Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Film Round-Up for June

In this edition of The Film Round-Up, we deliver the facts with three documentaries (including "Babies") and a fact-based drama...Um, I really have nothing else to say here, so here's a picture of George Clooney shooting hoops!

As always, these reviews previously appeared in ICON and are reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina!)

Mundo Alas (Dirs: León Gieco, Fernando Molnar, Sebastián Schindel). Gieco, a beloved folk-rock singer and songwriter in Argentina, forms a band consisting solely of young performers with disabilities. Aside from musicians and singers, Gieco recruits dancers, filmmakers, and painters for a national tour, where they perform in front of enthusiastic crowds. Sometimes heartwarming and inspirational, Mundo Alas is frequently boring because the filmmakers avoid any kind of conflict. They romanticize their subjects instead of portraying them honestly, leading to mounds of unanswered questions. How risky of an endeavor was this for Gieco, and how did he become a guardian for this artistic population? Is it hard for these performers to be away from familiar environments? Can anyone explain how important it is for these people to be accepted for just their talent? The movie moves blithely along, oblivious to the fact that putting on a happy face reduces the musicians to dramatic pawns and inspirational caricatures. [NR] **

The Nature of Existence (Dir: Roger Nygard). Documentary filmmaker Nygard (Trekkies) finds himself grappling with life's big, unanswerable questions. He starts off by asking his friends and neighbors, expands his quest nationwide, and then travels to Europe and Asia to get answers on love, sin, death, and more. He doesn't return empty-handed as an array of sources—preachers, authors, professors, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, the High Priest of the Church of Satan, a seventh grade girl—all have something to say. Nygard has difficulties maintaining the film's personal tone, and the sheer number of sources makes it easy for the lessons to get jumbled, but his affable, respectful demeanor and ferocious curiosity make for an engaging exploration into what everything means. Among the film's highlights: a Southern wrestling show that also spreads the word of Christ and Nygard's frustrating attempt to talk to the Pope at the Vatican. [NR] ***

Holy Rollers (Dir: Kevin Asch). Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Ari Graynor, Danny A. Abeckaser, Q-Tip. Sam Gold (Eisenberg), a young Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn, is the product of a loving, honorable family that wants him to become a rabbi. Desperate for money and respect, two things his family lacks, Sam takes a job smuggling Ecstasy from Europe into the United States. A one-time gig soon becomes a full-time occupation that introduces him to the real world, but tears him apart from his friends and family. Based on true events—amazingly, there was such a smuggling ring in the late 1990s—Holy Rollers has a lot of promise until we discover that despite all of its gritty, flashy cinematography and gangster posing that the story has nothing to hang its hat on. Without a dramatic downfall or a suspenseful plot, we're left with Eisenberg in yet another coming-of-age story, only this time he fashions a wobbly accent and is about five years too old for the role. [R] **

Babies (Dir: Thomas Balmes). The movie guaranteed to make your girlfriend ovulate follows four babies from around the world—two boys in the rural environments of Namibia and Mongolia, two girls in Tokyo and San Francisco—from birth until they take their first steps. There's hardly any dialogue and the shots focus on the subjects doing mundane things like playing with toys, eating, or spending time with their parents. More than an exercise in sustained cuteness, thanks to camerawork that's almost uncomfortably close, you see the babies learn to interact with the world. As time passes, they develop distinct personalities and you see that although different cultures raise children differently, babies remain precocious, spirited individuals. Nicely done, though I imagine your take on the movie may differ if you're a parent—especially one who currently sees the less magical side (e.g., colic, dirty diapers, sleepless nights) of babies. [PG] ***

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