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Reviews for September 28th, 2007

Feast of Love
-Directed by Robert Benton.
Love is actually all around in this very convoluted romantic drama about Bradley (Greg Kinnear) who falls in love Diana (Radha Mitchell) who has another lover, David (Billy Burke), a married man. Meanwhile, Bradley’s wife (Selma Blaire) leaves him for another woman (Stana Katic). Then there are two younger lovers, Chloe (Alexa Davalos) and Oscar (Toby Hemingway) as well as an older, interracial married couple, Harry (Morgan Freeman) and Esther (Jane Alexander). Even though Morgan Freeman’s name is listed first on the credits and at the top of the movie poster, Greg Kinnear actually plays the lead character, but he fails to carry the film or to add any charm. The screenplay by Allison Burnett feels like a mess as it jumps between so many contrived subplots that it’s bound to give you a headache. Nobody has any real chemistry here and any attempts at comic relief fail while the drama feels bland. For a much livelier, funnier and more touching film with a similar plot concept, an impressive ensemble cast and a much more true-to-life script, check out the far superior Love, Actually. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by MGM.

Freshman Orientation
-Directed by Ryan Shiraki.
Sam Huntington stars as Clay, a college freshman who pretends to be gay just so that he can hook up with Amanda (Kaitlin Doubleday), a hot sorority girl. At the same time, Amanda uses Clay in her sorority assignment which involves seducing a gay guy and then dumping him. Other sorority girls have other challenges such as when Jessica (Heather Matarazzo), a Jewish girl with a thick Brooklyn accent, tries to seduce a Muslim. Some of the sexual, offensive and satirical humor work well, while others seem forced as if writer/director Ryan Shiraki were trying to rip off American Pie’s outrageousness. The plot feels especially contrived and convoluted when it veers toward drama involving Clay’s relationship with his gay roommate, who has feelings for him even though he knows Clay is actually straight. Some of the humor eventually becomes tired, such as a running gag involving a heavily intoxicated slut who tries to hit on every guy she sees. Fortunately, John Goodman adds plenty of well-needed laugh-out-loud moments and panache in a supporting role as a gay bartender who helps Clay to look and act gay. Sam Worthington as the lead is just mediocre as a comedic actor—it’s amazing how Sam Huntington can start out in a Disney flick, namely, Jungle 2 Jungle, and end up in this raunchy, over-the-top comedy. For a truly smart, imaginative and consistently funny comedy also about someone who must pretend to be gay, check out The Closet or The Birdcage. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Regent Releasing/Here! Films. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

The Game Plan
-Directed by Andy Fickman.
Joe Kingman (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a wealthy, selfish football player, must take care of 7-year-old Peyton (Madison Pettis), who shows up at his door claiming to be his daughter. Stella (Kyra Sedgwick), his agent, does everything she could to make sure he maintains a good reputation. Although not among the worst Disney live-action film ever, The Game Plan does manage to be one of the most annoying, cheesy and contrived ones to date. Madison Pettis tries to be adorable as Peyton, but ends up obnoxious and often over-acts. The unimaginative screenplay by Nichole Millard and Kathryn Price includes a lot of silly visual gags that fall flat, such as when Joe lisps while acting in a commercial or when Stella dresses his up dog and puts nail polish on him. Oh, and, of course, there’s a scene where she tricks Joe into jumping into a bathtub overflowing with bubbles and comes out all bubbly—wow, how original! Roselyn Sanchez has zero chemistry has Joe’s love interest, Peyton’s ballet teacher. To add insult to injury, director Andy Fickman stretches this cheese into 113 painfully unfunny minutes. Number of times I checked my watch: 12. Entertainment Value: Very low. Spiritual Value: None, as long as you check your brain at the door. Released by Walt Disney Pictures.

The Kingdom
-Directed by Peter Berg.
A small FBI team, Ronald (Jamie Foxx), Janet (Jennifer Garner) and Grant (Chris Cooper), travel to Saudi Arabia to investigate a terrorist bombing at an American facility. Those expecting a smart, political action thriller will be very disappointed at how over-the-top and tedious the plot gets. First of all, both Jamie Foxx and, especially, Jennifer Garner, don’t sink into their roles with enough conviction and their characters seem one-dimensional. Second of all, the Chris Cooper, the only actor who adds some well-needed gravitas here, is, unfortunately, very underused. Director Peter Berg could have easily called The Kingdom Shoot ‘Em Up and it wouldn’t make a big difference because all that essentially happens throughout the excessive running time of 110 minutes is people getting shot at or blown up like in an Arnold Schwarzenegger film—i.e, Collateral Damage, which also involved terrorism. Instead of relying on the plot or characters to add tension, Berg uses vomit-inducing, shaky camera movements instead, which seem like the film was shot during an earthquake. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Unfortunately, none. Released by Universal Pictures.

Lust, Caution
-Directed by Ang Lee
During the Japanese occupation of Shanghai during the early 20th Century, Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei) seduces Japanese collaborate Mr.Yee (Tony Leung) so that her secret group of anti-Japanese radicals can eventually assassinate him. The film opens in 1942 as Wong Chia Chi recalls how she pretended to be Mrs.Mack in 1938 and gradually became the mistress of Mr.Yee by befriending his wife (Joan Chen). Screenwriters Wang Hui Ling and James Schamus weave in plenty of period details, but neglect to adequately develop the characters so that it’s difficult to be emotionally invested in them. A few erotic scenes in which Wong Chia Chi and Mr.Yee engaged a variety of sexual positions warrant the film an MPAA rating of NC-17, but keep in mind that those scenes last for a total five minutes—the rest of the film, with the exception of a one particularly bloody scene, seems more along the lines of PG or PG-13 material. Director Ang Lee masterfully includes plenty of Lush cinematography, impressive costume and set design along with a well-chosen musical score. Strong performances, especially by Tang Wei, barely compensate for a plot that often drags and fails to be truly engrossing. At a running time of 156 minutes, Lust, Caution overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Focus Features. Opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

-Directed by John Jeffcoat.
Josh Hamilton gives a mediocre performance as Todd, a call center manager based in Seattle, gets outsourced to Bombay, India, where he must train employees unfamiliar with American culture. With a by-the-numbers plot, this comedy has no real surprises or laugh-out-loud scenes, but at least it manages to be somewhat amusing as it aims for lots of predictable culture-clash humor. Todd’s new workers call him Toad instead of Todd while he pronounces the name of a worker as Manmeat. Of course, he develops a romance with a sexy worker, Asha (Ayesha Dharker), who tries to convince him to embrace India’s culture. Co-writer/director John Jeffcoat awkwardly gyrates between comedy, drama and romance with mixed results so that none of the characters truly come to life. It would have been much more effective if he focused on one genre or at least allowed for more character development like in the equally funny and smart culture-clash film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Truly Indie. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

The Price of Sugar
-Directed by Bill Haney.
Paul Newman narrates this mildly fascinating, slightly meandering documentary about the slave labor of Haitian sugar cane workers in the Dominican Republic. A priest, Father Christopher Hartley, tries to ameliorate the conditions of these workers, many of whom have entered the country illegally. Director Bill Haney shows their poor living conditions in the sugar plantations workers as well as their health problems which only get worse with these conditions. The footage with Father Christopher Hartley helps to give you a basic idea of the short term solution to the problem—as long as Hartley’s around, the wealthy owner of the sugar plantation won’t dare to underpay his workers, if he quits or dies, the crisis will continue. Meanwhile, the Dominicans try to force the Haitians out from the country. Some of the Haitians don’t trust Hartley, though, and even blame him for starting a fire in the fields. More interviews with Hartley would have helped to humanize him a bit more. Unlike the focused and insightful documentary Black Gold which showed how rich business owners exploit poor farmers in Ethiopia and lead to similarly poor living conditions of the country’s civilians, this documentary feels ultimately too unfocused and tedious to be truly powerful or moving. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Mitropoulous Films. Opens at the Cinema Village.

-Directed by Marco Kreuzpaintner.
Jorge (Cesar Ramos), an illegal Mexican immigrant, seeks help from Ray (Kevin Kline), a Texas cop, to find his 13-year-old sister, Adriana (Paulina Gaita), who was kidnapped by sex traffickers. The plot follows two gradually converging parallel stories, one involving Ray’s quest to investigate reports of sex trafficking and another as Jorge desperately tracks down his Adriana’s kidnappers. Despite convincing performances all across the board, this feels more like a less bloody version of Hostel: Part II--especially a scene where potential buyers place their bids on the young girls over the computer. Screenwriter Jose Rivera fails to fully develop any of the characters and, instead, focuses mainly on plot, which rarely feels shocking, but not quite believable in the way it unfolds, especially in the third act. Rivera should have focuses much more on the character of Ray, who comes across as rather bland and forgettable. At least director Marco Kreuzpaintner does great impressive work behind the camera creating a chilling atmosphere through the use of lighting, musical score and gritty cinematography. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Lionsgate.

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