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Movie Reviews: Bee Movie, Darfur Now, Primo Levi's Journey 

Also Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten

Wednesday, Oct 31 2007
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AMERICAN GANGSTER See film feature.

BEE MOVIE After making a mint off a series about nothing, Jerry Seinfeld apparently decided his first feature film ought to be about something — in the case of Bee Movie , the enslavement and torture of bees for the pleasure and profit of humans, which is, like, hilarious. Alas, there’s only so much you can do with talking bugs that hasn’t already been covered in A Bug’s Life , Antz and The Ant Bully . For all the muscle and money behind Bee Movie , it still feels unfocused and unfinished. The funniest moments in Bee Movie are the Seinfeld -esque throwaway lines — the bit about women and toe rings (“It’s like putting a hat on your knee”), the gag about TiVo (“You mean you can just freeze live TV? That’s insane .”). And then there’s Chris Rock as a mosquito. Rock has but two scenes in the film, but he needs a hundred more. Give the man his own movie, please, if only because it’d bee far better than this one. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD See film feature.

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DARFUR NOW Can-do pep is the resonant key in Ted Braun’s profile of six individuals, spread across three continents, working to provide relief in western Sudan. Featured are a sheik displaced by internecine warfare, International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, a young L.A.-based activist and . . . Don Cheadle. The film tarries briefly on outright atrocity, moving through an abridged history of Darfur, then lets its subjects explain what regenerating the region means to them, and why it should matter to humanity as a whole. But where the right images could be profound, incontrovertible and traumatic, testimony is only worth so much (and the film will severely test the average viewer’s threshold of forbearance for self-righteous Californians). If you evaluate Darfur Now against the goals it sets for itself — as a stirring call to action — it must be considered lacking. The filmmaking is undistinguished, and the images taken from the conflict, though tragic — dust-blanched refugee camps, an AK-47 in every other pair of hands — will be difficult for the theoretical average, uncommitted viewer to distinguish from the familiar picture of endangered sub-Saharan Africa. The argument can be made that the subject’s urgency excuses the need for artfulness; the opposite, of course, is true. (Sunset 5) (Nick Pinkerton)

GO FAT GIRLS Not many fat girls appear in Fat Girls , but that’s not a problem: In this movie, nearly anyone can be a fat girl — it’s a mental state, one that Rodney (writer-director-star Ash Christian) tends to assign to the stranger members of his entourage, and that we may recognize in the entire oddball cast. Rodney is a gay high-school senior and a spiritual fat girl; his best friend, Sabrina (Ashley Fink), is a literal one. They mope in and out of classrooms wearing expressions of gaping, undisguised horror that alone justify the existence of this film. Rodney’s characteristic awkwardness is so severe as to inhibit most normal conversation, and it sometimes escalates from amusing to tragic, as when he rejects comfort after his father’s death. He engages more successfully with the imaginary worlds of porn and plays, and dreams of starring on Broadway. Don’t worry: He isn’t talented. This film goes to some lengths not to be another high-school movie, which means prom stinks and no one can sing. Given Fat Girls ’ honesty, and its delicately drawn examples of social hopelessness, the sudden, sugary, puzzling finale feels out of character. It’s as though the film forgot how to talk to us. (Regent Showcase) (Abigail Deutsch)

THE GENIUS CLUB Tom Sizemore is no Tobin Bell, but he’s certainly believably psychotic as a mad genius who wants to play a deadly game with the president of the United States (Jack Scalia as a kind of conservative idealization of Dubya) and a group of the world’s smartest people. Communicating via some kind of untraceable video uplink, he asks them questions about how to solve all the world’s problems — famine, war, racism, cancer, even the lack of electric cars. If they fail to get the “correct” answers, he’ll set off a nuclear bomb. And since Stephen Baldwin is apparently the world’s smartest man, well, we’re probably all doomed. Though it’s hard to tell how much stock The Genius Club writer-director Tim Chey expects us to put in Sizemore’s rants, most of the movie is surprisingly effective at feeding the audience a liberal critique of capitalism, cleverly disguised as a thriller. Which makes the geniuses’ final conclusion all the more incongruous — we don’t have to tell you what it is if you’re familiar with Stephen Baldwin’s recent extracurricular activities or know that Chey previously directed a documentary called Impact: The Passion of the Christ , which posited that a lack of faith in Jesus was the cause of the Columbine massacre. Still, Chey’s got chops, and if he can widen his taste in music beyond the pap that passes for “contemporary Christian,” he might even have a future in secular Hollywood. (Grande 4-Plex) (Luke Y. Thompson)

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