In Jackson Heights

Documentary maestro Frederick Wiseman has been making films since his introduction to the genre in 1967 with the controversial “Titicut Follies.” Since then, he has made 40+ documentaries covering a vast array of subjects, primarily institutions. His latest is also about another institution, a living and breathing on that has an array of peoples and cultures that takes us to the Queens neighborhood “In Jackson Heights.”

Laura's Review: A

Queens, New York is home to one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country with 167 languages spoken. For his 41st film, Frederick Wiseman explores diversity from every angle "In Jackson Heights." A makeshift Muslim mosque, a trombonist busker and a gay Latino gathering to discuss the community's historic LGBT parade are some of the film's opening scenes. Wiseman appears to travel the length of Roosevelt Boulevard, stopping to illuminate its various cultures along the way. There's a male Jewish group discussing the pros and cons of moving their community center to Kew Gardens, a group of Columbian soccer fans gathered to watch a game on the sidewalk, a Mexican family business owner bemoaning the gentrification that is putting people like him out of business and homogenizing the neighborhood he helped build. Councilman Daniel Dromm is nowhere to be seen in his office where women on phone banks deal with annoyed citizens (he'll appear later in the climactic parade he founded). You may want to look away when the filmmaker steps into a halal poultry processing shop or observes an old man's pedicure, but his subsequent trip to an Indian eyebrow waxing shop is a marvel. A couple making music in a launderette build suspense with bowls and utensils. These mini-movies are punctuated with cutaways of street signs and streetscapes, crosswalks and cross streets, orienting us. Gradually, a bigger picture forms, one of a lively place full of music, food and goods, but also problems to be solved. The 1990 hate crime killing of Julio Rivera, a Latino gay man, still reverberates. A new Gap store is displacing a mini-mall housing over 50 small businesses. Homeowners are still being suckered into misleading mortgages, not expecting rate hikes that will force many out. Wiseman shows how this community is trying to do something about these issues, choosing his subjects well, finding eloquent explanations of complex problems in unlikely places. He also lets his camera run for a few who are so long-winded, their tragic tales take on elements of comedy. He takes a component of his organizational films like the recent "At Berkeley," taking us into the most mundane sounding of meetings only to leave us educated in unexpected ways, his impish humor coming through in his editing choices. Wiseman, a national treasure, has never been nominated for an Academy award for any of his sublimely immersive documentaries. It's time he got his due. "In Jackson Heights" is a stellar example of this octogenarian's profound style. How many filmmakers are capable of making documentaries that routine run over three hours and mesmerize throughout? Wiseman's "In Jackson Heights" is being screened at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts from 11/18 through 11/29. Grade:

Robin's Review: B

Rose Feller (Toni Collette) is a smart, focused, though insecure, woman working as a high-profile attorney at a prestigious Philadelphia law firm. Her sister Maggie (Cameron Diaz) is a party hardy girl who goes through jobs like changes of underwear. They are best friends as sisters can be but complete opposites, too. When screw-up Maggie breaks that last straw with Rose, sleeping with her boyfriend, their lives will go through radical changes “In Her Shoes.” The title “shoes” are a metaphor for several things, from the obvious literal to the symbolic. Rose and Maggie are two sides of the same coin as the former has low self-esteem, but can always trust shoes to fit if nothing else in life does, and the latter is so unfocused she doesn’t even have an address to call her own. Merged into one person, the pair might just be a complete entity, but their constant conflict of lifestyles and values is a wedge driven between them. When Maggie screws up one too many times, Rose throws her out. This proves to be the catalyst of change for the sisters. Maggie, finding unopened birthday cards for her and Rose from their maternal grandparents, decides to track them down and heads to Florida. Rose, disgusted with her boss/lover (who, indiscreetly, had carnal knowledge with Maggie), gives up the law in favor of dog walking. The alterations in lifestyle will, of course, force far-reaching changes in both. “In Her Shoes” is an intelligent chick-flick by eclectic helmer Curtis Hansen (quite the departure from “8 Mile,” “Wonder Boys” and “LA Confidential”) and represents the further stretching of his filmmaking muscles. The principally femme cast has, besides Collette and Diaz, a strong and funny performance by Shirley MacLaine as the two sisters’ self-sufficient and savvy grandmother, Ella. The veteran actress creates a real 3D person who was estranged, by her son’s new wife, from her girls after their mother’s death years before. MacLaine is a real anchor for the film. Collette and Diaz are more two-dimensional as the opposite thinking Feller sisters. Diaz’s Maggie is so selfish and uncaring in the film’s first half that she is actually unlikable. That the actress and screenplay, by Susannah Grant (adapted from the novel by Jennifer Weiner), are able to turn this around is a credit to both. Collette has a tough job in that she had to gain about 25 pounds to play the career conscious, overweight Maggie, losing the weight during the course of the film as her look on life goes through drastic changes. I’m always amazed at the dedication to the craft this takes – look at Robert De Niro in “Raging Bull” and Christian Bale in “The Machinist” for other extreme examples of what actors do for their art. The supporting cast is capably handled across the board. Francine Beers, as Ella’s friend and ward, Mrs. Lefkowitz, steals the show every time she is on screen. The denizen’s of the retirement community, from the old men who adore Maggie to the matrons she helps buy clothes, are characters not caricatures. Mark Feuerstein, as Rose’s adoring and patient boyfriend, Simon Stein, has the tough role as the token male in the predominantly female film. This is a tightly produced flick that uses its Philadelphia and Florida locales to good effect. Production designer Dan Davis keeps the up north locations cloaked in darker hues but switches to bright pastels when Maggie moves into Ella retirement home. Photography, by Terry Stacey, is in keeping with the production effort. Grant’s script flows well through most of the film but stumbles a bit as it tries to neatly tie things up in the end. Still, at 130-minute runtime, I was surprised at how well paced Hanson and company keep things going. The guys may go kicking and screaming when their spouses and girlfriends drag them to see “In Her Shoes” but, frankly, I’ve had far worse times at a “chick flick.”