Reviews for September 25th, 2009
Directed by Stanley Tucci.
Loosely based on the film by Theo van Gogh, who was murdered by a Muslim extremist back in 2004. Don (Stanley Tucci) and Janna (Patricia Clarkson), a married couple grieving over the death of their daughter, try to rekindle their romantic spark by going on a series of blind dates with one another after answering personal ads that they each place. During the dates, they meet at the same bar, pretend to be strangers and play different kinds of roles. For example, one date has Don playing a blind man who meets a sighted woman, Janna. In another, he plays a reporter while she’s an aggressive interviewee. Through time, they each re-discover each other’s flaws, idiosyncrasies and other weaknesses that make them more fragile and, in turn, more human. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson both give well-nuanced, sensitive and convincing performances. To watch Don and Janna interacting so naturally feels oddly captivating at first, even though you barely get to know their characters beyond their role-playing. However, eventually as the role-playing switches in yet another blind date, it becomes increasingly tiresome and dull to observe them interacting. Writer/director Stanley Tucci blends romance and a sprinkle of comedy with results that don’t really gel into a compelling narrative with characters who are worth caring about. Why not give Don and Janna more of a back-story? There’s a certain aura of mystery surrounding what their marriage must be like when they’re not role playing, so when too little is actually revealed about that, it leaves you feeling disappointed. Some of the dialogue does sound witty, amusing and gently poignant without excess---there’s tragedy without too much sadness, and comic without inducing much laughter. Perhaps the dialogue would have been best suited in the form of a play rather than a film because the scenes often feel awkward otherwise. It’s certainly engaging, though, to watch the talented Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson playing off of one another and showing off their terrific acting skills, but it would have been so much better if they had meatier roles to play with at least a more imaginative and engaging screenplay. At a running time of only 1 hour and 20 minutes, Blind Date boasts natural, well-nuanced performances by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, but it’s often an awkward blend of romance, drama, comedy and tragedy that eventually becomes tedious and dull while leaving you underwhelmed and unmoved. Number of times I checked my watch: 5 Released by Variance Films. Opens at the Cinema Village.
The Boys Are Back
Directed by Scott Hicks.
Based on the novel by Simon Carr. Inspired by a true story. Joe Warr (Clive Owen), a sports journalist, lives with his 6-year-old son, Artie (Nicholas McAnulty) in Australia. He recently lost his second wife, Katy (Laura Fraser), to breast cancer and still grieves over her death. Joe had always devoted his time to work without doing household chores or really bonding with his son. He’s now faced with the new tasks of raising Artie all on his own while struggling to balance it with keeping up the house and going to work. The messy state of the house, with dishes that pile up and laundry that needs to get done, represents a metaphor for the chaos that has been going on in his mind ever since Katy’s death. When Harry (George MacKay), his teenage son from his first marriage, arrives from England for a brief visit, the chaos gets even more out of hand even though Joe longs to just live peacefully as a happy family once again. Katy’s mother (Julia Blake) agrees to take care of Artie and Henry while Joe’s away at work, but she’s very worried about Joe’s lack of responsible parenting. Will Joe be able to find the maturity to take control and organize the priorities of his life while learning how to become a good father? Will Harry forgive Joe for leaving him when he was much younger? What might happen when Joe meets and flirts with a single mother (Emma Booth)? Each of the performances is exceptional all across the board, especially Clive Owen who’s typecast in a complex role that demonstrates that he’s capable of conveying a wide range of emotions without over-acting or coming across as awkward. His gentle and charismatic performance feels quite endearing. It’s also worth mentioning that director Scott Hicks makes the most of out of Australia’s picturesque landscapes and includes a well-chosen, often poignant musical score. However, screenwriter Allan Cubitt crams many different themes and conflicts together with results that aren’t quite as compelling as they could have been with a more focused screenplay. Joe’s innate transformations and epiphanies could have been fleshed out in much more moving or insightful ways rather than just rushing through them in a somewhat pedestrian fashion. At a running time of 104 minutes, The Boys Are Back manages to be a somewhat unfocused and convoluted drama that’s buoyed by beautiful scenery and, most effectively, by Clive Owen’s well-nuanced, charismatic and endearing performance. Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by Miramax Films. Opens at the Angelika Film Center, City Cinemas 1, 2 & 3 and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
Directed by John Krasinski.
Based on the book by David Foster Wallace. Sarah Quinn (Julianne Nicholson), a graduate student studying anthropology, has yet to get over getting dumped by her boyfriend, Ryan (John Krasinski). She sets out on an intellectual quest to figure out what went wrong with their relationship by conducting interviews with men. Through their intimate confessions and perspectives, she hopes to get a better grasp about how men think and what they might want out of women. The interviews are with various men ranging from former boyfriends to complete strangers. Some of the monologues during the interviews sound somewhat interesting, but, for the most part, there’s a lot of talk, yet very little that’s actually said. One of those men, Daniel (Dominic Cooper), discusses rape in a disturbing way that makes you think he needs a lot of therapy for his warped thoughts. The screenplay by first-time writer/director John Krasinski feels too uneven and meandering with its paper-thin plot. If a film doesn’t have strong characters or an intriguing plot, it should at least have something else to keep the audience engaged throughout. However, in this case, the brief interviews juxtaposed with scenes of Sarah interacting with people in or around her college campus, feel bland, contrived and slight. Perhaps Krasinski should have extrapolated and/or interpolated more from the source material, a compilation of short stories by David Foster Wallace, to make the characters, especially Sarah and Ryan, more interesting, memorable and fleshed out into someone who’s worth caring about. Some of the monologues/confessions could have easily been edited out entirely or at least shortened with less stilted dialogue. The film loses its modicum of intrigue and momentum during the lazy, rushed third act that falls flat on its face. At a running time of only 80 minutes, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men feels too awkward, disjointed and bland while lacking dramatic momentum and true insight. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by IFC Films. Opens at the IFC Center.
The Providence Effect
Directed by Rollin Binzer.
This marginally compelling documentary focuses on Providence St. Mel, a college preparatory school from Pre-k through 12th grade in Chicago. Its current principal, Paul J. Adams III, started out as a guidance counselor there back in the 1960’s after being a civil rights activist. The school was parochial and had financial struggles that made it on the verge of closing. However, Adams chose not to give up so easily. He helped to raise enough funds to buy back the school and to open it as a non-profit independent school. Each of Providence St. Mel’s students is given a lot of attention and disciplined whenever they break the rules in a very minor way. For example, when a student does her Spanish homework during another class, she gets a zero for that assignment and penalized for the one that’s she was supposed to be doing instead. Not surprisingly, 100% of Providence St. Mel’s graduates went on to attend college. The real question, though, is to what degree the school has prepared them for college and life itself. It’s evident, though, through the interviews that the school has helped them to focus on education and thinking about their future rather than getting dragged into the whirlpool of drugs and violence outside of school. Most importantly, there’s communication between teachers and parents so that they’re both on the same page when it comes to their children’s progress, along with their strengths and weaknesses. Director Rollin Binzer does an adequate job of giving you the historical background of Providence St. Mel and its principal, Paul J. Adams III, as well as providing you with accounts from students and teachers from the school who talk about how grateful they are about the school’s top-of-the-line educational programs. However, Binzer probably got a little too emotionally close to his subjects because he doesn’t ask them provocative enough question nor do any of them reveal anything particularly surprising or illuminating about the school. Perhaps he should have either distanced himself a bit more or interviewed some principals from other schools or at least approached any other source outside of Providence St. Mel who could provide an unbiased perspective. At a running time of 1 hour and 32 minutes, The Providence Effect manages to be marginally compelling and well-edited while deficient when it comes to insight and provocativeness. You’ll find a lot of potatoes here, but not enough meat. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Slowhand Releasing. Opens at the Quad Cinema and AMC Empire 25.
Directed by Jonathan Mostow.
Based on the graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele. In a futuristic world where humans can connect their body and mind to surrogates, perfect-looking robotic versions of themselves, via a machine in their own homes, FBI agents Thomas Greer (Bruce Willis) and Jennifer Peters (Radha Mitchell) must investigate the murder of two humans who mysteriously died when their surrogates were killed. One of those humans happened to be the son of Dr. Lionel Canter (James Cromwell), the creator of the surrogate technology. After Thomas’s surrogate gets destroyed while in pursuit of the killer, he’s prohibited from using his surrogate anymore and has no choice but to adapt to going out into the world as a human instead. In a poorly developed subplot, his wife, Maggie (Rosamund Pike), still grieving over the death of their son, has always used a surrogate and doesn’t want to interact or fall in love Thomas when they’re both in human form. Meanwhile, there’s a movement headed by The Prophet (Ving Rhames) which strongly opposes the use of surrogates. Not surprisingly, the FBI makes sure that there’s a media blackout of the murder because they don’t want to the public to know the truth that there’s a serious risk of death in the surrogate technology. Will Thomas and Jennifer be able to get to the bottom of the murder case before it’s too late? What are the true motives of the killer who’s destroying the surrogates? Unfortunately, the screenplay, co-written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, takes a very intriguing and imaginative premise and stretches it out too thinly with too many plot holes and underdeveloped subplot that don’t really go anywhere interesting. Sure, director Jonathan Mostow includes slick visuals, fast-paced editing and a few exciting action sequences, but the palpable thrills are few and far between. A good mystery should at least have intricate details that seem clever in hindsight and feel fun to try to piece together as you watch the events unfolding. In this case, though, the suspense wanes as the mystery becomes increasingly inane and simply unengaging. At a running time of 88 minutes, Surrogates has an initially intriguing premise and plenty of slick production values, but it suffers from style over substance, diminishing suspense, and a plot that feels too bland, inane and ultimately underwhelming. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Touchtone Pictures. Opens nationwide.