Allah Made Me Funny - Directed by Andrea Kalin.
This barely funny documentary follows Muslim-American comedians Preacher Moss, Mohammed Amer, Azhar Usman as they each perform their stand-up comedy routine in the Allah Made Me Funny concert. Many of the jokes target religious and racial stereotypes about Muslims, i.e. Mohammed talking about his mother rubbing olive oil as a cure for all wounds and even diseases. He repeats the joke over and over to the extent that it loses its momentum. The same can be said for the other comedies who certainly have the right comic energy, but their content seems lacking in imagination as if you’ve heard it all before. Perhaps actually attending the show rather than watching the filmed version would have been slightly more entertaining. Director Andrea Kalin interweaves some footage of the comedians preparing for their show, but none of it adds any real insights about their lives so it’s as if it were just there to take up space and tread water rather than to shore up the documentary. Ultimately, Allah Made Me Funny fizzles out in terms of comedy and fails to pack any real punches. If you manage to make it to the end, stay tuned for additional footage through the end credits. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by Truly Indie. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
An American Carol - Directed by David Zucker.
Documentary filmmaker Michael Malone (Kevin Farley), sets out on a mission to abolish the Fourth of July while a bunch of important figures from American history come back from the grave to try to change his mind. Kelsey Grammer plays one of those figures, General George S. Patton, while a heavily waxed Jon Voight plays George Washington. Poking fun of Michael Moore should be an easy task to accomplish, but, in this case, director/co-writer David Zucker has more misses than hits when it comes to generating laughter whether it’s smart or dumb comedy. It’s fun, though, to watch Paris Hilton and Bill O’Reilly briefly play an over-the-top version of themselves onscreen. There’s also an amusing, lively scene where a bunch of teachers sing and dance to a musical number while dressed like they’re from the hippies of the 60s. Whether you’re left-wing or right-wing or neither,An American Carol mostly plays to those who laugh at very low brow, juvenile humor that has no real bite or bark for that matter. It’ll leave everyone else only moderately entertained by the sporadic funny bits, but only if they’re truly willing to check their brain at door. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Vivendi Entertainment.
Beverly Hills Chihuahua - Directed by Raja Gosnell.
Chloe (voice of Drew Barrymore), a Chihuahua from Beverly Hills, ends up lost in Mexico where her dog sitter, Rachel (Piper Perabo), must find her before the owner (Jamie Lee Curtis), Rachel’s aunt, returns from vacation. Throughout Chloe’s adventures in Mexico, she bumps into another Chihuahua, Papi (voice of George Lopez), who happens to be her neighbor back in Beverly Hills and loves her. They, along with a German Shepherd named Delgado (voice of Andy Garcia) run away from a villain who wants Chloe and her precious diamond collar. Although the dogs look cute, the plot feels breezy and it’s somewhat amusing to hear the dogs talking, much of what happens through the film comes across as tedious, bland and lacking in the comedy department for kids and, especially, for adults. Co-writers Analisa LaBianco and Jeff Bushell show too little imagination and aim for tired, unfunny ethnic jokes with only a few bits of dialogue that show some wit for a change. Why dumb the plot down so much instead of going further with it to generate much-needed laughter and signs of intelligence? Director Raja Gosnell has a poor sense of pacing because she moves the scenes too quickly along with abrupt cuts to other scenes. She does, though, include a lively soundtrack and lots of picturesque, colorful locations, which don’t come close enough to compensate for the overall dullness. Little kids will probably be mildly entertained, but parents and even teenagers will find themselves increasingly bored and disappointed. Sadly, there isn’t a musical number sequence like the one shown in the trailer nor are there any bloopers during the end credits. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Blindness - Directed by Fernando Meirelles.
An optometrist (Mark Ruffalo) and his wife (Julianne Moore) become quarantined with many others in a dilapidated asylum after a mysterious “white sickness” turns everyone by the doctor’s wife blind. No one else but the doctor knows that she can see. As the epidemic spreads, so does chaos, greed and violence. Many of the scenes during the second act feel disturbing, especially when a group of deranged blind men rape the blind women. Writer/director Fernando Meirelles includes plenty of symbolisms along with an exquisite visual style that makes the intense situations quite palpable. He relies too heavily on audience members to infer the messages about society and politics, but, concurrently, he doesn’t offer any particularly insightful dialogue. If you’re familiar with Thomas Hobbes’ philosophies about mankind’s behavior in the anarchic “state of nature”, though, you’ll have a little for thought here. Some of the portions of the film, admittedly, meander and seem pretentious while the script could have used some much-needed comic relief to balance all of the dramatic tension and scenes showing repulsive behavior. Ultimately, Blindness is a very disturbing, psychological horror film with too much style over substance which eventually becomes mostly dull and tedious. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Miramax Films.
Flash of Genius - Directed by Marc Abraham.
Based on a true story. In 1960s Detroit, Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear) invents an intermittent windshield wiper and, after demonstrating the invention to Ford Motor Company and deciding to manufacture it on his own, Ford infringes on his patent rights by stealing the idea and using it in their new Mustang automobiles. Robert does everything legally possible to get the Ford Motor Company to admit that they stole an idea that belongs to him. Of course, the company does everything in their power to stop him from humiliating them, but when they offer him a large sum of money for his silence, he refuses to take it based on his principles of truth, honesty and ethics. Greg Kinnear sinks into the role of Robert Kearns with ease and conviction, but Philip Railsback’s lazy screenplay fails to bring his character enough to life so that he’s more than just an underdog family man who stands up to the big shots. It’s quite inevitable the fact that his wife (Lauren Graham) eventually leaves him with his six kids because he neglects her throughout his relentless battles against Ford. Despite a few flashes of thought-provoking scenes, there’s not enough to make the film truly insightful beyond its simple message about not giving up no matter what. The courtroom scenes toward the end almost have as much offbeat humor as those in My Cousin Vinny, so it’s hard to take it all seriously and to feel engrossed. At an excessive running time of 118 minutes,Flash of Genius could have been much more bold, provocative and inspirational rather than so underwhelming and trite. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Universal Pictures.
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People - Directed by Robert B. Weide.
Based on the novel by Toby Young. Sidney (Simon Pegg), a celebrity journalist with obnoxious manners, struggles to gain success when Clayton (Jeff Bridges), the editor Sharps Magazine, offers him a job as a writer for the prestigious magazine. It takes a while for his coworker, Allison (Kirsten Dunst) to warm up to him because he often irritates everyone around him and simply acts like an immature, self-absorbed lunatic., Simon Pegg knows how to make you laugh with his great comic timing and, in this case, his role as Sidney is over-the-top enough to keep you engaged even though the character remains unlikable. It’s only when the film veers toward drama and romance that it tends to falter and feel contrived. There’s a dull subplot involving Sidney competing with one of his editors, Lawrence (Danny Huston), for the attention of a hot, rising actress, Sophie (Megan Fox). Her vicious publicist (Gillian Anderson) won’t let Sidney get near to unless he writes an article about Sophie that makes her look good, so Sidney must decide whether or not he should sacrifice his dignity. Screenwriter Peter Straughan gyrates too often between tongue-in-cheek humor and underdeveloped drama/romance, which makes the plot a bit schizophrenic and chaotic in terms of tone. Director Robert B. Weide clearly knows his classic movies because he pays brief homage to such films Godard’s Contempt and Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. If only the screenplay had maintained its sharp and bitingly funny dialogue and observations about the world of entertainment journalism, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People could have been much more entertaining, refreshing and enlightening to watch. Please be sure to stay for an additional scene while the end credits roll. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by MGM.
Humboldt County - Directed by Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs.
After receiving a failing grade in college from his professor (Peter Bogdanovich) who’s also his father, Peter (Jeremy Strong) goes with his new friend, Bogart (Fairuza Balk), to her home in Humboldt County. There, she ditches him and he ends up meeting her eccentric hippie family: Rosie (Frances Conroy), her husband Jack (Brad Dourif), Max (Chris Messina) and his daughter, Charity (Madison Davenport). The plot has a very laidback feeling to it with very little tension other than the threat of Bogart’s family and Peter getting caught with all the marijuana. Much like in Garden State, the main character here starts out as reserved and a bit uptight, but gradually opens up and lets the pleasures of life seep into him. It’s not a particularly believable change, especially given the short amount of time that Peter stays with the family and gets to know them personally, but it’s the kind of change that can happen to anyone going through an emotional crisis. Co-writers/directors Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs do a decent job of blending offbeat comedy and drama, although without any real laugh-out loud moments or enlightening scenes. Although Humboldt County ultimately feels slight and forgettable, at least it manages to be mildly engaging and diverting. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
Just Buried - Directed by Chaz Thorne.
Oliver (Jay Baruchel) takes over the funeral home he inherits from his father and falls in love with the mortician, Roberta (Rose Byrne), who keeps the business running by killing local townspeople. Although the plot’s set-up sounds promising and interesting, there’s not enough surprises and laughter to be found here. Occasionally, writer/director Chaz Thorne includes some dark, tongue-in-cheek humor and visual gags that work because of their absurdity, but he doesn’t take them far enough. Horror fans won’t find much more than a little blood and guts for shock value that gets old pretty quickly. Why not include some real psychological horror or something to keep horror fans truly frightened? Do audiences really need to watch a contrived romance between Roberta and Oliver? He often behaves bizarrely, especially with his recurrent nosebleeds that he claims comes from “nervousness”. On a positive note, Jay Baruchel proves to be a capable leading actor here as does his sexy co-star, Rose Byrne, while the third act does leave you with a surprising twist. If only its screenplay were more inventive and had more scares, surprises and laughs, Just Buried would have been much more engaging, memorable and refreshing to watch. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Liberation Entertainment. Opens at the Village East Cinema.
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist - Directed by Peter Sollett.
Based on the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. After Nick’s (Michael Cera) girlfriend, Tris (Alexis Dziena), breaks up with him, he meets Norah (Kat Dennings), her classmate, at a concert where she pretends to be his girlfriend to get Tris of her back. Nick and Norah spent the rest of the night with two goals in mind: attending the concert of a band called Where Fluffy at a mysterious location and searching for the whereabouts of Norah’s drunk friend, Caroline (Ari Graynor). Meanwhile, Nick still pines for Tris even though they clearly have very little in common. Not much is really at stake in the plot and much of it does meander as you observe their experiences throughout the night. Will Nick end up with Tris or Norah or neither? Anyone, except maybe Sarah Palin, would be able to figure out the answer that question long before the third act. Fans of Michael Cera will be pleased that he still knows how to convincingly play a somewhat shy, likable teenager, although that’s not any different than what he had to go through in Juno as well, so it’s pretty much like watching more of the same. It would be interesting to watch him in a meatier role for a change. What keeps the film afloat, though, is Kat Denning’s genuinely charming performance which makes it easy to grasp what Nick sees in her even when he’s arguing with her. Screenwriter Lorene Scafaria, unfortunately, aims for lowbrow, toiler humor such as an excessively lengthy scene where Caroline searches for her cellphone in a “dirty” toilet and, later, fishes out her chewing gum from the same toilet and nonetheless chews it. Does vomit in an ice cream bin at a deli make you laugh? If so, then by all means, you’ll find Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist to be hilarious. Everyone else will simply be grossed-out and beg for Nick to finally go home and just call it a night with or without Norah or Tris. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Columbia Pictures.
The - Directed by Joshua Safdie.
Eléonore (Eleonore Hendricks), a young unemployed woman, spends her time stealing from other people in New York. She steals a variety of things such ranging from purses to puppies, kittens and car keys. When she’s not compulsively stealing, she’s spending time with her buddy, Josh (Joshua Safdie), who wants her to drive him up to Boston. Anyone looking for an interesting story or interesting characters, for that matter, won’t find it here because there’s very little of both. Why should anyone care about Eléonore or what happens to her? Director Joshua Safdie does a decent job of achieving cinema vérité mixed with a few surreal moments, i.e. a sequence with a polar bear, but that’s not nearly enough going on to hold your attention when you can’t emotionally connect to any of the characters. The lazy screenplay has only a few bits of comic relief and much of the dialogue feels bland and pointless just like the film as a whole. Even at a running time of only 70 minutes, The Pleasure of Being Robbed often drags and overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 9. Released by IFC Films. Opens at the IFC Center.
Rachel Getting Married - Directed by Jonathan Demme.
Kym (Anne Hathaway), fresh out of 10 years in rehab, returns home to attend the wedding of her sister, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). During that hectic weekend, she often bickers with Rachel and tries to patch things up with her dad (Bill Irwin) and mother (Debra Winger). Everyone in that family seems to have problems of their own that gradually become fleshed out, but none of their revelations are particularly interesting or moving. Screenwriter Jenny Lumet doesn’t give the audience a good enough reason to care about any of the characters, especially Kym who’s often self-absorbed, annoying, neurotic and just plain rude. It’s hard to deny, though, that Anne Hathaway shines here with her impressive ability to nail a serious role which she hadn’t been given much of a chance to do in past roles. In their brief scenes, Debra Winger and Bill Irwin both add gravitas as well. Unfortunately, director Jonathan Demme drags the film on and on with too many dull, whiny arguments between Rachel and other members of her family that you’ll be desperately waiting for the wedding to arrive so they’d just get it all over with finally and go home. At an excessive running time of 114 minutes, Rachel Getting Married often drags and overstays its welcome. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by Sony Pictures Classics.