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Reviews for September 16th, 2009

Bright Star

Directed by Jane Campion.

Based on the last three years of poet John Keats’s life, who died when he was 25. Ben Wishaw plays John Keats, a romantic poet living in 19th England, lives with his good friend and benefactor, Charles Brown (Paul Schneider). He meets his neighbor, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), an 18-year-old sweet girl who sews and designs her own clothes. She lives with her mother (Kerry Fox) and two younger siblings, Samuel (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Toots (Edie Martin). John and Fanny fall in love with one another, but the more time they spend together, the more Charles tries to drive John away from her, perhaps out of jealousy, insecurity or because he’s secretly in love with Fanny. Fanny does everything she can to get closer to John, such as by getting him to give her poetry lessons. Writer/director Jane Campion, who’s best known for writing/directing The Piano, weaves drama and romance together in a way that’s not always as captivating as it could have been with a tighter, more engaging screenplay. The scenes when John and Fanny interact with one another do feel organic and engrossing, though, thanks to the enchanting and moving performances by the radiant and genuinely beautiful Abbie Cornish as Fanny and the charisma that Ben Wishaw brings to the role of John. Much of the poignancy comes from the quiet moments when John and Fanny don’t speak to one another, although it’s worth noting that Fanny’s eyes and gentle beauty speak louder than words. Unfortunately, the film loses its dramatic momentum during the second act that drags on with not enough dramatic tension until the slightly compelling third act during John’s final moments. On a positive note, Campion moves the film at a very relaxed, leisurely pace and includes impressive costume design, beautiful cinematography as well as lush, picturesque scenery that becomes a character of its own. One particular, lyrical visual that becomes engrained in your mind is when Fanny surrounds herself with many butterflies in her room. At a running time of 119 minutes, Bright Star manages to be an occasionally dull, very gentle romantic drama that could have used more tension and a sharper screenplay, but it’s compensated by a radiant and enchanting performance by Abbie Cornish along with exquisite cinematography.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Apparition.
Opens at the AMC Empire 25, AMC/Loews Lincoln Square, Clearview Chelsea, Regal 64th & 2nd and Regal Union Square.

Fatal Promises

Directed by Katharina Rohrer.

This provocative, compelling and illuminating documentary tackles the global issue of human trafficking and exposes its many horrors. In the United States alone, 17,500 people, mostly women and children, are trafficked into the country each year. Other countries throughout the world such as Israel, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine and Japan, among many others, also join the list of places where human trafficking can be found. The victims tend to come from very poor lifestyles and broken homes, so they’re easily lured and, eventually, forced into human trafficking, such the sex trade, through the false hope of finding financial stability. For example, 18-year-old Katja arrived at the U.S. from Ukraine with the promise of her boss that she’ll work as a waitress there. It turns out that, instead, she was forced to work as an exotic dancer and was often beaten and raped. Nadja was 17-years-old when she hoped to find work at a hotel in Moldova, but, instead, was forced into sexual slavery. Others victims, such as Eugene and Nikolai, ended up working in inhumane conditions on illegal fishing boats and had no choice but to eat crab bait to survive. Director Katharina Rohrer does a terrific job of not only including alarming statistics and facts about human trafficking, but, through the many fascinating interviews with the victims, she puts a human face on the issue, which makes for a very engrossing experience as you listen to each one give an account of their experiences. Nadja candidly admits that she witnessed another sex slave die from having her throat slashed after refusing to have sex with a client. Rohrer also delves into how the U.S. government and other governments around the world don’t do enough to prevent and stop human trafficking, especially given that the laws here in the U.S. don’t adequately punish the criminals who engage trafficking. Activist Gloria Steinham makes a very keen observation when she compares human trafficking to the slavery that had existed in U.S.’s history, except that, this time, the slavery is at a much larger scale. In an attempt to raise awareness about the horrors of human trafficking, actress/activist Emma Thompson curated an interactive art exhibit called “The Journey,” which displayed the detailed accounts of victims’ trauma. However, U.N. members virtually ignored that exhibit and, by the end of their conference, didn’t reach any kind of agreement/decision that would truly fight human trafficking. Emma Thompson, who has plenty of heart, brain and courage, wisely says that the government’s insufficient actions suggest that they themselves might be among the clients who receive the services of human trafficking victims. The public has every right to feel horrified, angry and fed-up, but fundamentally, there’s simply not enough public awareness of the true horrors of this human rights issue. Once the public does become aware and listens carefully to the victims’ first-hand accounts that should, hopefully, fuel the public’s demand to finally put an end to such a tragedy that could only get worse if inaction, ignorance and apathy continue. At a running time of 80 minutes, Fatal Promises manages to be a brave, vital and provocative documentary that finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually as well as emotionally.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by GreenKat Productions.
Opens at the Cinema Village.

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Directed by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith.

This captivating and thrilling documentary focuses on Daniel Ellsberg, a former military analyst who leaked top-secret documents, known as the Pentagon Papers, to the New York Times back in 1971. The 7,000-page document contained very sensitive information about how the U.S. government dealt with the Vietnam War. He graduated from Harvard University in 1962 and came up with the decision theory that’s referred to as the “Ellsberg paradox.” After serving two years in the Vietnam War and witnessing many casualties from both sides of the battle which have haunted him to this very day, he then joined RAND (Research and Development) Corporation, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. It’s at this point that Ellsberg essentially had a crisis of conscience and began to realize that the war in Vietnam was unjust. In 1967, McNamara commissioned him to examine secret government documents, the “Pentagon Papers,” which highly classified information and transcripts proving that the Vietnam War was based on the U.S. government’s propaganda and lies to the public. Co-directors Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith do an expert job of combining background information about Ellsberg that lead up to that history-changing moment in 1971. The many interviews, including those of Ellsberg himself, are quite fascinating, lively and illuminating. To top it all off, you’ll find very stylish and suspenseful reenactments of Ellsberg photocopying the Pentagon Papers with the help of his kids before giving it to The New York Times which published different sections of it in a series of articles. Just to observe how the government reacted to that leak will send chills down the average American’s spine, but it won’t be so surprising for everyone else who knows just how corrupt our government was back then and how it’s even more so today because of George W. Bush’s use of fascist shifts to close down our democracy. Ellsberg is an exemplar of the ideal American patriot who doesn’t let apathy get in the way of finding the heart, brain and, above all, courage to do what’s truly moral and just for his own beloved country and its people. At a running time of only 92 minutes, The Most Dangerous Man in America manages to be a provocative, thrilling, well-edited and thoroughly captivating documentary.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Kovno Communications.
Opens at the Film Forum.

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