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Wednesday, Nov 7 2007
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 GO AMERICAN GANGSTER As archetypal as its title, Ridley Scott’s would-be epic aspires to enshrine Harlem dope king Frank Lucas in Hollywood heaven. Denzel Washington plays Lucas as a combination of ruthless thug and gentlemanly striver. To balance the moral equation, Steven Zaillian’s script introduces police detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), a real-life character of crazy integrity. The world capital of smack and police corruption — such was disco-era New York. Still, for all of Scott’s discreet period markers, he doesn’t get the period’s putrid exhilaration. His movie never spins out of control. (J. Hoberman)

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 this case, 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. The funniest moments are the Seinfeldesque throwaway lines. And then there’s Chris Rock as a mosquito. Give the man his own movie, please, if only because it’d bee far better than this one. (Robert Wilonsky)

 GO BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD Sidney Lumet’s sly movie about two compromised men (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) plotting a heist on their own parents’ jewelry store mounts a deliciously crafty dance with time to tell a grimly topical tale of bad debt and bad blood. The brilliance of Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead — and its limitation — is that it’s never clear whether this is the stuff of melodrama or Lumet’s gnomic little joke. Such jaundice requires the speed and cackling malice of a caper, but the movie is slow and stately and reaching, however halfheartedly, for moral and psychological depth. (ET)

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DARFUR NOW Can-do pep is the resonant key in Ted Braun’s profile of six individuals 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, then lets its subjects talk. But where the right images could be profound, testimony is only worth so much. If you evaluate Darfur Now against the goals it sets for itself — as a call to action — it must be considered lacking. (Nick Pinkerton)

 GO FAT GIRLS 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. 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. Given Fat Girls’ honesty, and its delicately drawn examples of social hopelessness, the sudden, sugary, puzzling finale feels out of character. (Abigail Deutsch)

THE GENIUS CLUB Tom Sizemore is no Tobin Bell, but he’s believably psychotic as a mad genius who wants to play a deadly game with the president of the United States and a group of the world’s smartest people. He asks them questions about how to solve all the world’s problems; 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. If you’re familiar with Baldwin’s recent extracurricular activities or know that director Timothy Chey previously did a documentary called Impact: The Passion of the Christ, we don’t have to tell you what the geniuses’ final conclusion is. (LYT)

THE GOOD NIGHT As his feature debut, director Jake Paltrow, a veteran TV and film scriptwriter, has chosen a quirky relationship drama and cast older sister Gwyneth as deathly drab Dora, the female half of the film’s rapidly staling couple. Martin Freeman plays Gary, a failed musician slumming in the jingle racket to make ends meet. When a kohl-eyed beauty played by Penelope Cruz begins visiting Gary in his dreams, he retreats into his good night. It’s unclear why either half of this couple ever liked the other, and not even a nice twist can uncork the hermetically sealed fate of this boy-meets-compromise tale. (Michelle Orange)

 GO JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN Julien Temple’s engrossing portrait of the late Clash front man uses snippets of everything from Raging Bull to an animated Animal Farm — along with archival scraps, performance clips and a mosaic of witness testimony — to show how Joe Strummer kept punk’s precepts alive. From Los Angeles to New York to Ireland, friends, family and fans assemble around campfires to remember Joe as the glow fades into dawn. It’s Strummer’s own voice — a radio-show track filled with warmth and optimism — that threads together the separate locales, along with snatches of favorite songs. (Jim Ridley)

MARTIAN CHILDMartian Child certainly isn’t much fun, unless you were desperately awaiting K-PAX with a kid instead of Kevin Spacey. Not that there’s ever any question whether Dennis (Bobby Coleman) is actually a Martian, but the conceit’s more or less the same: equating mental instability and emotional detachment with the awwww-some cuteness of extraterrestrial life. This kid’s not troubled — he just wants to be E.T. All he needs is a home to phone. And that’s provided by John Cusack’s David Gordon, a sci-fi writer who adopts Dennis. Cusack and Coleman feel like they’re in two separate movies; theirs is less a connection than a forced living arrangement brokered by agents and studio bosses. (Robert Wilonsky)

MEETING RESISTANCE Billed as an “intimate” portrait of Iraq’s insurgency, Meeting Resistance — the debut documentary from photojournalists-turned-filmmakers Steve Connors and Molly Bingham — does a remarkable job of being the opposite. Instead of individualizing the jihadists, the film shows a series of characters who are blurred, faceless, nameless and generalized nonpersonas. So much for “know thine enemy.” Still, the film manages to capture the palpable frustration on the ground. Ultimately, it is just one more doc about the monumental screwup that is the U.S. campaign in Iraq. (Anthony Kaufman)

 GO PARK The place is a desolate patch of tumbleweed and picnic tables overlooking L.A.’s Baldwin Hills. A desperate depressive (Dagney Kerr) has come here to kill herself, though she’s so mechanically challenged that she has to borrow things from the equally brokenhearted driver (David Fenner) of a nearby pet-shampoo truck. The woman he adores (Izabella Miko) is fucking the lights out of a wealthy suitor (William Baldwin) in the ritzy SUV a few paces down the incline. That two characters who think they’re in love actually hate each other, and vice versa, is the sort of classical reversal writer-director Kurt Voelker serves up with fresh energy in this masterfully conceived and executed modern farce. (F.X. Feeney)

 GO PRIMO LEVI’S JOURNEY Sixty years after the Italian writer and Holocaust chronicler Primo Levi left Auschwitz and hitched a digressive ride home with a Russian convoy, filmmaker Davide Ferrario follows in his footsteps with one visual essay on the fate of Soviet communism, and another on the decline of the West. Ferrario’s openness to happenstance is charming, and though he draws an overly straight line from Auschwitz to 9/11, that’s a tiny price to pay for this fascinating documentary, which does Levi the supreme honor of refusing to guess at the reasons for his suicide in 1987. (ET)

 GO QUANTUM HOOPS: THE CALTECH STORY Director Rick Greenwald follows the 2006 Caltech basketball team as they try to break the school’s 21-year losing streak. Luckily, the Caltech Beavers — a charming group of overachievers — have as much heart on the court as they do brains in the classroom. The film flags a bit as Greenwald spends too much time on the school’s history, many Nobel prizewinners and the decline of its once-glorious athletic past. That context pays off, though, in a final game so filled with nail-biting twists and turns that it rivals any Hollywood film. (EH)

SAW IV Torture artiste John “Jigsaw” Kramer (Tobin Bell), who went out with a literal bang at the end of Saw III, may be gone, but he’s hardly forgotten: Not long into this fourth series entry, someone is up to Kramer’s old tricks, subjecting SWAT team commander Rigg (Lyriq Bent, a series regular since Saw II) to the obligatory gauntlet of damned-if-you-do/don’t puzzle boxes and Old Testament moralizing. But like the movie’s Jigsaw doppelgänger, Saw IV is itself a poor substitute for the original (or even the first two sequels), from the ho-hum deathtraps to the sub–Agatha Christie “twist” ending. (SF)

SHARKWATER As cinema progresses past some of the awareness-raising limitations of conventional journalism, we’re watching more docs on genocide, abortion, global warming — and just when you thought it was safe to take what’s in the water for granted, illegal finning operations are wiping out the shark population. Toronto-based wildlife photographer and first-time filmmaker Rob Stewart spent five years on this ode to his aquatic obsession. Rather than paint a March of the Penguins–style nature portrait, Stewart is his own star, a would-be Speedo model and whoa-dude narrator whose droning reflections get in the way of his stunning underwater cinematography. (Aaron Hillis)

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