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Reviews for January 13th, 2012

Joyful Noise

Directed by Todd Graff

      Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) and G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton) sing in the same church choir in the small town of Pacashau, Georgia. When the Divinity Church Choir director, Bernard (Kris Kristofferson), dies, Vi Rose becomes his successor which makes G.G. jealous of her. Bernard, after all, was G.G.’s beloved husband and G.G. had been a major financial supporter of the church. When Randy (Jeremy Jordan), G.G.’s son, comes back home, not only does he join the choir, but he also romances Vi Rose’s daughter, Olivia (Kiki Palmer). Not surprisingly, neither G.G. nor Vi Rose approves of their relationship. Will the Divinity Church Choir win the National Joyful Noise competition? Will Randy and Olivia’s romance survive? Will G.G. and Vi Rose learn how to get along?

      The simple answer to the questions above is: who cares? Randy and Olivia barely get to know each other and already seem madly in love---or perhaps it’s just physical attraction because he does unashamedly stare at her rear end. So many contrived, cheesy and awkward scenes transpire before the choir inevitably sings at the competition, that by the time it happens, you won’t care less whether or not they end up winning. You’ll actually enjoy the catfights between G.G. and Vi Rose because they’re filled with amusing insults, so you’ll probably won’t want them to become friends just so that their bitchiness caused by their tensions remain alive. Besides the bitchy dialogue, there’s also some uplifting gospel music to be found every now and then.

      Beyond that, writer/director Todd Graff, who previously directed Bandslam and Camp, has nothing to offer except many scenes that will make you roll your eyes from the sappiness. There’s nothing wrong with clichés as long as they don’t feel cringe-worthy like they do here. Had he taken more risks, cut the running time down to about 90 minutes instead of 118, and perhaps added some campiness or more bitchy dialogue between G.G. and Vi Rose, Joyful Noise would be a lot more diverting rather than so painfully awkward, melodramatic and contrived. Skip the movie and just buy its uplifting soundtrack.

Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Opens nationwide.
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Lula: Son of Brazil

Directed by Fábio Barreto

      Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, known just as Lula, serves as President of Brazil for seven years from 2003 to 2010. Back in 1952, at the age of 7, Lula (Felipe Falanga) lived with his seven siblings, beloved mother, Dona Lindu (Glória Pires), and domineering, alcoholic father, Aristides (Milhem Cortaz), who refuses to let him go to school. Lula's mother flees with her children, leaving only one son, Jaime (Maicon Gouveia), to live with his father. As a teenager, Lula (now played by Guilherme Tortolio) worked as a shoe-shiner, street vendor and eventually as a machinist--he even goes to a vocational school to learn the trade. He had married his childhood love, Lurdes (Cléo Pires), but she died while giving birth to their son. He later married Marisa (Juliana Baroni). You follow Lula (now played by Rui Ricardo Diaz) as he joined the workers' union and eventually gathered enough political steam to become Brazil's President in 2003.

      As you can probably sense by now, there's the potential here for a very compelling biopic. However, Lula suffers from the same problems that another biopic The Iron Lady suffers from because it focuses too much on the melodramatic aspects of an important political leader's life while the meat of the story--Lula's contribution to politics, his thoughts/feelings about politics--are mostly sidelined or rushed through. Each of the actors portraying Lula give solid performances, and the relationship between Lula and his mother feel quite poignant, but screenwriter Daniel Tendler fails to fully and organically flesh out Lula's struggles as he moves up the political ladder. Director Fábio Barreto moves the film along at just the right pace for the first half of the film, but once Lula joins the union, it suddenly becomes a little too fast-paced and contrived as if were just trying to move along from point A to point B because that's what the plot requires--in other words, it's easy to forget that you're watching a true story. Perhaps a documentary about Lula would have been more provocative, insightful and engaging.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Opens at the Quad Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Released by New Yorker Films.

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