Reviews for April 9th, 2010
Directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo.
Anna Taylor (Christina Ricci), a schoolteacher, has an argument with her boyfriend, Paul (Justin Long), drives off into the rain and accidentally crashes her car. She awakens on a gurney in the basement of a mortuary where a funeral director, Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson), prepares her body for her upcoming funeral. He tries to convince her that the reason why she’s able to talk to him and he can listen to her is that she’s merely between the stages of life and death and that he has a special ability to communicate with people in that transition. As time progresses, though, she, as well as you, the audience, begins to doubt that she’s actually dead. Not surprisingly, she desperately tries to escape the funeral home, but Eliot makes her attempts very difficult. Is Anna dead or alive? Is Eliot merely a mortician with a supernatural ability or a sadistic killer? Will Anna be able to communicate with Paul somehow to seek his help? Those are some of the questions that the screenplay by director/co-writer Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo raises and, for at least the first half of the film, you’ll find yourself somewhat riveted as you try to ponder the answers to those questions. However, as the plot holes and silly red herrings start piling up, you’ll care less and less about the outcome because many scenes seem implausible and illogical even within the context of the film. How, for instance, is Eliot able to run the funeral home all on his own? Why do the cops have to be so stupid, gullible and incompetent? Why not develop the relationship between Anna and Paul a little more or try to give Eliot some sort of an interesting backstory? On a positive note, the most interesting character is actually the funeral home itself with its creepy interior that makes for a few intense moments during Anna’s attempts to escape. The third act, though, is quite silly, facile and gimmicky rather than clever like it could have been with a more intelligently crafted screenplay. At a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes After.Life is sporadically creepy, stylish and initially suspenseful, but ultimately unimaginative, asinine and deficient in clever surprises and palpable thrills. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Anchor Bay Films. Opens at the AMC Loews Village 7 and Regal E-Walk 13.
The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond
Directed by Gabriel Bologna.
A group of nine good friends go on a vacation to Beacon’s Island, a remote island off the coast of Maine. The young adults include Rick (James Duval), Veronique (Mircea Monroe), Robert (M.D. Walton), Renee (Electra Avellan) and her fiancé Josh (Nick Mennell), Kathy and her boyfriend Trent (Walker Howard) and, finally, Anton (Arcadiy Golubovich) and his wife Erica (Elise Avellan). Pete (Robert Patrick), the only inhabitant on the island, greets Anton and Erica with hostility upon their arrival before leading them to a Victorian home that they’ll all be staying at. Little does the group of nine friends know that, eighty years ago, all the members of an expedition mysteriously died after bringing to Beacon’s Island a board game that they had found in an ancient Greek tomb in Turkey devoted to the God of panic, Pan. Anton finds uncovers that creepy, intricate board game when he enters the house’s basement and, soon enough, he and the rest of his dimwitted group of friends play it. The plot starts kicking its horror gears into full-throttle at that point because the game unleashes a demon that possessed each player and turns them into vicious killers. As the truth comes out about some of their adultery and other deceits, the body count piles on with lots of gory deaths, none of which will be spoiled here. Director/co-writer Gabriel Bologna has chosen a mostly actors, with the exception of James Duval and Robert Patrick, who give wooden performances that you’d expect from a grindhouse film from the 1970’s. They’re all a bunch of annoying, superficial, self-centered and dull young adults and the situations they go through range from somewhat creepy to campy and back to creepy, but horror fans won’t find themselves even marginally frightened. Bologna doesn’t seem to be aiming for a sense of reality or fully developed characters or even pure torture porn for that matter. The film’s grindhouse-like atmosphere allows you to not take anything too seriously and, instead, to laugh at everyone’s stupidity and to root for their demise while, concurrently, checking your brain at the door. A third act twist, though, comes across as cheap, inane and too gimmicky in retrospect. At a running time of 1 hour and 31 minutes, The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond is a mindlessly entertaining, gory and campy homage to the grindhouse films of the 1970’s.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by Parallel Media. Opens at the Regal E-Walk and Regal Union Square.
Directed by Shawn Levy.
Claire Foster (Tina Fey) and her husband, Phil (Steve Carell), leave their kids in the suburbs of New Jersey with a babysitter and head to New York City for a date night. They hope to find a table at an upscale restaurant, the Claw, even though they didn’t make a reservation. Upon their arrival, the maître d’ rudely treats them rudely and tells them to wait by the bar in case a table becomes available. They seize the opportunity to sit down at table when they stealing the reservation of the Tripplehorns, a couple who didn’t show up. Little do they know that the small lie will turn into a series of misunderstandings that leaves them on the run from thugs who think they’re the Tripplehorns and desperately want to retrieve a flash drive from them. Claire doesn’t even know what a flash drive because, at her real estate office, she refers to it merely as a “computer stick thingy.” The underrated Taraji P. Henson shows up as a police detective and Mark Wahlberg shows up, shirtless, as a security agent who used to work for the Mossad. It’s hilarious to hear him speak Hebrew to his Israeli girlfriend. Director Shawn Levy, responsible for directing Night at the Museum, The Pink Panther and Cheaper by the Dozen, keeps the pace moving briskly so that there’s never a dull moment to be found. Screenwriter Josh Klausner blends comedy, action, romance and drama in a very smooth and delightfully entertaining way. In other words, it’s everything that The Bounty Hunter should’ve been. It even has a few heartwarming scenes that slightly ground the film into reality so that you believe that you’re watching a real married couple. Sure, the slapstick humor, like Claire keeps on bumping into open drawers, tends to be very silly at times while other scenarios seem implausible, especially when it comes to one of the zaniest car chase sequences in recent memory, but at least you’ll find yourself laughing thanks to the terrific comic timing and chemistry between Tina Fey and Steve Carell. They simply make a great comedic team who know how play off of each other in one outrageous situation after another. You won’t believe your eyes and ears when you see what happens when Claire and Phil enter a strip club together while pretending to be a stripper and a pimp, respectively. At an ideal time of 1 hour and 28 minutes, Date Night is outrageously funny, thrilling and heart-warming. It’s a triumphant action comedy and the first great date movie of the year. Tina Fey and Steve Carell are pure comic gold. Please be sure to stay for outtakes during the end credits and for a stinger after the credits roll. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Twentieth Century Fox. Opens nationwide.
Directed by Maren Ade.
In German and Italian with subtitles. Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) and her boyfriend, Chris (Lars Eidinger), spend their holiday vacation at the villa of Chris’ parents in Sardinia, Italy. He works as an architect and she’s a publicist for a rock band. At least for a while, they seem like a normal, happy couple who love one another affectionately, but there’s much more to their relationship than meets the eye. Their vacation place looks so serene and picturesque that you’ll probably wonder whether some kind of event, perhaps a sinister one, might stir things up a bit and startle the tranquility. Writer/director Maren Ade doesn’t provide you with a wealth of information about the lives of Gitti and Chris because she trusts that you, the audience, is intelligent enough to gather the bits and pieces of details along the way and, most importantly, to pay close attention to their conversations. Ade achieves a quietly absorbing sense of realism by unfolding their relationship so gradually and organically. You may not find yourself liking neither of the two, but at least they come across as complex, sensitive human beings. When Gitti and Chris meet another couple, Sana (Nicole Marischka) and Hans (Hans-Jochen Wagner), the dynamics of their relationship unravel even further and, in uncontrived ways, you notice them growing apart more rapidly from one another. Will they be able to patch up their relationship or is it completely hopeless for them? In reality, relationships take a lot of work and, fortunately, Maren Ade shows that she understands that because the answer to that question isn’t quite as simple and easy as you think it is. Even when Gitti behaves bizarrely or does something unexpected, her actions always uncover a new layer of her relationship with Chris while keeping you intrigued to continue discovering and peeling more layers. At a running time of 2 hours, Everyone Else manages to be quietly absorbing, mature and unpretentious with well-nuanced performances and lush cinematography.Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by The Cinema Guild. Opens at the IFC Center.
Directed by Ana Sophia Joanes.
This inspirational and eye-opening documentary focuses on the importance of local, fresh, unprocessed food as opposed to processed food loaded with chemicals and lacking essential nutrients which help to strengthen your immune system. Joel Salatin, a farmer who runs his own farm in Virginia, stresses the the significance of feeding grass to cows because they’re omnivores; on commercial farms, cows eat animal-by products and don’t get to graze on fields. To not have cows grazing on the grassy fields would be to disrupt the nutrient cycle of nature because their manure serves a fertilizer that helps to enrich the soil which, in turn, leads to more grass grown, and then the cycle continues. Pig farmer Russ Kramer had experienced a rude awakening when he nearly died from an antibiotic-resistant wound that a pig had inflicted on him. Ever since that ordeal, he no longer used antibiotics on the pigs and, on top of that, allowed them ample space to roam freely. Director Ana Sophie Joanes wisely combines interviews with farmers from independent as well as commercial farms to provide a well-balanced look at what’s actually going on in farming industry and how the farmers feel about it. The non-commercial farmers come across as not only aware of environmental and health hazards from the use of chemicals, but they also show how they put those words into action. Will Allen, for instance, runs a not-for-profit farm called Growing Power which uses worms to turn food waste into compost, a soil rich in nutrients. His farm also re-circulates water just like in nature by a process called aquaponics which filters water from a fish tank back and circulates to the soil of a variety of vegetables and then the water flows back into the fish tank. For a fee of $350, farmers or aspiring farmers can join a workshop there that teaches important hands-on skills to be used on their farm or food system. Yet another interviewee, David Ball, president of the Hen House Markets, sells food from local farms at the supermarket and offers food there that’s all-natural. However, technically, the term “natural” does not necessarily mean “safe” because, after all, the FDA considers MSG to be natural by their definition. The seemingly benign ingredient “natural flavor,” for instance, can contain or result in unlabeled free glutamic acid which is equivalent to MSG. Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, hits the nail on the head when he states that healthy, fresh produce should be subsidized in order to level the playing field so that it could be affordable. Moreover, there’s a hidden cost to cheap, convenient food: the costs to your health as well as to the environment. Joanes does a great job of showing practical ways to return to slow food that’s cooked with fresh, locally-grown produce without the use of chemicals. Concurrently, though, she doesn’t answer to loaded, yet crucial questions: How can the average person switch to unprocessed, fresh foods when they’re addicted to processed foods loaded with potentially neurotoxic flavor enhancers, i.e. MSG? (Please click here to read about the cover-up of hidden MSG) Why are food and drugs regulated by the same administration and not separate ones? Nonetheless, at a running time of only 1 hour and 12 minutes, Fresh manages to be an eye-opening, inspirational and vital documentary that’s a must-see for generations young and old. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Ripple Effect Productions. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Letters to God
Directed by David Nixon and Patrick Doughtie.
Inspired by a true story. Eight-year-old Tyler Doherty (Tanner Maguire) lives with his widowed mother, Maddy (Robin Lively), and his older brother, Ben (Michael Christopher Bolten). Ever since he developed cancer, he has written and mailed out letters to God in hopes of finding comfort and inner strength to go through each day. It’s a productive way for him to channel his emotions and thoughts by using his profound faith and spirituality which keeps him feeling uplifted despite his disease. Brady McDaniels (Jeffrey S.S. Johnson), he postal worker, who picks up his mail, has problems of his own because he loses the rights to see his son and suffers from alcoholism. Some kids at school make fun of Tyler, but one of his schoolmates, Samantha (Bailee Madison), supports him as a good, compassionate friend. When Brady discovers Tyler’s letters, he opens up his heart and decides to persuade the entire community to be involved in helping Tyler’s mission to communicate with God by letters. Co-screenwriters Patrick Doughtie, Art D’Allesandro, Sandra Thrift and Cullen Douglas have written a poignant drama that’s filled with uplifting albeit simplified messages that, fortunately, never become too preachy or cloying. Although the plot feels formulaic and doesn’t have any real surprises, at least it follows the formula engagingly and allows you to care about Tyler as human being with a good heart and soul. His courage, passion for life, persistence, sense of humor and warmth inspires many people around him, and, in many ways, his spirit carries on in each and every person whom he inspires, including you, the audience. Tyler’s devotion and passion to God as a means of finding happiness and tranquility can be a symbol for any kind of passion as long as it helps you to find your own meaningful path toward true happiness in life. Moreover, Tyler's cancer symbolizes any kind of hardship in one's life. A brief, yet profoundly meaningful moment occurs when Brady’s boss asks Brady to interlock his hands together to show the power and strength of togetherness. Co-directors David Nixon and Patrick Doughtie include crisp and bright cinematography and a very well-chosen soundtrack that compliments the mixture of sad and uplifting moods throughout the film. It’s also worth mentioning that Tanner Maguire will truly steal your heart with his warm and tender performance as Tyler. At a running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, Letters to God manages to be a bighearted, uplifting and captivating drama for all ages. It will inspire you to open your heart compassionately and to find hope, faith and comfort throughout your life’s hardships. Number of times I checked my watch: 1Released by Vivendi Entertainment. Opens at the AMC Empire 25.
See What I’m Saying
Directed by Hilari Scarl.
This profoundly heartfelt documentary follows a variety four entertainers in the deaf community throughout one year as they struggle to gain fame so that mainstream audiences, especially in the hearing world, would recognize them. The entertainers include African-American actor/comedian CJ Jones, actor/teacher Robert DeMayo, Bob Hiltermann, who works as a drummer in the one and only deaf rock band known as Beethoven’s Nightmare, and, finally, the singer/actor TL Forsberg. Robert DeMayo candidly admits that he has HIV and, after being able to find enough steady jobs to pay his rent, he find himself evicted and left homeless. CJ Jones states bluntly that the fact that he’s black and deaf has been a double whammy for him throughout his life. Given the footage of him performing as a comic, he has been able to turn his life into positive, productive direction by making people laugh. He invites DeMayo to perform in the very first International Sign Language Theatre Festival which he produces. TL, meanwhile, considers herself to be deaf despite that some others don’t think she’s deaf enough because she’s hard of hearing and, to make matters worse, she’s not particularly great at sign language. As a result, she feels like an outsider because doesn’t fit well into both the hearing world as well as the non-hearing world. Bob Hiltermann graciously invites her to open for his deaf rock band show. Director Hilari Scarl wisely edits the sound briefly so that you, the audience, can hear the way that TL hears. Scarl does a great job of not only including concert footage, but also by bringing out each of the entertainers’ charisma, warmth and wisdom through their quite moving and revealing interviews. Sure, they’ve all experienced tough times and their life has been an uphill battle, but they’ve all been able to persist and make the most out of their passion for entertaining others. Most importantly, though, they’ve come together to provide a voice for and to instill hope in all of the under-recognized deaf people, young and old, around the world each of whom aspire to become musicians, singers, comedians or any other kind of job that might finally bridge the gap between the hearing world and the non-hearing world. At a running time of 1 hour and 31 minutes, See What I’m Saying is a deeply heartfelt documentary that manages to be illuminating, poignant and captivating while abundant with humor, warmth and charisma.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by Worldplay. Opens at the Village East Cinema.