Movie Reviews: The Tillman Story, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, Brotherhood | Film Reviews | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Movie Reviews: The Tillman Story, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, Brotherhood 

Also, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, A Film Unfinished and more

Thursday, Aug 19 2010
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THE LOTTERY TICKET Midway through Lottery Ticket, a teen-comedy-cum-wish-fulfillment fantasy, the movie's hero, Kevin Carson, goes on a spending spree. The holder of a $370 million lottery ticket that he can't cash in until after the July 4 holiday, Kevin accepts a $100,000 loan from a local gangster, and proceeds to spend it all in one night. Because Kevin is played by the rapper Bow Wow (née Lil' Bow Wow), it's tempting to view this section of the film as aspirational autobiography. This is basically how Bow Wow lives most of the time, right? The kids at my screening cheered wildly for every scene of Kevin's cash frenzy. It would be pretty sweet to have that much money! Credit Lottery Ticket for honesty, I guess, in never making an argument against being fabulously wealthy. The theme of this formulaic but vibrant comedy could best be described as a paraphrase of Biggie's well-worn credo. Mo' money, mo' problems — but mo' money, yeah, definitely. Lottery Ticket works best when it uses the housing project to orchestrate zany collisions of broad comic types, all played by familiar faces: the neighborhood gossip (Charlie Murphy); the hysterical granny (Loretta Devine); the avaricious preacher (Mike Epps). Ice Cube plays a retired ex-boxer named Thump, and watching him putter around telling stories of bygone days is a sorry reminder of just how very, very long it's been since Friday, the movie that perfected the template from which Lottery Ticket was drawn. (Dan Kois) (Citywide)

MAO'S LAST DANCER Good films about ballet can be numbered on one hand. And about Chinese dissidents? I've still got enough fingers to type this review. Based on the memoirs of Li Cunxin, Mao's Last Dancer means well, but it stumbles between genres. Li is played by three actors as he grows from plucky peasant lad in the '70s to grim-faced trainee at a Beijing dance academy to visiting student at the Houston Ballet. (By then, 1981, he's portrayed by Chi Cao, a Chinese-born dancer with the Birmingham Royal Ballet, who can act a little.) Confounded by our cowboy hats, materialism and discothèques, Li feels more comfortable onstage. And there — so corny it's true! — he gets his big break when a soloist is injured. Don Quixote earns him raves, and a convenient blond girlfriend provides the chance for a green-card marriage. Should he stay or should he go? And how will the Chinese government respond if Li defects? Director Bruce Beresford employs many flashbacks in this predictable, sentimental tale but has no feel for the dance sequences, which lurch into slo-mo for each triumphant jeté. There are bits of humor at the margins, chiefly from Bruce Greenwood as Li's arch, gay ballet master. (Kyle MacLachlan's attorney seems like a guest star on Dallas.) The melodrama of a divided family is reliably squeezed for tears, but the movie's best scene is one that awestruck young Li watches with us: There is Baryshnikov dancing on grainy samizdat VHS — free, glorious, yet far from home. (Brian Miller) (ArcLight Hollywood, Landmark, Playhouse, Town Center)

NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS Disney's dictum that external appearances reflect internal character is promoted by Universal's Nanny McPhee Returns. In director Susanna White's sequel to the 2005 Nanny McPhee, the titular ugly nanny (played, under unsightly makeup, by star/writer Emma Thompson) appears in wartime on the doorstep of Maggie Gyllenhaal's harried mother. Gyllenhaal's efforts to control three unruly kids and their snooty visiting cousins are complicated by her soldier husband's absence, as well as by her sniveling brother-in-law's (Rhys Ifans) attempts to make her sell the poo-covered family farm. Imparting life lessons with a bang from her magic cane, Thompson's intimidating caregiver is a charmless snooze. As the children's bad habits disappear, so, too, do McPhee's hairy moles and snaggletooth, and just as every book can be judged by its cover in this English countryside–set fable, every source that the film futilely strives to emulate proves transparent. Awash in CG pandemonium involving synchronized-swimming pigs and burping birds, McPhee's latest saga neither conjures the humanistic heart of Babe nor addresses father-son separation issues with the sobriety of The Water Horse. Instead, it's merely a compendium of photocopied elements, cartoonish special effects and easy-bake happily-ever-afters. (Nick Schager) (Citywide)

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