The Bank Job - Directed by Roger Donaldson.
Based on a true story. Martine (Saffron Burrows) recruits Terry (Jason Statham) to join a team of bank robbers who steal from a bank by tunneling to its vault from underground. The scheme has something to do with a spy (Richard Linern) who wants Martine to retrieve scandalous photographs stored in the bank’s safe. As the plot progresses, it gets more complicated and a bit convoluted, but always full of fun twists and surprises. Fortunately, director Roger Donaldson knows how move the pace fast enough to keep you thoroughly immersed in the story. The screenplay by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais includes some well-needed comic relief among all of the action-packed and suspenseful moments. This year has been filled with heist films including Mad Money, Trailer Park Boys, How to Rob a Bank and the upcoming Flawless, but out of all of them, The Bank Job rules the day thanks to Jason Statham, the only actor who can convincingly play a bank robber with such charm and finesse while still kicking-butt. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Lionsgate.
College Road Trip - Directed by Roger Krumble.
James (Martin Lawrence) takes his daughter, Melanie, played annoyingly by the collagen-lipped Raven-Symoné, on a road trip from Illinois to Georgetown University, where she hopes to attend. Her strange little brother (Eshaya Draper) and the family’s pet pig come along for the ride as well. This so-called comedy lacks any real laughs or anything remotely enjoyable. Sure, the actors seem to have a fun time acting silly and over-the-top, but the material makes them all look like childish buffoons. James and Melanie meet an overly upbeat father-and-daughter team who look like they walked right out of Pleasantville. The screenplay by co-writers Emi Mochizuki, Carrie Evans, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio doesn’t allow for a character to act normally or believably for that matter—especially when James climbs up a ladder into the room where Melanie is staying with a bunch of friends and then hides under a bed. Meanwhile, director Roger Krumble’s camera loves to linger on Melanie’s big breasts. Is this what the MPAA calls a G-rated movie? They must have been high on something for sure along with the lazy screenwriters—unless they’re retarded or under the age of 12. If you’re in the mood for a funny, smart and much less irritating family film, please check out Freaky Friday and stay away from this painful, cringe-worthy mess of a movie. Number of times I checked my watch: 14. Entertainment Value: Very low. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired as long as you suspend your disbelief and check your brain at the door. Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Fighting For Life - Directed by Terry Sanders.
This heartwrenching documentary focuses in-depth on the experiences of medics, nurses and doctors during the Iraq War as well as the ordeal of soldiers wounded in battle. All of the medical personnel have a very difficult and strenuous job to try to save the soldiers’ lives or to restore their severed or damaged body parts. Medical students at USU practice what they’ve learned on cadavers and hope to make a difference in the world once they graduate. Director Terry Sanders doesn’t cut any corners here. He shows precisely what the soldiers go through without shying away from gruesome, shocking images that are difficult yet essential to watch, especially the surgery scenes. One particularly heartbreaking moment is when a paralyzed soldier begs a medic to end his life, but the medic refuses to. These are the brutal realities of the aftermath of war, yet, concurrently, it’s inspiring to watch the doctors, nurses and medics doing their best to help others while the wounded soldiers find the bravery within themselves to overcome their hardships which will change the way they look at their lives forever. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Truly Indie. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Frownland - Directed by Ronald Bronstein.
Keith (Dore Mann), a stuttering door-to-door salesman with poor social skills, tries to get his roommate (Paul Grimstad) to pay his rent and has an awkward relationship with a girl (Mary Wall) who often cries. Much of barely discernible plot feels bizarre, awkwardly paced and aimless. Keith comes across as a very irritating character with very few redeeming qualities as do the other poorly developed characters. Writer/director Ronald Bronstein, shooting on super low-budget 16 mm, includes too many meandering, pretentious scenes that try too hard to be offbeat. Unlike the recent “Mumblecore” movies like Quiet City or Funny Ha Ha, the dialogue here just falls flat with blandness except for a few witty, darkly humorous lines sprinkled here and there. With a more imaginative, less irritating screenplay, this could have been a much more engaging film rather than one that often distances you from the its characters and bare-boned plot. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Frownland, Inc. Opens at the IFC Center.
Girls Rock! - Directed by Arne Johnson and Shane King.
This lively and fun documentary follows young girls who become mini-rockstars in Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls. They form rock bands during a huge gathering at the camp and perform at a competition at the end of camp. It’s amazing to watch how the young girls, ranging from 8 to 18 years old, suddenly become alive when either singing, smashing drums or playing the guitar. Concurrently, it’s quite frightening how quickly some of them want to grow up and express themselves and how their parents support their passion to rock hard. The girls don’t always have fun because some of them fight with one another over creative differences, but at least that teaches them crucial social skills that will become handy much later on in life. Co-directors Arne Johnson and Shane King wisely include interviews with a variety of offbeat, eccentric and often funny young girls. Perhaps more information as to what the girls do when they’re not rocking on in camp would have been an interesting contrast to explore. What about including interviews with girls who don’t feel happy at the camp and prefer a different environment to rock on? Even though it seems like an advertisement for the camp, from start to finish, Girls Rock! truly rocks and rolls with energy and pizzazz. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Shadow Distribution. Opens at the Village East Theater.
I Don’t Hear the Guitar Anymore - Directed by Phillip Garrel.
In French with subtitles. During the late 60’s, Gerard (Benoît Régent) and Marianne (Johanna ter Steege) become romantically involved with each other while taking drugs. After splitting up with him, Marianne returns to tempt him away from his new, serious girlfriend, Aline (Brigitte Sly). Although writer/director Phillip Garrel includes very poetic and sensitive cinematography and a slow pace that allows relaxing, gentle and somewhat pensive mood, there are too many awkward pauses and silences that feel rather pretentious. The dialogue itself feels just as bland as the unimaginative plot. Moreover, none of the performances are particularly memorable and occasionally seem wooden—especially Benoît Régent’s performance as Gerard—so it’s difficult to truly care about any of the characters. Originally filmed in 1991, I Don’t Hear the Guitar Anymore looks bright and crisp with a fresh new print, but the film itself fails to be engaging or moving. Even at a running time of 98 minutes, it still overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 9. Entertainment Value: Highly Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by The Film Desk. Opens at the Cinema Village.
Paranoid Park - Directed by Gus Van Sant.
Based on the novel by Blake Nelson. Alex (Gabe Nevins), a teenage skateboarder, gets investigated for his involvement in the accidentally death of a security guard near Paranoid Park, a skateboarding area in Portland, Oregon. The drama takes its time to unfold very gradually and initially feels like another version of Wassup Rockers given that Alex skates a lot, just chills most of the time and comes of age with a girl (Lauren McKinney) from his school. Writer/director Gus Van Sant progresses the plot in a non-linear structure which adds to the mystery element as Detective Richard Liu (Daniel Lu) asks Alex critical questions about the guard’s murder. Unfortunately, there’s not enough character development so that Alex is more than just a stereotypical 16-year-old slacker/skateboarder with shaggy hair. The cinematography and musical score are both well-chosen and add some style, but, ultimately, Paranoid Park feels underwhelming, lazy and forgettable just like Alex. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by IFC First Take. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.