random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Saturday, August 22, 2009

REEL REVIEW: Fifty Dead Men Walking (2009) ***


written by:Kari Strogland
produced by: Kari Strogland, Stephen Hegyes, Peter La Terriere, & Shawn Williamson
directed by: Kari Strogland
Rated R for strong brutal violence and torture, language and some sexuality.
117 min.

The first time I came to know anything about the Irish Republican Army (or IRA) was in the early 90's. Of course, my introduction was through film, as is often the case, and it just so happened to be two films that were a year apart. In 1992, a spoiled assassination attempt by an off-shoot IRA group resulted in an obsessive vendetta against a CIA analyst in "Patriot Games". That film had a modern day setting, unlike 1993's "In the Name of the Father" which followed the true story of Gerry Conlon, who back in the mid 70's, was wrongfully convicted of IRA terrorist activity while visiting London. Both films depicted the IRA as a radical group of paramilitary, determined to do anything to liberate Ireland from the UK.

In Canadian screenwriter, producer and director, Kari Skogland's film, we're given more than one perspective of the IRA, revealing the thin line that is blurred between revolutionary and terrorist. The story, loosely based on the autobiography of the same name by Martin McGartland tells of his undercover activity with the IRA. It shows the brutality toward 'touts' (or traitors) to their cause as well as the shameful steps the British police took to get a handle on the IRA's activity. By the late 1980's, the long-standing tension between the British and the Irish had culminated in what would be called "The Troubles", located predominately in Northern Ireland. Which is where we find Martin (Jim Sturgess), a young hustler in Belfast, selling women's lingerie door to door. His apolitical stance has distanced him from the IRA, yet their activity is ever present.

After witnessing brutality enacted by the IRA toward one of his friends, Martin reluctantly accepts an offer by the British Special Forces to become an undercover informer. He reports to a man named Fergus (Sir Ben Kingsley), who becomes his handler and in time, father figure. There's no way Martin could have known the type of life-threatening danger he was getting himself into, in fact, it's never quite clear what his motivations are. He soon becomes a rising asset to both the IRA and the British police, despite the risk to his girlfriend (Natalie Press) and their son. Martin continued as an agent, gradually realizing he'd be spending the rest of his life paranoid, on the run and in hiding. It wasn't all for nothing though. The information Martin provides saves the lives of at least fifty men who would have wound up dead if not for his involvement.

Skogland delivers a crisp thriller that will interest anyone craving action and a story without neglecting character. She starts out the film with a thoroughly attention-grabing scene with Martin in the late 90's, leaving you knowing full well that we are about to be his story. Her only weaknesses come when she relies too heavily on similar conventions like montage scenes and adrenalized punk music. It's not awful, it's just that we've seen this approach countless times. Still, she does not romanticize any of the characters and their storyline at any point, thankfully. The best scenes are the ones where she gives us Sir Ben and Sturgess, as we see the reliance each other has on the other over time. It becomes clear that for these two characters, it becomes more of a necessary relationship. Both are estranged from their own father/son relationship and due to where they are in life, are in need of one. She really allows them to take their time and work off each other well. It becomes clear that they need each other since both of their own father/son relationships are either non-existent or estranged.

I can't say I really thought much about the talents of Sturgess before this film. Seeing him in "Across the Universe", he struck me as another up-and-coming pretty boy. I had not seen much of his work since and knew that his performance would really have to sell this small iindependentfilm. Here he shows a strong handle on a wide range of emotion while also giving a very physical performance, running all over town and getting beaten to a pulp. What really interested me about the film was the subject matter, and of course, Kingsley but Sturgess' work is excellent here. Meeting him for a Q&A after the screening, he came across very engaging and involved in his craft. I look forward to going back and seeing his past films as well as his future work. I'm hoping Kingsley's involvement in this film brings more attention to it.

There was an announcement made before screening that the film was only being releases at this time in Chicago, Boston & New York, for whatever reason. Although iindependentcinema has reached a bbroaderaudience over the years, it's still a struggle for filmmakers to keep a movie afloat. Here's one of those films worthy of your time.

The Skinny:

  • Man on the Run was a working title for the film. Casting was completed in November 2007.
  • Filming began on location in the Northern Irish villages of Killough and Ardglass in late October 2007 and went on until December 2007.
  • The film premiered on 4 September 2008 at the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada.
  • Since then it has screened at the 2009 Kingston Canadian Film Festival. The UK premiere was held on the 4th of April 2009 in Belfast, where the film was shot. Jim Sturgess was unable to attend, as was Sir Ben Kingsley, who recorded a video message for the audience to thank them for attending.
  • Phoenix23, the Belfast band who recorded three tracks for the soundtrack; "Hit the Ground Running", "Its a Blast" and "Hurricane" were in attendance. The film went on general release in the UK on 10 April 2009.
  • McGartland, an Irish Catholic, was arrested by the Royal Ulster Constabulary police in 1989 at age 16 for petty crime. After that arrest, he agreed to infiltrate the IRA, and pass information on their activities under the codename Agent Carol to the RUC Special Branch which dealt with counter terrorism activities.
  • For his information he was later described as "one of the RUC's most important agents inside the IRA's Belfast Brigade during the early Nineties."
  • In 1991 his cover was blown, and he was kidnapped by the IRA to be interrogated then killed.
  • He escaped by leaping from an upstairs window and fled to England, receiving money to set up a new life in North East England.
  • His autobiography was a best seller, and he released a follow up about his time on the run.
  • In 1997 he came to press attention after Northumbria Police revealed his location when they attempted to prosecute him for holding false identities, which he claimed he required to evade discovery by the IRA, which was upheld in court. Also in 1997 The BBC made a short documentary on him.
  • In 1999, he survived being shot six times in an attack on his home in Whitley Bay.
  • He stated the IRA had been responsible, which they denied. Months after the shooting it emerged that the RUC had linked the gun used to shoot McGartland to the murder of a drugs dealer in Northern Ireland by the IRA.
  • He alleged the British Government was covering up the IRA's involvement to preserve the ceasefire declared by them in 1997. He successfully sued several media outlets for falsely claiming at the time that the attempt on his life had come about due to his links to a North East drugs gang.
  • Kingsley's role is an amalgam of several, very sketchily delineated policemen.
  • McGartland claims the film distorts the facts, and it has teetered on the verge of being pulled from cinemas in the wake of the renewed sectarian violence in Northern Ireland this year.
  • As of the time of the release of the film, he was still in hiding yet Strogland communicated with him via telephone during filming.


NOTE: During the Q&A, I asked Sturgess if Ben Whishaw was ever involved in the movie. He uncomfortably said that before he came on, there was "a Ben" that had spent time in Belfast researching the role. Interesting.


Video Interview with Sturgess

Interview with Sturgess

Stogland talks "Fifty Dead Men Walking"



Tuesday, August 18, 2009

REEL REVIEW: A Perfect Getaway (2009) **


written by: David Twohy
produced by: Robbie Brenner, Mark Canton, Ryan Kavanaugh & Tucker Tooley
directed by: David Twohy

rated R (for graphic violence, language including sexual references and some drug use)

97 min.
Unfortunately, this movie does not live up to its title. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why director David Twohy ("Pitch Black") considers his audience chumps enough to swallow such an inane "twist". Yes, everyone is talking about "the revealing twist" in this film. A twist that once revealed, is just flat insulting. A well executed twist should make a viewer backtrack in their mind (possibly more than once), taking in all that has previously occurred which would in turn lead to several little "ah ha" moments. Anyone attempting such with this film will picture the entire previous hour and a half fall apart reel after reel.
What a shame since everything leading up to the big twist delivers a satisfying summer thriller. The setting is a Hawaiian island, the build-up is intriguing with a capable cast. Screenwriter Cliff (Steve Zahn) and baby-hungry Cydney (Milla Jovovich) are on their honeymoon, seeking out a special hiking trail that leads to a secret beach. Just as they begin their trek, they overhear a group of frightened hikers discuss a double murder in Honolulu of another newlywed couple on the island. They start to discuss whether or not they should turn back when they come across another couple, former special-ops stud Nick (Timothy Olyphant) and his girlfriend Gina (Kiele Sanchez) and we see the four of them strike up a tentative friendship. Nick is undeniably charismatic, as he tells his tales of near-death experiences and military history, while Gina displays her disemboweling animal skills. She used to be a butcher. This behavior and the recent news of murder, triggers Cliff into paranoia, leading him to believe this couple could be the killers. Add to the mix another couple they encounter, strung-out Cleo (Marley Shelton) and hot-tempered Kale (Chris Hemsworth), that act even more suspicious. Actually, too suspicious.
It's obvious Twohy tries to throw us and his ambition is admirable but the end result falls flat. It seems like his script was a nice studio pitch that was rapidly greenlit before any semblance of payoff could be found. That's unfortunate since enough time and care is spent on structure, characterization and (as mentioned) a capable cast. As a director, Twohy comes across a little too self-aware, constantly pausing on certain clues and plot devices in an effort to tell instead of show. He's always thinking but rarely considering the intelligence of the viewer which is a epic failure.
The slow builds to the B-movie plot twist provides a fairly entertaining story with actors that draw your attention. Zahn has proven he is much more than comic relief with his work in "Rescue Dawn" and here he plays the nice guy who could easily be dismissed. As his wife, Jovovich hides her accent well and for most gives a softer side from her typical action heroine. After playing Nikki on "Lost", it's great to see Sanchez getting more work, she really dives into her role with much exuberance. She certainly deserves to have more work lined up for her. The standout would have to be Olyphant, who delivers a confident swagger in a role that could have been all machismo. It's also nice to see that Hemsworth's role as George Kirk from this summer's "Star Trek" wasn't a fluke. He really does quite a bit with what little he is given here. It's a shame these actors are thrust into the last half hour of blue-tinted flashback exposition and laughable action.
By the time August hits, I look forward to a movie that's gonna give me something other than the typical summer #1 box office hits. Give me something character-driven and unique, humorous or thrilling...even throw in a tropical location. I'm open! Just don't insult me with a preposterous set-up to a predictable twist that takes too long and by that time, not only is it too much to swallow but it's too hard to care.
The Skinny:
  • In addition to working together on this film, Jovovich ("Resident Evil") and Olyphant ("Hitman") have both worked on films that were adaptations of video games.
  • The film was shot in Puerto Rico and Hawaii.

Interview with Milla Jovovich

Interview with Timothy Olyphant

Interview with Sanchez & Olyphant

Interview witth Zahn & Jovovich


Sunday, August 16, 2009

REEL REVIEW: Rachel Getting Married (2008) ***1/2

Rachel Getting Married (2008) poster

written by: Jenny Lumet
Produced by: Jonathan Demme, Neda Armian, & Marc E. Platt
directed by: Jonathan Demme
rated R (for language and brief sexuality. )
114 min.
Watching "Rachel Getting Married" is to attend her wedding. You literally feel like a fly, buzzing from wall to wall as you take everything from the preparation to the post wedding cool down. Disregarding any formulaic conventions, here is an intoxicating drama that is truthful, painful, humorous and genuine.

Recently on leave from rehab to attend her sister's wedding, self-absorbed narcissist Kym (Anne Hathaway) returns to her well-off Connecticut family for a few days. It's hard enough for a recovering addict to return home, but thrust into the chaos of a weekend wedding ceremony, everything and everyone is especially heightened. At first, the sisters show genuine endearment for each another. While Rachel (Rosemary DeWitt) does her best to accept Kym for who she is, it is obvious there is tension in their relationship. Their father Paul (Bill Irwin) does not know how to act around Kym other than to dote or walk on eggshells. It's an awkward situation all around, especially for Paul's wife, Carol (Anna Deveare Smith) who doesn't seem to have a respected voice in the family despite being the rock for Paul over the years. The girls' relationship with their estranged mother (Debra Winger) is also an added stressor, portrayed as awkward, at best, throughout the film. As the camera walks us through each room of the house, we meet new friends and family that will take part in the wedding but we also can't help wonder when the next emotional eruption will occur. Looming over all of the them like the elephant in the house, is the family's past tragedy that occurred many years previously, for which Kym is responsible.

Without really knowing any other way and unable to deal with the spotlight on someone else, Kym adds tension to what would ideally be a time of celebration. Demme is careful not to portray Kym as the problem adult-child, or as a one-dimensional thorn in everyone's side. She may not know what to do in such a critical moment in her life but we at least see her try. As we see her deal with her demons, she is also devastated that Rachel has chosen someone else as her maid of honor and tries to maintain her local rehab meetings over the weekend. Unfortunately, for everyone, she comes across as narcissistic, vomiting raw emotion hardly anyone can understand. Needless to say, this leaves Rachel an emotional wreck during what should be the most important day of her life.

Not since "The Godfather" have we seen such a realistic depiction of what people do and say at a wedding, not to mention how they act. Like that Coppola classic, the wedding itself takes place at the family's house which becomes a character in and of itself. Several interesting supporting characters are introduced as either friends or family of the bride and groom. All come across as real people, far from the typical catty bridesmaids or frat brother groomsmen we so often see in rom-coms. These characters are unarguably genuine, especially Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), the gentle and talented groom who sings Neil Young's Unknown Legend as his wedding vow. Kieran (Mather Zinkel), is his best man, who who has also been in rehab but is now clean. Ironically, Kym finds Kieran in the same local rehab meeting even before she finds out his "best man" status. Both men are seen as quite, patient support systems for the sisters of growing contention.

Many of these supporting cast members form the band that compose the soundtrack of the film which becomes yet another integral character. Demme gathers a community of ragtag musicians and artists (like
Robyn Hitchcock and Fab 5 Freddy) and lets them saunter throughout the house, rehearsing for the wedding. They are left to interact and exist with the main characters in a rare and natural style, the likes of which are rarely seen on film.

Hathaway earns her Oscar nomination but the more challenging role went to DeWitt as Rachel. She has so much more to do. She's the bride going through all the commotion of a wedding weekend while at the same time she is challenging with her feelings toward Kym. She wants Kym to feel involved, loved, but Kym doesn't make it easy. We've seen addicts before but so seldom do we see a sibling struggle with how to be their for someone she loves without losing their mind. In the role of Rachel, DeWitt is more memorable and impressive.

There have been several complaints about the HD handheld camera that Demme employs for the rehearsal and wedding ceremonial. Some of said it's nauseating or like watching old home video footage. Some even say that the toasting sequence at the rehearsal dinner is excruciatingly long. They're missing out. They don't realize that Demme is actually benefiting the story and the characters by approaching these scenes in this fashion. Demme's wandering cameras expose raw and unfiltered characters with an appropriate closeness. The liberates him to focus on moments of discomfort, following Kym's determination to be in the limelight as she forces her self-centered behavior into uncomfortable areas of confession and humiliation.

We have all heard the phrase "there's one in every family" which refers to those relatives that are a challenge to be around or communicate with. These family members may be going through a variety of emotions and/or dealing with difficult situations and often unknowingly drag everyone around them down with them. Writer Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney) must know families, for all we know she could even be drawing from her own. What she and director Jonathan Demme do here is expose just how those siblings, daughters, fathers and estranged mothers deal or not deal with whatever familial sheen they inevitable wear. After all, sheen does eventually wear off to reveal what really lies beneath.

The Skinny:
  • The film opened the 65th Venice International Film Festival. The film also opened in Canada's Toronto Film Festival on September 6, 2008
  • The screenplay was written by Lumet. daughter of director Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of Lena Horne. Lumet, a junior high school drama teacher, has written four earlier screenplays, but this was the first to be produced.
  • The film and was shot in Stamford, Connecticut in a naturalistic, documentary style. The working title for the film was originally Dancing with Shiva, but was officially changed to Rachel Getting Married.
  • It was Sidney Lumet himself who approached Demme about his daughter Jenny's script.
  • The kid playing the guitar in the film is actually Demme's son.
  • Filming took 33 days and occurred in late 2007.
  • Demme had wanted to work with Anne Hathaway ever since he spotted her in a crowd at a screening five years earlier. He immediately took her in consideration for the role of Kym.
  • Hathaway later said of her first reading Lumet's script: "I was in my old apartment in the West Village [Manhattan], just pacing back and forth between the kitchen table and the couch. I somehow wound up on the floor sobbing by the last page."
  • DeWitt was considered by the film's casting directors. Demme and the rest of the crew were impressed and immediately wanted her to play Rachel.
  • Bill Irwin is one of Demme's dear friends and neighbor.
  • Irwin is also an accomplished circus performer, often performs in musicals is one of the actors on Sesame Street who has portrayed Mr. Noodle for Elmo's World.
  • Tunde Adebimpe's role, Sidney, was originally offered to American film director Paul Thomas Anderson while he was working on the post-production of the movie "There Will Be Blood."
  • Adebimpe is the lead singer/muscian for the popular art-rock band TV on the Radio.
  • Demme was concerned about Debra Winger's interest in doing the film, but he pumped up his courage to ask her because they had met several times before at the Jacob Burns Center, a film center close to their homes. Winger later accepted the role of Abby.
  • A diverse array of musicians, actually played by director Jonathan Demme's son Brooklyn and his friends, attend Rachel's wedding performing both before and after the ceremony. Various musical soundtrack themes are played "live" during the film.
  • Jenny Lumet spent about 7 weeks writing the script. It was her first to be made into a film, even though it was the writer's 5th screenplay.
  • The dishwasher scene was based on an actual event involving Sidney Lumet and Bob Fosse.
  • Childhood photos of Anne Hathaway's younger brother Thomas served as photos of Ethan in the film.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

REEL REVIEW: District 9 (2009) ***1/2


written by: Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell
produced by: Peter Jackson
directed by: Neill Blomkamp

"District 9" is worthy of becoming the sleeper sci-fi hit of the summer. It may resemble aspects of previous films but for a change it's not a prequel, sequel, remake or reboot. Why, in that sense, it may even be considered refreshing. For a movie made on a small budget of $30 million, consisting of no-name actors and an even lesser-known South African-born director, that's quite an accomplishment. The film starts out in a documentary style fashion and then lays out an imaginative story set in a unique landscape.
For over two decades, an enormous spaceship has mysteriously made its home hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa. The residents became accustomed to living in the shadow of this behemoth, yet there were questions looming. How and why did this ship arrive on Earth? It's unclear how it lost gas and parked itself above this particular city back in 1982. It didn't take long though for the government to jimmy their way in. There they found a hurt, hungry, and destitute alien species in need of a home. A familiar state for many refugees who make their way to another civilization but quite an unfamiliar sight for us humans.
Initially, there was a well-intentioned alien integration effort attempted but that didn't last long. The aliens soon experienced human prejudice, poverty and the apartheid policies of the time which already segregating nonwhites. To the working class locals, the aliens have become not just an unpredictable threat but quite a financial drain as well. A portion of their tax-paying dollars are spent providing for District 9, the shantytown ghetto the aliens have been assigned to reside in. Regardless of their mental and technological advances, they are labeled "Prawns" due to their offensive, crustacean-like appearance. While they can speak our language and can walk as we do, they resemble a cockroach/shrimp hybrid that is quite disgusting. This and their love for cat food doesn't make for good alien PR much less help in amicable inter-species relations.
Over time, as the human complaints rise, the restlessness and anger of the aliens come to a boil as well. Something had to be done. That's where private-interest corporation Multi- National United (MNU) are brought in to try to sell the aliens on relocating to District 10, a "better location", otherwise known as concentration camps. We soon see pencil-pushing bureaucrat Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), married to the boss' daughter (Vanessa Hayword), assigned as the supervising field agent of this forced eviction. Wikus comes across as an almost likable company guy, happy to follow through with his mission regardless of whose life it costs. Surrounded the MNU military police and cameramen, he exudes an expected air of prejudice and arrogance. We see a layer of fear and apprehension underneath his facade that is inevitably revealed in a most harrowing way.
Through a careless mishap, Wikus is thrust into a life-changing transformation that sends him on the run, becoming Joburg's most wanted man. Not to give too much away but it soon becomes quite clear that everyone wants a piece of him, literally. From the MNU military leader Koobus (David James) and the weapon-hungry corporate heads, to the Nigerian smugglers that call District 9 home, it seems he has no one to turn to except those which he sought to evict. Wikus forms an awkward alliance out of necessity with an alien named Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope) and his son, Little CJ, in hopes of self-preservation. Not only does this relationship form the heart of the movie, it also catapults the film into an adrenalized and excited climax.
This is the gritty R-rated world that writer and director Neill Blomkamp has established and immersed us in. It should be noted that some scenes, while essential in conveying the appropriate drama, are not always easy to stomach. There's no getting around the handheld camerawork that some viewers can't stand, and the dramatic gore and vivid action scenes may be a bit much as the humans and aliens mistreat each other in a variety of ways. At no point does any of this feel gratuitous or indulgent. In combining the timeless themes of segregation, prejudice, and xenophobia with the sci-fi genre, Blomkamp has no choice but to portray how it might actually all go down in his.
At 29 years-old, Blomkamp has made an intelligent, stylized directorial debut with the help of producer Peter Jackson and co-writer Terri Tatchell. This not only makes him one to watch in the future but it should also instill hope in a genre that has lately relied on CGI and bombastic explosions over style, substance and characterization. The CGI here is flawless and serves the story well. Even in the bleached-out daylight, the aliens we see walk around feel like actual beings that were placed in these tin-shacked slums. Add to that the character of the smug Wikus and we are given someone to follow in a world we already invested in. We want to know what becomes of him even if he's not all that likable, we can relate to his desperation. Therefore, credit must be given to another first-timer, actor Sharlto Copley, who displays a wide range of talent, digging deep where needed, and at times, quite funny. It would be no surprise to see Copley and Blomkamp work together again in the future.
Smart films of this genre are sadly something rare in this world of short-attention span viewers. A film like Duncan Jones' (another debut) recent "Moon" is an exception that comes to mind. Despite how enthralling a film like this is, it seldom reaches the masses it deserves. The film already has great buzz with the studios' creative viral-marketing, and the contagious praise from the San Diego Comicon but it will still take continued word-of-mouth to succeed. Far from the typical alien invasion we often see, this is an action-packed story with an engaging, emotional awareness amid all the Prawn-human chaos.

The Skinny:

  • As part of the marketing campaign in North America, posters were put up in major cities on bus stops, the sides of buildings, etc. designating areas that were restricted for humans only, with a number to call (866.666.6001) in order to report non-humans. The title of the film was generally not included, although the URL address for the film's official website was.
  • The initial premise of the whole film is based on the Short Film Alive in Joburg (2005), written and directed by Blomkamp, which depicted in a a documentary-style the struggles of social interaction between aliens and inhabitants of Johannesburg ("Joburg"), South Africa.
  • he film was based on director Neill Blomkamp's childhood in South Africa during apartheid.
  • After the feature film based on the _HALO: Combat Evolved_' video game series which was to be directed by Neill Blomkamp fell through, producer Peter Jackson went to Blomkamp and offered him $30 million to make whatever he wanted. The result was this film.
  • Sharlto Copley had not acted before and had no intention of pursuing an acting career. He stumbled into the leading role as 'Neill Blomkamp' placed him on-camera during the short film.
  • All of the "prawns" in the film are CGI with the sole exception of the ones on the operating table in the medical lab.
  • The mutilated animal carcasses in the background of many scenes were real and with only a few exceptions, were already in the real slums and shacks used for the filming.
  • All the shacks in District 9 were actual shacks that exists in a section of Johannesburg which were to be evacuated and the residents moved to better government housing, paralleling the events in the film. Also paralleling, the residents had not actually been moved out before filming began. The only shack that was created solely for filming was Christopher Johnson's shack.
  • Backstory for many elements of the film had been created but not explained on film, such as why only the prawns could use their weapons and humans could not.
  • The creatures used in the small fighting arena were meant to be rodents/pests which were aboard the ship.
  • The idea of the prawns being obsessed with cat food came from two inspirations. In impoverished areas of Johannesburg, Neill Blomkamp would see people selling cheese poofs and other snack foods out of large 3-foot tall bags and wanted the aliens to have a similar cheap food. The decision to make them cat food came from one of the producers who used canned cat food to bait hooks when fishing for prawns in Vancouver.





Monday, August 3, 2009

REEL REVIEW: Paper Heart (2009) **1/2

Paper Heart (2009) poster

written by: Nicholas Jasenovec & Charlyne Yi
produced by: Sandra Morillo & Elise Salomon
directed by: Nicholas Jasenovec

rated PG-13 (for some language)
1 hr, 28 min.

Here's a sweet enough film blending meta-reality and fantasy that can't quite seem to figure out what it is. A documentary? A mockumentary? Hard to say. There definitely is comedy throughout this film directed Nicholas Jasenovec , which focuses on comedian/musician Charlyne Yi as she searches for answers to the questions: What is love and does it exist? and Does true love exist?

For reasons unexplained, it appears Yi doesn't believe in love and isn't sure if she's capable of experiencing it. Now, that's a sad and potentially serious situation to be in which many people can relate to, yet Yi is all smiles and awkward giggles. This can be a bit off-putting at times since we haven't been given the chance to know who she is and are left wondering what brought her to this point. It's obvious Yi is cute and endearing in her own disheveled look but it's unclear why she chose to embark on this quest. While her brand of humor is entertaining we're still left wanting to know more as the film progresses. Once we come to terms with the idea that it is unlikely we will know if the protagonist we see onscreen is the real Yi, hopefully we can enjoy the journey.

After interviewing fellow actors and friends like
Martin Starr and Seth Rogen, she decides to travel cross-country with a small film crew and hit up the requisite, supposed "random people" for their take on love. Along with biologists, newlyweds, and seasoned lovebirds, Yi also encounters a a romance novelist, a psychic, a divorce lawyer and a Las Vegas Elvis minister. The most creative and lively moments can be seen when the interviewees back stories are illustrated with hand-made dioramas and paper cut-out figures. The biker-bar run-in, similar to PeeWee Herman's, was a bit stereotypical; as one patron described love as 'thirty minutes in the back seat'. Sigh. The high point though was Yi's interaction with with a playground full of kids in Atlanta, who freely offer their advice on love; some with wisdom well beyond their years. The answers and explanations given certainly run the gamut on love. There are moments here of heart and truth that rise above the expected hilarity and quirk.

Throughout this process, things get complicated when the crew goes back to Los Angeles where Yi is introduced to actor
Michael Cera (playing Michael Cera playing Michael Cera) at a party. We see her not making a big deal out of her increased communication with Cera while traveling and filming continue. Like a high schooler brushing off any acknowledgement of possible infatuation, she finds herself falling for him and the two eventually hit it off as they tentatively date. Jasonevec sees this budding romance as an ironic opportunity and starts to film Charlyne and Michael every chance he gets. After all, she's doing a movie about love and the lack thereof and then this happens: it's perfect!

Since they are both playing themselves, it's hard to determine if this budding non-romance is really happening. Their scenes together, performed with a dash of improv, rarely rely on the script and their whole relationship confirms that love can be found when you're least looking for it. It should be noted though that Yi and Cera are supposedly dating off screen. That may be why he agreed to this role to begin with but it's difficult to see what exactly Cera brings to the role of boyfriend except that he's nice, kinda funny and seems to share common interests with Yi. In a scene where the two of them are recording music together, it becomes clear that could be all she needed.

The concept of the film was created and written by both Yi and Jasenovec, and takes a life all it's own once the cameras start rolling. Jasenovec is played by actor
Jake M. Johnson (last seen in "Redbelt") which was the first "huh?"moment that makes you realize this wasn't a straight-up doc seeing as how there was someone playing the director. The beginning is enjoyable and interesting in it's "woman on the street" feel as we see Yi asking random passerbys in Vegas what love is. It felt real. Yet once we notice the director was clearly played by another person, it's an unfortunate ripcord effect which leaves one continuously trying to determine how close this movie represents reality.

The awkwardness of the relationship scenes felt real but something seemed to be missing. It was difficult to care for these two because we were given nothing to invest in. You really need to be a steady fan of Cera to swallow all his trademark antics and if you're not, that could be distracting. Another problem might be Yi herself. If we knew more of her before seeing this film, it might be easier to root for her. We briefly come close when we see her among her family as she introduced Cera to them. She can be very interesting and often funny here but it's a lil distracting that you cannot tell whether she is 13 or 33 years old (turns out she's 23), plus, it's even hard to tell if that smile and laugh of hers is genuine or simply a case of social anxiety. Why is she doing all this? What is she trying to show (or tell) the audience about love? Is it all part of the film's character or is this really Yi? It's never clear.

If you have that many questions after going along with such a journey, then you have to wonder if time was well spent. In the end, I have no idea what this film is trying to say. It just seems chock full of many of the endless cliches on love that we already know. That's too bad since there is enough creativity, humor and heart going on here....then again, maybe this paper heart is a bit too thin

"Paper Heart" has a U.S. release date of August 7th (limited) & August 14th (wide)

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