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On Your Radar
by Karen Pecota

The film reviews below I deem worthy to keep on your viewing radar because of their creativity to effectively relay a message using the art of film as a catalyst. Most of these movies have a 2008 release date in the USA and international release will be determined. Enjoy!

Diminished Capacity - feature
Sherwood Kiraly’s novel “Diminished Capacity” (along with his screen play) is the premise, director Terry Kinney, transmits onto the Silver Screen of an endearing narrative appropriate to the serious topic of dementia, under the same name Diminished Capacity. Cooper (Matthew Broderick) is recovering from a concussion that causes frequent spells of memory loss which interrupts his everyday routine. The annoying problem only gets worse so he decides to take a short leave of absence from his life in Chicago to visit his favorite uncle Rollie (Alan Alda) living on the family farm in Missouri. Cooper had heard uncle Rollie was showing signs of dementia but it was not until his visit did he understand that the problem was very serious. Uncle Rollie’s diminished mental state had indeed impaired his actions and the thought of him living alone was cause for concern. Uncle Rollie was fully aware of his quirks and only partially in tune to his senility but totally unaware of the threat of loosing his farm from years of unpaid bills. In a moment of consciousness, Uncle Rollie reveals to Cooper a rare baseball card which could be his “mother lode” to riches. Every day was a different saga in uncle Rollie’s life some more disheartening than others. During Cooper’s visit he confronts Uncle Rollie of the fact he will lose the farm if he doesn’t appear more responsible. He becomes anxious to sell the card and asks Cooper for help. The adventures of Cooper and Rollie begin as they fall prey to the vultures of the card collecting business at a memorabilia convention. An escapade of a baseball “who’s on first” comedy unfolds with the assistance of Cooper’s high school sweetheart, Charlotte (Virginia Madsen) and her son, Dillion (Jimmy Bennett).

Henry Poole Is Here - feature
Filmmaker Mark Pellington collaborates with writer Albert Torres in the cleaver pleasantry drama of Henry Poole is Here. Poor Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) is devastated when he receives the medical report that his young life will soon end aside from a miracle. The shock has plummeted all his hopes and dreams. He moves into a new empty house into the middleclass neighborhood where he grew up to escape his reality but where he might feel safe. He thought it was the perfect place to remain anonymous and in isolation until his death. Henry quickly discovers that his neighbors are welcoming and nosy. The religious Esperabza (Adriana Barraza) twice his senior lives next door. On the other side of the fence, live eight-year-old, Millie (Morgan Lily) and her mother, Dawn (Radha Michell). These two families try very hard to pull out the welcome wagon for Henry but he smashes their efforts to relay that he will leave soon and would like to be left alone. Through a comedy of errors Esperanza reveals to Henry a miraculous power she notes coming from the wall on the side of his house. The word gets around and the whole community makes pilgrimages to Henry’s “miracle wall” including the local priest Fr. Salazar (George Lopez). Millie, who has not spoken a word since the divorce of her parents, is taping every conversation that comes from Henry’s side of the fence including his personal anguished cries of hopelessness. Henry is really made to be in relationship and once drawn out of alienation and brought into family then growth takes place that is life changing. Miracles begin to happen and Henry’s plan for solitude is interrupted. His destiny is the result of his soul searching journey. The choices he makes builds his faith, gives him hope and introduces him to a miraculous love.

Sikumi (On the Ice) - short
Filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean uses the Alaskan Artic as the backdrop to expound on the topic of doing the right thing. An Inuit hunter is out on the wide open Artic tundra and is witness to a fight between two men he knows from town. The horrific events observed brings up the dilemma the hunter faces so that justice is served. The intense drama keeps the viewer emotionally bound to the narrative as if they are apart of the situation. The short was one of the selected 10 to be viewed on the Festival website during the 2008 festivities. A gripping story!

Puujee – documentary
Director Kazuya Yamada, a member of the director’s guild in Japan, documents the story of photographer, Yoshiharu Sekino, during a photo trek. While traveling through Mongolia Sekino met a young family that captured his heart which he portrayed in a photo essay. Yamada’s documentary begins with Sekino’s initial encounter to the family that spread over a five year period. The six year old daughter, Puujee, did not like the intrusion of the man with the camera trying to capture her life as a Shepard and was often rude. However, with each visit from Sekino, Puujee warmed up to him and often shared her dream to one day become a teacher. The eye of the lens from Sekino and Yamada, were witness to many difficult changes for the Mongolian farmer as the country began to embrace a new world economy.  Puujee’s story of bravery will wrench the heart.

Sunshine Cleaning - feature
New Zealand born director Christine Jeffs and screenwriter Megan Holley develop a visual portrayal of ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances breaking out of social norms for a better life in Sunshine Cleaning. The thirties something Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) cleans houses for a living but the money is not enough to support her loving but dysfunctional family: her eight year old son, Oscar (Jason Spevack); her irresponsible sister, Norah (Emily Blunt) and her unemployed father, Joe (Alan Arkin). At a young age, Rose was the small town hopeful for success but through a rash of unwise decisions she could never rise above her mistakes which left her destitute. Rose was given a job from the local police department to clean up after a crime scene to which the dividends were astronomical. Rose suddenly had a new lease on life and realized that biohazard removal and crime scene clean up was a lucrative business. Rose needed help and asked Norah to partner with her in a new business cleaning up crime scenes. Although skeptical, Noah observed Rose’s professional take on the job. She could saw the potential and accepted the position. Rose and Norah created a very successful company but were naïve to the technical aspects needed to keep their investments secure, i.e., insurance. The amazing performances put a face on the reality of an American dream and the effect of individual growth from financial and personal risks.
The Deal - feature
Director Steven Schachter’s satire The Deal allows the audience to take a wild ride into the quirky world of film which much of Hollywood clings. Schachter and Macy base their screenplay on the novel written by screenwriter Peter Lefcourt. The open scene is a haphazard effort of Charlie Berns (William H. Macy), a famous Hollywood movie producer attempting to commit suicide. Charlie is convinced that his movie days are over until his nephew Peter (Brett Granstaff) visits him on his suicide day to show him a screenplay he has written about the life of the 19th century British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. Charlie recognizes the talent of his inexperienced nephew but knows the script won’t make it unless there is a major re-write to turn the film into an action packed production. Charlie gets a second wind to survive in the land of the living and makes a plan to get back at all of the people in Hollywood that has turned good ‘ol Charlie into a has-been industry figure. Charlie jumps through amazing hoops to get the job done his way but not without the help of an industry executive, Deidre Hearn (Meg Ryan), who is the only person who sees his trickery. Appalled at his shenanigans, Deirdre sees the potential for his plan to successfully work to which she could benefit to settle her scores. Charlie and Deidre leech off of each other and their contacts to make The Deal.

The Escapist - documentary
Director Rupert Wyatt in his film The Escapist uses a classic prison break backdrop to explore the need to be forgiven from dirty deeds because the human soul craves a timely salvation. Wyatt’s all stared cast of good guys gone bad is interesting to see their individual performances of equal value compliment the good of the whole. Frank Perry (Brain Cox) is an older inmate serving a life sentence without parole. He was content with his verdict until he gets word that his daughter is deathly ill from an overdose. He must get to her aid before there is no more recourse. He devises a treacherous plan to escape the London prison by using the city’s underground water ways and tunnels. He carefully recruits a team of expert prison craftsmen: Brodie (Liam Cunningham), Viv Batista (Seu Jorge), Lacey (Dominic Cooper), Lenny Drake (Joseph Finnes), who initially commit to the job for their own survival and freedom. However, as each member of the team continues to be blackmailed by the likes of Psycho inmates Tony (Steven Mackintosh) and his brother Rizza (Damian Lewis) the hatred to leave the place they call hell solidifies the team to carry out the most grueling adventure of their lives. Wyatt’s creative filming brings a redemptive narrative full circle for an ideal freedom defining the essence of human dignity.

The Merry Gentlemen - feature
First time feature film director Michael Keaton, brings to the silver screen one of the most riveting narratives the film industry has seen in a long time. Keaton’s sixth sense for precision is calculated in his filmmaking style to hold the attention of his audience as if only minutes have passed. The eerie suspense with the twists and turns in the storyline are as brilliant as the cast whose performance lit up the screen with concentrated intensity. They gave their heart and soul to the characters which bring to life the film’s unique message of forgiveness and redemption. Kate Frazier (Kelly Macdonald) relocates to the big city to escape a tainted past of ridicule and torment. She is loved by all who meet her but chooses to live without a social calendar until she meets Frank Logan (Michael Keaton). Frazier and Logan are surprised by their queer encounter and feel an eerie unexplainable attraction for each other’s company possibly like a soul mate. Logan works hard to keep her company while being careful to not reveal his true identity a suicidal hit man. Frazier also has a past to hide. Joyful moments brought on by the Christmas season is what allows them to drop their guard, however, Logan observes that the Chicago cop (Tom Bastounes) working on a lead that slowly unravels Frazier’s former life, also shows a keen interest in Frazier’s companionship. Logan has to keep a distance from him but feels a compelling need to protect Frazier from this guy. Their untold history which binds them together is what they both must choose to release in order to save their friendship and soul.
The Visitor - feature
Director and screenwriter, Tom McCarthy, has developed a delightful and compelling narrative explaining the thought that “you never know who you are, until you see the world through the eyes of others” in The Visitor. Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) has led a rather empty and secluded life since the death of his wife. His occupation as an economics professor from Connecticut takes him to a globalization conference in New York where he takes refuge in a seldom visited apartment he and his wife bought as their second abode. His late evening arrival is met with a stirring shock that his apartment has been rented out without his knowledge to asylum seekers illegally in the country. Walter’s kindness allows the couple, a Syrian man named Terek (Haaz Sleiman) and his partner Zainab (Danai Jekesai Gunira) from Senegal, to reside with him until they can relocate. As they share life together Walter enjoys their company and the experiences that challenge his loneliness. Terek teaches Walter the drums and they often jam with others in the park. On their way home from a gig, while passing through the ticket scanner to hop the train, the police find unjust cause to arrest Terek. Walter is helpless to free him but takes on Terek’s plight to see justice done as if Terek and Zainab were his own children in trouble which gives Walter a new lease on life.

Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North - documentary
First time filmmaker Katrina Browne in Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North while researching her ancestral heritage discovers a deep dark family secret. She was shocked to uncover official documents that traced the family name, De Wolf, as the largest slave-trading family in United States history. Contrary to stories that the Southern aristocrats held the slave trading market, the De Wolf’s lived in the north. They were prominent New England Protestants. Historical findings held three generations of the family responsible for transporting more than 10,000 Africans into slavery from 1769 to 1820. Katrina’s documentary begins with ten brave De Wolf off spring (ages 32 to 71) to endeavor the difficult journey of the recorded slave trade route their ancestors used from Ghana to Cuba. The family owned 47 ships that transported thousands of Africans through the Middle Passage into slavery. An enormous fortune was made for over 200 years which has left the family to deal with issues of guilt and countless questions as to what to do with their information, how to come to grips with the horrific past but most of all how to repair the insurmountable damage. The tale will grip the soul!

U2 3D - feature
Directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington combine a collage of film taken from U2’s 2006 concert tours in South America. To view the concert in 3D is a fabulous way to pretend you were in attendance. It was exhilarating! Instead of having a ticket for front row center, the film audience has the perfect seat that transcends the eye and ear to fly around one amazing U2 concert. A fun experience! The filmmakers fabulously captured the essence of the group in that their performance functions like a perfectly orchestrated piece. They are an electrifying team supporting each other in their varied musical abilities and projecting the spirit of oneness. The song “A Street with No Name” was one of the most fascinating to watch because there was an immediate exuberant amount of joy expelled from each member of the band. The intense jubilation was illuminated throughout the duration of the whole song. No mistaking their love for music, entertaining and for the fans that support them.

Young@Heart - documentary
The film director and screenwriter Stephen Walker documents the six week rehearsal time of a well known senior citizens choir from Northampton, MA called Young@Heart, leading up to the opening night of their “Alive and Well” concert of 2007. The choir began in 1982 when all of its members lived in housing for the elderly called the Walter Salvo House in Northampton, MA. The current ages of the members range from 72 to 88 and the group is still under the direction of Bob Cilman. Although many of the original singers are no longer with the group, the spirit of the choir’s founding members continues to rejuvenate its current membership. The most fascinating thing about this choir is that their repertoire consists of unique musical renditions of punk, rock, and rhythm-and-blues from artists like Sonic Youth, James Brown and Allen Tousssaint. Walker’s film allows the audience to peek inside the lives of the elderly choir members as they dealt with personal challenges during intense preparation for the “Alive and Well” concert. Walker’s endearing account of the Young@Hearts’s pursuit of happiness is full of delightful humor and compassion that will inspire the soul.