Movie Reviews: Black Dynamite, The Stepfather, Law Abiding Citizen

ADVENTURES OF POWER Adventures of Power, the jejune writing and directorial debut of Ari Gold, wants very badly to win you over — so badly that you’ll be surprised by the one or two instances when it does. Gold (and, in case you’re wondering, there’s no connection to the agent of the same name on Entourage) clearly had fun applying the underdog narrative rubric, repopularized by films like Napoleon Dynamite, Dodgeball and a host of geek competition docs, most notably Air Guitar Nation, to the story of an aging oddball with an air-drumming dream. Unfortunately, the visual joke of the titular lead character “Power” (played by Gold) has legs about as pale and spindly as their owner’s: the headband, the short shorts, the safety glasses — you know, and long ago ceased to be moved by, the rest. Gold’s performance as an air drummer from New Mexico, who finds his tribe in New Jersey, romances a deaf girl, and competes to save his father’s job at a copper mine, is as endearing as it could be, and Adrian Grenier (weird!) gives an extremely game performance as a country star (and actual drummer) who mocks air drummers for sadistic kicks, but the film — despite some successful goofs and a defiantly dorky Phil Collins tribute — can’t quite win for trying. (Sunset 5) (Michelle Orange)

BLACK DYNAMITE He’s a sex machine, righteous brother, and one bad mother: Who cares if the title character in Scott Sanders’ blaxploitation spoof looks more like a butched-up Isaac the bartender from The Love Boat than Richard Roundtree? Parodic homages to films that were essentially parodies the first go-round are either the joke that keeps on giving or dead-end mimesis (honky that I am, I couldn’t help but think of Susan Sontag’s distinction between naive versus deliberate camp). Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White, recently of Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?) sets out to avenge his brother’s death, vanquishing all jive turkeys and uncovering a diabolical plot by Whitey involving poisoned malt liquor that leads all the way to Tricky Dick. The attention to superficial detail, from lapel width to jittery zooms to wah-wah-heavy score, reveals a fetishist’s devotion: “I wanted it to look like we had a pristine print of an old movie,” explains Sanders, who co-wrote the script with White and Byron Minns (performing as fast-rhyming club owner Bullhorn). But no matter how many trips to Kung Fu Island our hero makes, nothing in Black Dynamite captures the exhilarating absurdity of Pam Grier hiding razors in her Afro in Coffy — or the loony genre experimentation in Pootie Tang. (Selected theaters) (Melissa Anderson)

GO  BRONSON As the violent British felon turned award-winning poet and artist Charles Bronson (née Michael Gordon Peterson), actor Tom Hardy proves more than ready for his close-up, cackling, snarling and head-butting his way through Pusher director Nicolas Winding Refn’s mercifully unconventional biopic. With a grab bag of visual and sonic tricks borrowed from the likes of Kubrick and Peter Greenaway, Refn stages Bronson’s life as a kind of sociopathic vaudeville, with the character recounting his misadventures before an audience, while a series of abstract formalist flashbacks illustrate his violent journey from the crib to various other barred enclosures. The constant is Bronson’s art-making, which flourished behind bars but may, Refn and screenwriter Brock Norman Brock argue, have begun the first time he committed armed robbery — a stickup as an elaborate form of standup. (Sunset 5) (Scott Foundas)

CREATING KARMA There are bad movies that fall short of their ambition, and there are bad movies that simply don’t try, but every once in a while, along comes something so aggressively in-your-face awful that you start vehemently giving the screen the finger five minutes into it, and don’t stop till the end credits have mercifully brought the thing to a halt. Ironically, given its title, Creating Karma is such a generator of ill will. Wacky fashion editor Ivana (co-writer Carol Lee Sirugo), whose birth name is Karma and who is the product of a wacky Jewish-Indian union, gets fired from her job and goes to hang out with her wacky slut-hippie sister (director-co-writer Jill Wisoff), whereupon a wacky black dude (Rahad Coulter-Stevenson) with a wacky afro and a wacky puppet inspires her to write and perform wacky poetry at a wacky coffeehouse. Had Wisoff gone with “quirky” or “minimalist” as her tone instead, this would be just another indie-romance casualty, but instead every color is garish, and every actor obnoxiously mugging at all times. Making light of fashion magazines, poetry slams and the “funny” accents of South Asians and Hasidic Jews is normally something we’d deride as too easy ... yet Creating Karma somehow manages to miss even that (enormous) mark. The theme song, sung by a supporting character about two-thirds of the way through, is the only bright spot, though it’s not remotely “Bollywood style,” as the press notes would have it. (Grande 4-Plex) (Luke Y. Thompson)


GO  EATING OUT 3: ALL YOU CAN EAT While I can’t claim prior familiarity with the Eating Out series of gay-themed comedies, given that, on the evidence of its third entry, the cycle seems to comprise in equal measure foul-mouthed humor and good-natured coupling, I may yet be a convert. Charting the romantic misadventures of a pasty-faced twig who moves to L.A. and instantly falls hard for the muscle-bound stud he meets at the (ha!) Larry Craig LGBT Center, Glenn Gaylord’s film abounds in hammy acting, farcical setups and outrageous lines like, “Children are just abortions that eat,” delivered with such over-the-top zeal that they’re far funnier than they have any right to be. Disgusted with what he views as the sex-obsessed gay community, Casey (Daniel Skelton) trades on old-fashioned notions of romance (i.e., he doesn’t fuck on the first date). Who can blame him? Until the inevitable coupling that constitutes its ending, the film really does portray the queer scene as one giant meat market, a metaphor made literal in the climactic “male sale” benefit auction. Still, for all the ripped flesh on display, Gaylord heartily endorses the moral that “it takes a lot more than a gym and some cucumbers to make someone gorgeous.” (Sunset 5) (Andrew Schenker)

LAW ABIDING CITIZEN The movie wastes no time: Before the opening credits, a man watches two home invaders slaughter his wife and daughter — and we don’t even know their names. And then: Deals are cut, the murderer walks while his less culpable accomplice is sentenced to death, and the dad wonders, “But what about justice?” And then: A decade passes, dad has seen a Saw or two, and it’s retribution time. Everyone must pay, even the innocent. So much for our sympathy for the leading man, who happens to be Gerard Butler in yet another questionable role. Director F. Gary Gray and writer Kurt Wimmer peddle cheap, graphic Z-grade revenge thrills dressed up as Knowing Sociopolitical Commentary — as in, the justice system’s rotten, so let’s blow up, then gut, then roast again the whole sumbitch and start from scratch. Jamie Foxx’s prosecutor (smug, a slow learner) gets a front-row seat to the explosion, as Butler’s Clyde Shelton goes behind bars and into solitary confinement, from where, somehow, he is capable of inflicting enough damage and carnage to terrorize the whole of Philadelphia. Clyde won’t stop speechifying about doing bad things in the name of the greater good. If the filmmakers meant a word of it, they’d quit making films and do something more useful. Saw with a conscience is not what the world needs. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU Billed as a “collective feature film,” New York, I Love You is the second in the “Cities of Love” series, an idea that has so far proved better in theory than execution. As with its predecessor, Paris je t’aime, there are hits and misses. Producer Emmanuel Benbihy decreed that each of the 11 segments be set in a specific neighborhood, but only a few manage to capture the spirit of their surroundings. The duds, like Jiang Wen’s pickpocket three-way with Hayden Christensen, Andy Garcia and Rachel Bilson, and Mira Nair’s corny collision between Natalie Portman and Irrfan Khan, have a canned, flattened quality that drags the collective down. Orlando Bloom has some fun with the lonely freelance life, greasing up to play a composer-for-hire with an impossible client, and Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q reimagine the dynamic of the street-corner pick-up. But the most effective entries, by Allen Hughes (Bradley Cooper and Drea de Matteo navigate their found chemistry), Fatih Akin (Ugur Yücel and Shu Qi reach out but can’t quite connect), and Joshua Marston (Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman shuffle off to Coney Island), bring both bitter and sweet to their snapshots of the city’s most cherished and elusive quality: intimacy. (Selected theaters) (M.O.)

OPA! In life, finding true love is often dependent on the mysteries of fate, but in the movies it’s usually just the work of dull formula. In the tourist-trap romance Opa!, all-business Chicago archaeologist Eric (Matthew Modine, aging quite nicely) travels to the picturesque Greek island of Patmos in pursuit of a legendary cup that belonged to St. John. There, he is swept away by the beautiful Katerina (Agni Scott), a local restaurateur, single mother and all-around free spirit. Everything seems to be progressing nicely until romantic complications ensue: The coveted cup turns out to be buried beneath her beloved eatery. For a while, the laid-back rapport between Modine and Scott is breezy and enjoyable — it’s hard to resist attractive people smiling at each other convincingly — but you soon realize that director Udayan Prasad is really going to overdo the enchanting-getaway shtick. Opa!’s soundtrack is wall-to-wall generic Greek folk music — you’ll be forgiven if you start fantasizing about breaking a bouzouki — and if it’s still not entirely clear where the film is set, there’s an annoyingly precious Greek chorus to riff on the action. Even our leads eventually seem beaten down by the cutesiness, their initial spark smothered by conventionality. For the record, your reviewer did correctly guess just about everything that transpired in Opa!, the only surprise being that the climactic finale hinges on a PowerPoint presentation. It’s as romantic as it sounds. (Mann Chinese 6; Beverly Center) (Tim Grierson)


THE STEPFATHER Was not screened in advance of our publication deadline, but a review will appear here next week and can be found online at (Citywide)

GO  VISUAL ACOUSTIC Just about everyone in Eric Bricker’s festschrift seems to love Julius Shulman, including (adorably) the unstoppable old gent himself. What’s not to like? Ninety-three years old at the time of filming, the great photographer of modernist architecture was still working (“What else is there?”), laying down the law and running around in red suspenders to bask in his celebrity. Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, Visual Acoustics shows off the stark beauty of flat-topped Southern California homes — with their pools and low couches designed by architectural titans from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry — and then shows how they’ve been reinterpreted and romanticized by Shulman. Though he dismissed contemporary L.A. as “a pile of junk,” the passionate early environmentalist believed in the integrity of things in their natural place — preferably, the desert. His pictures refresh the region even for those of us who live here. Enjoyable as it is, Bricker’s giddy hagiography could have used a little pushback, especially in the matter of Shulman’s airy dismissal of the postmodernism that, he claimed, forced him into “retirement.” Shulman died this summer at 98, doubtless sounding off as he went. If Visual Acoustics doesn’t make you envy his life and his legacy, you haven’t been paying attention. (Nuart) (Ella Taylor)

WARNING!!! PEDOPHILE RELEASED This latest feature from 24-year-old actor-writer-director Shane Ryan (Amateur Porn Star Killer) begins with the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl named Echo (Kai Lanette, who wrote the script with Ryan). Beaten and bloodied, Echo stumbles away, then wanders, aimlessly and maddeningly, for a good 40 minutes of screen time. At a snail’s pace, we eventually learn that Echo, who is kicked out of the house by her father after the rape, was wooed at age 12 by 18-year-old named Malachi (Ryan), who may or may not have molested her but was sent to prison for the crime. In the film’s third act, he’s released and promptly greeted by Echo, who never stopped loving him. Victim falls for molester — a provocative plot line that’s inspired a stupefyingly dull film, unless one counts the many (often explicit) shots of Echo peeing and washing herself. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a nonporn movie where the camera lingers so often on a woman’s crotch, both naked and clothed. Whether Ryan means this as art or exploitation, I can’t say, but it’s definitely a theme more disturbing than the buzzword in the film’s title. (Grande 4-Plex) (Chuck Wilson)

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