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Reviews for February 22nd, 2008

Be Kind Rewind
- Directed by Michel Gondry.

When Jerry (Jack Black) becomes magnetized and erases every VHS tape in the video store he works at, he and his coworker, Mike (Mos Def), set out to remake (or, as they call it, to “swede”) each film. Meanwhile, the store’s owner (Mr.Fletcher) spends time away trying to save the store from being demolished and taken over. Mia Farrow plays a regular customer who gladly receives the first sweded film: Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, those sweded films seem much more imaginative, funny and lively than this film itself. The first half of the plot has lots of comic energy and shows some promise, but, all-of-sudden, it starts to loose its momentum like a balloon losing its air. Writer/director Michel Gondry tries to incorporate dramatic elements that simply feel contrived, bland and even corny, especially since the characters come across as one-dimensional and forgettable. Awkward transitions between scenes just add to the distractions. If only Gondry could have maintained the inventiveness and tongue-in-cheek humor from the first half instead of taking the plot too seriously, this would have been a much more fun and entertaining film. Watch for a very brief cameo by Sigourney Weaver. Will someone please swede this film to make it funnier? Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by New Line Cinema.

Charlie Bartlett
- Directed by Jon Poll.

After Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) gets kicked out of private schools, he enrolls in a new public high school, run by alcoholic principal Gardner (Robert Downey, Jr.), where he becomes a self-appointed psychiatrist. Soon enough, he befriends Susan (Kat Dennings), whose father, the principal, doesn’t approve of their relationship. Anton Yelchin gives a terrific performance full of charisma, which should hopefully allow him to gain more attention as an actor. He truly sinks his teeth into this role with such ease just like Matthew Broderick did in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Robert Downey, Jr. also fits into his role perfectly by giving a moving and convincing performance as the alcoholic principal. What makes the film so remarkable, though, is the razor-sharp screenplay by Gustin Nash, who includes plenty of wit and humor and brings the characters to life so that they’re not just one-dimensional clichés. It’s very rare for such a film to have just the right balance of drama and comedy without any awkward moments. Director Jon Poll wisely moves the pace along fast enough and includes a well-chosen, lively soundtrack so that not a single scene drags and you’re thoroughly captivated from start to finish. Hopefully, Charlie Bartlett will become the sleeper hit it deserves to be. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by MGM and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.

The Counterfeiters
- Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky.

In German with subtitles. Based on a true story and nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), a Russian Jew, gets sent to a concentration camp where a police inspector, Herzog (David Striesow), forces him to lead a team of Jews prisoners to make counterfeit money so that the Nazis would become wealthier. One of the workers, Adolf Burger (August Diehl), gradually finds ways to impede the progress of the counterfeit operation, which leads to moral debates among the prisoners. Writer/director Stefan Ruzowitzky does a decent job of focusing on the characters development which helps to humanize the prisoners so that you care about them as individuals. However, there aren’t enough dramatically compelling scenes to keep you full immersed and captivated, like in last year’s brilliant, Academy Award-winning dramatic thriller The Lives of Others. The dramatic thrills here feel contrived, especially toward the end, although there are a few moving scenes showing the rather atrocities during the Holocaust. Also, the second act becomes a bit tedious and monotonous until the third act picks up more momentum. Strong performances by everyone, especially Karl Markovics, keep you somewhat engrossed, but with a more engaging screenplay, this would have been a much more emotionally powerful experience instead of a slightly underwhelming one. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

- Directed by Bill Duke.

Valerie (Aunjanue Ellis) explains to a police detective (Louis Gossett Jr.) the events prior to the murder of her husband, Dutch (Razaaq Adoti), to prove that she’s not his murderer. In flash backs, you, as well as the police detective, learn that there’s more to her marriage with Dutch than meets the eye. The secrets that unfold would have been much more suspenseful with a believable script. Co-writers Aaron Rahsaan Thomas and Aliya Jackson fail to give any of the characters enough room breathe, so-to-speak, and the dialogue often feels stilted. An intricate plot alone doesn’t make for a compelling drama nor does twists, but, rather it’s important how the twists come about and how much you care about the characters, for that matter. Director Bill Duke shoots many scenes as if they were part of a contrived soap opera rather than an intriguing and smart dramatic thriller. The second half of the film becomes so preachy and convoluted, you’ll feel like you’re watching a completely different film compared to the slightly more intense yet still contrived first half. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by America Cinema International. Opens at the AMC Empire 25.

The Duchess of Langeais
- Directed by Jacques Rivette.

Based on La Duchesse de Langeais by Balzac. In 19th Century France, General Armand de Montriveau (Guillaume Depardieu—son of Gerard Depardieu), and Duchess Antoinette de Langeais (Jeanne Balibar) fall in love and play a tricky game of romance and power struggle with one another. Guillaume Depardieu and Jeanne Balibar both give captivating performances and it’s mildly interesting to watch their characters mess around with each other’s minds. However, writer/director Jacques Rivette fails to bring them to life so that their chemistry feels palpable or that you actually care about them to begin with. Too many scenes have bland dialogue, flashbacks, excessive flashforwards that distract from the plot’s overall momentum and leave gaps. On a positive note, the production values are all superb from the authentic costume/set design to the exquisite cinematography. At a running time of 2 hours and 17 minutes, The Duchess of Langeais often drags and overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by IFC First Take. Opens at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Witless Protection
- Directed by Charles Robert Carner.

Deputy Larry Stalder (Larry the Cable Guy) rescues a trial witness, Madeleine (Ivana Milicevic), from the hands of the F.B.I and mistakenly believes had been kidnapped by them. The duo hit the road while uncovering some corruption within the F.B.I, who’s hot on their trail. Anyone expecting anything more than offensive, low brow humor to ensue isn’t familiar with the typical Larry the Cable Guy movie. The inane, contrived plot has a few funny scenes (like when Larry confuses hears the word “chicken” instead of “check-in”), but for the most part they fall flat. It’s best to imagine Larry as a much dumber and chubbier version of Ace Ventura, the pet detective. Writer/director Charles Robert Carner, fortunately, allows each actor to have fun in their roles, especially Peter Stormare as a silly villain who, at one point, gets his face covered in manure. Then there’s a cameo with Joe Montegna as a funeral home director who looks and acts crazy. If you check your brain at the door, suspend your disbelief for 97 minutes and are a fan of Larry the Cable Guy, you’ll be able to somewhat enjoy this so-called comedy. At least it’s funnier and less irritating than Meet the Spartans and Trailer Park Boys. Number of times I checked my watch: 7. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or. Released by Lionsgate.

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