GO EL AURA When the 47-year-old Argentine filmmaker Fabián Bielinksy died of a heart attack in June of this year, his loss was acutely felt — not just because of Bielinky’s relative youth, but because he was among the very few new-wave Argentine directors committed to exploring his ideas about life and society through genre story­telling. Bielinsky’s 2000 debut feature, Nine Queens, wrapped its brilliant con-man caper around the stirrings of what was to become the country’s millennial economic crisis. In Bielinsky’s second (and final) feature, El Aura, Ricardo Darin , who starred in Nine Queens, again plays a man with larceny on his mind, only instead of a professional grifter he’s a mild-mannered, epileptic taxidermist who believes himself capable of executing the perfect crime — a feeling that surges in the ethereal moments of mental clarity that precede each of his seizures. Marooned deep in Patagonia on a weekend hunting trip, he stumbles upon others’ plans for a casino heist that seems too good to be true and which, like most such things, may well be. Whereas Nine Queens was a movie of clockwork precision and blindsiding reversals, El Aura is more internalized and digressive but no less striking, in large part thanks to Darin’s mesmerizing performance, his alien blue eyes and wolfen stare suggesting a man who sees things in the world that elude ordinary men. A man who, like Bielinsky himself, seems to presage his own end. (One Colorado; Sunset 5) (Scott Foundas)

CANDY Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish play unbelievably gorgeous heroin junkies in Candy, a don’t-try-this-at-home melodrama adapted from Australian author Luke Davies’ aptly billed “novel of love and addiction.” Essentially, the film is Requiem for a Dream with a lot less of that overrated indie’s shooting-gallery pizzazz, although director Neil Armfield does put his smacked-out couple on one of those centrifugally forceful amusement-park rides in the very first scene in order to suggest that their young lives are, you know, spinning out of control. Cornish, Kidmanesque in her elusive, look-but-don’t-touch allure, may have the title role here, but Ledger, longhaired and so soft-looking you’d think he was being shot slightly out of focus, is the movie’s real eye candy. Any drug movie’s effectiveness can be measured by the strength of its detox, and Candy doesn’t sweeten the cold turkey. Too bad it’s a downward spiral from there in more ways than one. (Sunset 5) (Rob Nelson)

GO DHOOM 2 Sanjay Gadhvi’s high-tech heist thriller uses bits and pieces filched from the global action-movie repertoire (M:I-2, Charlie’s Angels, et al.) to lend some cutting-edge flash to Bollywood’s loose-knit “cinema of attractions” format. Here, the action set pieces alternate smoothly with song-and-dance numbers and scenes of romance and broad comedy. The first Dhoom (a.k.a. Blast, in the sense of “having a…”) was a fast and furious motorcycle romp; this self-explanatory sequel is a globetrotting succession of elaborate robbery and chase sequences. Judged purely as a crime movie, it’s a mess, littered with unanswered questions and dangling plot threads. As an entertainment that has more in common with a variety show than with a well-made narrative, it lives up to its title. In spite of all the CGI- and wire-assisted heavy lifting, the most impressive special effects here are the sinuously athletic dance moves of leading man Hrithik Roshan (Krrish), who plays the dashing cat burglar everyone else is chasing — a wall-climbing, skydiving master of disguise. Eventually, he comes to share a John Woo–style adversarial bond with Bluffmaster star Abhishek Bachchan, cast as a cop so grimly businesslike that even his pals call him “Mr. Grumpy.” The women, including a startlingly slimmed-down and scantily clad Aishwarya Rai, are presented as little more than additional “attractions,” often in rain-spangled slow motion. But in a couple of intense encounters toward the end, Rai and Roshan, gazing at each other with their perfect profiles, revive a form of unselfconscious romantic fantasy that survives today almost exclusively in Bollywood. A movie meal as satisfying as this one can make you feel that nothing else matters. (Fallbrook 7; Naz 8; Laguna Hills 3) (David Chute)

THE LIVES OF OTHERS See film feature

THE NATIVITY STORY See film feature

THE PIANO TUNER OF EARTHQUAKES In The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, directors Stephen and Timothy Quay create a sumptuous alternate reality, using stop-motion animation and other antiquated visual effects to invoke a sense of childhood wonder poisoned by horror and dread. But that’s all they can do. As with other cinematic stylists, such as Jean-Pierre Jeunet or Earthquakes executive producer Terry Gilliam, once the Quay brothers confidently establish their film’s astonishing look, they merely repeat their techniques until the images no longer delight or surprise, leaving all too visible the Quays’ struggles with the trickier demands of storytelling and character development. The plot concerns a recently deceased opera singer (Amira Casar) and a timid piano tuner (Cesar Sarachu) who are independently summoned to the eerie villa of a mysterious doctor (Gottfried John) with nefarious plans for them. As with Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children, the Quays’ film longs to be a dark fairy tale — the sort that tickles adults’ nostalgia for the bedtime stories that spooked them as kids. But whereas the best fables are simplistic narratives that nevertheless exude a powerful resonance, Earthquakes’ self-consciously gothic performances and convoluted script feel needlessly labored. The Quays do sporadically floor you with rapturous sequences, revealing their roots in animated shorts and music videos. Yet however much The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes wants to haunt your dreams, it has a better chance of production-designing you to death. (Nuart) (Tim Grierson)

10 ITEMS OR LESS The only person getting off on 10 Items or Less is director Brad Silberling, who wrote the script before heading into the hardcore Hollywood gangbang of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Clocking in at a scant, interminable 82 minutes, 10 Items tags along with an actor — named Actor and played by Morgan Freeman — as he slums his way through a working-class wonderland, prepping for his upcoming role. There, he is instantly and improbably captivated by Scarlet (Paz Vega), the saucy Spanish checkout girl. Circumstances (a.k.a. screenplay schematics) leave him in the lurch and her in need of advice, so they clamber into a crappy hatchback and head off in the direction of Life Lessons. The film goes from oblivious to oblivion when it pulls into the perkiest car wash since Car Wash. Polishing rag in hand with Ritmo Latino bumping on the soundtrack, Freeman frolics in solidarity with a crew of blissed-out immigrants. Muchas gracias, kindly celebrity! Class consciousness is hardly to be expected from the dude who brought Casper to the big screen, and if nothing else, 10 Items or Less is a case study in clueless. (Music Hall; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Nathan Lee)

3 NEEDLES In terms of simple provocation, nothing in this melodramatic mosaic of global suffering comes close to matching director Thom Fitzgerald’s press-kit prediction that “the AIDS pandemic will be seen in retrospect as much more significant than the ongoing jihad.” A film about that could be compelling; this one is merely content to suggest, cleverly and often, that it recognizes far more than we ever could about the pain and cruelty of disease. Babel-ian in its original version, which shuffled between continents and premiered a year ago in Toronto, Fitzgerald’s movie now lays its international trio of “needles” in a row: First a Chinese black-market blood collector (Lucy Liu) half-wittingly spreads HIV throughout a farming community; then a Canadian actor (Shawn Ashmore) fakes his blood tests in order to keep starring in porno movies; and, finally, three selfless missionaries in South Africa (Olympia Dukakis, Sandra Oh and Chloë Sevigny) endure the rampant ignorance of black people so that Fitzgerald can again emphasize the significance of his own work. If, as a movie, 3 Needles amounts to unclean entertainment at best, the scale-tipper in consumer-guide terms might be the distributor’s promised donation of box-office proceeds to local charities in conjunction with World AIDS Day. (Sunset 5; One Colorado) (Rob Nelson)

TURISTAS It doesn’t come as much of a surprise when the hot babes and ripped studs of Turistas are strapped to a table and gutted like pigs. The trailer dropped more than a hint, and the movie itself begins with a montage of bound wrists, dilated pupils and the molestation of various quivering innards. Let this serve as a warning to those who suppose the following hour of hot young white people frolicking on the beaches of Brazil will come at no cost. The tourists of Turistas (Josh Duhamel, Olivia Wilde and Melissa George, among other disposables) must pay for something, sexuality and stupidity being the typical downfalls of the horror-film hottie. As written by Michael Ross and directed by John Stockwell, they might just as well have been neutered philosophers, since the conspiracy to harvest their organs is masterminded by a demented surgeon (Miguel Lunardi) exacting payback on behalf of Third World misery. Given the dullness of the protagonists and the heavy dose of anesthetic administered during the operations, that’s not an entirely unsympathetic cause, and though Turistas eventually bogs down in an underlit mess, it more or less scratches the neoexploitation itch. Bonus point for best tag line of the year: “Go Home.” (Citywide) (Nathan Lee)

TWO WEEKS Despite its sappy digressions and occasional tonal inconsistency, last December’s underrated The Family Stone displayed an engagingly unpredictable energy that breathed new life into several moribund clichés of the family film: the sibling rivalries, the dying matriarch, the inevitable re-establishing of loving bonds. By comparison, writer-director-producer Steve Stockman’s ineffectual shrug of a death-bed dramedy hardly inspires much response one way or the other. Sally Field (nicely restrained) plays Anita, who knows she’s about to lose her battle with cancer and consequently gathers her grown children (Ben Chaplin, Julianne Nicholson, Tom Cavanagh and Glenn Howerton) to her North Carolina home for a final farewell. The kids, vaguely distant but hardly sworn enemies, don’t expect Anita to last long, but when she stubbornly clings to life, they grow closer in rather unsurprising ways. Stockman’s screenplay gives the family’s daily wrestling with mortality an episodic nonchalance, shying away from histrionic monologues and teary revelations. But when he tries to inject some humor with a series of deadpan, absurdist set pieces — including a Five Easy Pieces–esque trip to the grocery store and a wince-worthy bank visit — Stockman never nails the bitterly ironic comedic tenor he hopes will offset the inherent mawkishness of the subject matter. Though the subdued performances every so often find a poignantly understated moment, on the whole Two Weeks feels too detached and well-mannered for its own good. How can you wring laughter or tears from your audience if you aren’t willing to risk a little emotional messiness? (AMC Century 15) (Tim Grierson)

VAN WILDER 2: THE RISE OF TAJ It isn’t as if the first Van Wilder set any kind of high standard for comedy to begin with, but the National Lampoon folks don’t care. They have, after all, foisted on us such unique cinematic tortures as Barely Legal and Gold Diggers in the past few years, so why not a sequel that subtracts the only good thing about the first movie, Ryan Reynolds? When even Tara Reid won’t come back, you know things can’t be good. So Kal Penn, who should have done a Harold & Kumar sequel instead, gets elevated to dubious leading man status in this laugh-free campus “comedy” set in England and mostly shot in Romania. Will the awkward Indian lead the campus misfits to an unlikely victory over the elitist frat boys? Will he get the girl? Will there be yet more jokes involving dog semen? Will you enjoy yourself? The answers: Yes, yes, yes, and hell no. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

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