Reviews for November 13th, 2009
The End of Poverty?
Directed by Philippe Diaz.
This timely and provocative documentary, narrated by Martin Sheen, traces the political and historical causes of poverty and examines how they have affected the current global economic crisis. Can the problem of poverty be solved so easily? Why does poverty persist in a world of increasing wealth? Those might sound like a simple, easy question to answer at first, but the more you factor in the economic, social and political status quo of many Third World countries, you’ll realize that it’s actually very complex question with multifaceted answers. Back in 1492, the Spanish and Portuguese colonized Latin America, exploiting their land and resources to sell export goods to other countries. Locals were forced to work for the landowners who treated essentially as slaves in harsh working conditions, which is the kind of treatment that can still be found in today’s world. Basically, the wealthy exploit the poor and need the poor to stay poor in order to continue to be rich, i.e. by paying workers less than a dollar a day. Director Philippe Diaz travelled to countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia where he interviewed a variety of people from impoverished miners and sugar-cane cutters to professors, authors, activists, impoverished families and even the Vice President of Peru, Alvaro Garcia Linera. All of the talking heads provide you with some interesting and even somewhat frightening information that’s quite insightful. However, at times it’s a bit overwhelming to try to absorb so many fact and figures all at once, especially when it comes to the numerous statistics shown onscreen. Moreover, the sources of those statistics don’t appear onscreen, so, in turn, you might find yourself questioning their credibility and accuracy. Many of the problems of the countries, such as Bolivia where there’s privatization of the water supply by corporations, should have easily been explored with more thorough analysis and focus in separate documentaries. As such, The End of Poverty manages to be a timely and provocative documentary, but it’s rather dull, poorly synthesized and fails to keep you engaged with an overload of information and a disorganized variety of interviews. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Cinema Libre StudioPictures. Opens at the Village East Cinema.
Oh My God?
Directed by Peter Rodger.
This provocative documentary tackles the deceptively simple question, “What is God?”, which people from 23 countries around the world attempt to answer based on their own views. An owner of a gun store in Texas says that the only path to heaven is through the belief of Jesus Christ with no other exceptions at all. She certainly seems very confident in her answer as if she has made up her mind so conclusively that she views her perspective on God as impregnable. David Copperfield makes a very interesting point by comparing religion to the practice of magic, both of which have many followers. If Copperfield had lived many years ago, perhaps his practice of magic would have equated him with God. Hindu, Muslim and Christian schoolchildren in India all claim they believe that “God is one.” A Hindu priest in Bali thinks that God is “the supreme, the almighty, the creator of the universe.” That’s along the line of the theory that if the universe has so much order and design (just look at the colorful foliage during the autumn), then, logically, there has to be some sort of designer or creator. Perhaps the most intriguing interview is with a young Catholic man in Mexico who expresses his perceptive view that religions are fundamentally a business. Is God comfort or the essence of nature or an innate feeling in one’s heart? Or is it like Ringo Starr says, “God is love.”? Essentially, there’s really no right or wrong answer to the question of “What is God?” Director Peter Rodger asks that question to a wide variety of people from many religions around the world and, not surprisingly, he gets a hodgepodge of compelling answers many of which raise more questions and issues to ponder about. For instance, an Imam based in Los Angeles reads the Koran and explains precisely how important passages have been misinterpreted, especially by extremists who take advantage of those misinterpretations while fooling the public into believing them without question or careful reading for that matter. Through the beautiful, crisp cinematography, lively musical score and terrific editing, Rodger achieves something that every documentarian sets out to do in one way or another: he finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually without veering toward preachiness. At a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes, Oh My God? manages to be provocative, captivating and profoundly illuminating. You’ll be talking about it for weeks.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Mitropoulos FIlms. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
Directed by Michael Aimette and John G. Hofmann.
Seven years ago, sixteen-year-old James (Donal Gallery) and his younger brother, Pete (Killian Morgan), moved from America all the way to Ireland when their mother died and their father no longer wanted to raise them. They’ve had no choice but to live with their three Irish aunts (, Deirdre Monaghan, Billie Traynor and Brid Ni Chionaola) who they don’t quite get along with. Neither James nor Pete has been able to assimilate to life in Ireland. James yearns to move back to America, but needs to raise enough money to return, so he quits school and gets a job as a debt collector for Bill the Bookie (Alessandro Nivola) and borrows money from Tom (Meaney). In an amusing turn of events, James discovers a great way of making extra cash by buying porn magazines and selling them all around town, including to the cops. Soon enough, James and Pete get into trouble with Bill the Breaker (Timothy Hutton) while concurrently, in a rather contrived subplot, James flirt with a local girl who agrees to go out with him to the movies. Although the first half of the film has some wit, humor and charm to it, it all begins to fizzle out and become a bit dull and contrived once the plot veers toward a darker tone as Bill the Bookie threatens James physically. Co-writers/directors Michael Aimette and John G. Hofmann try to cram in too many genres all at once in way that’s not quite as smooth, engaging or poignant as it could have been with a tighter, less meandering screenplay. At times, you’ll feel like you’re watching a coming-of-age movie, a gangster thriller, romance and even a teen sex comedy---including a very awkward, cringe-worthy scene where one of James’s aunts catches him in the act of you-know-what alone and actually sits beside him to have a conversation about her history of doing you-know-what back when she was a teenager. Donal Gallery does give a charismatic performance, though, as the likable James, but the character becomes less and less true-to-life as the plot progresses into the rushed third act that leaves you rolling your eyes rather than warming your heart. At a running time of 1 hour and 25 minutes, Turning Green manages to be initially engaging, witty and charming, but ultimately ends up contrived and bland with an unfocused, half-baked plot. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by New Films. Opens at the AMC Empire 25.
Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel.
A young couple, Bobby Thompson (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Kate Montero (Lynn Collins), stand on the Brooklyn Bridge while uncertain of what decisions they want to make because Kate is pregnant and Bobby desperately needs a green card. With the mere flip of a coin, they each go on separate ways, one to Brooklyn and the other to Manhattan. At this point, the plot diverges into two different versions of the same day with Bobby and Kate together. In Brooklyn, they find a stray dog on their way to a barbeque at the home of Kate’s parents in Queens. Olivia Thirlby plays Kate’s younger sister, Sophie. Kate’s mother, Sylvia (Assumpta Serna), doesn’t quite trust Bobby. In the Manhattan version of the day, Bobby and Kate discover a cellphone in the back of a taxicab. Instead of simply returning it to its rightful owner, they demand a $500,000 ransom. Soon enough, they get into escalating danger that has them going through a cat-and-mouse chase with a killer who wants that phone back. Although the film’s structure sounds interesting, co-writers/directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who also directed Bee Season and the taut, intelligent thriller The Deep End, don’t really take either of the plot-strands far enough in terms of imagination to make them truly compelling. The story that takes place in Brooklyn seems rather dull and often drags while the Manhattan story has fleeting moments of tension, but for the most part, falls flat with too much implausibility as it progresses. Also, it’s rather distracting that the plot jumps back and forth between scenes from both stories just when you start to get remotely immersed. On a positive note, McGehee and Siegel include stylish visuals with interesting use of symbolism given choice of using green and yellow colors every now and then in each story. The handheld cinematography slightly enhances the realism and intense moments during the chase sequences. Moreover, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins both seem like competent actors who radiate charisma, but they’re simply not given enough to chew on here. Joseph Gorden Levitt happens to be in a far better film called 500 Days of Summer which has an interesting plot structure that works much better on many levels that simply don’t work here. The concepts of split fates and diverging, parallel plots with the same characters were handled with much more intelligence and sensitivity in the film Sliding Doors. At a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes Uncertainty has an interesting concept along with a terrific cast, stylish cinematography and interesting use of symbolism, but it’s often rather bland and too low on imagination, credibility and wit. Number of times I checked my watch: 4Released by IFC Films. Opens at the IFC Center.
Women in Trouble
Directed by Sebastian Gutierrez.
Many different plotlines intertwine in this lively, outrageously funny and campy comedy. A British rock star (Josh Brolin) cheats on his wife, Elektra Luxx (Carla Cugino), a porn star, by riding the mile high club, so-to-speak, with a sexy stewardess, Cora (Marley Shelton). Meanwhile, Elektra Luxx finds herself stuck in an elevator with Doris (Connie Britton), a neurotic woman. Emmanuelle Chriqui and Adrianne Palicki play call girls, Bambi and Holly Rocket, one of whom has a tendency at the worst possible time while performing a particular sexual act which won’t be spoiled here. To top it all off there’s a quick-witted, bizarre teenager, Charlotte (Isabella Gutierrez), who has a therapy session with Maxine McPherson (Sarah Clarke), who learns from her that her husband, Travis (Simon Baker), is having a sexually-charged affair with Charlotte’s mother, one of her patients. Writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez keeps the laughs coming with plenty of snappy, tongue-in-cheek dialogue and hilariously awkward situations that never take themselves too seriously. You’ll find all sorts of humor that mostly hits the bullseye, ranging from slapstick to dark, gross-out, lewd and just plain off-the-wall humor. If you’re not the type of audience member who comes to a comedy with an open mind and can tolerate a blend of lowbrow and highbrow comedy, you’ll probably find yourself cringing rather than laughing, such as when Holly Rocket describes an unholy relationship she had with her little dog when she was a teenager. Each member of the cast seems to be having a fun time in their role and bring a lot of pure, unadulterated energy and exuberance with their lively performances. Moreover, Gutierrez maintains an appropriately brisk pace and includes stylish cinematography with lots of colorful set designs along with a well-chosen soundtrack that compliment the very lively and campy atmosphere. Blink and you might miss a cameo with Elizabeth Berkley, the star of Showgirls. At running time of 1 hour and 32 minutes, Women in Trouble manages to be a sprightly, sexy, campy and outrageously funny ensemble comedy that’s best watched with an open mind and a large audience for maximum enjoyment. Please be sure to stay until after the end credits for a stinger with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an internet journalist who asks bizarre questions during an interview with Elektra Luxx and Holly Rocket. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Screen Media Films. Opens at AMC Village 7 and AMC Empire 25.