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Reviews for November 2nd, 2007

American Gangster
-Directed by Ridley Scott.
Denzel Washington gives an Oscar-caliber performance as Frank Lucas, a notorious drug dealer and gangster who gains more and more wealth with his illegal activities. Meanwhile, Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), a cop, desperately searches for this leader of the drug empire to apprehend him once and for all. The plot has all of the variables expected from a typical gangster film: corrupt cops, such as Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin) and many intense action scenes. What brings it up to the ranks of The Departed and Goodfellas are the amazing performances from everyone, including Ruby Dee as Frank’s mother, and tight direction by Ridley Scott. He skillfully captures the feeling of the 70’s through lighting, set/costume design and well-chosen music. Some scenes even channel The French Connection. The screenplay by Steven Zaillian may have very few surprises, but at least it manages to keep you thoroughly engaged throughout the lengthy running time of 157 minutes. Don’t expect to be moved or intrigued—just riveted by the amazing talents before your very own eyes. Be sure to stay through the end credits for an additional scene right after the credits. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Universal Pictures.

Bee MovieDirected by Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith.
After cars, ants, penguins and rats have been anthropomorphized in CGI-animated films over the past two years, comes a CGI film about bees. One particular worker bee (voice of Jerry Seinfeld)—yes, he can talk— escapes from the hive and bonds with a human being, Vanessa (voice of Renée Zellweger), a florist who saved his life. He soon discovers that humans are “stealing” honey from the bees for their own use, so he, along with thousands of other worker bees, sues the human race. The plot isn’t as refreshing or imaginative as in the superior Ratatouille, but at least it has a fine mixture of silly comedy (with some hilarious one-liners), a bit of drama, pop-culture references—including “cameos” by Larry King, Ray Liotta, Sting and, yes, Winnie the Pooh, as well as a positive message about preserving—and respecting— the environment. All the voices work rather well, especially John Goodman’s voice as an arrogant corporate lawyer. Fans of Jerry Seinfeld will be pleased to know that his comic timing is still intact just like in Seinfeld. To top it all off, co-directors Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith include colorful and realistic state-of-the-art visual effects that look breathtaking and exhilarating on the big screen. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Paramount Pictures.

A Broken Sole
-Directed by Antony Marsellis.
Three vignettes interconnect in this mostly smart, witty, endearing film with somewhat uneven and awkward moments. The first story, set on September 11th, 2001, involves shoemaker (Danny Aiello) and a customer (Judith Light), who needs the sole of her green shoes repaired while the shoemaker wants to close early. Gradually, both of them reveal more and more things about themselves as they talk to each other, which lead to a few moving moments. Some of the dialogue feels awkward to listen to because they’re more like monologues rather than colloquial speech. In the next vignette, a talkative cab driver (Bob Dishy) bonds with his impatient passenger (Laila Robbins), who happens to be wearing the green shoes with a broken sole from the other story. The cab driver has very strange habits: he prefers to properly enunciate every word he says and it takes him a long time to get out of a parallel parking space. It’s quite interesting how the two slowly treat each other with more courtesy. The dialogue in this segment feels less awkward, fortunately. Finally, in the third vignette, a dyslexic man (John Shea) explains to a woman he just slept with, after meeting her online, that he chose her because of her name, Nan, is a palindrome. Even though his honesty freaks her out, they still manage to engage in witty conversations their love of foreign films, namely The Battle of Algiers, which they both decide to see at the Walter Reade Theater later that afternoon—before having a meal, so that they could discuss it later. It would have been interesting to listen to that discussion, though, because they both seem like intelligent people, although they’re quite odd. Screenwriter Susan Charlotte does a great job of connecting the details of the three vignettes in interesting ways (i.e. 9/11 ) and maintains a nice rhythm with the dialogue, especially in the final segment. Fortunately, an intelligent script along with fine performances and lively characters save this film from drowning in all of its awkwardness. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Broken Sole Productions. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

Darfur Now
-Directed by Theodore Braun.
Yet another film about the crisis in Darfur, this unfocused documentary feels mildly engaging and occasionally heartbreaking, but not insightfulm enough. Too many scenes show Don Cheadle as he tries to get a bill passed by Arnold Schwarzenegger which would cut any financial ties to Sudan because its government hasn’t done anything about all the innocent Darfur lives that had been murdered. Director Theodore Braun just gives you the Reader’s Digest version of the crisis in Darfur rather than probing deeper into its cause and effect. Without enough intriguing interviews and provocative questions, there’s not much here that you can’t learn from merely searching the Internet for free. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Warner Independent Pictures. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Fat Girls
- Directed by Ash Christian.
A shy, gay teenager (Ash Christian) looks for love and attention along with his obese friend, Sabina (Fink). It may be as offbeat as Napoleon Dynamite, but not funny, insightful or biting enough--not nearly as much as in the upcoming Juno. Too many scenes that feel redundant. Nonetheless, it does have a witty script that will at least keep you mildly engaged, although some scenes feel too awkward and unrealistic. Number of times I checked my watch: 7. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Regent Releasing. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten
- Directed by Julien Temple.
This lively and informative documentary about Joe Strummer, leader of the punk rock band The Clash, will mainly appeal to his avid fans. From his childhood to his hippie days in the 1970s to the rise and fall of the band he formed, The Clash, you’ll get a detailed look at what his life was like until his death in 2002. Footage and audio clips of Strummer himself show you how smart and charismatic as well as stubborn he was, especially regarding some of his political and social ideas which were quite revolutionary. Julien Temple, who also directed The Filth and the Fury and befriended Strummer for many years, adds some visual style with a fast, energetic pace. His choice to interview friends and fans—and even Johnny Depp and John Cusack—in front of a bonfire adds to the intimate mood. Not only is Julien Temple lucky to have access to all of these interviews, recordings and footage, but also lucky to have assembled it in such a well-rounded and compelling way which pays an adequate tribute to a legendary musician. Keep in mind that it does have a running time of 123 minutes, but it rarely drags. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by IFC First Take. Opens at the IFC Center.

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