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Movie Reviews: After the Cup, Shrek Forever After, Prince of Persia 

Also, Sex and the City 2, Survival of the Dead and more

Thursday, May 27 2010
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GO  AFTER THE CUP: SONS OF SAKHNIN UNITED A sobering counterpoint to Clint Eastwood's feel-good reconciliation saga Invictus, Christopher Browne's sturdy documentary After the Cup: Sons of Sakhnin United shows not simply the ability of sports ability to inspire national unity but also the far more difficult act of sustaining such hope once the afterglow of winning has faded. In 2004, Bnei Sakhnin, a poorly funded northern Israel soccer club made up of Arabs, Jews and foreigners, won the prestigious State Cup and vaulted into the esteemed Premiere League, along the way becoming a symbol of Middle East coexistence. Director Browne (A League of Ordinary Gentlemen) opens with this euphoric victory but truly trains his gaze on the subsequent year, when elevated expectations, internal bickering, and mounting losses threatened to sabotage the squad's potential for fostering harmony in the hostile region. Throughout, the team's struggles on the pitch generate tension, but the film's most potent conflicts are off the field, whether it be captain Abbas Suan's attempts to live up to his nation-healing responsibility, or the way in which Arab and Jewish fans are drawn to root for their own. The resulting portrait is a cautionary rejoinder to typical sports-movie uplift, elucidating how athletics remain a dangerously precarious foundation upon which to construct lasting peace. (Nick Schager) (Music Hall)

KITES Indian-made and trilingual in Hindi, Spanish and English, Kites is set and was mostly shot in the American Southwest — although in its backlit visual overkill, complete with neon reflected in rain-drenched streets, it more closely resembles some of the most overwrought Hong Kong gangster romances of the late 1980s. Jay (Hrithik Roshan, one of Hindi cinema's most engaging leading men) rolls off a freight train with a gaping bullet wound and a lot of backstory to unload. A con artist, not as amoral as he thinks he is, Jay makes the mistake of falling hard for Natasha (Bárbara Mori), the fiancée of a spoiled, young Sin City prince of crime, setting up an impossibly beautiful lovers-on-the-run scenario that director Anurag Basu shoots like a series of windswept fashion videos. Even with the lights of the Vegas Strip forming a gauzy halo behind his tousled head, Roshan is a master at low-keying his enormous charm and shrugging off his blinding handsomeness. Mori, a Mexican telenovela star, is almost a match for him: She's a dead ringer for Megan Fox but warmer, less calculating in her sexiness. Not even the incoherent mishmash of plot (mostly faux Leone by way of Tarantino and Rodriguez, with periodic car-flipping chase sequences) can entirely dim the appeal of this match-up between a blue-eyed Punjabi and a blue-eyed Mexican of almost equal comeliness. Kites will be released Stateside both in this original 130-minute subtitled version and in a shorter, dubbed "remix" prepared by noted Bollywood aficionado Brett Ratner. You have been warned. (David Chute) (Beverly Center, Culver Plaza, Fallbrook)

PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time's story hinges on a dagger that can rewind time, a narrative conceit that doubles as a taunt to those who endure this cacophonous, frivolous adaptation of Ubisoft's Arabian Nights–themed video-game series. Bruckheimered to the hilt with the same rollicking period-piece cheesiness that typified the producer's (and studio Disney's) Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, this Aladdin-indebted summer spectacle charts the efforts of noble prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) to clear his name after he's fingered for his father's assassination, a mission aided by a feisty princess (Clash of the Titans beauty Gemma Arterton) and a magic blade that, fueled by divine sand, gives those who wield it the ability to travel one minute back in time. Though too sweet and amicable a presence to radiate genuine ass-kicking machismo, Gyllenhaal carries out his hero's parkour derring-do with proficiency, but director Mike Newell is ill-suited to steward such sword-and-sandals adventure. Bogged down by more leaden ripped-from-the-headlines allusions than this flippant fable can withstand, most courtesy of a hammy Alfred Molina, it's merely a cash-my-paycheck-dammit film, embodied by a disinterested Sir Ben Kingsley, whose bald head and jet-black goatee position his stodgy scoundrel as a mini-me Ming the Merciless. (Nick Schager) (Citywide)

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SEX AND THE CITY 2 Sarah Jessica Parker is now 45 years old, and, frankly, I cannot stomach another moment of the simpering, mincing, hair-tossing, eyelash-batting little-girl shtick she's been pulling ever since L.A. Story. While her BFFs struggle on with work-life challenges (Miranda), child-care dilemmas (Charlotte), and cougar body maintenance (Samantha), Carrie Bradshaw carries the movie's big-ticket question: How do you hang on to your marital bling once the newlywed bliss is over, especially if you don't want children and your husband has turned into a homebody? Why, talk it to death in ever-decreasing circles of inconsequential angst, then head for Abu Dhabi. There await the four Fs — fashion, food, furnishings and fornication — plus scads of cringe-making Middle Eastern stereotypes wrapped in a nominal shout-out to oppressed Arab women, who, guess what, like Versace and suffer from hot flashes just like us. Having raked in $400 million for the first SATC, Michael Patrick King can write his own ticket, which may explain why SATC2 runs a crushing 146 minutes of not very funny gag lines wrapped in episodic miniscenes that generate more embarrassment than sympathy. I get that "dignity be damned" is some kind of feminist mantra for King. But it's one thing to create pop icons as beloved as Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern were in the late 1970s. It's quite another to drag them well into middle age, dress them like mutton passing as lamb, and lumber them with female troubles culled straight from the mommy and single-lady blogs. (Ella Taylor) (Citywide)

SHREK FOREVER AFTER In this fourth and final installation in the Shrek franchise, our green hero feels emasculated by the grind of domesticity (marriage, fatherhood) and worn down by the demands of celebrity. His failure to realize that his is, indeed, a wonderful life leads him to utter a wish for just one day to cavort in his old life of swampy bachelorhood. The wish is granted by the conniving Rumpelstiltskin, whose enforcement of contractual fine-print lands Shrek in a brutal parallel universe in which Rumpelstiltskin rules the kingdom of Far, Far Away with an army of witches as his muscle. There, Fiona (in Xena mode) leads an underground resistance movement, Donkey has no memory of Shrek but still steals almost every scene he's in, and an obese Puss walks away with whatever scenes Donkey doesn't. It takes the film a deadly long time to kick in, and when it does, it largely retreads formula: ironic use of pop standards, musical numbers with contemporary choreography played for maximum laughs, risque one-liners. By the middle of the second act, Forever After finally finds its groove, becoming mildly amusing (the actors — Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas — are in fine form) but never rising to the inspired heights of the original. And the 3-D effects are so weak as to bring nothing to the table. (Ernest Hardy) (Citywide)

SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD The sixth installment in George A. Romero's long-running horror serial (est. 1967), follows Sarge Crockett (Alan Van Sprang) as he leads his gone-rogue unit of National Guardsmen from the zombie-pestilent mainland to "Plum Island, Delaware." There, the returned departed are feuded over by two family-armies led by Irish patriarchs. Once ashore the island, seemingly preserved in the 1880s, Romero piles on plotlines and Western tropes: six-shooters, an Anthony Mann Oedipal ranch hand, a bona fide scalping and a homo-flirty mentor-student rapport between Van Sprang and Devon Bostick, an orphaned teen he picked up. Bostick's character allows 70-year-old Romero to continue his uncomprehending fascination with gadget-addicted Millennials talking about things "on the 'Net," which made Diary of the Dead excruciating assurance that Survival could only possibly be the second-worst Dead movie. Romero's own embrace of new technology includes silly CGI violence like a noggin blown clean away, leaving the scalp to plop on the neck stump, or zombie eyeballs sproinging out of sockets like novelty glasses. The script reunites the writer-director's familiar preoccupations with the family-as-hell, creeping Catholicism and stock rednecks. The inevitable all-you-can-eat orgy of zombies pulling stringy mouthfuls away from red, wet rib cages may satisfy gorehounds, but big set pieces showing how atrophied Romero's cutting and tactical framing have become is depressing to anyone who has valued his films for more than just splatter. (Nick Pinkerton) (Citywide)

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