Evan (Evan Sneider), a young man suffering from Down syndrome, lives with his mother, Celeste (Amanda Plummer), in a small town, and works at a local diner. He wishes for something that sounds deceptively simple: to find himself a girlfriend to fall in love with. After his mother unexpectedly dies, a relative hands him a large stash of his inherited at the funeral. Instead of keeping the money, he altruistically gives it to Candy (Shannon Woodward) who desperately needs it because she’s very behind on rent, and her landlord threatens her with eviction. She’s a single mother and a former high school classmate who Evan still has a crush on. Once Candy’s abusive ex-boyfriend, Russ (Jackson Rathbone), shows up, the plot becomes increasingly tense as he uses Evan to fish out information about Candy, and gets jealous of their relationship.
Instead of delving more into the mind and background of the most interesting character, Evan, writer/director Justin Lerner chooses to focus on the complex love triangle between Evan, Candy and Russ. Evan wants Candy to be his girlfriend, and to love her, but she’s at a phase in her life where she’s unsure of her feelings. She respects and cares about Evan which shows that at least she has a good heart albeit a fragile one. He also wants to lose his virginity to her, but initially she only lets him watch her taking a bath. The subplot involving Russ feels tacked-on merely as a plot devise with a few twists and turns along the way; Lerner should’ve been braver by keeping the film as a character-driven drama rather than veering it into a contrived thriller. On a positive note, though, the exquisite cinematography helps to add a layer of richness to the film. A particularly memorable, lyrical and breathtaking scene takes place when Evan and Candy make love on the side of a lake. Instead of pointing the camera at them, Lerner points it at the lake, thereby showing that he trusts your intelligence and, wisely, lets you use your imagination. That kind of trust is rare in American cinema nowadays because, too often, directors tend to over spoon-feed the audience without letting their imagination do some work for a change.
The setting of the small town becomes a character of its own, and it’s quite appropriate given the film’s somber themes that Lerner chose to shoot during the fall season. Moreover, the performances are all uniformly exceptional, especially that of Evan Sneider who’s convincingly moving from start to finish.
At a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, Girlfriend, despite its somewhat contrived turn of events, manages to be genuinely endearing with beautiful cinematography and a heartfelt, raw performance by newcomer Even Sneider.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Hood to Coast
This stylishly edited, but only mildly engaging documentary follows 4 teams out of over 1,000 who participate in the Hood to Coast relay race. Each team consists of 12 runners, and they relay 6 times throughout the race. They start running on Mt. Hood in Oregon all the way until the finish line on the coast which makes a whopping total of 197 miles. The four teams that co-directors Christoph Baaden and Marcie Hume follow include The Dead Jocks, Heart–-N--Sole, Thunder and Laikaning, and R. Bowe.
Baaden and Hume spend too much time with exposition as they introduce you to each of the four teams, one of which has a member who had nearly died from a heart attack during a previous race, yet she still decides to run albeit while wearing a heartbeat monitor. The runners onscreen are interesting and often moving (no pun intended), but only up to a certain point because, after all, what’s more intriguing is the race itself, especial for audience members who aren’t familiar with it. Hood to Coast could have easily become an exhilarating, suspenseful documentary during the relay race scenes; instead, those scenes merely provide lots of great scenery because the directors don’t provide you with updates on how the runners are actually performing in the race. By the umpteenth time that the runners talk in “bumper sticker”, in other words, repeating uplifting messages about never giving up and how anything is possible, you’ll grow tired and even a bit bored. You’ll also wish that the directors would have asked them meatier questions or at least provided you with some captivating racing footage.
At a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes, Hood to Coast is heartfelt and stylishly edited with picturesque scenery, but it’s often redundant, underwhelming and neither suspenseful nor insightful enough to be truly inspirational or captivating.
Life, Above All
12-year-old Chandra (Khomotso Manyaka) lives in a small South African village endures a tragedy that no child should have to go through. Her baby sister, Sara, dies of AIDS after her stepfather, Jonah (Aubrey Poolo), also succumbed to the disease that’s spreading throughout the country. It turns out that her mother, Lillian (Lerato Mvelase) now suffers from the disease as well, so Chandra struggles to take care of her as well as her two younger siblings, Iris (Mapaseka Mathebe) and Soly (Thato Kgaladi), who still remain alive. Meanwhile, Chandra must also deal with the shame of losing members of her family to AIDS because the local villagers look down upon her. Chandra’s best friend, Esther (Keaobaka Makanyane), lives in worse conditions because she sleeps alone in a shack after both her parents died of AIDS, and eventually turns to prostitution.
The screenplay by Dennis Foon, based on the novel “Chandra’s Secrets” by Allan Stratton, combines the genres of drama and tragedy while pulling at your heartstrings. Foon wisely refrains from sugar-coating the horrors of the current AIDS epidemic plaguing South Africa. Chandra’s plight feels so palpably, unflinchingly real that it will move you to tears, but not in a contrived fashion because the scenes never become melodramatic. It’s also worth mentioning that director Oliver Schmitz moves the film at a leisurely, very natural pace with outstanding cinematography and camerawork that doesn’t resort to the use of shaky cam as a means of heightening the tension.
&nsbp   Khomotso Manyaka gives such a genuinely heartfelt, brave performance as Chandra that she makes it easy to be fully engrossed in the story. You’ll find yourself deeply caring about her as a human being, and, concurrently, you’ll be inspired and amazed by her physical and mental strength that allows her to endure such traumatic events. Chandra doesn’t express her feelings verbally very much, but she doesn’t have to because her facial expression, in particular, her eyes, convey her bottled-up pain, frustration and sadness.
At a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes, Life, Above All is profoundly moving, unflinching, inspirational and eye-opening. It boasts a brave, genuinely heartfelt performance by newcomer Khomotso Manyaka.
There’s much more to Joyce McKinney than meets the eye. A former beauty queen from Wyoming with an IQ of 168, Joyce gives her own account of the events in her life that became tabloid news back in the 1970’s. When she met Kirk Anderson, a Mormon from Utah, it was love at first site, and, soon enough, they were engaged to be married. The Mormon Church sends him on a mission to England, but, according to Joyce, they had kidnapped him. She travels all the way to England, kidnaps him from the church, and takes him to a countryside cottage where she and a friend of hers handcuff him to the bed spread-eagle and has sex with him. Should McKinney be guilty of rape? That’s what she and her accomplice was sent to prison for, but based on McKinney’s own account of the story, she denies the rape claiming that woman can’t rape a man that’s bigger than her, and, on top of that, a woman raping a man is like trying to fit a marshmallow into a parking meter.
After her release from prison, McKinney’s life turns very strange as does the film itself: she rescued a pit bull from the side of the road, named him Booger, and had him cloned more than once in South Korea. You’ll be shocked to find out how much she spent on the cloning procedures. She even goes to the extent of claiming that Booger saved her life by somehow being able to call 911 when another dog viciously attacked her.
&nsbp     Director Errol Morris should be commended for getting so much access to McKinney because she’s in nearly every frame of the film, which gives her the chance to tell her side of the story. The more she talks, the more the lines between truth and fiction become blury because you’ll be able to sense that McKinney is merely giving a performance in front of the camera. It’s a kind of act that almost makes you believe that she’s innocent, logical, reasonable and genuine if it weren’t for how she delivers her answers in such over-the-top and quirky manners. You’ll feel most captivated every time she’s onscreen.
In case you haven’t realized by now, there’s more than two sides to every coin: there’s the corners, the many ridges, the sides of the ridges and so on. Morris provides those many different sides in such a way that’s provocative, oddly delightful and, thanks to McKinney’s performance, surprisingly funny. Whom among the interviewees should you believe? You’ll have to decide that for yourself because after all, maybe they’re all fudging the truth to some degree. One thing is for sure, though, by the time the end credits roll after 87 minutes: Joyce McKinney deserves a nomination for Best Actress of the Year.
Winnie the Pooh