Reviews for January 8th, 2010
Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig.
In the year 2019, a viral outbreak 10 years earlier has now turned almost everyone on Earth into blood-thirsty vampires while some humans can still be found hiding away in fear for their lives. A blood shortage has caused the vampires to morph into grotesque-looking creatures desperate to kill any anyone for blood. Charles Bromsley (Sam Neill), CEO of Bromsley Marks Corporation, the major supplier of human blood, searches for a way to create a substitute for blood that would greatly increase the corporation’s profits, so it’s not surprising when he says that he’s not looking for a cure, but rather repeat business. You might find yourself asking, “How’s the different from the true intentions of pharmaceutical corporations in the real world?”Edward (Ethan Hawke), a hematologist working for Bromsley, meets two humans, Audrey (Claudia Karvan) and former vampire “Elvis” (Willem Dafoe), whom he shows compassion for. Elvis has discovered a special cure that morphs vampires back into humans, so now it’s up to Edward to do everything he can to bring the cure to fruition no matter how much Bromsley uses aggressive force to oppose it. The tension escalates a bit once Edward’s younger brother, Frankie (Michael Dorman), and Bromley’s daughter, Alison (Isabel Lucas), get caught up in the battle between Edward and Bromley. Michael and Peter Spierig, a.k.a. “the Spierig Brothers,” who previously wrote and directed Undead together, blend sci-fi, action and suspense with just the right amount of social commentary sprinkled here and there to make it an intriguing and thrilling ride that doesn’t require you to check your brain at the door for the entire duration. The brilliant opening scene gives you a reminder that you’re not watching a run-of-the-mill sci-fi action film. While the dialogue doesn’t sparkle with wit or memorable lines, at least it’s not stilted to the point of being cringe-worthy. It’s always a pleasure to see Willem Dafoe having such a great time with his role and providing some quirky, dark comic relief along the way. The Spierig Brothers also include great make-up and CGI effects that add a lot of visual style to the film along with some blood-and-guts for shock value. Admittedly, though, the action-filled third act could have been tightened up much more intelligently so that it wouldn’t feel so underwhelming, weak and slightly anti-climactic. Nonetheless, at a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes, Daybreakers manages to be a suspenseful, visually stylish and gory sci-fi thriller that’s simultaneously entertaining and provocative. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Lionsgate. Opens nationwide.
Flooding with Love for the Kid
Directed by Zachary Oberzan.
Adapted from the novel First Blood by David Morrell. Rambo (Zachary Oberzan), a Vietnam veteran, hitchhikes in Kentucky and ends up getting thrown in a small-town jail. The local sheriff, Will Teasle (Zachary Oberzan), a redneck Korean War veteran, abuses and harasses him during his stay there. Rambo escapes, so, soon enough, Will does everything in his ability to hunt him down and capture him. Even audience members unfamiliar with the novel First Blood or the classic action film inspired by the novel starring Sylvester Stallon will be able to follow and grasp the gist of the plot quite easily. Zachary Oberzan serves as not only the writer, director, editor, producer and designer of the film, but also plays the role of every single character from Rambo to Sheriff Will Teasle to Will’s father, a moonshiner and even a waitress. Most of the performances are over-the-top and slyly tongue-in-cheek while others such as Rambo and Teasle add gravitas to the film. Oberzan radiates a lot of energy, enthusiasm and a bit of panache, so, in a way, he welcomes you to laugh with him and even at him every now and then. He even bares it all in a scene where he’s completely in the nude. It’s absolutely astonishing that he made the film for merely $95.51 and shot it in his 220-square-foot apartment using household objects such as a toaster, fan and a teddy bear as props while every part of his apartment represents a different setting, i.e. a bathtub as a river. Admittedly, the shoddy cinematography and ultra cheap special effect might take a while for you to get accustomed to, but once you’re willing to completely suspend your disbelief and just go along for the ride, you’ll find it all to be oddly charming, engrossing and even suspenseful, which often can’t be said for many films made for 100,000 times this film’s tiny shoestring budget. At a running time of 1 hour and 47 minutes, Flooding with Love for the Kid manages to be engrossing, riveting, amusing and filled with panache and a wickedly offbeat sense of humor. It’s an incredible feat of filmmaking that must be seen to be believed. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Opens at the Anthology Film Archives.
In Search of Memory
Directed by Petra Seeger.
This illuminating, captivating and delightful documentary focuses on Eric Kandel, a 79-year-old Jewish neuroscientist who received a Novel Prize for his research on the physiology of the memory storage of neurons in the brain. He was born in Austria in 1929 and fled with his brother to the US during while the Nazis began to occupy Austria late in the 1930’s. In New York, he attended medical school at NYU where he gradually developed his passionate fervor to learn about and explore the field of neuroscience. He isolated neurons from marine invertebrates and used electrophysiology to study the memory storage in those neurons which, as it turns out, has a lot to do with the synapses connections located on the axons of neurons. What’s quite amazing about Eric Kandel is that he not only has a deep understanding of his field of expertise but also knows how to articulate his insights quite coherently. Moreover, he laughs a lot and isn’t not afraid to use humor to lighten up the mood every now and then so that explain all those details of neuroscience wouldn’t seem so dry and dull. He also understands and explains clearly why the study of memory is so important for everyone, young and old. Director Petra Seeger follows Dr. Kandel as he visits his childhood town in Austria where his father once owned a toy store which, since then, has been bought by a new owner and converted into a candy store. His wife, Denise Bystryn, visits the Catholic school in France that she found security at during Nazi occupation. She struggles to search through her long-term memory to find an escape tunnel in the school’s property. Seeger does a skillful job of combining background information about Dr. Kandel’s life as well as his Nobel Prize-winning work in the field of neuroscience. Through the interviews with him, he comes across as charming, funny, upbeat and very bright, which explains what makes him such an inspiration to many people who refer to him as the “rock star of neuroscience.” Admittedly, though, it would have been interesting to ask him more delicate questions about his work, such as what would he do if he were to make a discovery in neuroscience that would not only go against the “party line” in his field, but also threaten the pharmaceutical industry’s profits? Would he truely have the courage to stand up to the powers of the FDA and pharmaceutical companies for the sake of public welfare in those circumstances? What are his thoughts about neurotoxins, i.e. MSG and Aspartame, and their potential links to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s? Please click here for information about the cover-up of hidden MSG. It’d be very intriguing to hear a discussion or debate between him and neurosurgeon Dr. Russell L. Blaylock, author of Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills. Despite its lack of piercing questions, In Search of Memory manages to be a captivating, illuminating and delightful documentary filled with surprising moments of humor and charm. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Icarus Films. Opens at the IFC Center.
Directed by Jugal Hansraj.
Abhay Sharma (Uday Chopra), a dorky, romantic guy at heart, falls instantly in love with Alisha Merchant (Priyanka Chopra), a beautiful girl at his college, but he’s too shy to even talk to her. On a night out with her friends, she falls into a pond and he heroically jumps in to saves her from downing before she gets up without even properly thanking him. Seven year later, he’s now a computer whiz who lives with his father (Anupam Kher) and still pines over Alisha. When a businessman, Siddhu (Dino Morea), steals a computer software program that he had written, he travels all the way to Singapore in hopes of getting the program back from him. Guess which sexy woman happens to be the Head of PR and Marketing for the company that Siddhu works for? If you guessed Alisha, you’ll probably be able to figure out what happens throughout the rest of the ultra-formulaic film. Alisha, now a divorced single mother, mistakes Abhay for her new nanny and lets him take care of her 7-year-old, obnoxious daughter, Tanya, and cook for her and her new potential boyfriend, Siddhu, whose real name is Varun. Screenwriter Uday Chopra uses up pretty much all the possible clichés in the playbook of generic romantic comedies and doesn’t offer any surprises. Chopra essentially spoon-feeds the audience everything from start to finish without any subtleties. Too many of the scenarios seem highly unlikely and contrived, especially how easily the lady at the front desk at Alisha’s company lets Abhay go upstairs to speak to the Head of PR without even asking for his credentials. The third act takes too many preposterous liberties when it comes to tying things up so neatly. However, Priyanka Chopra’s charming performance keeps the film afloat while Uday Chopra gives a convincing performance as a sweet-hearted geek who’s hard to dislike. It’s also worth mentioning that a few laugh-out-loud scenes that work, such as a sequence where Abhay serves Thai food to Alisha, Varun and other guests while finding awkward ways to shield his face from Varun, giving a new meaning to the words “Thai tradition.” Director Jugal Hansraj could have easily trimmed down the running time of 2 hour and 25 minutes to around 90 minutes, the ideal running time for a romcom, though. Ultimately, Pyaar Impossible is breezy, charming and harmless albeit very formulaic, contrived and forgettable while overstaying its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Yash Raj Films. Opens at the Big Manhattan I and AMC Empire 25.
Waiting for Armageddon
Directed by Kate Davis, David Heilbrone, and Franco Sacchi.
This timely and alarming documentary tackles the issue of the Biblical prophecy of Armageddon that 50 million Evangelical Americans predict will occur without any doubt. According to the Evangelicals, the only path to heaven is through Jesus Christ, so they believe that many Jews will convert while the Jews who choose not to do so will get wiped off the planet through a serious of horrendous disasters and catastrophes. There will essentially be 4 different stages one after the other. First comes the Rapture when Jesus comes back to Earth on a cloud and sends everyone who believed in him directly up to heaven. Next there’s the Tribulation stage where natural and manmade disasters will kill off every non-believer. During the Armageddon stage, Jesus will come down onto Earth with “a sword on his side” and as the “ultimate judge of the world,” according to Evangelist Laura Bagg. Evangelists will be his army and expect to shed a lot of blood during that final battle which will take place in Israel. Before then, the Muslims will be fighting against the Jews just like they’re doing now---in fact, Evangelists have been pressuring the White House to pressure politicians into believing in their Armageddon prediction which is pretty a dogma. The Evangelists can’t seem to agree upon where in Megiddo the final battle will occur, but they’re sure that it’ll occur somewhere there. In the final stage, the Millennium, all of Jesus’ followers will experience 1,000 years of heaven on Earth. During the interviews explaining this stage, co-directors Kate Davis, Franco Sacchi, David Heilbroner squander their opportunity to delve deeper into the relationship between Church and State, which ought to be completely separate entities. Why not question these Evangelists more to see if they fully understand what they’re talking about or if they’re merely repeating what they’ve been told blindly? Is the Biblical prophecy true because it’s written in the Bible or is it written in the Bible because it’s true? The co-directors wisely provide footage showing different opinions about the multifaceted issue. They also don’t poke fun at the quixotic nature of Evangelism while just letting them speak freely an for different opinions, but, concurrently, an open-minded, critical, rational individual would probably laugh at the silliness that too many Evangelicals take for granted or at least ask them delicate questions. Nonetheless, at a running time of only 1 hour and 14 minutes Waiting for Armageddon manages to be a fascinating, alarming and well-balanced documentary that sheds light on a very timely and provocative issue.Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by First Run Features. Opens at the Cinema Village.
Youth in Revolt
Directed by Miguel Arteta.
Based on the novel by C.D. Payne. 16-year-old Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) lives with his mother, Estelle (Jean Smart) and her younger boyfriend, Jerry (Zach Galifianakis). He’s an awkward, shy teenager, still a virgin and hasn’t had a girlfriend yet. His mother sends him to a mobile home park during the summer to spend time with his divorced father, George (Steve Buscemi), who’s sleeping with a younger woman old enough to be his daughter. During his visit, Nick meets and falls in love with Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), a blond teenager who seduces him with her sexiness, charm and joie de vivre. She doesn’t appear to be into him as much as he’s into her, though, and still communicates with her ex-boyfriend, Trent (Jonathan Bradford Wright). Nick develops an alter ego named Francois Dillinger who dons a mustache and behaves much more confidently and rebelliously than Nick. With the help of his alter ego’s clever schemes, Nick finds a way for him and Sheeni to get together again, but, concurrently, he gets into trouble with the law and, essentially, becomes a fugitive. Ray Liotta plays a local police officer who happens to be a boyfriend of Nick’s mother. Unfortunately, screenwriter Gustin Nash fails to balance the comedic and dramatic aspects of the film deftly enough. The humor for the most part falls flat, although a few of the attempts at quirkiness and dark humor do generate some laughter, but not nearly enough to buoy thecontrived dramatic scenes. The interactions between Nick/Francois and Sheen have a tone and visual style that recalls Godard films from the French New Wave, i.e. Breathless, Band of Outsiders and La Chinoise, but Nash ruins the effect of the homage by having one of the character refer to Breathless directly, thereby insulting the audiences intelligence. On a positive note, It’s quite refreshing to watch Michael Cera show off his acting chops in the alter ego role of Francois Dillinger, unlike the typecast role of Nick which is quite reminiscent of Paulie Bleeker that he played in Juno. At a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, Youth in Revolt manages to be whimsical, mostly engaging and occasionally funny, but it’s too uneven, pretentious, and lacks genuine poignancy as a coming of age story.Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by The Weinstein Company. Opens nationwide.