Reviews for May 8th, 2009
Directed by Atom Egoyan.
Simon (Devon Bostick), a high school student, lives with his uncle, Tom (Scott Speedman), and still hasn’t gotten over the mysterious death of his parents, Rachel (Rachel Blanchard) and Sami (Noam Jenkins). His grumpy grandfather, Morris (Kenneth Welsh), who couldn’t tolerate Sami, his Lebanese son-in-law, leads Simon to believe that Sami was deliberately responsible for the car crash that killed him and his mother. When his high school French and Drama teacher, Sabine (Arsinee Khanjian), reads a news story to the class about a terrorist who placed a bomb in his girlfriend’s luggage before she boarded an airplane, Simon concocts a story about how he’s the son of those two people and, per the request of Sabine, write the fictional story and to present it to the class as being non-fictional. He also shares his story in a live video chatroom on the internet, where he sparks a lot of debate amongst his classmates and shocks some of them. In a bizarre subplot that becomes more meaningful later on, Sabine shows up at Simon’s house hidden behind a black veil on her face and confronts Tom about his hatred for Muslims. Why does Sabine want to get involved in Simon’s life? What really caused the death of Simon’s parents? Writer/director Atom Egoyan has written a very intricate, well-structured plot that gradually builds its suspense without hitting you over the head. Just when you think the plot is headed in one direction, it surprises you and heads for an unpredictable one that’s even more interesting. As the fog of uncertainty clears to reveal the truth behind the death of Simon’s parents, bit by bit, you’re just as curious to discover those truths as Simon is. Arsinee Khanjian delivers a radiant, convincingly moving performance as does the talented young actor Devon Bostick, which helps you to feel truly absorbed by the story. None of the plot twists will be revealed here, but it’s worth mentioning that once the twists do come about, you’ll be tempted to contemplate some of the earlier scenes and perhaps to watch them again. At a running time 1 hour and 40 minutes, Adoration manages to be an intelligent, well-nuanced and provocative drama that maintains its gradual suspense and intrigue throughout. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Audience of One
Directed by Michael Jacobs.
This somewhat compelling documentary follows, Richard Gazowsky, the pastor of The Voice of Pentecost church in San Francisco who forms a production company called Christian WYSIWYG Filmworks to shoot Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph, a big-budgeted sci-fi movie, described as Star Wars meets The Ten Commandments, which he co-wrote with his wife. He claims that he had heard the voice of God while praying on a mountaintop one day, and it ordered him make the movie despite that he has no prior experience in filmmaking and that the first film he had ever watched was at the age of 40. The film crew, which includes his daughter as the art director and one of his sons as a gaffer, that he assembles work for free and diligently to construct all the production designs. Gazowsky’s mother calls him a gentle, sweet and naïve man, but doesn’t really get the chance elaborate on those comments which would have added some much-needed insight. Director Michael Jacobs also documents all the frustrations and obstacles that Gazowsky and his crew go through while filming in Italy before heading back to San Francisco to rent space at the Treasure Island studios. Even though he had put his home up for collateral, raised thousands of dollars from donations and millions more from investors, he still struggles to pay the rent when investors from Germany fail to pay their promised $200 million investment. Should he give up or continue his dream? Is he reasonable and sane or merely crazy and quixotic? Jacobs doesn’t really ponder the answers to those questions deeply enough, especially because there’s too little background information about Gazowsky’s life outside of his newfound pursuit of filmmaking. At a running time of 88 minutes, Audience of One feels mildly engaging and absurdly funny, but that barely compensates for its lack of insight and profound revelations about Pastor Richard Gazowsky. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by IndiePix. Opens at the Anthology Film Archives.
Directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy.
This suspenseful and provocative documentary follows the struggles of poor Latino immigrants in Los Angeles as they do everything in their power to keep their 14-acre South Central community garden from being demolished by its original owner, Ralph Horowitz. The city had created that community garden back in 1992 after the L.A. Riots. Eleven years later, it sold it back to its original owner, who raised the price to all the way from $5.1 million to $16.3 million. Many Latino immigrants spent many hours of each day cultivating the precious garden which provided them with a much-needed livelihood. Horowitz wanted to turn part of the property into a soccer field, but what good would that do for the community? He threatened to evict them from the garn, but they wouldn’t budge and courageously protested their eviction instead. Director Scott Hamilton Kennedy, who has previously directed the documentary OT: Our Town, does a terrific job of showing the ensuing battles between the insensitive and racist developers and the Latino immigrants. It’s inspiring to watch as the immigrants gradually gain strength by voicing their concerns, finding lawyers to represent them and getting enraged, which they have every right to do. Even actress/environmentalist Darryl Hannah joins their mission to save their garden. As their struggle continues, you’re able to grasp that these underdogs are, in many ways, a microcosm of the corruption that civilians have to deal with in this industrial, capitalistic world. How can anyone put a price on a community garden where such vital vegetation grows? Shouldn’t it be priceless, especially when it comes to its sentimental value and environmental value? The same can be said for the deforestation taking place around the world. Does everything really have to come down to profit, profit and more profit without any boundaries? What happened to Ralph Horowitz’s moral conscience? Perhaps a sentence that would be far worse than serving time in prison or an asylum would be for him to have to live with his conscience day after day for eternity. Without revealing the outcome of the immigrant’s battles in and out of court, it’s worth noting that their persistence and courage make them role models and should provide hope for many others who ought to stand up for what they truly believe and feel in their minds and hearts. At a running time of only 80 minutes, The Garden manages to be a compelling, inspirational, provocative and thoroughly engrossing documentary. Number of times I checked my watch: 0Released by Oscilloscope Pictures. Opens at the Cinema Village.
Directed by Erick Zonca.
Julia Harris (Tilda Swinton), an alcoholic, mentally unbalanced woman, gets fired for her job and lives a very trashy life. Her ex-boyfriend convinces her to join an AA meeting, where she happens Elena (Kate del Castillo), another woman struggling with alcoholism who desperately wants to get her son, Tom (Aidan Gould), back from the hands of his wealthy grandfather. She tempts Julia with a large sum of money as long as she kidnaps Tom, but Julia has a devious plan of her own to keep the kid for herself while holding him for ransom. That plan doesn’t go exactly as she expected, so she now has Tom tied up in the trunk of her car and doesn’t quite know what to do with him. The situation gets even more out-of-hand when she flees with him to Mexico, where thugs end up kidnapping Tom from her and hold him for a ransom. Tilda Swinton delivers a bravura performance that’s so convincingly raw and powerful that you’re forgetting that you’re watching Tilda Swinton, much like how Charlize Theron sunk her teeth into the role of Aileen Woornus in Monster. While her radiant, commanding performance here does keep you somewhat engaged, it’s difficult to feel engrossing or riveted because of the unimaginative and often tedious plot. The screenplay by co-writer Aude Py and co-writer/director Erick Zonca, who has previously directed and co-written the tender drama The Dreamlife of Angels, neglects to create a backstory through flashbacks or a first act that explains how and why Julia became alcoholic. Even throughout the lengthy, intense ordeal that Julia goes through, it’s difficult to grasp what she’s truly thinking or feeling. Once Julia crosses the border to Mexico, that’s when the thrills begin to wane as the film meanders and leaves you with more questions than answers, especially given so many contrived scenes and plot holes that pile up by the time the over-the-top, unsatisfying third act comes around. At a running time of 138 minutes, Julia boasts an electrifying, brave performance by Tilda Swinton and has a thrilling initial half, but eventually becomes tedious and convoluted while lacking plausibility and insight into the titular character. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and at the Beekman Theatre.
Next Day Air
Directed by Benny Boom.
Leo (Donald Faison), a deliveryman for a package shipping company in Philadelphia, delivers a large package to an apartment while high on weed. He uses the elevator instead of the stairs as usual and delivers the package to the residents of room 302 instead of the correct recipients at 303. Little does he know that the contents of the package happen to be 10 kilos of high quality cocaine. Brody (Mike Epps) and Guch (Wood Harris), the two guys who mistakenly receive the package, discover its contents and decide to strike it rich by selling the drugs. Meanwhile, Jesus (Cisco Reyes) and his girlfriend Chita (Yasmin Deliz), the correct recipients of the package, get into trouble with Bodega (Emilio Rivera), the drug lord who shipped the drugs to begin with and isn’t happy that they haven’t received it yet. The rest of the plot follows Brody and Guch as they try to sell the drugs while Jesus and Chita desperately search for the whereabouts of their lost package. After a while they manage to locate Leo, the guy responsible for delivering the package and who can barely remember any details of that delivery because he was too high back then. Screenwriter Blair Cobbs blends stoner comedy, dark comedy and action with uneven results that could have worked with better comic timing and more imagination à la the underrated, hilarious dark comedy about switched suitcases, 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag. Cobbs simply doesn’t take the comedic situations far enough and many of the inane attempts at humor simply fall flat. There aren’t any memorable scenes or lively characters that stand out with charisma or comic energy. Where’s the scene-stealing Samuel L. Jackson when you need him? Or how about Chris Tucker? Either of those two actors could have at least added much-needed oomph to an otherwise ho-hum film. Director Benny Boom, in his feature film directorial debut, includes amateurish cinematography at best and fails to film the violent shoot-out sequences, especially in the third act, with any remarkable style. At a running time of 88 minutes, Next Day Air ultimately falls flat as both a dark comedy and action film. It’s often lazy, dim-witted and tedious while low on laughs, verve and imagination. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Summit Entertainment. Opens nationwide.
Directed by Gary Hustwit.
This visually stylish, but unenlightening documentary focuses on industrial design, how it has evolved and how it functions in relation to human beings. Have you ever wondered about the thought processes that went behind designing your toothbrush, toothpick, laptop, desk, camera, chair, lamp or iPod? Well, now’s your chance to hear what professional designers from different parts of the world have to say about the theories and philosophies of designs. In a somewhat fascinating interview, a designer says that modern electronic objects are no longer designed in a shape that reflects its function because of the invention of the microchip. The shape of other objects, such as a fork or a knife, can usually help when determining its function merely by observation. Another designer admits that he feels emotionally attached to some objects because of their design, but he doesn’t elaborate on that provocative remark which could have lead to a lot of insight with better follow-up questions. Director Gary Hustwit, who has previously shed light on the history and significance of the Helvetica type font in the documentary Helvetica, doesn’t quite meld the interviews together in a compelling enough way that would truly enrich your knowledge about industrial design. The interviews merely scratch the surface with lots of generalizations and theorizing, but Hustwit fails to synthesize all of those kernels of knowledge into a cohesive whole. None of the designers even mention that out of all the shapes that exist, the most comfortable shape for the human eye happens to be circular ones. Hustwit ultimately fails to adequately answer the overarching question, “So what?”, which every documentary should answer to at least some extent. Objectified has sporadically intriguing moments and stylish editing, but its lack of insight, elaborations and synthesis makes it seem deficient in both form and function as a documentary. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Plexifilm. Opens at the IFC Center.
Directed by Kirby Dick.
This provocative documentary tackles the issue of closeted U.S. politicians who vote against gay rights as a means to deny their own homosexuality. Not surprisingly, the mainstream media plays a significant role in covering up the gay lifestyles of the closeted politicians, the vast majority of whom happen to be Republicans. It takes brave individuals, such as Michael Rogers, who runs the blog www.blogactive.com, to dig up information about those self-hating, closeted politicians and by “out” them to the public. How can anyone know when to trust those independent sources, though? The real answer is that you never know when to trust any source 100%, but it’s nonetheless important to openly discuss and assess all of the news about the politicians from various sources and to ask questions, which can help to lead you closer to finding the truth. Florida Governor Charlie Crist who repeatedly voted against gay marriage and denied being gay, yet there are men who claim to have had sex with him. When inquired about his homosexuality, his former girlfriend, Kelly Heyniger replies, “I think I should just keep my mouth shut. Call me in 10 years and I’ll tell you a story.” There’s also the Idaho senator Larry Craig who got arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer at a restroom and it wasn’t his first time doing so, either, yet he denied his homosexuality and voted against gay rights. Director Kirby Dick, who has previously directed This Film is Not Yet Rated and Twist of Faith, also intertwines interviews with politicians who are already out of the closet, such as former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank and Wisconsin Representative Tammy Baldwin, who do have the courage to talk candidly about their views on closeted politicians. In a moving moment, McGreevey tears up in front of the camera as he stresses the importance of being true to oneself. Does it really matter whether or not a politician is gay? No, not fundamentally, but the crux of the matter is that these closeted politicians are being hypocritical and dishonest to public and, worst of all, to themselves. They’re far from role models and clearly in need a lot of therapy. Essentially, their lack of courage and heart is quite harmful and hurtful because it leads to them denying gays and lesbians the equal rights that they have always deserved. At running time of 90 minutes, Outrage manages to be a brave, provocative and thoroughly compelling exposé that you’ll be talking about for weeks. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at the Clearview Chelsea Cinemas.
Rudo y Cursi
Directed by Carlos Cuarón.
In Spanish with subtitles. Beto, a.k.a. Rudo (Diego Luna) and his stepbrother, Tato, a.k.a. Cursi (Gael García Bernal), live in a small banana plantation, Tlachatlán, located in Mexico. They both have very different personalities. Beto seems more serious, reserved and has a wife, Toña (Adriana Paz), and two children whom he loves and wants to be financially secure enough to support them. Tato, on the other hand, isn’t married and has a quixotic dream of becoming a singer despite that he doesn’t know how to sing well. One day, as they’re playing soccer for fun together with other local guys, a soccer scout, Batuta, a.k.a. Baton (Guillermo Francella), notices their talent there and tells them that he can only choose one of them to join a First Division club. He picks Tato to join that club, where he becomes quite famous for scoring a lot of goals. Meanwhile, Beto ends up in a Second Division team as a goalkeeper, so now both stepbrothers compete against each other in the world of soccer. It’s not surprising that both of them struggle to maintain their good reputation and fortune while getting sucked into the world of fame where there’s more deception than meets the eye. How will their newfound fame affect their lives and relationship with one another? Writer/director Carlos Cuarón, in his feature film directorial debut, blends drama and comedy with uneven results. Neither Beto nor Tato seem well-developed enough as characters for you to root for them or care about whether or not they’ll find a way to get along. Guillermo Francella, though, gives an amusing performance as their agent who provides some comic relief every now and then. The relationship between Beto and his wife isn’t fleshed out enough and they lack palpable chemistry during their scenes together. Despite decent cinematography, occasionally amusing scenes and a modicum of suspense toward the end, Rudo y Cursi, feels lazy, bland and ultimately fails to pack a real punch emotionally, dramatically and comedically.Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, Regal E-Walk 13 and Regal 85th & 1st.
Directed by J.J. Abrams.
During his adolescent years, James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) attends the Starfleet Academy and soon comes aboard the Starship Enterprise where he joins other crew members, namely, the half-alien/half-human Spock (Zachary Quinto), Nyota Uhura (Zoë Saldana), 17-year-old Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Sulu (John Cho) and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban). Kirk and Spock don’t quite get along at first, especially when Kirk cheats on a difficult test that Spock designs. Their villain is Nero (Eric Bana), a captain of the Romulan spaceship who has travelled over 100 years back through time to seek revenge against Spock who, in the future, destroyed Nero’s planet with Red Matter, which creates black holes. Some of the casting choices seem rather odd, such as Winona Ryder as Spock’s human mother, Tyler Perry as Admiral Richard Barnett, an elder of the Starfleet Academy, and Simon Pegg as Scotty, a crew member of the Starship Enterprise who shows up much later on in the film and provides some offbeat comic relief. All of their scenes are brief, though, so they don’t distract too much from all the excitement. Director J.J. Abrams wisely includes a brisk pace as well as a thrilling, important scene before the opening credits that not only becomes an integral scene eventually, but also gives you a brief tease of all of the forthcoming action and edge-of-your-seat thrills. The special effects look dazzling and spectacular, especially during the many action sequences. Those not quite familiar with the Star Trek series will be able to easily follow the plot without being confused about any of the characters or their actions. A suspension of disbelief, of course, is required for maximum enjoyment, just like when you watch any sci-fi movie. The real question, though, is whether or not you should check your brain at the door, but, fortunately, the dialogue doesn’t sound too dumbed down or unintentionally funny and you’ll find some sporadic moments that manage to be slightly thought-provoking, such as when Leonard Nemoy shows up as the older version of Spock and has a brief discussion with the younger version of himself. At a running time of 126 minutes, Star Trek never overstays its welcome and ultimately feels exciting, captivating and thrilling with eye-popping special effects. It’s an exhilarating rush of adrenaline that will please Star Trek fans old and new. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Paramount Pictures. Opens nationwide.