Reviews for August 7th, 2009
Directed by Andrew Bujalski.
Lauren (Maggie Hatcher), an unemployed young woman, lives with her paraplegic twin sister, Jeannie (Tilly Hatcher), in the suburbs of Austin, Texas. She has yet to decide whether or not to accept a job teaching English overseas. Jeannie co-owns a vintage clothing store with her business partner, Amanda (Anne Dodge). Jeannie and Amanda don’t quite get along with each other anymore professionally, which threatens their partnership and business. Soon enough, Amanda sends her an email threatening her with a lawsuit, so Jeannie summons the legal help of her ex-boyfriend, Merrill (Alex Karpovsky), who’s studying for the bar exam. Merrill and Jeannie, in turn, rekindle their romance as he helps her avoid legal troubles with Amanda. Writer/director Andrew Bujalski, known for writing/director “Mumblecore” films such as Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation, includes a plot that’s slightly meatier than that of a Mumblecore film, but there’s still not really that much going on that creates palpable tension or intrigue. Since there’s not enough plot tension, there should be at least something to compensate for that, such as lively characters or provocative insights. However, none of the characters really stand out or feel memorable, so it’s difficult to care about what happens to them. Had Bujalski included more insight into what they’re thinking and feeling, it would have been helpful to keep you more engrossed in the story. On a positive note, the dialogue does sound very true-to-life while the understated, naturalistic performances seem believable. Jeannie and Merrill have some chemistry together and it’s interesting to watch their relationship gradually unfold as well as how Jeannie and Lauren interact with one another as twin sisters. Unfortunately, the third act falls apart because it feels too rushed, contrived and forgettable. Beeswax manages to be a mildly engaging, low-key drama that’s somewhat lazy, bland and ultimately underwhelming. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Cinema Guild. Opens at the Film Forum.
Directed by Abdullah Oguz.
Based on the novel by Zulfu Livaneli. 17-year-old Meryem (Ozgu Namal) lays unconscious by a lakeside in her hometown, a Turkish countryside. Someone finds her there and brings her to her parents, stepmother, Done (Sebnem Kostem), and father, Tahsin (Emin Gursoy), who suspect that she had lost her chastity. News of her chastity loss spreads quickly around the town, but she refuses to discuss the event that occurred or who had raped her. In accordance with the ancient code called “Tore,” Meryem must be sentenced to death for losing her chastity. Since she refuses to kill herself, Ali Riza Amca (Mustafa Avkiran), Tahsin’s cousin, commands his son, Cemal (Murat Han), who recently completed a military tour, to travel with her to Istanbul and to kill her along the way. Throughout their journey, Cemal finds it difficult to kill her and, instead, becomes quite fond of her as they get to know one another. Along the way, they meet Irfan (Talat Bulut), a wealthy professor who has recently left his wife, Aysel (Lale Mansur), and escapes the burdens of his life by sailing on a boat. Cemal and Meryem join him on his boat. Little do they know that Ali Riza has sent his men to hunt them down and to ensure that Meryem is killed. It’s worth mentioning that Ozgu Namal gives a performance that’s quite emotionally resonating as the fragile Meryem. The screenplay by director/co-writer Abdullah Oguz begins as if it were going to turn into a dramatic thriller. Sure, there’s some mystery when it comes to the identity of Meryem’s rapist, but plot becomes mostly character-driven with moments of tenderness once Cemal and Meryem set out to Istanbul. In many ways, their journey is also a spiritual one where they, along with Irfangr, gradually learn how to feel liberated from the constraints or burden which have suffocated them throughout their life. Meryem and Cemal also discover the true power of love, friendship and kindness, which is quite inspirational. Oguz wisely includes comic relief to balance the darker tones of the plot. There’s also a terrific musical score, plenty of picturesque scenery as well as exquisite cinematography. As the third act veers toward thriller territory, the film loses a bit of its momentum and becomes slightly contrived, but not enough to disengage from the story itself. At a running time of 105 minutes, Bliss manages to be an engrossing, tender and compelling drama boasting exquisite cinematography and a radiant performance by the beautiful Ozgu Namal. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by First Run Features. Opens at the Cinema Village.
Directed by Sophie Barthes.
Paul Giamatti plays Paul Giamatti, an actor who lives with his wife, Claire (Emily Watson), in New York City. Unable to overcome his anxiety about playing the titular role in the play “Uncle Vanya,” he reads about a special corporation that deals with extracting souls. He arrives at the office of Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn) and agrees to have his soul removed and stored. It turns out that his soul is a chickpea, literally, and that his lack of a soul has a detrimental effect on his performance as well as the relationship with his wife. Essentially, he has gotten rid of his anxiety and replaced it with vapidity and a lack of charisma/personality, so it’s easy to understand why he goes back to Dr. Flinstein, who attaches the soul of a Russian poet to inside him. That new soul doesn’t improve his career or marriage, though, so now he’s desperate to get his original soul back. The plot becomes a bit suspenseful when it turns out that his soul isn’t in storage and, instead, happens to be somewhere in the black market of soul trading. His only hope to get his precious soul back is to find the soul “mule”, Nina (Dina Korzu), who’s all the way in St. Petersburg. Writer/director Sophie Barthes has written an intelligent, imaginative screenplay that combines the elements of sci-fi, drama and mystery with just the right dash of tongue-in-cheek, offbeat humor and wit. The plot is undeniably reminiscent of Being John Malkovich while its general tone feels similar as well. It takes a few unpredictable turns and becomes quite bizarre, but, fortunately, it never veers toward convolution, pretentiousness or silliness. Moreover, Paul Giamatti delivers a strong performance that masters a broad range of emotions and makes his character quite lively, interesting and delightfully amusing, especially during a memorable scene when he dines on a dish that has chickpeas. At a running time of 101 minutes, Cold Souls manages to be a refreshingly imaginative, funny and intelligent sci-fi drama boasting a superb performance by Paul Giamatti. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Directed by Nicholas Jasenovec.
In this part documentary, part “documentary,” Charlyne Yi, a sweet-mannered young woman, goes on a journey across America to find out the true meaning of love and how married couples’ perspectives of it evolve throughout the years. She stops pedestrians on the sidewalk to ask them to chip in their ten cents about love’s meaning, but doesn’t hear anything particularly illuminating. The insights come from interviews with a wide variety of couples at different stages in their marriage. Their stories not only sound lively and candid, but quite amusing and funny at times. Yi also interviews a romance novelist, chemist, divorce lawyer and even little children. Meanwhile, she meets actor Michael Cera at a party and dates him. Their relationship has its ups and downs as well as very awkward moments, such as when Cera abruptly leaves a restaurant date with Yi, walks around the restaurant, and then returns to the table claiming that he wasn’t being serious about leaving. Not surprisingly, the camera serves as an annoyance and an obstacle for them because it follows them around with very little privacy. Director/co-writer Nicholas Jasenovec blends fiction and documentary in such a way that often blurs the line between the two, so you’re immersed in the film as if the drama and romance were truly happening before your eyes. Yi and Cera both give very natural performances which else help to blur that line even further. They make a cute couple and have some brief moments of chemistry, but it’s interesting to watch all of the dynamics of their delicate relationship and how it evolves throughout. Admittedly, though, the insightfulness of the interviews begins to feel tedious and wane a bit toward the end, but, fortunately, there’s rarely a dull moment to be found. At an ideal running time of 88 minutes, Paper Heart manages to be equally thought-provoking, funny, sweet and tender. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Overture Films. Opens at the Angelika Film Center, AMC/Loews Lincoln Square and AMC Empire 25.
A Perfect Getaway
Directed by David Towhy.
Cydney (Milla Jovovich) and Cliff (Steve Zahn) celebrate their honeymoon by traveling to Kauai, a remote Hawaiian island. They intend on spending their time hiking on a trail that leads them through a jungle, cliffs and waterfalls until they reach a beautiful beach. On their way to the trail, they bump into a pair of hitchhikers, Kale (Marley Shelton) and her boyfriend, Cleo (Chris Hemsworth). They also bump into Nick (Timothy Olyphant), a tough-looking guy who leads them through the trails, including a very slippery and narrow one alongside a cliff. He brings them to his sexy girlfriend, Gina (Kiele Sanchez), who lays down naked while tanning on the water near a waterfall. Meanwhile, Cydney and Cliff learn that a pair of serial killers---a man and a woman---murdered honeymooners in Honolulu and have now fled to Kauai. So, naturally, they, as well as the audience, suspect that the killers lurk somewhere near them or perhaps they’ve already met. Could the killers be Kale and Cleo or Nick and Gina? Writer/director David Towhy gradually builds the suspense during the first hour as you’re constantly wondering when something sinister will happen and to whom. Some of the dialogue sounds amusing during the banter between Nick and Cliff. For example, Nick makes fun of the way that Nicholas Cage acts and, early during the hike, he mentions the word “red herring,” which makes you think that either he or someone else will eventually be the red herring here. Towhy does include plenty of lush, colorful scenery that becomes a character of its own, contrasting sharply with the dark, sinister trouble that disrupts the paradise and tranquility. Once the film hits the hour mark, though, Towhy already gives away the big twist about the true identity of the killer couple and, therefore, diminishes the mystery, suspense and clever subtleties for the remaining 30 minutes. Instead of intrigue, Towhy opts for a lengthy, awkwardly-shot flashback sequence that explains too much and insults the audience’s intelligence concurrently. There’s also an inevitable cat-and-mouse chase sequence that lasts too long and seems preposterous. To add insult to injury, the final scene has such corny dialogue that it’ll make your ears bleed and turn your head toward the exit in hope of escaping the silliness and pointlessness once and for all. At a running time of 1 hour and 37 minutes, A Perfect Getaway feels initially suspenseful and has a sexy cast and beautiful scenery that provides lots of eye candy, but the suspense and intrigue fizzle out when its “whodunit” mystery ends during the hour mark, leaving you with a sense of boredom and tedium as the increasingly asinine events transpire. Number of times I checked my watch: 5 Released by Rogue Pictures. Opens nationwide.