Reviews for June 12th, 2009
Betty Blue: The Director’s Cut
Directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix.
In French with subtitles. Based on the novel 37°2 le matin by Philippe Djian. Original release date: November 7th, 1983 at RKO Cinema II with a running time of 120 minutes. Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade), a young man who works a serious of odd jobs around his beachfront home, enters into a sexually-charged relationship with a sexy young woman, Betty (Béatrice Dalle). When they’re not having sex with one another or chit-chatting, they’re painting the outside of a nearby house. Betty reacts like a crazy person to the idea of painting more than one house by throwing paint on the car belonging to Zorg’s boss. As the plot progresses, she loses her mind more and more. Before she and Zorg move to a house in Paris, she ends up getting annoyed by a customer at a restaurant and stabs her with a fork. She also throws around pots and pans in their home and burns it down. Now sharing a Parisian home with her friends, Lisa (Consuelo de Haviland) and Eddy (Gerard Darmon), Betty and Zorg hope to start their lives afresh. Betty decides to send Zorg’s manuscript to publishers without his consent, but when a publisher responds with a strong rejection, she visits the publisher’s apartment and slashes him across the face with a knife. It’s quite humorous, in an offbeat, dark sort of way, to watch how Zorg gets out of trouble for that incident. Writer/director Jean-Jacques Beineix uses cinematography, set design, bright colors, pacing and musical score to create a very enriching, mostly captivating experience. Some scenes drag with tedium, especially toward the middle section of the film with tedium as you watch Zorg and Betty having sex for the umpteenth time. Béatrice Dalle, in her big screen debut, adds abundant charisma with her radiant, genuine beauty to the role of Betty as she descends toward madness. She’s the heart and soul of the film and helps to keep you engrossed in the story, for the most part, even though there aren’t any real surprises to be found. At a lengthy running time of 185 minutes, Betty Blue: The Director’s Cut occasionally drags and meanders, but it boasts an impressive visual style and a radiant, charismatic performance by the ultra-sexy Béatrice Dalle. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Cinema Libre Studio. Opens at the Cinema Village.
Directed by Paul Devlin.
This mildly fascinating documentary follows a team of astrophysicists, lead by Mark Devlin and Barth Netterfield, who set out to launch BLAST, a telescope that’s designed to capture images that help to explain the evolution and origin of the universe. BLAST stands for Balloon-borne Large Aperture Sub-millimeter Telescope. The team builds the telescope meticulously at Esrange Space Center in the Arctic region of Sweden. Each part of the telescope is very delicate and a tiny error can be a major problem, so it takes them a while---and a lot of money---to finally construct it. Their first launch in Sweden doesn’t go well with poor weather conditions and mechanical errors that send it crashing somewhere on Victoria Island in Canada. Director Paul Devlin, brother of Mark, includes stylish graphics and editing along with a little background information about Mark, showing his wife and kids who he leaves back home while working diligently on BLAST, even through the holidays. Netterfield is a devout Christian whose faith him to continue his quests in the field of astrophysics as he finds signs of God’s work in the universe, especially given the Intelligent Design theory which implies that if there’s a design or certain order/structure taking place, then there must be a designer. The film doesn’t really delve too deeply into issue of theology and only scratches the surface when it comes to insights about astrology, so the film wouldn’t go over kids’ heads or bore them. Instead, director Paul Devlin focuses more on the attempts to launch BLAST. The second launch attempt takes place on Antarctica and goes a little better, although the telescope does crash and get dragged for many miles across the ice. It’s initially suspenseful, but eventually becomes a bit tedious as you watch the scientists fly over the long crash site hoping to find remnants of the telescope and its crucial hard drives intact. At a brief running time of 74 minutes, Blast! manages to be mildly engaging, stylishly edited, sporadically provocative and suspenseful, but more analysis and insightful revelations would have made it a truly enlightening experience rather than an ultimately underwhelming one. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Paul Devlin Productions. Opens at the Cinema Village.
Directed by Robert Kenner.
This provocative and vital documentary exposes the deep-rooted corruptions in the food industry that pose a serious threat to public health and even evolution. Corporations control everything from the raising of chickens, cows and pigs on a farm to the production of food in a factory all the way to its distribution at your local supermarket. Perdue chickens, for example, come from farms where chickens injected with growth hormones can barely walk because they can’t support their increase in weight. The hormones increase the size of their breast meat, which there’s a high demand for, but that, along with other injections, adds toxic chemicals to the meat. Cows get injections, too, and, in turn, become sick. In a moving interview, Barbara Kowalcyk, a food safety activist, recalls how her 2-year-old son, Kevin, died from E.coli poisoning after eating a contaminated hamburger. The company that sold her the meat wouldn’t even apologize to her or promise that it won’t happen again. That tragic situation represents a microcosm of how corporations have no conscience when it comes to its effect on public health; it’s all about profit, profit and more profit no matter what. You have every right to get angry and fed-up by how the FDA and USDA allow for public health to be undermined when it should be their job to protect it. Director Robert Kenner also includes illuminating interviews with Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, and Joel Salatin, an organic farmer. You’ll also learn about the consequences of Monsanto, a corporation that patents the biology of seeds, such as soybean or corn, which have genetically engineered. They have sued farmers for infringing on their patent by saving GMO seeds, even if the seeds result from cross-pollination from a neighboring farm with GMO seeds. With the power of lawyers and money, Monsanto wins those lawsuits against the small farmers. A consumer wouldn’t be able to know whether he or she were buying a GMO product because it’s not required to be labeled as such. If you’ve seen the documentary King Corn, you’d know that many foods have ingredients derived from corn, such as high fructose corn syrup, which can be even be found in breakfast cereals such as Kellogg’s Cornflakes. The ingredient maltodextrin, malt extract, hydrolyzed comes from corn as well. What Robert Kenner fails to mention, though, is how exactly food corporations hide toxins in their products. Many ingredients, such as citric acid, autolyzed yeast, gelatin and malted barley, contain or result in hidden, unlabeled processed free glutamic acid, which is equivalent to MSG. Believe it or not, Whole Foods Supermarket carries products with those ingredients. (Please click here for more information about the cover-up of hidden MSG and for a complete list of ingredients with hidden MSG.) It’s very common for a product to include the misleading phrase “All Natural” on its package, but an educated consumer should know that natural does not necessarily imply that it’s safe health-wise. To all those who use the excuse “everything in moderation,” asks yourself whether you really think that health abuse should be in moderation as well. Everyone should think about the following question: Why are food and drugs regulated by the same administration (the FDA)? Would you be surprised that there are conflicts of interest within the FDA? Unless you learn to not only read ingredients, but how to interpret them, you’ll be deceived into buying something that’s a hazard to your health in the short run and/or the long run. Whether or not you’re able to avoid the temptations of fast foods and other processed foods that taste good will depend on your courage as well as your education about food and health. Food, Inc. at least manages to be an illuminating, vital and provocative documentary that will open your eyes to the harsh truths about the food industry and will inspire you to change your diet to organic, unprocessed food. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at the Film Forum.
Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick.
Evan Danielson (Eddie Murphy), an overworked financial advisor, has joint custody of his seven-year-old daughter, Olivia (Yara Shahidi), with his wife, Trish (Nicole Ari Parker). One day, she drops Olivia off at Evan’s apartment and tells him to take care of her for a week. He struggles to find the right balance between focusing on work and bonding with Olivia. Evan’s boss, Tom Stevens (Ronny Cox), will be retiring soon and plans to hire either him or Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church) as a successor. When he brings her to work with him, he briefly neglects her while she turns his paperwork into arts and crafts. Little does he know that those arts and crafts actually represent financial advice that she gives to him and which ends up being 100% correct. Upon asking her where she got that information, she tells him that she hears it from a princess that she imagines. In a delightful scene, Olivia instructs him to sing and dance to the imaginary characters of her fantasy world, even while outside in public. Fortunately, newcomer Yara Shahidi brings plenty of unadulturated charisma and cuteness to the role of Olivia. Her performance never becomes over-the-top or irritating like that of Madison Pettis in The Game Plan. Eddie Murphy seems comfortable during the comedic scenes, although he’s not given as many as Thomas Haden Church, who gives a lively, goofy performance as Johnny Whitefeather. It’s interesting that director Karey Kirkpatrick has chosen to not actually show the fantasy world of Olivia, so, in turn, that helps to ground the film into reality a bit more. He moves the pace briskly enough so that there’s rarely a dull moment, but, admittedly, the inclusions of re-recorded Beatles songs such as “Here Comes the Sun” or “All You Need is Love” does seem a bit corny. Just because the plot feels predictable and formulaic doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not enjoyable. Most family comedies are fundamentally predictable and formulaic. The real question should be whether or not both adults and children will feel equally entertained and engrossed. Co-screenwriters Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson blend drama and comedy with mostly successful results with laughs geared more toward children, but adults who can easily suspense their disbelief and lighten-up will find themselves laughing along with their kids. There are also a few tender moments between Olivia and Evan as their father-daughter relationship grows stronger. Imagine That ultimately manages to be sweet, tender and funny, despite some corny and contrived moments. As long as you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and to lighten up for 107 minutes, you’ll find it to be a delightful, genuinely heartwarming comedy for the whole family. Number of times I checked my watch: 2Released by Paramount Pictures. Opens nationwide.
The Last International Playboy
Directed by Steve Clark.
Jack Frost (Jason Behr), a bachelor living in Manhattan, has been living his life aimlessly for the last 7 years, drinking lots of booze and womanizing without committing to any serious relationships. He spends a lot of his time hanging around his drug-addicted friend, Ozzy (Krysten Ritter), or his best friend, Scotch (Mike Landry), who likes to drink, but doesn’t have any success with attracting women like Jack does. Just as he’s about to start a potential romance with Kate (Lucy Gordon), a journalist, and admits that he wants to fall in love, he can’t stop thinking about Caroline (Monet Mazur), his childhood sweetheart who’s about to get married. He’s naïve enough to think that she will simply call off the wedding and marry him instead—-he even shows up at her office to confess his love. What will it take for him to grow up and move on with his life? His savior, in many ways, is Sophie (India Ennenga), an 11-year-old neighbor, wise beyond her years, who gives him many words of advice about love and relationships. India Ennenga often steals the show in a very charming performance as the only truly intelligent and likeable character. Director/co-writer Steve Clark balances the drama and romance with mixed results. There’s really not that much to like about Jack Frost, though, which makes it difficult to grasp what any woman sees in him beyond his good looks. Without spoiling anything, there’s a scene when he kisses someone while someone else just happens to open the door to catch him in the act, which feels like the kind of contrived scene you’d find in a soap opera. The plot has so much potential to become a tender, romantic drama, but the screenplay lacks the sensitivity needed to flesh out Jack’s transformation or epiphanies in a believable and organic way. It could also use a better comic relief rather than relying on humor coming from Scotch’s character, which often falls flat. Moreover, you don’t really get enough of a chance to get inside Jack’s head to understand precisely what he’s thinking and feeling beyond his constant pining for Caroline. At a running time of 1 hour and 32 minutes, The Last International Playboy manages to be mildly engaging with a scene-stealing performance by India Ennenga, but its often inorganic screenplay lacks an emotional core as well as credible character development. Number of times I checked my watch: 3Released by Black Note Films and C Plus Pictures. Opens at the Village East Cinema.
Directed by Duncan Jones.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) works on the moon as an astronaut for Lunar Industries. He has nearly completed a three-year mission to harvest moon rocks which help to supply Earth’s main source energy, Helium-3. Videotaped messages are the only means of communication he has with civilization back on Earth, including his beloved wife, Tess (Dominique McElligott) and 3-year-old daughter, Eve (Kaya Scodelario), who he’s looking forward to reunite with shortly. Inside the moon station Sarang, he spends his time living and working there alone while just interacting with a computer called Gerty (voice of Kevin Spacey). The mission goes smoothly until, one day, he crashes his lunar rover and, the next thing he knows, he’s back at the mining station recovering from the crash. Another Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell, again) shows up and may be a clone or, perhaps, they’re both clones. As the first Sam becomes more and more mentally and physically unstable, the line between truth and fiction gets increasingly blurred. Screenwriter Nathan Parker does a great job of building tension very gradually by not giving too much information about Sam Bell all at once. Essentially, the film skips a first act that might have shown Sam interacting with his family on Earth and preparing for the lunar mission. Instead, it leaves that segment out and puts you right at end of Sam’s mission, so that makes the plot more mysterious and leaves more for your imagination, in turn, while staying clear of becoming too convoluted. Not all of the questions get answered when the third act’s twists become revealed, though, but at least the twist works in hindsight without seeming too gimmicky and tacked-on. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s just the right amount of comic relief to counter the plot’s heaviness. Sam Rockwell gives convincing performances here in multiple roles and has the charisma to carry the film pretty much on his own. The other character, besides, the computer Gerty, would be the setting on the moon itself. Director Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son, includes a terrific musical score along with breathtaking long and medium shots of Sam in the lunar rover mining the moon’s surface. Some of the visuals will remind you of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Concurrently, the set designs inside the lunar station adds to the atmosphere of claustrophobia as Sam remains stuck there in isolation with a possible clone. At a running of 97 minutes, Moon manages to be intriguing and suspenseful with awe-inspiring visuals and terrific, well-nuanced performances by Sam Rockwell in dual roles. Essentially, it avoids tedium while finding just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually, which rarely happens in sci-fi movies nowadays. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 and AMC Empire 25.
Directed by Daryl Wein.
This fascinating documentary focuses on the life of Richard Berkowitz, a former gay S&M hustler who, along with his friend Michael Callen, became an aids activist during the 1980’s. He wrote articles as well as co-wrote a book about how to practice safe sex to avoid spreading AIDS called How to Have Sex in an Epidemic. Back in the 80’s, as the AIDS epidemic began to rise, many people didn’t quite understand the seriousness of the disease or its true origins. Berkowitz fervently believed that gay men shouldn’t merely abstain from having sex altogether, but safe sex practices should be promoted instead. The public needs to be educated about safe sex, though, and they still need that awareness and knowledge to this very today in order to avoid contacting and spreading the disease. Throughout Berkowitz’s activism, Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, a virologist and AIDS doctor, discovered that the disease isn’t merely a new virus but rather one that’s caused by a combination of different, complex set of factors. Sonnabend, Berkowitz and Callen were both very brave for going against the medical establishment which didn’t do enough to prevent the HIV virus or AIDS. Concurrently, even members of the gay community criticized Berkowitz and tried to silence him because they couldn’t accept the fact that promiscuous behavior with unprotected sex can significantly increase the chances of getting AIDS. Director Daryl Wein includes many intriguing interviews with Berkowitz, now in his 50’s, as he candidly recalls how he turned from an S&M hustler to an AIDS activist and, after many of his friends died of AIDS, he turned to cocaine to escape all of the traumatic events going on around him. He also interviews archival footage, photographs and interviews with Dr.Sonnabend, Berkowitz’s mother and Michael Callen, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1993. It’s important for both the public, physicians and the media, to fully grasp what Berkowitz, Callen and Sonnabend have to say about AIDS and safe sex because, when it comes down to it, it’s a matter of life or death, public health and, above all, evolution. Especially now that the AIDS virus has been on the rise, being unaware of the dangers of unprotected sex and promiscuity can have detrimental effects on one’s health, so it’s crucial to not only understand the harsh realities, but to factor them into your everyday life while taking them seriously---mere abstinence is not the solution. At a running time of only 1 hour and 18 minutes, Sex Positive manages to be a thoroughly fascinating, illuminating and vital documentary for everyone young and old. Number of times I checked my watch: 1Released by Regent Releasing/Here! Films. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love
Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.
French, Wolof, Arabic and English with subtitles. This lively, but unenlightening documentary focuses on Youssou N’Dour, an African singer from Senegal, who goes on a world concert tour promoting his new music album called “Egypt.” He uses an old-fashioned style of singing called griot and his lyrics have socio-political and religious messages. Whether he’s performing in Paris, Dubai or New York, he sings with a lot of palpable soul and passion in his voice. Director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi captures his unadulturated passion and energy in the well-shot concert footage. The documentary comes alive during these moments, particularly. Moreover, she wisely shows the songs performed from start to finish and includes the translated lyrics which should be paid close attention to because there’s a lot of meaning to them. N’Dour often comes across as friendly, charismatic, intelligent and articulate, such as when he explains that he doesn’t want to get involved with politics. Through footage of him outside of his musical performances, you learn that he’s a devout Sufi Muslim and his music has been banned from being sold at stores and played on the radio in Senegal. His Egyptian crew of musicians was so unwilling to perform at a venue that serves alcohol that they waited for the entire crowd to throw away their alcoholic beverages before they started the concert. refused He also has a strong relationship with his beloved grandmother, who brought him up during his childhood and encouraged him to pursue his passion for singing griot music. As sociopsychologist Erving Goffman once said, everyone leads a separate life front-stage and a backstage. It would have been interesting had Vasarhelyi explored more of Youssou N’Dour backstage, so-to-speak. so that you’d learn more about his life and beliefs through interviews rather than merely through his performances and interactions throughout the tour. At a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes, Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love manages to be a lively, soulful documentary that lacks sufficient insight into the life of Youssou N’Dour. Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by Shadow Distribution. Opens at the IFC Center, The Paris Theatre and BAM Rose Cinemas.