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We recommend: The King of Kong, This Is England

WE RECOMMEND

 

THE KING OF KONG
See "No Quarter." (Edwards University, Irvine)

THIS IS ENGLAND
Drawing on memories of a specific place and time—England in the early '80s—writer-director Shane Meadows nails the look and feel of a shabby provincial town, its restless youth, and the tribes they form. Though less than 300 British lives were lost in the Falklands War, the whole world is taken from a boy named Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), whose father died in battle. Our pudgy little Shaun of the dead comes to life on contact with Woody (Joe Gilgun), the charismatic leader of a local skinhead crew whose leadership comes under attack by Combo (Stephen Graham), a skinhead of a different stripe—the kind that twists into a swastika. Meadows re-creates skinhead subculture with equal care for its accoutrements—shaved heads, ska records—and origins as a youth movement based on working-class solidarity not race hatred. This Is England goes on to examine the psychology of fascism from two angles, at two stages of its development. The story of Shaun is a cautionary tale about the susceptibility of needy young men to the rigors of far-right ideology. Combo is a case study in the inevitable result: social and psychic violence. Meadows undermines this theme by reducing it all to daddy issues. Facile pop psychology is the real tragedy here, a double disappointment given the film's smart take on pop culture. (Nathan Lee) (Regency South Coast Village, Santa Ana)

ALSO SHOWING:

BALLS OF FURY
See "Test My Balls of Fury." (Countywide)

DEATH SENTENCE
This film was not screened in time for our critics, but a review will appear next issue. (Countywide)

HALLOWEEN
This film was not screened in time for our critics, but a review will appear next issue. (Countywide)

ILLEGAL TENDER
An overly serious drama/colossal hoot from the director of the dope-peddlin' Empire (Franc. Reyes—and, yes, the period's on purpose), this exploitation pic is straight outta 1975. "You want some of this, motherfuckers!" shouts Wanda De Jesus as the pistol-packin' mama trying to keep her two sons safe from the small-time Puerto Rican drug lord whose minions arrive on her suburban Connecticut door step to reclaim a 20-year-old debt. Staged with a straight face as a story about a son (Rick Gonzalez, better known as Old School's Spanish) paying for the sins of his dead drug-dealing dad (Manny Perez), Illegal Tender is producer John Singleton's attempt to remake the blaxpolitation film in Caribbean shades. Only the fun comes too late; before De Jesus storms out of the house with her guns blazing, the movie's a little too somber, as though it's ashamed of showing its hand too soon. By the time we get to the scene in which a mother opens a safe full of pistols and tells her little boy to grab one—only to be followed by a scene in which the innocent-bystander girlfriend wields two kitchen knives beneath a basement staircase—we're too bored to have fun. (Robert Wilonsky) (Countywide)

LADRÓN QUE ROBA A LADRÓN
The filmmakers behind the mainstream Spanish-language heist comedy Ladrón Que Roba a Ladrón are positioning their movie as an authentic Latin re-imagining of a familiar Hollywood genre, but, really, they're just ripping off Ocean's Eleven. In the George Clooney and Brad Pitt roles, Alejandro (Fernando Colunga) and Emilio (Miguel Varoni) are career thieves plotting to con Valdez (Saúl Lisazo), a crooked LA millionaire scamming immigrants with his bogus cure-all infomercial products. Ladrón's one clever idea is that the heroes' crack team consists of average Latino day laborers who, because they are largely ignored by their upper-class employers, are the perfect anonymous soldiers to carry out the risky caper. Director Joe Menendez and writer José Angel Henrickson also take a few stabs at ridiculing the obscene affluence that is the centerpiece of the Ocean films, but they quickly lose their nerve, settling instead for manipulatively crowd-pleasing odes to the simple decency of hardworking immigrants. Ladrón's earnest tone works against the film's purportedly irreverent stance, and Menendez's slack pacing undercuts the project's attempt to offer a viable alternative to Hollywood fare. For a movie whose bad guy bamboozles unsuspecting Latinos with false promises, Ladrón could be criticized for precisely the same offense. (Tim Grierson) (Countywide)

WAR
What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Offering neither the enjoyably preposterous auto-heroics of the Transporter movies nor the lithe, legible athleticism of even second-tier Hong Kong thrillers, the title-card match-up of just-below-A-list-stateside action heroes Jet Li and Jason Statham is pure straight-to-video rope-a-dope. The rip-off starts with the title: The battle, alas, is not between the stars—who have maybe three scenes together—but between rival Triad and Yakuza clans in San Francisco, set at each other's throats Yojimbo-style by Li's calculating assassin. Statham plays the lawman who lost his partner to the mysterious pro, which means This Time It's Personal; to show his anguish, he chews a toothpick and keeps his stubble at regulation height for grieving. The stars don't face off until the finish, and given director Philip G. Atwell's overall ineptitude—attention-deficit editing, indifference to acting, lighting that seems to have been purchased cut-rate from a morgue—the big fight is less a Thrilla in Manila than Disarray by the Bay, capped by a wan double-twist that ends exactly where The Departed started. Is this lemon the only joint star vehicle Li and Statham could find? In the immortal words of Edwin Starr: good God, y'all. (Jim Ridley) (Countywide)

 
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