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Out This Week: 7 Reviews of New Indie Releases, From ’17 Girls’ to ‘Three Stars’

Out This Week: 7 Reviews of New Indie Releases, From '17 Girls' to 'Three Stars'


“17 Girls”

“Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best”

“Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel”

“End of Watch”

“How to Survive a Plague”

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

“Three Stars”

“17 Girls”

When French 16-year-old Camille (Louise Grinberg) accidentally gets knocked up, she talks her classmates into a pact to all get pregnant. That way, they foolishly reason, they can better share their maternal duties when the babies are born. The coeds’ parents and teachers are disturbed, but their male classmates are more than willing to help. Soon the high school, in a coastal French town, has 17 pregnant schoolgirls on its roster.

The story may be hard to believe, but it is based on real-life events in Massachusetts. Wisely, the directors — sisters Delphine and Muriel Coulin —  moved the action to familiar ground, their French hometown, Lorient.  This is their first feature, and it speaks well of their talents. They get high marks for not taking sides and refusing to sensationalize, while   Grinberg and the other young actresses add spice to the baby-bump brouhaha. Criticwire grade: B [V.A. Musetto]

Opens Friday in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Phoenix, Wilmington, Gloucester, and Lake Worth as well as VOD. Released by Strand. Watch the trailer below:

“Brooklyn Brothers Beats the Best”

It’s generally not a good thing for musicians to be twee. Yet twee is perhaps the only way to describe musicians Alex (actor/writer Ryan O’Nan, making his directorial debut) and his bandmate Jim (Michael Weston), as well as “Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best.” Alex is introduced as a woebegone singer/ songwriter who is suffering personal and professional problems. He agrees to join the upbeat Jim on a pre-arranged tour. Things look promising as the guys perform unexpectedly catchy songs with Alex on guitar as Jim accompanies him on a variety of toy instruments. Had writer/director O’Nan not put his arrested-development hipster-wannabe characters into dumb situations — such as Jim lying about Scott Wieland being in their band to secure a gig — “Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best” might have rocked. Alas, the film’s obvious and unfunny humor is more likely to annoy than charm. It may even prompt viewers to walk out — just like a man does when he watches Alex perform in the pre-title sequence. Criticwire grade: C- [Gary M. Kramer]

Opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles. Available on demand starting September 25. Released by Oscilloscope Laboratories. Watch the trailer below:

“Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel”

Finally, something that can begin to capture, if never quite contain, the genius of one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century. In this documentary, it takes a barrage of images from Diana Vreeland’s heyday as the editor-in-chief of Vogue to even begin to capture the “rhythm, madness and surprise” that defined Vreeland’s perfect taste. Though the portrait is supported by worshipful testimonials from aged beauties like Ali McGraw and Veruschka, these never take precedence over Vreeland’s own aphorisms (“boring is a form of laziness”), which are mostly culled from a script based on interviews with her autobiography’s ghostwriter/editor George Plimpton. But the actresses tasked with recreating Vreeland’s reminiscences fall flat. While they do manage to capture the drama of her phrasings, they often miss the both the guttural qualities of her voice and the humor behind phrases like, “I really wouldn’t know anything about Russians. What I love is ‘RUSSIA.'” They might have considered hiring a drag queen instead. Criticwire grade: A- [Miriam Bale]

Opens Friday in several cities. Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films. Watch the trailer below:

End of Watch

The prospects of a gritty cop movie in the context of the found footage genre make sense when one considers that the reality series “COPS” helped solidify the vernacular associated with the format. But “End of Watch” only uses the first person approach to frame the familiar dramas of two hackneyed characters, cocksure young officers Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña), as they uncover the dark underbelly of the drug trade in south central L.A. Taylor’s obsession with filming their exploits provides a handy excuse for the constant shaky cam, but director David Ayer often abandons the device for more conventional storytelling, an arbitrary decision made worse by a trite screenplay that mainly revolves around the two smarmy men trading barbs as they chase down bad guys and complain about their problems with the opposite sex.

While Taylor struggles between his commitment to duty and the pressures of settling down with his newfound love (Anna Kendrick in a one-note role), Zavala waxes poetic on the benefits of family life. Their world grows increasingly claustrophobic, the danger quotient rises, and everything explodes in a hail of bullets. Overlong and blazingly unoriginal, the movie only manages to thunder forward because of its two committed leads, whose struggles maintain a certain ferocity even though we’ve seen them before. By virtue of its style and high stakes scenario, “End of Watch” is impressively tense, but then so are most episodes of “COPS,” which don’t suffer from the forced melodrama found here. Criticwire grade: C+ [Eric Kohn]

Opens Friday in several cities. Released by Open Road Films. Watch the trailer below:

How to Survive a Plague

David France’s powerful account of the eighties-era movement among HIV-positive men and women to raise awareness for the disease provides a natural complement to last year’s comparatively smaller “We Were Here.” Whereas that movie collected only a handful of memories to create an intimate account the AIDS crisis, France’s conventionally structured look at the efforts of the ACT UP and TAG coalitions tracks their frantic periods of evolution from the late eighties to mid-nineties.

Relying on bountiful archival footage to drive his narrative forward, France explores not only the tensions between the coalitions and the rest of the world but the bureaucratic problems they faced within their own developing vessels for activism. Their targets are ambivalent politicians attempting to turn a blind eye on the disease, but as the survivors seen in both earlier days and today attest, the cultivation of their own perseverance was also a hard-won fight. “How to Survive a Plague” sometimes makes this point too bluntly, but like its subjects, always stays on-message. Criticwire grade: B+ [Eric Kohn]

Opens Friday in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. Released by Sundance Selects. Watch the trailer below:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

In Stephen Chbosky’s largely endearing adaptation of his own young-adult novel, nothing says “I love you” like a painstakingly crafted mix tape. The early-‘90s setting for The Perks of Being a Wallflower means that the potentially precious references to Smiths songs are appropriate to the period even if the film – which touches on issues of sexual identity and mental illness – exhibits a more contemporary sort of frankness in regards to portrayals of teens on screen. Institutionalized after the suicide of his best friend, our loner hero Charlie (Logan Lerman) is none too happy about starting high school. But things look up when he befriends Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), two seniors who are proud to be misfits. (Paul Rudd also makes a brief appearance as an English teacher who encourages Charlie’s interests in reading and writing.) Though its episodic storyline and erratic momentum prevent Chbosky’s second directorial effort from reaching the vaunted heights of John Hughes’ high-school melodramas, it has considerable charm and no small amount of poignancy thanks to the performances. Miller is particularly strong as a less menacing kind of teen than the one he played in We Need to Talk About Kevin. Criticwire grade: B [Jason Anderson]

Opens Friday in several cities. Released by Summit Entertainment. Watch the trailer below.

“Three Stars”

Unlike the exquisitely prepared food in this documentary, “Three Stars” has too much on its plate. Director Lutz Hachmeister offers a taste of the dining experiences that rate three stars in the Michelin Guide, but he can’t decide whether to embrace or condemn the venerable publication. This ambivalence is shared by chefs who have received a Michelin stamp of approval, from Danish upstart René Redzepi to French veteran Olivier Roellinger.

While Hachmeister acknowledges that Michelin rewards bold culinary innovation as well as refined traditional cuisine, he expresses a distrust of the star system that turns chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Juan Mari Arzak into celebrities and their food philosophies (Eurasian fusion and molecular gastronomy, respectively) into worldwide trends. “Three Stars” captures the high-stress, testosterone-fueled kitchens that feed an international clientele and then contrasts them with quiet, communal environments like Dal Pescatore: Chef Nina Santini’s extended family works in the restaurant, lives on the property and tends the small farm. Their ingredients and methods may vary, but all these workaholic chefs view their rarefied fare as art. They can only hope Michelin’s influential tastemakers feel the same. Criticwire grade: B- [Serena Donadoni]

Opens Friday, September 21 at Quad Cinemas in New York and October 19 at the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles. Released by First Run Features.

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