All the Days Before Tomorrow (U.S., 2006) * * 1/2
D: François Dompierre
Scholarly, introverted Wes (Joey Kern) has a friendship with polar opposite Alison (Alexandra Holden) which borders on the intimate, but never crosses the line. On a trip to Utah, which is told in extended flashbacks in this film's jigsaw-puzzle structure, they approach that line just about as closely as they can, testing the boundary with their tacit mutual attraction. Interspersed with these scenes are those set in the present (as Alison seeks to resume their friendship with a reluctant Wes), what may or may not be their future (as a happy couple), and in dreams where Wes discusses metaphysics with a mysterious man played by Richard Roundtree (Shaft!). Despite Roundtree's presence, ninety percent of the film is just Wes talking to Alison--usually about nothing important--and there are moments of real wit, warmth, and honesty. But there's also dialogue that seems forced, overly "quirky," and phony, and it should be obvious to all (well, except my wife, who loved this movie) that the dream sequences serve no function and really have to go. It makes sense that first-time director Dompierre began this as a short film for his thesis, then expanded it to feature length: there's a lot of padding here. On the other hand, the cinematography is beautiful--particularly those scenes shot in the valleys around Moab, Utah--as are the leads, who are easy enough to watch for two hours. He's a director worth watching, but this story has been told many times before; I recommend Mutual Appreciation for a superior take on the premise.
Finishing the Game (U.S., 2007) * 1/2
D: Justin Lin
Here's a great premise for a mockumentary in the Christopher Guest vein: a group of wannabe actors and martial artists gather to audition as the body double for the recently-deceased Bruce Lee in his unfinished film, Game of Death. It's an opportunity to parody the bizarre Bruceploitation period of the 1970's, when actors such as Bruce Le and Bruce Li attempted to steal Lee's throne through the sheer power of confusion. And if you'd have asked me before seeing the film, I would've told you that Justin Lin was a pretty good choice. Lin is best known for the indie hit Better Luck Tomorrow, which he used to transition into a studio career (directing the Fast and the Furious sequel as well as Annapolis); Finishing the Game would seem like a natural way to recapture his indie roots with a premise that could cross over to a larger audience. But it becomes quickly apparent that Lin is not the man for the job: he just doesn't have a sensibility for comic material. In fact, it's very unfunny, in a sort of remarkable way. Despite a few clever ideas (like a casting director who dominates the weak-willed director), most of the humor is self-satisfied, sophomoric, and pretty stupid. Unless you really loved Burn, Hollywood, Burn! An Alan Smithee Film, stay far, far away.