Reviews for September 11th, 2009
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Directed by Peter Hyams.
Based on the screenplay by Douglas Morrow. C.J. Nichols (Metcalfe), a TV reporter, yearning to win a Pulitzer Prize, has a hunch that the district attorney, Martin Hunter (Michael Douglas), has been planting false evidence in crime scenes in order to win his 17 court cases. In an attempt to expose the DA’s corruption, C.J. , with the help of his colleague, Corey Finley (Joel David Moore), buys a dog, shoes and other material that links him to the crime scene of a murdered black junkie. Soon enough, he’s implicated for her murder and finds himself in court with his attorney (David Jensen) and Martin serving as the cocky DA. Meanwhile, C.J. develops a romance with Ella Farrell (Amber Tamblyn), a lawyer who works for Martin Hunter. Will C.J. be able to actually prove that Martin has been using fabricated evidence? What might happen if Martin were to become aware of C.J.’s hidden agenda? First of all, C.J. doesn’t even come across remotely as a professional reporter who’s capable of outsmarting a clever DA such as Martin Hunter. He’s quite crazy and quixotic to think that he could possibly win a Pulitzer Prize for his work. Secondly, the romance between him and Ella feels too forced. It makes very little sense why she would risk her very own career to have a relationship with him. The screenplay writer/director Peter Hyams stinks to high heavens with awfully stilted dialogue that no one, even Michael Douglas, seems capable of uttering with conviction. Even the action sequences fall flat while the attempts at comic relief generate less laughs than the unintentional humor that comes from the many silly, implausible scenes. Moreover, the gimmicky third-act twists make everything even more painfully dumb and unengaging. To top it all off, the transitions between most scenes feel too awkward and abrupt, especially as the plot jumps around from inside and outside the courtroom. At a running time of 105 minutes, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt manages to be preposterous, asinine, poorly edited and downright silly with more unintentional humor than your average courtroom thriller. Number of times I checked my watch: 5 Released by Anchor Bay Entertainment. Opens at AMC Loews Village 7 and AMC Empire 25.
The Big Gay Musical
Directed by Casper Andreas and Fred M. Caruso.
Paul (Daniel Robinson) and Eddie (Joey Dudding) work as actors/singers in “Adam and Steve Just the Way God Made ‘Em,” an Off-Broadway musical that has just begun its preview phase. The musical’s premise centers on alternate version of the Book of Genesis that involves Adam and Steve becoming a gay couple after Eve eats the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and gets banished from the garden. In turn, the show’s dialogue and songs open up a wide variety of themes ranging from religion to sexual identity and tolerance. Eddie feels worried that he might be HIV positive and has yet to come out to his own parents. Even though he invited them to the opening night of the show, little do they know that the show doesn’t follow the familiar Bible’s version. Meanwhile, Paul struggles to find an ideal guy to have a committed relationship with, but, after his boyfriend leaves him for someone else, he decides to try living life on the fast lane with random hook-ups. He meets guys through the website Manhunt.com and has sex with them, but, when he asks one of them to cuddle with him after sex, the guy refuses to do so and just leaves him all sad and lonely. Steven Hayes has many witty lines as the role of God in the musical show. Director Casper Andreas along with writer/co-director Fred M. Caruso do a terrific job of smoothly combining the genres of drama, comedy and romance that never becomes corny or pretentions. It also helps that the dialogue sounds very true-to-life and the characters seem so real, organic and engaging while the struggles that they go through to be comfortable with themselves are quite tender and heartfelt. Steve Hayes steals the show in the role of God and has some laugh-out-loud lines. Each member of the cast, though, seems to have a great time in his or her role, especially while performing in the campy, hilarious musical show, which has a very clever and funny voice-over introduction/warning for the audience. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, The Big Gay Musical manages to be thoroughly engaging, funny, smart and heartfelt without any dull or contrived moments. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Embrem Entertainment. Opens at the Clearview Chelsea Cinemas.
No Impact Man
Directed by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein.
This mildly fascinating documentary follows author Colin Beavan as he endeavors on a one-year mission to avoid making an impact on the environment. He lives with his wife, Michelle Conlin, and very young daughter, Isabella, in Greenwich Village. Basically, he changes his lifestyle drastically by only eating locally-grown, organic food, using candlelight instead of electricity, not buying new clothes, getting rid of his television and riding a bicycle around the city. The mission begins to threaten his relationship with his wife once she also participates in it and yields to the temptations of drinking Starbucks coffee. She candidly admits that she’s not as enthusiastic about nature as he happens to be, especially when it comes to the box with worms that turn trash into compost. Not surprisingly, the compost brings a lot of flies into the apartment. Unfortunately, co-directors Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein have basically squandered their opportunity to make a truly insightful and provocative documentary by barely scratching the surface about how Colin’s new lifestyle hasactually affected the environment. It’s somewhat interesting to watch the interactions and reactions of the family during their mission as well as how they respond to media attention. However, it would have been much more illuminating to explore the science behind their new practices. For example, when Colin uses “all-natural” soap to do laundry inside his bathtub with the help of his young daughter, does he actually understand that the often-used “all-natural” doesn’t necessarily imply that the product is actually safe? He should have inquired more about the often-used term “organic” regarding how safe organic products truly are compared to conventional products. It’s surely heartwarming to know that Colin and his wife alter their lifestyles to try to set an example for others by opening their minds to environmentalism. However, do they truly understand precisely how and why their new inactions and actions are beneficial to the environment? Neither they nor the co-directors ask intriguing questions, so, in turn, there’s really not much for the audience to be enlightened by. Perhaps Colin’s next mission should be more focused, thorough and illuminating, such as by raising awareness about hidden MSG and avoiding food, beverages and hygiene products that have labeled and unlabeled MSG, a potential neurotoxin that might be both harmful to one’s health and addictive. (Please click here for more information about the cover-up of hidden MSG and for a complete list of ingredients with hidden MSG.) At a running time of 90 minutes, No Impact Man manages to be a mildly fascinating documentary that ultimately fails to be truly enlightening, focused and provocative. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Oscilloscope Laboratories. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.
Directed by Dror Soref.
Jack Bishop (Simon Baker), a soccer coach, lives in a small Texan town near the border of Mexico with his second wife, Amaya (Paz Vega), and Toby (Chloe Moretz), his 11-year-old daughter from his first wife, Katie (Claire Forlani). One day, Jack arrives at soccer practice where he learns that Toby has gone missing after kicking a soccer ball out of the field. He presumes that she has been kidnapped because it would be atypical of her to run away. The local police watch surveillance camera footage and notice a suspicious white van belonging to a man who might have abducted Toby. Soon enough, Jack takes matters into his own hands by following clues into the dangerous, seedy town of Acuna, Mexico. Amaya tries unsuccessfully to convince him to seek guidance from an old witch who belongs to a religious cult called La Santa Muerte (The Holy Dead), which may have something to do with Toby’s kidnapping. The screenplay by director/co-writer Dror Soref has initial intrigue as you’re wondering what’s going to happen to whom after the relatively quiet first act. Anyone who pays close attention to details, though, will find it very easy to figure out who the kidnapper is and how he/she found Toby. The questions that remain are: What are his/her motives for kidnapping Toby? Where will Jack be able to find her? As Soref piles more and more twists as the plot progresses, the suspense actually diminishes because the twists aren’t particularly surprising. Moreover, none of the characters are worth caring about, even Toby, who awkwardly narrates some of the scenes. Soref, who previously directed over 100 TV commercials, certainly knows how to add some intensity through stylish cinematography, fast pacing and an appropriate musical score. However, he shouldn’t have included so many clues and foreshadows that hit you over the head while concurrently draining out all the thrills by the time the end credits roll. At a running time of 100 minutes, Not Forgotten manages to be a stylish, yet dull thriller that doesn’t have enough faith in its audience’s intelligence. It’s ultimately forgettable with waning suspense and intrigue. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Skyline Pictures. Opens at the AMC Empire 25.
The Other Man
Directed by Richard Eyre.
Based on a short story by Bernhard Schlink. Peter (Liam Neeson) , a computer software CEO, and Lisa (Laura Linney), a show designer, have been married for twenty-five years and live in Cambridge, England with their daughter, Abigail (Romola Garai), who goes off the be with her fiancé after attending a fashion show in New York with her parents. At the show, Peter notices that there’s something more than friendship going on between Lisa and another designer, Ralph (Antonio Banderas). Lisa suddenly asks Peter, while dining together at a restaurant, whether or not he has considered cheating on her. If you’re unable to figure out where the plot will go from there, you’ve probably haven’t seen enough dramatic thrillers. When Lisa disappears all-of-a-sudden, Peter checks her cell phone messages and emails and learns that she has been having an affair with another man. Do you happen have any idea who that other man might be? Lisa leaves him a note that has the words “Lake Como” on them. Do you happen have any idea what the password to unlock the private photos on Lisa’s computer? Soon enough, Peter tracks down Ralph’s address in Milan and confronts him. Director/co-writer Richard Eyre, who also directed Notes on a Scandal and Iris, has written a very lazy and unintelligent plot that lacks suspense, romantic chemistry and intrigue, for that matter. Liam Neeson gives an intense performance just like he did in the thriller Taken, but his character of Peter never really comes to life or seem memorable. While it’s somewhat engaging to watch him onscreen with Antonio Banderas, unfortunately, the dialogue exchanges between them sound very stilted with too many contrived scenes and “coincidences” that take away any remaining plausibility. At a running time of 89 minutes, The Other Man manages to be a contrived, poorly crafted, sophomoric and bland thriller that can’t even be saved by its stellar cast. Number of times I checked my watch: 5 Released by Image Entertainment. Opens at the City Cinemas Village East, AMC Empire 25, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Clearview 1st and 62nd.
The Painter Sam Francis
Directed by Jeffrey Perkins.
This occasionally fascinating documentary focuses on the life and career of Sam Francis, an abstract painter. He started developing his passion for painting after World War II and then moved to Paris, where he had his first art exhibit in 1952. He soon moved to the United States and continued painting at his studio in Santa Monica. When it comes to his familial life, he was married five times and left behind two children when he died of prostate cancer in 1994. It’s too bad that director Jeffrey Perkins spends too much time showing footage of Sam Francis at work in his studio back in 1968 and not enough insightful interview footage. Perkins combines interviews with Sam’s family members as well as colleagues, namely, Bruce Conner, James, Turrell, Alfred Leslie and Ed Ruscha who do their best to illuminate what they know about Sam. However, the questions that Perkins asks them about Sam aren’t particularly meaty or provocative enough to truly help you to get inside Sam’s head. It’s not new or surprising to hear that abstract art, especially Sam’s, is anarchic. Even the footage of an interview between him and Perkins doesn’t really keep you engaged or intrigued for that matter. Moreover, the original musical score by composer Charles Curtis often feels grating and awkward, especially while you watch Sam paint. Sociopsychologist Erving Goffman once wrote that everyone has a life backstage and front stage, so-to-speak. Perkins provides you with some basic facts and observations about Sam’s life and work, but they merely scratch the surface without showing you at least a glimpse of what Sam’s like “backstage.” Audience members previously unfamiliar with Sam Francis will be mostly bored and wonder what makes him so important as an artist to begin with, while everyone else will be hungry for more analysis and insight. At a running time of 85 minutes, The Painter Sam Francis manages to be a sporadically fascinating, but often dull documentary that fails to be sufficiently illuminating, provocative and engaging. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Body and Soul Productions.Opens at the Anthology Film Archives.
Directed by Sam Garbarski.
In French, Hebrew and English with subtitles. When Rosa, the matriarch of the Rashevski family, dies, her kindred come together to bury her at a Jewish cemetery. Rosa’s ex-husband, Sammy (Moscou Alcalay), had abandoned her and her two sons, Simon (Michel Jonasz) and David (Daniel Mesguich), to become an Orthodox rabbi in Israel. The rest of the Rashevki family has lived a secular life, but after the funeral, they question what it truly means to be a Jew and the value of Judaism in their own life. They discover that Rosa used to practice Judaism religiously before the Holocaust, but afterwards, she set the religion aside to protect herself and her family from the potential of further Nazi persecution. Dolfo (Natan Cogan), her brother-in-law who’s also a holocaust survivor, grapples with his leadership of the Rashevki family. Rosa had taught her two sons to dance to the tango whenever they’re in need of overcoming their troubles. Simon Simon’s wife, Isabelle (Ludmila Mikaël), a shiksa, argues with her Simon about whether or not he should be buried in a Jewish cemetery or together with her in a non-Jewish cemetery when he dies. Their daughter, Nina (Tania Garbarski), has fallen in love with an older, non-Jewish guy, Antoine (Hippolyte Girardot), who used to be her babysitter two decades earlier. Antoine considers converting to Judaism and even getting circumsized so that Nina will continue having a romance with him. Meanwhile Rosa’s grandson, Ric (Rudi Rosenberg) asks his girlfriend, Khadija (Selma Kouchy), a French Muslim, to marry him, but she’s uncomfortable with the thought of marrying a Jew given the tensions and violence between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. Director/co-writer Sam Garbarski has woven a compelling plot that delicately balances drama, romance and comedy. Each member of the Rashevski family comes across as complex, intelligent and interesting characters who are worth caring about thanks to the terrific performances all across the board. Many of the realizations and conversations that the characters have, such as when Simon and David converse while playing chess over the phone, raise many thought-provoking questions about the inherent meaning of being a Jew and the importance of following Jewish traditions and customs. With so many different conflicts going on with so many of the characters, the film could have easily seemed convoluted and overstuffed, but, instead, it remains consistently focused and easy-to-follow. At a running time of 100 minutes, Rashevski’s Tango manages to be a compelling, heartfelt and well-acted ensemble drama brimming with intrigue, humor and poignancy. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Menemsha Films. Opens at the Cinema Village.
Directed by Stewart Hendler.
Based on the screenplay Seven Sisters by Mark Rosman. Megan (Audrina Patridge), a member of the Theta Pi Sorority, pretends to be suffering from an overdose after her cheating ex-boyfriend, Garrett (Matt O'Leary), gives her what he assumes to be a date rape drug. Jessica (Leah Pipes), the president of the sorority, drives Megan to the hospital with other sorority girls and Garrett coming along with her. In the middle of the night, they take a detour to a deserted area where Megan now continues with prank by pretends to be dead. Garret plunges a tire iron right into her, causing her to die for real, though, so they all decide to throw her corpse into a mine shaft and to not tell anyone about their dark secret. Eight months later, the girls have graduated, but someone dressed in a graduation gown starts killing off sorority sisters one by one. Carrie Fisher plays Theta Pi’s sorority mother while Rumer Willis plays one of the sorority sisters. Who will be the next victim of the serial killer? Who might actually be the serial killer? Did Megan somehow rise from the dead to seek revenge on her murderer and those who covered her murder up? Those are the basic questions that keep the mystery and suspense alive throughout the intense first hour of the film. Unfortunately, the performances all across the board seem too wooden while none of the characters are worth caring about. It’s just a matter of who’s going to die, how they’re going to die and in which order. On a positive note, director Stewart Hendler makes the most out of the $16 million budget by including great production values, such as cinematography, make-up and gore effects that look quite impressive. Co-writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger do a decent job of initially entertaining the audience with some gruesome killings and by providing them with red herrings which keep you thrilled and intrigued up until the chaotic and unintentionally funny third act’s surprises, which won’t be spoiled here. Why do victims in horror films often have to behave so stupidly, though? That’s a cliché that gets tiresome and boring very quickly. For example, one of the sorority girls goes into a dark, creepy basement searching for some more booze all alone while the killer still lurks. Or another sorority girl hears a suspicious noise while in the community shower room and decides to investigate it all alone, of course. If you don’t have any idea what might happen to her, then you probably haven’t watched enough horror films. At a running time of 101 minutes, Sorority Row manages to be initially intriguing, thrilling and suspenseful with impressive production values, but it eventually sinks into an unintentionally funny and insipid mess while insulting the audience’s intelligence. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Summit Entertainment. Opens nationwide.
Walt & El Grupo
Directed by Theodore Thomas.
This captivating documentary focuses on Walt Disney’s ten-week goodwill tour in South American countries back in 1941. While Walt Disney Studios faced serious financial struggles as well as a labor strike, President Franklin D. Roosevelt persuaded Walt to travel to Latin America to make Latin American animated films as a means of supporting the U.S.’s Good Neighbor policy to ensure that Latin American countries will choose to be on the side of the Allies rather than the rising Axis powers during World War II. Walt brought his wife, Lillian, along with 16 animators with him on the trip to Brazil, Argentina and Chile. The animation team, or “El Grupo” (the Group), as they were dubbed, immersed themselves along with Walt in the Latin American culture while meeting with some local politicians. Walt Disney Studios eventually produced classic animated films, namely The Three Caballeros and Saludos Amigos, as a result of Walt’s much-needed goodwill tour. Director Theodore Thomas wisely combines poignant, candid fascinating interviews with the surviving kin of “El Grupo” and Walt Disney as well as readings of letters that they had written back then, which help to provide many interesting details and observations from the Latin American tour. Thomas also includes never-before-seen footage along with photographs taken from the trip itself and very amusing clips from the animated film, Saludos Amigos. It’s also worth mentioning the very well-chosen, lively soundtrack that accompanies much of the footage. The shots of modern-day South American cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, bring out the vibrant colors and picturesque qualities found in those beautiful locations, which will make you tempted to hop on a plane to take a vacation there as soon as possible. Thomas ultimately succeeds in finding just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually as well as emotionally---an achievement that every documentarian should strive for. At a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes, Walt & El Grupo manages to be a lively, well-edited documentary brimming with insight, warmth and humor while captivating audiences both young and old. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Walt Disney Pictures. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Directed by Dominic Sena.
Based on the graphic novel by Greg Rucka. Just when U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale), the only law enforcement in Antarctica, looks forward to leaving the bitter cold continent within a few days, she must investigate the murder of a geologist whose body was found far away in icy landscape. With the assistance of Dr. John Fury (Tom Skerritt), she’s sure that, given the geologist’s lack of climber gear and the nature of his wounds, he couldn’t have merely fallen from the cliff of a nearby mountain. Robert Pryce (Gabriel Macht), an official from the U.N., quickly shows up to help with the investigation as more people end up killed. Who might the killer be? What might be his or her motive? What does everything have to do with the initial scene showing a plane with men aboard crashing into the ice? Unfortunately, the screenplay by co-writers Jon & Erich Hoeber and Chad & Carey W. Hayes gets more and more downright preposterous and silly as it progresses. Sure, Carrie Stetko looks very appealing and has an interesting past that haunts her memory every now and then. However, she’s far from an intelligent investigator, a credible U.S. Marshall, or a memorable character that comes-to-life, for that matter. The Antarctic setting itself becomes the most interesting character, though, thanks to director Dominic Sena who uses the locations and CGI effects to create a few intense sequences as Carrie and others brave a storm that creates whiteout conditions. The plot’s mysteries aren’t too difficult to figure out early on for anyone who can add up two and two together, so there’s really not that much suspense here like in far superior mystery/thrillers, namely, The Thing and The Last Winter, which treaded similar territory. Not only are the performances mediocre at best, but too much of the dialogue feels awkward and stilted with only a few, brief instances of dark humor as comic relief peppered along the way. You’ll probably find yourself laughing at the movie, though, rather than with it. Whiteout ultimately lacks sufficient thrills, chills and intrigue as it grows into an increasingly ludicrous and inane mess, even if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for 101 minutes. Number of times I checked my watch: 5 Released by Warner Bros. Pictures. Opens nationwide.
Why Us? Left Behind and Dying
Directed by Claudia Pryor.
This fascinating and informative documentary, narrated by 20-year-old alumna Tamira Noble, explores the reasons behind why the HIV/AIDS rates are significantly higher among the Black population. According to the Black AIDS Institute, Blacks make up 10-20% of the U.S. population, yet their HIV/AIDS rates are over 50%. 20 African-American students from Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh, PA each give their individual perspective about HIV/AIDs and also openly discuss their own sexual practices. Before becoming aware of the realities of HIV/AIDS, they weren’t truly concerned about even talk about the virus with other or understand the importance of having safe sex and asking their sex partner about whether or not they have HIV/AIDS. It’s much more complicated than that, though, because even those who do have the disease feel too ashamed to tell their sex partner until it’s too late. Director Claudia Pryor includes footage of the 20 students asking very meaty, provocative questions to a variety of guests who visit their school, ranging from drug users, to homosexuals and people who contracted HIV. One HIV positive woman admits that she takes a lot of medicine, but only a few of them are actually function as an attack against the virus; the rest treat the many side effects of the HIV medicine. A question that she hasn’t been asked to ponder about, though, is whether or not she’s aware of and/or considered maintaining proper nutrition as means to boost her immune system to fight against HIV. The interviews with experts, such as Dr.Preston Marx, a virologist, and Dr. Ernest Ducker, an epidemiologist, shed light on the origins of HIV in Africa as well as how the virus evolved and spread to America. It’s very interesting to hear about the many different factors that allow for the virus to spread more easily, such as the fact that there’s polygamy in Africa and that the men not only sleep with those wives, but also with many girlfriends as well. Pryor has certainly done a great job of not only incorporate a lot of research approaching the spread of HIV/AIDS from many different angles, but also synthesizes these facts and findings in engaging ways, i.e. through editing techniques, so that all audience members would find it easy-to-follow while concurrently gaining important insight. At a running time of 84 minutes, Why Us? Left Behind and Dying manages to be a thoroughly captivating, well-researched and illuminating documentary. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Diversity Films. Opens at the IFC Center.