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There’s not much to this evil plot

Since film noir’s shadowy dread reflected a genuine post-World War II existential unease, it makes some sense that a movie about post-9/11 conspiracy theorists would boast a faux-noir style, as if the term had quotation marks around it.

But “Able Danger” -- a convoluted “Maltese Falcon” redux about a paranoid coffee shop owner named Thomas (Adam Nee) whose radical writings attract a European femme fatale (Elina Lowensohn), a body pileup and a rash of hokey German-accented characters -- wants to be both a filmic put-on and a politically aware put-off, and winds up neither.

What everyone’s after in screenwriter Paul Krik’s scenario is an encrypted hard drive pertaining to the titular program, a real-life Pentagon data-mining project that fervid dot-connectors believe links the CIA to 9/11. Whether Krik believes as Thomas does that Mohammed Atta was a government patsy feels beside the point, yet there’s little oomph in turning a Holy Grail of conspiracy mongers into just another movie MacGuffin.

Lowensohn’s deadpan retro allure brings chiaroscuro authenticity to this exercise in monochrome digital video, but “Able Danger” is too removed from either parodic flair or activist intensity to be the stuff of which nightmares are made.

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-- Robert Abele

“Able Danger.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. Exclusively at the Laemmle’s Grande 4-plex, 345 S. Figueroa St., (213) 617-0268.

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A most unsettling ‘Dark’ anthology

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Under the stewardship of artistic director Etienne Robial, the French-made anthology “Fear(s) of the Dark,” a collection of animated black-and-white shorts with only suspense and the fantastic as connectors, handily avoids most of the usual pitfalls of the anthology film and makes for a series of chilling, unsettling experiences in miniature.

In the short by cartoonist Charles Burns, a shy young man with an interest in science, lands a girlfriend and unleashes the underlying fear of every lonely boy, that the only thing more unsettling than not having a girl just might be having one.

The Burns section is perhaps the most accessible simply because it has the most straightforward narrative. In the film’s final segment, it is remarkable how often the screen is simply black and blank, and yet writer-director Richard McGuire is able to hold a feeling of heightened anxiety until images of graphic white flare across the frame.

None of the segments are really interested in jump/scare/slasher horror, but rather the slow, creeping terror of feeling something is wrong and something worse is coming, making the film a most frightful Halloween aperitif.

-- Mark Olsen

“Fear(s) of the Dark.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 281-8223.

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‘Just Buried’ puts ‘fun’ in funeral

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The shrewdly titled Canadian comedy “Just Buried” has more mainstream appeal than its single-screen, midnight-only booking might suggest. Cleverly written and competently directed by Chaz Thorne, this distant cousin to TV’s “Six Feet Under” takes its viable, high-concept premise in some twisty directions, offering a host of darkly amusing moments along the way.

Jay Baruchel stars as a rudderless, nosebleed-prone geek named Oliver who inherits a funeral home from his estranged father only to discover that it’s nearly bankrupt. Abetted by the mortuary’s pretty embalmer Roberta (Rose Byrne), the reluctant Oliver accidentally, then not-so-accidentally, ends up knocking off a string of troublesome townsfolk, drumming up much-needed new business as the bodies mount.

The fact that Roberta is also the county coroner as well as the daughter of the local police chief (this is a very small town) is a convenient bonus that protects the increasingly game and sexually busy Oliver -- until it doesn’t.

Along with Baruchel’s enjoyably unnerved performance, the movie features a host of fun supporting turns, especially from “Dances With Wolves’ ” Graham Greene as the funeral parlor’s droll caretaker.

-- Gary Goldstein

“Just Buried.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle’s Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.

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Sideshow isn’t worth the money

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Although the lyrics to Smokey Robinson’s “The Tears of a Clown” might course through your brain if you’re unfortunate enough to stumble into the tediously oddball “Little Big Top,” by the film’s end you’ll likely segue into Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” That’s because writer-director Ward Roberts, who never finds a satisfying way to put us in the head -- or the heart -- of cranky, alcoholic ex-circus clown Seymour Smiles (cult film favorite Sid Haig), crashes through this brief movie’s third act and fades out with almost punishing abruptness.

Set in modest Peru, Ind., and centered around its real-life Peru Amateur Circus, “Little Big Top” isn’t funny enough to be considered a comedy (it’s actually not funny at all) nor deep enough to have dramatic effect, making the picture’s stingy story of Smiles’ reluctant return to performing that much more dispensable. It also takes so long for this third-generation clown to stop snarling, boozing and passing out drunk that by the time he starts composing full sentences and rediscovers his bliss it’s too late to be engaging. Even a sunnier sequence in which Smiles shows the ropes to a local troupe of ragtag clowns doesn’t much captivate.

Let this one pass through town.

-- Gary Goldstein

“Little Big Top.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle’s Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.

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You won’t even need tweezers

What’s so irksome about a wood sliver that painfully lodges in your finger is the notion of something unwanted visibly nesting beneath the surface. It’s a jarring image of body penetration, and the quicksilver horror flick “Splinter” uses that nifty idea in imagining a relentless, hungry and spiny mutation of nature that flings itself at human prey, growing itself by taking over from the inside.

Visual-effects-guy-turned-feature-director Toby Wilkins can be commended for wasting little time moving his endangered victims -- two couples, initially thrown together by one’s carjacking of the other -- from outdoorsy calm (camping site) to bunker mentality (abandoned gas station mart). But his down-and-dirty, gory survival tale, lovingly steeped in creature-hostage nightmares (think George Romero’s zombie films and John Carpenter’s “The Thing”), is ironically most frustrating when showcasing its own needlelike raison d’etre.

A fan of flash-edited, orientation-challenged, hand-held camera mayhem, Wilkins unfortunately takes the wrong cue from his title and fragments the movie’s attack scenes for maximum energy but minimal logical effect.

Clocking in under 90 minutes, “Splinter” extricates itself quickly from your moviegoing consciousness, but it never totally gets under your skin.

-- Robert Abele

“Splinter.” MPAA rating: R for violence/gore and language. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. Exclusively at the Mann Chinese 6, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., (323) 464-8111.


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