New Reviews

See “Return of the King.” (Countywide)

Trouble paying attention in class, low self-esteem, hormonal confusion, counting the days until summer vacation—and those are just the teachers in director Mike Akel's zippy debut feature about instructors at an Anytown, USA, public high school. Drawn from Akel's (and star Chris Mass') own on-the-job experiences, Chalk opens by telling us that 50 percent of teachers quit within their first three years on the job, and then proceeds to show us why in fly-on-the-wall mockumentary fashion, cutting between the classrooms of an introverted first-year history teacher (Troy Schremmer) whose lack of enthusiasm about his subject is contagious; the jovial Mr. Stroope (Mass), who spends more time thinking about the upcoming teacher-of-the-year contest than his own lesson plans (and who, in one priceless moment, kindly begs of one student: “In class, try not to know as much of me”); and a female P.E. coach (Janelle Schremmer) who worries that her job and short haircut will make people think she's gay. Though Akel and Mass share writing credit, Chalk was actually shot in a loose, improvisational manner modeled after the films of Christopher Guest, and its best set-pieces are like devastatingly effective pin pricks made at the Hollywood hot-air balloon of inspirational teacher/coach melodramas. Think of it as To Sir, With Sarcasm. Chalk's producer Larkin Akel will be doing a Q&A after the 7 p.m. screenings on Friday and Saturday. (Scott Foundas) (Edwards Westpark, Irvine)

See “Pearl Harbor.” (Countywide)


See “Evan Can Wait.” (Countywide)

Back in the late '80s and early '90s, the Montana-born director John Dahl made a name for himself with a series of nifty, darkly comic neo-noirs bearing wonderfully hardboiled titles like Kill Me Again, Red Rock West and The Last Seduction. The past decade has been less kind to Dahl, who's foundered with a series of bigger-budget studio assignments and only sporadically (as in 2001's Joy Ride) shown signs of his old B-movie mojo. Called You Kill Me, Dahl's latest has the outward appearance of a return to form but in fact may be the worst thing he's ever done—an inert, tone-deaf mlange of The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, about an alcoholic assassin (Ben Kingsley) in the New York Polish mafia who becomes a better man (and a better hit man) by joining AA and going to work in a San Francisco mortuary. The script supposedly kicked around Hollywood for years before attracting Sir Ben's interest, and its age shows in the torrent of rimshot-worthy gay and Polack jokes, the gay-but-not-gay-seeming AA sponsor (Luke Wilson), and the submissive love interest (Ta Leoni, a far cry from Dahl's usual steely dames) who doesn't mind that Kingsley's a killer as long as he's not, you know, gay. (Scott Foundas) (Edwards University, Irvine)

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