Ethan Belfrage (Cary Elwes), a photojournalist, lives with his wife, Kate (Nicole Ansari-Cox), and daughter, Sarah (Emma Kantor), in an apartment in New York City. His landlord wants to evict him and his family in order to demolish the building and construct a new building, but Ethan refuses to move and makes that clear by barging into the office of the landlord and announces his wishes. Later that day, while Kate is out with Sarah, Ethan lets two men, Jake (Matt Dallas) and Aaron (Frank Whaley), into his apartment under the assumption that his landlord had sent them to intimidate him. Little does he know that they have nothing to with his landlord. They tie him up and torture him while trying to get information out of him which he claims he doesn’t have. Moreover, they say that Helen Kalahan (Andy Macdowell) ordered them torture him because he had murdered her husband, Reverend Kalahan (Brian Cox), a Southern preacher, many years ago, but Ethan denies it and might even have evidence to prove his innocence. As the plot grows increasingly intense, the screenplay co-written by Erez Mossek and Eve Pomerance becomes more and more convoluted, implausible and preposterous, especially once Helen arrives at Ethan’s apartment. It’s great to see Andy Macdowell return to the big screen, but her role here as Helen seems so awkwardly balanced in terms of toughness and fragility that Helen comes across as schizophrenic more often than not. Her dialogue sounds stilted in a way that deflates any of the film’s dramatic momentum even as a surprising twist, which won’t be spoiled here, arises. Frank Whaley seems to be having a lot of fun in his role as the pernicious Aaron, but his performance is so over-the-top that it loses credibility and will cause you to roll your eyes quite often because you’ll be so annoyed. Perhaps if As Good as Dead were a spoof of thrillers instead of aiming to be a serious one with tacked-on political themes, perhaps that performance would have worked, though. On a positive note, director Jonathan Mossek makes the most out of the set designs, editing, lighting and musical score given his very limited budget. If only he were to work with a smarter, tighter screenplay, As Good as Dead could have been much more riveting and captivating. At a running time of 1 hour and 31 minutes, As Good as Dead is often implausible and convoluted with stilted dialogue and an irritatingly over-the-top performance by Frank Whaley.
Geeta (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a graphic designer from a middle-class family, has a romance with Jaidev (Samrat Chakrabarti), a struggling writer. Neither of her parents knows about their relationship, so, for the time being, she keeps it as a secret. Both Geeta and Jaidev eventually meet and befriend Madan (Jatin Goswami), a commercial artist who also works as a drug dealer on the side. The three friends embark on a site-seeing journey throughout Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) which also represents their spiritual journey as they experience love and deal with betrayal, tragedy and other universal adversities. Writer/director Joseph Mathew-Varghese unfolds the story very gently with close attention to detail along with a slow enough pace that allows you to absorb the characters, their interactions and surroundings. The city of Mumbai becomes a character in itself because it’s concurrently rich with history and beauty when it comes to its architecture and enchanting natural scenery, especially when Geeta, Jaidev and Madan tour some of the ancient sites and visit the beach, but contrasting with that beauty is the ugliness of its more impoverished neighborhoods where violence can be found more easily. Madan, not surprisingly, gets caught up in the violent side of Mumbai becomes he’s a drug dealer. It’s interesting to observe the dynamics of the relationship between him, Geeta and Jaidev and, moreover, to watch how their friendship evolves. Mathew-Varghese wisely keeps the film very character-driven, so you’ll find yourself caring about them as sensitive human beings instead of mere charicatures. He maintains a leisurely pace that’s refreshing and enhances the films’ sense of realism. Most importantly, the performances are each well-nuanced, none of the scenes veers into melodrama, and the musical score is only used when absolutely necessary and doesn’t distract or hit you over the head. At a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes, Bombay Summer is a quietly absorbing, refreshingly character-driven drama that boasts well-nuanced performances and enchanting scenery of Mumbai.
Jim (Dan Illian) suffers a mental breakdown after his wife, Susan (Vanessa Morris-Burke), succumbs to breast cancer. He loses his job and must deal with increasing debts as well as his own depression that causes him to contemplate suicide. Just when he’s about the pull the trigger as he points the gun at his head Russian roulette-style, he recalls the many joyful times that he spent with his wife prior to her death. She comes to him in a vision to tell him to take the money that he has left and turn it into an act of creation which he accomplishes by paying a Biotech firm to engineer a son who has traits superior to the common man. Adolf Hitler would have probably been interested in that firm given his obsession with eugenics. In a distant future, #3774 clone (Abigail Savage) who works slavishly among other clones, has sudden visions of Jim and, soon after, experiences new feelings of empathy and expressions of reason that don’t quite please the clones’ tyrannical leader Niskaa (Michael Strelow). Writer/director Jeremy Morris-Burke certainly has a very vivid imagination and, refreshingly, doesn’t resort to conventional, formulaic methods of storytelling. However, he needs to learn how to blend genres in more organic ways because, as such, the genres of sci-fi, romance, drama, tragedy and social commentary here don’t particularly mesh well as the plot jumps from one to the other too abruptly. It’s as though there were two provocative films taking place concurrently: one about Jim’s conflicts, and another about the clone’s struggles. A modicum of comic relief would have been helpful, too, because it’s a necessary quality to have in any kind of film, especially one that deals with such heavy themes. The performances vary from wooden (Abigail Savage) to decent (Dan Illian) and strong (Vanessa Morris-Burke), so the scenes with Abigail Savage come across as awkward and less engaging than the rest. At a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes, Jim is an imaginative, provocative and refreshingly unconventional, yet somewhat uneven amalgamation of sci-fi, drama, romance, tragedy and social commentary.
Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl) and Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel)’s friends, Peter (Hayes MacArthur) and Alison (Christina Hendricks), set them up together on a blind date that fails miserably, yet Holly and Eric nonetheless end up bumping into each other whenever they attend their friends’ events. After Holly and Eric die in a car crash, Holly and Eric learn that they must become the legal co-guardians of their friends’ baby daughter, Sophie, and move into their home together. Somehow, Holly’s able to balance her work as a bakery owner with time spend at home taking care of Sophie while also trying to get along with Eric. Eric works as a technical director and struggles the most when it comes to having to deal with the balance between work and baby-care. What might happen if he gets a job offer in a different city? An agent from the Child Protection Services, Janine Groff (Sarah Burns), checks up on them, of course, during the most inconvenient times, i.e. when they happen to have baked hash brownies. Amy (Britt Flatmo), the local “baby whisperer”, babysits Sophie and calms her down in ways that aren’t quite conventional such as by putting her near an oven hood fan---not particularly a safe method, though. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson caters to the lowest common denominator with oodles of juvenile humor such as poop jokes. Just try to laugh when Sophie poops in Eric’s precious baseball cap or when Holly greets her friends with Sophie’s poop smeared on her face. Josh Duhamel has some charisma onscreen unlike Katherine Heigl who’s attractive, but lacks the requisite charisma that it takes to be a memorable leading lady in a romantic comedy. A truly great romantic comedy ought to be funny, insightful, touching, grounded in reality and have some palpable chemistry between its stars. Unfortunately, Life as We Know It has too little of each of those essential qualities because its screenplay feels very dumbed-down and contrived. Director Greg Berlanti doesn’t quite know how to end the film properly because the third act goes on and on tediously after the film’s conflicts have already been resolved and too neatly tied in bow for audience members with low intelligence. At a running time of just under 2 hours, Life as We Know It is a bland, overlong, unfunny and forgettable romantic comedy that appeals to the lowest common denominator.
Suggested by the book Secretariat: The Making of a Champion by William Nack. Penny Chenery (Diane Lane), lives in Denver with her husband, Jack (Dylan Walsh), and four kids. After her parents die, she becomes the owner of her family’s horse-breeding stable located in Virginia, and must decide whether or not to sell it. That’s a decision that’s easier said than done, though, because the stable has been suffering from mismanagement among other problems. Her husband, Jack (Dylan Walsh), a lawyer, wants her to sell it and doesn’t quite share her passion for horses. She keeps the stable, fires the horse trainer and searches for a new one who can help train her most precious horse, Big Red, a.k.a. Secretariat, which she won in a coin toss. She finds the very eccentric Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), who’s known for saving the newspaper clippings showing all the races that his horses had lost. Penny persuades Lucien that she’s sure that Secretariat will win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont races, a.k.a. The Triple Crown, consecutively. Nelsan Ellis plays Eddie Sweat, Secretariat’s groomer, Margo Martindale plays Miss Ham, Penny’s secretary, and James Cromwell shows up as Ogden Phipps, an investor who gives Penny $6 million. The uneven, schmaltzy screenplay by Mike Rich gyrates from drama to comedy and horse-racing sequences with not nearly as much focus, reality and depth as far superior horse-racing films, i.e. Seabiscuit or the classic National Velvet. Diane Lane looks awkward in a blonde wig and gives a performance that’s mediocre one minute and completely wooden the next. The main comic relief comes from Lucian Laurin, a trainer who’s loony and goofy in a cartoonish way that makes you disbelieve that he’s taking his profession seriously---it’s though he walked right out of a Christopher Guest “documentary” about horse racing. Director Randall Wallace, responsible for directing We Were Soldiers and The Man in the Iron Mask, at least films the horse racing scenes with skill and creates a modicum of dramatic momentum, but the overbearing soundtrack distracts and annoys instead of helping to keep you engrossed or genuinely uplifted. At a running time of 1 hour and 55 minutes, Secretariat is schmaltzy, uneven and contrived with overbearing music and underwritten characters. It can’t be saved by the thrilling horse-racing scenes or John Malkovich’s hilarious performance as an eccentric trainer who walked right out of a Christopher Guest movie.