In Spanish, Quechua, English, French and Persian with subtitles. Grace (Jasmin Tabatabai), a war photographer based in Iraq, quits her job and returns home after an encounter with violence traumatizes her and sends her into a deep depression. Not only does she renounce her job, but also tells her beloved Belgian husband, Max (Olivier Gourmet), that she no longer believes that a photograph has never stopped a war; Max disagrees. If only she were familiar with the powerful works of Vietnam War photographer Eddie Adams whose photographs significantly helped to bring the horrors of Vietnam into the mainstream public’s attention. Back to Altiplano, Max works as a cataract surgeon at en eye clinic in Peru. He finds himself caught up in the violent outbursts of the villagers of a nearby village, Turubamba, who are angry at foreigners after a mine spill had caused mercury to contaminate the village’s water supply thereby leading to illnesses and death. One of those who died from mercury poising is the soon-to-be-husband of Saturnina (Magaly Solier). During the violent outburst in the village during which the villagers used the foreign doctors as scapegoats for their woes, Max dies. Upon learning of her husband’s death, Grace travels to Turubamba, a journey that proves to also be a spiritual one; Saturnina goes through a spiritual journey as she deals with grief in her own way as well. Co-writers/directors Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth, who previously directed Khadak, use beautiful, haunting, poetic imagery together with a terrific musical score to create a fully immersive and rich experience not meant for audience members who lack patience and who prefer to be force-fed an easily digestible narrative with no subtleties. Instead, Brosens and Woodworth have woven a tapestry that blends sociopolitical and ecological issues with potent, universal, human emotions of sorrow, anger and frustration. Their use of symbolisms through lighting, color and other means add a further lyricism to the film. It’s equally moving and fascinating to observe how the narrative of Grace gradually intersects with that of Satrunina’s in a way that won’t be spoiled here. At a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes, Altiplano is a provocative and absorbing drama filled with haunting, powerful imagery.
Army of Crime
Calvin Marshall (Alex Frost), a college student, has a strong passion for playing baseball for the Bayford Bissons in his small hometown, but doesn’t quite have enough skills to make it to the Major Leagues like he has always dreamed of. His coach, Coach Little (Steve Zahn), should cut him from the team, but, instead, caves into his kindness toward Calvin by merely keeping him off of the baseball field because of a wrist injury. Coach Little sees a some of himself in Calvin when he was younger, so it makes sense as to why he wouldn’t want to be responsible for crushing his dreams. During his absence from the field, Calvin gets a job as a sportscaster at his college’s radio station, and meets a beautiful volleyball star, Tori Jensen (Michelle Lombardo), whom interviews for his radio program. Calvin persistently asks Tori out on a date and, soon enough, she agrees to it while under the impression that he’s actually a highly skilled baseball player. Gary Lundgren, in his feature film debut as a writer/director, has a knack for creating characters who come to life as complex human beings instead of mere cardboard caricatures. There’s more to Calvin, Tori and Coach Little than meets the eye. Each of them has their own idiosyncratic flaws and issues to deal with throughout the film. The issues include regret, fear, jealousy, insecurity and others which are personal as much as they’re also universal, so, in turn, you’ll find yourself easily relating to them regardless of whether you’re into baseball or not. Even the minor role of the bartender who reluctantly serves Coach Little one beer after another feels very real and believable thanks to great writing and casting. Calvin essentially goes through a crucial learning phase in his life during which he experiences epiphanies about himself and about the world around him as he opens himself up to loving Tori and to facing reality. Their relationship is far from the typical Hollywood glossy kind where everything falls into place just as expected; instead, they go through realistic obstacles and all the highs and lows and complex, mixed bag of emotions that any real-life couple could possibly go through. Lundgren also deftly combines the drama and romance with just the right balance of comic relief to keep you captivated. Alex Frost shines in a charismatic performance that makes Calvin Marshall likeable and worth rooting for as a sensitive human being. Frost is quite reminiscent of John Cusack during his younger years, i.e. in Say Anything, and he clearly has a bright future ahead of him in the film industry—as long as he continues to choose roles as well-written as this particular one. The underrated Steve Zahn, best known for comedy, shows some range here and sinks his teeth into dramatic role of Coach Little. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 33 minutes, Calvin Marshal is a grand-slam comic drama that’s heartwarming, funny, inspirational and, above all, triumphant.
Making Plans for Lena
Mao's Last Dancer
Modern Love is Automatic
Loraine Schultz (Melodie Sisk) leads a mundane life while remaining emotionally detached from everything and everyone around her. Even when she works as a nurse at a podiatrist’s office, she just goes about her daily tasks very calmly as if she were disinterested and bored by her job. Her coworkers behave much more lively, though, but she pays virtually no attention to them as she sips her favorite diet soft drink, Tab. Adrian (Maggie Ross), her new roommate, isn’t afraid to express her emotions and to talk a lot almost to the point of being annoying, much like Melora from Ghost World. She aspires to be a fashion model, but when she’s unable to find a job in that industry, she settles for a job selling mattresses in a strip mall store. The job entails flirting with male customers to try to get them to make a purchase---she even lets an elderly man kiss her under the presumption that his wife had died and that she reminds him of her. Loraine explores her fetish for being a dominatrix by places ads and getting paid for a variety of sadomasochistic acts, some of which are outrageously, twisted funny. Meanwhile, Adrian’s boyfriend, Mitch (Carlos Bustamante), becomes more and more fixated and turned on by Loraine to the extent that he crosses moral boundaries which won’t be spoiled here. Writer/director Zack Clark has woven one of the most moving, character-driven dramas about the life of a dominatrix ever filmed. Sure, you might think that the S&M scenes might be shocking and disturbing, but they’re not really meant for shock purposes. You’ll find yourself so curiously involved in Loraine as a character that you’ll be oddly compelled by those scenes and wonder what will happen to Loraine. The same can be said for the scenes during which Adrian lets herself be degraded into a sex object at the mattress store and later, in a bedroom where a filmmaker who, unbeknownst to her, is actually a porn director. Melodie Sisk gives a performance that’s convincingly cold and detached while gradually showing the pain and sadness that lurks beneath her. Clark doesn’t wallow in her sadness and, instead, shows you subtle glimpses of it. Perhaps she’s missing some love and attention in her life---after all, even her parents seem somewhat emotionally detached from her and vice versa. Clark also includes some very intricate set designs with interesting uses of color and costume designs that help further enrich the film. At a running time of 1 hour and 33 minutes Modern Love is Automatic is whip-smart, compelling, well-acted, wickedly funny, bold and visually stylish without a trace of pretentiousness.
Nanny McPhee Returns
Based on characters created by Christianna Brand. Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) lives with her three young children, Vincent (Oscar Steer), Norman (Asa Butterfield) and Megsie (Lil Woods), in the English countryside while her husband (Ewan McGregor) has gone off to fight in World War II. Their cousins, Cyril (Eros Vlahos) and Celia (Rosie Taylor-Ritson), come all the way from their affluent home in London to seek shelter at the farm during a bomb scare. Not only does Isabel have to struggle with looking after five misbehaving kids now, but she must also deal with her heartless brother-in-law, Phil (Rhys Ifans), who desperately tries to sell the farm in order to pay off his casino debts. Luckily, Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) arrives just in time to help Isabel take care of the five kids while using her magic skills along with five valuable lessons that teach them how to behave properly. Maggie Smith rounds out the cast as Mrs. Docherty, the owner of the shop where Isabel works at. Ralph Fiennes briefly shows up as Lord Gray, Cyril and Celia’s father who works for the military. The screenplay by Emma Thompson blends comedy, drama and fantasy elements with results that should keep both kids as well as adults entertained for the most part. Sight gags involving excrement provide the lowbrow humor, but, fortunately, it’s balance by some tongue-in-cheek humor and wit. For example, there’s a scene what appears to be the very distinct silhouette of Nanny McPhee turns out to be someone else’s instead. Thompson does a deft job of making Nanny McPhee a very odd and initially creepy yet lovable, wise and bighearted character. Sure, some of the moments seem silly, i.e. when the pigs can be found doing synchronized swimming or when Mrs. Docherty sits down on excrement, but they never go over-the-top. Anchoring the plot with some slightly heavier tension is the possibility that Isabel’s husband may have died in action during the war, which sends Isabel’s kids off to London to do their own investigations about their beloved father. Again, Thompson shows her brilliant skills as a writer because she gives those serious scenes a lighter touch that doesn’t dwell too much on the sad elements---after all, every children’s movie, i.e. Bambi and Charlotte’s Web has to have a few, ephemeral sad scenes that provide a sense of realism and an emotional pull. At a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes, Nanny McPhee Returns is somewhat silly, yet genuinely sweet, often amusing and pleasantly diverting for everyone young and old. Please be sure to stick around after the end credits for a stinger.
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Based on the short story “Baster” by Jeffrey Eugenides. Kassie Larson (Jennifer Aniston), a 40-year-old TV producer, has never been married and can’t find anyone worth going out with, so all that she yearns for now is to have a baby. She announces to her best friend, Wally (Jason Bateman) that she’s going to use a donor, Roland (Patrick Wilson), to get pregnant through in vitro fertilization. Her friend, Debbie (Juliette Lewis), hosts a party during which Roland makes his official donation, so-to-speak, in the bathroom. Little does Kassie know that Wally got so drunk at the party that he switched Roland’s donation with his very own. Even Wally himself can’t seem to remember anything from that night until seven years later when Kassie returns to New York with her young son, Sebastian (Thomas Henderson). As he spends more time with them, he gradually becomes emotionally attached to Sebastian and notices his resemblance to him while turning to his friend/boss at work, Leonard (Jeff Goldblum), for advice. Screenwriter Allan Loeb takes a formulaic screenplay and turns it into a refreshingly believable, character-driven romantic dramedy. For those of you concerned about the “ick” factor during the donation switch scene should keep in mind that that particularly disgusting sight gag, somewhat similar to the one in There’s Something About Mary, is thankfully brief. The rest of humor remains relatively wittier thanks to the terrific comedic timing by Jason Bateman, Jeff Goldblum and, in his feature film debut, the scene-stealing Thomas Henderson. He’s the real heart-and-soul of the film and helps to keep you further engrossed in the story even if you know where it’s all headed towards. How many young characters do you know in movies who obsessively collect picture frames with the pictures of the models still intact? It’s those kinds of idiosyncratic details that make The Switch surprisingly engaging and its characters believable. The third act offers no real surprises and does tend to veer toward contrived, oversimplified solutions to the film’s conflicts, but at least it leaves you uplifted with a provocative, life-affirming message that the human race isn’t actually a race after all. At a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes, The Switch manages to be heartfelt and occasionally funny albeit unsurprising and somewhat contrived. Newcomer Thomas Henderson steals the show in the best performance by a child actor in recent memory.
The Tillman Story
Ben Walker (Kevin Sorbo) has everything that he has ever wanted in life: a high-paying executive job, a sexy woman, Cynthia (Kristin Minter), whom he’s about to get married to, and a luxurious Mercedes. Or so he thinks. He gets the opportunity to change his values and priorities when his car breaks down and Mike (John Ratzenberger), an angel disguised as a tow truck driver, awakens him in a completely different kind of lifestyle as the husband of Wendy (Kristy Swanson), his girlfriend whom he left 15 years ago to pursue a high-end career while forgoing an offer to become a preacher. Mike gives him the chance to understand, through experience, what he has sacrificed for all of the material wealth that he accumulated throughout the years. What if he has chosen to remain with Wendy, become a preacher, marry her and start a family? He finds himself as the father of teenager Kimberly (Debby Ryan) and her younger sister, Megan (Taylor), and, as it turns out, he’s also the preacher in a local church---a place that he hasn’t been to in 15 years. Not surprisingly, the sermon that he delivers in front of the church members leads to a significant drop in donations which he now has to struggle to increase. Co-screenwriters Chuck Konzelman, Andrea Gyertson Nasfell, and Cary Solomon have written a heartwarming and provocative story filled with magical realism that makes for an enlightening journey with inspiring lessons along the way. Ben learns the true value of family, love, faith and kindness---virtues that can easily be put in the backburner and be forgotten throughout the hustle-and-bustle of modern society. For some people, like Ben, it takes a drastic change in their lifestyle to give them a new perspective that helps them to open their eyes, heart and mind to what’s truly important in life. The co-writers know how to express those powerful messages without resorting to excessive preachiness or corniness. They also include a healthy dose of comic relief at times. It’s also worth mentioning that director Dallas Jenkins moves the film along at just the right pace so that there’s never a dull moment to be found. Kevin Sorbo, best known for roles in action films, gives a convincing performance which shows that he can handle the dramatic role of a materialistic business man who gradually and believably turns into a spiritual family man. At a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes, What If… is an enchanting, provocative, bighearted story that will inspire you to cherish the priceless values of family, faith, love and compassion.