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Reviews for October 17th, 2008

The Elephant King
- Directed by Seth Grossman.

Oliver (Tate Ellington), a depressed young man who still lives at home with his mother (Ellen Burstyn) and father (Josef Sommer), travels to Thailand to visit his troubled, older brother, Jake (Jonno Robert). He hopes of bringing him back home to New York for an upcoming court date. Once Oliver reaches Thailand, Jake immediately loosens him up by taking him to drink and go clubbing and introduces him to a sexy Thai woman, Lek (Florence Faivre). Itís interesting to observe the dynamics between Jake and Oliver, given how often Jake bullies him even though he has insecurities of his own. What will it take for Oliver to find the courage stand up to him? In many ways, Oliver seems naÔve, especially when he declares his love to Lek after only a few days of dating her and expects her to love him back right away. He comes across as clingy and too emotionally needy, but at least heís sweet and genuinely kind at heart. The real surprise here is Florence Faivreís charismatic, radiant performance as the seductive Lek, whom Oliver, Jake and a local Thai man fight for. Writer/director Seth Grossman also includes lush cinematography which complements the beauty of the Thailand setting. Admittedly, though, the third act falls apart because feels a bit too rushed and contrived, slightly taking away the filmís dramatic momentum. Nonetheless, The Elephant King ultimately manages to be a mostly captivating, heartfelt and character-driven drama. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Unison Films. Opens at the Angelika Film Center

Filth and Wisdom
- Directed by Madonna.

A.K. (Eugene Hutz), an aspiring pop singer who works as a gofer for Professor Flynn (Richard E. Grant), has a crush on his flat-mate, Holly (Holly Weston), an amateur pole dancer/stripper who yearns to become a ballet dancer. Meanwhile, Juliette (Vicky McLure), A.K.ís second flat-mate, works as a pharmacy assistant and dreams of traveling to Africa where sheíd help starving children. Although the premise sounds like it could be quite compelling given that each character has his or her own ambition, it all unfolds in a tedious, contrived and chaotic way. Its narrator, A.K., sounds and looks much like Borat with poor comic timing while the rest of the performances fall flat with mediocrity. The screenplay by Dan Cadan blends drama and quirky comedy with poor results because of dialogue that fails to pack any real punches. Not that any of the characters ought to be true-to-life, but they should have at least been interesting to watch rather than so forgettable, dull and annoying. First-time director Madonna tries to infuse style and substance together harmoniously, but ultimately ends up with a style that lacks imagination, focus and panache and too little substance. On a positive note, Filth and Wisdom has a decent musical soundtrack and Madonna keeps the running time at a brief 81 minutes. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Released by IFC Films. Opens at the IFC Center.

Flashbacks of a Fool
- Directed by Baillie Walsh.

Joe Scott (Daniel Craig), a Hollywood actor on a downward spiral with an addiction to booze, drugs and sex, learns that his childhood friend, Brooks (Max Deacon), has recently died. He struggles to come to terms with the emotional baggage he carries from his teenage years with Brooks in England. Back in the 70ís, Joe, now played by Harry Eden, came of age with the help a married older woman, Evelyn (Jodhi May), who seduced him into having sex and stole his innocence. He also fell in love with a teenager, Ruth (Felicity Jones), who, after an unexpected tragedy that will not be spoiled here, eventually married his best friend, Brooks. Olivia Williams plays Joeís mother while Claire Forlani plays Ruth in her present day. Writer/director Baillie Walshe, in his feature film directorial debut, does an impressive job of enriching to a seemingly simple story with plenty of warmth, tenderness and sensitive attention to detail. Thereís much more to the character of Joe Scott than meets the eye and, when the film flashes back to his adolescent years, you gradually discover what he went through both physically and, most important, emotionally during that time. With his sparkling blue eyes and blonde hair, Daniel Craig adds plenty of charisma and gravitas to the role of Joe in the present day, while Harry Eden convincingly plays Joe as a teenager. Itís quite refreshing to watch Daniel Craig sink his teeth into such a true-to-life, non-James Bond, dramatic role. Moreover, director Baillie Walsh also includes exquisite cinematography along with picturesque, breath-taking scenery and a terrific soundtrack featuring the music of David Bowie and Roxy Music. At a running time of 110 minutes, Flashbacks of a Fool never overstays its welcome and manages to be a genuinely captivating and absorbing drama. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Anchor Bay Entertainment. Opens at the Cinema Village.

Good Dick
- Directed by Marianna Palka.

A video store clerk (Jason Ritter) stalks and pursues a troubled woman (Marianna Palka) who frequently rents adult videos. He goes to the extent of showing up at her door and sleeping in his car outside of her apartment even though she doesnít show outward signs of interest in him. When she finally invites him inside, the friction between them continues but with a little bit of flirtation added as a hint that thereís the potential for some sort of a relationship. Writer/director/star Marianna Palka doesnít even provide a name for the woman and makes her too often play hard-to-get, which eventually becomes tedious. Why canít these two characters sit down and have a real conversation? Whatís emotional baggage does the woman have thatís stopping her from yielding to human affection? Those answers become clear as more layers of the plot gradually unfold. Some scenes are darkly humorous while others are tender and slightly heartbreaking. The two characters come across as both complex and interesting human beings rather than one-dimensional caricatures. However, the woman deals with her all here troubles, which wonít be spoiled here, in the third act s in a way that feels oversimplified and too rushed. Itís as if the film just ran out of gas toward the end and suddenly loses its momentum. Although not particularly refreshing or as provocative as its title, Good Dick at least manages to be a mildly engrossing, harmless romantic drama. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Morning Knight and Present Pictures. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

Max Payne
- Directed by John Moore.

DEA agent Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) and Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), an assassin, team up to investigate a series of mysterious murders that have something to do with the murder of his family. Anyone looking for a brilliantly inventive, coherent plot or Oscar-caliber acting should look elsewhere. Sure, Mark Wahlberg has been much better before in The Departed or Shooter, but keep in mind that heís not really given enough material to chew on here. Youíre not supposed to get emotionally involved with Max Payneís character; as long as youíre having fun watching him during the mindless action sequences, thatís all that really matters. Unfortunately, screenwriter Beau Thorne doesnít include enough of those much-needed action sequences and, instead, tries unsuccessfully to add some suspense and intrigue, making the plot more inane than it should be. On a positive note, there arenít too many unintentionally funny scenes and director John Moore includes plenty stylish set designs along visually splendid cinematography during the action sequences. If youíre willing to check your brain at the door and suspend your disbelief, Max Payne will at the very least keep you moderately entertained . Please be sure to stay tuned until after the end credits for an additional scene. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by 20th Century Fox.

Morning Light
- Directed by Mark Monroe.

This breathtakingly shot documentary follows the adventures of 15 young adults who train for a 2,500-mile annual boat race called the Transpacific Yacht Race from Long Beach, California all the way to Hawaii. Only 11 out of those 15 will be selected to participate in the race. Director Mark Monroe briefly introduces the audience to each of the crew members, although none of them are particularly interesting or charismatic enough for them to stand out. More interviews and focus on the individual crew members would have helped to add much-needed insights. Itís somewhat compelling, though, to listen to them describe their experiences based on their journal entries during the race along with watching the reenactments of those moments at sea. What about having them discuss more of the challenges that they went through? It becomes a bit dull merely observe and hear about their physical experiences. What about what they went through mentally? On a positive note, the awe-inspiring scenery and picturesque cinematography will certainly keep your eyes entertained. If only your mind were enlightened rather than underwhelmed by the lack of real insights , Morning Light could have been much more powerful rather than so incomplete and sugar-coated. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by Walt Disney Pictures.

The Secret Life of Bees
- Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.

Based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd. In 1964 South Carolina, Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning), flees from her violent father (Paul Bettany) with her black housekeeper, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), and seeks refuge at a honey farm belonging to August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) and her two sisters, May (Sophie Okenodo) and June (Alicia Keys). There, she learns how to cultivate bees while discovering more about her deceased mother who, at some point, stayed at the Boatwright home a long time ago. Solid performances from a talented cast help to ground the occasionally corny and contrived plot. Writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood allows each actress to shine, but the real standouts here are Dakota Fanning and the radiant Sophie Okenodo. Some scenes drag a bit while others tend to be melodramatic as if youíre watching a soap opera. However, the film has a fair amount of heart and soul along with a terrific soundtrack and impressive cinematography. Itís not as emotionally absorbing and powerful, though, as other films about children who seek love, guidance and affection such as Antwone Fisher, but at least it manages to be a tender, heartwarming and uplifting drama. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Sex Drive
- Directed by Sean Anders.

Based on the novel All the Way by Andy Behrens. Ian (Jonathan Zuckerman), a high school senior, drives with his friends, Felicia (Amanda Crew) and Lance (Clark Duke), cross-country to lose his virginity to a sexy babe he met online. James Marsden plays the Ianís older brother whose car Ian steels. The plot sounds like itís been traveled on before in other teen sex comedies such as Road Trip and Superbad. What distinguishes Sex Drive , though, is its wickedly funny, smart and hip screenplay by director/co-writer Sean Anders. Sure, he borrows some perverted visual gags from other films, namely, American Pie, but at least he borrows them well and makes you laugh. Seth Green shows up briefly in a hilarious role as an Amish car repairman who teaches Iam about a real Amish tradition called Rumspringa. Surprisingly, the three relatively new actors/actresses, Jonathan Zuckerman, Amanda Crew and Clark Duke, make a convincing group of friends and each has their own odd charms. Two teenage characters on the sidelines, played by Mark L. Young and Charlie McDermott, play off of each other with such madcap hilarity that they deserve to be in a film of their own. None of the truly funny scenes will be spoiled here, though, but keep in mind that thereís plenty of sexual content and some nudity along the way. What else would you expect from a typical teen sex comedy? If it had been made during the 70ís, it probably would have had even more nudity. Please be sure to stay until after the end credits for an additional scene. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Summit Entertainment.

Tru Loved
- Directed by Stewart Wade.

Tru (Najarra Townsend) moves to a conservative suburb of San Francisco where she attends a new school and struggles to fit into the social crowds. Her lesbian mom is in an interracial relationship while her gay dad lives with his partner. One day, Tru meets and befriends a closeted black jock named Lodell (Matthew Thompson) and, when he comes out to her, she agrees to pretend to be his girlfriend so that he can maintain his ďstraightĒ image in school. Tru also forms a school group called the Gay-Straight Alliance with the support of the schoolís drama teacher. Despite a convoluted plot filled with contrived scenes and stilted dialogue, thereís some sweetness and charm to be found here thanks to the terrific, energetic cast members. Writer/director Stewart Wade infuses tongue-in-cheek comedy with drama and ends up with mixed results, especially given that most of the attempts for dramatic tension fall flat and fail to be truly moving or believable. Brief scenes with Bruce Vilanche and Jane Lynch add some much-needed comic relief. To make the film less schizophrenic, Wade shouldíve either pushed the outrageous comedy further or taken it down many notches to make the drama more absorbing and true-to-life. It's quite inspirational and uplifting, though, to hear positive messages about not being afraid to be true to your heart and to accept others for who they are regardingless of their race or sexual indentity. If only Tru Love had a screenplay that had much more realistic characters and scenarios, it could have been much more insightful and engrossing rather than just serving as mildly entertaining escapism. Please be sure to stay through the end credits for outtakes. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Regent Releasing/Here! Films. Opens at the Quad Cinema.

- Directed by Oliver Stone.

Josh Brolin plays George W. Bush from his early days as a college student in 1966 to his first term as U.S. President from 2000 to 2004. With the help of his father, George HW Bush (James Cromwell), George W. Bush gets accepted into Yale University and graduates with C grades. He gives up his lifestyle of booze and embraces Christianity while helping his father in the world of politics. Screenwriter Stanley Weiser flashes back and forth between the behind-the-scenes moments during his first term as President and those early years during which he met his future wife, Laura Bush (Elizabeth Banks). Despite a solid ensemble cast ranging from Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, Toby Jones as Carl Rove, Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice and Ellen Burstyn as Barbara Bush, thereís really not enough to keep you intrigued, provoked or enlightened. Too much of what happens in the film treads water and gives you potatoes rather than getting to the nitty-gritty meat of W.ís deceptiveness, selfishness and stupid decisions during his presidency. Youíll feel like youíre watching a Readerís Digest version of W.ís life with crucial bits missing. A vast majority of Americans already know his use of the word ďmisunderestimatedĒ and that he choked on Pretzels, so why go on and on with showing those and other kind moments that are already water under the bridge? Instead of showing you something surprising or truly revealing about W., director Oliver Stone essentially plays it safe by preaching to the choir and ends up with political humor that often falls flat and a drama with a hollow emotional core. At a running time of 128 minutes, W. occasionally drags and overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Lionsgate.

What Just Happened
- Directed by Barry Levinson.

Ben (Robert De Niro), a Hollywood producer, must convince Jeremy Brunell (Michael Wincott), the stubborn director of a movie called Fiercely starring Sean Penn, to re-edit the gruesome last scene that repulsed audiences at a test screening, two weeks before its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. He also has to convince a stubborn actor (Bruce Willis) to shave his beard off for an upcoming action film. In a somewhat contrived subplot, Ben wants to rekindle the romance with his ex-wife (Robin Wright Penn). A superb Catherine Keener plays the cold-and-calculated studio chief while Stanley Tucci shows up a screenwriter whoís sleeping with Benís ex-wife. Thereís also John Turturro in a hilarious performance as Bruce Willisí agent, who suffers from stomach problems, and, finally, thereís Kristen Stewart as Benís teenage daughter. Although the plot sounds convoluted, the talented cast members seem to have a lot of fun in their roles. Moreover, the smart screenplay by writer/director Barry Levinson is filled with biting zingers and inside jokes about the film industry that, most likely, only those working within it will truly appreciate and laugh at. What Just Happened doesnít have as much imagination and insight as Levinsonís brilliant satire Wag the Dog, but at least it manages to be refreshingly funny and witty with a terrific ensemble cast. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Magnolia Pictures.

Who Does She Think She Is?
- Directed by Pamela Tanner Boll.

This mildly fascinating and intriguing documentary follows the lives and careers of five female artists: Janis Wunderlich, Maye Torres, Angela Williams, Camille Musser and Mayumi Oda. They each put in a lot of time and energy when it comes to making their art. In Angela Willaimsí case, she sings in musical theater productions, leaving her husband at home. The rest of the female artists interviewed, mostly stay at home to craft or paint their artwork. Janis Wunderlich, for example, works as a sculptor and, concurrently, raises five children with her supportive husband. Each artistís passion for art and life manages to be inspirational and uplifting, but it would have been more insightful to explore their struggles more analytically. Director Pamela Tanner Boll does an adequate job of showing what these five female artists go through in order to pay their rent. She also argues how much easier it is for women to survive as artists nowadays compared to many years ago when males were more dominant in the art world. What might cultural anthropologist Margaret Meade say about female artists? What do current sociologists/anthropologists say? How does the struggle of female artists in America compare with their struggle in other countries? Who Does She Think She Is? keeps you somewhat engaged with interviews along with concurrently funny and sad footage of ignorant pedestrians failing to name modern female artists, but, ultimately, it feels incomplete in terms of insight because it leaves too many unanswered questions about such an important, complex and intriguing topic. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Artistic License Films. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.

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