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Reviews for March 25th, 2011






The 5th Quarter

Directed by Rick Bieber


Based on a true story.

      When his 15-year-old brother, Luke (Stefan Guy), succumbs to a serious brain injury after a car accident, Jon Abbate (Ryan Merriman), a linebacker for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, decides to honor his beloved brother by starting the new football season with the jersey number, 5, which Luke had worn at his high schoolís football games. Before he comes to that decision, though, his friend, Steve (Josh Smith), and girlfriend, Hailey (Jillian Batherson), persuade him to sober up. Jon struggles to overcome his grief and does everything in his ability to help the Deacons win the season against all odds. Meanwhile, his parents, Steven (Aidan Quinn) and Maryanne (Andie MacDowel), as well as his other siblings, Adam (Matt McGrath) and Rachel (Mandy Manis), also struggle to cope with grief. In one of the filmís most heartbreaking scenes, the parents must decide whether or not to donate Lukeís organs to help save the lives of others.

      Writer/director Rick Bieber almost veers toward Lifetime movie-of-the-week territory, but shies away from it thanks to the big-hearted, insightful screenplay coupled with convincingly moving performances by Aidan Quinn, Ryan Merriman and Andie MacDowell. Whenever Steven interacts with Jon, you can truly feel the loving bond between a father and son who have come together during a time of adversity.

      The five stages of grief begin with denial and anger, both of which Steven and Maryanne clearly exhibit. Anyone who has ever suffered from a loss of a loved one will probably tear up along with them. Bieber doesnít show the stages of grief in meticulous detail, though, so as not to make the film feel too heavy---after all, this isnít a Mike Leigh film nor does it try to be. The ways in which Steven and Maryanne learn how to overcome their grief will make you feel uplifted, especially when they, together with the rest of the stadium crowd, raise five fingers during football games in honor of Luke. You donít have to be a football fan to sense the elation that they feel whenever the Deacons score a touchdown. Itís also worth mentioning the terrific soundtrack that includes meaningful lyrics that keep you even further engrossed in the touching story. At a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes, The 5th Quarter is a well-acted drama that finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually. It will make you stand up and cheer.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Opens in select theaters in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Released by Rocky Mountain Pictures.



Bal

Directed by Semih Kaplanoglu



In Turkish with subtitles.

      6-year-old Yusuf (Bora Altas) lives with his mother, Zehra (Tulin Ozen) and father, Yakup (Erdal Besikcioglu), in a mountainous region of Turkey. He suffers from a stutter that only goes away when he whispers to his father. In the very first scene, Yusuf, working as a beekeeper, climbs a tree while attached to rope and gets onto a branch which breaks thereby causing him to fall to his death. The camera lingers on his torso for a while before the next scene which takes place well before the accident as Yakup bonds with his son. Since you already know what will transpire to Yakup, thereís no mystery when he ends up missing after heading into the forest to work. When Yusuf isnít at home, heís walking slowly through nature observing everything around him like most curious children do, or heís at school struggling to read out loud in front of his class.

      Given his stuttering, Yusuf is laconic, so the movement of his eyes and other forms of body language reflect his thoughts and feelings. Fortunately, the child actor who plays Yusuf, Bora Atlas, gives a very organic performance thatís quite believable because he deftly tackles a wide range of emotions. If you manage to stay awake after the hour mark, pay attention to how Yusuf reacts when his mother asks him to drink a glass of milk which he doesnít really like.

      Director/co-writer Semih Kaplanoglu moves the film at a very sluggish pace which takes a while to get used to. So many scenes drag on for too long and feel repetitive. Itís understandable that a slow pace can create a contemplative, meditative atmosphere, but how many times do you have to watch Yusuf walking through the lush scenery in order to realize its immense, awe-inspiring and mysterious power? The picturesque scenery alone becomes a character in itself thatís more interesting than anyone or anything else found onscreen. Kaplanoglu also overuses symbolisms that by the 2nd or 3rd time theyíre shown, theyíre no longer as powerful or haunting as they could have been if they were shown just once. At a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes, which feels more like 3 hours, Bal is a boring, frustratingly sluggish, highly elliptical experience with undeniably picturesque scenery and a sensitive performance by Bora Atlas. It would have worked much better as a short film.
Number of times I checked my watch: 6
Opens at the Village East Cinema.
Released by Olive Films.



Drawing With Chalk

Directed by Todd Giglio


      Jay (Todd Giglio) and Matt (Christopher Springer), friends since childhood, have always dreamed about starting a rock band and heading from their small suburban town to New York City. Now that theyíve hit the age of 40, they regret not fulfilling their lifelong dream. Jay lives with his wife, Jasmin (Pooja Kumar), and young son, Bryan (Brennan Giglio), and works at the steel mill that belongs to Mattís father. Matt also works at the steel mill and often arrives late. You can sense that neither Jay nor Matt is truly happy with the way the way their life has turned out. They both experience an epiphany during which they realize that to ameliorate their lives, they must start a rock band together. That task, though, becomes easier said than done because they go through obstacles along the way. Itís equally interesting and moving to observe the evolving dynamics between Jay and his wife as well as between him and Matt.

      Director/co-writer Todd Giglio and co-writer Christopher Springer have woven a tender drama thatís finely balanced by a sprinkle of comic relief every now and then. Youíll find it difficult to predict the ending because the characters feel so true-to-life. Both Jay and Matt are fallible human beings who have unfulfilled dreams just like weíve all had at some point in our lives. The achievement of oneís dream almost always takes a lot of struggle in order to maintain confidence and hope within realistic boundaries. Jay and Matt essentially go through a mid-life crisis that incorporates those struggles and makes them feel disappointed if they donít at least try to fulfill their dreams once again. They question and re-arrange their priorities as well as go through an essential period of doubt and confusion as they experience a pivotal turning point in their life. As corny as it may sound, everyone deserves a second chance in life, and itís never too late to fulfill oneís dreams which makes it all the more heartwarming to watch Jay and Matt embrace their second chance together as friends good friends despite feeling like failures initially. In the wise, timeless words of Clarence the Angel to George Bailey in Itís a Wonderful Life, ďNo man is a failure who has friends.Ē At a running time of 1 hour and 27 minutes, Drawing With Chalk is tender, genuinely heartfelt, inspirational, refreshingly unpredictable and, above all, relatable.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Released by Drawing Chalk Pictures.



I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You

Directed by Marcelo Gomes and Karim Ainouz


Please check back soon for a full review.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Opens at the Anthology Film Archives.
Released by FiGa Films.



Sucker Punch

Directed by Zack Synder


      After accidentally killer her sister, Babydoll (Emily Browning) finds herself committed in an asylum by her stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) against her will. Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino) serves as the mental institutionís psychiatrist. The domineering orderly Blue (Oscar Isaac) torments and abuses his inmates. Babydoll somehow imagines herself in a videogame-like world when she dances ballet at the asylum. In that world, she uses her sword and guns to kill huge dragons, Nazi zombies and more. A Wise Man (Scott Glenn) explains to her that sheíll need 5 things to find her freedom before the High Roller (Jon Hamm) comes for her, but the 5th thing remains a mystery. She uses his advice in the real world to hatch a plan to escape from the institution. Her fellow inmates, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung), join her on her duel quests in the real world and imagined one.

      Dumb, bland, humorless, tedious and pretentious, Sucker Punch lacks everything that you expect from an action thriller. The plotís trajectory can be easily predicted because writer/director Zack Snyder resorts to spoon-feeding info to the audience while leaving no room for interpretation. Why canít he trust the audienceís intelligence? Perhaps because his thinks his target audience has no intelligence. Even the action sequences, though, quickly become tedious and not nearly as exciting as they should have been. By the time someone fires the 300th gunshot, youíll be able to sense the pointlessness of it all and consider heading toward the exit so as not to endure more of the same. At a lengthy running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, Sucker Punch is pretentious, tedious, dumb, pointless and, worst of all, boring. Avoid it like the plague, and go watch Kill Bill or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon again instead.

Number of times I checked my watch: 10
Opens nationwide.
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.





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