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Movie Guide: Independent, limited release and foreign-language films

Independent, Limited Release and Foreign-Language films
Los Angeles TimesOpinions are by Los Angeles Times reviewers. Ratings by the Motion Picture Association of America are: (G) for general audiences; (PG) parental guidance urged because of material possibly unsuitable for children; (PG-13) parents are strongly cautioned to give guidance for attendance of children younger than 13; (R) restricted, younger than 17 admitted only with parent or adult guardian; (NC-17) no one younger than 17 admitted.
“All in This Tea” ó Like the drink whose virtues it describes, this documentary is brisk and agreeable, a hand-crafted ode, directed by the veteran Les Blank, to the brew that is the beverage of choice where the Chinese, among many others, are concerned. (1:10) Unrated.
“American Zombie” ó Grace Lee’s faux documentary takes one of horror cinema’s enduring subjects ó the undead ó and crafts an amusing media satire on our fascination with/fear of marginalized cultures. Lee, whose last film, “The Grace Lee Project,” was a straight doc that explored the struggles of Asian American women who shared her name, plays her camera-toting self as she sets out to humanize Los Angeles-area zombies who have average jobs, hopes, and desires, including a mini-mart worker, a lonely florist, and a zombie-rights activist. (1:31) Unrated.
“Beaufort” ó The final days of 2000 mark the end of a young Israeli army unit’s withdrawal from an ancient fortress in south Lebanon. With Oshri Cohen, Itay Tiran and Eli Eltonyo. Directed and co-written by Joseph Cedar, based on a true story and Ron Leshem’s novel. In Hebrew with English subtitles.
“Blindsight” ó Six blind Tibetan teenagers are inspired to climb a 23,000-foot peak near Mount Everest. Directed by Lucy Walker. PG for some thematic elements and mild language.
“Boarding Gate” ó Olivier Assayas’ stylish thriller stars Asia Argento as a savvy former Paris prostitute propelled on a perilous journey of self-discovery in a murky, dangerous world of international racketeering. The plot may be convoluted past tracking, but the slinky, darkly seductive Argento is clear and commanding, striking sparks with everyone she encounters ó most importantly, her former lover, played by Michael Madsen, whose physical presence and focus is as strong as Argento’s. (1:46) R for violence, sexual content, language and some drug material.
“Dying to Live: The Journey Into a Man’s Open Heart” ó If you’re settling in for a first-person documentary with that title, you can’t say you weren’t warned. A regrettably graceless video diary of one man’s overpowering grief and tsoris, it chronicles an emotionally turbulent year or so in which the 49-year-old Ben Mittleman ó a self-proclaimed “golden boy Jew” who acted professionally for many years ó learned he had the same dangerous heart ailment that afflicted his now-deceased father. There’s not much to say about a navel-gazing effort like this, since it reflects less an artful examination of mortality than a sentimental revisiting of love and tears. (1:50) Unrated.
“Flash Point” ó Donnie Yen and Collin Chou star in this mixed martial arts saga about a Hong Kong detective trying to protect his mole from a murderous crime family. Directed by Wilson Yip. R for strong bloody violence and brutal martial arts action.
“Flawless” ó A janitor enlists an executive at an English diamond corporation to swipe a thermos of the precious gems in order to stick it to their employers. Caper aficionados will yawn at the plot mechanics, while screenwriter Edward Anderson squanders the early politically tinged promise of a corrupt organization undone by an empowered woman. (1:45) PG-13 for brief strong language.
“Fighting For Life” ó Any film that begins with a cadaver dissection isn’t likely to be a cakewalk, yet Terry Sanders’ Iraq War-themed, medical documentary is more moving and life affirming than its grim subject matter might suggest. Yes, the movie’s blunt combat injury footage is hard to watch but the pure emotion Sanders captures in the military doctors and nurses interviewed ó as well as in the traumatically wounded ó helps ease the film’s bleaker moments. (1:29) Unrated.
“Funny Games” ó If you are in the market for unspeakable horror but wouldn’t be caught dead slinking into “Saw IV,” Michael Haneke is definitely the go-to guy for you. His latest postmodern smackdown is about a happy middle-class couple and their young son whose summer cottage is invaded by a pair of psychos. “Funny Games” is actually a shot-for-shot remake of Haneke’s 1997 German-language original. Like a recurring plague, it’s back ó in English this time, and starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. It takes a special arrogance to remake one’s own movie frame by frame. Was the original so perfect? (1:52) R for terror, violence and some language.
“The Grand” ó Six poker players compete in the world’s second most famous high stakes tournament in this improvisational comedy. With Woody Harrelson, David Cross, Dennis Farina, Cheryl Hines, Ray Romano, Werner Herzog and Gabe Kaplan. Directed by Zak Penn. R for language and some drug content.
“The Hammer” ó Adam Carolla stars as a 40-year-old ex-boxer suddenly inspired to undertake an unlikely bid for Olympic gold. With Heather Juergensen and Oswaldo Castillo. Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld.
“Irina Palm” ó This is a sentimental film with a raunchy premise, using the world’s oldest profession as a hook to generate interest in some equally venerable movie conventions. Genially preposterous and pleasantly diverting, it gets a fine performance out of Marianne Faithfull as a dowdy woman who improbably turns into “the best right hand in London.” (1:43) R for strong sexual content, nudity and language.
“Maldeamores (Lovesickness)” ó The eternal search for love plays out through the lives of a young boy and a divorced elderly couple and in a hostage situation in Puerto Rico. With Luis Guzman, Teresa Hernandez and Luis Gonzaga. Directed by Carlos Ruiz Ruiz, co-directed by Mariem Perez Riera.
“Nana” ó A delightful film with appeal beyond its target audience of eenage girls. Director Kentaro Otani persuasively charts the growing emotional maturity of two young women, both named Nana, who have come to Tokyo to build new lives. His stars, Mika Nakashima and Aoi Miyazaki, are as talented as they are attractive. (1:53) Unrated. Suitable for teens.
“Paranoid Park” ó This movie is the fourth in what feels like a series of films by Gus Van Sant to deal with death in a lyrical-prosaic style. Based on a young adult novel by Blake Nelson, it’s a study in angst and guilt made visible by the gorgeous camera work of Christopher Doyle and otherwise palpable by Van Sant’s beautiful direction. The movie unwraps its mystery slowly and meticulously, in a roundabout, almost incidental way that mirrors its young protagonist’s slow, stunned realization of his part in a horrible act. (1:18) R for some disturbing images, language and sexual content.
“Planet B-Boy” ó Breakdancing came and went as a passing fad, its claim on popular culture consumed in the space between “Flashdance” and “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Not so fast, says Benson Lee, whose documentary shows that breaking is alive and thrillingly well all over the globe. The nexus has shifted a bit, from the housing projects of the Bronx to the sleepy town of Braunschweig, Germany, where crews from the ‘hoods of Estonia and South Africa converge to compete in the Battle of the Year. The real attraction are the consistently jaw-dropping dance sequences, which are edited with enough skill to make you want to see more and regret that you don’t. (1:41) Unrated.
“Praying With Lior” ó If watching a film about the life of a speech-impaired young Yeshiva student afflicted with Down syndrome sounds like a bleak way to spend 90 minutes, think again. Producer-director Ilana Trachtman’s captivating, wonderfully poignant documentary is one of the more uplifting true-life tales you’re likely to see. Crafted with tremendous warmth and grace, the movie tells the story of Lior Liebling, the disabled but loving, charismatic son of a pair of suburban Philadelphia rabbis. (1:27) Unrated.
“Priceless” ó The perfect frothy fantasy for the obscene wealth-gap era, this film stars a gorgeous, cellophane-thin Audrey Tautou as Irene, a dedicated gold digger who finds herself accidentally mixed up with a penniless bartender. Unencumbered by American squeamishness, director Pierre Salvadori feels no need to sell Irene as some kind of wide-eyed innocent tragically catapulting herself from a dowdy country past into kitsch glamorousness by sheer force of will. It’s much more sly and more French than that. In French with English subtitles. (1:44) PG-13 for sexual content including nudity.
“Shelter” ó Jonah Markowitz’s tender, affecting first feature explores with insight and subtlety the conflict between professional ambition and family responsibility and a simultaneous growing uncertainty over sexual orientation that threaten to overwhelm an aspiring young artist (Trevor Wright). A graceful film with nuanced portrayals. (1:38) Unrated. Mature themes.
“Sleepwalking” ó The melodrama of a broken family haunted by its past, a perennial favorite of independent filmmakers, gets a forceful but ultimately flawed workout from writer Zac Stanford and director William Maher. Terrific performances and a bleak, riveting look at life on the economic fringes eventually gives way to an overly familiar tale of abuse, denial and catharsis that feels like warmed over Sam Shepard minus the poetry. (1:40) R for language and a scene of violence.
“Snow Angels” ó Based on a novel by Stewart O’Nan and set in an unidentified Northern town in the dead of winter, David Gordon Green’s film opens with a wink and a bang ó or, to be precise, two of them. A high school marching band is fumbling through a desultory rendition of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” when a couple of shots ring out from the nearby woods. The sudden sense of menace cuts through what until then has felt like a wry and witty but familiar set-up for a bittersweet comedy, which is why even with the threat firmly established, the brutal end comes as a shock. “Snow Angels” begins with a wink and ends with a sucker punch, which somehow doesn’t feel fair. (1:46) R for language, some violent content, brief sexuality and drug use.
” ‘Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris” ó Raymond De Felitta’s film takes a personal interest in the late jazz vocalist, whose career seems like an endless string of bad breaks. Esteemed by his peers, Paris appeared on records by Charles Mingus and Charlie Parker, and even cut the first vocal take on Thelonious Monk’s ” ‘Round Midnight.” The documentary picks up speed when it begins to examine the causes of Paris’ fate rather than simply bemoaning it. With a short and sometimes violent temper, Paris seems to have let himself down as often as others did. He is less a victim of circumstances than a tragic hero. (1:40) Unrated.
“Towards Darkness (Hacia La Oscuridad)” ó Mixing “Lost” and “24” with a dash of “Law & Order,” “Towards Darkness” plays more like a demo reel than a self-contained feature. Centered on a Colombian banking scion’s kidnapping by a shadowy guerrilla group, first-timer Jose Antonio Negret’s ticking-clock thriller shifts characters and time frames with no real purpose except to demonstrate that he can. From the victim and his childhood sweetheart to a disgraced FBI agent, no one is spared their own flashback, but the multifaceted perspective only adds breadth, not depth. (1:34) R for some strong violence, language and a scene of sexuality.
“The Unforeseen” ó Through analysis of a development near Austin, Texas, filmmaker Laura Dunn explores the environmental and philosophical issues of humanity’s interaction with nature. Features the poetry of Wendell Berry.
“Wetlands Preserved: The Story of an Activist Rock Club” ó Dean Budnick’s documentary examines how the TriBeCa hot spot nurtured the careers of the Dave Matthews Band, Blues Traveler, Pearl Jam, Phish and Ben Harper, while serving as a support center for social and political activism from 1989 to 2001. Unrated.
AP-NY-04-02-08 1303EDT


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