New Year’s Eve

Warner Brothers Pictures

Rated PG-13 for profanity and sexual references.

New Yorkers Search For Love In Serendipitous Romantic Comedy

It is unavoidable that this picture would be compared to the similarly-structured Valentine’s Day and Love Actually, given how both of those romantic comedies also revolve around the relationship issues of a number of couples whose lives serendipitously intersect on a big holiday. The good news is that this film is far superior to the former, although it unfortunately falls short of the latter, which landed on this critic’s Annual Top Ten List for 2003.

Directed by Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman), New Year’s Eve features an ensemble cast stocked with matinee idols at every turn, most notably Zac Efron, Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Ashton Kutcher, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ludacris, Karen Heigl, Matthew Broderick, Jessica Biel and Common. The point of departure is Manhattan on a balmy Dec. 31, which is where we find each of the protagonists anticipating the imminent arrival of 2012, though for very different reasons.

Corporate executive Claire Morgan (Hilary Swank) is too busy with the responsibility of overseeing the annual Times Square extravaganza with the help of TV host Ryan Seacrest, an NYPD officer (Ludacris) and a crack repairman (Hector Elizondo) to attend to a pressing personal matter. Nearby, event planner Laura Carrington (Heigl) is reluctantly putting the finishing touches on a rock concert at which her rock star ex-boyfriend, Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi), will be headlining.

Meanwhile, one of his backup singers (Lea Michele) suddenly finds herself stuck in an elevator with a grouch (Ashton Kutcher) who had vowed not to celebrate the holiday. Then there’s the helicopter mom (Parker) who’s so obsessed with her teenage daughter’s (Abigail Breslin) crush on a classmate (Jake T. Austin) to think about her own needs.

Hospital-bound Griffin (Seth Meyers) and his 9-months pregnant wife, Tess (Biel), are hoping to win the $25,000 prize for having the first baby born after midnight. Elsewhere in the hospital, a terminal patient on the cancer ward (De Niro) is trying to talk his empathetic nurse (Berry) into taking him up to the roof to watch the ball drop. And this thoroughly modern mosaic wouldn’t be complete without a tale about a cradle-robbing cougar (Pfeiffer) being serenaded all over town by an ardent admirer young enough to be her son.

Like a classical conductor, veteran director Marshall masterfully executes a cinematic balancing act here, seamlessly intertwining these discrete storylines ever so effortlessly. All roads lead to Times Square as the tension slowly ratchets, with enough surprising twists and touching reveals along the way to tug on your heartstrings.

A New Year’s toast as sentimental as singing “Auld Lang Syne!”

Very Good (3 stars).

Running time: 117 Minutes.

 

Kinyarwanda

African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM)

Unrated

Rwanda Revisited In “Crash”-Like Ensemble Drama

“The funny thing about genocide, you never know who’s knocking.” That chilling voiceover just past the opening credits sets the tone for Kinyarwanda, a moving series of vignettes revisiting the 1994 Rwandan Civil War from the inside out. The movie marks the brilliant directorial debut of recent NYU film school grad Alrick Brown, whose emotionally engaging ensemble drama made quite a splash at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year where it won the Audience Award in the World Cinema category.

Employing a cinematic technique effectively employed in Crash, the picture revisits the genocide in Rwanda from the perspectives of individuals hopelessly immersed in the conflict. The net result is an absorbing adventure which forces the audience to invest emotionally in the diverging fates of a variety of complex characters as opposed to the narrowly-drawn, one-dimensional characters usually served up in war flicks.

What was it probably like to live in a country where, for three months, members of two contentious tribes, the Hutus and Tutsis, hacked each other to death in hand-to-hand combat? And how were they finally able to bury the hatchet—or should I say machete—and embrace a peace process putting the country on a path to unity and reconciliation?

These are the sort of questions Kinyarwanda eloquently addresses not by depicting mob scenes of senseless slaughter, but rather by painting a number of micro tableaus involving individuals trying to survive in the wake of the collapse of civilization. For whether you’re watching an introspective army Lieutenant (Cassandra Freeman), a spineless Catholic priest (Mazimpaka Kennedy), an empathetic, Muslim mullah (Mutsari Jean), a coldblooded guerilla leader (Edouard Bamporiki), an innocent little boy (Hasasan Kabera) or a teenager (Marc Gwamaka) with a crush on a cute girl (Hadidja Zaninka) from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, you have an opportunity to bear witness in intimate fashion to everyday situations similar to what likely unfolded.

Based on actual events, it was quite surprising to this critic to learn the role that Islam played in the cessation of hostilities once The Mufti ordered that all the nation’s mosques serve as safe havens for refugees, regardless of ethnicity. Congrats to Alrick Brown for making the most of a micro-budget and for coaxing great performances out of a cast comprised mostly of unprofessional, Rwandan actors touched by the tragedy.

An inspirational, modern morality play apt to restore your faith in humanity.

Excellent (4 stars).

In English and Kinyarwanda with subtitles.

Running time: 100 Minutes.

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

 

For movies opening December 9, 2011

 

The Sitter (R for crude humor, coarse sexuality, violence, drug use and pervasive profanity). Jonah Hill stars in the title role of this raunchy road comedy about a suspended college student-turned-babysitter who takes the three kids left in his care (Max Records, Landry Bender and Kevin Hernandez) out for a wild night of debauchery all around the island of Manhattan. With Sam Rockwell, Ari Graynor and Method Man.

 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (R for violence, profanity, sexuality and nudity). Screen adaptation of John le Carre’s classic espionage thriller set at the height of the Cold War about a disgraced former head of British intelligence (Gary Oldman) who comes out of retirement to catch the Soviet mole that has infiltrated the agency’s highest echelons. With Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones and John Hurt.

 

Fanny, Annie & Danny (Unrated). Dysfunctional family drama about the tension which builds when three siblings (Jill Pixley, Carlye Pollack and Jonathan Leveck) return home for the holidays to their overbearing mother (Colette Keen) and emasculated father (George Killingsworth). With Nancy Carlin, Don Schwartz and Anne Darragh.

 

I Melt With You (R for profanity, violence, sexuality and pervasive drug use). Midlife crisis drama about the annual retreat taken by four former college buddies (Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven, Christian McKay and Thomas Jane) who agree to follow through with a macabre pact they entered into as classmates a quarter-century earlier. With Carla Gugino, Sasha Grey and Arielle Kebbel.

 

Knuckle (R for profanity and violence). Fight club documentary, shot over a 12-year period and narrated by Ian Palmer, chronicling the clandestine, Irish tradition of brutal, bare-knuckle boxing.

 

London River (Unrated). WMD drama about a white Christian woman (Brenda Blethyn) and a black Muslim man (Sotigui Kouyate) who discover that her missing daughter and his missing son had been living together at the time of the terrorist attacks on London’s subways and buses in the summer of 2005. Support cast includes Francis Magee, Roschdy Zem and Marc Baylis. (In English, French and Arabic with subtitles.)

 

Red Hook Black (Unrated). Slice-of-life drama set against the backdrop of the Brooklyn waterfront where we find residents dealing with issues ranging from incest to sibling rivalry to the economy. Cast includes Kyle Fields, Danielle Lozeau, James Jackson and Victoria Negri.

 

Seducing Charlie Barker (R for sexuality and pervasive profanity). Social satire of NYC’s entertainment industry revolving around a married actor (Stephen Barker Turner) who suffers a fall from grace following a fling with a shallow social climber (Heather Gordon). With Daphne Zuniga, Steve Cell and Liam Vincent.

 

W.E. (Unrated). Madonna wrote and directed this flashback flick revisiting the forbidden romance of divorcée Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) as reflected upon six decades later through the eyes of an American Southerner (Abbie Cornish) stuck in an abusive marriage. With Katie McGrath, Oscar Isaac and Richard Coyle.

 

We Need To Talk About Kevin (R for violence, disturbing behavior, sexuality and profanity). Ezra Miller plays the troubled title character in the screen adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s sobering bestseller about a Columbine-style high school massacre. With Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Siobhan Fallon.

 

Young Adult (R for profanity and sexuality). Bittersweet romance drama about a recently-divorced writer of children’s literature (Charlize Theron) who moves back to her tiny Minnesota hometown to win back her happily-married, high school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson) only to instead form an unusual bond with another classmate (Patton Oswalt) left emotionally and physically scarred since senior year by an unfortunate tragedy. Movie marks the reunion of Juno’s creative team of director Jason Reitman, scriptwriter Diablo Cody and cinematographer Eric Steelberg.

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