At the Movies

“Pieces of April”
by Nora Leerhsen

Many of us are all too familiar with the reality of a dysfunctional family trapped in a car for a long drive. In his upcoming film, “Pieces of April,” Peter Hedges addresses such situations as well as the more serious dilemmas that are a part of daily life, exemplified by the emotional story of a troubled suburban family’s Thanksgiving Day.

Events unfold as April Burns (Katie Holmes) pensively prepares the holiday meal with her boyfriend (Derek Luke) while her estranged family drives toward her tiny, ramshackle New York City apartment. April has a particularly strained relationship with her mother, ironically named Joy (Patricia Clarkson), who is dying of cancer.

The movie has a grainy, indie film quality that contributes to its honest and realistic tone. As the story develops, the audience grows to care for and sympathize with the family trapped in the car. The father (Oliver Platt) is desperately intent on bringing his family together as the death of his wife looms closer. April’s competitive younger sister, Beth (Allison Pill), sings songs at her grandmother’s request while her younger brother (John Gallagher Jr.) laughs at his mother’s dark sarcasm.

“Pieces of April” is not just about family – Hedges makes a strong statement about the realities of cancer, as well. Joy’s illness is depicted in a realistic and sobering manner.

While all of the characters in the film are complex and extensive, some roles are delivered with more feeling and commitment than others. Holmes’ portrayal of the “bad girl” attempting to reinvent herself in family’s eyes is solid but sometimes bland. Platt and Clarkson give more believable and compelling performance throughout the film.

“Pieces of April,” though often dark and sarcastic, reminds viewers that they should love their families for what they truly are – whatever that may be – even if that means mending painfully broken ties. Hedges has written and directed an extraordinarily touching film.

“In This World”
by Edward Chapman

After watching the War on Terror for two years from the comfort of my home with my American flag securely in hand, I was ready to see the world from a different perspective.

Michael Winterbottom’s “In This World” provided me with just such an outlet. The film, shot entirely on digital video, follows the journey of Jamal Udin Torabi and his older cousin Enayatullah (Enayat for short) from a refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, to London. The movie honestly depicts life in one of the world’s largest refugee camps, and after a few graphic scenes of activities such as cow slaughtering, it is easy to understand why Jamal wants to leave.

Fortunately, Jamal’s uncle has paid for him and Enayat to leave for London. The pair’s grueling land travel afford their story an intimate perspective. As their journey continues, Jamal and Enayat notice the towns they pass through becoming more opulent and less receptive to them in their destitute state.

The film opens with several minutes of highly political dialogue, but it quickly becomes a gritty “documentary,” a strong and positive choice for this portion of the film. However, Winterbottom soon chooses to abandon this format in favor of a more stylized narrative that feels incredibly real.

Even if this story had been fictionalized, it is based on so many people’s true individual stories that the film is impossible to ignore. And recognizing the plight of the millions of Pakistani refugees is Winterbottom’s noble goal.

“Just because people smuggling is out of sight, don’t let it be out of your mind,” Winterbottom proclaims.

While some may disagree with the political message of “In This World,” their heartstrings will feel a tug nevertheless. It’s nearly impossible for the tale of a 12-year-old orphan seeking a better future not to evoke such a response. This film will make audiences think, and it may even become a catalyst for change in this world.

“Mambo Italiano”
by Jeff Frost

If there are two things comedians have relied on for years, it’s jokes about sex and ethnicity. These constants are rarely not funny. Yet somehow, “Mambo Italiano” (Samuel Goldwyn Films), which focuses on both, misses the mark.

The film begins with Angelo Barberini (Luke Kirby) on the phone with a homosexual support line, providing a thorough history of his Italian parents (Paul Sorvino and Ginette Reno) and their immigration to Canada. He then goes on to detail how his boyhood friendship with Nino (Peter Miller) went from sleepovers to sleepovers as they grew older. Coming from thoroughly Italian and Catholic families, this secret is obviously a problem for both of them. Their love is real, but so is their parents’ reaction when they find out. What follows is a nontraditional comedy about very traditional families.

This film does offer a lot to like. It’s tightly written, creatively directed and very well acted. In a story in which anyone could have gone overboard with ethnic mannerisms, actors like Sorvino and Reno are able to straddle the line between sublime and outrageous. The real standout is Claudia Ferri as the pill-popping, orally-fixated Barberini daughter. Sophomore director Emile Gaudreault’s style keeps up with the film’s wackiness but never fails to offer rich, if not flamboyant, visuals.

“Mambo Italiano” manages to not tail spin into the schmaltzy mess that many family comedies become, however, the jokes in the film frequently come up short. The characters can only use the excuse “because we’re Italian” so many times before the gag gets old and the audience is alienated, Italian or not. “Mambo Italiano” works on almost every level, except on that which it definitely should – comedy.

“Under the Tuscan Sun”
by Maura Judkis

More sickeningly sweet than a scoop of gelato, “Under the Tuscan Sun” (Touchstone Pictures) is a film that epitomizes the “chick flick” genre. It has it all: romance, travel, home decoration, shopping, flowers, babies, weddings, kittens and, of course, delicious Italian men! Run, men. Run fast.

The film, loosely adapted from the book of the same title by Frances Mayes, is the story of Frances (Diane Lane, “Unfaithful”), an L.A. book critic who has been kicked to the curb by her adulterous husband. To cheer her up, her pregnant lesbian friend Patti (Sandra Oh, “The Princess Diaries”) passes her ticket to a romantic gay tour of Italy over to Frances to help her move on with her life. Frances finds herself the lone heterosexual in a “Gay & Away” bus of stereotypically flamboyant gay men and women until she sees an advertisement for a beautiful 300-year-old villa in the countryside. Impulsively, she purchases it, launching herself into a yearlong remodeling project of her new home and her life. She finds friendship in realtor Martini (Vincent Riotto, “Captain Correlli’s Mandolin”) and gaudy socialite Katherine (Lindsay Duncan, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”). She also discovers love through a chance meeting with Marcello (esteemed Italian actor Raol Bova).

However, Frances’ new life is not as picture-perfect as the Italian countryside surrounding it. She finds herself dealing with loss as she helps Patti through hard times and offers the kind of sisterhood that makes women everywhere want to hug. Indeed, while the movie is undeniably adorable, it seems a bit forced. The film is filled to the brim with lines like “You must live spherically – in all directions” and “You have beautiful eyes. I wish I could swim in them.” Touted as a celebration of girlfriends, sisterhood and finding romance, “Under the Tuscan Sun,” though lacking in substance, is a pick-me-up flick, perfect for a friend recovering from a traumatic breakup. that is sure to bring a smile to the face of a friend still getting over her traumatic breakup. Make the night complete with a stop for ravioli at Bertucci’s, sans the boyfriends. Trust me, they’ll thank you

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