Burn After Reading - Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.
Chaos ensues when Linda (Frances McDormand) and Chad (Brad Pitt), two employees at a gym, end up with a mysterious disc belonging to Osborn Cox (John Malkovich), a career analyst at the CIA. Meanwhile, Harry (George Clooney) has an affair on his wife (Elizabeth Marvel) with Osborn’s wife (Tilda Swinton). To explain any more of the plot would be to spoil its many unpredictable, intricate twists and turns. The plot becomes increasingly illogical both to the audience as all as to the characters themselves. Each of the ensemble cast members delivers a terrific performance that masters the film’s dramatic and comedic elements. Brad Pitt steals the most scenes, though, as the dim-witted Chad who sports a very whacko hairdo. Co-writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen have a knack for writing very imaginative characters who each has his/her own idiosyncratic personality that stands out. Not that the actions they do make them particularly likable, but it’s unexpectedly fun to watch them behave amorally, whether it be acts of violence, cheating or blackmailing. Even though you’ll often be scratching or shaking your head in confusion, the Burn After Reading still remains entertaining throughout thanks to its energetic cast and a crackerjack screenplay full of witty, offbeat, hilarious and quotable dialogue and memorable characters. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Focus Features.
David & Fatima - Directed by Alain Zaloum.
In Jerusalem, David (Cameron Van Hoy), an Israeli Jew, falls in love with Fatima (Danielle Pollack), a Palestine Muslim, despite strong tensions and violence between Jews and Palestinians. Even though Fatima stands David up because of her father’s strict rules, he doesn’t give up in his pursuit follow his heart and be with her. The plot thickens when they decide to escape from Jerusalem together and elope. That’s when they meet a rabbi (Martin Landau) who has lost faith and hope in the country of Israel and agrees to pronounce them man and wife even though he can’t legally perform a marriage between different cultures. Those scenes with the rabbi are the most thought-provoking parts of the film. Director/co-writer Alain Zaloum does a expert job of allowing the audience to become fully absorbed in the intensely dramatic lives of David and Fatima before they elope toward the end of the second act. Their romance feels quite palpable and real while their parents’ prejudice and intolerance come across as infuriating and wrong on so many levels. Many scenes with David and Fatima feel poignant, especially during the emotionally devastating third act. Alain Zaloum, concurrently, isn’t afraid to show the harsh realities of the Middle Eastern conflict with its ongoing cycle of violence and no easy solutions in sight. Ultimately, David & Fatima manages to be an engrossing, provocative, honest and timely romantic drama with a powerful ending that will haunt you for days. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Karim Movies. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
The Family That Preys - Directed by Tyler Perry.
Charlotte (Kathy Bates) owns a lucrative construction company and her son, William (Cole Hauser), hopes to take over as the new COO. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s best friendm, Alice Pratt (Alfre Woodard), has a daughter, Andrea (Sanaa Lathan), who’s cheating on her husband, Chris (Rockmond Dunbar), with William. It’s nice its see Kathy Bates in an arrogant, bitchy role almost as unlikable as her character in Misery. Some scenes feel a bit too melodramatic, which makes you feel like you’re watching a soap opera. Also, Chris takes way too long to realize that his wife is cheating on him, unless he’s just a stupid and gullible person to begin with. He should’ve figured it all out when William’s wife (Kadee Strickland) , as she storms by him teary-eyed, tells him that his wife is with her husband. Then, Andrea finally shows up claiming that she was just helping Chris to look for files. Just like the other films that Tyler Perry has written and directed, this one becomes entertaining thanks to its talented ensemble cast who know how to be convincingly dramatic and funny with they need to be. While the script isn’t particularly imaginative, it’s worth mentioning that Tyler Perry keeps the dialogue mostly organic with only few parts that feel stilted. Ultimately, The Family That Preys won’t change your life with any profound insight or move you to tears, but at least you’ll be mostly entertained for 111 minutes. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Lionsgate.
Flow: For Love of Water - Directed by Irena Salina.
This provocative, yet poorly assembled documentary tackles the issue of water privatization and contamination which has a largely negative impact on basic health and the environment. Everyone knows that water is one of the most essential elements of life and that your body as well as Earth itself is primarily made up of it. Sure, it’s very infuriating that greedy, selfish, corrupt corporations (a.k.a. “psychopaths” if you’ve seen the insightful documentary The Corporation) such as Nestle takes over the control of land rightfully owned by homeowners that supplies fresh water for drinking. Perhaps you didn’t know that Poland Spring, which Nestle owns, is the equivalence of tap water when it comes to the levels of contaminants presents inside it. Director Irena Salina certainly has the courage to oust other companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi who also privatize tap water and sell it as “natural” spring water. However, none of these revelations should be surprising to any intelligent audience member. On related note, did you know that Coca-Cola and Pepsi are both part of a potential cover-up in the health industry? There are many different, seemingly benign ingredients that contain the potentially addictive and harmful neurotoxin called “free processed glutamate” through processing. Regular Coke has 2 of those ingredients (High Fructose Corn Syrup and Natural Flavors) while regular Pepsi has 3 of them (High Fructose Corn Syrup, Citric Acid and Natural Flavors), yet neither corporation includes the quantity of free processed glutamate on its labels. Unrightfully, the FDA doesn’t even require them to label it and claims that MSG is natural and generally safe along with the many other ingredients that contain free processed glutamate. So, then what’s stopping Coca-Cola and Pepsi from including its precise quantity on its label? Why isn’t the list of ingredients that contain free processed glutamate fully disclosed to students of nutrition along with the mainstream media, most importantly, the public? Why doesn’t the ADA (American Dietetic Association) live up to its mission statement (see www.eatright.org) by educating consumers with that very important list that can potentially benefit their health? Corporate profits should never be more important than public health. Do you smell a potential cover-up within the health industry? Decide for yourself. Click here for more important information about ingredients that contain the potentially addictive and harmful neurotoxin, free processed glutamate, and here to learn about what specific foods to avoid that contain it. Anyway, back to Flow, it would have been much more insightful and brave had director Salina included interviews with CEOs of any of the wealthy corporations to let them have a chance to express their side of the story and to answer piercing, yet important questions, which would make the film much more balanced as well. Without those interviews, it seems incomplete as a documentary. All of its intriguing generalizations need to be backed up with further investigations to get much deeper into the root of the controversial, eye-opening issues at hand. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Oscilloscope Pictures. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.
Forgiveness - Directed by Udi Aloni.
David Adler (Itay Tiran), an American Jew, serves in the Israeli army where he kills a young Palestinian girl. After the war, he has a brief romance with a Palestinian woman, Lila (Clara Khoury), but his wartime experiences haunt him. There’s also a brief, poorly developed subplot involving David’s dysfunctional relationship with his father (Michael Sarne), a Holocaust survivor. Within the first act, David stays at a mental institution where an inmate, Muselmann (Moni Moshonov), claims that the institution was built atop of a Palestinian village where Israeli soldier brutally murdered over 100 Palestinians in 1948. None of the performances truly stand out with the exception of the charming Clara Khoury and the talented Moni Moshonov. A large combination of many genres such as war, romance, drama, tragedy and mystery, needs a strong, organic screenplay to weave them together in a compelling way, which, unfortunately, doesn’t happen here. Writer/director Udi Aloni too often gyrates between the past experiences of David through the war as well as his romantic relationship with Lila and his present experiences at the institution, all of which makes the plot seem very convoluted and chaotic, especially during the pretentious third act. It’s essentially a missed opportunity that the film doesn’t explore profoundly enough the provocative and timely issue of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Had Udi Aloni maintained a linear chronology with a more sensitive screenplay that didn’t include surreal, bizarre scenes that make you feel like you’re watching a David Lynch film, Forgivess could have been a much more poignant, compelling and insightful film. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by International Film Circuit. Opens at the Cinema Village.
Greetings from the Shore - Directed by Greg Chwerchak.
After the death of her father, Jenny (Kim Shaw) spends her last summer after high school at Lavallette, an island on the Jersey Shore. She finds a job at a yacht club working as a waitress and as an ESL teacher for the restaurant employees in order to save up enough money to finance her tuition at Columbia University. One of the employees, Benicio (David Fumero), whom she also teaches English, starts flirting with her and the two gradually become romantically involved. Jenny also meets a very kind older man, Catch Turner (Paul Sorvino), who serves as her mentor and father figure. Director/co-writer Greg Chwerchak wisely breathes life into the film by including at least a few believable and well-developed characters, namely Jenny, Benicio and Catch Turner. The only exception is Jenny’s boss (Flip Dooley), whose consistently condescending tone of voice gets annoying. It’s a real pleasure to watch the genuinely beautiful Kim Shaw, who uncannily resembles a young version of Reese Witherspoon, deliver such a charismatic, radiant performance as Jenny. Paul Sorvino’s brief scenes as Catch provide much-needed warmth and gravitas to balance the light and breezy atmosphere of the film. Fortunately, co-writers Greg Chwerchak and Gabrielle Berberich don’t let the dialogue become too preachy or corny and, in turn, allow for some unexpectedly moving scenes. They also keep the plot’s contrivances low so that you don’t roll your eyes too often. Moreover, the picturesque scenery of Lavallette Island becomes a character of its own by adding breathtaking moments and a bit of enchanting charm along the way. Although it has no real surprises or truly profound insights about life or love other than the importance of following your heart, Greetings from the Shore at least manages to be captivating, uplifting and even somewhat engrossing. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Newstyle Releasing. Opens at AMC/Loews Village VII.
The Little Red Truck - Directed by Rob Whitehair.
This lively documentary follows the experiences of many young kids who participate in the Missoula Children’s Theatre, a theater group that travels in a little red truck across America to bring theater to schools that don’t have it. The theater group’s goal, as they state clearly, isn’t to turn the kids into actors, but to let them feel passionate about acting and have a great time while doing it. Many of the kids don’t know how to read yet, so they start off with simple tasks such as saying their name and age using different tones of voices. Eventually, the theater group must select 60 students among over 250 for the show in each of the 5 communities shown in the film. They have only six days to rehearse, though, which puts pressure on everyone. Director Rob Whitehair does a great job of capturing the joy, chaos and energy throughout the entire process from auditioning to rehearsal to the final show. It’s the little details that make the film quite interesting. For example, Whitehair includes some interviews with some of the kids who briefly discuss what they’ve learned and what they want to be when they grow up—one kid wants to be a chef who makes an interesting new pasta or dips. Another kid admits that he used to be part of a violent gang and used drugs before joining the theater group, so, in many ways, the theater group has led him on the right path in life. Other interviewees add much-needed humor with the hilarious comments they make. Be sure to look out for two brief interview with J.K. Simons, who honed his acting chops during his childhood at Missoula Children's Theatre. It’s truly amazing how all the kids learn to work together cooperatively as a group in just six days. For some of them, it takes a while to learn those teamwork skills, but eventually they succeed. Whitehair also wisely leaves himself out of the film and doesn’t include a narrator so as not to be obtrusive or distract in any way from all the palpable onscreen energy. Whether or not you’re a fan of theater, there’s no denying that The Little Red Truck will keep you thoroughly engaged and, most importantly, bring out the kid in you. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Tree & Sky Media Arts. Opens at the Village East Cinema.
Loins of Punjab Presents - Directed by Manish Acharya.
Five Indian-Americans and one Jew compete for the top prize in the Desi Idol singing competition, presented by a pork loin company called Loins of Punjab. Each contestant has his/her own unique qualities. Josh Cohen (Michael Raimondi), a Jewish young man who invents a combo of yoga and jogging called “joga”, has an Indian girlfriend, Opama (Ayesha Dharker). Turbanotorious BDG (Ajay Naidu), a gay “bhangra” rapper, doesn’t mind speaking with obscene language. Then there’s Vikram Tejwani (Manish Acharya), Preeti Patel (Ishitta Sharma), Sania Rahman (Seema Rahmani), who doesn’t speak Hindu, and, finally, the smarmy Rrita Kapoor (Shabana Azmi) who’ll do anything unethical to win the singing contest. Although it’s inevitable to compare the film to a Christopher Guest “documentary” such as A Mighty Wind, there’s a surprising layer of poignancy to a few scenes that balances all the off-the-wall satire and comedy. More character development and dramatic tension, though, would have helped to raise the stakes for the contestants so that you’d be more riveted as to who you want to win besides just watching them perform their songs onstage. Nonetheless, writer/director Manish Acharya knows how to keep you engaged through witty dialogue, a brisk pace without scenes that drag, and a bunch of lively characters—even those in smaller roles—without any pretention or blandness. Moreover, Acharya also includes the exciting musical performances of each contestant without excessive cuts to dramatic subplots, so it’s as if you’re part of the contest’s audience. With a brief running time of 88 minutes, Loins of Punjab Presents doesn’t overstay its welcome. Please be sure to sit through the end credits for additional scenes as the credits roll. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Emerging Pictures. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Moving Midway - Directed by Godfrey Cheshire.
This mildly fascinating documentary explores the history of the American plantation system while showing the process of moving the Midway plantation of director/film reviewer Godfrey Cheshire’s ancestors to another location within a suburban section of Raleigh, North Carolina. The plantation had been at the same plot of land since 1848. Cheshire clearly has done a lot of research about plantations and it shows through his use of archival footage and current interviews with such experts as Robert Hinton, a NYU professor of African studies. Hinton has proof that one of Cheshire’s white ancestors bore children with a slave. That sounds like pretty revelatory news, so the fascinated Hinton travels to Raleigh to meet Cheshire’s many relatives and to witness the moving of the Midway plantation. Admittedly, the film loses its focus and momentum throughout its meandering second half as Cheshire makes interesting points about the evolution of plantation, but fails to explore them fully enough. What about the important issue of urbanization? That opens a big can of worms that needs more analysis. The footage showing the actual moving of the house makes the pace turn sluggish and could have easily been trimmed down to a few minutes rather than what seems like 10 minutes. Typically, a well-made documentary should not only present intriguing information, yet it also assesses and synthesizes it into some form an interesting conclusion, which doesn’t really happen here. At a running time of 98 minutes, Moving Midway remains somewhat engaging and has many moments of intrigue, but it doesn’t present them with enough focus or analysis to be truly insightful or provocative. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by First Run Features. Opens at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Proud American - Directed by Fred Ashman.
This contrived, corny and over-simplistic drama starts off briefly as a documentary that glorifies America and then delves into the lives of fictionalized characters who each fulfill their dreams and overcome obstacles within the land of opportunity. None of the stories feel believable and you feel like you’re watching a poorly made, dishonest advertisement to promote America/Americans. Even the actors, with their mediocre performances at best, can’t enliven all the dull scenes. Why couldn’t writer/director Fred Ashman document the lives of real Americans who go through real conflicts and solve them realistically? It should come as no surprise, though, that what you’re watching seems so corny, deceptive and fake: one of the film’s sponsors happens to be Coca-Cola. What a coincidence! Did you know that Coca-Cola might be part of a potential cover-up in the health industry? There are many different, seemingly benign ingredients that contain the potentially harmful and addictive neurotoxin called “free processed glutamate” through laboratory processing. Regular Coke has 2 of those ingredients (High Fructose Corn Syrup and Natural Flavors), but Coca-Cola deceptively doesn’t label the precise quantity of free processed glutamate on its labels. Unrightfully, the FDA doesn’t even require them to label it and claims that MSG is natural and generally safe along with the many other ingredients that contain free processed glutamate. So, then what’s stopping Coca-Cola from including its precise quantity on its label? If the FDA lets the corporation cheat, does that make it right? Why isn’t the list of ingredients that contain free processed glutamate fully disclosed to students of nutrition along with the mainstream media, most importantly, the public? Why doesn’t the ADA (American Dietetic Association) live up to its mission statement (see www.eatright.org) by educating consumers with that very important list that can potentially benefit their health? Corporate profits should never be more important than public health. Do you smell a potential cover-up within the health industry? Decide for yourself. Click here for more important information about ingredients that contain the potentially addictive and harmful neurotoxin, free processed glutamate, and here to learn about what specific foods to avoid that contain it. One of the major effects of free processed glutamate on public health is the obesity epidemic that you can be observed merely by walking opening your eyes as you walk around your town or city. Anyway, back to Proud American, none of the students portrayed the film are obese—they all seem to know how to dress well and look great. And remember that Coca-Cola is one of the film’s sponsors. What a coincidence! Why should any intelligent American believe that Coca-Cola suddenly cares about America when it’s potentially poisoning its citizens with neurotoxins every day? Those who feel truly uplifted and inspired by this film are ignorant sheep who only look at good, positive qualities while turning a blind eye to anything bad or negative. How can anyone feel proud to be American while American soldiers are fighting a pointless, unjustified war in Iraq? Why feel proud to be American if we’re not living in a true democracy because of our deceptive, arrogant government that pretends to care about its citizens? Does Hurricane Katrina ring a bell? Dishonest documentaries such as this one make it more difficult for all the so-called sheep to finally wake up and smell reality for a change. On a positive note, Proud American has beautiful cinematography and picturesque scenery that looks great up on the big screen, especially in IMAX, but that doesn’t even come close to compensating for its inane, repetitive and corny messages that lack any real insight or practical inspirations. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by Slowhand Cinema Releasing and Lightsource LLC.
Righteous Kill - Directed by Jon Avnet.
Turk (Robert De Niro) and Rooster (Al Pacino), NYPD homicide detectives, investigate serial killings that Turk admits to committing in the very first scene. He claims that they were all righteous killings because the victims were rapists, murderers, pedophiles and drug dealers and other lowlifes who plague society. Carla Gugino plays Karin, a crime scene investigator who becomes very suspicious of the serial killings and believes, along with Det. Simon Perez (John Leguizamo) and Det. Ted Riley (Donnie Wahlberg), that only cop could be the murderer. Given that the audience already knows the identity of the serial killer from the getgo, there’s very little suspense and intrigue until the twisted, convoluted third act. Screenwriter Russell Gewirtz jumps too quickly into the tedious second act without including enough character development. All you know is that Turk and Rooster have been good police buddies for decades, but there’s nothing that makes them stand out or interesting as individuals. Those expecting to see Al Pacino and Robert De Niro together onscreen will certainly get to see just that. However, the sparks don’t really fly between the two because of the weak screenplay that has a few very witty lines up its sleeve, but otherwise feels bland, contrived and underwhelming. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Overture Films.
Towelhead - Directed by Alan Ball.
Based on the novel by Alicia Erian. 13-year-old Jasira (Summer Bishil) comes of age when she moves into the suburban home of her racist father, Rifat (Peter Macdissi), and lets her neighbor, Mr. Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart), a pedophile who happens to also be an Army reservist, spend time her after molesting her. Mr.Vuoso has an 11-year-old son who calls Jasira racist names such as “towelhead. Maria Bello plays Jasira’s mother while Toni Collette is underused as a neighbor who tries to protect and mentor Jasira. Although its premise sounds provocative and compelling as a satire, writer/director Alan Ball doesn’t have provide enough insight into the character of Jasira to make it a truly moving and memorable experience. Summer Bishil delivers a decent performance as the seemingly innocent Jasira who has a dirty mind. Alan Ball offers a few shocking, eyebrow-raising scenes, but no real surprises or imagination. Especially, Towelhead feels like a vapid, simplistic male perspective on the sexual maturity of a young female teen that only manages to be mildly engaging. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Warner Independent Pictures. Opens at Angelika Film Center and Loews/AMC Lincoln Square.
The Women - Directed by Diane English.
Mary (Meg Ryan) leaves her cheating husband to seek the comfort of her friends, Sylvia (Annette Bening), Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Edie (Debra Messing). Eva Mendes plays Crystal, the seductive young woman who Mary’s husband has an affair with. Meanwhile, Mary’s friends find different ways to let put their foot down before Crystal destroys Mary love life even more. Despite a stellar cast filled with talented actresses who try their best to enliven the film, too many contrived, bland and awkward scenes make for a bumpy, occasionally boring ride. Even Bette Midler’s cameo doesn’t do much more the film. Imagine Sex and the City 45 minutes shorter in running time, without any male characters and, most importantly, lacking a funny/witty screenplay, and you end up with The Women. More often than not, you’ll be rolling your eyes at all the corny moments that could only happen in a Hollywood film, but not in real life. Unfortunately, Meg Ryan has simply lost her cuteness and charm underneath all the plastic surgery on her face. Writer/director Diane English includes decent cinematography, but she does a subpar job of blending drama and comedy with most of the comic relief moments falling flat on their face along with the insipid drama. If you’re in the mood to roll your eyes even more, be sure to stay through the end credits for additional scenes where each of the main actresses describe the meaning of true beauty. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Picturehouse.