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Movie Reviews: College Road Trip, CJ7

CJ7
Sony Pictures Classics

10,000 B.C. No doubt your history teacher failed to tell you of the long-lost Yagahl tribe, which apparently thrived on snowy mountainsides 6,000 years before Mike Huckabee believes the earth even existed, and consisted of one Jamaican (Mona Hammond), one Maori (Cliff Curtis), and a whole lot of white people sporting dreadlocked wigs and dirt on their faces. The aspiring hero of this tribe was D’Leh (Steven Strait) — pronounced “delay,” which is pretty funny considering how needlessly slow the story sometimes feels — who risked everything for the love of the only woman in the world with blue eyes (Camilla Belle). Her name was Evolet, and we’re told that means “the promise of life” in whatever made-up language these people are supposed to be speaking. When Evolet gets kidnapped by evil “four-legged demons” (i.e. guys on horses), it’s up to white boy D’Leh to rally together various tribes of black and brown people to save his girlfriend and, as an entirely secondary matter, free a whole mess of slaves. Director Roland Emmerich (Godzilla, Independence Day) knows his money shots: any time he throws some mastodons or giant dodos on the screen for a little beast-battlin’ action, he has our attention. But his lack of skill with actors really shows during the long moments of downtime in-between. Strait desperately needs direction, and doesn’t seem to be getting any. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

Sony Pictures Classics

CJ7

FILM PICK  CJ7 This utterly beguiling foray into family comedy from Hong Kong director Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer) may be the tribute to Spielberg's E.T. Extra-Terrestrial the gleefully childlike filmmaker has had up his sleeve forever. But CJ7 is also a high-spirited poke in the ribs to the new Asia, with its amped-up capitalism, obsession with technology and brutal indifference to the lumpenproletariat left behind in the speedy march of "progress." Chow is goofy and hapless as a construction worker with nothing to his name but his pride, honesty and determination to keep his small son Dickey (played by the appealing 9-year-old actress Xu Jiao) in the pricey private school where he's being bullied to death by fascistic little rich thugs with slicked-back hair and access to all the techno-gizmos their rich parents can buy. Ever a champion of the underdog and the handmade, Chow, whose own childhood poverty informs all his movies, conjures a savior out of a junkyard — a strange alien who looks like a newly-hatched chick with huge eyes, a flubbery green body, Charlie Chaplin moves and an unstable relationship to the martial arts. At first CJ7 appears to be the new pet that will establish Dickey as the coolest kid in school, but the bipolar little fellow has other ideas not dissimilar from those of his creator, whose method is (barely) controlled chaos and the sustained subversion of our every assumption, including those regarding the masculinity of the protagonists and the cuteness of kids in general. If CJ7 is a slapstick action picture that doffs its cap to children's delight in casual brutality, it's also a sweet-tempered and oddly beautiful piece of schmaltz that sends up its own populist family values without ever betraying them. (Sunset 5; Monica 4-Plex; Playhouse 7) (Ella Taylor)

 
THE BANK JOB  Click here for full review by Robert Wilonsky. (Citywide)

 
COLLEGE ROAD TRIP Less a movie than a collection of family-friendly platitudes rationed out at regular intervals, College Road Trip concerns overly protective police chief James (Martin Lawrence), who wants his daughter Melanie (Raven-Symoné) to attend college near their suburban Chicago home, despite her dreams of going east to Georgetown. Grudgingly, James spends a weekend driving Melanie to D.C. for her admission interview, encountering gratingly "wacky" obstacles such as karaoke-singing Asian tourists and dorky white people (led, appropriately, by Donny Osmond) along the way. Lawrence's descent from hyperactive foulmouth to G-rated father figure has been in evidence for years now, but watching director Roger Kumble move from flawed but juicy projects like Cruel Intentions to pap like this is a depressing career development. The script, credited to two screenwriting duos, never ceases to remind us that any father-daughter difficulties can be settled with unconvincing heartfelt words over a treacly score or, in a pinch, a spontaneously choreographed song-and-dance number. It doesn't matter if nobody in this movie behaves like a real person, College Road Trip says reassuringly, just so long as everybody hugs at the end. Speaking of the end, the tagline says it all: "They can't get there fast enough." (Citywide) (Tim Grierson)

 
GIRLS ROCK! Palace — age 7 — unleashes a blood-curdling scream Poly Styrene would be proud of, then smiles demurely. So it goes at the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls, a femme-only affair where grrl luminaries like Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein usher young women through an intensive five-day basic training: The kids meet, form a hasty band, write a song, and bash it out on the camp's closing-night concert. The program's agenda is weighty and worthy: promoting assertiveness (self-defense is a mandatory class) and combating the "diabolical new threat" of teen pop. Several amusing montages mash up archival footage and alarming stats — between the ages of 9 and 15, the percentage of girls who say they're happy with themselves drops from 60 to 29. But while the camp is all about liberation, the film hews to a predictable doc template and comes off as a drag. Co-directors Arne Johnson and Shane King introduce several of the camp's most troubled girls (unlike 2005's Rock School, which smartly zoomed in on its music school's most charismatic figure — the ex-rocker teacher — the focus here is squarely on the kids), and then show their path from trite conflict to ultimate catharsis. If the girls come up with some colorfully off-the-wall stuff — "How do you tune a taco?" one howls — this dreary doc does little more than underline the talking points. (Nuart) (Vadim Rizov)

 
LAST STOP FOR PAUL Writer-director Neil Mandt is Charlie, and cinematographer Marc Carter is Cliff, his companion on a 'round-the-world trip. Their goal is to honor the wishes of a dead friend, Paul, by leaving spoonfuls of his ashes in Jamaica, Chile, Greece, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand. Along the way, they swap travel yarns with fellow nomads, and thus we get glimpses of Russia, Egypt and England too. Crisply shot on a lightweight camcorder, the Panasonic DVX100A, the prevailing impression of Last Stop for Paul is of an amiable, homespun travelogue done in the style of Bruce Brown's Endless Summer. The adventures are all pretty mild, but have in their favor that they feel authentic: Cliff gets robbed by a pair of sexy bar girls; Charlie and Cliff get arrested in Vietnam; two Irish guys they meet in Chile nearly steer them off a hairpin turn in the Andes. The results are so lightweight that it would be hard to justify paying 10 bucks for a ticket. Yet despite this considerable defect, the film is charming; Mandt directs and acts with great zest and contagious, unpretentious good cheer. (Sunset 5; AMC Loews Broadway) (F.X. Feeney)

 
MARRIED LIFE  Click here for full review by Ella Taylor. (ArcLight Holly­wood, ArcLight Sherman Oaks, The Landmark, Monica 4-Plex, Playhouse 7)

 
MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY Click here for full review by Ella Taylor. (Selected theaters)

 
GO  MY NAME IS ALBERT AYLER Though he polarized critics in his prime, African-American avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler has come into favor as a cult hero and jazz pioneer long after his body was found floating in the East River in 1970 — a presumed suicide. The Cleveland native was only 34, having already collected acclaim in Sweden, France, England and New York for his animated, multiphonic skronk fests, but his uncompromised artistry never produced much scratch; friend and acolyte John Coltrane was known to give him handouts. Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin's melancholy, beautiful feature debut does more than just chronicle this undervalued musician; it brings Ayler and his message of spiritual unity back to life. Standard doc techniques resonate with a curious poignancy as former bandmates react all over again to Ayler via headphones, and we learn how he brought his younger brother Don (intimately interviewed here, along with their father) onto the stage until he was institutionalized for psychosis. Demanding ex Mary Parks, thought by some to have isolated Ayler from his friends, rightly insists that being heard only in voice-over will just make her seem mysterious, though not nearly as haunting as Ayler's soft-spoken proclamations from seven years' worth of interviews. Matched with the rarest of performance and family footage, his well-curated oration gives the whole endeavor an impressionistic aura, as though there's a ghost in the room who still refuses to be ignored. (Grande 4-Plex) (Aaron Hillis)

 
10,000 B.C. was not screened in advance of our publication deadline, but a review will appear here next week. (Citywide)


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