Film Reviews: Angels in the Dust, Hannah Takes the Stairs, Trade | Film Reviews | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Film Reviews: Angels in the Dust, Hannah Takes the Stairs, Trade 

Also The Game Plan, Feast of Love, The Rape of Europa and more

Wednesday, Sep 26 2007
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PICK  ANGELS IN THE DUST It’s not just children whom Marion Cloete and her family are rescuing in the de facto orphanage and school they’ve set up in rural South Africa, but childhood itself for these pint-size refugees from rape, child prostitution, hunger and — above all — an AIDS epidemic that’s killing by the hundreds of thousands. A big, jolly, boundlessly energetic former commie activist from the apartheid era who walked out on a life of luxury in Johannesburg to do good, Cloete has carved out a shelter for the children. She’s a licensed therapist who understands the value of a sympathetic ear, but also an advocate who trusts her charges enough that she can refract their grim reality back to them as hope, action and self-care. In Angels in the Dust, director Louise Hogarth (whose last documentary, The Gift, dealt with HIV-positive men who deliberately transmit the virus) deftly weaves in the big picture through Cloete’s bursts of anger at government ministers and traditional healers who willfully propagate the belief that sleeping with virgins cures disease. But the children’s most heartbreaking obstacle is the apathy and denial of their broken families, ground down by poverty, illness and despair. Hogarth creates such a complete and satisfying world in the village that when her camera pans away to a forest of tiny graves in a Soweto cemetery, it’s a necessary shock to realize that Cloete’s haven is one happy drop in an ocean of suffering. Cry if you must — then go to participate.net and do something. (Music Hall)  (Ella Taylor)

 FEAST OF LOVE Based on a 2000 novel by Charles Baxter, Feast of Love transposes the setting from an idealized Ann Arbor to an idealized Portland, where men play touch football on the grassy lawns of Portland State University, while philosophy professors mingle with coeds in a coffee shop called Jitters. The café in question is run by Bradley (Greg Kinnear), an eager fellow who has no luck with the ladies. After his first wife leaves him for another woman, Bradley gets hitched again to Diana (Radha Mitchell), a real estate agent who doesn’t believe in true love. Meanwhile, Bradley’s two young baristas are falling in mad, mad love over the cappuccinos that they decorate with foam hearts. But two couples do not make an intersecting-storyline movie, so, yes, there’s yet another relationship: Morgan Freeman and Jane Alexander are in old-people love, which means that they hug a lot and drink wine together in their creaky-floored, tastefully decorated Victorian home. Feast lays out an interesting project for itself — to catalog the look and feel of relationships at different stages in our lives. But for a film that purports to be an epic consideration of Love in Our Time, it’s strikingly uninterested in any but the most obvious kind of romantic love. In this rosy, cozy world, either you fall for someone in the blink of an eye, or you never do. (Citywide) (Julia Wallace)

THE GAME PLAN It seems like a promising, if slightly clichéd, start when we meet Joe “The King” Kingman, an egotistical athlete prone to talking in catch phrases, referring to himself in the third person, showing off expensive possessions and singing Elvis songs. Clearly, the character (and self-parody) could only have been written for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson — this is what WWE fans loved him for in his prior profession. Unfortunately, there is an even more thoroughly obnoxious character in Andy Fickman’s The Game Plan: Joe’s 8-year-old daughter (Madison Pettis), who shows up out of nowhere uttering precocious diatribes no real kid that age would even understand, and constantly shrugging her shoulders in extreme close-up, which is apparently adorable to . . . somebody. Johnson’s a good actor, but it would take the ghost of Laurence Olivier to convince us that a grown man could legitimately fall for this brat. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

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GOOD LUCK CHUCK No matter how hard Hollywood tries, Dane Cook is never going to be adorable. Though he’s known for his mildly edgy standup, someone in authority has decided Cook would be well-suited for fluffy romantic comedies, but like last fall’s Employee of the Month, Good Luck Chuck is so undistinguished that it feels like an extended screen test. Cook plays Charlie, a womanizing dentist who discovers that his exes always find their perfect mate right after dating him. He hopes to break that cycle with Cam (Jessica Alba), a klutzy nerd who works with penguins and unfailingly finds everything Charlie does delightful. Despite the R rating that allows for more nudity and swearing than your typical date flick, the directorial debut of longtime editor Mark Helfrich is the sort of offensively safe rom-com where the “colorful” supporting characters talk about boobies and doobies but the angelic central couple are ultimately just two goofy mush heads looking for real love. It’s total malarkey, of course, and isn’t helped by Cook’s bizarre inability to act heartbroken or Alba’s ill-advised confidence in her gift for slapstick. Still, compared to his complete discomfort at playing someone other than himself, at least her bland hotness seems genuine. (Citywide) (Tim Grierson)

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