Thursday, June 2, 2011

Film Round-Up: June 2011

Your classic mixed bag: Two good ones, two "meh" ones. Good to see Sabrina Lloyd (pictured)around these parts again. Had a bit of a crush on her when "Sportsnight" was on. Then she was on "Ed" and after that, like, poof.

By the way, if you're getting tired of watching reruns, rent "Sportsnight" on Netflix. It's the nearly forgotten, Aaron Sorkin created dramedy that was based on ESPN's SportsCenter. It's exquisitely written, beautifully acted (it's where Peter Krause and Felicity Huffman cut their teeth), and, well, it's about sports.

Of course, it was on for only two seasons. Man, I hate television.

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


Mr. Nice (Dir: Bernard Rose). Starring: Rhys Ifans, Chloƫ Sevigny, David Thewlis, Christian McKay, Omad Djalili, Crispin Glover. In the 1970s, Oxford graduate Howard Marks (Ifans, Greenberg) became one of the world's biggest drug smugglers, using ingenuity, business sense, and international connections to bring hashish from Pakistan into Europe and later the United States. At one point, Marks (who for years went by the alias Donald Nice) was virtually untouchable thanks to his supposed position as a spy for MI6. Of course, the good times came to a crashing halt. The movie, based on Marks's book, comes undone due to two crucial flaws: We never understand Marks's motivations to go big and tempt fate, and Ifans's surprisingly tame performance provides no incentive for us to care about anything that happens. Thewlis easily steals the film as Marks's unhinged, porn-loving IRA drug associate, while Sevigny, as Marks's wife, can't even muster a consistent English accent. McKay's sideburns are impressive, though. Save yourself the trouble and re-watch Traffic or Goodfellas. [NR] **

Make Believe (Dir: J. Clay Tweel). Documentary follows six skilled magicians as they prepare for the World Magic Seminar's celebrated international teen competition in Las Vegas. Among the more interesting subjects are 17-year-old Krystyn Lambert, who is predicted to become a legendary magician—if her type A personality doesn't do her in; Bill Koch, a 19-year-old from Chicago, who abandoned a college scholarship to prepare for his last chance to win it all; and Hiroki Hara, 18, who hones his craft relentlessly in his remote, picturesque Japanese village, studying videotapes frame by frame and transforming dollar store purchases into stage props. Tweel does zero editorializing and just captures his subjects' souls, whether it's Krystyn obsessively organizing books during a tour of her library job or Bill comparing himself (without irony) to Michael Jordan after winning a Chicago magic show. Like the ventriloquist documentary Dumbstruck, Make Believe doesn't just poke fun at passionate oddballs. Though Tweel's effort isn't as emotionally stirring as its odd job predecessor, the director reveals the glorious torture involved in capitalizing on one's potential. Adults and teens will nod their heads in recognition. For screening information, visit [NR] ***

Hello Lonesome (Dir: Adam Reid). Starring: Harry Chase, Lynn Cohen, James Urbaniak, Nate Smith, Sabrina Lloyd, Kamel Boutros. Quirky, but endearing, character study features three separate storylines. A lonely voice over artist (Chase) lives in suspended adolescence (and denial) at his bucolic retreat; an elderly widow (Cohen) strikes up a friendship with her sardonic, divorced, and considerably younger neighbor (Urbaniak); and a New York City couple (Smith and Lloyd) find their burgeoning relationship undercut by devastating news. Writer/director/producer Reid has some trouble sustaining the momentum of every storyline – Smith and Lloyd's succumbs to a draggy, O.Henry-like finale – but we're drawn to these lost souls and their peculiar life issues. Reid's straightforward, you-can-figure-it-out approach to the material is a big asset. Veteran actors Urbaniak (Robert Crumb in American Splendor) and Cohen (Miranda's housekeeper on Sex and the City) are wonderful. Thank goodness Chase, in his film debut, is solid. After all, he is a real-life voice over artist. Also available on demand. [NR] ***

The First Grader (Dir: Justin Chadwick). Starring: Oliver Litondo, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge. After the Kenyan government promises free primary school education, the response is overwhelming; parents are determined to enroll their kids. One old, illiterate man is determined to join them. Kimani N'gan'ga Maruge, a Mau Mau veteran in his eighties, endured unimaginable physical and emotional pain in helping Kenya free itself from British colonial rule a half-century before. Now, he wants the education he missed. Luckily, the sympathetic, dedicated head teacher (Harris) at a nearby school agrees to teach him. While her decision to put Maruge with 50 six-year-olds attracts international attention, it also angers townspeople and her supervisors. Fact-based, inspiring tale benefits from the heartfelt performances of Litondo (whose last appearance in a feature film was in 1984) and Harris, but the script's patriotic ballyhoo and heavy-handedness – stylized flashbacks figure prominently, the dialogue is essentially a collection of abbreviated speeches – almost turn Maruge's heartbreaking and triumphant story into a parody. Maruge died in 2009. [PG-13] **

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