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Reviews for August 14th, 2009






Cloud 9

Directed by Andreas Dresen.


In German with subtitles. Inge (Ursula Werner), a 67-year-old seamstress, has fallen out of love with her husband, Werner (Horst Rehberg), who has been married to her for 30 years. One day, when she arrives at the apartment of 70-year-old Karl (Horst Westphal) to deliver his ironed pants, she makes passionate love with him. She and Werner pretty much lead a very mundane lifestyle together and barely talk to one another or make love. Two key scenes that contrasts Karl and Werner occurs after Karl cracks a joke about how the elderly have sex and then he and Inge laugh, but, later, when she tells the same joke to Werner, he doesnít laugh. It seems that Inge has simply entered a new stage in her life, which, in turn, changes her feelings toward Werner. Theyíve grown apart through the years and, between the two, only Inge chooses to do something about it rather than settle for a passionless marriage while bottling her yearnings inside. Ursula Wernerís raw, warm performance represents the filmís true heart and soul. She masters a wide range of emotions onscreen ranging from sadness to elation and frustration. Director/co-writer Andreas Dresen has written a plot that appears simple on the surface, but thereís plenty of complexity and profound insights about growing old and embracing life lurking beneath it. The dialogue remains at a bare minimum, initially, as youíre watching Inge continue to have an affair with Karl and go back to her husband. Once Inge becomes more open to Werner about her affair, thatís when the dialogue suddenly kicks into full gear. However, forgivably, you never really get to know Werner and Karl as much as you get to know Inge, bu. She may seem selfish for cheating on her Werner, who hasnít really done anything wrong, but way that she confesses her affair to him shows that she has a very good heart and doesnít intend to hurt his feelings. Dresen wisely and bravely shoots the lengthy lovemaking scenes with nudity in a very naturalistic and sensual manner, which can be shocking at first given that itís unusual to watch senior citizens having sex, but it makes the film all the more haunting and extraordinary. At a running time of 98 minutes, Cloud 9 manages to brave, provocative and deeply poignant with a raw and heartfelt performance by Ursula Werner. Itís easily one of the most powerfully emotional films of the year.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Music Box Films.
Opens at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and expands to the Cinema Village on August 21st, 2009.



The Goods: Live Hard * Sell Hard

Directed by Neal Brennan.


Don ďThe GoodsĒ Ready (Jeremy Piven), a used car salesement travels with his colleagues, Jibby Newsome (Ving Rames), Brent Gage (David Koechner) and Babs Merrick (Kathryn Hahn), to Temecula, California to help boost the struggling business of Selleck Motors, a used car lot owned by Ben Selleck (James Brolin). Selleckís competitor, Stu Harding (Alan Thicke), threatens to buy the lot and turn it into a recording studio for his own son, Paxton (Ed Helms), a musician in a ďman bandĒ whoís engaged to Selleckís daughter, Ivy (Jordana Spiro). Selleck has a few days to sell all of the used cars on his lot or else the company will be sold to Harding. Meanwhile, Babs flirts with Benís estranged son, Peter (Rob Riggle), a 10-year-old who has a condition that makes him look like an adult. Don tries desperately to sell cars, i.e. by hiring strippers. Selleck even makes a commercial where he lies about dying of testicular cancer. The screenplay by co-writers Andy Stock and Rick Stempson has a few funny scenarios and lines of dialogue, but, for the most part the jokes seem to inane, repetitious and uninspired to generate gut-busting laughter. Thereís some nudity and plenty of crass, lowbrow humor to go along with it. First-time feature film director Neal Brennan wisely moves the film along at a brisk pace that rarely lags from start to finish. All of the actors, especially Ving Rames and Jeremy Piven, appear to be having a lot of fun in their roles and add much-needed comic energy onscreen. Will Ferrell briefly shows up in the filmís funniest visual gag that reminds you just how great his comedic timing has always been. At an ideal running time of 90 minutes, The Goods: Live Hard * Sell Hard manages to be outrageous, crass and occasionally funny with a lively ensemble cast, but its humor often feels uninspired, lazy, asinine and ultimately forgettable. Please be sure to stay through the end credits for an additional scene.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Paramount Pictures.
Opens nationwide.



It Might Get Loud

Directed by Davis Guggenheim.


This stylish, but unenlightening documentary focuses on the music careers of three generations of musicians, namely, The Edge from U2, Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin and Jack White from the White Stripes. If youíve ever wondered how each of them picked up their first electric guitar, entered the music industry and rose to fame there, well, nowís your chance. The stories of their music careers during the early days are mildly fascinating for those unfamiliar with any of them. Director Davis Guggenheim, who previously directed the eye-opening global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth, essentially provides you with a readerís digest version of the three musiciansí biographies. Through the modern day interviews, youíre able to grasp the musiciansí personalities and watch how they interact with one another, which feels initially interesting. However, Guggenheim fails to dig deep enough into the root of their passions and motivations along with their significance in the world of music, for that matter. In other words, Guggenheim simple doesnít answer the most important question that every documentary ought to answer: ďSo what?Ē As sociologist Erving Goffman once wrote, everyoneís life is like theatrics: thereís both a front stage and a backstage. It Might Get Loud doesnít really reveal enough of what the musicians are like backstage. They discuss how the electric guitar became a crucial role in their careers and what it means to them, but, again, the ďSo what?Ē question remains. On a positive note, the production values of the documentary look and sound terrific, especially when you get to hear the musicians actually performing. The expert sound editing allows for the music to sound very crisp, loud and clear in a way that radiates energy off of the screen while making you feel as though youíre watching a live performance right in front of your very own eyes. At a running time of 97 minutes, It Might Get Loud has stylish cinematography, terrific sound editing and other solid production values, but it suffers from excessive style over substance. Without enough insight and revelations about the musicians, it leaves you feeling unenlightened and, ultimately, underwhelmed.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Sony Pictures Classics.
Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.



My FŁhrer

Directed by Dani Levy.


In German with subtitles. During the end of World War II, Berlin has been destroyed, and Adolf Hitler (Helge Schneider) has only five days left until he must deliver a powerful speech at a rally on New Yearís Day to rouse up the publicís fighting spirits. Hitler feels depressed and, worst of all, has come down with a sickness that affects his voice. Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth), the Naziís Minister of Propaganda, summons Adolf Gruenbaum (Ulrich Muehe), Hitlerís former acting teacher, from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and assigns him the special task of coaching Hitler back into top form in time for the speech day. Gruenbaum agrees, but only under the condition that his wife, Elsa (Adriana Altaras), and children are freed from the concentration camp as well. What could have been a gut-busting, imaginative and clever comedy instead turns into a one-joke movie with visual gags that often fall flat. The opening scene shows Gruenbaum bleeding from the head and then flashes back to the main story of his interactions with Hitler. None of those scenes with Hitler are particularly memorable or have witty dialogue. Writer/director Dani Levy certainly has the guts to play around with history of WWII, especially given that itís such a touchy subject matter, but what really matters is whether or not he found just the right delicate balance between drama, satire and comedy. Unfortunately, that balance canít be found here. The comedic attempts come across as initially funny, but they eventually turn awkward and contrived, so youíre constantly wondering when a character will come in to finally kick the comedy into full gear. An actor like Louis de FunŤs (from the hilarious, underrated French comedy The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob) might have been able to provide that kind of boost. Ulrich Muehe, who was so amazing and memorable in The Lives of Others, gives a captivating performance here, but he simply doesnít have enough material here to escape from the stale, stilted dialogue. At a running time 1 hour and 29 minutes, My FŁhrer manages to be mildly engaging and initially funny, but, fundamentally, itís a satire with no bite. It quickly becomes stale and lazy while deficient in laughs, cleverness and imagination.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by First Run Features.
Opens at the Quad Cinema.



Ponyo

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki.


Ponyo (voice of Noah Cyrus), a goldfish with a human face, lives with her father, Fujimoto (voice of Liam Neeson), a wizard, underwater with hundreds of her siblings. One day, she decides to see what lies beyond her home in the sea, so she swims away and ends up stuck inside a jar. Sosuke (voice of Frankie Jonas), a five-year-old boy, takes the jar as it washed up onshore, cracks it open and adopts Ponyo has his new pet fish. The two instantly become friends with one another. Sosukeís mother, Lisa (voice Tina Fey), works as a caretaker at a nursing home and awaits her husband, Koichi (Matt Damon), to return from a ship a sea where he works as a captain. Meanwhile, Fujimoto uses his powers to force Ponyo back into sea for good, but, because she licked the blood off of Sosukeís small cut, she now has superpowers which change allow her to change into a human, among other kinds of powers, such as magically fixing electronic devices. The world is out of balance, though, now that Ponyo has escaped onto dry land. Writer/director Hayao Miyazaki has woven an enchanting and heartwarming story filled with moments of tenderness, unadulterated joy, a few thrills and just the right touch of comic relief. Itís very amusing to watch how Ponyo adjusts to life as a human, i.e. using her feet to eat at the dinner table. Little kids will probably be entertained the most, but thereís still a lot for adults to enjoy and, especially, to teach kids lessons about the value of friendship, freedom, love and family. The beautiful 2D animation bursts with bright colors that provide plenty of eye candy and exhilarating scenes which must be experienced on the big screen; watching this on TV screen would probably diminish its visual power. Itís also worth mentioning the brilliant musical score which adds another layer of richness to the film. While the plot seems similar to The Little Mermaid and isnít quite as complex as Miyazakiís other films, such as Howlís Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke, it, nonetheless, doesnít have a dull moment during its running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes. Ultimately, Ponyo manages to be a magical, uplifting and visually stunning film thatís exhilarating for kids and adults simultaneously.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Opens nationwide.



Spread

Directed by David Mackenzie.


Nicki (Ashton Kutcher), an unemployed young man, has been supporting himself by sleeping with rich women and using them for their material possessions. He currently lives in Los Angeles with Samantha (Anne Heche), a sexy, middle-aged attorney with a large house that has an outdoor pool. They both have sex like rabbits pretty much everyone inside the house as well as the pool area. When her job requires her to travel to New York for a few days, he decides to have a big party and, of course, please the women there sexually. One day, as heís sitting at a booth inside a diner, he flirts with a beautiful waitress, Heather (Margarita Levieva), who initially plays hard to get, but eventually agrees to go out with him. Little does he know that sheís a gold digger just like he is. Not surprisingly, Nickiís immaturity, along with his inability to have an exclusive relationship that doesnít involve having sex with multiple partners, leads to a break-up with Samantha and leaves him homeless. Director David Mackenzie includes some slick cinematography that makes Los Angeles look quite easy on the eyes with all the luxurious locations, but those images feel quite cold and alienating. There are also many lengthy sex scenes between Nicki and many other women that will make you feel like youíre watching a sleazy, softcore porn movie. Will Nicki be able to have a real relationship with Heather thatís not platonic? Does Heather have a boyfriend? Will she be able to give up her lifestyle of gold digging? Unfortunately, the dull screenplay by writer Jason Dean Hall tries too hard to show Nickiís wild, aimless, sex-crazed lifestyle, but doesnít quite explore where his deep-rooted issues come from. A brief call to his mother, who hangs up on him, helps a little, but barely scratches the surface of his problems. Perhaps that conversation should have been longer or there should have flashbacks so that youíd understand what kind of a childhood and upbringing Nicki had. Heís not in touch with reality, the way the world works and, most importantly, he hasnít really gotten to know himself yet. Essentially, heís a simple-minded adult who hasnít grown up yet, which a little bit about why heís unable to have an intimacy. The reasons why heís afraid of intimacy arenít really delved into enough and leave more questions than answers even after the end credits roll. At a running time of 97 minutes, Spread manages to be mildly engaging with slick cinematography and a sexy cast, but itís often like its protagonist himself: superficial, shallow, lazy and lacking an emotional core.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Opens at the AMC Loews Village VII and AMC Empire 25.



The Time Travelerís Wife

Directed by Robert Schwentke.


Based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger. Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) has the uncontrollable ability to travel through time to any moment during his life. Back when he was 6-years-old, he (Alex Ferris), survived a car crash by traveling back in time moments before the crash, but his mother, Annette (Michelle Nolden), died. The older version of Henry shows up to explain to 6-year-old Henry that he just travelled through time. Older Henry also travels to another moment in his life span when he meets his future wife, Clare (Rachel McAdams). He even travels back to when Clare (now played by Brooklynn Proulx) was 6-years-old and informs her that she and him will know each other quite well in the distant future. Throughout his time-traveling, he witnesses another version of himself suffering from a gunshot wound and finds it odd that Clare has never met a version of Henry during his senesce, so heís lead to believe that perhaps he will die sometime, somehow during his 40ís. His other troubles include trying to have a baby with Clare and reuniting with his alcoholic father, Richard (Arliss Howard) to prove to him that heís not a failure. Ron Livingston shows up as Henryís friend, Gomez, and Stephen Tobolowsky briefly shows up as Dr. Kendrick whoís initially skeptic about Henry, but eventually runs him through a CAT scan to try to figure out what might be wrong with him. Will Henry be able to avoid his own death somehow? Will he raise a child with Clare just like he always wanted to? Unfortunately, the uneven, contrived screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin fails to bring any of its characters to life enough so that you truly care about the answers to those questions. Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams both give moving performances filled with charisma, but their scenes together lack palpable chemistry and often veer toward melodrama. Youíll often find yourself rolling your eyes during all the sappy moments or scratching your head during the confusing ones as Henry travels back and forth again and again through time, randomly. Please be sure to suspend a lot of your disbelief because, otherwise, youíll find yourself even more confused. Director Robert Schwentke includes exquisite cinematography with lush scenery, especially of a beautiful, green meadow, along with a terrific musical score that tugs at your heartstrings a little. If only the script were tightened up with a more organic sense of drama and romance, the film would be much more emotionally potent and captivating. At a running time of 107 minutes, The Time Travelerís Wife has picturesque cinematography along with charming performances by Eric Bana and the genuinely beautiful Rachel McAdams, but that doesnít compensate for an uneven, bland and contrived screenplay that falls flat when it comes to drama, romance and sci-fi.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Opens nationwide.





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