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Not for Faint of Heart

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Winterbottom, Jolie Recreate Anguish of Daniel Pearl Kidnapping

Upon first thought, British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom (“24 Hour Party People,” “The Claim”) might seem an unusual choice for an Angelina Jolie movie produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Productions. But “A Mighty Heart” is no fluff.

Winterbottom is amazingly versatile, and his political films include “Welcome to Sarajevo,” “The Road to Guantanamo” (a hybrid documentary that premiered in D.C. at SilverDocs in 2006), and “In This World” (set in Pakistan). The heady subject matter in “A Mighty Heart” involves the 2002 kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman) in Pakistan while he was on his way to interview a fundamentalist Muslim.

The story is told largely from the perspective of Pearl’s wife Mariane (played by Jolie), based on her book. It covers the time of the journalist’s kidnapping until his shocking death, announced by his murderers on video for all the world to see.

Jolie’s tour-de-force performance centers the piece. It’s no-holds barred, and likewise, Winterbottom’s direction doesn’t pull any punches. The audience sees and feels all of Mariane’s anguish. In fact, we’re down right uncomfortable and fidgeting in our seats.

Winterbottom strives to create a documentary-like realism that’s unflinching in its portrayal of life’s brutality. He takes us through the entire process—detail by detail. As a result, the audience is walking in Mariane’s shoes, taking every painful step.

“A Mighty Heart” is not an easy film to absorb. The very extensive use of handheld shaky-cam is definitely questionable—and is more than a little distracting and discomforting. Perhaps though Winterbottom intends for the audience to have such a turbulent sensation befitting Mariane’s upside-down world.

A Mighty Heart (English with subtitles; 100 min.; scope) AFI Silver Theatre Landmark’s E Street Cinema

4 out of 5 stars

‘Eagle vs. Shark’

The New Zealand comedy “Eagle vs. Shark” was a crowd-pleaser at Sundance 2007 that was picked up by Mira-max. Since then, many comparisons have been made to “Napoleon Dyna-mite.” Like that sleeper, the main characters of “Eagle vs. Shark” are quirky, awkward, and tend to make questionable decisions.

At her fast food workplace, Lily (Loren Horsley) takes Jarrod’s (Jermaine Clement) order. Having eyed him for some time, Lily offers him freebies. Dressed as a shark, she comes to Jarrod’s costume party, where he’s an eagle. So begins the unconventional romance of the two social misfits—who are perfect (sort of) for each other. Drama is heightened when Jarrod, believing himself to be a warrior figure, em-barks on a campaign of revenge against bullies.

The actors are fabulous, fully inhabiting their roles and making their characters believable. Taika Waititi’s direction is steady and tight, but his script suffers from the same problems as “Napoleon Dynamite.” In both, I myself became exasperated at the characters’ stupidity. I couldn’t identify with them and became bored at their repeated bumbling through life.

Unlike the legion of adoring buffs, I’m not a big fan of “Napoleon Dynamite.” It starts off moderately entertaining but becomes rather tedious as time progresses. “Eagle vs. Shark” is much of the same. Though at times endearing, it’s a mixed bag in the end.

Eagle vs. Shark (English; 93 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema

3 out of 5 stars

‘Broken English’

Sundance 2007 audiences eagerly awaited “Broken English,” the debut feature of writer-director Zoe Cassavetes. She has big shoes to fill, being the daughter of groundbreaking iconoclast actor-director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands—both legends of fiercely independent films of the late 20th century.

Plus, “Broken English” employs Parker Posey, the former “Queen of the Indies,” according to Time magazine, so the expectations were very high.

Nora (Posey) is an attractive, successful New Yorker in her mid-30s, an age when the maternal clock is ticking rapidly. Despite having a job where she meets many successful men, she has trouble getting a date. An online dating service even responds that no one is available who meets her requirements. Her mother (Rowlands) and closest pal Audrey (Drea de Matteo) want to set her up.

Following an unsatisfying fling with actor Nick Gable (Justin Theroux), Nora becomes infatuated after spending a few days with a Frenchman (Melvil Poupaud) whom she meets at a party. After he leaves, Nora and Audrey make a spontaneous trip to Paris to try to find him.

Does “Broken English” deliver? Well, sort of—it’s a story that’s been told many times before in independent films of the ilk that play in Sundance, often getting distribution. So maybe this is what audiences want to see. “Broken English” does have the advantages of actresses Posey and Rowlands, who are always a treat to see on the big screen.

Broken English (English; 88 min.)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Repertory Notes

Please see International Film Clips for detailed listings available at press time.

AFI/Discovery SilverDocs 2007 Awards Winners Sterling Award for Best Feature: “Please Vote for Me” by Weijun Chen Special Jury Mention: “Enemies of Happiness” by Eva Mulvad Sterling Award, Best Short: “Lot 63, Grave C” by Sam Green Wins Honorable Mention: “I Want to be a Pilot” by Diego Quemada-Díez Beyond Belief Award: “Audience of One” by Michael Jacobs Music Documentary Award: “Nomadk TX” by Raúl De La Fuente Cinematic Vision Feature Award: “Kurt Cobain About a Son” by AJ Schnack Cinematic Vision Short Award: “My Eyes” by Erlend Mo Witness Award: “The Devil Came on Horseback” by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg Witness Award Honorable Mention: “The Price of Sugar” by Bill Haney SilverDocs/American Film Market Award: “Big Rig” by Doug Pray Audience Award, Feature: “Souvenirs” by Shahar Cohen and Halil Efrat Audience Award, Short: “A Son’s Sacrifice” by Yoni Brook ACE Grant winner: “The Concrete Jungle” by Rachel Buchanan and Don Bernier www.silverdocs.com

AFI Silver Theatre After the SilverDocs screenings, a bevy of new series begin at the AFI Silver Theatre: “Totally Awesome: Films of the 1980s” (July 6-Sept. 6); “Madrid in the Movies” (July 6-30); “John Huston: American Maverick” (July 6-Sept. 6); AFI Life Achievement Award: Al Pacino (July 13-Sept. 3); “50 Years of Janus Films” (part one through July 5; part two starting July 22). (301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/Silver

National Gallery of Art “Modernity and Tradition: Film in Interwar Central Europe” (through Aug. 26) accompanies the exhibition “Foto: Modernity in Central Europe, 1918–1945.” “From Vault to Screen—‘Il Cinema Ritrovato’ and New Preservation from Europe and America” (July 14-Aug. 11) brings back past treasures in the National Gallery’s summer preservation series. (202) 842-6799, www.nga.gov/programs/film.shtm

Made in Hong Kong at the Freer The 12th annual Made in Hong Kong Film Festival (July 13-Aug. 26) at the Freer Gallery of Art kicks off with “After This Our Exile” on July 13 and 15—the latter date with director Patrick Tam. (202) 633-4880, www.asia.si.edu/events/films.asp

Goethe-Institut “Summer Dreams: Great Expectations” (July 9-Aug. 27) begins with films in which, according to the Goethe-Institut, “dreams of perfect summer holidays collide with unexpected realities in this series of summer comedies.” Meanwhile, “Politics in Film” (through July 14) continues, showing how “in many parts of the world, people have to fight for rights and opportunities others take for granted.” (202) 289-1200, www.goethe.de/washington

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on November 29, 1999