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Reviews for September 26th, 2008

The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela
- Directed by Olaf de Fleur Johannesson.

This mildly engaging docudrama follows the experiences of Raquela (Raquela Rios), a transsexual “ladyboy” who fulfills her dreams of escaping the lifestyle of prostitution in the Philippines by becoming an internet porn star. Michael (Stefan Schaefer), a smarmy webmaster of an internet pornsite, takes her to Paris where their relationship gradually deteriorates. Did she really think that a guy working in the porn industry wouldn’t treat her like an object? She’s got a lot to learn about life, but at least she’s off the streets. Writer/director Olaf de Fleur Johannesson blends documentary and fictional reenactments with mixed results. The footage of Raquel’s interaction with other transsexual prostitutes feels tedious and unrevealing. Better interviews, or, in some cases, faux interviews, would have helped to add much-needed insight about their lives. The film does have a timely yet underdeveloped message, though, about the temptations and disappointments in the booming internet industry where true happiness is fleeting. Raquela learns a lot about herself throughout her endeavors once she leaves the Philippines. Most of all, she wants to settle down with a man who, unlike Michael, loves her for who she truly is. If only The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela had explored her emotional journey more thoroughly, it would have been much more engrossing and insightful to watch. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Regent Releasing/Here! Films. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story
- Directed by Stefan Forbes.

This timely, well-edited documentary follows the life and career of Lee Atkins, who started out in College Republicans and ended up aggressively campaigning for the George Bush, Sr. presidency. He did everything from lying, manipulating, deceiving and instilling fear in the public as a way to get negative attention oponents. His skills at doing anything to win continued for a while, but when he eventually lost in the late eighties, it was a severe blow to his confidence—or rather, his arrogance. In his private life, though, he often played jazz music. Director Stefan Forbes includes some informative interviews with a variety of politicians and ex-politicians including Ed Rollins, whom Atwater had betrayed, and Michael Dukakis. Atwater had attacked Dukakis personally and did everything in his power to make him look weak. It would have been slightly more insightful had Forbes delved deeper into Atwater’s psyche besides mentioning how he was traumatized by the screams of brother, who died of hot oil burns. The film becomes quite fascinating when Forbes shows how Lee Atwater and Karl Rove remained close throughout their political careers while Atwater taught Rove. Therefore, it’s safe to say that Atwater’s tactics of aggressive, deceptive, negative campaigning still live on today while the American public, sadly, remains somewhat gullible. Ultimately, Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story manages to be a provocative, compelling and eye-opening documentary. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by InterPositive Media. Opens at the Cinema Village.

Callback: The Unmaking of Bloodstain
- Directed by Eric M. Wolfson.

Three actors, Tony (Jeff Parise), Carl (Michael DeGood) and Peter (Johnny Moreno), take part in the chaotic, unsuccessful filming of a crime drama called Bloodstain directed by Marci McFadden (Kate Orsini). Each actor in the film-within-the-film has his own idiosyncratic and distinguishable qualities. Tony suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and Carl, a mobster, turns to acting as a way of escaping a life of crime, while Peter has actually learned how to act and shows discipline as an actor. Of course, chaos ensues as the characters become more and more tangled with one another. Marci even chooses to finance the film’s budget by using the mob. Director/co-writer Eric M. Wolfson includes a mix of outrageous, dark and humor along with a few witty one-liners. Not all of it generates laughter, but most of it does stick thanks to great comic timing and the smart tongue-in-cheek humor. The actors and actresses seem to be having a lot of fun playing over-the-top characters and their enthusiasm and joy resonates onscreen, even when the humor falls flat, there’s rarely a dull moment. It’s also worth mentioning that Wolfson wisely does not resort to using toilet or juvenile humor as a means of entertaining the audience, which shows that he’s an intelligent and mature writer and director. Ultimately, Callback: The Unmaking of Bloodstain manages to be an imaginative satire of independent filmmaking in Hollywood that both insiders and aspiring actors, especially, will get a huge kick out of. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Jaffle Productions.

- Directed by Clark Gregg.

Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk. Victor (Sam Rockwell) works as an actor at a theme park and attends meetings for sex addiction. Meanwhile, his mother (Angelica Huston) suffers from dementia at a nursing home where a sexy new nurse, Paige (Kelly Macdonald), falls for him and, of course, they have sex right inside a church. The residents at the nursing home as well as his own mother seem to think that he’s the descendent of Jesus Christ. Oh, and how does Victor pay for most of his expenses, including his mother’s nursing home? He pretends to choke at restaurants and gets paid by those who “heroically” save him. Right from the very first scene, there’s nothing appealing about Victor as character at all. He’s crude, rude and very lewd to the point of being irritating. Writer/director Clark Gregg surprises and shocks the audience often with the type of dark, sick and twisted humor, which makes the film quite unpredictable. As a whole, though, its combination of drama, romance, dark comedy and mystery feels unbalanced and often awkward. Sam Rockwell’s lively performance, though, helps to keep you at least mildly engaged while Kelly Macdonald adds a little bit of charm. However, that doesn’t compensate for Choke’s excessive bitterness, vulgarity, meanness and, worst of all, a bad aftertaste that leaves you feeling perverted just for watching it. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Eagle Eye
- Directed by D.J. Caruso.

Two strangers, Jerry (Shia LaBeouf) and Rachel (Michelle Monaghan), must figure out why a mysterious voice gives them orders through cellphones and via texts on electronic billboards. Jerry’s also on the run from the law after the FBI find terrorist paraphernalia which was mysteriously placed in his apartment to frame him. Billy Bob Thornton plays the FBI agent who, along with other agents, tries to capture him in a series of cat-and-mouse chases. Meanwhile, an Air Force officer, Zoe (Rosario Dawson), also helps out in the chase and tries to get to the bottom of it. Four writers, John Glenn, Travis Adam Wright, Hillary Seitz and Dan McDermott, wrote the screenplay and it shows because much of it feels like a tangled mess with very little plausibility no matter how you look at it. Sure, some of the cinematography and set designs look slick and stylish, but there’s nothing else to compensate for the increasingly ludicrous plot. There are some interesting ideas thrown around here and there, especially about invasion of privacy and the dangers of advanced technology. However, director D.J. Curso doesn’t go anywhere interesting or imaginative with those ideas. He could have at least made the film a fun, brainless popcorn flick, but, instead, he shoots the action sequences as if they were part of a hypnotic video game. The camera doesn’t even come close to resting during the few dramatic scenes, so you end up with a headache—unless you’ve got ADD. Unfortunately, Shia LeBouf lacks the charisma needed to fuel the film as a leading man and, worst of all, his acting feels wooden just like it did in Disturbia, also directed by D.J. Caruso. At a running time of 118 minutes, Eagle Eye overstays its welcome and any real thrills no matter how much you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and check your brain at the door. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by Paramount Pictures.

- Directed by Alex Kendrick.

When his wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea), threatens to divorce him, Caleb (Kirk Cameron), a workaholic fireman, follows a 40-day experiment called “The Love Dare” that his father gives to him in order to save his marriage. Caleb often behaves like a typically cold husband who doesn’t pay attention to his wife emotionally nor will he have a real conversation with her, so, naturally, she looks elsewhere to fill her void. Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea give mediocre performances at best, but they really don’t really have that much material in the script to allow their characters to come to life. Also, Caleb seems too much like a shmuk who can’t realize that his wife is just not really into him. Director/co-writer Alex Kendrick drags the film on and on with a stilted script that eventually becomes preachy and very corny. He hits you over the head with messages about Evangelical Protestantism as if he can’t trust the audience to intelligently infer them based on the dialogue itself. There’s a very silly sane with even sillier product placement when Caleb brings some Chic-Fil-A to Catherine while she’s lying in bed and, suddenly, they have a real conversation. Did you know that, in reality, Chic-Fil-A has food and beverages that are loaded with many different, seemingly benign ingredients, including MSG, that contain the harmful and addictive neurotoxin called “processed free glutamate”? Food/beverage products have the amount of carbs, fat and sodium listed on labels, but not the amount of glutamate even though it's in there. Consuming products that contain it can either lead to or worsen many illnesses and conditions including migraines, headaches, obesity, sleep disorders and, in the long run, Alzheimer’s and Dementia among many others. Essentially, it’s a silent poison that wreaks havoc on your health and you may not realize it until much later in life depending on your sensitivity. Also, the FDA has the nerve consider all of the processed free glutamate ingrients (including MSG) to be natural, which they're technically not by the time they're processed. Is Chic-Fil-A part of a cover-up in the health industry? Decide for yourself. Click on here for important information about ingredients that contain processed free glutamate, and here to learn about what specific foods to avoid that contain it. Anyway, back to Fireproof, there’s very little here to keep you engaged or emotionally stirred. At an excessive running time of 122 minutes, it often drags and overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 12. Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Forever Strong
- Directed by Ryan Little.

Based on a true story. Rick (Sean Faris) gets arrested for drunken driving and ends up in juvenile hall, where he joins the prison’s rugby team in exchange for a reduced sentence. He used to play for the rugby team that his stern father (Neal McDonough) coaches, but now Coach Gelwix (Gary Cole) coaches him and teaches him the importance of teamwork through rigorous training. There’s also a poorly developed, tacked-on subplot involving a potential romance between Rick and Emily (Arielle Kebbel). The screenplay by David Pliler piles on the clichés, contrived, stilted moments to the point that you’ll be able to predict the majority what occurs throughout the film, even the predictable third act. Predictability or following a formula isn’t necessarily something negative, but, in this case, it’s done in a way that will make you often roll your eyes. Unfortunately, Pliler doesn’t truly give you a reason to care about Rick or anyone else because they all come across as bland characters. Even Coach Gelwix, whose methods of coaching are certainly inspirational to Rick, doesn’t come to life as a character. The rugby games themselves lack suspense mainly because it’s hard to follow what’s going on unless you’re very familiar with the game of rugby to begin with. Moreover, Sean Faris, who uncannily resembles a younger version of Tom Cruise, had great looks, but lacks charisma and fails to be convincing as a leading actor. His performance here isn’t any different here than the one in Never Back Down. On a positive note, director Ryan Little does a decent job of keeping you somewhat engaged by maintaining a fast pace along with stylish cinematography. If only the script were more organic with better acting, Forever Strong could have been so much more suspenseful and engrossing as a sports drama. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Crane Movie Company.

Nights in Rodanthe
- Directed by George C. Wolfe.

Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. Adrienne (Diane Lane, an unhappily married woman, retreats to Rodanthe, a small town on the North Carolina coast, where she temporarily covers for her friend as a manager of a bed-and-breakfast inn. There, she meets the only guest at the inn, Paul (Richard Gere), a doctor who grieves over the death of a patient who died under anesthesia during an operation. He wants to ask forgiveness from the patient’s husband, Robert (Scott Glenn), who lives not far from the inn. Will Paul and Adrienne fall in love? Will Robert forgive Paul? Will Adrienne’s daughter (Mae Whitman) grow up and forgive her mother for leaving her unfaithful father? Co-screenwriters Ann Peacock and John Romano overwhelm the plot with so much heavy drama that it often feels convoluted. Paul and Adrienne occasionally have chemistry thanks to the convincing performances by Richard Gere and Diane Lane, who played husband and wife in the terrific dramatic thriller Unfaithful. However, their most of their chemistry here isn’t really palpable because the scenes where they interact with one another are ephemeral and, therefore, come across as too forced. Moreover, the third act goes too over-the-top and turns very melodramatic. On a positive note, director George C. Wolfe includes picturesque scenery of the beaches Rodanthe which will make you yearn to spend a romantic vacation there. Unfortunately, i>Nights in Rodanthe, although harmless and mildly enjoyable, never truly soars like the genuinely poignant romantic drama The Notebook, also based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Warner Bros.

- Directed by Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O’Connor.

This compelling, informative documentary focuses on the life and work of Barney Rosset, a New York publisher whose companies, Grove Press and Evergreen Review, published writing that had plenty of graphic sexual content and profanity during the 1960’s. At that time, the U.S. government had strict laws about the publishing of obscene. Even though Rosset was repeatedly sued, he fought every battle as hard as he could all the way to the Supreme Court in order to stand his ground and bring back the basic rights of Freedom of Speech. Such works as William S. Borough’s Naked Lunch and D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly’s Lover would probably never had seen the light of day at a bookstore had Rosset not been so courageous and bold. Throughout the 1970’s when the sexual counterculture flourished, he had started a successful film company that distributed film such as I Am Curious: Blue followed by I am Curious: Yellow. Co-directors Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O’Connor interweave footage from Rosset’s younger days along with fascinating, revealing interviews with Gore Vidal, Lenny Bruce, William S. Borough and John Waters among others. Most importantly, though, the directors include interviews with Barney Rosset himself, now in his 80’s yet still as outspoken, articulate and confidence as he’s always been. Admittedly, more analysis of how he affected the world today and comparisons to Larry Flynt’s career or, perhaps, interviews with him would have added more interesting insights, though. Although colleagues and friends of Rosset readily admit that he’s a bit crazy, it’s undeniable that he was and still is an intelligent individual who ultimately made a real difference in the literary and film industries as an advocate of the First Amendmant. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Arthouse Films. Opens at the Cinema Village.

Ripple Effect
- Directed by Philippe Caland.

Amer Atrash (Philippe Caland), a fashion designer on the brink of a financial loss and a nervous breakdown, must come to terms with a tragic event that happened fifteen years earlier when he accidentally struck Phillip (Forest Whitaker) with his vehicle. After a first act that meanders from one dull scene to another with Amer interacting with his beloved wife ( Virginia Madsen), Amer finally travels to meet up with the wheelchair-bound Phillip, whose wife (Minnie Driver) has sex with other men because Phillip can’t please her in that department. Once Amer asks for forgiveness from him, Phillip goes on a long-winded, preachy and stilted rant about how he’s the accident had changed him and he’s grateful for everything that’s happened to him. Writer/director Philippe Caland doesn’t write a single scene that feels moving, authentic or engaging. Even the presence of Forest Whitaker, who adds a modicum of gravitas, can’t save the film from drowning in all of its contrived moments. Also, Caland doesn’t include any comic relief to balance all of the heavy drama. Ripple Effect could have been an emotionally powerful, insightful film, but with a weak screenplay and subpar directing, it ends up as a bland, tedious mess. Number of times I checked my watch: 12. Released by Monterey Media. Opens at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater.

Shoot on Sight
- Directed by Jag Mundhra.

When the police shoot a suspected Muslim terrorist to death on a subway platform, Tariq Ali (Naseeruddin Shah), a London police officer, investigates the murder by the request of his superior, Daniel Tennant (Brian Cox). Meanwhile, Tariq and his Christian wife (Greta Scacchi) struggle to control their rebellious teenage daughter (India Wadsworth). The plot becomes more complicated when photos of Tariq meeting up with an Imam extremist (Om Puri), a good friend of his, end up in the newspaper. Despite decent performances and an initially provocative premise, much of what happens feels so contrived and convoluted that the suspense wanes as the plot progresses. The screenplay by Carl Austin ineffectively blends the genres of drama and thriller with poor attention to character development so that no one onscreen comes to life. Occasionally, some interesting, timely messages about racial profiling come up, although none of them are explored sensitively and profoundly enough to be truly insightful. A by-the-numbers film should at least be riveting to watch, but Shoot on Sight has too many poorly written dramatic scenes that drag on and on without keeping you at the edge of your seat. At a running time of 110 minutes, it often overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by Aron Govil Productions.

- Directed by Kim Kindersley.

This mildly inspirational documentary about Mirning, an Aboriginal tribe from Australia who come together to promote strength, unity and peace by singing and praying to whales, lacks enough focus and synthesis to make it truly compelling. The Mirning tribe care about a wide variety of environmental issues such as global warming, commercial whaling and the preservation of the tribe’s rituals from generation to generation. Director Kim Kindersley interweaves his own spiritual journey of discovery into the film as he immerses himself in the culture of the Mirning tribe. However, he neglects to explore the spiritual journey of the members of the tribe, especially the tribe singer, Bunna Lawrie, who would have made for a provocative interview. There’s some the breathtaking underwater scenery and scenery along with a terrific soundtrack, but that doesn’t even come close to compensating for all the poorly synthesized, overly simplistic bits of insight that fail to resonate as a whole. Ultimately, Whaledreamers feels underwhelming and incomplete as a documentary. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Released by Monterey Media. Opens at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater.

Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell
- Directed by Matt Wolf.

This insightful and fascinating documentary focuses on the life and career of Arthur Russell, a composer, cellist, disco producer, and singer/songwriter who died of AIDS in 1992. According to many interesting interviews with his colleagues and friends, such as Phillip Glass, Allen Ginsberg and his lover, Tom Lee, he was an eccentric individual and difficult to work with, yet he showed a remarkable talent and passion for music. He always stood by his true vision as an artist and wasn’t afraid to be unconventional. Director Matt Wolf does a terrific job of blending interviews along with archival footage of Arthur Russell’s music performances. Wolf also includes some very revealing interviews with Russell’s parents, who admit that they didn’t really understand his music back when he was alive, but they understand it a little better now. They clearly were quite loving and supportive parents who raised him well by allowing him follow his dreams. It’s quite inspiring how Russell had the courage to continue composing music while he suffered from the AIDS virus. Some even argue that his music improved during that period and that he's as much as a music genius as Mozart had been. Whether or not you’re familiar with the music of Arthur Russell, you’ll find Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell to be a warm, lively and illuminating tribute to a truly talented, undaunted artist who made his mark in the world of music. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Plexifilm. Opens at the IFC Center.

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