directed by Robert Sarkies. In Aramoana, a small, quiet town on the coast of New Zealand, Gray (Matthew Sunderland) suddenly flips out and goes on a murderous rampage throughout the town. Local residents, young and old, struggle to survive as the police gradually zero in on the killer. Based on the book Aramoana: 22 Hours of Terror by Bill O'Brien. Rather than focusing on the motivations of a killer, like in Falling Down, co-writer/director Robert Sarkies shows the moments of tragedy and heroism involving the townspeople’s reaction. He also includes some picturesque scenery of the coast. Fortunately, nothing is sugar-coated or “Hollywoodized” for the sake of plot—imagine how different this would be if it were directed by Michael Bay. The tension, rather, comes from the heightened sense of realism. Even if the characters aren’t particularly well-developed, they still seem believable without any over-acting. It may not be insightful or profoundly moving, but at least it manages to be a gripping, compelling dramatization of a true story. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by IFC First Take. Opens at the IFC Center.
Rendition-Directed by Gavin Hood. Despite a provocative and timely premise regarding the rendition of suspected terrorist Anwar (Omar Metwally) and how his wife, Isabella (Reese Witherspoon), and CIA analyst Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) deal with it on their own. Much of the plot goes around in circles as Douglas interrogates Anwar in a secret prison in North Africa while Isabella searches for Anwar’s whereabouts. Meryl Streep briefly shows up as the head honcho of the CIA anti-terrorism division and channels the same bitchy, smarmy personality that she showed in The Devil Wears Prada. The plot barely allows for any development of character or relationships, for that matter, as the CIA takes Anwar away from Isabelle in first five minutes. Unlike with the gradual, believable build-up of tension in A Mighty Heart, there’s very little real tension or surprises here because of many plot contrivances. Director Gavin Hood simply fails to bring any of the characters to life and to add any real insight other than showing the obvious point that the use of torture during interrogation is wrong on so many levels. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by New Line Cinema.
The Ten Commandments-Directed by Bill Boyce and John Stronach. The Biblical story of how Moses freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt and led them to their promised land has been retold in many films before, especially in the exhilarating, hand-drawn animated feature The Prince of Egypt. This CGI-animated version of the story has breathtaking animation and an easy-to-follow plot for the kids, but, other than that, there’s not much else to savor here. Christian Slater’s voice as Moses sounds awkward and stilted, especially when his voice remains the same as Moses ages. The voice of Alfred Molina is okay if unremarkable as well as Elliot Gould’s as the voice of God—nothing spectacular about it, just barely acceptable. Only Ben Kinsley’s voice as the narrator works best to keep you absorbed with this important Biblical story that every child should know about. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Promenade Pictures.
Things We Lost in the Fire-Directed by Susanne Bier. Audrey (Halle Berry), a recent widow, bonds with the her husband’s best friend, Jerry (Benicio Del Toro), who suffers from drug addiction. Terrific, raw performances by Benicio Del Toro and Halle Berry help to add life to this otherwise standard melodrama. David Duchovny shows up early on as Audrey’s husband, before he gets killed in a shooting—no, don’t worry, that’s not a real plot spoiler. Screenwriter Allan Loeb includes too many repetitive scenes showing how Audrey and Jerry cope with their own problems and try to help each other out along the way. Some scenes might induce you to roll your eyes from lack of subtlety, like when Jerry rubs Audrey’s ear in exactly the way her husband once did. Susan Bier does a decent job with the cinematography, which includes lots of close-ups and jittery camera movements—although, fortunately, not as shaky as the camera in The Kingdom. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Paramount Pictures.
Wristcutters: A Love Story- Directed by Goran Dukic. Patrick Fugit plays Zia, a young man who commits suicide and searches for his girlfriend in the afterlife. He goes on a road-trip with a guy named Eugene (Shea Wigham) and, soon, Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), who does belong there before she hadn’t committed suicide, joins their adventures. The inventive screenplay by Goran Dukic is full of dark, bizarre humor and memorable, refreshing characters, but the film looses a bit of steam and feels slightly tedious throughout the second act. Not nearly as moving or haunting as What Dreams May Come, but at least it feels oddly refreshing. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Autonomous Films. Opens at the AMC Empire 25, Regal Union Square, and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.