Movie Reviews: American Violet, Crank: High Voltage, Sleep Dealer 

Also, Every Little Step, Lymelife and more

Thursday, Apr 16 2009
AMERICAN VIOLET A docudrama with a good heart but a heavy hand, American Violet isn’t shrinking. Changing the real names of the people and town involved, the third film by Tim Disney (Walt’s grand-nephew) recounts the true story of Dee (Nicole Beharie), a young African-American single mother of four living in a Texas housing project, who is erroneously swept up in a drug raid. Her mom (Alfre Woodard) begs her to plead guilty to avoid prison, but Dee is convinced by a Yankee ACLU lawyer (Tim Blake Nelson) and a local attorney (Will Patton, wearing the worst toupee ever) to sue the bigoted D.A. (Michael O’Keefe). Mostly solid performances (the great Anthony Mackie shows up, uncredited, as a mentally ill informant), and admirable attention to detail about legal proceedings forcefully convey Disney and writer/producer Bill Haney’s outrage over this nation’s virulently racist “war” on drugs, though perhaps “The truth shall set you free” need not have been said so frequently. And while it’s unclear whether a subplot involving one of Dee’s exes (Xzibit) and his child-molester girlfriend is also fact-based or lifted from the Tyler Perry School of Melodrama, there’s no arguing that the truth is always stranger — if not more shamefully appalling — than fiction. (The Bridge; AMC Magic Johnson Crenshaw 15; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5; Pacific Beach Cities All Stadium 16) (Melissa Anderson)

GO  BALLERINA Manuel Legris, a French dancer interviewed in Ballerina, Bertrand Norman’s involving study of the Russian ballet, insists that a Russian ballerina is easy to spot in a crush of tutus and fluttering hands. Beyond the severity of their posture and discipline, there, even in the youngest dancers, a maturity that takes those of other nationalities years to develop. The women profiled here — ranging from a star student at St. Petersburg’s Vaganova Ballet Academy to several members of the Mariinsky Theatre (formerly the Kirov) at various stages of their careers — support that claim and its mysterious implications. In one of the strangest sequences, Norman gains access to the auditions that will either set a young girl on the course to a life in leg warmers or send her back to the drawing board: A roomful of topless 10-year-old girls leap and pointe for their lives, then each one is flexed and patted down, like a thoroughbred colt, before an affectless panel. It’s almost impossible to tell their identical thin, cold limbs and tiny heads apart. Yet watching these women perform is a striking lesson in ballet’s rigorous aesthetic alchemy — and the extreme, exquisite individualism that prevails. (Music Hall) (Michelle Orange)

THE BUTTERFLY TATTOO On their first date, sensitive Chris (Duncan Stuart) and spitfire Jenny (Jessica Blake) display such obvious chemistry that you hope these Oxford teens have a bright future together. Based on fantasy author Philip Pullman’s young-adult novel, director Phil Hawkins’ drama starts off promisingly as a chronicling of their courtship — Stuart and Blake give sweetly unaffected performances, and writer Stephen Potts’ screenplay nicely captures the lust and sweaty-palm anxiety of young love. But as The Butterfly Tattoo’s references to Romeo and Juliet make clear, star-crossed tragedy awaits the characters. Disappointingly, this well-observed coming-of-age romance soon morphs into an unconvincing crime flick, which convolutedly conspires to keep Chris and Jenny away from each other long enough for the plot’s Bard-inspired misunderstandings and missed connections to lead to the predetermined unhappy ending. The compounded coincidences and twists prove increasingly irritating, although it is extraordinary to see all the different excuses the filmmakers concoct to prevent the lovers from simply using their cell phones to call each other and avert disaster. Romeo and Juliet may have dealt with the cruelty of fate, but The Butterfly Tattoo presents its own brand of tragedy — emotional manipulation grasping at Shakespearean grandeur. (Grande 4-Plex) (Tim Grierson)

CHASING THE GREEN Arriving in the midst of a global economic meltdown, this “based on a true story” tale of rags-to-riches wealth, personal and professional collapse, and corporations using the government as a tool of unfair competition should be a lot more satisfying than it is. But director Russ Emanuel, working from a surface-deep script by Craig Frankel, has crafted a film that’s too trite to spark thought or catharsis. Deeply sensitive Adam (Jeremy London) and his boorish brother Ross (Ryan Hurst) launch a cell-phone business in the early ’90s, then seek greater wealth by being among the first entrepreneurs to market electronic terminals for credit-card transactions. All goes swimmingly until the brothers ignore letters of inquiry from Uncle Sam (acting at the behest of the competition) about their business practices. Nothing really works here: The lead actors are too old for their parts (former TV heartthrob London is visibly uncomfortable), while the movie’s tone teeters uneasily between comedic and dramatic. The script is a psychologically shallow rendering of polar-opposite siblings working through daddy issues, while the workplace dynamics seem drawn more from other films than actual workplaces — including a cringe-inducing, generic rock–scored montage of inept women applying for sales jobs. Your average newscast these days far outstrips Chasing the Green for high-stakes drama and corporate intrigue. (Grande 4-Plex) (Ernest Hardy)

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