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The 45th New York Film Festival (Sept. 28th- October 14th, 2007)

Click here for more information about the Film Programs at the festival

I'm Not There Conference (with director/co-writer Todd Haynes)
Another I'm Not There Conference (with director/co-writer Todd Haynes, Heath Ledger, Marcus Carl Franklin and Bruce Greenwood)


4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days - Directed by Cristian Mungiu.

In Romanian with subtitles. Otilia (Laura Vasiliu) helps her college roommate, Gabita (Anamaria Marinca), through the process of getting an illegal abortion. Both actresses give very believable performances which allow you to be absorbed into the drama right away. At first, the plot feels suspenseful because it’s not quite clear what Otilia desperately wants for Gabita or why they have an appointment with man, Mr.Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), at a hotel. Mr.Bebe isn’t pleased when Otilia fails to meet with the pecific requirements he claimed to have told her, such as which hotel he wants to use and that he must get paid the entire fee for his abortion service up front. The moments before the actual abortion feel both riveting and frightening. Writer/director Cristian Mungiu gives the film a cinema verité atmosphere with very natural camera angles, slow pacing and very few cuts as if you were watching it happen right before your very own eyes. Despite a grim subject matter that occasionally feels devastating to watch, the plot unfolds with such focus and stark realism that make it undeniably captivating and, ultimately, haunting. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High is required or desired. Opens January 23rd, 2008 at IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead- Directed by Sidney Lumet.

Two brothers, Andy (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke), rob a jewelry store belonging to their own mother (Rosemary Harris) and father (Albert Finney). Marissa Tomei plays Andy’s wife, Gina, who, in the one of the most awkward opening scenes in recent memory, has sex with Andy. The robbery doesn’t go exactly as planned and chaos ensues. Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives a strong performance as usual, but, unfortunately, the screenplay by Kelly Masterson fails to make his character particularly interesting or likable. The same can be said for other characters, such as the patriarch of the family who doesn’t know that his sons are the bank robbers. Too much of the plot jumps back and forth with so many flashbacks that it feels confusing and disturbs what little momentum the film has. A few plot holes also add to the confusion. Director Sidney Lumet knows how to bring out decent performances from his actors, but that’s not enough to compensate for the weak writing. Moreover, the ending leaves you with a bad aftertaste. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by THINKfilm. Opens October 26th, 2007.

*Opening Night Film* The Darjeeling Limited-Directed by Wes Anderson.

*Opening Night Film*
Three brothers, Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) bond while on a train in India. This opening night film of the New York film Festival often aims for offbeat comedy, but ends up more as a bland drama with unlikable characters. Much of the dialogue lacks wit and too many scenes drag from lack of any real momentum—either from the plot or characters. Co-writer/director Wes Anderson includes too many underdeveloped subplots and randomness which could work if handled right, but, in this case, it just feels awkward and, worst of all, boring. Jack’s brief romance with a stewardess (Amara Karan) feels contrived and an important scene with the brothers’ mother (Anjelica Huston) lacks any much-needed poignancy. The Darjeeling Limited ultimately works better as a travelogue of India, but The Namesake already treaded those waters with much more finesse. At the NY Film Festival this is preceded by the similarly unfunny short film Hotel Chevalier, which shows the sexual relationship between Jack and his ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman). Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Opens September 29th, 2007.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly-Directed by Julian Schnabel.

In French with subtitles. Based on a true story. Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) suffers a stroke that paralyzes him everywhere except for his left eye, which he uses to communicate by blinking. Gradually, the audience learns more and more details about Jean-Dominique as he recalls memories of his family, friends and profession as an editor of Elle. His speech therapist (Marie-Josée Croze) helps him to communicate the words of his new book, which Claude (Anne Consigny) dictates by his hospital bedside. Director Julian Schnabel’s choice to place the camera from Jean-Dominique’s point of view takes a while to get used to at first and feels a bit pretentious, but eventually it hooks you into the film as if you’ve entered a portal of his mind just like in Being John Malkovich. You feel what he feels and you see what he sees. With exquisite cinematography, a terrific musical score and an incredibly raw performance by Mathieu Amalric make this a powerful, unique and unforgettable experience. Just don’t sit too close to the screen or you’ll feel nauseous from some of the stylish visuals. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Miramax Films. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on November 9th, 2007.

I'm Not There-Directed by Todd Haynes.

In this very loose biopic about the life of Bob Dylan, six actors portray the musician in different stages of his career. The actors include Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Marcus Carl Franklin and Heath Ledger. Only Cate Blanchett manages to truly shine in an otherwise dull, meandering film that overstays its welcome at a running time of 135 minutes. Co-writer/director Todd Haynes includes very stylish and imaginative cinematography to distinguish between each period of Bob Dylan's life, but that's not enough to hold your attention. Released by The Weinstein Company. Opens at the Film Forum on November 21st, 2007.
I'm Not There Conference (with director/co-writer Todd Haynes)
Another I'm Not There Conference (with Todd Haynes, Heath Ledger, Marcus Carl Franklin and Bruce Greenwood)

Margot at the Wedding-Directed by Noah Baumbach.

Margot (Nicole Kidman) travels with her son (Zane Pais) to her childhood home for the upcoming wedding of her estranged sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Jack Black plays Pauline’s unemployed husband, Malcolm who Margot doesn’t approve of. In a subplot, Margot has an affair on her husband (John Turturro) with an old lover (Ciarán Hinds). Over the course of a few days, Margot, Pauline and Malcolm are forced to deal with one another despite lots of tensions going on between them. For such a character-driven film, it’s very disappointing that writer/director Noah Baumbach fails to enliven any of the characters. He could have at least made Malcolm remotely likable because, given his behavior and personality throughout the film, it’s not clear what Pauline sees in him to begin with or how they will settle down since he’s unemployed. Unlike in Baumbach’s last drama, The Squid and the Whale, the cinematography looks like that of a Dogme 95 film—too many scenes look frustratingly dark or shadowy. It would have been beneficial if the scrip would have allowed the audience to care about at somewhat at least, but, unfortunately, they’re all too bitter and dull, which leaves you with a bad aftertaste. Even a fine cast can’t elevate this underwhelming, unimaginative drama. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Paramount Vantage. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on November 16th, 2007.

*Centerpiece*No Country for Old Men-Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.

Javier Bardem gives an Oscar-worthy performance Anton, a serial killer on the loose in Texas who searches for a briefcase containing $2 million, which Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) has. Meanwhile, the county sheriff, Ed (Tommy Lee Jones) investigates Anton’s crime spree. It’s absolutely riveting to watch the way the intricate plot unfolds as the lives of these three men gradually come together in unpredictable, even startling ways. Co-writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen include many breathtaking, mesmerizing scenes that channel their classic films such as Blood Simple and Fargo. Sure, there’s some bloody mayhem that could disgust those with a weak stomach for violence, but what did you expect from this genre to begin with? Fluffy kitten and the Easter bunny? Fortunately, none of the violence goes over-the-top. The Coen brothers do a masterful job of combining setting, lighting, pacing and music score to create a very chilling atmosphere. It all wouldn’t have worked so well, though, if it weren’t that Javier Bardem’s scene-stealing, haunting performance as Anton turns him into one of the most memorable and believable villains in the history of cinema. Be sure to notice the original way he kills his victims. Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Miramax Films. Opens at the Angelika Film Center, Regal Union Square, AMC Empire 25 and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on November 9th, 2007.

The Orphanage- Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.

In Spanish with subtitles. Laura (Belén Rueda) moves into her childhood home with her son, Simón (Roger Príncep), and husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo). Simón, who claims to have an invisible friend, mysteriously disappears. When Laura hears all sorts of creepy sounds in the house and sees strange visions, she seeks the help of a paranormal investigator, Aurora (Geraldine Chaplin), to determine if any of the ghosts happen to Simón. Decent performances, especially by Belén Rueda, barely make up for a weak story. Screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez combines the genres of drama, fantasy, mystery and horror with mixed results because there’s simply not enough of each to keep you thrilled or engrossed in the story. Also, director Juan Antonio Bayon paces some scenes much slower than others and includes awkward transitions, which distracts from the plot’s overall momentum. The details of the mystery take a while to make more sense and be fun to figure out after a second act that goes around in circles without any real surprises. For those who’ve seen superior films like The Others, Poltergeist, The Innocents or even The Devil’s Backbone, The Orphanage will ultimately seem like treaded water. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None, as long as you suspend your disbelief. Released by Picturehouse. Opens at Loews Lincoln Square, AMC Empire 25 and Landmark Sunshine Cinema on December 28th, 2007.

Paranoid Park- Directed by Gus Van Sant.

Based on the novel by Blake Nelson. Alex (Gabe Nevins), a teenage skateboarder, gets investigated for his involvement in the accidentally death of a security guard near Paranoid Park, a skateboarding area in Portland, Oregon. The drama takes its time to unfold very gradually and initially feels like another version of Wassup Rockers given that Alex skates a lot, just chills most of the time and comes of age with a girl (Lauren McKinney) from his school. Writer/director Gus Van Sant progresses the plot in a non-linear structure which adds to the mystery element as Detective Richard Liu (Daniel Lu) asks Alex critical questions about the guard’s murder. Unfortunately, there’s not enough character development so that Alex is more than just a stereotypical 16-year-old slacker/skateboarder with shaggy hair. The cinematography and musical score are both well-chosen and add some style, but, ultimately, Paranoid Park feels underwhelming, lazy and forgettable just like Alex. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by IFC First Take. Opens March 7th, 2008 at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

*Closing Night Film*Persepolis Directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud.

*Closing Night Film*
In French, Persian and German with subtitles. Based on the autobiographical comic book by Marjane Satrapi. During her childhood years, Marjane (voice of Gabrielle Lopes) witnesses the Islamic Revolution while living in Iran. Her parents eventually send her to study in Europe when she comes of age as a teenager (voice of Chiara Mastroianni). She strives for freedom and individualism as an Iranian woman. Co-writers/directors Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud effectively infuse some offbeat humor with the tender and moving drama. Some scenes drag a bit and the white-on-white subtitles are hard to decipher, but, for the most part the lively characters, very human characters keep you engrossed. Moreover, the hand-drawn 2D animation (mostly black-and-white) gives a surprising warmth and vibrancy to the film—although it’s not as wild or impeccably detailed as The Triplets of Bellville. FYI, the title "Persepolis" refers to the ancient capital of Persia. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Entertainment Value: Moderately High. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on December 25th, 2007.

Redacted-Directed by Brian De Palma.

A group of U.S. soldiers lose their minds while serving in Iraq and participate in a rape of a 15-year-old Iraqi girl. Writer/director Brian De Palma clearly opposes the war in Iraq and doesn’t allow for any subtleties in this “documentary”. Basically, it seems that when U.S. soldiers serve in Iraq, they gradually turn into animals and lose their minds. The “footage” of these soldiers’ activities fails to be new or surprising in any way that hasn’t been shown before. Unfortunately, De Palma doesn’t humanize any of them so that you understand what they’re going through mentally—why not include some fake post-war interviews since this is, after all, a “documentary”. It would have been much more compelling had he made this into a real documentary or an imaginative, character-driven war film. Ultimately, it misses many opportunities to pack any punches and quickly fades from memory. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on November 26th, 2007.

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