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Reviews for October 2nd, 2009

A Beautiful Life

Directed by Alejandro Chomski.

Based on the play ďJersey City,Ē by Wendy Hammond. Maggie (Angela Sarafyan), a teenage runaway, escapes her family to hide out in a seedy area of Los Angeles. She finds refuge in the back of a dumpster and meets David (Jesse Gracia), an illegal immigrant whoís on his way to search for his own family. David works at a local strip club where Esther (Bai Ling), a Chinese stripper, works at. Esther happens to nice enough to reach out to Maggie by persuading David to let her stay with him. Maggie lets David take her virginity as she learns to explore her blossoming sexuality. Meanwhile, Esther struggles to find the right guy to settle down with. In yet another subplot, Maggie meets Susan (Debi Mazar), a local librarian tries to help Maggie out emotionally. What might happen when Maggie finds the courage to confront her mother (Dana Delaney)? Will Maggie be able to survive on her own in the dangerous section of Los Angeles away from her family? Unfortunately, the lazy, paint-by-numbers screenplay by co-writers Deborah Calla and Wendy Hammond fails to breathe life into the characters, so itís difficult to actually care about the answers to any of those questions. Maggie simply isnít particularly interesting or memorable as a character, and Angela Sarafyan, the actress who plays her, doesnít have the charisma or solid acting skills to make up for it. Many lines of dialogue feel stilted and awkward while the dynamics of the relationships between Maggie, David and Esther comes across as contrived and unmoving. Director Alejandro Chomski includes cinematography thatís nauseating at times, although he does make the most of out of the settings which help to enhance the overall sense of dinginess throughout. However, other production values, such as the lighting and musical score, are well below par, and give you the sensation that youíre watching an unfinished film that needs not only a re-write, but lots of re-editing. At a running time of 81 minutes, A Beautiful Life manages to be an amateurish, contrived drama thatís neither captivating, insightful nor engrossing.
Number of times I checked my watch: 6
Released by New Films International.
Opens at the Quad Cinema.

Chelsea on the Rocks

Directed by Abel Ferrara.

This unenlightening and unengaging documentary focuses on the history and stories of The Chelsea Hotel, the famed hotel located on 23rd St. in the heart of the Chelsea district of Manhattan. It was built during the late 19th Century as a residence building and opened in 1905 officially as a hotel that also allowed for guests to stay there for years. In many ways, it was the center of bohemian and artist life in the city. Musicians such as Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Sid Vicious as well as artist/illustrator R. Crumb and writers, namely, Dylan Thomas and William Burroughs, stayed had stayed there for a while. Stanley Bard, the hotelís owner and manager back then, was gracious enough to allow his residents to be very late on rent with threatening to evict them. He even accepted residents who had no money to pay rent at all, so he trusted them to pay it sometime in the future. Unfortunately, director Abel Ferrara does a subpar job of asking the right questions during the many interviews with the hotelís former and current residents. He includes archival footage and very awkward reenactments, such as Janis Joplin (Shanyn Leigh) having a wild time at a party or Nancy (Bijou Philips) during her final moments with her boyfriend, Sid Vicious, before sheís stabbed to death. Most of the stories that the residents reminisce about arenít particularly interesting or illuminating for that matter. Interviews with actors/former residents Ethan Hawke and Dennis Hopper donít help to invigorate the film either. The lively and amusing parts are ephemeral, such as when film director/former resident Milos Foreman shows up to give a tour of the hotel while telling a darkly funny story about an elderly woman who drowned after fireman flooded her apartment while trying to extinguish a fire there. Under new management, The Chelsea Hotel kicked out its many long-term residents and renovated its interior, thereby losing its character and peculiar charm. Ferrara fails to explore that tragedy in-depth and, most importantly, to answer the underlying question that every documentary ought to answer at some point: ďSo what?Ē At a running time of 89 minutes, Chelsea on the Rocks often drags with poor editing and lack of sufficient insight while leaving you feeling unengaged and underwhelmed.
Number of times I checked my watch: 6
Released by Aliquot Films.
Opens at Clearview Chelsea Cinemas.

Do Knot Disturb

Directed by David Dhawan.

In Hindi with subtitles. Raj (Govinda), a wealthy CEO, lives in India in a large house with his domineering wife, Kiran (Sushmita Sen), who happens to be the owner of the corporation that he works for. Heís having an affair with Dolly (Lara Dutta), a sexy pop star who he canít let go of. Kiran finds a photograph with him and Dolly in it together and suspects that sheís his mistress. So, Raj immediately denies it and comes up with the excuse that he doesnít know that woman and that sheís the girlfriend of Govardhan (Riteish Deshmukh), a guy whoís also standing next to her in the photo. Itís now up to Raj to convince Govardhan to pretend to be Dollyís girlfriend while Kiran hires a private detective (Ranvir Shorey) who follows them around. Dollyís ex-boyfriend, Deisel (Sohail Khan), eventually shows up as well to try to get Dolly away from Govardhan and Raj. The screenplay by Yunus Sejawal combines comedy, suspense and drama with unsatisfying results that arenít quite as smooth and engaging as one would expect. Although the premise sounds like it could easily have induced a lot of laughter and wildly absurd and imaginative situations, too many of the comedic attempts, which range from slapstick comedy to comedy of errors, fall flat with poor comic timing, excessive silliness and virtually no wit. A subplot involving Goverdhanís sick mother isnít convincingly moving or believable. Even the performances, such as that of Govinda, come across as annoying and over-the-top rather than funny and amusing more often than not. Director David Dhawan includes a few lengthy, yet lively and well-edited musical numbers along the way, but theyíre awkward and distracting when juxtaposed with the highly contrived and juvenile, non-musical sequences. At a lengthy running time of 2 hours and 6 minutes, Do Knot Disturb manages to be a silly, contrived and often nauseating comedy with mildly engaging, visual stylish musical numbers. It often drags while the desperate attempts at humor fall flat on their face.
Number of times I checked my watch: 6
Released by Big Pictures.
Opens at the Big Manhattan 1 and AMC Village VII.

The Invention of Lying

Directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson.

Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais), an overweight, single and lonely screenwriter, lives in a world where everyone tells the truth without even being aware of the concept of lying. When he goes out on a dinner date with Anna (Jennifer Garner), she immediately tells him that she doesnít like his looks and the fact that heís not financially successful. Even his coworkers, such as Brad (Rob Lowe) and Shelley (Tina Fey) canít stand to be around him. Soon after he gets fired from work, he canít afford to pay his rent anymore and faces immediate eviction if he canít raise $800 rent money. The computers at his bank happen to be malfunctioning, so the teller asks him how much money is left in his account and blindly trusts that heíll tell the truth---except, this time, he chooses to lie. Mark takes his new skill of lying and turns it into not only a profit scheme, but an attempt to get his job back by writing a ludicrously fictionalized screenplay. He also hopes to win Anna over even though she refuses to be with him because she doesnít want snub-nosed, chubby kids. Unfortunately, co-writers/directors Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson have taken a very interesting premise and stretched it too thinly with poor imagination. Ricky Gervais has decent comic timing as an actor, but the comedic material here often falls flat. While the attempts at humor donít include gross-out, sight gags, the attempts are rather juvenile and silly, though. When the plot tries to get serious midway all-of-a-sudden with tacked-on messages about the God, the film begins to feel very contrived and sophomoric. Itís around that time that the character of Mark becomes truly annoying and ceases to be even remotely funny or worth caring about for that matter. Jonah Hill has a very small role, but even he fails to add any much-needed laughs. At a running time of 99 minutes, The Invention of Lying manages to be an initially funny comedy with an intriguing, amusing premise that quickly runs of out steam and ends up banal, unimaginative, silly and forgettable.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

More Than a Game

Directed by Kristopher Belman.

This stylishly edited, but sporadically insightful documentary follows the rise to fame of LeBron James and his four basketball teammates, Dru, Willie, Romeo and Sian, from the time they befriended each other in their junior high years until they gained recognition as celebrities during they high school years. Initially known as the ďFab FourĒ before Romeo joined their team, they met in the 8th grade when their team was part of the Amateur Athletic Union. They attended a predominantly white school, St.Vincent-St. Mary High School, located in Akron, Ohio, where they honed their basketball skills even more under the guidance of their coach, Dru Joyce II, Druís father. Their coach served as a mentor for them as well and helped to form the glue that kept them together as they became more and more affected by the media throughout their rise to fame. Director Kristopher Belman combines archival footage of many of their games and practices as well as interviews with each of the players and their coach. The personal stories of the players as they struggled with life outside of the court are the most captivating parts of the film. Their facts and footage from their life on the court seem rather ho-hum and unenlightening because Belman doesnít ask provocative enough questions which truly explore their thoughts and feelings. Even during the personal accounts from each player, you never really get a chance to get to know them beyond whatís on the surface. On a positive note Belman does include very stylish cinematography and editing along with a lively, energetic musical score that adds a little much-needed oomph to an otherwise forgettable film thatís not nearly as illuminating as the far superior Hoop Dreams. A truly great documentary ought to find the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually as well as emotionally, which canít be said for this film. More Than a Game manages to be somewhat engaging and well-edited with stylish cinematography and great music, but it ultimately falls short in terms of offering insightful and provocative revelations.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Lionsgate.
Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, AMC Empire 25, AMC/Loews Lincoln Square 13 and AMC Magic Johnson Harlem 9 .

Whip It

Directed by Drew Barrymore.

Based on the novel Derby Girl by Shauna Cross. 17-year-old Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) lives in Bodeen, a small town on the outskirts of Austin, Texas, with her mother, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden), and father, Earl (Daniel Stern). She works as a waitress at a local diner, Oink Joint, after school and competes in a beauty pageant with pressure from her mother. When she and her best friend, Pash (Alia Shawkat), attend a roller derby game, Bliss meets one of the teams, the Hurl Scouts, and agrees to try-out for the team. Soon enough, she joins the team and becomes known as Babe Ruthless. Little do her teammates, Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore), Rosa Park (Eve) and Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell), know that sheís under the minimum age, 21, to compete in roller derby. Little do her parents know that sheís out having fun playing roller derby instead of studying for exams or working at the diner. Juliette Lewis shows up as Iron Maven, a member of the Hurl Scoutsí rival team. Landon Pigg plays Blissís boyfriend whoís gone touring with his band while promising to remain loyal to her. Will he live up to his promise? What might happen if Blissís parents find out that sheís participating in roller derby games? What might happen if her teammates learn the truth about her age? Screenwriter Shauna Cross follows a plot formula thatís quite standard and predictable, but that doesnít actually take away from its entertainment value and delights. Ellen Page once again proves that sheís able to sink her teeth convincingly and with abundant charisma in a role as a teenager who yearns to be able to do what she loves freely while following her heart. The underrated Alia Shawkat, whoís also in the terrific indie gem Amreeka, also manages to be charismatic and quite funny here. Itís fascinating to observe the dynamic between Bliss and her stern mother whoís essentially a bad mother on the surface, but she means well. Through her lack of open-mindedness and understanding, she inadvertently suppresses her daughterís true happiness and dreams. The screenplay blends drama and sports action with just the right balance of comedy. Youíll find yourself laughing at some of the witty and sarcastic lines. Even though the drama does have its fair share of emotionally intense moments, by no means are those moments depressing or too melodramatic. Drew Barrymore, in her directorial debut, keeps the pace moving along at an appropriately brisk pace without any awkward transitions between scenes. She also includes a very lively soundtrack that adds plenty of energy so that thereís never a dull moment from start to finish. At a running time of 111 minutes, Whip It manages to be thoroughly delightful, invigorating and captivating with just the right balance of drama and comedy.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

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