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Reviews for March 21st, 2008

Boarding Gate
- Directed by Olivier Assayas.

In English, French and Cantonese with subtitles. Sandra (Asia Argento) has an S&M relationship with her ex-pimp, Miles (Michael Madsen), and wants to own his nightclub. Meanwhile, behind his back, she works as a drug trafficker for Lester (Carl Ng) and his wife Sue (Kelly Lin) and has a secret affair with Lester. As the plot progresses, Sandra sinks deeper and deeper into trouble and must defend herself from those who want her dead. Asia Argento gives a seductive performance, but her character comes across as rather bland and unremarkable—although she’s quite easy on the eyes. She and Miles have too little chemistry for you to care about their relationship or what ends up happening to either of them. Unfortunately, writer/director Olivier Assayas fails to generate any real thrills by the tedious, unimaginative and confusing plot. Many scenes plot a long with very little purpose other than to appeal to those who just want to see sex and violence. The overall sleaziness mixed with vapid dialogue leaves you with a bad aftertaste. If only Assayas could have upped the ante a bit more with the plot and incuded some wit and coherence, this would have been at least a guilty pleasure. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Magnet Films. Opens at the Cinema Village.

Drillbit Taylor
- Directed by Steven Brill.

Three high school friends, Wade (Nate Hartley) , Ryan (Troy Gentile) and Emmit (David Dorfman) hire Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson), a homeless bodyguard, to protect them from a school bully, Filkins (Alex Frost). Pretending to be a substitute teacher at the high school, Drillbit develops a romance with fellow teacher, Lisa (Leslie Mann). What ensues is essentially a juvenile, much cleaner and unimaginative version of Revenge of the Nerds. Owen Wilson tries hard to be funny here, but the three teen actors often upstage him with funnier one-liners and better comic timing. Co-screenwriters Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogen go over-the-top with some of the characters, such as the school bully Emmit who’s more irritating than threatening. Some of the comedy falls flat from just plain silliness that caters to the lowest common denominator. Just observing the three dorky high school friends, you’ll notice they uncannily resemble the trio from Superbad, especially Ryan who channels Jonah Hil in every scene he’s in. Judd Apatow happens to have produced both films and like his R-rated comedies, the PG-13 Drillbit Taylor looses comic momentum two-thirds into its 104-minute running time and ultimately overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired as long as you check your brain at the door. Released by Paramount Pictures.

The Grand
- Directed by Zak Penn.

In this “documentary,” a group of poker players gather at the Rabbit’s Foot casino to compete for a $10 million cash prize in a poker tournament. The players include Jack Faro (Woody Harrelson), the casino’s owner who struggles to save the casino, Harold Melvin (Chris Parnell), Lainie and her brother Larry Schwartzman (Cheryl Hines, David Cross), Deuce Fairbanks (Dennis Farina), Andy Andrews (Richard Kind), and The German (Werner Herzog). Just like Christopher Guest’s “documentaries” such as Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind, The Grand introduces its quirky, imaginative characters with off-the-wall humor, some of which falls flat from repetition. Cheryl Hines and Werner Herzog both shine the brightest and have the most memorable funny lines with terrific comic timing. There’s also two commentators make strange observations about the tournament every now and then. Writer/director Zak Penn includes comedy that occasionally feels forced and silly, but for the most part it’s quite funny and witty. However, what makes The Grand mildly entertaining to watch is that each actor and actress seem to enjoy their roles and, while some parts are outlandish, it’s all breezy and harmless fun for the audience. More scenes with the commentators and with the scene-stealing Werner Herzog would’ve added more laughs, though. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Entertainment Value: Highly Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Anchor Bay Entertainment. Opens at the Village East Theater.

The Hammer
- Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld.

Upon losing his girlfriend and job as a carpenter, 40-year-old Jerry Ferro (Adam Carolla), a boxing instructor, trains with boxing coach Eddie (Tom Quinn) to compete for a spot on the Olympics boxing team. Victor (Jonathan Hernandez) and Robert (Harold House Moore) also compete for the spot. Meanwhile, Jerry romances one of his boxing students, Lindsay (Heather Juergensen). Your enjoyment of The Hammer depends heavily on how much you can tolerate the dry humor and antics of Adam Carolla, who also wrote the story. Some of the comedic attempts actually pack decent punches (no pun intended) thanks to Carolla’s great comic timing as Jerry. Screenwriter Kevin Hench combines comedy, romance and drama with mixed results. Jerry and Lindsay do have some chemistry together and seem generally likable as characters. Oswaldo Castillo adds more offbeat humor as Ozzie, Jerry’s Nicaraguan friend. However, the main weakness here is when the plot veers toward a contrived drama regarding Jerry’s yearning to fulfill his lifelong dream to become an Olympic boxer while dealing with his deceptive boxing trainer. More emphasis on comedy or drama would have made The Hammer a much more focused and thoroughly entertaining film rather than a sporadically entertaining one that ultimately feels slightly underwhelming. Number of times I checked my watch: 34 Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired as long as you check your brain at the door. Released by International Film Circuit. Opens at the AMC Empire 25.

Irina Palm
- Directed by Sam Garbarski.

Maggie (Marianne Faithfull), a grandmother and widow, desperately seeks money to pay for the medical treatment for her ill grandson (Corey Burke). Unexpectedly, she finds a job at a sex club owned by Miklos (Miki Manojlovic), who convinces her that she has the best right hand in the entire country. What she uses the hand for will not be disclosed here, but, as a hint, it’s something that leads to her suffering from “penis elbow”, a variation on the term “tennis elbow”. Marianne Faithfull gives a radiant performance as Maggie and adds some warmth to her role that otherwise could have been an uncomfortable to watch. Some scenes get a bit perverse, but with a darkly comedic undertone so that you’re not utterly disgusted. Co-screenwriters Martin Herron and Philippe Blasband wisely don’t push the envelope too much and focus more on the drama and character development of Maggie so that you care about her. The third act falls apart with a few contrived subplots coming together, though, but at least Marianne Faithful’s charismatic performance holds all it together so that there’s never a dull moment. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Entertainment Value: Moderately High. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Strand Releasing. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

Love Songs
- Directed by Christophe Honoré.

In French with subtitles. Ismael (Louis Garrel) agrees to have a “ménage à trois” with Julie (Ludivine Segnier) and Alice (Clotilde Hesme), but when Julie dies, he and Alice break up. Meanwhile, he confides in his sister, Jeanne (Chiara Mastroainni) and considers flirting with his good friend, Erwann (Gergoire Leprince-Ringuet). This romantic musical drama works best whenever the characters break out into song, but the romantic and dramatic scenes feel a bit lacking in liveliness and imagination. Louis Garrel, godson of the actor from Godard’s Masculine, Feminine, Jean-Pierre Leaud, whom he also resembles physically, gives a charming performance and sings beautifully. However the character he plays, Ismael, merely comes across as rather bland and unmemorable while he lacks chemistry with Julie and Alice. If only there were more scenes with the truly radiant Chiara Mastroianni, whose character sings while holding an umbrella, which clearly channels the performance of her mother, Catherine Deneuve, in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Writer/director Christophe Honoré includes references to many of other classic films that you may not notice if you don’t pay close enough attention. The use of washed-out or dull colors in the cinematography gives the film a bit of a melancholic tone—it would’ve been more interesting to film it in black-and-white instead. Despite the plot’s many contrivances and an ultimately underwhelming finale, Love Songs at least feels mildly engaging, moving and truly comes alive during the 13 musical numbers. If you want to experience an unforgettable and more invigorating musical that packs a huge emotional wallop, please check out Across the Universe. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by IFC Films and Red Envelope Entertainment. Opens at the IFC Center and the Paris Theatre.

Meet the Browns
- Directed by Tyler Perry.

Brenda (Angela Bassett) travels to small-town Georgia to attend her father’s funeral and stay with his family who she never met before. The Brown family includes L.B. (Frankie Faison) and his wife Sarah (Margaret Avery), Vera (Jenifer Lewis) and Leroy Brown (David Mann). Some of them, especially Vera, struggle to welcome her into the family. An ex-basketball player, Harry (Rick Fox), flirts with her while she tries to get her selfish, mean-spirited ex-husband to pay child support for her son, Michael (Lance Gross). Despite a lively ensemble cast and decent performances, especially by Angela Bassett who adds some gravitas to many scenes, Meet the Brows falls flat both as a drama, romance and comedy. Writer/director Tyler Perry includes too many contrived, eye-rolling scenes reminiscent of a soap opera or, at times, a sitcom. None of the characters feel true-to-life and some of them even come across either bitter or annoying or both. Fortunately, it’s not as crass and inane as Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, but it would have been nice had Tyler Perry written a script with more nuances rather than one filled with formulaic plot points and cartoonish, one-dimensional characters. At a running time of 100 minutes (including outtakes during the end credits), Meet the Browns occasionally drags and slightly overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Lionsgate.

Planet B-Boy
- Directed by Benson Lee.

This mildly compelling documentary follows breakdancers (a.k.a. B-boys) as they prepare for the Battle of the Year, an international breakdancing competition held in Germany. B-boys competing in the event come from countries all around the world, such as France, Japan, South Africa and South Korea. Director Benson Lee briefly traces the roots of breakdancing and before including the footage of the many different B-boy teams’ experiences. Watching all the dance movements certainly feels invigorating and exciting, although eventually it becomes a bit tedious. More insightful interviews with the B-boys would have helped you to get to know them better rather than listening to them make obvious, repetitive statements about how alive and free they feel while B-boying or how b-boying a mixture of artistic style and physical skills. What about exploring how they come up with the choreography and other artistic choices? It’s interesting to hear, though, how their parents react to their passion for breakdancing, which is a challenging road for those seeking a decent income. Lee should have included more footage of one of the most bizarre dancers, appropriately named Crazy Granny, who adds some charisma during her brief moments on screen. Planet B-Boy has plenty of vibrant dance footage and stylish editing, but ultimately doesn’t feel as thoroughly engaging, refreshing and insightful as the 2006 documentary Air Guitar Nation. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Entertainment Value: Highly Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Elephant Eye Films. Opens at Landmark Sunshine Cinemas.

Poisoned by Polonium: The Litvinenko File
- Directed by Andrei Nekrasov.

In Russian with subtitles. This meandering documentary, about what led to the poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander “Sasha” Litvinenko, focus and, worst of all, lacks coherence. Director Andrew Nekrasov includes plenty of interviews with Alexander Litvinenko during his exile from Russia, but none of what he essentially talks a lot, but says very little that’s particularly intriguing or provocative. It’s mildly fascinating how Litvinenko considers the Russian government to be corrupt, though. However, Nekrasov fails to give you enough context about Litvinenko’s actions and life so that you comprehend the bigger picture—it’s as if he expects you to do some research about him before seeing the film. Too many awkward close-ups and angles during the interviews cause you to feel nausea. It would have been much more interesting if Nekrasov had focused more diligently on the actual mystery behind the poisoning of Litvinenko rather than confuse you with dozens names of people and events that don’t really amount to anything that holds your interest. Better questions and a slicker editing style would have been beneficial to the entertainment value here. Ultimately, you’ll feel uninvolved, confused and left cold by a mystery explored in, unfortunately, such a dull and dry fashion. Number of times I checked my watch: 9. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Kino International. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

- Directed by Masayuki Ochiai.

Jane (Rachael Taylor) discovers images of a ghost on photographs developed after she and her husband, Ben (Joshua Jackson), crash into a young woman who suddenly appears on a countryside road. If you’re seen The Grudge or One Missed Call, the plot should familiar territory for you. Jane gradually tries to figure out what the ghostly image wants from her by follows all sorts of hints. The performances by Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor are mediocre at best, although, admittedly, Taylor is much less wooden than Jessica Alba in The Eye. Screenwriter Luke Dawson fails to add any real suspense because of how ludicrous the situations seem—even if you suspend your disbelief, it’ll be difficult to take anything seriously. On a positive note, director Masayuki Ochiai expertly combines stylish cinematography and editing along with creepy sound effects which helps to keep you somewhat entertained by the variety of “scares”. It’s worth mentioning that the very brief running time of 84 minutes helps to make Shutter a harmless remake that’s much more watchable than the unintentionally funny remake of One Missed Call earlier in the year. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired as long as you suspend your disbelief. Released by 20th Century Fox.

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