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Capsule reviews of films currently playing in Charlotte



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AMERICAN TEEN Perhaps the best way to enjoy this documentary is to pretend it's a fictional motion picture, no different than Pineapple Express or Sex and the City or even WALL-E. Otherwise, you might start second-guessing every aspect of the movie, a path that can only lead to frustration. Fortunately, I found American Teen absorbing enough as it unfolded that I was able to keep most questions refrigerated until after the movie was over. Filmed over the course of one year at the high school in Warsaw, Indiana, it borrows the template from The Breakfast Club and applies it to real-life seniors. There's the Jock: Colin Clemens, a lanky comedian who's pressured by his dad into securing a basketball scholarship. There's the Popular Girl: Megan Krizmanich, a rich bitch whose cruelty seemingly knows no bounds. There's the Geek: Jake Tusing, a shy kid with a bad haircut, crippling acne, and a tendency to put himself down. Finally, there's the Artsy Girl: Hannah Bailey, a sensitive type who wants to escape from her conservative hometown ASAP. As much as we'd like to accept that everything in American Teen is unscripted and unforced, there's simply too much slickness (and far too many coincidences) to believe that director Nanette Burstein wasn't off on the sidelines pushing and prodding her teen stars this way and that. Yet regardless to what extent the teens are "acting" for the sake of the cameras, it's still apparent that we're privy to their basic make-ups, and this in turn immediately invests us emotionally in their lives. As a character, Hannah – the movie's heart and soul – is a keeper; if she didn't really exist, Diablo Cody would probably have to create her. ***

BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER*: *THE SIDE EFFECTS OF BEING AMERICAN Christopher Bell and his two brothers were pudgy children, but luckily for them, they grew up in the 1980s, when prominent role models included Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Hulk Hogan. Inspired by these larger-than-life heroes, all three Bell kids eventually started hitting the gym and grew up to become ripped musclemen themselves. So imagine Bell's shock when he learned that his childhood faves confessed to achieving their freakish sizes via performance enhancing drugs, primarily steroids. With a personal investment in the subject – he briefly tried steroids, his brothers are hooked on them – Bell elected to make a fascinating documentary that doesn't take us exactly where we expect to go. At first, the movie looks as if it will evoke the 1980s in another manner besides Hulkmania and Rocky IV and Conan the Barbarian, by bringing up the spirit of crusty Nancy Reagan as she warned us all to "Just Say No" to drugs. But as the movie progresses, it also deepens. Are steroids really as bad as the typically hysterical American media makes them out to be? Some interviewees contend that it's basically an update of the mindset behind the film Reefer Madness, which asserted that a single puff from a marijuana joint could lead to murder and madness. It all makes for a fascinating point-counterpoint debate, but hold on, there's more. Bell then starts to notice the overwhelming double standards surrounding what's legal and what's not. The hypocrisy in pro sports has always felt knee-deep; after watching this insightful work, it now feels as if it's risen past the neck. ***1/2

BOTTLE SHOCK To lay it out in terms that both an oenophile and a cineast would understand, if Sideways is the cinematic equivalent of an unopened bottle of the 1945 Mouton-Rothschild, then Bottle Shock figures to be akin to a plastic cup filled with 2007 Boone's Farm Country Kwencher. The movie's catchy, based-on-fact premise contends that, in 1976, a wine tasting event between France (considered the world's best producer of vin) and California (whose wineries weren't on anyone's radar) helped put The Golden State's Napa Valley on the international map. The vintner who organizes the event is Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), a Brit living in Paris, and as long as the film focuses on his exploits as he travels to California to sample the wines, the movie's in good hands: Watching Rickman's quizzical expression as his snobbish character bites into a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken is probably the picture's high point. But whereas Sideways insisted on retaining the wine culture itself as a central player – that film made it clear that wine wasn't just a beverage but a life-force for its characters – this drowsy undertaking devotes far too much of its running time to the familial tensions between vineyard proprietor Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) and his slacker son Bo (Chris Pine), and even more to a tepid love triangle between Bo, hottie intern Sam (Rachael Taylor) and Bo's best friend Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez). Nothing any of these people say is particularly interesting, leaving audiences wishing that they – and the movie – would just put a cork in it. *1/2

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