‘Breakdown’ strikes chord, ‘Narco’ shocks and ‘Furnace’ heats up

Among the new movies that were released Friday, Dec. 6 are an extremely emotional Belgian drama, a shocking documentary about the war on drugs and a powerful motion picture starring Christian Bale and Casey Affleck.

The Broken Circle Breakdown

Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens play two people who fall in love at first sight in spite of their differences. He talks, she listens. He’s a romantic atheist, she’s a religious realist. But when their daughter becomes seriously ill, their love is put on trial. (NR – 112 minutes)

Not since “Blue Valentine” has a movie so effectively demonstrated the intense highs and lows of a romantic relationship than “The Broken Circle Breakdown.” The new Belgian drama is an extremely emotional cinematic experience as director Felix Van Groeningen lays passions – both good and bad – on the line for all to see and likely identify with as well. The characters’ exciting courtship and upbeat musical numbers are a stark contrast to the tragic tale of terminal illness and post-traumatic stress disorder and it is all jumbled up in a nonlinear narrative that may frustrate some viewers but will genuinely engage others. (Thumbs Up!)

Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?

Filmmaker Michel Gondry applies his imagination to animating a series of conversations with linguist/philosopher/political commentator/activist Noam Chomsky about the emergence of language. (NR – 90 minutes)

Much like the equally odd titled “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty,” “Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?” is an amazing achievement in experimental cinema but not exactly a very entertaining one. Granted, there is no doubt that filmmaker Michel Gondry’s subject Noam Chomsky is a brilliant man, but these “conversations” as they are referred to are only rarely accessible to the average joe – even with Gondry’s doodlings (which, for the record, are often more distracting than they are helpful). Those in the art and/or philosophy professions will likely love it but everyone else will just have their mind boggled before drifting into dreamland. (Thumbs Down!)

Narco Cultura

Filmmaker Shaul Schwarz looks at the explosive phenomenon in which narco traffickers have become iconic outlaws and the new models of fame and success, representing a pathway out of the ghetto – a new form of the American Dream, fueled by the war on drugs. (R – 103 minutes)

Filmmaker Shaul Schwarz knows that the best way to get someone’s attention is to show them something shocking. Therefore, in order to make the biggest and most brutally honest impact with his new documentary “Narco Cultura,” he does not shy away from showing certain things that will undoubtedly turn most viewers’ stomachs. As a result, the experience is not for everybody, but it undoubtedly leaves a searing impression, encouraging some serious thought about how art and entertainment can have horrifying ramifications on real life. The only drawback – both for the film and for reality – is that, while the problems are aplenty, solutions are hard to come by. (Thumbs Up!)

Out of the Furnace

Christian Bale plays a man who takes matters into his own hands to find justice when his younger brother (Casey Affleck) mysteriously disappears and law enforcement fails to follow through. Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Sam Shepard and Zoe Saldana also star. (R – 116 minutes)

“Out of the Furnace” is a powerful motion picture about how certain circumstances drive a gentle-hearted, remorseful and merciful man to forsake his humanity. It is an exceptionally well-acted drama that will leave you feeling both an emotional and psychological weight. Having said that, writer/director Scott Cooper’s screenplay stretches a simple story a tad too long and the film’s first half is far superior to its second half, which features a few too many lingering shots of star Christian Bale’s solemn facial expressions. Still, its authentically gritty setting and unsettling ending are certain to remain with you. (Thumbs Up!)

Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and BreakRadioShow.com that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at joseph.airdo@gmail.com.

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