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November 2009

Wit to Be Tied

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009)

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

With "The Disappearance of Alice Creed," screenwriter and first-time director J Blakeson has avoided the numerous pitfalls that befall many fledgling filmmakers by thinking small. Shot in four weeks with a cast of just three actors, Mr. Blakeson has evidently concentrated on getting the crucial aspects of successful filmmaking just right; a strong cast, slick direction and an engrossing plot that’s brimming with greed and deceit.

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Humor Misses the Boat

Pirate Radio (2009)

Alex Bailey/Focus Features

A box office bomb in Britain, “The Boat That Rocked” has been re-titled, re-edited and handed off to Focus Features for its American release. The move is unlikely to help matters. Now known as “Pirate Radio,” Richard Curtis’s tribute to the illegal radio stations that broadcast rock music to Britain in the 1960s functions as no more than a halfhearted collection of scenarios and characters that’d be more at home in a sitcom.

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The Last of All, Hopefully

Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)

ImageMovers Digital

If there’s one definitive conclusion to be drawn from “Disney’s A Christmas Carol,” it’s this: Motion-capture animation, as practiced by Robert Zemeckis, doesn’t work. This is the third film in the director’s continuing experiment with the technology and — five years after “The Polar Express” — he and his team still haven’t figured out how to preserve the human qualities of the actors beneath the deadened mannequin demeanor forced upon them by the technology.

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Drawn and French Quartered

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

Lena Herzog/66th Venice Film Festival

“Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” — which director Werner Herzog only made when screenwriter William Finkelstein gave him “a solemn oath” that it wasn’t a remake of Abel Ferrara’s “Bad Lieutenant” — is as much about a particular idea of post-Katrina New Orleans as it is the bad lieutenant of its title. It’s a depiction of a fevered, lawless world of decay, in which morality and the proper modes of human conduct have fallen by the wayside. The forces of good have left for drier ground, and all that’s left are the looters, exploiters and the drugged.

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X-Filing Away

The Fourth Kind (2009)

Simon Vesrano/Universal Pictures

The pretension that suffocates "The Fourth Kind" belittles common sense. Writer-director Olatunde Osunsanmi wants his film — equal parts dramatization of a Nome, Alaska-based psychologist's close encounters of the fourth kind (alien abduction), which were supposedly recorded in 2000 and said "archival footage" from the hypnosis sessions — to leave the audience in uncomfortable deliberation: Was what we just saw real? Could that have actually happened? The way Mr. Osunsanmi conducts "The Fourth Kind," though, those questions are repeatedly silenced by his increasingly hokey structure. A stacked deck of sci-fi promise is squandered.

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Out of This Ghost World

Dear Lemon Lima, (2009)

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

Every hit film spawns a few imitators. For your setting, pick a location not frequently shown in movies. Make your lead character peripherally involved in high-school politics. Give them some friends who want nothing more to help further them in their goal. There’s some amusing attempts at physical activity, and broad comedy at the expense of the actors of color. Work in an emotional dance scene. Oh, and don’t forget the repeated drawings on lined paper, frequent use of sign language and even references to tater tots.

In other words, first-time writer-director Suzi Yoonessi’s “Dear Lemon Lima,” is “Napoleon Dynamite” for girls. Vanessa (Savanah Wiltfong) lives in Alaska with her single mother (Eleanor Hutchins). Her absent father is Yup’ik, which qualifies her for a scholarship to the private school attended by her on/off boyfriend Philip (Shayne Topp, alternating his Tom Cruise and Owen Wilson impressions) where she meets a group of equally misfit kids. One of them, Hercule (Zane Huett of “Desperate Housewives”), is her next door neighbor whom she has somehow never met. When she learns the other cliques call the kids like her “FUBARs,” Vanessa is outraged; when she learns what that means, she is incandescent. The only way to show them is to put together a team to triumph in the annual winter sports competition.

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Deep in the Heart of It All

45365 (2009)

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

There is something special about small-town America. If you’ve lived in a place your whole life, you can really get under the skin. You know where to go, what to do, and whom to do it with. You know who the characters are and what their stories are; and you can usually figure out what’s the most succinct way of demonstrating the character of the place to a visitor.

Something along the lines must have been in the minds of the Ross brothers — Bill IV and Turner — when they began filming “45365,” the zip code of Sidney, Ohio and the hometown they decided to film for about six months in 2007. They went on ride-alongs with the local cops, followed a local judicial candidate on his campaign trail and sat in with the D.J.s at the radio stations while they took requests. They filmed kids playing baseball; girls arguing with their boyfriends on the phone; men taking their sons to the barbershop; and the ex-wives of a man shaking their heads together over his current situation.

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Caged Rodeo Heat

Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo (2009)

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

As reality television and documentary filmmaking become more prevalent in everyday society, it is accepted that the act of observation changes the people being observed. The question is therefore how to create an authentic experience while addressing this fact. Some documentary filmmakers such as Nick Broomfield or Michael Moore include themselves onscreen, others provide a voiceover narration once the editing process is complete. But what Bradley Beesley has done is more dangerous and disingenuous than that.

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The Dead-Leaf Echo of the Nymphet

At the End of Daybreak (2009)

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

Inspired by a tabloid crime story, Malaysian director Ho Yuhang’s “At the End of Daybreak” is a tale of class divides, tragic love and the loss of innocence. It’s a slick, hectic and moody picture that’s tinged with anger and passion that cements Mr. Ho’s already exciting reputation.

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