Backseat - Directed by Bruce Van Dusen.
Colton (Josh Alexander), an aspiring actor, heads out on a road trip to Canada with his friend, Ben (Rob Bogue). They stop at a motel along the way where Colton hires a stripper, Honey (Helen Coxe) and Ben discovers that Colton’s involved with drug smuggling. Soon enough, they have a party in the motel room and invite random people—including an underage girl who flirts with Colton. The plot gets more convoluted as Ben has flashbacks of his recent break-up with his girlfriend, Shelle (Aubrey Dollar), who has bizarre rape fantasies and cheats on him. Ben’s cousin, Henry (Mark Rosenthal) stops by with his geeky friend (Will Janowitz) who’s obsessed with the internet so much that he won’t speak to anyone in reality. Screenwriter Josh Alexander awkwardly combines drama, absurd comedy and even suspense without any moments that feel truly believable. Colton and Ben often behave like Beavis and Butthead but they’re not quite as funny. There’s a limit as to how much one can tolerate inane characters with little redeeming qualities—only Shelle manages to be somewhat likable, although there’s enough depth to her character so that you care about her. Just because the characters are aimless doesn’t mean the film is as well, but that seems to be the case with Backseat. Moreover, director Bruce Ban Dusen rushes third act and ends rather abruptly as if the film were incomplete, although at a running time of only 80 minutes, it actually feels longer. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Truly Indie. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
The Cool School - Directed by Morgan Neville.
Narrated by Jeff Bridges (a.k.a. “The Dude”), this mildly compelling and insightful documentary focuses on the art scene in Los Angeles throughout the 1950’s and 60’s. Many different artists, namely Ed Moses, Craig Kauffman and Robert Irvin showed off their work at the Ferus Gallery, which was the first gallery to include Andy Warhol’s famous pop art Campbell soup can. It’s somewhat interesting to listen to these artists as well as the gallery’s curator, Walter Hopps, gather together to reminisce on those times when they were trying to get recognition in the art world. Director Morgan Neville follows the rise and fall of the Ferus Gallery with very few surprises, but at least keep you engaged through lively interviews and visuals/editing that adds some style and pizzazz to an otherwise ho-hum documentary. Also, those unfamiliar with the history of American art will be able to gain insights about the nature and significance of the art during that time period and what made it so "cool". Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Arthouse Films. Opens at the Cinema Village.
Flawless - Directed by Michael Radford.
Demi Moore gives a mediocre performance and Laura Quinn, a woman who works for the London Diamond Corporation in 1960 and joins the janitor, Mr.Hobbs (Michael Caine), with his plot to steal diamonds from the company. The films opens after many years after the heist as a reporter interviews Laura and then flashes back, so that kills much of the suspense because you already know what’s going to happen, just not how it’s going to happen. Mr. Hobbs convinces Laura her to participate in the heist by telling her secret information that she’s going to be fired from the company. Finch (Lambert Wilson) interrogates the two after the heist occurs. Throughout this year, there have been four other heist movies, starting with Mad Money, How to Rob a Bank, Trailer Park Boys, and The Bank Job. Flawless falls in between Trailer Park Boys and Mad Money given how unsurprising the plot feels with some inane plot holes that require too much suspension of disbelief. Screenwriter Edward A. Anderson fails to balance the drama/thriller with any fun or comedic elements like in Mad Money and Trailer Park Boys. The characters or the situations they’re in aren’t particularly believable here either, although Michael Caine tries hard to add some gravitas to his role. Director Michael Radford does a decent job of creating an authentic atmosphere and look of 1960 through set, costume design and lighting, but despite a terrific cast, everything else, including the most important element, suspense, falls flat on its face. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired as long as you suspend your disbelief. Released by Magnolia Pictures.
A Four Letter Word - Directed by Casper Andreas.
Luke (Jesse Archer), a sexually compulsive man, meets Stephen (Charlie David) and considers entering a monogamous relationship with him for the first time. Stephen has a secret about how he makes money that affects their relationship. Meanwhile, Peter (Steven M. Goldsmith) moves into the apartment of his boyfriend, Derek (J.R. Rolley) and Marilyn (Virginia Bryan), who’s planning her wedding, tries to make sense of her sexual identity when her AA sponsor, Trisha (Allison Lane) surprises her with a kiss. Despite a plot that initially seems convoluted with many different characters and subplots, what makes it all work are the performances by the ensemble cast who clearly have a lot of fun in their roles. The witty script by director/co-writer Casper Andreas includes many zingers and hilarious innuendos. Like with his last film, Slutty Summer, Casper Andreas knows how to balance drama, romance and comedy without too many awkward transitions. He wisely doesn't resort to using gross-out humor as a means of entertainment. Although some characters, such as Luke, get a bit annoying occasionally and there aren’t any particularly moving scenes, you gradually allow yourself to care about them as the plot progresses. At 87 minutes, the ideal running time for a romantic comedy, A Four Letter Word never overstays its welcome and doesn’t have a single dull moment. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Embrem Entertainment. Opens at Chelsea Clearview Cinemas.
Hats Off - Directed by Jyll Johnstone.
This mildly fascinating portrait of Mimi Weddell, a 93-year-old who has led a busy life full of many acting roles in movies and jobs as a model, even into her prime. Mimi lives with her daughter, whose deceased husband left her broke with many bills to pay. Those of you who don’t remember Mimi from the movies should take a look at Hitch where she shows up as a grandma at the end of the film and Student Bodies, a horror comedy from 1981. What makes her continue to thrive? Where does all her energy come from? Director Jyll Johnstone includes stylish editing and does a decent job of allowing Mimi to answer those questions in front of the camera, but without exploring any of them profoundly enough to be truly insightful or illuminating. Johnstone should have looked for and found more dramatic moments of her life or at least something that makes Mimi stand out beyond her careers in acting and modeling. What’s with her strange hat collection, some of which she designed herself? That topic should’ve been explored much more. During the footage of her, she certainly shows a lot of charisma and “joie de vivre” and manages to keep you somewhat engaged, but that’s not enough to make you truly remember her or feel inspired by her. At a brief running time of 84 minutes, Hats Off occasionally drags and ultimately feels incomplete as a portrait of a very interesting individual who probably has much more to say than what she says here. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Canobie Films and Abramorama. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
My Brother is an Only Child - Directed by Daniele Luchetti.
In Italian with subtitles. During the 1970’s, Accio (Elio Germano) joins the Fascist Party while his older brother, Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio), becomes a communist. Soon enough, Accio becomes infatuated with Francesca (Diane Fleri), Manrico’s beautiful girlfriend. The drama escalates when Mario (Luca Zingaretti), the leader of the Fascist Party, threatens to kill Manrico. Co-writer/director Daniele Luchetti’s script blends comedy, political drama and romance with mixed results. Each actor and actress gives a strong performance, especially Elio Germano’s performance which keeps you engaged by whatever happens to his character. Unfortunately, the attempts at poignancy often fall flat. Even the humorous scenes aren’t particularly laugh-out-loud while the romance and drama has its compelling moments, but if you’re expecting a politics-centered version of Divorce, Italian-Style, you’ll be disappointed. With more character development to allow you to care about the characters or more emphasis on comedy to enliven the somewhat mundane plot, My Brother is an Only Child could have been much more entertaining and absorbing. With a running time of 108 minutes, it often drags and overstays its welcome by at least 20 minutes. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by THINKfilm. Opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Priceless - Directed by Pierre Salvadori.
In French with subtitles. Jean (Gad Elmaleh), a bartender, pretends to be rich to impress Irène (Audrey Tautou), a seductive gold digger, in a French Riviera. When she discovers his lie, she breaks up with him and returns a year later when happens she’s back with her ex-“lover”, Jacques (Vernon Dobtcheff), who’s old enough to be her father. Meanwhile, Jean happens to do some gold digging of his own with a wealthy widow, Madeleine (Marie-Christine Adam). Despite an unimaginative plot and very predictable plot, it manages to be delightfully entertaining thanks to the charming performance of Audrey Tautou and the comic timing of Gad Elmaleh. Their characters’ behavior isn’t particularly likeable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t root for them to end up together. Co-writer/director Peirre Salvadori maintains a light and breezy atmosphere with more attention to physical comedy rather than funny dialogue. Once you know the characters’ true intentions, which is quite easy to figure out, it all becomes mundane and ho-him. Unfortunately, the plot’s contrivances and excessive clichés cause more eyeball-rolling than necessary for a romantic comedy, especially in the second half of the film. If only Priceless were as surprising and witty as Heartbreakers, it would have been much more refreshing and memorable. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Entertainment Value: Highly Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Run, Fatboy, Run - Directed by David Schwimmer.
Dennis (Simon Pegg) has three weeks to shape up for a marathon where he competes against Whit (Hank Azaria), the new boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend, Libby (Thandie Newton), who he left at the alter five years ago. She lets Dennis spend some time with their son, Jake (Matthew Festoon). Fans of British humor will be disappointed that Simon Pegg or any of the actors don’t get a chance to really use their comic abilities here. Director David Schwimmer, in his feature directorial debut, awkwardly blends humor and drama with only mixed results. The real problem lies in the screenplay by Michael Ian Black and Simon Pegg which includes too much gross-out, toilet humor with too little wittiness. On a positive note, at least Run, Fatboy, Run generates a few sporadic laughs and won’t completely bore you. It just leaves you with an awkward feeling and bad aftertaste as if you were to watch There’s Something About Mary minus most of the laugh-out-loud scenes, leaving just a bunch of uncomfortable, disgusting moments and some contrived drama. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired as long as you check your brain at the door. Released by Picturehouse.
Shelter - Directed by Jonah Markowitz.
Zack (Trevor Wright), a young artist, stays at home with his older sister, Jeanne (Tina Holmes), takes care her young son, and occasionally surfs at the beach with his best friend, Gabe (Ross Thomas). When Gabe’s older brother, Shaun (Brad Rowe), shows up, Zack develops a physical attraction to him and questions his own sexual identity while still unsure if he should continue seeing his girlfriend, Tori (Katie Walder). Trevor Wright’s winning performance as Zack manages to be both sweet and very likable in many scenes. Fortunately, the chemistry between him and Shaun is quite palpable. Writer/director Jonah Markowitz does a masterful job of focusing the story on the emotional journey of Zack without resorting to any over-the-top plot twists or erotic sex scenes as a means of entertainment. Nor does the dialogue get preachy or corny. Markowitz clearly cares about his characters and allows them to come to life on the screen with all their complexity intact. Moreover, the crisp, stylish cinematography and picturesque settings, especially on the beach, look awe-inspiring while the impressive soundtrack further enhances the mood of many scenes. It’s quite refreshing to discover such a tender, romantic drama that, unlike Brokeback Mountain, tugs at your heart and uplifts you without feeling forced, pretentious, or clichéd in any way. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Regent Releasing. Opens at Tribeca Cinemas.