The Hot Flashes
Abundant good intentions help to soften the predictably mild impact of this broad female-empowerment comedy about a collection of middle-aged women who try to recapture their basketball glory days by joining together for an exhibition game against a team of current Texas high school champions, in an effort to raise money for breast cancer prevention. The film, directed by Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan), is modestly charming in its effort to mix humor with poignancy, but hardly grounded in reality. It might find a more suitable home on the small screen. The eclectic cast includes Brooke Shields, Wanda Sykes, Darryl Hannah, Camryn Manheim and Virginia Madsen. (Rated R, 99 minutes).
Another terrific lead performance by Mads Mikkelsen (A Royal Affair) carries this taut Danish drama from director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) about a mild-mannered small-town kindergarten teacher, dealing with the aftermath of a divorce, who is falsely accused of sexual abuse by a 5-year-old girl. Despite his denial, he finds himself under attack from previously supportive friends and community members. Mikkelsen expertly balances strength and vulnerability while developing both sympathy and suspicion. Although the scenario is exaggerated for dramatic effect and it stumbles somewhat in the final act, the unsettling film is a provocative and timely examination of persecution and the perils of public perception. (Rated R, 115 minutes).
A showdown between Robert De Niro and John Travolta sounds more appealing than it plays out in this low-budget thriller about two Bosnian War veterans — an American soldier (De Niro) still haunted 20 years later by his experiences, and a Serbian officer (Travolta) who hunts him down at his rural cabin to gain revenge for killing his family. Both actors are miscast (with Travolta’s accent especially distracting) and saddled with a contrived cat-and-mouse script that gets more ridiculous as it goes along. The film, directed by Mark Steven Johnson (Ghost Rider) establishes some mild tension but never generates any sort of meaningful insight into post-war trauma. (Rated R, 90 minutes).
Pawn Shop Chronicles
The legacy of subpar Pulp Fiction wannabes trudges onward with this lackluster redneck comedy that’s not for the easily offended. It tells three intertwining stories centered on a pawn shop, where a wedding ring leads to a chaotic series of events involving drugged-up white supremacists, a deranged ex-husband, a pornography addict and an Elvis impersonator. Director Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) keeps the pace lively and brings some visual flair to the ultraviolent material, but the freewheeling script strains to be edgy while most of its jokes fall flat. The film squanders an ensemble cast including Paul Walker, Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Elijah Wood and Vincent D’Onofrio. (Rated R, 112 minutes).
This well-acted and modestly powerful Canadian drama follows Craig (James Cromwell), a stubborn New Brunswick farmer whose wife of more than 60 years (Genevieve Bujold) is battling Alzheimer’s while insisting against the wishes of their children that she remain at home. So Craig tries to build a new house on their property, only to be faced with bureaucratic red tape. The script by director Michael McGowan (Saint Ralph), based on true events, is mostly predictable but obviously heartfelt, focusing on the more intimate moments between its characters. The result has a sincerity and an authenticity that creates a bittersweet portrait of aging and lifelong devotion. (Rated PG-13, 103 minutes).