Reviews for February 6th, 2009
Directed by Prachya Pinkaew.
In English, Thai and Japanese with subtitles. Number 8 (Pongpat Wachirabunjong), a vicious Thai crime boss, and his sidekick, Priscilla (Sirimongkol Iamthuam), hold Masashi (Hiroshi Abe) and his lover, Zin (Ammara Siripong), hostage at gunpoint. When they’re set free, Zin flees to Bangkok where she raises her autistic daughter, Zen (Yanin Wismitanant). Years later, Zen has mastered the art of Muay Thai kickboxing while her mother suffers from cancer and doesn’t have the money to pay for chemotherapy. With the help of her friend Moom (Taphon Phopwandee), Zen finds all of the people who owe her mother money and tries to collect it from them one-by-one. She and Moom both challenge anyone who refuses to pay their dues to a Muay Thai kickboxing fight. Co-screenwriters Nepali and Sukanya Chookiat Sakveerakul offer nothing new or surprising in terms of plot, which seems more like small stepping stones for the non-stop action sequences during the last hour of the film. During the first 30 minutes, though, Chocolate tends to drag a bit with its bland, contrived drama as Zen grows into young adult. You never really get a chance to care about her and get to know her, but, of course, that’s not a requirement in a martial arts action film. Fortunately, director Prachya Pinkaew, best known for directing the exhilarating and refreshing Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warror, includes plenty of spectacularly choreographed stunts during the second and third acts that help to increase the film’s momentum and to keep it from dragging. It’s fun to watch Zen fight, whether it’s at a meat factory or on the side of a building, as long as she’s using her hands, legs and objects around her to fight. Pinkaew also adds some much-needed comic relief in the form of physical comedy like that of Jackie Chan movies with a little more graphic violence and gore added. None of those scenes will make you laugh out loud or amaze you like while watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but there’s nonetheless full of energy and somewhat amusing. Ultimately, Chocolate takes its time to get going, but once the action kicks in, it manages to be mildly engaging with lots of mindless fun, especially for avid fans of martial arts films. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Magnet Releasing. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
Directed by Kyle Newman.
In 1998, five friends, Eric (Sam Huntington), Windows (Jay Baruchel), Zoe (Kristen Bell), Linus (Chris Marquette) and Hutch (Dan Fogler), hit the open road from Ohio to California on a mission to steal a print of Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace from George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch. Linus desperately wants to see the film before it opens while he’s still alive. Each of those teenagers has their own issues to deal with. Eric doesn’t want to be a part of his dad’s business at a car dealership and would rather be a comic book artist. Zoe must come to terms with the fact that even though she’s in love with a guy, he’s just not that into her. Hutch wants to move out of his mother’s home while Windows feels like a dorky, social outcast and plans to meet his online girlfriend during the road trip. He only knows her as the name “Rogue Leader” and she doesn’t exactly look like who he thought she’d be. Co-screenwriters Ernest Cline and Adam F. Goldberg do a great job of blending outrageous humor with tongue-in-cheek and witty humor from the very first scene until the last, although there are a few scenes that tend to fall flat with recycled and forced humor. In one particularly outrageously funny scene, the guys accidentally end up in gay bar and strip in front of patrons. There’s no denying that avid fans of Star Wars will get a kick out of hearing all of the in-jokes about Star Wars and seeing certain special cameos, none of which will be spoiled here. If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a Star Wars aficionado confronts a Trekkie to compare Star Wars to Star Trek, now’s your chance. Essentially, Fanboys feels like a tamer version of Sex Drive. The actors seem to be having a great time in their roles, so their comic energy and enthusiasm often radiates from the screen. At an ideal running time of 90 minutes, it manages to be an outrageously zany, razor sharp comedy and a must-see for Star Wars fans young and old. If you're among those Star Wars fans, then let the LAUGHTER be with you! Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by The Weinstein Company.
He’s Just Not That Into You
Directed by Ken Kwapis.
Based on the book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) goes on a date with Conor (Kevin Connolly) and stresses over the fact that he didn’t call her after the date, so she doesn’t know whether or not he enjoyed spending time with her and wants to continue dating her. Soon enough, Gigi behaves like a creep by stalking out Conor at a bar where he doesn’t show up to. Feeling confused and dejected, she seeks advice from the friendly bartender, Alex (Justin Long), who happens to be good friends with Conor. She also consults her good friends at work, Janine (Jennifer Connelly) and Beth (Aniston), who each have relationship problems of their own, yet they’re willing to offer their advice to her. Beth has been living with her boyfriend, Neil (Ben Affleck), for seven years and, under pressure to get married from her soon-to-be-married sister, wants to finally marry him, but he doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage. Meanwhile, Janine’s relationship with her husband, Ben (Bradley Cooper), has been gradually deteriorating as they renovate their apartment that they designed together. Ben’s mind seems to be preoccupied with other things such as work and Anna (Scarlett Johansson), a sexy, blonde yoga instructor who seduces him into having an affair. Drew Barrymore, who also serves as one of the film’s producers, shows up briefly as Mary, an ad saleswoman who’s debating whether or not she should continue a relationship with a guy whom she met on MySpace and has never actually met in person. Like an American version of Love Actually, but with more contrivance and neurotic characters, He’s Just Not That Into You intersects the lives of a group of young adults from Baltimore who pretty much behave and talk like immature teenagers. Their cluelessness in how to deal with relationships and how to listen and observe attentively becomes tiresome pretty quickly. The same can be said about their tendency to over-analyze their relationships to the extent that they become more and more irritating to watch. What do any of the women see in the men to begin with and vice versa? Sure, they’re all easy on the eyes, especially Anna, but no one seems to have a truly appealing personality that would make them likable or worth rooting for. Co-writers Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein jump around back and forth each of the subplots in a way that makes you feel like you’re watching at least four or five different movies all at once. The most interesting relationship happens to be the least developed one between Mary and the guy on MySpace, especially given that she uses many different modern technologies as a means to communicate with him. By no means do the conversations that any of the characters have with one another here come close to be as insightful or witty as those in When Harry Met Sally…, which still remains the quintessential romantic comedy about the relationship between men and women. On a positive note, director Ken Kwapis includes a lively soundtrack while relying on the charms of the cast who help to slightly invigorate the film. However, at a running time of 2 hours and 9 minutes, He’s Just Not That Into You overstays its welcome and often feels contrived and overstuffed with neurotic, whinny and annoying characters who need a lot of therapy. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Directed by Eric Daniel Metzgar.
This often moving documentary focuses on Jason Crigler, a 34-year-old guitarist based in New York City who suddenly became ill during a concert in August 2004. His family members and friends thought that he would quickly recover and didn’t cancel any of his upcoming concerts. Doctors at the hospital diagnosed him with a brain hemorrhage, though, and weren’t sure whether or not he would die from it. The brain injury left him in a vegetative state with only and predicted a very long and difficult recovery process. It’s quite inspiring to hear how his wife, Monica, and sister, Marjorie, along with his loving parents did everything they could to stand up his side and maintain their optimism. Upon his transfer to the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital over half a year later, he surprised everyone including doctors as they watched him on the road to recovery. Jason didn’t fully recover, but, step-by-step, he was able to continue his passion for music and impress everyone by actually picking up the guitar and playing it again in front of a crowd. Director Eric Daniel Metzgar includes plenty of intimate interviews with Jason’s family, friends and even other singers in the industry such as Nora Jones which help to show how a sense of community and support was built around Jason. The footage of him interacting with his wife and newborn daughter are quite poignant to watch. Admittedly, though, some of the voice-over narration during the footage and still photos tend to be distracting and diminish the overall emotional power of the images that already speak volumes about Jason’s amazing road to recovery and that reflect the warmth of his family and friends. The same can be said about the cinematography and editing which tends to be unnecessarily stylish and occasionally pretentious. Much of the film recalls 39 Pounds of Love, a documentary about a man named Ami diagnosed at an early age with Spinal Muscular Atrophy who also beat the odds by surviving with the decease and getting accustomed to a new life while fulfilling his own dreams in the process. It’s clearly an uphill battle for him as much as it was, is and will continue to be for Jason. Jason’s success story sends a powerful message that such virtues as persistence, passion, familial support and, above all, love can lead to miraculous achievements that would have never been thought of as possible initially. At a brief running time of 79 minutes, Life.Support.Music. manages to be a mostly touching, inspirational and engrossing documentary. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by Merigold Moving Pictures. Opens at the Cinema Village.
The Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2009
Directed by various directors.
The short films nominated for the 81st Annual Academy Awards include five live-action films and five animated films. This year, the selections from both categories are mostly refreshingly imaginative, witty and intelligent. The first live action short is On the Line, a Swiss-German film directed by Reto Caffi, about Rolf (Roeland Wiesnekker), a lonely security guard at a department store who’s enamored by Sarah (Catherine Janke), a clerk at a bookstore whom he spies on with his security camera. Their paths have crossed before on the subway and they haven’t spoken to each other yet, but he takes the opportunity to strike up a conversation with her when he discovers that her brother died on the subway in a fight when she left him alone. The drama moves very slowly and it takes a while for the tension to build, but director Reto Caffi keeps you somewhat intrigued by how and when Rolf will communicate with Sarah and what will happen between them. From Denmark, there’s The Pig, directed by Dorte Hogh, about Asbjorn Jensen (Henning Moritzen), an old man who goes to the hospital to remove a malignant abscess through surgery. While lying on the hospital bed, he notes a painting of a pig and can’t stop staring at it. Suddenly, a family member of a Muslim patient beside him decides to take the painting away because he thinks it’s offensive. What ensues is a delightfully offbeat and intelligent mixture of drama, comedy that’s both refreshing and thought-provoking. From Germany, there’s Toyland, directed by Jochen Alexander Freydank, about a mother who tells her young, Aryan son during the Holocaust that that his Jewish friend is on his way to a place called Toyland, rather than telling him the horrifying truth. Her son and the Jewish boy have been taking piano lessons together, so he wants to spend time with him no matter what. The dramatic intensity builds when his mother can’t find him wonders if, perhaps, he might have gotten onto the train to “Toyland” with his Jewish friend. Comparisons to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas are inevitable, but this short film has a more organic, believable and powerfully moving screenplay. From Ireland, there’s New Boy, directed by Steph Green, about Joseph (Olutunji Ebun-Cole), a nine-year-old boy who struggles to assimilate at a new school in Ireland from an African village. It’s both disturbing and funny to watch the dynamic between him and his teacher as he compares his class there to those that he had attended back in Africa. Director Steph Green gets inside Joseph’s head for the 11 minutes of the running time so that you can grasp what he feels and what he thinks without which helps to keep you immersed in the short story. The last live-action short is one from France called Manon on the Asphalt, directed by Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont , about young woman laying injured on a street and bringing up memories from her past as other people gather around her. She contemplates the things that she regrets not doing and things that she’ll be missing when she dies. It manages to be quite a moving and imaginative film that will bring back memories of watching The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. As for the animated shorts, there’s This Way Up from the UK, directed by Smith and Foulkes, about two workers at a funeral home who have the simple task of carrying a casket in a hearse to its burial site at the cemetery. A domino effect causes a boulder to crush their hearse, so they’re forced to carry together all the way to the cemetery. What ensues is a series of outrageous events that serve as obstacles on their journey. The dry humor starts out fresh and funny but gets a little old, although the visuals along with the musical score help to enhance the grim atmosphere. From France, there’s Oktapodi about a male octopus in love with a female octopus that ends up with a chef on its way to become food, so male octopus sets out on a zany, fast-paced adventure to rescue her. Some of the visual gags work, but most of them fall flat with just plain silliness. From Russia, there’s Lavatory Lovestory, directed by Konstantin Bronzit, a very witty, wacky and mostly dialogue-free story about a older, lonely woman who works a box-office watching people deposit coins in a jar on their way to a bathroom everyday while she reads the newspaper “Happy Woman”. She also has the task of cleaning the bathroom. One day, she finds flowers in the coin jar and, soon enough, her luck at finding romance changes when she cleans the bathroom. The wackiness does get a bit over-the-top eventually, but it’s still delightful and oddly refreshing to watch. The most bizarre animated short is Pieces of Love from Japan, directed by Kunio Kato, about a man living alone in a large house submerged under water. As he sits at his table with two glasses of wine and food on his plate, he recalls the fond memories of his life back when the house wasn’t submerged. During those flashbacks, the color palate suddenly turns from sad, mundane colors such as dark blue to warmer, upbeat colors, which makes for a nice contrast. The animation itself looks very intricately drawn, much like the animation in The Triplets of Belleville, so it’s easy to forget about the minimal plot and just immerse yourself in those amazing visuals. Finally, there’s the most commercially entertaining and imaginative short, Presto, a Pixar film directed Doug Sweetland which you may already have seen because it was also shown before Wall-E last summer. Hilarity ensues when magician refuses to feed his hungry rabbit a carrot before a magic show, so the rabbit finds ways to get back at the magician and embarrass him during the show. It manages to be the only animated short that’s still fresh and funny after repetitive viewings. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Magnolia Pictures and Shorts International. Opens at the IFC Center.
The Pink Panther 2
Directed by Harald Zwart.
When the precious Pink Panther diamond disappears, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese) reluctantly assigns Inspector Clouseau (Steve Martin) to lead an international team of investigators and experts to find the notorious jewel thief called The Tornado. The team includes Pepperidge (Alfred Molina), Vicenzo (Andy Garcia), Kenji (Yuki Matsuzaki) and Sonia (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). Joined by his partner, Ponton (Jean Reno), Clouseau and his team travel as for as Rome to try to identify The Tornado based on very limited evidence. One of the suspects happens to be Avellaneda (Jeremy Irons) whose mansion Clouseau breaks into and breaks nearly everything inside. He seems better at destroying things than actually doing his job. Early on, he even accidentally burns down a fancy restaurant while on a dinner date with his love interest, Nicole (Emily Mortimer), who eventually flirtatious with Vicenzo. Lily Tomlin briefly shows up in a delightfully quirky role as an ethics instructor for the police department who tries to get Clouseau to behave while on the job and not to refer to Asians as yellow people or blondes as dumb. Anyone expecting a coherent or imaginative plot should look elsewhere. Instead, what you get here is more of the same juvenile, silly humor found in the 2006’s The Pink Panther. Steve Martin simply tries too hard to be funny and his facial expressions and over-the-top French accent gets old pretty quickly. Watch as Clouseau knocks things down, hangs from chandeliers and dangles from the balcony at the Vatican while dressed in the Pope’s garments. Director Harald Zwart simply drags out many of the silly jokes too long, such as a lengthy scene when Clouseau mispronounces the word “hamburger” over and over. Do you find it funny when someone ends up with their face in a cake? Or how about when someone bangs their head against the wall repeatedly? At least the cast members seem to be having a great time onscreen, especially Jean Reno and Steve Martin as they dance freely with various items in a kitchen. Only little kids will find The Pink Panther 2 somewhat amusing, but everyone else will find it to be tedious, low on laughs and ultimately forgettable. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Columbia Pictures.
Directed by Paul McGuigan.
Nick Gant (Chris Evans), a “mover”, has the ability to move objects around him with his mind. He joins up with 13-year-old Cassie (Dakota Fanning), a “watcher” who has psychic abilities, to take down Division, a group of government agents experimenting on people with psychic powers. Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou), a “pusher” who can control someone’s mind, heads the Division team and, as seen in the first act, is one responsible for killing Nick’s father. During their mission in the streets of Hong Kong, Nick and Cassie meet Kira (Camilla Belle), a “pusher” who escaped from a Division prison and can help them to kill Henry with her power once and for all. There’s also a somewhat confusing subplot involving a suitcase that the Division desperately wants to find and get into their hands. Much of the plot feels like that of a frenetic Anime film filled with one-dimensional characters , mindless action sequences and special effects recycled from Jumper, X-Men and The Matrix. As the plot progresses, it becomes more and more illogical and confusing. Even the opening credits which attempt to inform the audience more about the people with special powers and about the Division’s origins, there’s still not enough information to understand the world that Nick, Cassie and Kira inhabit. Screenwriter David Bourla diminishes much of the suspense when he reveals who killed Nick’s father in an early scene. There’s not really enough mystery or any real surprises to be found here, although there’s plenty of head-scratching plot holes to be found. Also, Bourla doesn’t include enough comic relief. Director Paul McGuigan, who also directed Lucky Number Slevin, Wicker Park and Gangster Number 1 knows how to keep the pace moving at a fast speed along with stylish cinematography which create some much-needed intensity. It’s also worth mentioning the impressive sets which give the film a very slick look. At a running time of roughly 2 hours, Push has amazing special effects and production design, but that doesn't compensate for the messy, incoherent plot and lack of truly palpable Sci-fi thrills and excitement. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Summit Entertainment.