Two Dramas from Alliance
Formosa Betrayed (November 15/10)
Formosa Betrayed casts James Van Der Beek as Jake Kelly, an FBI agent who finds himself at the center of a massive conspiracy after he begins looking into the murder of a prominent Taiwanese-American professor. Though competently made and well acted, Formosa Betrayed remains a hopelessly uninvolving and thoroughly routine piece of work from start to finish - with the mystery at the film's core simply not compelling enough to capture and sustain the viewer's interest. It's clear almost immediately that the screenplay's reliance on heavy-handed instances of speechifying to get its points across plays a significant role in the movie's downfall, as scripters Charlie Stratton, Brian Askew, Nathaniel Goodman, and Yann Samuell's sporadic attempts at educating the viewer on various historical elements come off as laughably unsubtle and effectively infuse the proceedings with the intermittent feel of an academic lecture. The movie's pervasively routine atmosphere is exacerbated by a protagonist that couldn't possibly be more bland, with Van Der Beek's strong performance unable to disguise the fact that his character is almost entirely devoid of engaging attributes (ie there's never a point at which the viewer is able to work up an ounce of interest or enthusiasm in his ongoing efforts). There's little doubt that Formosa Betrayed ultimately comes off as an entirely needless endeavor that holds the viewer at arm's length throughout, and it's impossible to envision the film holding any appeal even for those with an inherent interest in the subject matter.
Greenberg (November 19/10)
A typically low-key effort from Noah Baumbach, Greenberg stars Ben Stiller as Roger Greenberg - a 40-year-old failed musician who agrees to housesit for his brother immediately following a stint in rehab. After connecting with a few old friends (including Rhys Ifans' Ivan Schrank), Greenberg finds himself falling into an on-again-off-again relationship with his sibling's flighty personal assistant (Greta Gerwig's Florence). It's clear right from the get-go that Baumbach is looking to ape the feel of a '70s character study, as Greenberg has been infused with a palpably plotless atmosphere that's heightened by the almost exclusive emphasis on the protagonist's meandering exploits (and also by, of course, the film's unapologetically deliberate pace). And while the whole thing never quite becomes as fascinating or as relevant as Baumbach has clearly intended, Greenberg nevertheless manages to sustain the viewer's interest for the duration of its running time - with Stiller's impressively consistent performance undoubtedly playing a key role in the film's mild success. The actor seamlessly slips into the skin of a figure that is oftentimes almost exaggeratingly misanthropic, and it's subsequently (and ultimately) clear that Stiller's mesmerizing turn elevates the proceedings on an all-too-regular basis. The end result is a perfectly watchable piece of work that is, admittedly, a big improvement over Baumbach's previous movie, 2007's Margot at the Wedding, yet it's impossible not to wish that the filmmaker would try his hand at something other than a low-key character study.