LeBron James doc flies higher than Amelia; also local premieres from Abel Ferrara, Eric Rohmer and Wesley Mitchell III 

Hilary Swank's career seems split between exceptional acting in fine films (Boys Don't Cry, Million Dollar Baby) and heroic work in duds (P.S. I Love You, The Reaping). Unfortunately, Mira Nair's jet-lagged biography is the latter: a dull disappointment that wastes the skills of both star and director. The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, Earhart never conformed to conventional views of how women were supposed to look and act in 1930s America. But the movie that Nair (Monsoon Wedding) and writers Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan have cobbled together from extensive Earhart biographies by Susan Butler and Mary S. Lovell taxis from one biopic cliché to the next without ever taking off. Was Earhart a devoted wife to promoter/publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere), or so dissatisfed she had an affair with aeronautics innovator Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor)? Was she content to be manipulated into doing endless self-promotion, or did she smartly use her newly found spotlight to start a clothing line and demand women be given the opportunity to become pilots? The movie has no point of view: Most frustratingly, the one area where an informed alternate opinion would be most welcome—what did happen on the flight where she vanished?—offers little beyond navigator Fred Noonan (Christoper Eccleston) making a clumsy, drunken pass at her. Swank, regal but not snobbish, rises above her material with a convincing approximation of Earhart's look, cadence and walk, but that's not enough to lift this stubbornly earthbound vehicle. Amelia Earhart's disappearance remains one of the world's great unsolved mysteries. Another is how Amelia turns the pioneering pilot's life into such a crashing bore. (Now playing) RON WYNN

Inspiration via heart-tugging storytelling is director Kristopher Belman's main goal in this poignant documentary about the journey to manhood undertaken by five teenage athletes in Akron, Ohio—one of whom grew up to be NBA superstar LeBron James, the movie's center of focus (and reason for being). Their trip begins with early days playing in a dilapated inner-school gym and on the AAU circuit, which takes a sudden turn with their controversial decision to attend predominantly white St. Vincent-St. Mary's parochial school rather than the neighborhood black public high school—a move that ultimately ushers them into big-time high school basketball on the national level. Since Belman's focus is personal and social, interviews, interludes and episodes emphasize individual turning points and seasonal highs and lows, highlighting subtle differences in style and tone between James and his friends without underplaying their unmistakable bond. If the film has a failing, it's that More Than A Game sidesteps prickly ethical questions such as whether high school athletes should have their games aired on ESPN, or whether the attention these players receive further fuels the overemphasis on athletics in black communities that educators have lamented for decades. But Belman's big-hearted documentary has enough uplifting passages, spectacular moments and memorable sequences to make it something close to a slam dunk. (Now playing) RON WYNN

This Week Only

When Nashville hip-hop entrepreneur Wesley Mitchell III made his first feature in 2008—a Friday-style comedy called Pizza Man, shot with cast members from his CATV Ch. 19 rap show Hip Hop in the Ville—audiences told him one thing: Bring back Crackhead Larry, the pipe-addled cut-up played by Charles Wimes. "He definitely got the biggest response," Mitchell says—so much so that when the writer-producer-director decided to shoot a second feature last April, he made sure there was room for the return of Larry. The surrounding movie is a farce about two bootleg-CD hustlers who decide to move up in the world by peddling a new product: their services as male escorts. "Every female tends to turn them down and dis them," says Mitchell, an Edgehill native who insists (with a laugh) that the story is far from autobiography. He shot it literally in a month of Sundays at the Madison salon Hair Posium, where he says the biggest challenge was not getting the camera to show up in the room's many mirrors. Viewers of Hip Hop in the Ville (which airs at 4:30 p.m. Thursdays and noon Sundays on Ch. 19) will recognize host Rob Dee in the lead; Mitchell himself makes a Hitchcockian cameo hosting his real-life radio show, which airs at 1 p.m. Sundays on Radio Free Nashville 107.1 FM. As for the movie, it makes its world premiere Friday night at the Hickory 8 near Hickory Hollow Mall in Antioch. Will there be a red carpet? "Nah, my budget's shot," admits Mitchell, "but I'll have plenty of cameras out there." Mitchell's already planning his next feature—to be called The Chronicles of Crackhead Larry. (Shows 7, 8:30 and 10 p.m. Oct. 30 at Hickory 8) JIM RIDLEY

As a by-product of his gritty crimesploitation cinema, Abel Ferrara has spent much of his career creating an invaluable document of New York City's hyperviolent, drug-driven demimonde. Through his body of work, from Driller Killer through King of New York and 'R Xmas, the viewer gains a street-level perspective of the city through its transformative pre- to post-Giuliani years. It's therefore apt that the subject of his first foray into actual documentary filmmaking should be the storied Chelsea Hotel, the historic epicenter of New York's hard-knock bohemianism. The hotel, whose registry reads like a pocket guide to the great artistic minds of the 20th century—names like Bukowski, Burroughs, Dylan and Vidal are just the tip of the iceberg—is under threat of being consumed by the tide of aggressive Manhattan redevelopment. Expect a somewhat sloppy assemblage of uncredited interviews and re-enactments of questionable taste (e.g., Bijou Phillips recreating the lonesome death of Nancy Spungen) along with a filmmaker's passion for a subject whose history mirrors his own. (Through Thursday at Green Hills) JAMES CATHCART

Eric Rohmer: former Cahiers Du Cinema editor; major personality of the French New Wave; perpetually horny old man. For more than half a century, his conversational films have obsessively chipped away at the pesky realities surrounding love and desire, providing a kind of intellectual erotica wherein talking about sex takes precedent over the act itself. Yet somehow, amid all the prolonged pontification and cheeky glances, he consistently produces work that's legitimately more seductive and delightfully naughty than a month's worth of late-night Cinemax viewing. It is precisely his sensuous command of language and dialogue that could make an amorous movie buff trade a whole night of indiscretions with Brigitte Bardot for just a momentary glimpse of Claire's Knee. At the spry young age of 88, Rohmer announced the end of his filmmaking career with this adaptation of Honoré d'Urfé's 17th century romance spanning several volumes and more than 5,000 pages—not all of which, thankfully, are crammed into the film's brisk 109 minutes. Rohmer follows the derailed love of his title characters, sheep farmers who break apart when Astrea (Stéphanie Creyancour) mistakenly believes Celadon (Andy Gillet) has been unfaithful. Heartbroken, Celadon attempts to drown himself in a river but (unbeknownst to Astrea) is unsuccessful. It is from there that he encounters lusty nymphs, a kindly Druid, and yes, more heavy conversation, all of which steer him back on track with a plan to cross-dress his way back into Astrea'a life, Bosom Buddies-style. In French with subtitles, sponsored by Scott and Mimi Manzler. (Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29 at Sarratt Cinema, Vanderbilt; Vanderbilt Department of French and Italian associate professor and chair Lynn Ramey will introduce) JAMES CATHCART


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