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Film Reviews: Smiley Face, Beowulf, Confessions of a Superhero, Om Shanti Om

 BEOWULF Think you already know the epic tale? Not this version, you don’t. Having apparently decided that the Christian monks who transcribed the oldest known version of Beowulf were clearly uptight puritans who deleted all references to monster fucking, screenwriters Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman have set things straight by incorporating Arthurian legend into the mix and turning Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie) into a Morgana-like sultry sorceress rather than a violent hag. It’s an interesting notion, but the end result is that what used to be a heroic tale of a creature-killer is now, more or less, a medieval rendering of the story of the asshole jock who knocks up the slutty cheerleader, gets syphilis and spreads it around. Thanks to performance-capture animation, pudgy Brit Ray Winstone has been given a Schwarzenegger physique as Beowulf, but he seems to have adopted the Governator’s one-note acting style too — he’s a loud jerk without much depth, while Crispin Glover’s Grendel evinces a world of hurt with little more than incoherent screaming. It’s worth seeing nonetheless, not just for the amazing final dragon battle and the scene where a naked Jolie gives Beowulf’s sword a hand-job, but also for the sheer bile and mean-spiritedness that pervades, and seems especially odd coming from director Robert Zemeckis (who brought us Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump). Beowulf may ultimately be viewed as a failure, but it’s a fascinating one. And if you ever doubted that the MPAA ratings were a total joke, this movie clinches it: naked women, massive bloodletting, disembowelments, dismemberments, flesh-burning, detailed sex talk, all in 3-D IMAX and rated... PG-13 (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

CONFESSIONS OF A SUPERHERO A more beautiful documentary you’re unlikely to find — Matthew Ogens has composed every scene as though it could be freeze-framed and hung on a wall. But beneath its shimmering beauty is the ugly truth about Hollywood Boulevard panhandlers — the struggling actors and daydream believers and other assorted losers and lifers — who dress up in shabby blockbuster attire, hoping to collect tourists’ spare change in exchange for a gag Polaroid. Ogens focuses on a low-rent Justice League: Superman fetishist Chris Dennis (who says his mom is actress Sandy — dubious), Batman rage-aholic Max Allen, small-town prom queen turned Wonder Woman Jennifer Gehrt and a homeless Hulk named Joe McQueen. Ogens, an adman, treats them with considerable kindness and care, so what could have been a condescending descent into bottom feeding turns into a rather loving, often heartbreaking portrait of decent people just trying to scrape by. (Music Hall) (Robert Wilonsky)

HOW TO COOK YOUR LIFE Cook and Zen priest Edward Brown is profiled in this documentary by German filmmaker Doris Dörrie (Men), who follows the witty, pleasant Brown as he offers cooking and life lessons in Buddhist retreats in Austria and California. A somnolent voice of wisdom, Brown speaks very slowly, gently mocks macrobiotics, and probably has more intense emotions bottled up than Dörrie allows us to see. Dörrie gradually expands her field of interest from Brown’s valuable ideas about respecting what we cook and eat to scenes of other people interacting with food — including a San Francisco dumpster-diver who shows us how she never pays for what she eats (premium ice cream aside) and an organic farmer who admits to using fertilizer made of ground-up bone and blood because absolute purity is impossible. (Sunset 5) (Gregg Rickman)

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA Easily the worst adaptation of a major novel by a Nobel Prize–winning author. Easily. Director Mike Newell and writer Ronald Harwood (The Pianist) have rendered Gabriel García Márquez’s novel little more than a sudsy telenovela — Lifetime by way of Telemundo. Not that the material didn’t teeter and totter in that direction to begin with: The story of Florentino’s 50-year crush on Fermina was always little more than a variation on Romeo and Juliet, only tinged with the flowery scent of magical realism. But there ain’t a damned thing real — magical or otherwise — about this abomination, which stars a wasted Javier Bardem as Florentino and Giovanna Mezzogiorno as Fermina, who’s so so-so that you’d think a fella could easily forget her after she ditches him for the doctor (Benjamin Bratt). From the hoot-worthy dialogue to the overwrought cameos delivered by Liev Schreiber and John Leguizamo, the entire thing’s a wreck. Unless it was trolling for sneering chuckles, in which case — success! (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

MR. MAGORIUM See film feature (Click for showtimes)

OM SHANTI OM
We have a tradition of movies like this in the U.S. — overkill comedies, from 1941 to Evan Almighty, that smother every gag by staging them on a gargantuan scale. In Om Shanti Om, the team of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan and A-list-choreographer-turned-director Farah Khan — whose first collaboration, Main Hoon Na, was the biggest Hindi hit of 2004 — have pushed the earlier film’s gentle masala movie parody to repetitive extremes. They use the pastiche plot of an actual Bollywood cult classic, Karz (Debt), a 1980 melodrama of karmic revenge through reincarnation, as a loose framework on which to hang tone-deaf parodies of Bollywood musical conventions and personalities from two separate eras. Khan plays a struggling “junior artiste,” or extra, who dies attempting to prevent the murder of an idolized heroine in the bell-bottomed 1970s. After the intermission, he’s reborn in the ’00s as a “star son” hero with ripped abs, destined to recall his past life and seek revenge. The movie only really starts to take hold when the Khans forget themselves, when they get caught up in the story they are supposedly making fun of. The last 40 minutes of Om Shanti Om, in fact, are actually pretty good. The final music-drama set piece is a melodramatically mimed recap of both halves of the plot, in which the righteous actor/avenger develops the conscience of a killer. Though reportedly a straight rip-off of the “Masquerade” number in Phantom of the Opera, the sequence is nevertheless eerie and suspenseful — a triumph of showmanship with a Bernard Herrmann accent. Ironically, this old-school Bollywood hokum still has a lot of power when it’s executed with even a hint of conviction. (Naz 8; Fallbrook 7) (David Chute)

REDACTED See film feature (Click for showtimes)

SALVADOR ALLENDE Beloved by his country’s Marxists, Christians, social democrats and Fidel Castro — as well as despised by the right-wingers, middle class, and especially Richard Nixon (who reportedly called him an S.O.B.) — the controversial Chilean President Salvador Allende is ultimately painted sympathetically, and quite convincingly so, in this artful 2004 doc from Patricio Guzmán (The Battle of Chile). Richer than a mere posthumous portrait, the film is a wistful testimony to a faded political ideal, eulogized by Allende’s surviving friends, family and loyalists, and Guzmán’s own soft-spoken narration. “How was he both revolutionary and democrat?” asks the director, citing many of the ways that Allende’s not-that-radical blend of socialism succeeded — including the nationalization of big business, the redistribution of land, and vast reforms to Chile’s welfare system. Via old photos and archival footage, some of it shot by Guzmán decades before, El Chico’s charisma comes through, no more so than when his 1972 U.N. speech about the dangerous rise of multinationals earns him a standing ovation. Humanizing though it may be — friends reflect on his humor and love of chicken casseroles — the film sidesteps much of the criticism against Allende in his late career (that he mishandled the economy and tended toward the autocratic, for starters). But Edward Korry, the former U.S. ambassador to Chile who talks about the Nixon-plotted conspiracies against Allende, only helps to martyr him more. (Grande 4-Plex) (Aaron Hillis)

{mosimage}SMILEY FACE In a stoner-worthy act of “What was I thinking?,” indie distributor First Look Studios financed writer Dylan Haggerty and director Gregg Araki’s uproarious pothead comedy Smiley Face, only to end up dumping the finished movie (which has screened to great acclaim at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals) into a single Los Angeles theater this weekend en route to DVD. No matter: The movie is as funny as anything released this year or last, and with any luck will live on in Netflix queues for decades to come. In a screwball tour-de-force — which anyone who watched her give Chloris Leachman a sponge bath in Scary Movie 4 will know she is more than capable of giving — Anna Faris stars as the thoroughly baked bit-part actress Jane F, who has until 3 p.m. to repay the Venice drug dealer (Adam Brody) who has generously fronted her the weed she needs in order to bake up a new batch of the pot cupcakes she illicitly swiped from her sci-fi-geek roommate and consumed in a fit of (what else?) pot-fueled munchies. Got all that? Well, it’s just the start of Jane F’s epic Los Angeles odyssey, during which she flees from Nazi-ish casting agents (Jane Lynch and Jim Rash), prevails on the kindness of lovelorn friends (The Office star John Krasinski), stows away in the back of a meat delivery truck (driven by Danny Trejo and John Cho) and somehow ends up stuck in a Ferris wheel in conversation with her own inner thoughts (voiced by narrator Roscoe Lee Browne). All the while, Araki has a grand old time distorting sound and image so as to show us the world through Jane F’s THC-laced eyes. It’s a blast. (Nuart)

SOUTHLAND TALES See film story (Click for showtimes) 

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