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Film Reviews: Delirious, Death at a Funeral, 7 Dias

THE 11TH HOUR See film feature

GO CHAK DE INDIA The inspirational go-for-the-gusto sports movie is such a staple genre of global cinema that nitpicking about the latest rip-off is a waste of energy. The only point worth making about the propulsive Chak De India (Let’s Go, India), the second feature directed by Shimit Amin (after the blistering Nana Patekar police thriller Ab Tak Chhappan [56 So Far]), is that it weaves its familiar story with some fresh textures and even manages to invest the conflict on the field with a resonance that transcends the tick-tock turnover of the numerals on the scoreboard. Working from a script by Jaideep Sahni (Company) that folds in close to a dozen different agendas — for the players, their coach and even the soul of India as nation — Amin manages to make breathless excitement out of the all-but-inevitable underdog triumph of the Indian women’s field-hockey team during the World Cup Finals match in Melbourne. A former editor, Amin emerges in the hockey sequences as a visual virtuoso, employing a hand-held, fast-cut style that recalls the Bourne movies. But he’s even better at raising urgent questions whose social implications hardly need to be spelled out. Can star players with chips on their shoulders learn to forgo personal glory for the sake of the team? Can players from different regions and of different faiths learn to pull together in the name of India? The weightiest burden of all falls on Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, who turns in another of his fine-grained, non-star performances (like the ones in Swades and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna) as the team’s coach, Kabir Khan. A former Team India player denounced as a “traitor” after a penalty-shot loss to Pakistan, Kabir is not just a nominal movie Muslim but a palpably real one, a man whose inner-soundtrack anthem is a devotional wail addressed to Allah — a prayer for India. (AMC Covina 30, Naz 8, Laemmle Fallbrook 7) (David Chute)

DEATH AT A FUNERAL After unwisely hitching up with those costly Stepford Wives, director Frank Oz gets drawing-room small with a proper English farce set solely within the confines of a country house, where frumpy, grumpy Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen), his best-selling bro Robert (Rupert Graves), and their family and friends have come to bury their father. Like Oz’s best films (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob? and Bowfinger), Death at a Funeral obscures its sincerity behind a veil of misanthropy; before we can get to the touching eulogy, we first must encounter an accidentally acid-doused attorney (Alan Tudyk) and his exasperated fiancée (Daisy Donovan), a cranky wheelchair-bound uncle in dire need of a crapper (Peter Vaughan), a short American possessing dark secrets about dear ol’ dead dad (Peter Dinklage), and assorted other relatives with little tea left in their bags. Yet for all its spot-on performances (Macfadyen’s particularly good), clever dialogue and wacky gags — Tudyk winds up extremely naked on a rooftop just before Dinklage winds up riding shotgun in a coffin — Death at a Funeral never even approaches the best of Oz’s oeuvre. It’s his first movie that begs for the laugh track; they’ll love it on BBC America. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

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DRAMA/MEX Amores Perros is a yappy whelp compared to this striking degrees-of-separation drama by Mexican writer-director Gerardo Naranjo, who uses a fleet mobile camera and flexible ’Scope framing to capture the seedy volatility of off-the-guidebook Acapulco. Naranjo opens with a bravura sequence that follows cruelly suave Chano (Emilio Valdés) and his furious ex, Fernanda (Diana Garcia), from a bitter restaurant reunion to a white-hot hate-fuck in her dad’s mansion. From there, in deft loops of rewound chronology, Naranjo intertwines their meeting with the fates of a suicidal businessman (Fernando Becerril), Fernanda’s enraged boyfriend (Juan Pablo Castaneda) and, most memorably, Tigrillo (Miriana Moro), a teenage would-be hustler who hasn’t quite hardened into a casual user and discarder of suckers. With Tobias Datum’s Super-16 camerawork giving the images a subtle matte finish of grit and grain, the movie creates a jittery, eroticized tension, and Naranjo doesn’t over-hype the connections between his stories of misspent youth and squandered life, which mirror the transient class collisions of the tourist economy outside. Like Chano — who habitually drops into the frame like a trouble-seeking missile — Drama/Mex hums with sexed-up voltage, and it’s just as hard, handsome and shifty. (Music Hall) (Jim Ridley)

{mosimage}PICK DELIRIOUS A gently attitudinous, generally zippy urban fairy tale about pop stars and the hangers-on who coddle (or prey upon) them, Tom DiCillo’s Delirious is a mild Midnight Cowboy, a minor King of Comedy, and mainly a vehicle for Steve Buscemi as a lower Manhattan–based paparazzo. Not entirely by accident, a dumb, sweet, homeless hunk (Michael Pitt) becomes an unpaid intern for the irascible photographer (seedy even by Buscemi standards), then manages to connect with one of the celebrity-stalker’s subjects, a Spearsoid mediocrity played by Alison Lohman. Pitt falls in love with the singer’s image and is literally swept into a VIP world where the camera mediates every emotion, particularly once he is adopted by Gina Gershon’s predatory casting director. DiCillo has a feel for this milieu — the “Soap Stars Against STD” banquet and a scene in which two cell-wielding flacks negotiate their clients’ impending rope-line reunion are minor classics — as well as an eye for downtown glamour. (His 1991 feature Johnny Suede gave then–TV actor Brad Pitt his first starring role; that film also established Catherine Keener’s screen persona.) As a director, DiCillo has an evident rapport with his actors. Lohman demonstrates a hitherto-unexplored comic timing in the mock music video “Take Your Love and Shove It.” But it’s Buscemi who imbues the movie with a scabrous pathos that is scarcely mitigated by the final flashbulb whiteout. A former cinematographer, DiCillo has always made visually fastidious movies. Perhaps this is the case with Delirious, but I can’t be sure — demonstrating a brainless contempt for everyone concerned, the movie’s PR firm chose to press-screen a cruddy digital transfer branded throughout with the framewide inscription “Property of Peace Arch Films.” (Monica 4-Plex; Playhouse 7; Sunset 5) (J. Hoberman)

THE INVASION See film feature

KING OF KONG See film feature

THE LAST LEGION  Set long, long ago in a distant land—the screen says “Rome, 460 A.D.,” but my guess is sometime between the soup course and the entrée at Medieval Times—this pervasively second-rate sword-and-sorcery saga is moldy cheddar from handle to sandal. The ingredients are here for ripest Europudding: Colin Firth as a rugged Roman commander protecting the boy emperor Romulus (Thomas Sangster); Ben Kingsley never quite surrendering his dignity as a crafty magician; Peter Mullen as a hot-headed Yosemite Sam of a Germanic conqueror, Scottish burr and all—and that’s even before the mysterious chain-mailed Byzantine swashbuckler turns out to be Aishwarya Rai, emerging from the surf in all her wet-sari glory. But even though director Doug Lefler is a Xena/Hercules veteran, and the script calls for beefy heroics as square as Bruce Campbell’s jaw, the movie has neither the light touch nor the visionary intensity that would energize the florid retro melodrama (exemplified by such sub-Senecan nuggets as, “If I see you again in Rome, it will be at the point of my sword”). Worse, the action in Lefler’s clumsy action sequences is as camera-shy as Bigfoot: his axes-and-elbows fights are a spilled suitcase of just-missed-it shots, taken at the precise instant something exciting escaped the frame. A.D., in this case, must stand for “ass-dragging.” (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

MARIGOLD Marigold Lexton (Ali Larter), a beautiful American actress, has arrived in Bombay to film Basic Instinct 3, another in the long line of direct-to-DVD sequels — “I’ve never been in a film without a number in the title” — that are her bread and butter. When she discovers that BI3 has been canceled, Marigold stomps her foot like the diva she is, but in a blink, she’s taking over the lead in a Bollywood musical, thanks to the influence of the film’s choreographer, Prem (Salman Khan), who is, of course, falling in love with Marigold. Like the Bollywood films at which it pokes gentle fun, Marigold, written and directed by Willard Carroll, is saved from the predictability of its setup by the enthusiasm of its cast, color-drenched sets and costumes, and full-on musical numbers staged outdoors on a beautiful seaside stage. Carroll shifts smoothly from moviemaking satire to melodrama as Prem brings his Western girlfriend home to meet his very traditional Indian family. That the silly and the dramatic work so well is due in no small measure to the grounded, non-jokey performances of the talented Larter, who’s recently found success playing a dual role on TV’s Heroes, and the charismatic Khan, a bona fide Bollywood star and infamous (in India) offscreen bad boy. (Fallbrook 7) (Chuck Wilson)

7 DIAS Seven Days’ greatest strength is its visuals. The film’s settings (urban nightclubs, sprawling mansions, the stark desert) are vibrantly rendered, and its cast is photographed beautifully; the two leading men and the main actress are all stroke material. But that leaves the story. Claudio (Eduardo Arroyuelo, in brood overload) is a smalltime concert promoter withering under the ghost of his late brother, a major concert promoter and all-around swell guy. When Claudio needs to raise funds to bring U2 to Mexico, he cooks up a scheme to swindle the Mafia that backfires badly, and only the Bono obsession of the don’s son Tony (Mexican telenovela star Jaime Camil) gets him seven days to raise the needed funds and get the band to agree to perform. Director Fernando Kalife is hampered by a script riddled with exhausted “opposites attract/buddy movie” clichés — the crude, violent, extroverted Tony (with a heart of gold, natch) and the spiritually tortured Claudio will, of course, bond like brothers. The evolution of their relationship plays out through obvious humor (punch lines are telegraphed way in advance of their delivery) and cloying sentimentality. U2, notoriously tight with the rights to their music and image, were reportedly so impressed by the script that they allowed their music and some concert footage to be used for very cheap. They got gypped. (Selected theaters) (Ernest Hardy)

SKINWALKERS The only thing more boring than a vampire with moral issues about biting people in the neck is a werewolf who’d rather become fully human than howl at the moon once a month. The small clan of Minnesota “skinwalkers” who dominate this witless horror flick believe that hope for ending their “curse” lies in a little boy (Matthew Knight) whose mama (Rhona Mitra) is human but whose dearly deceased daddy was a kingpin werewolf. When he turns 13, the boy’s blood will boil or something, and all the werewolves of the world will lose their fur for good. A bad wolf (Jason Behr) with no desire for a day job and a mortgage wants to kill the kid, which leads to an endless series of shootouts in which hardly anyone gets hit — werewolves, it seems, are bad shots. Director Jim Isaac (Jason X) lavishes more attention on those gunfights than on the few halfhearted and confusingly edited man-into-beast transformation scenes — this despite the fact that this film comes from the production company of makeup master Stan Winston, who’d have been better off financing a remake of The Howling. (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)

SPLINTER The latest movie in the vein of Training Day, Harsh Times, Dirty, et al., this corrupt-LAPD cops-versus-gangsters neo-Western may be the most beautifully filmed of the bunch. Cinematographer Bridger Nielson treats every shot as a work of art; you’ve never seen East L.A. look this gorgeous before. Unfortunately, the actors also seem to have been cast for appearances only. As the token One Good Cop, Resmine Atis (The White Horse Is Dead) may look like Angela Bettis, but she doesn’t have one-eighth the acting talent; she’s the least-convincing law enforcer since Bobcat Goldthwait in Police Academy 4. Writer-producer Enrique Almeida fares a little better as her co-star, a gangbanger with partial amnesia caused by a bullet lodged in his skull. Both characters are trying to find out who’s behind a series of brutal murders that may incite a gang war, but the confusing hallucinations/flashbacks/flash-forwards/whatever make it hard to figure out exactly what’s afoot. The real highlight here is Tom Sizemore, finally playing a character as messed up as himself — a hard-drinking loose cannon who’s nonetheless functional and effective. Director Michael D. Olmos had the good sense to cast father Edward as the police chief; would that he could have someone in the lead who isn’t vastly outclassed by the man in every scene they share. (Mann Plant 16) (Luke Y. Thompson)

SUPERBAD See film feature and interview.


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