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Reviews for September 5th, 2008

August Evening
- Directed by Chris Eska.

In Spanish with subtitles. Lupe (Veronica Loren), a young widow, stays with her father-in-law, Jaime (Pedro Castaneda) after the death of his wife. The two bond with each other life a real father and daughter as Lupe tries to adjust to a new life at a new place. Jaime clearly has a dysfunctional relationship with his children, namely Victor (Abel Becerra) and Alice (Sandra R. Rios). Lupe and Jaime are essentially stuck in a state of grievance with so much sadness in their life that it’s hard for them to overcome it and to start building new relationships. Yet, there’s still hope when Lupe meets a Luis (Walter Perez), a very charming and friendly young man who seems to respect her. Will Lupe learn to appreciate the good in her life? Writer/director Chris Eska unfolds the plot very slowly, which allows the characters to truly breathe and for the audience to get to know them gradually with any contrivance. The cinematography looks exquisite without any shaky camera movements or awkward angles. On top of that, no one over acts and there aren’t any big plot twists or characters who you absolutely hate. Rather, the tension comes from the intricate dynamic between all the characters, which feels quite refreshing in a very low-key sort of way. A few scenes tend to drag during the running time of 128 minutes, but, for the most part, August Evening manages to be a mostly engaging, understated and absorbing film. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Maya Entertainment. Opens at the Village East Cinema.

Bangkok Dangerous
- Directed by Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang.

Joe (Nicholas Cage), a hitman in Bangkok, trains a young man, Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm), how to kill people who have done wrongdoings. In a silly subplot, Joe becomes romantically involved with a blind Chinese woman, Fon (Charlie Yeung) and tries his best to hide his secret job as a hitman from her—he even convinces her mother that he’s a banker. Whenever the plot turns into corny, contrived romance between Joe and Fon, it simply loses its momentum. Nicholas Cage used to be able to easily sink his teeth into roles in actions films such as Face/Off, but here he mostly seems tired and lacks the charisma that he once had onscreen. At least co-directors Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang know how to keep action fans engaged with stylish, slick action sequences, some of which are reminiscent of Wanted. Anyone looking for something refreshing or memorable to take with them from the film will be sorely disappointed. At least Bangkok Dangerous doesn’t have an outrageously silly, inane, convoluted and illogical plot like in the recent Babylon A.D., but you still need to check your brain at the door and suspend your disbelief to be mildly engaged by this visually stylish, yet ultimately pointless and unimaginative film. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Lionsgate.

Everybody Wants to be Italian
- Directed by Jason Todd Ipson.

Jake (Jay Jablonski), a 27-year-old Polish fish store owner, pretends to be Italian to win over Marisa (Cerina Vincent), a veterinarian in her early 30s, who also pretends to be Italian. For the rest of the sporadically funny romantic comedy, Jake must choose between his ex-lover, Isabella (Marisa Petroro), and his new girlfriend, Marisa. It’s quite disturbing that he follows Isabella so often that it’d be safe to say that he’s stalking her. In a particularly unrealistic scene, she lets him into her apartment and he continues to pressure her into coming back to him even though she’s married with children. Meanwhile, Jake seeks the advice of his quirky coworkers, all of whom act like they’re philosophers of love. One of the workers, Steve (John Kapelos) even psychoanalyzes Jake in the back of the store. The screenplay by writer/director Jason Todd Ipson has a few laugh-out-loud lines and moderately funny humor, but for the most part, the comedy doesn’t feel refreshing or imaginative enough. Jake often seems obnoxious and dumb, so it’s hard to root for him to fall in love when no sane woman would realistically choose a guy like him who doesn’t treat women with respect. On a positive note, at least that the supporting cast members, especially Jake’s coworkers, are quite likable and seem to be having a great time in their roles. If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, check your brain at the door for 105 minutes, and resist the temptation to compare it to the hilarious hit comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Everybody Wants to be Italian will keep you at least mildly engaged. Be sure to stay through the end credits for an additional scene that’s actually crucial to the plot. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by Asgaard Entertainment.

Mister Foe
- Directed by David Mackenzie.

Based on the novel Hallam Foe by Peter Jinks. 17-year-old Hallam Foe believes that his stepmother, Verity (Claire Forlani) murdered his real mother and is now using his father (Ciaran Hinds) for his money. After Verity seduces him into kissing her, Hallam runs away from the home to Edinburgh where stalks on a sexy woman, Kate (Sophia Myles), who reminds him of his real mother. He shows up at her office, where she works as a personnel manager of a hotel, and succeeds in getting a job the hotel’s kitchen. Little does anyone know, at least for now, that Hallam lives at the top of a clocktower and spies on Kate’s private life with binoculars. Gradually, Hallam becomes involved in her life, in the romantic sense as well. Jamie Bells delivers a terrific performance that shows that he can easily master a broad range of emotions onscreen. He adds charisma to the character of Hallam which makes him oddly likable even when he’s spying on Kate. Likewise, Sophia Myles has a genuine beauty that radiates warmth as Kate, so it’s easy to grasp what Hallam sees in her—besides that she resembles his real mother. The plot becomes more complicated when Kate’s boyfriend (Jamie Sives), a married man, discovers Hallam’s secret abode. What ensues after that point will not be revealed here, but, it’s worth mentioning that director/co-writer David Mackenzie knows how to build tension without going over-the-top. Also, he includes a few tender, heartbreaking moments that allow you to care about Hallam as he comes of age. Although not particularly profound or emotionally powerful, Mister Foe at least manages to be a compelling and well-acted drama that’s mostly character-driven. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Magnolia Pictures.

Ping Pong Playa
- Directed by Jessica Yu.

When his successful brother, Michael (Roger Fan) gets injured in an accident, Christopher "C-dub" Wang (Jimmy Tsai), a less successful ex-basketball player, takes his place in a ping pong tournament, The Golden Cock, to make his father (Jim Lau) proud. Meanwhile, he teaches ping pong to students at the school that his mother (Elizabeth Sung) runs. In a rather contrived subplot, C-dub tries to win over Jennifer (Smith Cho) the older sister of one of his students. The plot often aims for comedy and ends up falling flat with poor comic timing and juvenile humor, although not the gross-out kind that you would find in a Judd Apatow movie, for example. Jimmy Tsai tries his best to enliven the film with his energetic performance, but he simply doesn’t have enough material to truly shine as a comedic actor. Also, for fans of ping pong, the competition itself doesn’t occur until the third act and, even then, director Jessica Yu films it with too much style and too little suspense. Ultimately, Ping Pong Playa feels mostly bland and unfunny. If you manage to stay through to the end, be sure to watch more scenes playing through the end credits. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by IFC Films. Opens at the Regal E-Walk and AMC/Loews Village VII.

Save Me
- Directed by Robert Cary.

Mark (Chad Allen), a suicidal, homosexual young man suffering from drug and sex addiction, enters Genesis House, a Christian ministry. The couple who runs the ministry, Gayle (Judith Light) and Ted (Stephen Lang), try to cure him of his homosexual feelings , but it isn’t easy for him. Soon enough, he develops a strong affection for Scott (Robert Gant), a resident at Genesis House. Although the plot does have its fair share dramatic tension and some poignant moments, especially between Mark and Gayle, his maternal figure, too many scenes feel contrived and awkwardly paced as if they belonged in a soap opera. None of the performances truly stand out, but at least they’re decent. Screenwriter Robert Desiderio does a great job, though, of developing the character of Mark enough so that you care about him throughout his emotional journey toward recovery. He’s just as a complex character as Gayle, who has problems of her own that come about. The film’s messages about being true to oneself and following your heart are quite inspiring and insightful. If only the screenplay had felt more organic rather than mostly stilted, Save Me could have been much more powerful and compelling to watch. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by First Run Features. Opens at the Clearview Chelsea Cinemas.

A Secret
- Directed by Claude Miller.

In French with subtitles. Based on the novel by Philippe Grimbert. François (Mathieu Amalric) recalls his teenage years when his father, Maxime (Patrick Bruel), was engaged to Hannah (Ludivine Sagnier) before marrying Tania (Cecile de France), François’ current mother. Secrets gradually come about regarding how Maxime and Tania ended up together during the Nazi occupation of France. François (now played by Valentin Vigourt as a child) hears some of the secrets from his masseur, Louise (Julie Depardieu), while others he discovers later in life when he talks to his elderly father. Each actor and actress delivers a strong performance, especially the radiant Cecile de France. Director/co-writer Claude Miller includes very imaginative choices when it comes to the cinematography. The scenes taking place in the present are in black-and-white while the past scenes are in bright colors. Admittedly, it would have been more interesting had Miller written more scenes that take place in the present to show how François copes with all the revelations. Rarely does the plot drag, though, and, when it does, it’s quickly followed by very absorbing scenes that genuinely tug at your heart, especially in the emotionally intense third act. At a running time of 110 minutes, A Secret doesn’t overstay its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Strand Releasing. Opens at IFC Center and Paris Theatre.

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