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Reviews for December 4th, 2009


Gigante

Directed by AdriŠn Biniez.


In Spanish with subtitles. Jara (Horacio Camandulle), a tall, overweight 35-year-old security guard, works the nightshift at a supermarket in the suburbs of Montevideo, Uruguay. He and his co-workers donít really do much except sitting at the security desk and staring at the video monitors. Occasionally, he notices a cleaning lady steal some products from the store and put it in her pocket, but he doesnít have the nerve to confront her. Jaraís mundane life isnít much better beyond his security job. He also works as a bouncer at a nightclub, spends his time listening to heavy metal music and playing video games with his nephew, Matias (Federico Garcia). One day, he observes Julia (Leonor Svarcas), a cleaning lady, on the supermarketís monitor and he fixates on her, although not in a perverse way. Julia has subtly awakened him from his lonely life in a way that canít be put into words; it can only be felt. Is it love? Or is it pure physical attraction? Writer/director AdriŠn Biniez wisely chooses not to spoon-feed the answers to the audience and, therefore, never insults their intelligence. Jara seems like a warm, kind-hearted human being who, ironically, isnít as intimidating as youíd think give his appearance. He certainly seems dejected more often than not, but at least Julia helps to add a small ray of sunshine and hope in his life. Biniez adds a very gentle touch of humor when Jara decides to follow Julia around in person while trying not to make her aware of his presence so soon. The pace moves quite leisurely, which, to some audience members, might seem too slow, but it never actually drags or becomes sluggish. Admittedly, though, it would have been helpful to get to know Julia beyond what Jara observes about her, but, fundamentally, this isnít really a standard, traditionally formulaic love story; itís more of a slice-of-life that shows what it feels like for a lonely manís to gradual transition into someone who embraces life and, perhaps, but, not necessarily, embraces love as well. At a running time of 1 hour and 26 minutes, Gigante manages to be a quietly engrossing, refreshingly unconventional love story balanced with just the right amount of gentle humor, warmth and subtle charm.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Film Movement.
Opens at the IFC Center.



Loot

Directed by Darius Marder.


This mildly compelling documentary follows Lance Larson, a treasure hunter, used car salesman and inventor from Utah as he helps two World War II veterans find their buried treasure overseas. Andrew Seventy, one of the veterans, served in Philippines during the war when he hid a bunch of Japanese samurai swords and valuable coins somewhere, but he doesnít recall the precise location. He once had a map that would be able to help locate the treasure, so Lance desperately needs to find that crucial map or else the adventure to the Philippines would be much more challenging without it. Then thereís the other veteran, Darrel Ross, who served in Austria during World War II and hid some gems that he has stolen from a jewelry store. He remembers that the cache was hidden under the roof tiles of a farmhouse with a white picket fence and he vaguely recalls a river that he had cross during that time. Lance goes on a trek with him all the way to Austria hoping to find that valuable cache. Unfortunately, director Darius Marder does a subpar job of maintaining the initial intrigue of the treasure hunt and, worst of all, fails to provide adequate background information about Andrew Seventy as well as Darrel Ross, with the exception of a few details the audience learns about their wartime experiences. The documentary shift gears when Marder focuses on the relationship between Lance and his drug-addicted son, Michael. One of the veterans even offers to have a talk with Michael given then his own son died of a drug overdose. Why donít Andrew and Darren feel any remorse for the people they killed during WWII, though? How do those feelings connect to the current war taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan? What does it mean to be a good soldier? Marder neglects to ask those important, delicate questions among many others. At a running time of 1 hour and 26 minutes, Loot is initially intriguing, but ultimately lazy, half-baked, unfocused and not nearly as provocative as it could have been.
Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Opens at the IFC Center.



Mystery Team

Directed by Dan Eckman.


Jason the ďMaster of DisguiseĒ (Donald Glover), Charlie the "Strongest Kid in Town" (Dominic Dierkes) and Duncan the ďBoy GeniusĒ (D.C. Pierson) have come together to form the Mystery Team to solve mysteries in their suburban town ever since they were little kids. Local townspeople pay a dime for each mystery that needs to be solved, but those mysteries arenít anything like the one theyíre about to try to solve. A very young girl shows up at their stand and asks the Mystery Team to figure out who killed her father. The girlís older sister, Kelly (Aubrey Plaza), also claims that the killer(s) stole a ring during the murder, but she doesnít have much hope that the Mystery Team is competent enough to retrieve it, so she initially brushes them off. Their adventures throughout the investigation become increasingly ludicrous, such as when they visit a strip club and need to retrieve the ring from inside a toilet after it fell out from a stripperís you-know-what. They also find a little kid sitting at the strip club waiting for his mother, a stripper, to finish her shift. Co-writers Dominic Dierkes, Donald Glover and D.C. Pierson have written very stupid characters who are almost as dumb as Sarah Palin when it comes to their logic, but at least theyíre quite funny more often than not. Duncan looks and behaves a lot like Napoleon Dynamite. When Charlie notices a friend of his making a circle with his left hand and sticking a finger through it when referring to a sexual act, he thinks it means to poke a girl in the eye. Initially, the performances of each of the three actors who make up the Mystery Team come across as very grating and awkward, but, once you realize that theyíre merely lampooning detectives while having a lot of fun in their roles, youíll find yourself oddly entertained and even laughing at all the absurdity. At a running time 1 hour and 45 minutes Mystery Team manages to be an outrageous, offbeat comedy thatís often preposterous and silly, but nonetheless quite funny and delightfully bizarre.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Roadside Attractions.
Opens at the Quad Cinema.



Paa

Directed by R. Balki.


In Hindi with subtitles. Auro (Amitabh Bachchan), a 12-year-old student at a private school, suffers from Progeria, a rare genetic disease which makes him look and function like an elderly man. He lives with his mother, Vidya (Vidya Balan), a gynecologist, and grandmother whom he calls ďBumĒ because of her large derriŤre. At a televised awards ceremony at school, Auro receives an award for Vision of India which the Member of Parliament (MP) of India, Amol Arte (Abhishek Bachchan), hands him personally. Vidya instantly recognizes Amol on TV as the young man who left her pregnant with Auro. Amol has no idea that heís his son and, not surprisingly, Auro finds it very difficult to tell him. Writer/director R. Balki blends comedy, drama, politics and tragedy with very mixed results. On the one hand, Amitabh Bachchan delivers a very convincing performance as Auro while the prosthetics department does a great job of making him actually look like an old man. Auro comes across as a charismatic and bright child with a very witty sense of humor that heís not afraid to project to others. Itís great that Balki balances the dramatic and tragic elements of the film with comedy, but he includes too many comedic moments that essentially detract from the modicum of momentum during the dramatic moments which, unfortunately, fall flat for the most part. It takes too long for Auro to finally meet up with Amol and, until then, the plot drags on and on as you wait for those crucial moments of bonding between father and son. Balki should have saved the revelation that Auro is Amolís son as a surprise for the audience instead of revealing it to them early on in the first act because it seems like forever until Amol learns the truth and, once he does during the sappy third act, his reaction simply lacks authenticity. At an excessive running time of 2 hours and 13 minutes, Paa manages to be well-acted, funny and occasionally witty with terrific make-up design. However, it's often convoluted, awkwardly paced and too uneven as a whole.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Big Pictures.
Opens at the ImaginAsian.



The Strip

Directed by Jameel Khan.


Glenn (Dave Foley), the manager of Electri-City, a store in a strip mall, flirts with the manager of a fabric store next door while neglecting his wife, Angelia (Gail Rastorfer), back at home. The employees of the store include Avi (Federico Dordei), Jeff (Billy Aaron Brown), and Rick (Cory Christmas) and Kyle (Rodney Scott), whose father owns the Electri-City franchise. Each of them goes through their own struggles. Avi, a Pakistani, is about to get married to a young woman whom his parents arranged him to meet. Rick aspires to become an actor, but completely embarrasses himself during an audition-gone-wrong. Kyle must deal with his controlling father (Chelcie Ross) and doesnít have the nerve to tell him that he doesnít want to work for him anymore until his girlfriend, Melissa (Jenny Wade), inspires him to. Finally, thereís Jeff who realizes that he can no longer afford to pay his rent, so, in an amusing turn of events, he moves in with Glenn and has an affair with his frigid wife. Although, thus far, the plot sounds like itís mostly a drama, itís actually much more of a silly comedy thatís somewhat grounded with drama. Writer/director Jameel Khan tries very hard to generate laughter through the absurdity and stupidity of the characters themselves. Avi comes across as particularly dim-witted, especially when it comes to telling people parables that he thinks are jokes. Much of the humor seems juvenile, irreverent and doesnít tread any new ground, but at least itís quite laugh-out-loud funny thanks to great comic timing and some hilarious one-liners. Thereís one particularly funny scene that involves a computer mysteriously changing the word ďtheĒ to ďmilkĒ in its word processer, which, not surprisingly, leads to an angry customer. The Strip falls more along the lines of Employee of the Month rather than Clerks, but itís nonetheless an outrageously funny, irreverent comedy that will have you in stitches, as long as youíre willing to check your brain at the door for 91 minutes.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Bata Films.
Opens at the Quad Cinema.



Until the Light Takes Us

Directed by Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell.


In English and Norwegian with subtitles. This dull and meandering documentary tackles the origins of black metal music and how the subculture has evolved in Norway. It initially emerged during the early 1980ís and since then has been considered as a cultural rebellion against religion, particularly Christianity. A group of Norwegian black metal musicians went to the extent of burning a church, Fantoft Stave Church, in Norway, in an attempt to make some sort of statement against Christianity. Or were they just trying to bring some attention onto themselves? Varg Vikernes, of the one-man band called Burzum, was among the arsonists convicted of burning down the church and, on top of that, he was also convicted of murdering ōystein Aarseth (a.k.a. Euronymous) his former bandmate in the band Mayhem. Co-directors Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell combine many interviews with black metal musicians, such as Varg Vikernes, Fenriz of the band Darkthrone, Frost of the bands Satyricon and 1349. Frost not only contributed to black metal, but also to performance art when he literally slashed his neck and breathed fire onto a wall, again, to make some sort of statement. What particular statement(s) were he trying to make? What does that have anything to do with black metal to begin with? For that matter, why did his bands choose the names Satyricon and 1349? Aites and Ewell fail to coherently explain the significance and evolution of black metal and, instead, opt for rather uninsightful interviews where musicians either make broad statements or confusing ones about black metal. Neither of the subjects interviewed are articulate enough. Moreover, although you do get to listen to some selected bits of black metal, unfortunately, thereís not a single live performance of any of the music in any of the footage, much of which looks very shoddy and filled with shaky, nauseating camerawork. Ultimately, Until the Light Takes Us manages to be a dull, unfocused and poorly directed documentary that lacks insight and fails to coherently and engagingly illuminate the subject of black metal.
Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Variance Films.
Opens at the Cinema Village.



Up in the Air

Directed by Jason Reitman.


Based on the novel by Walter Kirn. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) works as a corporate downsizing expert who travels all around America to fire employees face-to-face. He also spends some of his time giving motivational speeches about how to get rid of lifeís burdens which he equates to a heavy backpack that needs to be emptied out. Julie (Melanie Lynskey), his younger sister whom he hasnít seen in quite some time, sends him an invitation to her wedding, and his older sister, Kara (Amy Morton), wants him to photograph cardboard cutouts of Julie and her fiancť, Jim (Danny McBride), in front of as many famous locations that he travels to as possible. At an airport lounge, Ryan meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), a sexy woman whose job also requires her to travel frequently. Soon enough, they sleep together and check their busy schedules to make plans to see each other again. His lifestyle changes when his boss, Craig (Jason Bateman), asks him to train Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a young woman fresh out of grad school who, despite her inexperience, impresses everyone except Ryan about how firing employees through a video conference that would cut significant costs for the company. She tags along with Ryan and gradually learns the harsh realities of what itís actually like to fire employees. Director/co-writer Jason Reitman, who previously directed Juno and Thank You for Smoking, deftly blends comedy, drama, tragedy and romance with witty and clever dialogue thatís quite biting. For example, at one point, Alex tells Ryan to think of her as himself with a vagina, and, in another scene, Ryan tells Natalie that he stereotypes likes his mother because itís more efficient. Everyone gives an engaging performance, but the standouts here are Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick who exude plenty of charisma onscreen. Alex comes across as an intelligent and charming woman whoís not just easy on the eyes, so itís not difficult to grasp what Ryan sees in her to begin with that makes him consider changing his way of thinking about love. Reitman also includes a very well-chosen, lively soundtrack and slick, impressive cinematography that shows beautiful aerial shots of each city that Ryan travels to. Most importantly, thereís a very gentle message about the value of family and compassion for others within the hustle-and-bustle of this cold, often impersonal world where technology advances while human to human relationships struggle to remain intact. At a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes, Up in the Air manages to be smart, honest, quietly moving and funny with charismatic, lively performances and a witty screenplay. Be sure to stick around through the end credits to listen to the beautiful title song written by an unemployed musician, Kevin Renick.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Paramount Pictures.
Opens at the Regal Union Square 14 and AMC Loews Lincoln Square. Opens wider on December 11th and nationwide on Christmas Day.





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