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Whip It
Directed by Drew Barrymore, Review by Malcolm Maclachlan

If they gave an Oscar for highest number of “You go, girl!” moments in a movie, “Whip It” would surely win. To compare it to past winners, it’s more “Bend It Like Beckham” and less “Million Dollar Baby.”

In other words, it’s a competent but by-the-numbers film that doesn’t try to transcend the genre of feel-good sports movie. Adorable Ellen Page stars as Bliss Cavender, a 17 year-old from the small town of Bodeen, Texas, who has little interest in the string of beauty pageants her mom (Marcia Gay Harden) enters her in. An indie-alternative girl at heart, her life is changed forever when mom brings her shopping in Austin and Bliss catches a glimpse of the roller derby life. Along the way, the spunky Bliss goes through a predictable arc of relationships with parents, best friend, boyfriend, teammates and on-track nemesis (the always-offbeat Juliette Lewis).

The most interesting aspect of “Whip It” isn’t the story itself but the scene around Austin and roller derby. Just like “Bend It” and “Baby,” “Whip It” comes along at the perfect time to take advantage of the rising popularity of a particular sport with women. But roller derby isn’t just about winning—it’s also a kind of performance art, like a cross between hockey and professional wrestling. Plus it’s hip and retro, the sports equivalent of a Betty Page hairdo.

With cheesy stage names like Eva Destruction, Iron Maven (Lewis) and Babe Ruthless (Page), the roller girls present a kind of buffed-up, tattooed womanhood. Many men seem to be objects of derision, particularly Jimmy Fallon as hapless announcer ‘Hot Tub’ Johnny Rocket. Page’s love interest (Landon Pigg) is so thin he looks like most of the roller girls could break him in half. That “love story” takes a backseat to the relationships between the women themselves, anyway. It was interesting to see this at a press screening that was filled with actual local roller derby players from the Sac City Rollers. I’m not sure how long the 5’2”, hundred-and-nothing lb. Page would last on an actual roller derby track, but judging from the cheers, the audience was sure rooting for her.


Moviebriefs by Tony Sheppard

The Boys Are Back
Directed by Scott Hicks

A beautiful film about a widower who has to become the father he never was. Clive Owen (“Children of Men,” “Gosford Park”) plays a sports reporter who has always found it easier to walk out of a room, a relationship, or a country, rather than be there for his sons. But when his second wife dies, his priorities are necessarily shuffled and he finds himself struggling to cope. Shot largely in South Australia (with a very proactive, pro-film production environment we could probably learn from), “The Boys Are Back” may be the best current date movie as it depicts depths of emotion but in the context of a triple helping of male bonding. Another noteworthy work from Scott Hicks (“Shine,” “Snow Falling on Cedars”).

The Invention of Lying
Co-Written and Co-Directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson

A funny movie that works well by managing to sustain its premise beyond the first act. So many high concept movies fall apart once they’re done introducing the wacky story and characters, but “The Invention of Lying” manages to keep re-inventing itself with a divinely irreverent storyline that both reinforces itself and never loses touch with its origins. Mark Bellison lives in a world where nobody has ever said anything untrue – a world where all movies are narrated histories of the world because fiction doesn’t exist. Until one day, he says the impossible and creates a whole new reality.

Zombieland
Directed by Ruben Fleischer

There are a lot of fun moments in “Zombieland,” but it’s also a movie that’s built around two running jokes and one major piece of stunt casting (don’t ask – it’s more fun that way).  With a running time of only 80 minutes, including credits, there’s no real excuse for the relatively slow stretches in the middle. If you just want some giggles as you learn how to survive a zombie apocalypse, then you’ll quite enjoy the movie. But it’s not quite as funny as it’s very obviously trying to be, and it doesn’t have quite enough splatter for the splatter-hungriest of zombie fans. It’s no “Shaun of the Dead.”


Fame
Directed by Kevin Tancharoen

There’s a predictable scene in “Fame” (well, actually there are many predictable scenes) in which a teacher tells her student that she sings well, technically, but fails to convey any genuine emotion. Somebody might have taken the time to tell the director the same thing. This is an updating of the 1980 movie of the same name and feels more like a pilot for an updated TV series – helped by co-stars of TV Fame Kelsey Grammar (given very little to do, unless the part was heavily edited), Bebe Neuwirth, Megan Lullaly, and Debbie Allen who starred in both the original movie and the series. Sometimes living forever isn’t such a great thing – even zombies know that.


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