Reviews for May 1st, 2009
Directed by Bouli Lanners.
In French with subtitles. Yvan (Bouli Lanners), an overweight, middle-aged vintage car dealer, arrives home to find Elie (Fabrice Adde), an eighteen-year-old ex-junkie, hiding in his home in an attempt to burglarize it. He vows not to call the police as long as Elie just leaves the house immediately. When he realizes that Elie has no money to leave, Yvan decides to drive him all the way to the home of his parents located near the French border in Belgium. The two men form an unlikely friendship as they hit the road in an old Chevrolet while chit-chatting. Much of what happens to them along the way feels comical in a dry, offbeat way, such as when Elie suggests to Yvan to duct tape his hair to the car in order to avoid falling asleep at the wheel, which does occur nonetheless and sends their car crashing off the road. In another instance, they bump into a nudist (Didier Toupy) who introduces himself as Alain Delon. Others who they meet include a crazy car mechanic who’s proud of the dents on the cars that he collects which were involved in fatal accidents. Writer/director Bouli Lanners moves the plot along at breezy pace as some events from Yvan and Elie’s past become revealed very gradually. He also includes a very well-chosen and lively soundtrack as they both cruise down the road. Unfortunately, though, their bond as unlikely friends never really amounts to much in terms of insight into their lives, so neither of them truly comes to life. Once the film gets more into drama when Yvan arrives at the home of Elie’s parents, that’s where it loses its momentum and feels contrived. Moreover, the ending, which won’t be spoiled here, leaves you with a bad aftertaste and wishing that the plot didn’t veer into such a dark tone so inorganically. At a brief running time of 81 minutes, Eldorado has a somewhat witty and absurdly funny first half, but, at midpoint, it loses its dry humor and abruptly turns darker and feels too rushed, dull and contrived. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Film Movement. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
Directed by Mark Waters.
Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey), a fashion photographer, has spent his adulthood as a selfish, insensitive, superficial womanizer who avoids getting serious with any women he sleeps with. When he attends the wedding of his younger brother, Paul (Breckin Meyer), he meets his childhood sweetheart, Jenny (Jennifer Garner), and tries to seduce as many women there as possible, including Vondra (Anne Archer), the mother of the bride, Sandra (Lacey Chabert). After giving an embarrassing speech at a dinner where he shares his cynical views about marriage, Connor runs into the ghost of his deceased Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), who forces to confront his past by encountering the ghosts of the ex-girlfriends from his past. One of those ex-girlfriends happens to be Allison (Emma Stone) and she sends him back through time with her to observe how he had treated her back in high school. He also gets a reminder of how he met and fell in love with Jenny (now played by Christa B. Allen) back then. Will Connor learn valuable lessons about love that will change him into a new kind of man? Will Jenny ever forgive him for being a jerk to her? Unfortunately, the contrived screenplay by co-writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore fails to add a shred of authenticity to any of the characters, especially to Connor and the unconvincing way that he changes his attitude toward women later on. Director Mark Waters, who has previously directed the delightful comedies Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, does a subpar job of balancing the drama, romance and comedic elements here. Many of the attempts at humor fall flat with poor comic timing and just lack of imagination, except when it comes to the brief scenes with Michael Douglas who seems to be having a great time in his role and delivers a few mildly funny lines. More scenes with Uncle Wayne would have added much-needed comic energy. Matthew McConaughey pretty much plays the same kind of role he’s played in past romantic comedies, such as Fool’s Gold and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, so it’s getting quite tiresome and h0-hum to watch him tread the same waters over and over. It would be nice to see him chose a meatier role rather than one that’s so dull and forgettable. Even if you’re willing to check your brain at the door and suspend your disbelief for 100 minutes, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past has just a few fleeting moments of hilarity, but ultimately falls flat as comedy, romance and drama with a lazy, contrived and inane screenplay, too much blandness and not enough imagination. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Warner Bros. Pictures. Opens nationwide.
Directed by Mary Haverstick.
Inga (Marcia Gay Harden), a woman undergoing treatment for breast cancer, lives in an Amish area of Pennsylvania with her young daughter, Indigo (Eulala Scheel), and husband, Herman (Michael Gaston), who’s overworked and neglects her physically and emotionally. Ingo, along with her beloved daughter, visit a house belonging to an elderly woman, Peggy (Marian Seldes), and hopes to purchase it because it reminds her of the home from her own childhood where she spent time with her mother (Candy Buckley), who also had cancer. When Inga isn’t drinking alcohol while Indigo watches, she’s channeling writing down poetry, which she reads aloud in voice-over. Her poetry serves as an escape from the woes of her life and as an intimate glimpse into her thoughts and feelings. In turn, you end up truly caring about her as a flawed human being rather than as a one-dimensional, cardboard character. The scenes during which Inga and Indigo interact as mother and daughter feel genuinely poignant, especially the simple moments such as when they lay down on the grass to note the different shapes of the clouds in the sky. It’s quite inspiring to observe how Inga reaches an emotional epiphany as she writes the poetry while recalling her childhood and how she looked after her own mother back then in the same way that Indigo takes care of her now. Both Marcia Gay Harden and Eulala Scheel, her real-life daughter, deliver strong and moving performances that help to keep you immersed in the drama. The autobiographical screenplay by writer/director Mary Haverstick has many tender and lyrical scenes, some of which feel heartbreaking while others are heartwarming. Occasionally, though, the drama veers toward melodrama and has a few contrived moments, but it’s still engaging to watch, especially with some vivid, picturesque scenery and cinematography. Ultimately, Home manages to be an absorbing, inspirational and often heartwarming drama with radiant, captivating performances by Marcia Gay Harden and her real-life daughter, Eulala Scheel. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Monterey Media. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Directed by Anne Aghion.
This fascinating documentary follows four geologists as they spend their summer camping out on the icy landscape in Antarctica near McMurdo Research Station in order to explore for evidence that can provide clues as to what life in Antarctica was like millions of years ago. Two undergraduate students, Kelly Gorz and Andrew Podoll, along with their professors, Dr. Allan Ashworth and Dr. Adam R. Lewis, brave the brutally cold weather conditions that don’t deter them from continuing in their explorations. As one of them explains, it’s not an easy task to figure out the age of the samples that they find and to correctly determine the order in which they existed millions of years ago. Sample by sample, though, they piece together the evidence that suggests that the climate in Antarctica back then was actually warm enough to be filled with plant life which ceased to exist once the climate evolved. A simple fossil of a leaf that they find provides a lot of data for them that can be intensely studied later on. Director Anne Aghion wisely chooses not to have any voice-over narration and allows the breathtaking images of the Antarctic landscape to speak for itself along with the compelling footage of the geologists going about their daily experiences at work. The brief interviews with them provide a glimpse into what they’re thinking and feeling without going off into distracting tangents about their lives and backgrounds. Not only do you get to observe them working outside, but also you get to see what they eat and what their living conditions are like inside their encampment. Their passion and curiosity for geology can be felt through their persistence and diligence day by day, especially how they seem so thrilled and enthusiastic to be working so far away from their family way back in America. In a way, all four of them have spent so much time together that they feel like family. Each day marks a new learning experience for the two undergraduate students which they could never have learned merely by attending lectures at the university or by reading textbooks. At a running time of 77 minutes, Ice People manages to be an intriguing, focused and often captivating documentary filled with stunningly beautiful cinematography of the Antarctic landscape. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Milestone Films. Opens at the Anthology Film Archives.
The Limits of Control
Directed by Jim Jarmusch.
A mysterious hit man known only as Lonely Man (Isaach de Bankolé) arrives at an airport lounge where he has a meeting with two men (Alex Descas, Jean-François Stévenin) who give him simple instructions for a vague mission. He wanders throughout Spain and meets up with a variety of people along the way who speak using code words when they talk to him, although he very rarely talks back to them. Each person he encounters, he exchanges matchboxes with and sometimes even written notes that he memorizes before drinking them down with two espressos in separate cups at a café. He frequents the café so often that, eventually, the waiter. Those whom he briefly meets throughout the mission include a woman (Tilda Swinton) with a blonde wig, a Mexican (Gael Garcia Bernal), a nude woman (Paz de la Huerta), a guitar guy (John Hurt), a driver played by the underrated and underused Hiam Abbass, and, finally an American played by Bill Murray. Writer/director Jim Jarmusch has crafted a very bizarre and elliptical film heavy on mystery and confusion but low on thrills and tension. Lonely Man rarely speaks and you don’t even get a chance to learn about his past or what he’s thinking or feeling. Instead, Jarmusch uses the language of cinematography, lighting, set design, color choices and camera angles as a means to add some style to the film rather than substance, much like you’d find in a Godard film. Too many scenes come across as redundant and drag on and on until the weak, abrupt ending that leaves a bad aftertaste. At a lengthy running time of 116 minutes, The Limits of Control, ultimately feels tedious, bland and pretentious. It’s the kind of film that’s more appropriate to be studied shot-by-shot in film school for its expert camera techniques and other production values instead of experiencing it with a movie theater audience. Number of times I checked my watch: 6 Released by Focus Features. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.
The Merry Gentleman
Directed by Michael Keaton.
Kate Frazier (Kelly Macdonald), a lonely woman, has recently left her abusive husband, Michael (Bobby Cannavale), and moved to a new city to start a new job as a receptionist. One night, after leaving work, she spots a mysterious man, Frank Logan (Michael Keaton), shooting someone from a rooftop before standing on the ledge in an attempt to jump off of it to his death. When she screams, he doesn’t jump and, instead, falls backward onto the roof and disappears from her viewpoint. Dave Murcheson (Tom Bastounes), a detective assigned to the murder case, asks briefly interrogates her and she lies to him that she doesn’t have a husband or a boyfriend. In poorly developed subplot, the detective flirts with her and asks her out, eventually leading to an awkward date. Kate bumps into Frank as she’s stuck under a Christmas tree that had fallen over her which she carries to her apartment. He helps her up and, soon enough, become friends while she’s unaware that he’s the same man who committed the murder and attempted to jump from the roof earlier. It’s interesting to watch how the dynamic between Kate and Frank evolves into a meaningful relationship. Both of them essentially have emotional burdens and loneliness that they carry with them, so it makes sense why they get along with one another. The often intelligent and sensitive screenplay by Ron Lazzeretti finds the right balance between drama and mystery without going over-the-top or relying on gimmicks as a means of entertainment. Michael Keaton, who also directs the film, and Kelly Macdonald both deliver convincing and well-nuanced performances that resonate with sadness and genuine warmth. An altercation between Kate and her husband, at one point, feels awkward and contrived, but it doesn’t take away from the plot’s overall momentum as a quietly engrossing, character-driven drama. At a running time of 99 minutes, The Merry Gentleman manages to be a surprisingly tender, sensitive and intelligent drama with well-nuanced performances. It’s a solid directorial debut from Michael Keaton. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films. Opens at Clearview 1st & 62nd and at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
Directed by Götz Spielmann.
In German and Russian with subtitles. Alex (Johannes Krisch) works as a lackey for Konecny (Hanno Poeschl), an owner of a brother where Tamara (Irina Potapenko), a prostitute works at. Konecny wants Tamara to move up in the world of prostitution by selling her to wealthy customers, but little does he know that she’s looking for a way out of the industry and that she’s having a secret affair with Alex. She and Alex devise a plan to rob a bank in order to raise money for an escape. The bank heist doesn’t go exactly as planned, though, when someone, who won’t be revealed here, gets killed accidentally. Suddenly the film switches gears and turns into a revenge film where someone visits the home belonging to their grandfather (Hannes Thanheiser), which happens to be located in the same small village where the killer lives with his wife, Susanne (Ursula Strauss). The plot gets more intricate, unpredictable and gently suspenseful as it progresses. You often find yourself wondering if and when the killer will end up dead. Writer/director Götz Spielmann does a great job of gradually building up suspense without relying on cheap gimmicks and over-the-top sequences. He opens the film with a scene where something gets dropped into a lake. Is that something a corpse or perhaps something else? What does that scene have to do with the ordeal that Alex and Tamara go through? The plot itself has many intricate details and ambiguities, such as that initial scene, that serve more of a purpose as you closely observe what happens throughout the rest of the film. Spielmann moves the pace slowly and includes crisp cinematography along with lush scenery that creates a foreboding, somewhat eerie atmosphere as if something tragic may or may not occur within the small, deceptively quiet village. At a running time of 121 minutes, Revanche manages to be intelligent, compelling and elegant with as many surprises and ambiguities as a great suspense thriller. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Janus Films. Opens at the IFC Center.
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
In Turkish with subtitles. Servet (Ercan Kesal), a Turkish politician, falls asleep at the wheel while driving in the middle of the night and kills a pedestrian. In order to avoid tarnishing his reputation in politics, he asks his personal driver, Eyup (Yavuz Bingol), to take the rap for his crime in exchange for receive a lot of money after serving time in jail. Eyup’s wife, Hacer (Hatice Aslan), lives at home with her teenage son, Ismail (Ahmet Rifat Sungar), and, because she’s desperate for money while Eyup is in jail, she goes to Servet’s office to ask him for money right away. Ismail visits his father in jail every now and then. Meanwhile, Hacer has a love affair with Servet, so, when Eyup gets out of jail and learns about the affair from Ismael, the dramatic tension increases very slightly. Unfortunately, director/co-writer Nuri Bilge Ceylan has essentially taken a very intriguing premise that could have been potentially thrilling as well as suspenseful and, instead, squanders it by focusing too much on the small moments from Hacer and her son’s everyday life and emotions, which eventually becomes repetitive and leads to meandering scenes where nothing particularly interesting happens. Ceylan doesn’t actually show you the affair that Hacer and Servet have and relies too much on subtleties which leave you feeling cold and detached from the character’s lives. The use of subtlety as a means to show a character’s motivations, actions, thoughts and feeling could work with a better screenplay that establishes its characters as interesting and worth caring about. In Three Monkeys, though, the subtlety reflects an unimaginative and lazy screenplay which makes you feel like you’re sitting in a car with its engine on, but it never actually manages to move even though it has a lot of fuel in its tank. On a positive note, much like in his previous directorial efforts, Distant and Climates, Ceylan has a knack for using expertly stark visuals as a means to enhance the overall somber mood throughout the film. However, the stylish cinematography along with decent performances don’t compensate for an often tedious plot that lacks any real tension, imagination or palpable poignancy. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Zeitgeist Films. Opens at the Cinema Village and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Directed by Gavin Hood.
During his childhood years, Logan watches as his father gets killed and becomes aware of his own mutant origins when fangs pop out from his hands. Years, later he’s fighting many wars including WWI, WWII and Vietnam with his older brother, Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber), who’s also a mutant. They meet General William Stryker (Danny Huston) who recruits them into a team of mutants called Team X, which includes Wraith (Will.i.am), Bradley (Dominic Monaghan) and Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds). Six years after Logan quits the team, he settles down with his girlfriend, Kayla (Lynn Collins), in Canada. She explains to him a love story involving a character whose name translates into Wolverine. Soon enough, Victor kills Kayle, leaving Logan hungry for revenge against him. Stryker convinces Logan to participate in an experiment that’s supposed to increase his strength with a metal called adamantium. During the experiment, Logan turns into Wolverine and uses his strength to escape from the facility. He runs naked into a barn where a kind farmer and his wife briefly take care of his needs—they even forgive him for chopping their bathroom sink with his sharp fangs. Director Gavin Hood, who has previously directed Rendition and Tsotsi, does a decent job of keeping you thrilled during many exciting action sequences that involve terrific CGI animation and lengthy chases. Who really cares about character development, drama or romance? Sure, it’s always a bonus when an action film has those other elements to have you somewhat emotionally invested in the main superhero, such as in Spider-Man, but that’s not a requirement. Instead, there’s Hugh Jackman’s onscreen warmth and charisma, as usual, which helps you to root for Wolverine. The amazing CGI visuals along with the impressive, loud sound effects make it even more exhilarating and should be viewed with a large audience at a movie theater for maximum enjoyment. Please be sure to stay for an additional scene after the end credits. At a running time of 108 minutes, X-Men Origins: Wolverine manages to be an action-packed ride filled with nonstop thrills and spectacular visual effects that deserves to be experienced on the big screen with a large crowd. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by 20th Century Fox. Opens nationwide.