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Reviews for April 10th, 2009

Hannah Montana: The Movie

Directed by Derick Martini.

Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) is known to her music fans only as Hannah Montana whenever she sings on stage with a blonde wig, a stylish outfit and lots of makeup. Her father, Robbie (Billy Ray Cyrus), wants her to take a break from the glamour and glitz of celebrity life by staying with her down-to-earth grandmother, Ruby (Margo Martindale), at Crowley Corners, a small town in Tennessee where she grew up in. There, she meets and flirts with Travis (Lucas Till), who has no idea that she’s actually Hannah Montana. Meanwhile, Mr. Bradley (Barry Bostwick), a smarmy developer, announces his plans to open a giant mall that would destroy Crowley Corners. Miley must find a way to save her childhood town, so, with the help of her best friend, Lilly (Emily Osment), and her publicist, Vita (Vanessa Williams), she agrees to transform once again into Hannah Montana to perform at a town concert that would hopefully raise enough money to save it from being destroyed by Mr. Bradley. There’s also an annoying journalist (Oswald Granger) who’s desperate to find something meaty about Hannah Montana for his tabloid. Anyone looking for an imaginative plot with believable situations filled with warmth and humor should look elsewhere. Many scenes feel corny, sappy or just plain awkward and contrived, especially whenever Miley breaks out into song every now and then. Avid fans of Miley Cyrus, though, will be pleased and entertained to hear her singing during the musical numbers, but it’s quite discomforting to watch and hear her trying to act during the dramatic or comedic moments, which fall flat with her wooden performance and poor comic timing. Each character onscreen seems very cartoonish while the silly dialogue written by Dan Berendsen doesn’t help to add any much-needed humor or wit. Some of the slapstick humor might appeal to little kids, but everyone else find themselves either rolling their eyes or tempted to fall asleep. The way the events in the third act unfold so implausibly that they’re quite unintentionally funny. At a running time of 102 minutes, Hannah Montana: The Movie ultimately drags and falls flat as a contrived drama and dull, vapid comedy. Only easily pleased fans of Miley Cyrus will find it to be mildly amusing and harmless, but everyone else will often be painfully bored and wish that it were over sooner.
Number of times I checked my watch: 6.
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.

In a Dream

Directed by Jeremiah Zagar.

This compelling and moving documentary focuses on the life and work of Isaiah Zagar, a passionate artist who creates colorful mosaics made out of tiles and mirrors. He wakes up every morning before dawn to work on his art. He lives with his wife, Julia in Philadelphia where they both raised their two kids, Zeke and Jeremiah, who’s also the film’s director. Nearly 70-year-old and sporting a full-grown beard, Isaiah wakes up very early to work on his beautiful mosaics every morning. There’s more to him than meets the eye, though. The director asks him to discuss many events from his past which he gradually reveals to him and to you, the audience. It turns out that he had been through a lot in life, such participating in anti-war protests during Vietnam, attempting suicide and becoming mentally unstable which had him sent him to an asylum. He and his wife were quite free-spirited back in the day and had no problem being photographed in the nude. It’s equally moving and captivating to watch him open up emotionally in front of the camera. He candidly admits that he had been sexually abused by someone whom he had trusted as a child. When he confesses, in recent footage, that he’s having an affair with his assistant, the family’s strength as a unit falls apart. Should Julia forgive him for his infidelity? Will they get back together or not? Jeremiah’s older brother, Zeke, has problems of his own: he struggles with drug addiction and separates from his wife. As more and more details of Isaiah and his family emerge, you feel like a voyeur who’s hungry to know more revealing information about them. Director Jeremiah Zagar not only includes plenty of archival footage, but also a well-chosen musical score along with impressive animated sequences that capture Isiaiah’s artwork in unexpectedly witty and imaginative ways. At a running time of 80 minutes, In a Dream manages to be a captivating, honest and thoroughly engrossing documentary with plenty of wisdom, panache and stunning visuals.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0.
Released by International Film Circuit and IndiePix Films. Opens at the Cinema Village.

Observe and Report

Directed by Jody Hill.

Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) works as a chubby, arrogant, selfish security guard at a suburban mall. He has a bipolar disorder, aspires to become a police officer. When a flasher stalks women in and around the mall, Ronnie tries to solve the case on his own as a means of showing off his power, skills and courage. He also wants to impress and protect Brandi (Anna Faris), a sexy, ditzy saleswoman. Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) shows up to do his own investigation to get to the bottom of the case and competes with Ronnie. It’s difficult to like most of the characters because of their mean-spiritedness and stupidity, especially whenever Ronnie often offends Nell, a nice, wheelchair-bound employee at a fast food restaurant. What does he even see in Brandi to begin with other than her good looks? She’s pretty much the village bicycle, so-to-speak, because everyone gets ride, including Detective Harrison at one point. Writer/director Jody Hill, who previously wrote and directed The Foot Fist Way, aims for lowbrow, dark and juvenile humor and, for the most part, generates some laughter thanks to Seth Rogen’s great comic timing as well as the comic energy of the underrated Anna Faris. Every member of the cast appears to be having a great time onscreen, even those in small roles such as Celia Weston as Ronnie’s alcoholic mother or Michael Peña as Dennis, another security guard at the mall who suffers from a lisp. Whenever Hill veers away from comedy toward drama or romance occasionally, that’s when the film loses its momentum a bit, but it quickly regains its strength and becomes dark, zany and twisted fun, as long as you’re willing to check your brain at the door and to stomach offensive attempts to make you laugh. At an ideal running time of 86 minutes, Observe and Report manages to be mindless, silly and outrageously funny with hilarious, lively comedic performances and plenty of bold, inane and mean-spirited humor.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2.
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.

An Unlikely Weapon: The Eddie Adams Story

Directed by Susan Morgan Cooper.

This mildly fascinating documentary, narrated by Kiefer Sutherland focuses on the career of Eddie Adams, a photojournalist who worked for 50 years photographing a total of thirteen wars and six U.S. Presidents. His most famous photograph, named “The Saigon Execution,” which was taken during the Vietnam War while he worked as a photojournalist for the Associated Press. It has since been one of the most iconic photographs of that war. In that powerful photograph from 1968, a Vietnamese police chief, General Nguy?n Ngoc Loan, points his gun toward head of a Vietcong prisoner, Nguy?n Van Lém, merely seconds from killing him. Director Susan Morgan Cooper blends the images of Adams’ photographs with interviews with other photographers, such as Nick Utc and Bill Eppridge, broadcaster Tom Brokaw, ABC anchor Peter Jennings, balanced by interviews with Adams himself. Adams candidly admits that he’s not really impressed with “The Saigon Execution” photograph, which won him a Pulitzer Prize, because he doesn’t understand how it’s a work of art given its poor composition and lighting. Along with Nick Ut’s photo of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl running naked from a napalm attack on her village, the photo played a part in helping to end the war in Vietnam. It’s quite moving to watch the brief interview with Phuc, who’s now an adult. Canadian journalist Morley Safer admits that Adams wasn’t a “sedate, thoughtful photographer,” but rather a grunt…looking for trouble on and off the job.” Does it really matter whether or not Adams can articulate or grasp the significance of his photos? Does that make him any less talented, though? To avoid more controversy, he transitioned from war photography to celebrity photography, such as shooting photos of actors such as Clint Eastwood, which became part of the poster artwork for Unforgiven, as well as jazz musicians. It would have been more interesting in the second half of the film to explore what made Adams such an aggressive photojournalist and seemingly unhappy and lacking confidence as a human being. What went on in his life beyond his career in photojournalism? More provocative and sharper questions during the interviews would have allowed for much-needed insight. Ultimately, those previously unfamiliar with Eddie Adams will be mostly fascinated and somewhat intrigued, but, for everyone else, An Unlikely Weapon serves merely as a pedantic, Reader’s Digest version of Adams’ career rather than as truly revealing and illuminating as the superior documentary, War Photographer.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3.
Released by Morgan Cooper Productions. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

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