dir. Nick Cassavetes
In this scattershot—though for a brief moment devastating—true crime drama, Emile Hersch plays Johnny Truelove (based on one Jesse James Hollywood), a smalltime Southern California pot dealer, cowardly thug, and, in a move that would eventually make him one of the youngest names ever on the FBI's Most Wanted list, a kidnapper. His victim: the younger brother of a delinquent buyer. The outcome: a murder, a manhunt, and an eventual arrest.
Writer-director Nick Cassavetes has aimed to make Alpha Dog a gritty and provocative condemnation of vacuous parenting—well-off kids with too little to do and too little supervision. The obvious reference to reach for is Larry Clark's Bully, which tilled similar ground. But while that film was eventually derailed by Clark's unfortunate obsession with young flesh, Alpha Dog is mired by an unnecessary faux doc framing, which finds the likes of Bruce Willis (and, in one particularly gruesome sequence, Sharon Stone in a fat suit), spouting forth to an unseen interviewer.
As a device, this documentary element is far too obvious and poorly executed to be interesting. And more importantly, it takes time away from the film's real strength: the interactions among Truelove's gang (Justin Timberlake is a particular standout), which Cassavetes lets play out with an unobtrusive hand. The conversations between the boys—ripe and honest with the bluster that comes from believing, and emulating, hiphop's many pathetic trappings—are the film's most vital element, and lend a real sense of tragedy to the ordeal. By the time the gang unceremoniously disposes of the kidnapee (in one of the more emotionally damaging scenes you'll encounter this year), they realize all their chest thumping has betrayed them, and we in the audience are left heartbroken having witnessed it. BRADLEY STEINBACHER
dir. Jeff Lipsky
"What's this movie about?"
"Relationships or something."
"Oh look, it's that chick from Law & Order."
"I like her freckles. OMG, is that Barto from Jack & Jill?"
"It IS Barto! What are they talking about?"
"I wasn't listening."
"I think they were on a blind date, and now they're in love."
"What the fuck? Is he putting his jacket down on the puddle?"
"That's stupid. And they're going on a picnic? Who goes on a picnic?"
"Oh my god. Oh my god. Did she just say 'I need you inside of me'? Oh my god."
"If someone said that to me, I'd be like, 'I don't even want to go in there ever now. I don't know what might be in there. More cheesy dialogue?'"
"When you were watching Jack & Jill, did you ever wonder what Barto's penis looked like?"
"Yeah, duh. Barto's penis is like bigger than his face!"
"Look, it's all wiggle-wagglin'. Gross. They're moving in together? I hate them so much. Oh no. I think she said 'I'm dripping.'"
"She said 'I'm marking my territory.'"
"Wait. I have a theory. Maybe this movie is supposed to make us have these feelings, because it's a movie about the two most heinous people ever."
"I don't even care. All they do is fuck and cry."
"The press release says that it's 'all too real' and that it has 'no heroes, no villains.'"
"That's weird, because you know what makes movies interesting? Heroes. And villains."
"And I'm pretty sure 'too real' just means boring. Hey, the cast is coming to town. Do you think I should interview them?"
"Yes. Question one: Barto, did you really put your face in her vagina, or was she wearing a merkin?"
"Wow, he just said, 'Spermicidal gel burns my penis.' Did you hear that?"
"I like that crazy anti-Semitic grandma. Why do they drink so much Snapple?"
"'Oops! I got Snapple on my merkin!'"
"I like TV better than movies. I wish we could fast-forward."
"God, I know." LINDY WEST
Stomp the Yard
dir. Sylvain White
Stomp the Yard's previews will try to convince you that this movie is a dramatic portrayal of a heartbroken-on-the-inside-but-still-tough-as-fuck kid from the hood who's fighting one of life's ultimate battles (the death of a younger brother) while also trying to regain a sense of self after watching (and feeling responsible for) the death of said brother. But don't fall for that shit—Stomp the Yard is about motherfuckin' dancing. Not only is there a bitchin' soundtrack with the Roots, Public Enemy, and Ghostface Killah, but these Atlanta step crews with arms the size of my head have got some of the coolest fuckin' moves this side of Footloose.
After his brother is shot during a brawl after a step competition in L.A., the mourning DJ (Columbus Short) moves in with his auntie and uncle in Atlanta. His uncle pulls some strings and gets him into Truth University, an African-American institution where history and tradition run deep. At Truth, there are two main fraternities boasting rival step teams. After a night of stepping meant to impress some girl at a club, both crews are impressed with DJ's hidden talents—a mix of both old-school rhythm and modern street moves. They immediately try to recruit Sir Stomp-A-Lot to join their respective frats, hoping he'll give them the edge to win this year's stepping championships. DJ ain't havin' that shit. Frats are for dicks. But then some pretty girl tells him to get a clue, and after discovering that Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks were part of the Greek system, DJ chooses a side and pledges.
The conflict builds, there's a Romeo and Juliet love story, and of course there's an explosive "I found out your secret" plot complete with overplayed dramatics that threaten to ruin everything DJ has worked for. But 75 percent of the movie is about dancing—stepping, stomping, jumping, and flipping performed by sweaty and shirtless hotties. And don't worry, white people, there's plenty of dramatic slow motion during the really awesome parts so you can keep up. MEGAN SELING