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Reliving 9/11

‘World Trade Center’ stands, and ‘Great New Wonderful” is just that.

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Though the events of 9/11 are still pretty raw, a few daring filmmakers have started exploring that day, easily one of the most impor-tant in American history. And, love him or hate him, Oliver Stone is nothing if not daring.
While Stone easily could have followed the “JFK” route and delved into the myriad conspiracy theories surrounding those events, his new film, “World Trade Center,” instead chooses to focus on a single aspect of that day: the experiences of two New York City Port Authority police officers who were trapped in the rubble of the WTC. The product of Stone’s focused approach is a film that manages to shrink the overwhelming horror, loss and heroism of that day down to a human level, where we can finally start grappling with it. Though it stops short of being the kind of John Wayne-esque hero-porn that the 9/11 profiteers surely would have liked to see (“If you liked ‘World Trade Center,’ you’ll love a stint in the Marine Corps!”), it is a moving film about the things human beings can do to and for one another.
The plot centers around John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage), a dour Port Authority PD vet who leaves his quiet New Jersey home ex-pecting nothing too exciting on the morning of Sept. 11. After the planes hit the towers, however, McLoughlin leads a team of cops into the buildings. Saved by his instinct to dive into a fortified stairwell as the first tower came down, McLoughlin finds himself pinned in the rubble near rookie cop Will Jimeno (Michael Pena). By talking, cajoling and berating one another, the gravely injured Jimeno and McLoughlin manage to keep each other alive, hoping that help will reach them in time.
Though the claustrophia-inducing scenes of Jimeno and McLoughlin trapped in the rubble are moving, the real power of “World Trade Center” comes from the stories of their families, who suffer through the rumors, terror and guilt of that day, all while praying their loved ones will be found safe. Particularly good is Maggie Gyllenhaal as Jimeno’s pregnant wife, Allison. The pain and frustra-tion of not knowing whether her husband is alive or dead is etched in every line of her face, and when she finally breaks while recall-ing a good-natured argument she had with her husband over what to name their soon-to-be-born baby girl, I’m not to proud to say that I was reduced to a blubbering mess. Also surprising was Michael Pena, who easily holds his own alongside Cage. Call me crazy, but given the subject matter of the film, I wouldn’t be shocked if Pena lands a best supporting actor Oscar nomination this year.
Though “World Trade Center’ is not a perfect film — it plods along at times, too willing to indulge its trapped heroes while ne-glecting the more interesting drama going on with their families — it is still a great step toward understanding, healing and fostering discussion of the still festering wounds from one of our darkest days.

‘Wonderful’ is just that

The drumbeat in the days and months after Sept. 11, 2001, was: Everything has changed, everything has changed, everything has changed. The new film “The Great New Wonderful,” opening at Market Street Cinema on Friday, is one of a growing crop of films that are finally getting around to digging into the scope of that change — what 9/11 did to both our lives and our hearts. Though it was a bit too disjointed for my taste, it is still a great little film, one that explores the aftermath of tragedy without feeling the need to re-mind us of that tragedy every second.
A series of interwoven short films — they don’t overlap enough to call them cohesive — “The Great New Wonderful” consists of stories about the lives of five groups of New Yorkers in the days leading up to the first anniversary of 9/11. Emma (Maggie Gyllen-haal) is a high-end cake decorator, dueling with established rival Safarah Polsky (Edie Falco) for the contract to provide a cake for a snotty girl’s 16th birthday party. Avi (Nasseruddin Shar) and Satish (Sharat Saxena) are bodyguards for a high-level Arab diplomat in New York, and spend their down time sniping at one another and dealing with what it is to be a Muslim in a changed New York City. Dr. Trabulous (Tony Shalhoub) is a corporate psychologist with some problems of his own, brought in for the anniversary of 9/11 to counsel the employees of a former World Trade Center-based company. David (Thomas McCarthy) and Allison (Judy Greer) are par-ents raising a son who might just be a budding psychopath. Meanwhile, Judie (Olympia Dukakis) is an elderly woman who considers how the dull-but-safe life she led might have gone differently when she reconnects with an old flame.
Though all the players here shine, a few of the vignettes stand head and shoulders about the rest. Shalhoub is glorious as the off-kilter shrink, and Gyllenhaal continues to prove that she is one of the best young actresses working today. It is the subtle and some-times darkly comic story of bodyguards Avi and Satish, however, that really caught my attention. The two of them are the only characters in the five stories that really seem to have been fundamentally changed by 9/11, with seemingly happy-go-lucky Satish constantly trying to lift the dour, depressive and increasingly violent Avi out of his funk. The rest of the characters here seem to be just trying to get on with their lives — to forget. And while that makes for a realistic movie, it does tend to cut into the drama somewhat.
The bottom line is: While “The Great New Wonderful” is a fine film, full of honest and genuine performances, it is marred by the fact that if audiences hadn’t been given the date — September 2002 — via a title card early on in the movie, most folks probably would have a hard time figuring out how all the pieces fit together. While that kind of subtlety is welcome, there is also such a thing as being too subtle. A film that leaves its audience behind if the filmmaker were to omit one little date at the bottom of the screen might fit that bill. It is still very much worth a look, however.
— David Koon

Weak ‘Pulse’

I used to wonder just how the worst movies get made — those flicks so ridiculous, trite and lacking any kind of value that they just write their own crummy reviews. Doesn’t anybody read the script anymore? With the new horror flick “Pulse,” however, I am offi-cially changing my opinion. Given that it’s obvious that Hollywood has gone absolutely nuts when it comes to green-lighting this type of dreck, my new position is: How in the hell do any good movies ever get made?
To give credit where it is due, “Pulse” does start with an intriguing premise: that the electronic gadgets we rely on to communicate these days might be used as a doorway for the boogeyman to get in (something the writer Stephen King has previously explored in his novel “Cell”). From that interesting foundation, however, the filmmakers manage to build something so whomp-jawed that it feels like it might topple over at any second.
Here, plasticky blonde Kristen Bell plays Mattie Webber, a with-it, raccoon-mascaraed co-ed attending Anywhere University. Validating her existence are a cast of with-it, multicultural Gen-Y friends, including her inexplicably nerdy boyfriend Josh (Jona-thon Tucker), a hacker who gets off on corralling the world’s most dangerous computer viruses. After Josh hacks into the computer of a government project researching ultra-high-frequency transmissions, however, he unleashes something sinister: the gateway to a parallel universe full of pasty-white ghouls that ride cell-phone signals and suck out the souls of the living. And, as anyone who has ever worked retail can tell you, once your soul gets sucked out, you lose the will to live. Victims eventually commit suicide or are reduced to CGI ash by a spreading black funk that latches onto their skin. Before long, with the world being slowly taken over by the Pasty Whites, it’s up to Raccoon Eyes and her new hacker chum Dexter (Ian Somerhalder) to find the virus Josh was work-ing on that might close the gateway. Either that, or they have to make a run to one of the “dead zones” with no cell phone transmis-sion, where human society is slowly reassembling itself.
My biggest problem with “Pulse” — other than the perky heroine and buff hero who seem to avoid the world-ending plague by sheer good looks — is that it’s constructed around a problem I could have solved in about 10 seconds. (Cell phone towers are still vulnerable to dynamite in this universe, correct? Do they still run on electricity? ) Other than that, with a terrible plot, few scares and some of the most WB Network-worthy acting I’ve seen in a while, “Pulse” is definitely a wrong number.
— David Koon

‘Twelve’ a near 10
New to this market starting Friday is a smart little indie coming-of-age film that surprises you at nearly every turn. “Twelve and Holding” follows three 12-year-olds and their respective families in the aftermath of the death of one of their young friends.
While the adults in the film are all solid actors, the kids shine amazingly, most especially Zoe Weizenbaum as Malee, a young girl who develops a crush on a former fireman who is a patient of her divorced psychiatrist mother (Annabella Sciorra, lovely as always). Conor Donovan plays twins Rudy and Jacob (he’s able to do that wearing a hockey goalie mask as Jacob and a hipper hairstyle as Rudy). Rudy is outgoing, loving life, daring the bullies to bring it on, and is apparently the favored twin of parents Jim and Ashley Carges (Linus Roache and Jayne Atkinson). Jacob, with a port-wine stain across half his face, is reserved.
But when two young ruffians Kenny and Jeff (Michael C. Fuchs and Martin Campetta) throw a Molotov cocktail into the tree house that Rudy and friend Leonard (Jesse Camacho) are guarding, Rudy dies, and overweight Leonard is injured in a fall and left without a sense of taste.
Rudy’s death kicks into a gear a sudden growing up for Jacob, Malee and Leonard.
Jacob, who was too scared to go with Rudy to the tree house the night Rudy died, muses about taking revenge on the older boys who caused his brother’s death and who only received a year of juvenile detention as punishment. A P.E. coach convinces Leonard to change his life by telling him he’s the most out-of-shape kid he’s ever known, and Leonard must deal with a household of fat family members constantly stuffing their faces (Marcia DeBonis as Leonard’s mom is a riot). And Malee gets a glimpse of Gus (Jeremy Renner), the former fireman with secrets who is working for a construction crew in the woods where Rudy died.
In this somewhat black comedy/drama, Anthony Cipriano’s script is full of twists that often made me want to laugh, and Michael Cuesta’s direction is tight. The film had an Ang Lee “Ice Storm” feel to it. The kids are smarter than most 12-year-olds, yet still naïve about the new and more mature worlds they’re suddenly dealing with. With a shocking ending, there is no real closure about how this turn of events will affect the group down the road. You’re left to your own thoughts on that.
Wow, a movie that makes you think — novel in these days.
It opens at Market Street.
— Jim Harris

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