BORN INTO BROTHELS First, let's give a round of applause to Wendy Fishman, Director of Film/Video at The Light Factory. Back in June 2004, after Born Into Brothels earned recognition at Durham's Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Fishman managed to land the picture for a special Charlotte screening - an impressive feat considering the movie wasn't even released for a regular run in New York and Los Angeles until this past December. And now let's hear it for the Manor Theatre, which is opening it this Friday, less than a month after it copped the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Between the title and the topic - children who are the offspring of hookers living and working in Calcutta's red light district - it'd be reasonable to expect a documentary that takes audience depression to a whole new level. Yet this powerful work from co-directors Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman isn't merely a rapid downward spiral of a film; instead, it details Briski's remarkable attempts to help these kids (especially the girls, who will inevitably follow their mothers and grandmothers into prostitution) out of their dire surroundings by teaching them photography and attempting to place them in respectable boarding schools. It's a given that not all these children (most of them personable, talented and wise beyond their years) will be able to escape their lot in life - a heartrending coda reveals which ones were unable to make the break - yet there are numerous scenes of inspiration and uplift, and the efforts of Briski and her non-profit outfit Kids With Cameras (www.kids-with-cameras.org) continue to this day. 1/2
THE RING TWO In this age of rapid technological advances, you would think that the videocassette at the center of the 2002 sleeper hit The Ring - the one that guaranteed high mortality rates for those foolish enough to watch it - would have been replaced in this sequel by a DVD of death. Instead, in the same manner that the video is ejected from the player toward the start of The Ring Two, so too is this premise jettisoned completely from this sorry follow-up's storyline, leaving the film nowhere to go but down. The original Ring (itself a remake of the popular Japanese flick Ringu) established that the only way the demonic child Samara could work her evil on the world was through the playing of the aforementioned videotape. In this sequel, reporter Rachel Keller (returning star Naomi Watts) destroys the object at the outset, so scripter Ehren Kruger decided that he might as well make up new rules as he scribbled along, thus rendering this sequel not only illogical but inconsequential as well. Rachel and her young son Aidan (David Dorfman, the worst child actor this side of The Cat In the Hat's Spencer Breslin) have moved from Seattle to a quiet Oregon town, but Samara's spirit won't leave them alone, as she seems intent on taking over Aidan's body. Dorfman is such a monotonous performer that the addition of some Exorcist-inspired pea-green vomit might at least have helped us determine exactly when he's being possessed. Then again, such a gesture of goodwill would be little more than a Band-Aid applied to a hemorrhaging film whose greatest sin is that it's unremittingly dull. 1/2
BE COOL Yet one more lazy sequel to a great film, Be Cool is a major disappointment that fails to capture the essence of what made Get Shorty such a terrific film experience. The movie never provides a compelling argument for its own existence: Because it spends far more time salivating over musical numbers featuring pop star Christina Milian than on watching shylock-turned-movie-producer Chili Palmer (John Travolta) test the shark-infested waters of the music business, it's clear that priorities are out of whack. The degree to which characters, plot developments and even snatches of dialogue mimic those from the first film is irritating, and while there are some big laughs, they're isolated moments of mirth cast adrift in an ocean of indifference.
CONSTANTINE Based on the DC Comics/Vertigo series Hellblazer, this disappointment casts Keanu Reeves as John Constantine, a man with the ability to recognize the angels and demons that walk the earth in human form. Yet as he goes about his business of wiping out as many of the demonic "half-breeds" as possible (in an attempt to "buy" his way into Heaven), he realizes that there's a seismic shift occurring in the underworld, and the only way he can get to the bottom of the mystery is to join forces with a police detective (Rachel Weisz) investigating the apparent suicide of her psychic twin sister. Because it's an exhaustive exercise to keep abreast of the story's seemingly haphazard developments, Constantine ends up resembling nothing so much as a punctured tire with a slow leak, letting all the air seep out until what's finally left is flat and fairly ineffectual.