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Two-star films

deadend.com
S. Wyeth Clarkson (Canada)

The dot.com in the title is pointless, but the "deadend" part is apropos in this film about a trio of teenagers who decide to drive from Halifax to B.C. in a suicide pact. First-time director S. Wyeth Clarkson uses the Dogma approach of handheld cameras, semi-improvised acting and lots of squabbling and confrontations. Each of the young actors (Harold Amero, Nicole Raven, Adrian Rogers) find vivid moments in individual scenes, and the gradually emerging theme of male sexual anger has resonance. On the downside, the film features a lot of repetitive drinking, drug-taking, monologues, and macho intimidation, and at two-and-a-half hours, it could definitely be compressed. - L.L.
(Mon. Sept. 9, 8:30 p.m., Royal Ontario Museum; Sat. Sept. 14, 6 p.m., ROM.)

Gasoline
Monica Stambrini (Italy)

A good-looking if empty art/exploitation story of two women lovers on the run after one of them inadvertently knocks off the other's mother (who keeps talking to her dead daughter from the grave, or more accurately, the garbage dump). Their pursuers are not the police but a trio of ruffians, two men and a pouty female assistant, who are implacable in their thirst for revenge. As the title suggests, just wait for the big Zabriski Point-style kaboom. - L.L.
(Thurs. Sept. 12, 9:30 p.m., Varsity 4 or 5; Sat. Sept. 14, noon, Cumberland 3.)

Irréversible
Gaspar Noé (France)

Desperate to shock with his knock-off Frances Bacon vision of human flesh as rotting meat, French director Gaspar Noé's numbskull pretensions and macho posturings are pretty annoying. The lowlight of this revenge tale told backward is a nine-minute scene in which a woman (the beautiful actress Monica Bellucci) is raped and then bashed into a pulp by an attacker in an alley. The rest of the film seems to be designed to show that time is relentless and even our safest moments are fraught with the potential for disaster - conventional wisdom really. - L.L.
(Thurs. Sept. 12, 9:30 p.m., Uptown 1; Sat. Sept. 14, 3 p.m., Cumberland 2.)

Kedma
Amos Gitai (Israel/France/Italy)

Set at the founding of Israel, Kedma is a stilted mixture of found materials (diaries, literature) and re-creation as it follows a group of Jewish refugees dropped off by boat (the Kedma) on the shores of Israel, where they are shot at by British soldiers and then rescued by the Jewish army. Long takes of people moving over the rough landscape and scenes of vérité war footage are mixed with somewhat rhetorical speeches in which Gitai (the director of Kadosh) struggles to show Israel as a tragic nation founded by two nations of displaced people, the Jews of Europe and the Palestinian Arabs. - L.L.
(Wed. Sept. 11, 6 p.m., Uptown 1; Fri. Sept. 13, 9:45 a.m., Cumberland 2.)

Once Upon a Time in the Midlands
Shane Meadows (U.K./Germany)

This is a supposed seriocomic transposition of the tropes of spaghetti westerns to a domestic working-class love triangle in central England. When Dek (a mild-mannered Rhys Ifans, the only thing good in the movie) proposes to Shirley (the ubiquitous Shirley Henderson) on national television, she turns him down. Her former mate Jimmy (the also ubiquitous Robert Carlyle) is watching aghast and heads back home to win her and their daughter back. Toothless and totally uninspired, this is a film that reeks of audience pandering, and is a massive letdown for director Shane Meadows after A Room for Romeo Brass. The talented cast are overdirected to play trailer-trash variations on their usual characters and generally come across as grating. - M.P.
(Sun. Sept. 8, 8:30 p.m., Uptown 2; Tues. Sept. 10, 12:15 p.m., Varsity 1.)

Une part du ciel
Bénédicte Liénard (France/Belgium/Luxembourg)

Were it not for the presence in this year's festival of an Iranian film called Women's Prison, Une part du ciel would have the award of "Least sexy woman-behind-bars film" sewn up. Starring Séverine Caneele as a fiercely defiant woman wrongly imprisoned, it casts a steely gaze at an unjust system, and argues for the ability of the committed to revolt against it. Relentless and austere, the film leaps to life at the prison's talent show, where Caneele's exhorting performance puts aside any doubts that her controversial Cannes award for best actress was in error. - M.P.
(Fri. Sept. 13, 6:30 p.m., IBT; Sat. Sept. 14, 4 p.m., Uptown 3.)

Promised Land
Jason Xenopoulos (South Africa)

Great menacing monochrome look; too bad about the story. A young London investor, George, returns to South Africa to claim his mother's farm. Before reaching the homestead he stays the night with the neighbours. The farm family is intended as a kind of allegorical representation of the hardcore racist Afrikaaners: A belligerent patriarch who froths on about patriotism and history; a couple of mentally slow thug brothers; a young sexually ambiguous man and his sister (wearing a collaborator's shaved haircut). All too soon, the allegorical elements seem secondary to an overheated psycho-dream of a plot that is reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. - L.L.
(Tues. Sept. 10, 10:15 p.m., Varsity 3; Thurs. Sept. 12, 9:30 a.m., Varsity 4.)

Rub and Tug
Soo Lyu (Canada)

First-time Canadian filmmaker Soo Lyu has a plausible sex farce premise about a nerdy new manager (Don McKellar) who takes over a massage parlour and its Charlie's Angels trio of masseurs (Lindy Booth, Kira Clavell and Tara Spencer-Nairn). McKellar helps create some creepily funny moments, but the trouble is the character of the illegal immigrant Asian girl, with her submissive personality and pidgin English - it's a bit embarrassing. And the movie doesn't help things by abruptly switching protagonists near the end. - L.L.
(Tues. Sept. 10, 9:30 p.m., Cumberland 2; Sat. Sept. 14, 1 p.m., Uptown 3.)

Santa Monica
Terrance Odette (Canada)

Palatable if oversugary children's film has an after-school lesson quality to it. Ten-year-old Monica (Genevieve Buechner) is a Portuguese-Canadian girl who misses out on her chance to be an angel in the annual Blessed Virgin parade, but steals a pair of wings anyway. When a homeless woman (Clare Coulter) with a religious obsession takes the wings as her own, Monica befriends her. Adding to the background dysfunction are Monica's unhappy single mother and her layabout uncle, whom Monica needs to inspire with her pluck. - L.L.
(Sat. Sept. 7, 9 p.m. ROM; Sun. Sept. 8, 1:45 p.m, Varsity 1.)

The Sea
Baltasar Kormakur (Iceland/France/Norway)
From the director of 101 Reykjavik comes this black family comedy in the spirit of The Celebration. As a family gathers to honour its fisherman patriarch, Thordur, all kinds of monsters come hopping out of the closets. As Thordur resists modernization of the fishing industry and his conniving, weak children, he pushes everyone over the edge. The mixture of rude comedy and psychodrama is not handled all that defly here, and often the director seems uncertain exactly which tone he wishes to set. - L.L.
(Fri. Sept. 6, 6 p.m., Cumberland 3; Mon. Sept. 9, 3 p.m., Uptown 2.)

Secretary
Steven Shainberg (U.S.)

A sheltered young woman with masochistic tendencies (Maggie Gyllenhaal) lands a job as a secretary to a bored lawyer (James Spader), who quickly spots her behavioural needs and begins to dominate her - sometimes roughly but always judiciously, intent on bringing the old S & M into a sensitive balance. From there, director Steven Shainberg attempts to elevate the affair in the usual fashion - that is, using it as a touchstone to explore the universal triangle that links love and power and sex. Nice try, but the theme never gets off the ground, and a film that means to be poignant seldom seems more than mildly kinky. Playing another of his bent souls, Spader is in full-mannered mode from the first shot. Gyllenhaal fares much better, but not nearly well enough to rescue Secretary from the cinematic typing pool. - R.G.
(Fri. Sept. 6, 8:45 p.m., Uptown 2; Mon. Sept. 9, noon, Varsity 8.)

Shaolin Soccer
Stephen Chow (Hong Kong)

A massive hit in Hong Kong, this could be an inflated parody of The Bad News Bears. A group of misfits, all former students at a martial-arts academy, find success by employing their high-wire flying fighting techniques to soccer. Most of it is pointless, though the team of flying women with beards is attention-grabbing. - L.L.
(Sun. Sept. 8, 10:30 p.m., Varsity 8; Tues. Sept. 10, 9:45 p.m., Cumberland 2.)

Sweet Sixteen
Ken Loach (U.K./Germany/Spain)

Once again combining with screenwriter Paul Laverty, veteran left-wing director Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen follows the misadventures of Liam (Martin Compston), a teenager who wants to build a future for his family, including his mother who took a prison rap for her drug-dealing boyfriend. Liam's high-spirited attempts to rip off more serious gangsters to buy his mother a home, his predictably doomed relationship with his loose-cannon friend Pinball, and the script's endless didacticism make this feel more like a slogan than a movie. - L.L.
(Sat. Sept. 7, 2:30 p.m., Elgin; Tues. Sept. 10, 3:30 p.m., Uptown 1.)

Under Another Sky
Gaël Morel (France)

Involved in a hit-and-run accident, a young Frenchman flees Paris for his mother's homeland in Algeria, there to seek sanctuary in the house of his ailing grandfather and a distinctly shady cousin. Speaking no Arabic, our protagonist is perplexed by the many tensions that permeate this war-ravaged country. Unfortunately, we share his confusion. The script can't seem to decide whether it's a psychological thriller or a political allegory, and winds up in limbo, failing to coherently explore either the mind of the distressed hero or the conscience of this beleaguered nation. Consequently, the nominally shocking ending just doesn't feel earned - you leave the theatre intellectually numbed yet emotionally unscathed. - R.G.
(Wed. Sept. 11, 9 p.m., ROM; Thurs. Sept. 12, 2:45 p.m., Varsity 7.)


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