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Reviews for September 21st, 2007

Adrift in Manhattan

Directed by Alfredo de Villa.
The lives of three lonely New Yorkers, Simon (Victor Rasuk), Rose (Graham) and Tomás (Dominic Chianese), gradually intersect. They each have their own issues to deal with, but now, they suddenly have a chance to cure their loneliness through the company of others. Tomás, an elderly painter who has never married before and works at a mailroom, finds out from Rose, his optometrist, that he’s going blind. He soon develops the courage to ask a woman named Isabel (Elizabeth Peña) out on a date. Rose has problems of her own as she tries to cope with the tragic death of her two-year old daughter while feeling estranged from her husband (William Baldwin). Simon, a teenager who works at a photo shop, would rather spend his time photographing people rather than interacting with them. That all changes when he decides to let Rose know that he has been secretly photographing her because she’s beautiful—or rather, he says he likes her scarf. Inevitably, there’s an erotic sex scene with Simon and Rose, but it actually serves a purpose to both character development and plot. Writer/director Alfredo de Villa expertly allows the film to flow at a natural rhythm with very organic dialogue. Most importantly, he breathes life into each character by making them complex, real and believable—nobody’s over-the-top or unnecessary to the plot. The strong performances, especially by Dominic Chianese, help to make this a thoroughly absorbing and compelling drama. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Very High. Released by Screen Media Films. Opens at the Village East Cinemas.


Directed by Tata Amaral.
In Portugese with subtitles. Barbarah (Leilah Moreno), Preta (Negra Li), Mayah (Quelynah) and Lena (Cindy), form a rap group called Antonia to escape a life of violence in a poor suburb of São Paolo, Brazil. Each of the four main actresses gives convincing, raw performances. Fortunately, co-writer/director Tata Amaral wisely includes some character development and dramatic conflict as the group of four becomes reduced to three when Maya leaves them after she flirts with Preta’s husband. Meanwhile, Barbarah’s brother gets beaten up and Barbarah seeks to revenge his attackers. Whether or not you’re into rap—or Brazalian rap, for that matter—you’ll be thoroughly immersed by this absorbing, somewhat gritty drama with a few lively musical numbers. Entertainment Value: High Spiritual Value: High. Released by Columbia Pictures.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
-Directed by Andrew Dominik.
When Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) joins the infamous gang of outlaws lead by Jessie James (Brad Pitt), he gradually turns against Jessie James and plots to kill him. Set during the late 19th century, this riveting, glorious Western boasts an Oscar-worthy, unforgettable performance by Brad Pitt who sinks his teeth into the role of Jessie James with utter conviction. Casey Affleck also gives a strong and surprisingly moving performance here as Robert Ford. One of the film’s many strengths is how writer/director Andrew Dominik includes breathtaking scenery and impressive cinematography to create some awe-inspiring moments. A few scenes, admittedly, drag a bit and feel tedious. However, despite a lengthy running time of 2 hours and 32 minutes, The Assassination of Jessie James manages to be a powerful, mesmerizing and unforgettable experience. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Warner Bros. Pictures

Beauty Remains
-Directed by Ann Hu.
In Mandarin with subtitles. In 1948, Fei (Zhou Xun) tries to the signature of her older sister, Ying (Vivian Wu), to get the inheritance from her fathers will. Meanwhile, the friction between both siblings increases when they get caught in a love triangle with Huang (Wang Zhi Wen). This slow-paced period piece has a few poignant scenes and decent performances, but, for the most part, its strengths lie mainly in the beautiful costume design, impressive cinematography and authentic setting design. The plot itself tends to meander and feel underwhelming at times while the dramatic scenes feel like part of a soap opera. Moreover, with not enough character development and a somewhat stilted screenplay that fails to bring any of the characters to life to make them particularly interesting, it’s not easy to feel truly absorbed. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Emerging Pictures. Opens at the Cinema Village.

Good Luck Chuck
-Directed by Mark Helfrich.
At the age of 10, Charlie (Conner Price) gets hexed by a Goth girl who he turns down during a game of spin-the-bottle. Many years later, Charlie (Dane Cook), now a dentist, realizes that each woman who sleeps with him instantly falls in love with the next guy she dates. When he meets and falls in love sexy, klutzy Cam (Jessica Alba), he must break the curse. What follows is a series of sex-related, silly, gross-out and outrageous humor some of which actually turn out to be funny. Dan Fogler provides a few laugh-out-loud scenes as a perverted plastic surgeon who loves grapefruits in way you’d least expect. Screenwriter Josh Stolberg knows how popular penguins are these days, so he makes Cam into a penguin-lover who works at a penguin sanctuary—the penguins provide some humor as well. By no means a refreshing or brilliant sex comedy, Good Luck Chuck at least manages to supply some laughs, as long as you check your brain at the door. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Lionsgate.

The Jane Austen Book Club/u>-
Directed by Robin Swicord.
Five middle-aged friends, Jocelyn (Maria Bello), Prudie (Emily Blunt), Burnadette (Kathy Baker) and Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) start a book club discussing the works of Jane Austen and how it relates to their lives. Jocelyn convinces a young man named Grigg (Hugh Dancy) to join their club in hopes of him romancing Sylvia, who just divorced her husband (Jimmy Smits). This mildly amusing, somewhat convoluted drama is a “chick flick” in the strictest sense, which doesn’t mean guys can’t enjoy it either—it just may not be something they can relate to. There’s nothing particularly funny or surprising here, but at least the ensemble cast gives charming, likable performances, especially Hugh Dancy. Not all of the subplots work, though, such as when Prudie, a sexy French professor, feels tempted to have a sexual relationship with one of her students or when Grigg flirts with Burnadette’s daughter. Those who love Jane Austen, in particular, will be able to overlook these minor flaws and just enjoy this light, harmless drama. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Sony Pictures Classics.

The Man of My Life
- Directed by Zabou Breitman.
While vacationing in the countryside with his wife and kids, Frédéric (Bernard Campan), allows his new gay neighbor, Hugo (Charles Berling) to flirt with him. Although it seems somewhat like a French Brokeback Mountain, the plot gets stuck in the meandering second act as Frédéric continues to bond with Hugo instead of his own wife. Unfortunately, there’s not enough character development to explain why Frédéric suddenly explores his sexual identity. His mid-life crisis doesn't seem believable enough. A subplot involving Hugo and his father, who kicked him out of the house when he was younger, doesn’t get explored enough until the end. Director Zabou Breitman includes exquisite cinematography with breathtaking, picturesque scenes of nature, but if only she showed the same care for her characters, this would have been a much more powerful, imaginative and perhaps even surprising film, which it never actually becomes. Entertainment Value: Moderate, Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Strand Releasing. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

Resident Evil: Extinction
-Directed by Russell Mulcahy.
After a deadly virus turn the world into a vast desert, Alice (Milla Jovovich) escapes from the Umbrella Corporation, which tries to clone her, and joins the remaining survivors in Nevada while trying to kill all the zombies who get in their way. As a third installment of the Resident Evil franchise, Resident Evil: Extinction lacks an imaginative plot and has some wooden performances, but that’s not what the target audience really cares about. They want cool death scenes, slick visuals, a sexy lead and lots of in-your-face action sequences. Director Russell Mulcahy does provides that for the most part, although there aren;’t not enough cool death scenes until later on in the film. Fortunately, Milla Jovovich still looks great and has some charisma as the a*s-kicking (or slicing, rather) Alice, although she’ll never top her performance in The Fifth Element, a truly exhilarating and refreshing sci-fi film, unlike this unsurprising, mostly stale and forgettable movie. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Screen Gems.

Sydney White
-Directed by Joe Nussbaum.
In this modern spin-off of Snow White and the Seven Dworfs, Sydney White (Amanda Bynes) attends college where she competes against a bunch of bratty sorority girls by befriends seven dorks—get it? Sydney happens to befriend for a frat guy, Tyler (Matt Long), who’s in love her. If that already sounds funny to you and you’re a big fan of Amanda Bynes, you’ll love this movie. Otherwise, much of the comedy falls flat along with Amanda Bynes’ over-the-top, annoying performance. Despite being a spin-off of Snow White and the Seven Dorks, it owes much more to Mean Girls, but lacks a sharp script and likable characters. Ultimately, this ends up like a more awkward and irritating version Bratz. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Universal Pictures.

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