Film Reviews: Chalk, The Ex, 28 Weeks Later and Delta Farce 

Wednesday, May 9 2007

PICK 28 WEEKS LATER The story thus far: Seven months have gone by since the Rage virus passed from chimp fang to British bloodstream in an animal-rights intervention gone awry, unleashing a horde of the frenetic undead in the direction of Cillian Murphy’s cheekbones. England since quarantined, the zombie menace has starved to death, and an America-led NATO force now proceeds with the reconstruction. A man named Don (Robert Carlyle) oversees the infrastructure of a heavily fortified “green zone” established for preliminary resettlement. You can guess how that turns out. Yes, director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo bluntly raids the Zeitgeist in his sequel to Danny Boyle’s new-school zombie smash 28 Days Later. That’s forgivable because (a) 28 Weeks Later kicks ass; (b) etiquette forbids Nancy Pelosi from discussing the occupation in terms of gore-drenched cannibalistic anarchy; and (c) topical dissent is as intrinsic to the zombie genre as topical skin problems. Eventually the zombies return, and Fresnadillo displays a fine sense of scale, shifting from a God’s-eye perspective of mushrooming chaos to subjective, street-level reportage, and an uncompromising commitment to unrelenting dread. Happy times! And superior horror. 28 Months Later  can’t come too soon. For the full review click here. (Citywide) (Nathan Lee)

AMERICAN PASTIME Racism and fear mongering as sport is a potent metaphorical jumping point for a period drama that climaxes in a baseball game between Japanese-Americans from an internment camp and a minor-league team composed of white bigots. It’s World War II, and the tight-knit, L.A.-based Nomura family has been uprooted to a camp in the Utah desert, where jazz-loving, baseball-scholarship-earning son Lyle (Aaron Yoo) stirs up trouble by getting involved with the daughter (Sarah Drew) of an embittered guard (a stoic Gary Cole) who’s got a son fighting in the Pacific and fast-fading dreams of a call from the Yankees. With such rich material about dreams deferred, it’s disheartening that co-writer–director Desmond Nakano’s nobly made but patchy drama mires itself in nostalgia tropes and storytelling clichés — about race-mixing romance, winning the big game and delivering comeuppance to the stock racist character (a barber who won’t cut “Jap” hair) — rather than the rich human details that come from the terrible bizarreness of having to live with dignity in undignified circumstances. What’s strange is that it’s a subject close to Nakano too: His parents and their families were sent to the camps. Perhaps it’s a case of the difficulty of telling a simplistic tale of talent and shared sacrifice from a wartime chapter that was about anything but good sportsmanship. (Grande 4-Plex) (Robert Abele)

 CHALK Trouble paying attention in class, low self-esteem, hormonal confusion — and those are just the teachers in director Mike Akel’s zippy debut feature about first-, second- and third-year instructors at an Anytown, USA, public high school. Drawn from Akel’s (and star Chris Mass’) own on-the-job experiences, Chalk opens by telling us that 50 percent of teachers quit within their first three years on the job, and then proceeds to show us why in fly-on-the-wall mockumentary fashion, cutting between the classrooms of an introverted first-year history teacher (Troy Schremmer) whose lack of enthusiasm about his subject is contagious; the jovial Mr. Stroope (Mass), who spends more time thinking about the upcoming teacher-of-the-year contest than his own lesson plans (and who, in one priceless moment, kindly begs of one student, “In class, try not to know as much as me”); and a female P.E. coach (Janelle Schremmer) who worries that her job and short haircut will make people think she’s gay. Though Akel and Mass share writing credit, Chalk was actually shot in a loose, improvisational manner in the mode of Christopher Guest’s films, and its best set pieces are like devastatingly effective pinpricks puncturing the Hollywood hot-air balloon of inspirational teacher/coach melodramas. Think of it as To Sir, With Sarcasm. (Nuart) (Scott Foundas)

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DELTA FARCE  You could make a case that any movie in which Mexicans and rednecks become best of friends is a net positive for society. But to do that, you’d have to ignore the severe boredom that sets in about halfway through this comedy — a Three Amigos with fewer laughs — in which Larry the Cable Guy, Bill Engvall, and DJ Qualls play useless weekend warriors who somehow never imagine that being a reservist in wartime might result in having to actually go to war. Sure enough, they get called up, but one preposterous accident later, they wind up in Mexico...which they think is Iraq, tee hee. By the time they figure out it isn’t, they’ve run afoul of an evil bandito named...wait for it...Carlos Santana (Danny Trejo, doing his damnedest). Surely nobody expected Delta Farce to be much better than Ernest in the Army, or Pauly Shore’s In the Army Now; what’s sad is that it doesn’t even live up to the comedic “standards” set by last year’s Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. Even fans of gay-rape jokes are likely to feel burned out by the movie’s end. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)(Citywide)

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