Reviews for September 24th, 2010
Directed by Rodrigo Cortés.
Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), an American truck driver stationed in Iraq, wakes up trapped inside a small coffin buried six feet underground. He only has a few objects with him: a BlackBerry that doesn’t belong to him, a flashlight, a glow stick, a pen, a knife and an alcohol flask. All of the oxygen in the coffin will be gone within roughly 90 minutes, so he must quickly find a way to either escape on his own or to reach someone via BlackBerry who can get him out of there. Those tasks are much easier said than done, though, for reasons that won’t be spoiled here. At first, you know next to nothing about Paul, but screenwriter Chris Sparling gradually gives you information about his life back home and other bits and pieces that help to humanize him. The tension comes from not knowing what going to happen the next second---after all, he could die at any given moment or possibly be saved all-of-a-sudden. Ryan Reynolds gives by far the best performance of his career. He knows how to act frightened convincingly without going over-the-top. When Paul talks to himself out loud and vents his frustrations, you’ll find yourself able to empathize with him and, most importantly, root for his survival. Rodrigo Cortés puts you in the heat of the action from the get go because the very first scene has Paul trapped in the coffin. The camera stays inside there with Paul from start to finish thereby creating a palpable sense of claustrophobia because you feel as though you’re trapped there with him for the entire duration. You just might even find yourself sweating along with him. Unlike most directors of horror-thrillers nowadays, Cortés wisely leaves a lot to the audience’s imagination which makes for an even more terrifying experience than one where everything is shown, spelled out and spoon-fed to the audience. Roughly mid-way, Buried touches upon provocative, timely political issues that ground the film even more in reality. At a running time of 1 hour and 34 minutes, Buried a relentlessly terrifying, pulse-pounding and intelligent thriller. Ryan Reynolds gives his best performance yet. It’s the most intense movie-going experience in years.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Lionsgate Films. Opens at the Angelika Film Center, AMC/Loews Lincoln Square, and AMC Epire 25.
Enter the Void
Directed by Gaspar Noé.
Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) has just moved to Tokyo where he rakes in a lot of money from drug-dealing ventures. He’s able to buy a plane ticket for his younger sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta), to come to live in his new apartment. Both she and Oscar had been separated to separate foster homes as children when their parents died in a brutal car accident. While Oscar continues to deal drugs, she finds a job as a stripper. One night, the police raid a bar, and, during the drug bust, Oscar hides out in the bathroom where a policeman shoots him dead. Just when you think you can say goodbye to the character of Oscar, his soul separates from his body and hovers over his sister to look after her without awareness. Meanwhile, her boyfriend, Mario (Masato Tanno), who owns the strip club, Sex Money Power, where she works at, introduces her to the world of sex and drugs. Oscar watches her and others having sex in the Love Hotel. Director/co-writer Gaspar Noé, best known for his previous film, Irreversible, has once again created an experience that’s equally refreshing, bizarre and disturbing on a purely visceral level. Noé films the scenes during which Oscar is still alive directly from his perspective---in other words, the camera takes the place of Oscar’s eyes so that what he sees and hears, you see and hear as if you were stuck in a Being John Malkovich-like portal inside his head. Those scenes may feel a bit nauseating initially and take a while to get used to, but it works very well to give you a palpable sense of what Oscar goes through until his death. As the camera lingers on yet more sex and drugs---and even a sex scene shown from the inside of a vagina---their shock value eventually wanes and leaves you just feeling dirty and waiting for something else for a change. Noé, together with co-writer Lucile Hadzihalilovic, gradually reveals more about Oscar and Linda’s troubled childhood via flashbacks. On a purely aesthetic level, though, Enter the Void is a visual feast with lots of stylish choices of lighting, set design, camera angles, colors and editing that give you the sensation that you’re watching a work of art albeit one that’s brimming with sex, drug, violence and repulsive characters. At a lengthy running time of 2 hours and 17 minutes, Enter the Void is a viscerally disturbing visual feast that wallows to the point of tedium in its ugly world of relentless sex, violence and drugs while leaving you feeling cold and filthy.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by IFC Films. Opens at the IFC Center.
The Good Soldier
Directed by Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys.
This provocative and timely documentary follows five war veterans as they discuss how their experiences during the war shaped their perspectives on what it means to be a good soldier. Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey served in the Marine Corps as a recruiter before being sent to Iraq where he killed innocent civilians in 2003. He candidly gives an account of how he suffered from a mental breakdown and crisis of conscience during the Iraq War. He recalls telling his Commanding Officer that killing those innocent civilians made it a bad day for him, but the Officer replied that that, in his view, it’s actually a good day. He felt betrayed by the Marine Corps since that very day and has protested the war here in the United States while founding the group Iraq Veterans Against the War. Chief Warrant Officer Perry Parks served in the Vietnam War where he flew 3,000 hours of combat missions also killing innocent civilians. Captain Michael McPhearsen served in the first Gulf War and, since then, no views the military in such an ideal, positive light that he had viewed it before his experiences in the war. Private Edward Wood served in World War II for a few days before getting wounded during combat. It’s fascinating to listen to him talk about the challenges and horrors of being sent to France as a replacement soldier. Finally, Staff Sergeant Will Williams, a veteran of the Vietnam War, has been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since the war. He vividly recalls the gruesome details about how he had to carry a dead soldier whose brains spilled out. Essentially, he became a killing machine that didn’t even have any remorse during that time. As one of the veterans wisely states, it’s very easy to turn on the kill switch, so-to-speak, in your mind, but it’s a very challenging task to turn it off once you’re back at home from the war. Co-directors Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys wisely let the five veterans just speak their minds about the war without cutting any corners or using any euphemisms. It would have been interesting, though, had the co-directors went even further to ask the veterans why they think it took so long for the American public to oppose the war in Iraq. How do they define and describe patriotism at its core? Nonetheless, the question about what it means to be a good soldier is quite an intriguing and intellectual one that allows the veterans to really open up emotionally in front of the camera. In many ways, their confessions represent a form of catharsis for them because they get to channel their pain, suffering, anger and frustrations through words. At a running time of 1 hour and 19 minutes, The Good Soldier manages to be a provocative, vital, honest and profoundly moving documentary. It would make a great companion piece to an equally powerful narrative film, The Messenger, out in theaters now as well. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Artistic License. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.
*Full review coming soon*
Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Oscilloscope Laboratories. Opens at Chelsea Clearview Cinemas, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the Angelika Film Center.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
Directed by Zack Snyder.
*Full review coming soon*
Number of times I checked my watch: 5 Released by Warner Bros. Pictures. Opens nationwide.
Like Dandelion Dust
Directed by Jon Gunn.
Based on the novel by Karen Kingsbury. After serving 7 years in jail for abusing his wife, Rip (Barry Pepper) returns to his home in Ohio where Wendy (Mira Sorvino), his wife, informs him that she had been pregnant with his son during his jail stint and that she had given him up for adoption because of financial troubles. It turns out that Rip had never received the adoption nor signed the requisite signature which was actually forged by someone else at the prison, so the Porters can now easily gain legal custody of their son, Joey (Maxwell Perry Cotton). Joey lives in Florida with Molly Campbell (Kate Levering) and Jack (Cole Hauser), his wealthy adoptive parents who still haven’t told him that he’s adopted. A social worker, Allyson (L. Scott Caldwell), shows up at their door and notifies them that the Porters want custody of Joey. If only it were that simple. Joey doesn’t quite feel comfortable around the Porters at first---he won’t even agree take a shower at their home. Jack desperately tries to get back the custody of Joey, so he offers Rip $2 million for Joey’s custody, but Rip turns it down because his son is not for sale. The plot gets more complicated when Rip beats Wendy up again and grips Joey’s arm too tightly thereby causing him a bruise. Co-screenwriters Stephen J. Rivele and Michael Lachance have woven a suspenseful, poignant drama with well-written, believable characters. The characters feel real, so that makes it easy for you to be emotionally invested in them as human beings. Just when you start rooting for the Porter family, you’ll start rooting for the Campbells. Rip’s abusive behavior doesn’t make him into a bad person per se---he’s just troubled with a drinking problem, regrets and lack of requisite skills to be a good father. Maxwell Perry Cotton, in his feature film debut, gives a genuinely heartfelt performance as Joey. He’s a kid actor who will definitely have a bright future ahead of him because of his impressive acting skills. Mira Sorvino deserves an Oscar for her raw, utterly captivating performance here. You’ll find yourself at the edge of your seat during the unpredictable third act that takes interesting twists and turns. It’s also worth mentioning the use of symbolism, i.e. the dandelion dust and the ocean. Director Jon Gunn knows how to move the film along along at just the right pace and to shoot each scene with crisp, beautiful cinematography that doesn’t resort to the use of shaky camera movements to create tension because the tension here comes from the solid script and true-to-life characters. At a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes, Like Dandelion Dust is riveting, powerful and genuinely heartfelt. Mira Sorvino deserves an Oscar for her raw, brave and captivating performance.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Blue Collar Releasing. Opens at the AMC Empire 25.
Tibet in Song
Directed by Ngawang Choephel.
*Full review coming soon*
Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Guge Productions. Opens at the Cinema Village.
Waiting for "Superman"
Directed by Davis Guggenheim.
This captivating documentary focuses on the tragic status quo of education in the Unites States, how it affects current generations and how will affect future ones without proper reform. The problems with the education “system” stem from many different issues , for instance, the tangled web of school’s bureaucracy which makes it difficult to make changes/improvements. Teachers unions, tenures and the ability for any kind of teacher to shift from one school to another also serve as an obstacle for reform because the union has its own set of rules and, on top of that, incompetent teachers get to keep their jobs instead of getting fired like they ought to be. Only 1 out of 2,500 teachers lose their credentials in Illinois, for instance. There’s also the issue of charter schools which use a lottery system to enroll students at the schools where there’s many more applicants than available spots. The Lottery delved into that issue more profoundly. Director Davis Guggenheim, best known for the important environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth, combines interviews with current and former teachers, professors, a labor leader and the chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools system along with five students, namely, Anthony, Fransisco, Daisy, Bianca and Emily. The interviews with the students and their parents serve as a way to show the horrors of the school system and their parents’ frustrations which will tug at your heartstrings. The interviews with the leaders in the education “system” help to shed light on how complex it is to get to the root of the problems in education and, most importantly, how difficult it is to achieve reform. Guggenheim does a great job of keeping you engaged because he doesn’t spend too much time with talking heads and, instead, interjects charts, graphs and other forms of lively animation to keep the film from being cut-and-dry. However, he neglects to even mention another issue plaguing the U.S. education “system”: the poor quality and excessive quantities of homework which not only has negative effects on a student’s learning process, but also affects his/her quality time with family, friends and with his/her passions. According to the research in the book, The Case Against Homework, there’s practically zero correlation between homework and learning---that correlation barely increases throughout high school and college. Also, students who have more playtime during their childhood increase their chances of becoming leaders once they’re done with school. Most public school teachers rush from subject to subject with very little time for questions while using homework for lessons that they don’t have time to teach. The public school system rarely allows for students to use critical thinking; instead, they learn how to be complacent and dependent. The recent documentaries Race to Nowhere and The War on Kids raised that issue, among others related to it, and tackled the education system’s problems with much more thoroughness and insight. Do you really think that the U.S. government truly wants its citizens to be critical thinkers? If the vast majority of Americans were critical thinkers, they probably wouldn’t have believed the government’s propaganda and taken so long to oppose the war in Iraq for that matter. Guggenheim ultimately contradicts himself because right before the end credits, he states that the solutions to the education problems are simple, when, according to the many interviewees, the solutions are very complex in reality. At a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes, Waiting for “Superman is well-edited, heartfelt and captivating, but not thorough or well-balanced enough to be truly enlightening.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Paramount Pictures. Opens at AMC/Loews Lincoln Square and Landmark Sunshine Cinema.