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Reviews for August 8th, 2008

Beautiful Losers
- Directed by Aaron Rose and Joshua Leonard.

This lively, insightful documentary follows the lives and careers of ten Do-It-Yourself artists also known as Beautiful Losers. The group includes Barry McGee, Ed Templeton, Mike Mills, Margaret Kilgallen, Geoff McFetridge, Jo Jackson, Chris Johansson, Harmony Korine, Shepard Fairey and Cheryl Dunn, all of whom share the memories of how they struggled to rise in the art world during the 1990s. Through fascinating interviews, you can immediately grasp the passion, courage and persistence of these counterculture artists. Co-directors Aaron Rose and Joshua Leonard include stylish editing and do an expert job of compiling lots of footage that speaks volumes about what it means to be a truly independent artist. Itís amazing how some of them, namely Harmony Korine whoís now a director, open up and reveal their thoughts and feelings in front of the camera. Their camaraderie feels very palpable throughout. Even though their individual work seem loose, abstract and somewhat anarchic, itís safe to say that as a whole thereís a sense of purpose and even structure to all the chaos. Beautiful Losers manages to be so provocative, enlightening and inspiring that itíll open your mind and keep you engaged whether or not youíre familiar with these talented, underrated group of artists. Number of times I checked my watch: . Released by Sidetrack Films. Opens at the IFC Center.

- Directed by Isabel Coixet.

Based on the novel The Dying Animal by Phillip Roth. David (Ben Kingsley), a college professor, canít control his lust for one of his sexy students, Consuela (Penelope Cruz), while trying to hide that secret relationship from his current, older girlfriend, Carolyn (Patricia Clarkson). Will David ever learn how to grow up and be in an exclusive, serious, committed relationship? Heís not even good at being a father to his son, Kenny (Peter Sarsgaard), who wonít get over the fact that he divorced his mother. In his fourth film role of the summer, not including the atrocious The Love Guru, Ben Kingsley once again proves that he can sink his teeth into any complex role and make it his own. His terrific, convincing performance adds gravitas to the film and allows you to like David despite all of his flaws. The sensitive screenplay by Nicholas Meyer breathes life into each character and makes you care about them as human beings. There arenít any real bad guys here; just a main character who has yet to grow up. Director Isabel Coixet includes exquisite cinematography and moves the film at just the right pace to let you get immersed into the story. A few scenes feel quite poignant without being melodramatic, although a few brief moments toward the end seem a bit contrived. At a running time of 111 minutes, Elegy doesnít overstay its welcome and keeps you mostly absorbed and engaged from start to finish. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films. Opens at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Hell Ride
- Directed by Larry Bishop.

Pistolero (Larry Bishop) leads his motorcycle gang, The Victors, as they battle the gang Six Six Six, led by Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones). Joining Pistolero is the Gent (Michael Madsen) and Comanche (Eric Balfour) while Deuce (David Carradine) helps out Billy Wings. Anyone who cares about plot or character development shouldnít be watching this exploitation film that serves as mere entertainment. Expect plenty of nudity, violence and macho men riding their motorcycles as a means of guilty pleasure. Writer/director Larry Bishop includes lots of cheesy and stilted dialogue that sounds funny in a twisted sort of way. Dennis Hopper seems to be having fun in a small role toward the second half of the film. Keep in mind that much of what happens in throughout the film, produced by Quentin Tarantino, is twisted and perverse, almost to the extent of a softcore porn movie. If youíre not familiar with the 60ís and 70ís exploitation films that it tips its hat to, by the end of Hell Ride youíll feel the need to take a long shower to wash away all of the pointless, relentless filth. Everyone else will at least be somewhat entertained, although not enough to make it a memorable or a quotable film. At least it has a brief running time of 86 minutes and none of the violence looks particularly disgusting/gruesome, which would have been the opposite case had it been directed by Rob Zombie. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Third Rail Releasing. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, AMC Empire 25 and AMC Magic Johnson Theater.

- Directed by Trygve Allister Diesen and Lucky McKee.

Avery (Brian Cox)takes justice into his own hands when three teenage boys murder his beloved dog, Red. One of the boys, Danny (Noel Fisher), has a stern father (Tom Sizemore) who stands by his son and denies his participation in the crime. The same can be said for the mother (Amanda Plummer) and father (Robert Englund) of another boy, Harold (Kyle Gallner), who seems to be suffering a secret guilt trip about the incident. Avery clearly wonít let these teens get away with murder so easily, even though Dannyís father happens to be quite rich and powerful in their small town. Brian Cox delivers a terrific performance and adds some gravitas to the role as Avery. Itís initially suspenseful to watch the character finds different ways to get his revenge, some of which are gradual and subtle while others are more explicit. A subplot involving Avery recalling the death of his wife feels slightly moving thanks to Coxí amazing acting skills. Unfortunately, screenwriter Stephen Susco doesnít keep the momentum going throughout the second half as Averyís actions seem repetitive. Moroever, much of the plot lacks any real surprises except for the chaotic, convoluted third act. It would have been much smarter had Susco added some mystery to the film by not showing who the murderers are and allowing the audience to figure it out for themselves.. On a positive note, co-directors Trygve Allister Diesen and Lucky McKee do a decent job of building up tension through the use of cinematography, pacing, musical score and lightingóalthough it does become annoying when the screen fades to red occasionally. With a more imaginative and intelligent script, Red could have been much more riveting and compelling to watch. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at the Cinema Village.

What We Do Is Secret
- Directed by Rodger Grossman.

Based on a true story. In the late 70s, Darby Crash (Shane West) gain fame for his punk band, The Germs. While putting together the band, which includes Lorna Doom (Bijou Phillips), Pat Smear (Rick Gonzalez), and, finally, Don Bolles (Noah Segan), he suffers from drug addiction. Shane West gives a decent performance as Darby Crash as does Bijou Phillips as one of his band members. Even though the plot feels mildly compelling enough to keep you awake, director/co-writer Rodger Grossman only gets into Darbyís mind a few times during the faux documentary moments when someone offscreen interviews Darby. There arenít any scenes that truly stick out, though. It would have been much more engrossing had Grossman heightened the realism and included more organic dialogue rather than merely trying to move the plot along from one point to another. What makes The Germs so unique and important to begin with? Itís not quite clear, so itís difficult to care about The Germs when all the fans go wild for them. Unless youíre an avid fan of The Germs, you wonít even shed a tear when tragedy eventually strikes Darby and his band. At a running time of 92 minutes, What We Do Is Secret manages to be mildly engaged, but mostly underwhelming and lacking the emotional intensity to keep you truly absorbed and moved. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Peace Arch Entertainment. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

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