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Reviews for February 11th, 2011

Carbon Nation

Directed by Peter Byck

      This mildly captivating albeit one-sided and over-simplified documentary jumbles together so many potential solutions to the very timely issue of climate change that uninformed audiences will be more overwhelmed than inspired. Many if not all of the interviewees here could have each been the focus of totally separate documentaries because of their interesting solutions that attempt to prevent or diminish the imminent threats of climate change. One such individual is Cliff Etheredge, a wind farmer who helps to bring lots of wind turbines to farmlands thereby bringing jobs and people back to previously deserted towns. Director Peter Byck fails to put his investigative journalist cap on by neglecting to assess the pros and cons of wind turbines thereby oversimplifying the solution and jumping to the conclusion that it’s a practical, efficient and safe solution in the long run. Van Jones, another interviewee, has founded an organization called Green For All which brings green jobs, such solar panel installation, to disadvantaged communities. Again, Byck spends too little time exploring this solution before moving onto others, i.e., the creation of geothermal power at the lowest temperature yet, 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Or how about painting roofs white just like Dr. Arthur Rosenfeld advocates? Or, why not use hybrid cars like ex-CIA agent R. James Woolsey proposes?

      Byck includes many more solutions, but jumps from one to another randomly while leaving more insight and analysis to be desired. The animated graphics together with all the facts and figures presented onscreen serve as an accessible way to digest the information that’s far from boring, but it all feels rather one-sided to the point of oversimplification. After all, there are more sides to a coin than you think: the ridges, the edges, the sides of the ridges and so forth. Carbon Nation merely presents the viewer with a reader’s digest overview of climate change solutions without stepping back to thoroughly weigh in and realistically assess their pros and cons.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Opens at the Cinema village.
Released by Dada Films.

Gnomeo & Juliet

Directed by Kelly Asbury

Please check back soon for a full review.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Opens nationwide.
Released by Touchtone Pictures.

Lovers of Hate

Directed by Bryan Poyser

Please check back soon for a full review.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Opens at the reRun Gastropub Theater.
Released by IFC Films.

Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Shorts 2011

Directed by various directors.


      2011’s collection of five Oscar-Nominated Live-Action shorts offers three beautifully written films and two weaker ones that could have fleshed out with more imagination. Na Wewe (Belgium), for instance, which translates as “You, Too,” centers around a group of ordinary citizens who, in 1994, travel by minivan through Burundi, a country bordering Rwanda and plagued with civil war between the Hutu and Tutsis. Will the Hutu soldiers find and kill any Tutsis on among the passengers? Director/co-writer Ivan Goldschmidt establishes a sense of realism through cinematography, but the bland screenplay doesn’t do the gritty subject matter any justice because none of the characters have enough background info to help you to care about them as complex human beings.

      In The Confession (UK), a 9-year-old boy, Sam (Lewis Howlett), learns in school that he must go to confession so that the priest can absolve his sins, but neither he nor his friend, Jacob (Joe Eales), have sinned yet---keyword being “yet.” They both end up committing a mortal sin when a prank involving a scarecrow placed on a road leads to a fatal accident. The film takes a rather unexpected, bizarre turn during its final moments that fail to have an emotional resonance.

      In The Crush (Ireland), an 8-year-old boy, Ardal (Oran Creagh) has a crush on his school teacher, Miss Purdy (Olga Wehrly), and even offers her an engagement ring which she accepts out of kindness. Once her fiancé (Rory Keenan) enters the picture, Ardal takes matters into his own hands by challenging him to a duel. Writer/director Michael Creagh takes a premise that could have been downright silly and completely implausible and turns it into a rather engrossing and even suspenseful drama with a very realistic, poignant ending that treats his characters with respect. Unlike Na Wewe and The Confession, The Crush has a sprinkle of dry comic relief.

      The same can be said for Wish 143 (UK) directed by Ian Barnes, where a 15-year-old boy diagnosed with terminal cancer desperately wants to lose his virginity before he dies. Will he get what he wishes for? You’ll actually find yourself caring about the answer to that question thanks to the sensitive screenplay by Tom Bidwell.

      Finally, the very best live action film of the bunch, God of Love (US), shot in black-and-white, highlights writer/director Luke Matheny’s knack for witty dialogue and an imaginative, intriguing premise: Ray (Luke Matheny) yearns to fall in love with a particular girl who doesn’t love him back, so when he mysteriously receives a box of love-inducing darts, he pricks his love interest on her hand thereby causing her to fall in love with him for six hours. Matheny has enough charisma and comedic timing to be very amusing and delightful as a leading man. With its funny, charming and brilliantly inventive screenplay, God of Love concurrently says a lot about love and fate in ways that avoid preachiness. It deserves to win the Oscar for Best Live-Action short.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Opens at the IFC Center.
Released by Magnolia Pictures.

The Sky Turns

Directed by Mercedes Álvarez

      This somewhat meandering, lyrical documentary sheds light on small village of La Aldea located in Northern Spain. Only fourteen people reside there, and the landscape looks so barren without signs of modernity that you might forget you’re actually watching footage from the past decade. The villagers talk a lot about a wide variety of topics which occasionally feel dry, but they do have a sense of humor that manages to shine through every now and then. Director Mercedes Álvarez, the last child born in the village, hasn’t visited the town since she and her parents left it when she was merely 3-years-old, so The Sky Turns serves multiple purposes. It’s a way of cherishing and valuing the village while raising awareness of it and its history to others. It’s also a way of humanizing its villagers and recording their accounts of the village’s past. Patient viewers will be rewarded by learning ever so gradually about how La Aldea has evolved throughout the years---its history even dates back to 133 B.C. during the Roman siege that threatened to enslave the Celtiberians. What a conversation between two of the villagers about skulls with hair left on them has to do with anything might be perplexing and might even induce boredom at first, but the more you listen to them the more you’ll realize that Álvarez is merely trying to document how these people interact with each other day by day, and to humanize them. She also includes some footage of painter Pello Azketa at work, and of wind turbines being put together. Watching construction workers building a hotel where a castle used to be speaks volumes about the changes in the village, how its historical sites have been disappearing thereby further highlighting the importance of preserving those memories through images and footage of conversations. The camera tends to fixate for a while on the barren landscape which gives the film a very pensive overall mood that will give you time to absorb everything.

      Admittedly, though, the pace moves so slowly that at times it frustratingly drags, so you might struggle to get accustomed to it right away. At a running time of just under 2 hours, The Sky Turns is a somewhat meandering, yet provocative and lyrical documentation of a village’s history, its evolution and the memories of its 14 villagers.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Opens at the Anthology Film Archives.
Released by New Yorker Films.

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