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Reviews for January 29th, 2010

44 Inch Chest

Directed by Malcolm Venville.

When Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone) learns from his wife, Liz (Joanne Whalley), that she will be leaving him to be with her lover (Melvil Poupaud), he gets into an angry rage and assembles his four friends, Archie (Tom Wilkinson), Meredith (Ian McShane), Old Man Peanut (John Hurt) and Mal (Stephen Dillane), to kidnap him and stuff him in a 44-inch chest. Colin and his four friends gather together in an empty apartment with the chest and try to figure out what they should do to the lover as a form of revenge against how much emotional pain he’s causing Colin. Until the point in which they take him out of the chest, the film becomes quite messy and tedious as you get to know each of Colin’s bizarre friends. Meredith, the most bizarre friend, works as a middle-aged gambler who’s quite open about his gay lifestyle which includes frequent one-night-stands with young men---his strategy is always to follow them, finger them, fuck them and then forget them. As Colin, Archie, Meredith, Peanut and Mal talk amongst themselves, Colin chugs more and more whiskey. Each member of the cast gives a lively performance that’s somewhat captivating. The screenplay by co-writers Louis Mellis and David Scinto includes a few successful attempts at dark humor and plenty of profanity, but, unfortunately, the “f bombs” and other forms of profanity aren’t placed quite cleverly and effectively as in the brilliant, unforgettable, razor-sharp dialogue of In the Loop or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Because the plot doesn’t delve enough into the relationship that Colin had with Liz before she announces her departure, you’re never truly able to grasp what makes him pine for her so fervently. His anger, mixed with all the booze, makes sense within the film’s context, but there’s so much background information missing about Colin’s life that it makes for a very underwhelming experience. Director Malcolm Venville should have either taken the dark comedy to riskier and wittier levels or slowed the film’s pace down a bit and included more dramatic scenes that bring Colin to life in a way that makes audiences fully grasp what he’s thinking and feeling rather than not care at all about him. At a running time of 1 hour and 35 minutes, 44 Inch Chest boasts solid performances and some wickedly funny dialogue, but it’s often tedious, underwhelming and fails to pack any real punches.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Image Entertainment.
Opens at the Village East Cinema.

Edge of Darkness

Directed by Martin Campbell.

Based on the BBC miniseries written by Troy Kennedy Martin. Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson), a Boston police detective, witnesses his daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), being shot-to-death near the entrance of his home. He may or may not have been the intended target, but the more he digs deeper to investigate the murder, the more he believes that someone did intend to kill his daughter. Who would want to killer? What might their motives be? When he learns that she had worked for a corporation called Northmoor at the time of her death, he visits the giant facility to interrogate the corporation’s CEO, Jack Bennett (Danny Huston). The way that Jack reveals a big secret about Northmoor so nonchalantly and openly to Thomas early on seems very unrealistic and labels him as someone who’s shady, unreliable and probably has other, darker secrets that he’s covering-up. Ray Winstone plays Darius Jedburgh, a CIA operative who tries to discourage the persistent Thomas from continuing his investigation. Shawn Roberts shows up as Emma’s boyfriend, David Burnham, who happens to also be her co-worker at Northmoor. Mel Gibson’s anger-filled performance at least keeps you mildly engaged while director Martin Campbell maintains an appropriately brisk pace. The screenplay by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell starts out intriguingly as you’re wondering along with Thomas about who killed his daughter and why, but as the plot thickens with twists and dirty politics get involved, that’s when it all becomes increasingly convoluted. A truly great murder mystery, à la Dial M for Murder, The Third Man, Fargo or, more recently, the brilliant Tell No One, should be concurrently intelligent and suspenseful while tugging at your heartstrings every now and then. Edge of Darkness feels pedestrian and not particularly well thought-out, especially during the over-the-top third act. The scenes during which Thomas interacts with hallucinatory images of Emma come across as awkward rather than poignant. At a running time of nearly 2 hours, Edge of Darkness manages to be an initially intriguing policier that gradually loses suspense and cleverness as it bites off more than it can chew.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

The End of Poverty?

Directed by Philippe Diaz.

This timely and provocative documentary, narrated by Martin Sheen, traces the political and historical causes of poverty and examines how they have affected the current global economic crisis. Can the problem of poverty be solved so easily? Why does poverty persist in a world of increasing wealth? Those might sound like a simple, easy question to answer at first, but the more you factor in the economic, social and political status quo of many Third World countries, you’ll realize that it’s actually very complex question with multifaceted answers. Back in 1492, the Spanish and Portuguese colonized Latin America, exploiting their land and resources to sell export goods to other countries. Locals were forced to work for the landowners who treated essentially as slaves in harsh working conditions, which is the kind of treatment that can still be found in today’s world. Basically, the wealthy exploit the poor and need the poor to stay poor in order to continue to be rich, i.e. by paying workers less than a dollar a day. Director Philippe Diaz travelled to countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia where he interviewed a variety of people from impoverished miners and sugar-cane cutters to professors, authors, activists, impoverished families and even the Vice President of Peru, Alvaro Garcia Linera. All of the talking heads provide you with some interesting and even somewhat frightening information that’s quite insightful. However, at times it’s a bit overwhelming to try to absorb so many fact and figures all at once, especially when it comes to the numerous statistics shown onscreen. Moreover, the sources of those statistics don’t appear onscreen, so, in turn, you might find yourself questioning their credibility and accuracy. Many of the problems of the countries, such as Bolivia where there’s privatization of the water supply by corporations, should have easily been explored with more thorough analysis and focus in separate documentaries. As such, The End of Poverty manages to be a timely and provocative documentary, but it’s rather dull, poorly synthesized and fails to keep you engaged with an overload of information and a disorganized variety of interviews.
Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Cinema Libre StudioPictures.
Opens at the Cinema Village.

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Directed by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith.

This captivating and thrilling documentary focuses on Daniel Ellsberg, a former military analyst who leaked top-secret documents, known as the Pentagon Papers, to the New York Times back in 1971. The 7,000-page document contained very sensitive information about how the U.S. government dealt with the Vietnam War. He graduated from Harvard University in 1962 and came up with the decision theory that’s referred to as the “Ellsberg paradox.” After serving two years in the Vietnam War and witnessing many casualties from both sides of the battle which have haunted him to this very day, he then joined RAND (Research and Development) Corporation, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. It’s at this point that Ellsberg essentially had a crisis of conscience and began to realize that the war in Vietnam was unjust. In 1967, McNamara commissioned him to examine secret government documents, the “Pentagon Papers,” which highly classified information and transcripts proving that the Vietnam War was based on the U.S. government’s propaganda and lies to the public. Co-directors Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith do an expert job of combining background information about Ellsberg that lead up to that history-changing moment in 1971. The many interviews, including those of Ellsberg himself, are quite fascinating, lively and illuminating. To top it all off, you’ll find very stylish and suspenseful reenactments of Ellsberg photocopying the Pentagon Papers with the help of his kids before giving it to The New York Times which published different sections of it in a series of articles. Just to observe how the government reacted to that leak will send chills down the average American’s spine, but it won’t be so surprising for everyone else who knows just how corrupt our government was back then and how it’s even more so today because of George W. Bush’s use of fascist shifts to close down our democracy. Ellsberg is an exemplar of the ideal American patriot who doesn’t let apathy get in the way of finding the heart, brain and, above all, courage to do what’s truly moral and just for his own beloved country and its people. At a running time of only 92 minutes, The Most Dangerous Man in America manages to be a provocative, thrilling, well-edited and thoroughly captivating documentary.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by First Run Features.
Opens at the Cinema Village.

North Face

Directed by Philipp Stölzl.

In German, French and Italian with subtitles. Based on a true story. In Germany 1936, Henry Arau (Ulrich Tukur) a member of the Third Reich, works as a publisher for a German newspaper, Berliner Zeitung. The Nazi Party wants to find talented mountain climbers who could scale the north face of the Eiger Mountain located in the French Alps to boost its reputation throughout the world right before the Berlin Olympics begin. Henry’s editorial secretary, Luise Fellner (Johanna Wokalek), happens to know of two men willing to climb that treacherous slope under freezing conditions, so, to please the Nazi Party, Henry gives her the task of finding those two men and persuading them to go on that life-threatening journey. Andi Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas) and Toni Kurz (Benno Fuermann), Luise’s former boyfriend, agree to the challenge despite the fact that two climbers had froze to death on the Eiger a year ago. Two Austrian climbers, Willy Angerer (Simon Schwarz) and Edi Rainer (Georg Friedrich), also scale the Eiger to race them to the top, but they soon join along with them. What ensues is an adventure that’s often gripping, harrowing and breathtaking to watch. Director/co-writer Philipp Stölzl allows the tension to build gradually, but once it becomes very suspenseful, it stays that way as you’re wondering if and how those climbers will survive the elements. You’ll feel so engrossed into the incredibly realistic action sequences that you’ll think you’re watching documentary footage. It’s also worth mentioning that Stölzl includes a gentle touch of humor along the way which nicely balances the intense, heavier moments throughout. The scenery seems like a character of its own and a deceptive one at that: it appears very serene and beautiful at times, but within a matter of minutes, it can turn into hell on earth. At a running time of just over 2 hours, North Face, manages to be suspenseful, meticulously crafted, harrowing and thrilling. It’s an incredible true story about courage and the power of the human spirit.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Music Box Films.
Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, The Beekman Theatre and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Preacher’s Kid

Directed by Stan Foster.

Angie (Letoya Luckett), a 23-year-old woman, still lives in Augusta, Georgia with her widowed father, Bishop King (Gregory Alan Williams), a preacher at the local church. She attends the church quite often, sings in its choir and helps her father by bringing him his asthma inhaler whenever he needs it. He essentially has her on a tight leash and hesitantly lets go of the leash when she goes off with an R&B singer, Devlin (Durrell "Tank" Babbs), to tour with his travelling road show for a musical R&B gospel play, "Daddy, Can I Come Back Home?", as an understudy for the show’s protagonist, Desiree (Tammy Townsend). Angie falls head-over-heels for Devlin and naively believes that he has good intentions for her. Little does she know that he’s actually a sweet-talking, abusive control-freak who behaves like a misogynist. Essence Atkins plays Peaches, a performer in the traveling show whom Angie befriends. Will Angie find the courage to do the right thing by going far away from him? Staying with him would be a form of masochism. What will it take for Angie to grow up and to discover how much she truly needs the support and warmth of her family and church after all? Fortunately, Letoya Luckett gives a lively performance that radiates with charisma which helps to make Angie appealing and easy to care about as a human being. Writer/director Stan Foster explores those questions and themes in an easy-to-swallow way that doesn’t delve too much on the darker side of Angie’s journey nor does it veer toward melodrama or corniness. Many scenes do feel clichéd, but so what? Real life is filled with clichés, predictability and fallible people who are similarly led astray like Angie, and, on top of that, there’s always some truth to clichés after all. Foster focuses more on how she opens her eyes to the harsh truths of showbiz life and finds a way to improve her life by cherishing those who truly care about her, love her and respect her. He also balances heavy moments of the drama with some much-needed humor. In a way, she’s like a baby bird that flies from its nest and only during its journey as it sours into the air to be free does it learn how much it actually needs and values its nest. At a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes, Preacher’s Kid manages to be crowd-pleasing, heartfelt and inspirational. It’s a wonderful, uplifting, and life-affirming movie.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Gener8Xion Entertainment and Warner Premiere.
Opens at the AMC Empire 25.

Still Bill

Directed by Damani Baker and Alex Vlack.

This captivating documentary focuses on the life and rise to fame of legendary singer-songwriter Bill Withers, best known for singing such classic as “Lean On Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Just the Two of Us,” and “Grandma’s Hands.” He grew up in a coal-mining town in West Virginia and, back in his childhood days, suffered from asthma, stuttering, and kept his passion for music to himself while others around him lowered his confidence. At the age of eighteen, he enlisted in the Navy where he served at for nine years and later worked as an airplane mechanic during which he started recording his own music and performing at clubs. His musical career began at the age of 32 despite being told by others that he was too old. Withers candidly admits that he wasn’t ready for the burdens that come with being famous. Through the fascinating interviews with him, now in his seventies, you’re able to observe his wisdom, warmth, humbleness, eloquence and honesty. He’s honest to the camera and, most importantly, to himself, especially when confessing that he doesn’t feel as though anyone besides his family members know him or even want to know him. Musician Sting hits the nail on the head when he says that Withers knows how to be concurrently simple and profound as an artist. He’s the kind of artist who shows no signs of greed or ego; just a strong, intrinsic passion for music. Co-directors Damani Baker and Alex Vlack not only include archival footage of Withers’ lively performances, but also do a terrific job of allowing audiences to get to know Bill Withers as a soulful musician, as a sensitive human being, and as a father with a loving wife and two grown-up children, Todd and Kori. In other words, you’re able to grasp what he’s like front stage as well as backstage. His present-day interviews have some tender moments and, at times, he even gets a bit teary-eyed on camera which doesn’t often happen in documentaries. At a running time of only 1 hour and 18 minutes, Still Bill manages to be a captivating, insightful, revealing and surprisingly moving documentary.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by B-Side Entertainment.
Opens at the IFC Center.

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