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Reviews for February 26th, 2010

The Art of the Steal

Directed by Don Argott.

This fascinating and suspenseful documentary charts the dramatic events that occurred when politicians along with art institutions struggled to move the Barnes Foundation from the small suburb of Merion, Pennsylvania all the way to the city of Philadelphia, against the wishes of its founder’s will. At the age of 50, Dr. Albert C. Barnes had already collected a variety of early Modern and Post-Impressionist paintings ranging from works by Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse and Van Gogh, among others, with a cumulative value of over $25 billion today. He displayed the paintings in a small museum outside of Philadelphia specifically so that everyday people who aren’t so accustomed to viewing artworks would get the chance to do so. Moreover, he looked down upon the elitist art critics who considered his art collection to be nothing more than junk. When he died in a car accident back in 1951, he stated clearly in his will that Lincoln University ought to have control over the Barnes Foundation and the painting ought to stay at its small museum in Merion no matter what. The Foundation’s endowment was mishandled throughout the years, leaving the Foundation vulnerable for other institutions to purchase and move it to another location in an attempt to save the collection. Director Don Argott looks at many different sides of the issue by interviewing former attorney general Mike Fisher, former Barnes president Richard Glanton as well as friends of Barnes, among others, who shed light from their perspective. You might find it a little difficult to assess the moral implications of moving of the Barnes Foundation objectively because the film’s title directly states that what’s occurring is a theft of art. In reality, though, the issue of the theft has a lot of grey area and it’s somewhat exciting to watch the footage of the desperate battle to respect Barnes’ wishes. No matter which side of the issue you choose to lean toward, you’ll probably feel enraged at how this microcosm of greed, lack of appreciation for an art collector’s wishes, and simple-mindedness about the art can lead to corruption with the help of politicians, not surprisingly, and a cross of moral boundaries. Ultimately, The Art of the Steal manages to be a thoroughly compelling, well-edited and riveting documentary that finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by IFC Films.
Opens at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

The Crazies

Directed by Breck Eisner.

When a mysterious toxin contaminates the water in a small Kansas town, its townspeople start going crazy and killing everyone around them. The government sends soldiers in Hazmat suits to gather up everyone in the town and contain them. Some of the survivors include Sheriff Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), his wife, Dr. Judy Dutton, Becca Darling (Danielle Panabaker) and deputy sheriff Russell Clank (Joe Anderson), each of whom desperately struggles to stay alive by defending themselves from the “crazies.” They also have to avoid getting captures by the aggressive U.S. military which is responsible for accidentally releasing the deadly virus, a government bio-weapon, during a plane crash in the town. The screenplay by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright, based on the screenplay for the 1973 film by George A. Romero, takes a very simple and formulaic premise that treads similar ground as such films as 28 Days Later and Outbreak, but keeps the thrills and scares coming often enough to horror fans engaged. Anyone expecting character development or profound messages should look elsewhere because what unfolds here is nothing but pure action, chases and suspense without any distracting or contrived subplots. Admittedly, you’ll find a few silly and redundant lines of dialogue. Director Breck Eisner includes a little gore along the way, but not enough to make horror fans sick to their stomach---just when you think it’ll veer toward torture porn when a farmer goes crazy with a pitch fork, it shies away. Eisner does a great job of escalating the tension through the set design, lighting, musical score, sound effects and pacing that doesn’t allow you to catch a breath. A particularly inventive, memorable and suspenseful sequence takes place inside a car wash. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, The Crazies manages to be a slick, stylish and finely crafted albeit unsurprising horror film that delivers the requisite chills and thrills.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Overture Films.
Opens nationwide.

Easier with Practice

Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez.

Davy Mitchell (Brian Geraghty), a lonely, shy, unpublished author, hits the road with his younger brother, Sean (Kel O’Neill), to go on a book tour across the country. One night at a motel, Davy picks up a phone call from Nicole (voice of Kathryn Aselton), a mysterious stranger with a sexy voice who seduces him into having phone sex. Nicole calls him more and more throughout the book tour and, soon enough, Davy develops an emotional attachment to her even though they’ve never met. Back home, he has an ex-girlfriend, Samantha (Marguerite Moreau), who’s willing to give him a second chance, while Sean’s very nice girlfriend, Sarah (Jeanette Brox), tries to be there for Davy as a caring friend. Writer/director Kyle Patrick Alverez blends drama, romance and suspense with just the right dash of comic relief. Although the film does offer a fair share of intriguing twists which won’t be spoiled here, it nonetheless remains character-driven, engrossing and, most importantly, true-to-life. Brian Geraghty, who also stars in The Hurt Locker, gives a raw, captivating and utterly convincing performance as the awkwardly shy Davy, a character that wouldn’t be so likable if it weren’t for the tender screenplay that never becomes over-the-top or contrived. Even though he’s naïve and has self-esteem issues, Davy’s fundamentally a goodhearted person and there’s more to him than meets the eye---he just has to grow up and to find true self. Ironically, Davy’s brother, Sean, has more issues to deal with lurking beneath his mask of confidence, especially when it comes to the way that he treats Davy with such lack of compassion and warmth that Davy yearns for. The third act has a very thought-provoking twist that handled very gently and might, at first, leave you a bit angry and wishing it had ended differently, but upon further contemplation, you’ll realize that those events actually make sense and speak volumes about Davy. Alvarez writes those ultimate scenes with the kind of subtleties, grace and poignancy that you normally find in most European dramas, but not in American ones, so it feels concurrently refreshing and haunting. At a running time of 1 hour and 44 minutes, Easier with Practice manages to be endearing and wise with a captivating and emotionally raw, brave and honest performance by Brian Geraghty. It’s one of the most refreshing, heartfelt and unforgettable American films of the year.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Lantern Lane Entertainment.
Opens at the Quad Cinema.

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