movie reviews April 2012

American ReunionBullyThe Raid: RedemptionLockoutThe Three Stoogesblue like jazzThe Lucky Onethink Like a man FootnoteThe Pirates! Band of MisfitsThe Five-Year EngagementThe Salt of Life

Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

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The Salt of Life (Gianni e el donne)

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger


At 63, Italian writer-director-actor Gianni Di Gregorio has become a star at an age when most performers are retired, doing community theater or embarrassing themselves on reality TV shows that are more artificial than the roles that made them famous in the first place.


Having spent most of career working in theater or behind the camera (he co-wrote the terrific mob thriller Gomorrah), Di Gregorio has a low-key, unaffected charm that makes it remarkably easy to relate to his semi-autobiographical movies.



He’s also an astonishingly resourceful director. With his debut Mid-August Lunch, he helmed an international box office hit by filming it in his own apartment in Rome, using a cast of non-professionals who put veteran professionals to shame. With The Salt of Life, he makes a delightful film about his own worries about getting older.


Gianni (Di Gregorio, of course) has just committed his domineering mother (Valeria De Franciscis) to a plush nursing home under the care of a trained but overqualified nurse named Kristina (Kristina Cepraga). His attorney friend Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata) wonders why Gianni is ogling the lovely Kristina because he himself is having a steamy affair now that he’s gotten older.


Actually, Gianni would like a little steamy romance in his staid life. He and his wife (Elisabetta Piccolomini) still sleep together, but all they do is, well, sleep. His pretty, hard-partying neighbor (Valeria Cavalli) simply thinks of him as the nice man who walks her dog, and a long string of attractive females pass him by thinking of him as anything but a potential lover. It also doesn’t help that he was forced to retire from his previous job at age 50, so he gets by on his thin pension. The crash of 2008 seems to have hit Italy just as hard as it’s hit us here in the States.


Essentially, The Salt of Life is a one-joke movie, but the fact that it works is due to Di Gregorio’s ease in front of the camera and in his ability to coax fine work from people who aren’t full-time thespians.


A quick glance at the credits indicates that just about the entire cast are playing characters who have the same first names they do, and if Teresa, Gianni’s daughter, really looks like her on-screen dad, that’s because Teresa Di Gregorio is having the sort of conversations she’d really have with him when the cameras aren’t rolling.


Di Gregorio and his co-writer Valerio Attanasio create dozens of engaging supporting characters, so that Gianni’s moping doesn’t get tiresome. There’s also a delightful subplot where Gianni gradually becomes friends with Teresa’s off-and-on-again boyfriend Michelangelo (Michelangelo Ciminale), finding he has more in common with the lad than he previously thought.


The film’s Italian title Gianni e le donne (Gianni and the women) is a play on the old Italian saying, “Men are as old as they feel, but women are as old as they look.”


Di Gregorio doesn’t believe that for one second.


Throughout The Salt of Life, he demonstrates that women seem more at home with their current stations than men and have far more realistic expectations of the years to come. Gianni, who has a full head of hair and has kept his weight down despite being an able cook, simply can’t grasp or deal with the fact that women his age and younger no longer desire him.


By acknowledging that younger and older women might be wiser than he is, Di Gregorio takes what could have been a shallow excuse for self-pity and has managed to milk the setup for all the laughs it can generate. Maybe that’s the best part about being of a certain age. (N/R) Rating: 4 (Posted 04/27/11)



The Salt of Life


Di Gregorio can

make getting older seem a

whole lot funnier.



The Five-Year Engagement

Reviewed by Beck Ireland


For the most part, The Five-Year Engagement is a charming modern romantic comedy, very much dependent on the acute likability of its affianced duo. There's a genial chemistry exhibited here, which would make the film immensely watchable if the screenplay, co-written by the film's star Jason Segel and director Nicholas Stoller, didn't stray from clever affability to tedious absurdity at the first sign of trouble.



Tom (Jason Segel), sous chef in an upscale San Francisco restaurant, and Violet (Emily Blunt), psychology Ph.D., get engaged and begin planning their dream wedding just before Violet learns she's been rejected from Berkeley's postdoctoral program and will have to accept a fellowship at the University of Michigan. Expecting Violet's position to last just two years, Tom agrees to quite his job and move to Ann Arbor with her until they can move back to California and get married. In Ann Arbor, Violet's research project, under the tutelage of her adviser (Rhys Ifans), receives funding for an additional three years, putting the wedding off again and leaving Tom stranded serving sandwiches at a deli and feeling desperately unhappy.


While those left behind in San Francisco, including buffoonish friend Alex (Chris Pratt) and Violet's sister Suzie (Alison Brie), move on with their lives, Tom feels increasingly unfulfilled professionally and starts exhibiting bizarre behavior. He obsessively hunts with another faculty spouse (Chris Parnell), grows muttonchops, and brews mead to reassert his masculinity. Finally, he and Violet struggle to deal with his resentment of her.


The movie promotes the underlying sexism of that arrangement by sticking with Tom as he goes off the deep end and also by rebuffing Violet's research, which at this point is all she has left. To go along with Tom's derangement, we must believe that there are no restaurants in Ann Arbor willing to hire a talented and experienced chef and that he has exhausted all other possibilities for happiness there. In fact, going by the rules of the film, anyone who lives in this town is more caricature than character, including Brian Posehn playing a dull-witted pickle enthusiast at the deli and all of Violet's incompetent psychology department colleagues, played by underused comedic talents Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart and Randall Park.


Focused on the relationship between Tom and Violet, the opening scenes of The Five-Year Engagement are the most heartfelt. Tom and Violet are playful, affectionate and understanding of each other's flaws. They handle the initial postponements with good humor. Even the contrived setbacks they encounter in Ann Arbor, which in this film boasts none of the usual advantages of an actual college town, are overcome by their being able to stay together. But story needs conflict, and Segel and Stoller create it by pitting Tom squarely against Violet. Instead of them against the world it becomes Tom against Violet. Support for her career comes with strings attached, and the film begins to show its true nature as just another Judd Apatow-produced boys' club. (R) Rating: 3 (Posted 04/27/12)



The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead


Created by Aardman Animations, the studio behind the wonderful Wallace and Gromit series, The Pirates! Band of Misfits has every reason to be just as fun, quirky and clever as their other films. I'd like to say that it's just that, but while the claymation style is filled with fun details and the characters charmingly quirky, this movie still comes off a little questionable.


First of all, about all that clever attention to detail: Forget catching most of it because for no good reason this movie has been "converted" to 3D in one of the most pointless and off-putting uses of that technology ever seen. Add in the fact that at the screening I attended the projector wasn't on the correct setting, making the film unwatchable, and only half the sound system was working, making it impossible to hear most of the dialog, and you pretty much ruined a movie before it even gets its story going.



The plot is simple: Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) and his crew are off to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award by getting as much booty as they can only to fail time after time. A chance encounter with Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and his "man-panzee" Mr. Bobo takes the hearty crew to Victorian London where the Captain must decide between fame and friendship on the Queen's giant flagship.


Again, do to the technical problems, I missed a lot of the early dialog so for all I know, up to that point, it might have been clever. Once the sound kicked, the story came to a fun, crazy end. Given that, I feel that my rating might be a little low compared to another viewing without all the technical problems.


Still, I can say that this is one of the worst uses of 3D ever. Even after the problem with the projector was fixed, the 3D was simply terrible. In fact, I just took off my uncomfortable plastic 3D glasses and watched most of the movie without them, and I wasn't the only person in the theater who did so.


While what I experienced was not exactly the best presentation, I still feel that there were too few laughs and too slow a pacing from a studio known for far better movie booty. (PG) Rating: (a conditional) 2.5 (Posted 04/27/12)




Reviewed by Beck Ireland


In Oscar-nominated Footnote, writer/director Joseph Cedar transforms a tempest in a teacup into a full-blown psychological storm. Without losing compassion for any of its characters, the dark comedy unflinchingly delves into the perceived professional rivalry involving the academic careers of a tightly wound father and his more populist son.


After being forced to spend an evening at a celebration of his son's well-received and popular academic achievements, Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar Aba) receives a call that he is finally to be awarded the Israel Prize, the most valuable honor for scholarship in the country. Although Eliezer's life's work was made redundant by the lucky find of a manuscript by a rival Talmudic scholar, he believes his scrupulous work habits as a philologist, noted in a footnote of an important scholarly work by his mentor, entitle him to the prize, which he has coveted for 20 years. Not long after; however, his son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi) is notified of a complication in awarding his father the prize.



What follows is brisk, captivating genius. The mild son reveals his soft, plodding process and his desire for peace — if not approval — at any cost. The father then brandishes the razor-sharp attention to detail and skills of deduction he uses in his research and on his son's own work. It's a breath-taking glimpse into an esoteric world. Yet, the resolution remains shrouded in mystery. Plus, these exhibitions of smarts take place in book-filled, paper-strewn offices. This is pure eye candy for the bookishly inclined.


To this complicated storyline, Cedar brings in a few clever tricks from post-production, an energetic score by Amit Poznansky and a few sight gags, particularly one involving an appropriated fencing outfit, which keep the film's bleaker side from taking over and devolving into cruelty. Still, these antics are weighted by great performances from both Bar Aba and Ashkenazi as alienated father and son.


As obsessive and habitual as Eliezer seems to be, Bar Aba plays him as consistent but not immune to unexpected turns. Ashkenazi, a handsome and immensely likable Uriel, is also complicated and dynamic. He moves from defeated resignation in a scene with his wife to another in a crowded meeting room, where he explodes in defense of his father. Prepare to be delighted. (PG) Rating: 5 (Posted 04/21/12)



Think Like a Man

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger


Think Like a Man is a unique achievement in cinema. It is possibly the first two-hour big screen informercial.


The product Think Like a Man is shilling is game show host Steve Harvey’s relationship advice book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, in which Harvey supposedly tips off women on how guys think about sex and relationships. By following his principles, a woman can be prepared for how a man could wreck her goals.


Think Like a Man isn’t a documentary, but it gives Harvey several opportunities to interrupt the action during the ensemble romantic comedy to spout his advice, some of which is actually reasonable. For example, would a person who couldn’t pass a 90-day trial period at work make a serious candidate for a lifelong spouse? That’s easily a no.



Despite a large cast with some talented performers, Think Like a Man never really comes to life. When a plotline starts to grow, it’s quickly snuffed out by a long discussion of Harvey and his philosophies. It’s as if he were an L. Ron Hubbard-style guru. I halfway expected these folks to be selling flowers at an airport for Harvey.


It doesn’t help that the characters involved are all neatly categorized. There’s a “mama’s boy” named Michael (Terrence J), a “non-committer” named Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara), a “dreamer” named Dominic (Michael Ealy) and a “player” named Zeke (Romany Malco).


They’re neatly paired with a single mom named Candace (Regina Hall), a woman named Kristen (Gabrielle Union) who wants Jeremy to grow up, a successful career woman named Lauren (Taraji P. Henson) and Mya (Meagan Good), who wants a man to commit and pronounce her name properly (hint: try the spelling).


Because all of these folks are stuffed into little compartments, there’s not much room for them to grow or act like real people. It is refreshing to see a primarily African-American cast playing dignified profession and interracial relationships (like Jeremy’s and Kristen’s) treated matter-of-factly.


Because viewers can easily guess where the story is heading and there isn’t any room for occasional surprises, there isn’t much entertainment value to be had, except for a few good wisecracks.


Frankly, it’s funnier to watch Harvey responding skeptically to dumb answers from Family Feud contestants than it is seeing a simplified battle of the sexes trope interrupted by Harvey droning about what makes relationship material in a man.


Because Kevin Hart is playing the only character not married in the film (he’s getting divorced), he’s the only performer who has any room to move. His performance is over the top, but watching the short but feisty Hart making a fool of himself around much larger performers is more entertaining than listening to two hours and three minutes of platitudes.


Tim Story, who has never been able to repeat the charm of his debut movie Barbershop, handles the tale with an astonishing lack of imagination. Of course, wife beater Chris Brown is cast as a cad, and Barry White drones in the background when something romantic is about to happen.


To his credit, Harvey is asking his readers to think outside the box in order to have more meaningful relationships. The filmmakers should have done just that. (PG-13) Rating: 2 (Posted on 04/20/12)



Think Like a Man


I’d rather watch

Harvey hosting the Feud than

hear him talk on love.



The Lucky One

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger


There now seem to be two types of Zac Efron movies. The first are the kind where he capitalizes on his formidable dancing ability, and the latter are attempted tearjerkers that leave viewers’ eyes as dry as the Sahara.


The Lucky One fits firmly into the latter category. Much of the reason this film isn’t sufficiently weepy is Efron himself. While he’s certainly fit enough to pass for a recently retired Marine sergeant named Logan, he simply doesn’t project the pathos necessary to pass for a veteran dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.



While director Scott Hicks (Shine) and screenwriter Will Fetters (the equally putrid Remember Me) at least try to deal with some of the issues that veterans encounter in returning to civilian life, Efron comes off as if he’s never endured a bad day in his life. While I’m sure Efron has had more than his share of tragedies off screen, it never comes off when the cameras are rolling.


Logan attempts to deal with the fact that video games make him feel as if he’s under fire by literally walking from Colorado to Louisiana with his German shepherd Zeus. Logan survived combat in Iraq by keeping the picture of a beautiful woman named Beth (Taylor Schilling). The odd thing is that he’s never met her. He simply found her picture in the aftermath of a battle.


Because The Lucky One is based on one of Nicholas Sparks’ seemingly endless series of novels where troubled loners find love and spiritual growth, Beth initially rejects Logan when he offers to help work at her animal shelter with her energetic grandmother (Blythe Danner). But being a Sparks’ adaptation, the two will eventually become an item.


They do have an obstacle. Beth’s ex-husband Keith (Jay R. Ferguson) is the father of her quirky son (Riley Thomas Stewart) and is a local sheriff’s deputy. In the latter capacity, he’s essentially Barney Fife with a severe mean streak.


Fetters’ script and presumably Sparks’ novel don’t do much to keep the audience on pins and needles. It’s as if Orkin could be hired to fumigate a film for surprises or suspense. Hicks shoots the Louisiana scenery so lovingly that it frequently becomes more involving than the people who occupy it. Efron’s relentless blandness keeps the film from every seeming credible. This is a shame because it would be refreshing to see a film that deals with the struggles that veterans go through in an honest manner.


Admittedly, no one would probably pay to see The Lucky One if Efron sported a collection of scars on his face, but because he doesn’t seem haunted, it makes Logan’s awakening seem more silly than empathetic.


Efron has shown hints he can be more than a handsome face. He was terrific as a struggling performer in Me and Orson Welles. Maybe if the material weren’t so prefabricated, Efron might be capable of making it seem real. That said, The Lucky One is probably the person who didn’t pay a full price ticket to see this. (PG-13) Rating: 1.5 (Posted 4/20/12)



The Lucky One


If you didn’t pay

full price, you are certainly

the real lucky one.



Blue Like Jazz

Reviewed by Beck Ireland


Although Blue Like Jazz has been grudgingly praised for its lack of passionate proselytizing, it still hints at an arcane point of view with an eye toward backdoor indoctrination. Adapted from David Miller's eponymous memoir by Miller and director Steve Taylor, the film approaches its story from an us versus them slant, giving it more the feel of propaganda than had it been more upfront and forthright. All but true believers will be left worrying about when the other righteous shoe will drop.


On the day he's scheduled to start at a local Southern Baptist university, Houston native Don (Marshall Allman), 19, discovers his divorced mom (Jenny Littleton) is having an affair with the married youth pastor, Kenny, (Jason Marsden) at their church. To spite the couple for their hypocrisy, Don takes the offer of entry and tuition paid to Reed College in Portland, OR, from his former deadbeat dad (Eric Lange), a jazz-loving heathen academic type who wants his son to test his Christian beliefs outside of Texas' confines.



On campus, Don begins to assimilate to his secular surroundings, which include non-stop antics performed by his classmates in outlandish costumes. Reed is portrayed as a hotbed of indulgent liberalism. Ironically, in front of a poster-celebrating students who have recently come out, Don's newfound friend Lauryn (Tania Raymonde) warns him to keep his Christian beliefs under wraps. She convinces him his kind is not welcome on campus. He also encounters irreverent bumper stickers on a car in the parking lot.


Soon Don goes too far. To throw his peers off his scent, he makes anti-religion comments in class and tells profane jokes. He gets drunk and pranks a church with an outspoken atheist (Justin Welborn), who is also the nominated pope of campus. However, none of this endears Don to his love interest, Penny (Claire Holt), a do-gooder and recent convert to Christianity. In this film, there exists no ambivalence of well-behaved non-believer, and even though some Christians make mistakes, such as Don's mom, they're still essentially good.


Primarily concerned with message over motive, the filmmakers fail to create the necessary narrative arc or dynamic characters. Despite professing to understand the elements of drama, used as a labored and extended driver in the film, they don't follow their own teachings. In fact, as far as conflict and resolution go, it might have been better to begin the movie where this one ends — after Don receives his epiphany. That way, the characters may have a chance at overcoming their shallow stereotypes, and the straw man set up to justify such a single-minded defense of Christian beliefs would be unnecessary.


As it is, Don isn't playing with a full deck. He's in the middle of an identity crisis that the film doesn't let him explore. Often, his motives are unclear. It's difficult to tell if he's rejecting his former beliefs or denying them. This is because there is no internal workings of his character or any of the others. Lauryn is always a lesbian, Penny, the anti-manic pixie dream girl, is always aglow from her philanthropic deeds, and Don, even after taking a potentially hallucinogenic drug, remains at a distance, missing a prime opportunity for the viewer to get into his head.


Despite its attempts at seeming hip and even a little edgy, Blue Like Jazz is really nothing more than a sheep disguised in wolf's clothing — all baa and no bite. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 4/20/12)



The Three Stooges

Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead


There are times when a film comes along that simply defies any adequate explanation and The Three Stooges is clearly in that category. It’s not a parody or a lame attempt to cash in on a cult classic (like, say, Tron 2), or even some kind of “update” to more modern attitudes and cultural mores. It’s a quirky and sometimes off-putting love letter to that head-slapping eye-poking trio of loveable idiots despite the fact that they didn’t really need one.



Even the “plot” by co-directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly is straight-up old school Stooges: the orphanage the boys live at is going to be closed unless our clueless heroes can come up with a bundle of cash fast. Before long they’re mixed up in a murder scheme, causing havoc at hospitals and zoos, wherever, all while slapping or poking themselves or anyone else around.


Surrounded by a surprisingly talented supporting cast including Jane Lynch, Larry David, and Stephen Collins just to name a few, Larry, Curly and Moe (Sean Hayes, Will Sasso and Chris Diamantopoulos respectively) become Stooges fairly well done, as much as any actors doing caricatures of other actor’s famous caricatures can be expected to be.


The rest is pretty much fart jokes, slapstick skits and goofy puns straight out of the original shorts, which works … okay, I guess. There is a little disconnect with characters talking like blue-collar wise guys from 1940s’ Brooklyn, and it takes a while to get used to cartoon violence in a live-action movie (a completely unnecessary scene in the credits explains that most of the things the boys hit each other with are just foam props. Gee, thanks for that vital info, movie).


Still. all in all I left feeling a little fondness for this bizarre creation. As weird, creepy and sometimes actually funny as it is, this little orphan (much like the stooges themselves) has some real heart, and, of course, plenty of violence against Nuns. Who doesn’t like that? ( PG ) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 4/20/12)




Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead


As a movie critic, there are times when I go to see a film pretty much knowing I’m not going to like it. Yet, I've always prided myself in the ability to at least see something positive, even if it’s just the pleasant font used for the end-credits.


But after seeing the put-together-by-committee mess that is Lockout, I just can't find the positive.


I love science fiction, and am a big fan of Guy Pearce, who plays Snow, the wrongly accused CIA/FBI/SS/whatever agent sent to rescue the president's daughter who is being held hostage in an orbital prison called MS-1. That being said, this movie is terrible, a loud unwatchable seizure-inducing mess apparently written by a bunch of twelve-year-old boys with severe ADD.



Part of the blame lies with the fact that this supposedly started out life as an attempted remake of John Carpenter's iconic Escape from New York, and there are plenty of finger-prints on it to make that likely: the plot, the surly, wise-cracking Snow, a hidden "mcguffin" that he must find to exonerate himself and there’s more. Too bad they didn't just go watch that film and call it a day.


Allow me to sum up some of the things I've learned from Lockout:


1. In space there is gravity, wind and spaceships fly around like airplanes.


2. Any big super-space prison built should have a computer control system that anyone can use just by pushing one big button (seriously, the public computers at the Plaza Library have better security).


3. If anything, I mean ANYTHING goes wrong with a giant space prison, it will immediately start to fall directly onto New York.


I could go on, say, mentioning that all the prisoners are first put in suspended animation before they are sent up, because, uh? If the bad guys are unconscious, and locked up in metal containers, why do you need to SEND THEM INTO SPACE!?


The shaky-cam CGI effects, which are crappy, try to cover up with frenetic editing; it's often hard to understand what anyone is saying; the bad guys are cardboard cutouts; and there are numerous unresolved plot points.


Even if I waited for this to show up at a Redbox, I'd expect it to give ME a dollar to watch Lockout. ( PG-13 ) Rating: 0.5 (Posted 04/20/12)



The Raid: Redemption

Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead


Like most martial arts film fans, I felt a little thrill run down my spine watching the first trailers for “The Raid: Redemption”. Ever since the absolutely insane and over-the-top Tony Jaa appeared, beating up small armies with elephant bones and attacking a flying helicopter with his knees, we knew Indonesia had given Hong Kong some serious competition. While it's true that Tony himself has gone a little nutso, the previews of writer/director Gareth Evan's cops vs. bad-guys flick “The Raid: Redemption” looked like it might be even more awesome than the Jaa himself.


And you know what? It’s freakin’ better than any of the above. You could call it “Ong Bak” with guns if you like, but that's really doing it a disservice. In 2003, “Ong Bak” introduced us to Indonesian kick-boxing, “The Raid” puts it in a realistic modern setting, with an actual plot that's fairly compelling and not just a series of events designed to go from fight scene to fight scene.

The set-up is simple: 20 some-odd riot-geared cops and their lieutenant are preparing to "raid" a crumbling, ratty high-rise filled with criminals and gang-members. With efficient action the squad clears floor after floor – until they hit the sixth, and all hell breaks loose. The gang boss on the 15th floor, in a room filled with monitors that display the entire building, is more than ready for the squad, for reasons that are revealed later on. Guys with guns, knives and whatever start pouring out, killing first the back-up waiting outside while blasting away out the poor bastards now trapped inside. Soon down to only a few, including the sketchy lieutenant and a rookie cop with his own secret, the cops battle upward to catch the big boss and get the hell out.

Given this is a martial arts film, everybody can't just shoot each other, and so the guns are quickly ditched for some hand-to-hand, knee-to-face, throw-you-out-a-window-three-stories-up action. As for the quality of that action – it is some of the most brutal, wince-inducing stunt-work you will ever see. The only thing more impressive than the mad skills these guys have is that, as far as I could tell, it's pretty much all real. Yeah, a wire or two might’ve been used so they didn't just flat out kill some guys, but probably only Jackie Chan himself has pulled as many insane stunts as this film, and they do it while still being decent actors.

Cleverly, the only CGI is used for the gun battles and the blood spraying from numerous knife attacks on both sides, and because of the spot-on editing you hardly notice that. Even if you happen to be someone who likes action flicks but hates subtitles, you'll have no problem following the twists and turns here.

Watching this film should qualify as a full-cardio workout, and your entire body will have sympathy pains when its over, but it's so worth the pseudo-pain. ( R ) Rating: 4 (Posted 04/13/12)




Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Lee Hirsch’s Bully is a powerful documentary that just misses greatness, but it deserves a lot of credit for addressing an issue that’s out in the open and remains strangely invisible.


Nearly 13 million kids will be bullied this year, and it’s amazing how little has been done to lessen or stop the problem. Considering how prone to violence human beings have always been, the evil is probably never going away. But as Hirsch documents in a half dozen cases, the inaction on the part of school administrators is still inexcusable.

Hirsch and his crew encounter a scuffle that occurred shortly before the cameras were rolling. One young man attacked another without provocation. The vice principal simply tells the two to shake hands and apologize. The youngster who was hit isn’t happy, and it’s easy to see why. In the adult world, the assailant would be carted off to jail for an attack that could have seriously hurt his peer. In school, it’s just dismissed as boys being boys.

Bully focuses three youngsters who’ve dealt with junior high bullying in different ways. In the case of Ja’Meya, the one-time honor student brought a pistol with her onto a school bus and held her fellow students captive in order to stop the harassment. Needless to say, it was a tragically ineffective way to go about it. If she were an adult, she’d have gone to prison for life.

A young lesbian named Kelby is sixteen and gradually discovers that she has to stand up for herself because her classmates and even their parents treat her with contempt. Kelby’s parents notice that people in their own congregation treat her with no discernible Christian charity. Despite her difficulties, her situation is inspiring because she manages to develop some friendships and keep her dignity despite the intolerance around her.

The “star” of Bully, however, is 12-year-old Alex. With an awkward gait and protruding lips, his classmates dub him “Fish Face.” That’s one of the nicer words they use around him.

The Motion Picture Association of America initially gave Bully an “R” rating because the film actually dared to present what some of his more vocal classmates say. The film has now had a few cuts, but the MPAA seems more worried about youngsters learning to drop F-bombs, which they’ll do anyway, than it is about the physical safety of kids like Alex.

Alex is by nature a quiet guy, and telling one’s parents that his classmates choke him and stab him with pencils is beyond difficult. His loving parents do try to advise him and reach past his silent exterior. Only later in the film do they learn the extent of the abuse and that on a daily basis, the lad is subjected to emotional and physical abuse, which could lead to permanent injury. If Alex’s parents are startled by what’s happened to their son, the administrators at his school appear to be willingly blind.

Fortunately, Alex develops a steel spine like Kelby and serves as an inspiration to others who’ve taken unnecessary punishment. He’s lucky and brave. Kirk and Laura Smalley and David and Tina Long recall how their sons eventually took their own lives when the taunting and bullying became more than they could bear.

It’s hard to imagine how youngsters can learn when they have to fear for their physical safety every day. Bully does a terrific job of examining how indifference and outright stupidity have needlessly endangered our young people. It’s bad enough they have to worry about crime or car accidents, but nobody benefits when our best and brightest can’t go through a day of school without risking abuse.

For all the good Bully does, there’s a curious omission. It would have been helpful to know why youngsters think it’s OK to use a classmate as a pincushion for their pencils. The legal ramifications might be difficult to overcome, but the violence these youngsters have inflicted isn’t coming from a vacuum. Being aware of the problem is an essential first step, but finding out what makes teens think this behavior is acceptable is also vital to preventing others from going through what Alex and Kelby have experienced.

That may be the subject for a follow-up movie. It takes more than bromides to address the problems that kids like Kelby and Alex have faced, but seeing the two of them developing the courage to deal with their tormentors is certainly an example for the rest of us. (PG-13) Rating: 4 (Posted on 04/13/12)


Boys will be boys, but
they shouldn’t be stabbing each
other with pencils.


American Reunion

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger


Like all tasty confections, there’s a sell through date for American Pie, and it’s long passed.


And, like most sequels, American Reunion is inspired not by the desire to explore or develop characters from a previous film but by studio ledgers. The catch is that successful sequels can both fatten studio coffers and prevent viewers from feeling like the law of diminishing returns has set in.


Unlike the straight-to-DVD “American Pie Presents” movies that flooded the market in the last decades, American Reunion has the novelty of reuniting all of the lead performers from the first film. That’s part of the problem with the new movie.



As much fun as it is to watch Jason Biggs get into yet another sexually humiliating situation, some of the characters are simply more engaging than others. Many of the performers seem to be trudging through their scenes as if their paychecks were being dangled in front of them, just off camera.


Now that band camp, college and high school are long past, Jim and Michelle (Biggs and Alyson Hannigan) have a two-year-old and only seem to find carnal fulfillment when each is alone. Oz (Chris Klein) is now a successful sports commentator with a supermodel girlfriend (Katrina Bowden). Of course, he’s miserable.


Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) comes rolling into town on a motorcycle recalling travels that would make Ernest Hemingway jealous. Now that he’s older, he’s given up his relentless pursuit of MILFs. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) has a thick beard and a domineering wife, so he’s eager to return to the old hometown and possibly his youth.


The impulsive alpha male Stifler (Seann William Scott) looks not a day older than when he graduated, and he’s managed to avoid growing up inside as well. But at least he’s managed to hold a job, for a few days.


Watching Scott behaving like an oaf is still pretty damn funny. He’s just amiable enough to make a viewer forgive Stifler doing things that would make others outcasts. There’s a similar dynamic with Eugene Levy’s turn as Jim’s dad. Hearing Levy gleefully recalling his steamy past in front of his son wouldn’t be that funny if Levy didn’t project an odd sort of innocence. Because Jim’s dad always acts out of love for his offspring, anything he says or does becomes amusing because his desire to help usually makes Jim’s predicament more embarrassing.


While Levy, Scott and Jennifer Coolidge (as Stifler’s rowdy mom) are still capable of generating chuckles, American Reunion suffers because many of the other characters simply aren’t that interesting. Once Levy or Scott takes a break, so does the rest of the film.


It’s hard to care if Oz gets back with Heather (Mena Suvari) or if Kevin’s old flame with Vicky (Tara Reid) rekindles. Many of the leads in the first film were cast because they were attractive young people. Now that they’re in their 30s, they’re called upon to act, and some are simply not up to the challenge. That may explain why Shannon Elizabeth and Natasha Lyonne have such brief, inconsequential appearances.


On second thought, in any episode of How I Met Your Mother or any rerun of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hannigan is put to better use. Original screenwriter Adam Herz isn’t credited with the script. Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, the minds behind the Harold and Kumar movies, have a difficult time repeating the same success they've had with weed in scenes involving carnality.


That may also explain why having John Cho repeating his role as "MILF guy #2" is funnier than learning what Heather has been up to. Neil Patrick Harris naturally has a cameo, and Hurwitz and Schlossberg would have been better off dumping a few of the other originals and letting Cho, Hannigan, Coolidge, Scott or Levy have more time in the spotlight. There’s a reason some of these performers have landed more work than others since American Wedding (the third “Pie” movie). In many cases, it is a matter of talent.


I think I had more fun at my own class reunion a little while ago. That may have something to do with the fact that I was genuinely happy to see some of my classmates again. As for some of the Pie kids, they can come back when they have something better to offer. I’m not holding my breath. (R) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 04/06/12)



American Reunion

Not everyone should

have returned to the pie. It’s

already been baked.


























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