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Limited Releases Sure to Spark Conversation

September 15th, 2006

It's a tough week for limited releases, not because there is a lack of quantity or quality, but because of nature of the films, many of which are difficult to talk about without potentially offending readers. This is because there are a quartet of documentaries that deal with political matters. One of them, Jesus Camp, even combines politics and religion, which is a sure path to flamewars. While that film is surely the most contentious, it is also the best reviewed film of the week and the controversial nature could help it become the biggest hit.

Al Franken: God Spoke - Reviews
A look at Al Franken's political work including is dealings with other political pundits, the people in power, and his possible run in 2008. There's enough here that most people will enjoy watching the movie, but it's not in-depth enough to be a truly engaging documentary. On a side note, Al Franken, and indeed a lot of celebrities have received grief, and the occasional death threat for dealing with political matters. However, celebrities in politics have been a staple in American politics for a long, long time. Clint Eastwood ran as a Republican and was elected mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Sonny Bono also successfully ran for mayor and even became as member of the U.S. House of Representatives, also as a Republican. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger is the current Governor of California and should win re-election despite recent remarks. And the most famous of all, Ronald Reagan was a two-term president after becoming famous as an actor. ... Huh, another Republican. Probably shouldn't read anything into that. So on the one hand, should Al Franken run, he would join a long list of celebrities before him and given his political knowledge, would probably do a great job. On the other hand, he starred in Stuart Saves His Family and anyone associated with that movie should be precluded from running for public office. I feel the same way about anyone involved with It's Pat. Moving on, Al Franken: God Spoke opened at the IFC Center on Wednesday before expanding to the Lincoln Plaza tonight.

Artie Lange's Beer League - Reviews
Your typical Slobs vs. Snobs sports story with softball as the backdrop. This storyline has been used with golf, white water rafting, dodgeball, as well as non-sports stories like Animal House. Films like this have been done so many times, sometimes with amazing results. Because there are so many films to ... borrow from, newer entries tend to be overladen with cliches and pale in comparison to the classics. In this case, the film does suffer from both, but it isn't the catastrophic failure that some imagined it would be. On the other hand, it will still have to wait until the home market to find an audience. Artie Lange's Beer League opens in 164 theatres tonight, but that will be as wide as it goes.

Aurora Borealis - Reviews
After becoming famous in Dawson's Creek, Joshua Jackson has struggled to make the transition to movie star. The last hit he has starred in was The Skulls, and even that was midlevel at best. This film, while earning better than expected reviews, won't increase his mainstream appeal and is unlikely to give him any Indie cred. Aurora Borealis opens tonight in four theatres, all in the New York City area.

Confetti - Reviews
A mockumentary about three couples trying to win a "Most Original Wedding" contest. Like the Christopher Guest films, this film relies on improvisation, and while the film is earning overall positive reviews, it is still suffering from comparisons with those other films. Add in a decidedly British sense of humor and this film will have trouble finding an audience before the home market. Confetti opens tonight in a dozen theatres in New York City and the Los Angeles area.

The Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends - Reviews
One of several documentaries to come out recently that focuses on the Iraq war. This time looking at people who volunteered for service in Iraq and their experience from recruitment, boot camp, deployment to Iraq and their experiences therein. The filmmakers definitely have a point of view they are trying to get across, but it is still a very powerful movie and only rarely feels preachy. The Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends opens tonight in 8 theatres in select cities nationwide.

Haven - Reviews
The non-linear story telling that was supposed to be the hook that grabbed audiences attention just wears on viewers, most of which will give up before the film is halfway done. The film was finished in 2004 and sat on studio shelves since then and with a release that is just too wide for a limited release, it will likely struggle to find an audience. Then again, Yari Film Group were able to pull off such a release with The Illusionist. Haven opens tonight in two dozen theatres before expanding next week into nearly two dozen more cities.

Jesus Camp - Reviews
The best-reviewed, and scariest new release of the week. One day while watching the news, a woman sees a group of Muslim children being trained to be suicide bombers and instead of thinking, "that's awful!" she thought, "We need some of that." The film looks at the resulting camps set up to "train the next generation of Christian warriors." When they start talking about the glory of dying for Christ I'm reminded of Kevin Smith, a devoted Catholic, who said in response to the 9/11 attacks, "This is what happens when people take their religion far too seriously." It is being attacked by some as anti-Christian, but it is clear that the filmmakers are only talking about a certain, way outside the mainstream branch of Christianity. Those that think if you are an environmentalist, you are going to hell or those that think that if you are a Democrat, you are going to hell. Those that think the vast majority of their fellow Christians are going to hell just because they have a different view of Christianity. These people should in no way be used to characterize mainstream or progressive churchgoers, and the film makes that clear. But since they are trying to influence the political system, they are important enough to be the subject of a documentary and this film does an amazing job at that. Jesus Camp opens in more than a dozen theatres, mostly in Texas and surrounding states. It doesn't open in New York until next week and California the week after.

Keeping Mum - Reviews
This film is not nearly as bad as it international box office performance would have indicated. Granted, it's not one of Rowan Atkinson's best efforts, but it is still a charming film that should satisfy those with a more British sensibility. Keeping Mum opens tonight in two Clearview theatres in New York City.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon - Reviews
A documentary about John Lennon and how his anti-war activism brought him to the attention of the FBI and how the United State government tried to have him deported. The filmmakers are obviously trying to make the connection with today's political climate, but they are not so blunt that it detracts from the movie. A bigger flaw is the lack of balance when dealing with John Lennon, but this is not a large enough problem to turn off most viewers. The U.S. vs. John Lennon opens tonight in six theatres, mostly in New York City and the Los Angeles area.

We Go Way Back - Reviews
A 23-year old woman reads the letters she wrote to herself back when she was 13 and this triggers a confrontation between her life now and how she imagined her life would be. There's not enough here for the film to work entirely, but it does show promise for first time writer / director Lynn Shelton, as well as the two Kates, Amber Hubert and Maggie Brown. We Go Way Back opens tonight at the Landmark Varsity Theatre in Seattle, Washington.

Zen Noir - No Reviews
A Film Noir about a detective investigating a murder at a Buddhist temple as his analytical mind butts head with the meditative Zen nature of the monks. There's a nugget of a good movie here, somewhere, but it is buried under way too many inside jokes. Even so, in the hands of more experienced filmmakers, it might have been salvaged, but as it is, it just won't find an audience. Zen Noir opens tonight at the Lumiere Theatre in San Francisco.


Filed under: Limited Releases, Keeping Mum, The U.S. vs John Lennon, Jesus Camp, Artie Lange's Beer League, Confetti, Haven, Al Franken: God Spoke, Aurora Borealis, The Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends, We Go Way Back, Zen Noir