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Reviews for September 4th, 2009

All About Steve

Directed by Phil Traill.

Mary Horowitz (Sandra Bullock) works as a crossword puzzle constructor for a newspaper. She’s single, eccentric, neurotic and still lives with her mother (Beth Grant) and father (Howard Hesseman). After her parents set up on a blind date with a cable news cameraman, Steve (Bradley Cooper), she becomes obsessed with him so much that she actually goes to the extent of constructing a crossword puzzle all about him. Not surprisingly, she gets fired for tarnishing the newspaper’s reputation with such unprofessionalism. While still fixated on Steve, she decides to trek all over the country to stalk him in hopes of winning him over somehow. Steve’s coworker, a reporter, Hartman Hughes (Thomas Haden Church), helps and urges her to continue following him around for every news story. Unfortunately, the increasingly asinine screenplay by Kim Barker falls flat on its face both as a comedy and satire. Mary comes across as not only annoying to everyone around her, but to the audience as well. Had Barker made her at least somewhat likeable or charismatic, it would have been amusing to follow Mary around as she goes from one embarrassing situation to another. Too many scenes feel awkward and random, such as a scene where Mary finds shelter during a tornado or when she clumsily falls into an abandoned mine shaft that deaf kids were just rescued from. The only laugh-out-loud scene involves Hartman incorrectly reporting a horse as dead when it suddenly gets up and walks behind him. Even the comedic talents of Sandra Bullock and Thomas Hayden Church, who was so delightfully funny in Sideways, don’t keep the film from sinking into an absurd, silly mess with often dim-witted dialogue that’ll probably make your ears bleed. At a running time of 98 minutes, All About Steve manages to be a painfully bland, vapid, irritating and consistently preposterous comedy that’s low on laughs and satirical bite.
Number of times I checked my watch: 6
Released Twentieth Century Fox.
Opens nationwide.


Directed by Mike Judge.

Joel Reynold (Bateman) runs an extract bottling plant which he’s in the process of selling. One day, a series of evidence due to worker incompetence causes an accident which leaves an employee, Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), with only one testicle. Cindy (Mila Kunis), a sexy, gold-digging thief arrives at the factory in hopes of getting a job so that she can pretend to fall in love with Step because he might become rich after suing the company. Joel must also deal with his wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), who hasn’t had sex with him in quite a while. Dean (Ben Affleck), Joel’s best friend, a bartender, suggests to him to hire a gigolo, Brad (Dustin Milligan), to seduce Suzie into having sex so that he could then have sex with Cindy to clear the cobwebs off his privates, so-to-speak, as if two wrongs would actually make a right. To top it all off, both Joel and Suzie try their best to avoid their neighbor, Nathan (David Koechner), who simply won’t stop pestering them about getting together even though they show very little interest in having any kind of relations with him let alone being around him at all. Writer/director Mike Judge crams in so many plotlines that you’d think the film were over 2 hours long. He should have taken the comedy further rather than veering toward contrived drama, during which the plot’s momentum fizzles out a bit. Luckily, it has a few clever, amusing moments and no use of silly toilet humor. For the most part, the comedy comes in the form of situational humor rather than from the dialogue itself. How many times can you laugh at the factory’s supervisor (J.K. Simmons) referring the other employees as Dingus, though? That joke, among a few others, gets old pretty quickly. Dustin Milligan provides the most laughs as an airheaded gigolo. At an ideal running time of 90 minutes, Extract manages to be a harmless, often amusing comedy that’s quite convoluted and, while not consistently brilliant or funny, never feels too dull or juvenile.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Miramax Films.
Opens nationwide.


Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.

Kable (Gerard Butler), a prison inmate, has a computer chip lodged inside his brain makes his part of the multi-player online game called “Slayers,” run by its billionaire mastermind, Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall). Anyone who plays the game online can control the mind and body of prison inmates and use them to fight other prisoners. Simon (Logan Lerman), a 17-year-old gamer, happens to be the individual who controls Kable’s mind and body during the fights, but Kable yearns to escape from the game so that he could fight others on his own and reunite with his beloved wife, Angie (Amber Valletta). However, Angie happens to be trapped in another online game called “Society,” where a morbidly obese man controls her mind and body while sitting in his chair at home. Despite an initially intriguing premise, there aren’t enough clever or imaginative elements throughout the film to keep you thoroughly provoked or surprised for that matter. The members of the society in the futuristic world depicted have been addicted to technology which seems to serve as an opiate for them. Concurrently, they’re desensitized to violence and just want to see action, blood and guts no matter what the human cost/suffering happens to be. What happened to these people’s morals and values? Technology has certainly advanced, but society has essentially decayed. Co-writers/directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor don’t really flesh out those themes and, instead, offer a simple-minded perspective while barely scratching the surface. On a positive note, the cinematography looks stylish and occasionally slick with great production design. You’ll find relentlessly violent action sequences filled with plenty of stylized blood and guts, much like the gamers themselves get a kick out of watching. However, the action sequences eventually become repetitious and headache-inducing, especially with all the nauseating, fast-cut editing, designed for audience members with ADD, which make it difficult to clearly see what’s actually going on. At a running time of 95 minutes, Gamer is a mindless and tedious sci-fi action film that’s high on style while low on substance and palpable thrills.
Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Lionsgate.
Opens nationwide.


Directed by Michael Mahonen.

In Mandarin with subtitles. Hetian Ying (Rong Tian), a mid-level police officer, remains trapped inside his home with his ailing wife, (Zeng Ziyu), during a massive sandstorm in China. Food and water have been running very low, and there’s no electricity, so they have to use candlelight. To make matters worse, his wife has run out of medication and their young daughter (Annie Li) has been missing and may or may not be dead from the storm. Hetian regrets that finished work so late that the sandstorm become stronger and he couldn’t reach her school to pick her up. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his regrets, though. He also recalls how he crossed moral boundaries during the interrogation of a school teacher who followed a spiritual practice called Falun Gong, which former President Ziang Jemin had deemed as illegal. The school teacher, who fervently believed in Falun Gong’s peaceful principles, refused to go through a “transformation” and to sign a statement that rejects the practice. While she was aggressively interrogated and even tortured, she maintained her innocence and begs Hetian to simply let her reunite with her family. However, he had two choices: either to transform her into a non-believer of Falun Gong or to have her killed in a “suicide.” If he achieves neither, he’ll lose his job. The contrived screenplay by writer/director Michael Mahonen gyrates back and forth between the present-day scenes as Hetian looks himself in the mirror, so-to-speak, and the interrogations of the Falun Gong practitioner at the prison. The transitions into the flashback scenes don’t really generate enough insight or poignancy, especially given the mediocre acting. You don’t really get a chance to grasp precisely what Hetian is thinking and feeling besides regret and sorrow for his own actions which led to tragic events. Unfortunately, the third act is not only rushed, but also a missed opportunity to explore the consequences of Hetian’s epiphany. At a too-brief running time of 1 hour and 15 minutes, Sandstorm manages to be a sporadically provocative, contrived and uneven dramatic thriller that lacks emotional resonance and insight while leaving the viewer feeling ultimately underwhelmed.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Requisite Films.
Opens at the Village East Cinema.

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