Reviews for January 22nd, 2010
Directed by Jon Amiel.
Based on the book Annie's Box by Randal Keynes. In the mid -19th Century, scientist Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) still hasn’t gotten over the death of Annie (Martha West), who had died when she was only 10-years-old. Every since her death, Charles has essentially abandoned his faith in God while Emma (Jennifer Connelly) has remained devoted fervently to God. His mental health gradually deteriorates the more he fails to come to terms with Annie’s death and the more he spends time doing experiments and research for his new, controversial, groundbreaking book entitled The Origins of the Species. The book contains evidence of his theory of natural selection and the transmutation of the species, among other findings in the field of evolutionary biology. Reverend Innes (Jeremy Northam) and Emma both oppose Darwin’s writing of the book because it’s so subversive and refutes the existence of God. Darwin’s colleagues, Hooker (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Huxley (Toby Jones) stand by his side and encourage him on, though. Director Jon Amiel moves the pace along leisurely and includes exquisite cinematography. Unfortunately, screenwriter John Collee fails to bring Charles Darwin to life in an engaging and moving fashion. Paul Bettany does his best with the given material to sink his teeth into the role and does it with conviction, but he nonetheless remains at an emotional distance from the audience throughout. Jennifer Connelly has a few poignant scenes reminiscent of her performance in A Beautiful Mind where she also happened to play the wife of a genius-gone-mad. Collee should have spent less time dragging out the melodramatic subplot about the effects of Darwin’s deep depression on his wife because eventually it veers into soap opera territory and becomes tedious. Why not flesh out more of what made Darwin such an integral part of evolutionary biology and further examine the escalating tensions between him and the Church? That would have made the film much more compelling, provocative and illuminating. At a running time of 1 hour and 48 minutes, Creation has strong performances and exquisite cinematography, but feels too bland, maudlin and ultimately underwhelming. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Newmarket Films. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Clearview 1st & 62nd.
The Girl on the Train
Directed by André Téchiné.
In French with subtitles. Based on a true story and the play "RER" by Jean-Marie Besset. Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne), an unemployed young woman, resides with her widowed mother, Louise (Catherine Deneuve), at suburban home in the outskirts of Paris, and spends her time rollerblading through the streets. Samuel Bleistein (Michel Blanc), her mother’s former lover who works as a lawyer and Jewish activist, agrees to help Jeanne find a secretarial job. One day, as she’s shopping for a suitcase, Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a young man aspiring to become a wrestler, not only convinces the salesman to bring the price down but agrees to pay for it as well and asks her out for a coffee date. Soon enough, the two fall in love with one another and, not surprisingly, Jeanne’s mother doesn’t seem quite fond or trustworthy of Franck. Little does Jeanne know about how Franck’s involvement in the drug trade will get him into serious trouble that risks his life. In a subplot, Jeanne slashes her face on other parts of her body to falsely claim that she was attacked by anti-Semites on a train. This particular deceit makes her seem mentally unbalanced, naïve, and hard to trust as a protagonist in the eyes of the audience. The screenplay by director/co-writer André Téchiné weaves together the increasingly troublesome relationship between Jeanne and Franck as well as Jeanne’s lie about the attack. Although the intricate plot as whole has some intense and provocative moments, it too often gyrates back and forth between the two subplots in such a way that its momentum and, ultimately, its plausibility, diminishes, therefore making it hard to feel truly immersed and engrossed in the life of Jeanne or to care about what happens to her for that matter. Unfortunately, the third act comes across rather contrived, lazy and leaves you underwhelmed. On a positive note, Émilie Dequenne gives a charming, radiant performance as the sexy Jeanne and helps keeps you mildly engaged whenever she’s onscreen. The same can be said for the reliable-as-always Catherine Deneuve who adds some gravitas. Ronit Elkabetz is terrific in a support role as Samuel’s Orthodox former daughter-in-law. At a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes, The Girl on the Train lacks sufficient focus, plausibility and an emotional core despite being provocative with a terrific ensemble cast and Émilie Dequenne’s charming, radiant performance. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Strand Releasing. Opens at the IFC Center and City Cinemas 1,2,3.
Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970
Directed by Murray Lerner.
This captivating concert film documents musician/poet Leonard Cohen’s performance at the third Isle of Wight Music Festival on August 31st, 1970. Over half a million fans attended the show and finally got to watch Cohen perform at approximately 4 AM, right after he got out of bed. He came onto the stage unshaven and with his pajamas still on. As his producer/manager Bob Johnston astutely observers in an interview, Cohen “brought poetry into music” or, as his good friend/singer Judy Collins puts it, his music is “an unavoidable crisis of the heart and mind.” Director Murray Lerner combines plenty of concert footage along with briefs interviews of Collins, Johnston as well as musicians Kris Kristofferson and Joan Benz, both of whom had performed during that festival. Avid fans of Leonard Cohen will be pleased that Lerner focuses more on capturing the sound and image of Cohen singing rather than shift back and forth between shots of Cohen and the audience. In other words, you often feel like you’re literally at the concert observing Cohen up close and personal. His voice sounds soothing and filled with emotion while he has a twinkle in his eyes, but, even more amazingly, the lyrics to his songs, such as “Bird on a Wire,” “You Know Who I AM,” “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” “Suzanne,” and “Tonight Will Be Fine,” among others, are so beautifully written and reflect Cohen’s profound wisdom and honest as an artist and human bring. What makes Cohen stand out as an artist, though, is not only his talent as a singer/songwriter, but also how real, raw, unpretentious, genuine and charismatic he seems while on stage. Those kind of characteristics found in such true artists cannot be feigned no matter what. At a running time of only 1 hour and 4 minutes, Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 manages to be a captivating concert film that deftly captures Cohen’s soulful performance that’s filled with beautiful lyrics and pure, unadulterated passion, emotion and charisma. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Sony Music Entertainment. Opens at the Cinema Village.
Directed by Gabriel Medina.
In Spanish with subtitles. Luciano Gauna (Daniel Hendler), a thirty-something young man, works as a children’s entertainer donning a big costume with his business partner, Sherman (Martín Feldman). One day, he slams the door accidentally on Sherman, injuring his neck and sending him to the hospital. When Luciano isn’t working on writing a screenplay, he’s calling an HIV helpline repeatedly in fear that he caught HIV after having a random sexual encounter. He’s clearly socially awkward and somewhat crazy in the noodle, but not in an over-the-top of irritating way. Manuel (Walter Jakob), his childhood friend now a successful TV producer, arrives to his apartment in Buenos Aires from Madrid with his sexy girlfriend, Sofia (Jazmín Stuart), and encourages him to send a send his screenplay to his producer. When he leaves him with Sofia for a few days while going on a business trip, Luciano and Sofia gradually grow fond of each other, but matters get complicated when Luciano learns that the protagonist in Manuel’s hit TV series “The Paranoids” is based on him without his consent. The screenplay by Nicolas Gueilburt initially lacks palpable tension until the moment Luciano discovers the truth about Manuel’s show, yet even during those somewhat meandering moments, you’re still engaged because Luciano is a character worth getting to know. He’s refreshingly bizarre and unpredictable while concurrently good-at-heart unlike Manuel who seems mentally stable, but treats Luciano disrespectfully. It’s interesting to watch the dynamic between Luciano and Manuel unfold, especially as Luciano develops some confidence and embraces life. Gueilburt’s screenplay also deftly balances the drama with some offbeat humor. Director Gabriel Medina includes a terrific, lively soundtrack and shows some skill when it comes to the cinematography. The weakest part of the film, though, is the budding romance between Luciano and Sofia which could have been explored a bit more which, in turned, would have kicked the romantic chemistry up a few notches. At a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes, The Paranoids manages to be a somewhat meandering, but nonetheless engaging, refreshing and character-driven drama with just the right touch of offbeat comedy. Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by Oscilloscope Laboratories. Opens at the Cinema Village.
Directed by Michael Lembeck.
Derek Thompson (Dwayne Johnson), a minor league hockey player nicknamed “The Tooth Fairy” for knocking out other players’ teeth on the ice, doesn’t believe in the Tooth Fairy and even steals tooth-fairy money from under the pillow of his girlfriend’s young daughter, Tess (Destiny Grace Whitlock). The next morning, he finds a summons under his pillow accusing him of disseminating false beliefs, grows a pair of wings, and ends up in Fairyland where he stands in front of Lily (Julie Andrews), the head honcho of Fairies. She sentences him to two weeks as a Tooth Fairy and if he reveals his secret identity to anyone, he’ll receive an extension to his sentence. Tracy, a caseworker who dreams of becoming a fairy, assists and observes him along the way. Ashley Judd plays play Derek’s girlfriend, Carly, and Chase Ellison plays her teenage son, Randy, while Billy Crystal briefly shows up in a very delightful, comedic performance as a Fairyland outfitter who provides Derek with his fairy costume and all the magic potions, i.e. invisibility spray and amnesia dust, which he will require to perform his duties as a fairy. Although the premise sounds very silly and ludicrous, the screenplay by co-writers Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Joshua Sternin, Jeffrey Ventimilia and Randi Mayem Singer, has its fair share of whimsical scenarios that will delightfully entertain kids while keeping adults mildly amused, as they as they can get over some cheesy moments. Dwayne Johnson has a lot of fun in the title role and isn’t afraid to behave so goofily in a Tooth Fairy costume. Derek and Carly have virtually no romantic chemistry and the bonding relationship between Derek and Randy feels very contrived and corny at times. However, the film’s messages about the importance of both adults and kids believe in their dreams and have faith in saying “what if?” every now and then are quite inspiring ones that every child—and adult—should learn. At a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes, Tooth Fairy is somewhat silly and cheesy, but nonetheless amusing, whimsical and delightfully goofy with inspirational, feel-great messages for everyone young and old to appreciate. Please be sure to stay through the end credits for additional scenes. Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by Twentieth Century Fox. Opens nationwide.
To Save a Life
Directed by Brian Baugh.
Jake Taylor (Randy Wayne), a high school senior, has a basketball scholarship, a sexy girlfriend, Amy Briggs (Deja Kreutzberg), and popularity at school. Before his teenage days, he used to be good friends with Roger Dawson (Robert Bailey Jr.) who’s now a lonely, alienated student unable to fit into the in-crowd. Jake struggles to cope after Roger brings a gun to school one day and commits suicide. After attending Roger’s funeral, he goes through a crisis of conscience as he wonders what he could have done differently that might have saved Roger’s life. A youth group leader, Chris Vaughn (Joshua Weigel), guides him along throughout his spiritual journey, a kind of awakening, self-discovery and embracing of kindness, compassion and understanding that everyone ought to go through at some point in their life. Jake has a second chance to save the life of an outsider when he meets Jonny Garcia (Sean Michael), another alienated student. The sensitive screenplay by Jim Britts combines the comic-of-age drama with just the right touch of suspense and comic relief to keep you fully engaged. What makes Jake such an interesting character is that he’s quite relatable, complex and more mature than your average popular teenager. You can sense that he has the potential inside him to be not only a good Christian, but a good human being who’s not selfish or mean-spirited like those in his social circle who are, essentially, dragging him down. Perhaps later in life Jake’s girlfriend and popular friends will realize the importance of kindness and compassion, but throughout Jake’s journey, they’re still naïve. Fortunately, the moments of during which Jake experiences his epiphanies never veer toward preachiness or corniness, so it’s easy to feel immersed in his journey without rolling your eyes or getting hit over the head with messages. Director Brian Baugh includes a terrific, lively soundtrack and moves the pace briskly enough so that there’s never a scene that overstays its welcome. At a running time of 2 hours, To Save a Life manages to be inspirational, genuinely heartfelt and captivating. It’s a profound, tender and uplifting journey toward enlightenment and compassion.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films. Opens at the AMC Empire 25.