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‘Gunnin’ ’ is as quick, flashy as a fastbreak

Flashy and fun, “Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot,” might be the first documentary designed for the ADD set. Director (and Beastie Boys founding member) Adam Yauch tricks up this eclectic look at all-star high school basketball with so much cool high-def camera work and showy editing it’s sure to satisfy the film’s target youth audience’s appetite for zippy visuals and swift pacing.

Backed by a vibrant, well-chosen funk and hip-hop soundtrack, “Gunnin’ ” focuses on eight of the country’s top-ranked teens competing in 2006’s Boost Mobile Elite 24 Hoops Classic. Yauch energetically shoots these phenoms on their home turfs, from Compton to Baltimore, then follows them to New York for the awe-inspiring, inaugural game held in Harlem’s legendary Rucker Park. Peppered throughout are glimpses of the off-court issues facing these potential pros, such as shoe endorsements, media hype, societal pressures and the inevitable groupies.

Since Yauch doesn’t dig too deeply into the boys’ emotional lives or private hoop dreams -- this is no warts-and-all expose -- viewers may not feel any individual stake in the game’s outcome. Ultimately, though, the playing’s the thing and, for most, just beholding these NBA hopefuls’ dazzling skills will be more than enough.

-- Gary Goldstein

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“Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot.” Rated PG-13 for language. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. At the Magic Johnson Crenshaw 15, 4020 Marlton Ave., Baldwin Hills, (800) 326-3264; Loews Broadway 4, 1441 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica, (800) 326-3264; AMC’s 30 at the Block, the City Drive, Orange, (714) 769-4262.

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Soccer gives homeless hope

Rarely has the healing power of sports been as genuinely depicted as in director Susan Koch’s perception-altering documentary “Kicking It,” a heartfelt tribute to the annual Homeless World Cup.

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This international competition brings together 500 disparate, homeless players whose common love of soccer gives them a second -- and often last -- chance at a new beginning. The film’s advertising tag line, “A ball can change your life,” couldn’t be more accurate.

The movie captures the 2006 tournament, which took place in Cape Town, South Africa, and featured footballers from 48 countries. Koch effectively interweaves highlights from the event’s many terrific matches with intimate portraits of seven gifted players from Kenya, Russia, Ireland, Afghanistan, Spain and North Carolina, where problems such as drug and alcohol addiction, political strife, child abuse and abject poverty have led to their homelessness.

The way these players’ competitive spirit and passion to succeed helps them battle adversity is deeply compelling, with Nairobi’s touchingly decent Alex Mwambi and Dublin’s methadone dependent Damien Farrell especially memorable figures. Brief, on-camera narration by Colin Farrell adds a bit of gloss to this vital project, as does a grand use of U2’s evocative “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

-- G.G.

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“Kicking It.” Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. In English, Spanish, Russian, Swahili, Pashto and Dari with English subtitles. At Laemmle’s Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.

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Ordinary people hunger for love

In writer-director Cecilia Miniucchi’s engaging debut feature, “Expired,” Samantha Morton and Jason Patric are cast as very ordinary, uncharismatic people, but such is Miniucchi and her actors’ ability to illuminate them, that this modest, intimate film holds attention beyond initial expectations.

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Morton’s Claire Barney is a wistful, drab meter maid in a beach community. She hasn’t had a boyfriend in six years and is devoted to her loving invalid mother (Teri Garr, who also plays the mother’s brassy twin sister). She nevertheless catches the attention of co-worker Jay Caswell (Patric), a burly, ultra-macho hothead who gets off on giving people parking tickets. They are perhaps drawn together more out of loneliness and a hunger for love than actual attraction.

The ways in which very ordinary, uncharismatic people try to cope with their needs and longings is ultimately most affecting.

-- Kevin Thomas

“Expired.” Unrated with adult themes and situations, strong language. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. At the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500; Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741.

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A horrific past slowly revealed

With “The Unknown Woman,” writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso”) has combined two familiar themes -- the horrendous fate that has beset many women from the former Soviet bloc in their flight to the West, and the nanny who seems disturbingly obsessed with her young charge. Sweet, however, are the uses of melodrama in the skilled hands of Tornatore, for he transcends the lurid and the coincidental with range, depth and insight, and a bold, confident, suspenseful style, to create a fable of love and redemption.

Russian actress Xenia Rappoport, a Pre-Raphaelite-like beauty, endures horrors as Irena, a haunted-looking young woman who goes to extremes to land a job as a nanny with an upscale, none-too-happily-married couple (Claudia Gerini, Pierfrancesco Favino) with an adorable but fragile little daughter (Clara Dossena). Everyday incidents trigger in Irena alternately sweet and horrific memories, and these become like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that is completed only when the film concludes, at last revealing its full meaning.

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-- K.T.

“The Unknown Woman.” Unrated with glimpses of extreme brutality, complex adult themes and style. In Italian with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes. At Laemmle’s Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869; the Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 981-9811.

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Relatives you may want to shun

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If, as Tolstoy observed, happy families are alike, and each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, the Dublin-set film “Red Roses and Petrol” didn’t get the message, being a dysfunctional clan movie that feels dispiritingly like all the others.

It starts with an Irish patriarch’s death -- that of college professor Enda Doyle (Malcolm McDowell) -- and moves toward a scandalously unattended wake in which his widow (Olivia Tracey) and three grown children air resentments, suspicions and secrets about Enda’s influence on the family. The mystery surrounding a weepy young woman seen at the funeral might hold the key, but the eye roll-worthy device of Enda recording a video diary hints at storytelling resolutions made melodramatically easy.

This is the kind of movie in which characters revere poetry, yet hardly anything about the writing (it’s based on a stage play by Joseph O’Connor) or directing (by Tamar Simon Hoffs) qualifies as poetic. Irish tempers flare at their most sardonically arresting when Max Beesley barges in as angrily taunting son Johnny, but he unintentionally offers the best summary of the movie’s deep-set ordinariness, when he jokes that Einstein’s theory of relativity meant that “time crawls slowly when you spend it with your relatives.”

-- Robert Abele

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“Red Roses and Petrol.” Rated R for language, including some sexual references. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. In limited release.

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Living a lie yet finding truth

Steeped in achingly relevant questions about the nature of ethnic identity and cultural acceptance, the intimate epic “Live and Become” is a valuable dramatic addition to our understanding of the recent history of an ever-uprooted world populace.

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It begins in 1985 with a 9-year-old Ethiopian boy starving in a Sudanese refugee camp, whose mother insists he pretend to be a Falasha -- as Ethiopian Jews are tribally known -- so he can be saved in a rescue operation by Israel’s Mossad. A nonreligious but politically minded Jewish family (of French and Egyptian descent) ironically worries that it isn’t devout enough for young Schlomo. Meanwhile, the kid has churning turmoils: the burden of his deception, a skin color that pegs him as an outsider, a secret longing for his homeland and, as he grows older, a genuinely sincere if complex identification with the tenets of Judaism he’s come to know.

Director and co-writer Radu Mihaileanu may try to cover too much ground as he follows Schlomo (played over the years by three wonderful actors) into young adulthood -- when he falls for a vivacious Jewish girl and heads for Paris to study medicine -- but the bounty of incident is balanced by knowing humor, compelling characters and a dedicated compassion toward those for whom the search for home sends their head, heart and feet flying in all directions.

-- R.A.

“Live and Become.” Unrated. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes. At Laemmle’s Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869; Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 981-9811; Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; Regency Rancho Niguel 8, 25471 Rancho Niguel Road, Laguna Niguel, (949) 831-4359.

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