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‘Fall Down Dead’

The name on the building within which the stalking-murderer action of “Fall Down Dead” takes place reads “Hitchcock.” Inside, an uncaught menace named the Picasso Killer (Udo Kier) hunts down a single-mom waitress (Dominique Swain) because she will help complete his “mah-stuh-peece.” But just as scrawling “Hemingway” on a manuscript’s cover in no way assures a reader of literary mah-stery or even competence, director Jon Keeyes’ over-confident shout-out seems only to place in starker contrast the difference between imagined artful suspense and the dismal reality of skill-free filmmaking.

A laughable mish-mash of slasher-flick recyclables, dumb characterizations backed by abysmal acting and head-scratching plot mechanics, this one begs to be viewed as a logic challenge to bad-movie lovers: Nearly every scene is a “What’s wrong with this picture?” puzzle. Sometimes the answer is “Those two are the stupidest cops in memory” or “You’re flirting now?” and sometimes it’s “Who walks toward a psycho with a razor?”

At one point, seeing David Carradine’s security guard character meet an end all too reminiscent of his own tragic death, it’s “Now I think I know why a 2-year-old movie is getting released now.”

-- Robert Abele “Fall Down Dead.” Rated: R for violence, grisly images, a scene of strong sexuality, some nudity and language. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. At Laemmle’s Music Hall, Beverly Hills.

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Ordinary family faces challenge

“Home,” director Ursula Meier’s enjoyable, involving dramedy -- and Switzerland’s 2009 foreign film Oscar entry -- starts with the bursting kind of joie de vivre you know can’t possibly last. And, for the film’s idiosyncratic, five-member family tethered to its isolated house on an abandoned highway, the rubber will, literally and figuratively, meet the road, testing the quintet’s domestic bond as well as their emotional well-being.

Despite their odd choice of real estate, the tight-knit family seems relatively stable, jovially sharing life’s daily activities (which, perhaps because they’re French, include taking baths). Mother Marthe (Isabelle Huppert), a bohemian with an apparent touch of agoraphobia, relishes her stay-at-home status while husband Michel (Olivier Gourmet) goes off to his blue-collar job, younger kids Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein) and Marion (Madeleine Budd) attend school and older daughter Judith (Adélaïde Leroux) smokes and sunbathes on their front lawn.

They’re not exactly off the grid, but they’re pretty much off the map. That is, until the highway reopens, turning their strange slice of heaven into a noisy, polluted parking lot, forcing the family to adjust in resourceful ways that turn eerily dark.

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Though the cautionary symbolism is clear here, the committee-written film (there were five scribes including Meier), smartly keeps its message quotient in check.

This “Home” is worth a visit.

-- Gary Goldstein “Home.” Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. In French with English subtitles. At Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica.

Old-world ways put in jeopardy

There have been many films, serious and comic, about the culture clashes experienced by the young adult children of conservative, tradition-minded immigrants from India and Pakistan who have settled in Western Europe or North America.

Sarab Singh Neelam’s intense and distinctive “Ocean of Pearls” is one of the very best and is said to be the first to reveal the special challenges facing Sikhs living in North America. That Neelam was a medical doctor before becoming a filmmaker gives his picture its exceptional impact and complexity.

Omid Abtahi’s Amrit Singh is a handsome young Toronto transplant specialist, a visionary who is offered the position of surgeon at a Detroit hospital’s new transplant center. Not long after he arrives he discovers that a second surgeon, Ryan Bristol (Todd Babcock), not only has been hired but also has been asked to present Singh’s research to a potential donor. The board had decided that Bristol, son of a senator and a member of a powerful family, would be more likely to clinch the substantial donation than a turbaned and bearded Sikh.

Fearing that he is in danger of not being named chief of transplant surgery, Singh contemplates the unimaginable for a Sikh -- cutting off his hair and forsaking his turban.

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Neelam raises tough issues of the slippery slope of compromise and probes life-endangering hospital politics and the horrors of U.S. healthcare as seen through the eyes of a Canadian. At the center of the swirl of conflicts engulfing Singh, which also involve the feelings and attitudes of his traditional-minded girlfriend (Navi Rawat) back in Toronto, is his increasingly confused sense of identity.

-- Kevin Thomas “Ocean of Pearls.” Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language and thematic elements. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. At the Sunset 5, West Hollywood.

Plight of African girls mishandled

Any project that sheds light on the horrific enslavement of West African girls and women that exists to this day is, in and of itself, critically vital. But, while this archaic tribal cultural practice known as Trokosi seems like the ideal subject for an explosive documentary, as the basis for a narrative feature it’s a dicier proposition. This proves especially true for “Punctured Heart,” a hugely well-meaning but painfully inept melodrama, based on the real-life story of Belinda Siamey, who also stars as a Ghanaian schoolgirl who becomes enslaved as reparation for her uncle’s perceived crime.

Director Bruno Pischiutta, who co-wrote the clunky screenplay with Kingsley Sam Obed, is, quite simply, ill-equipped to tell -- both verbally and visually -- this demanding tale, which was shot outside Accra, Ghana. Pischiutta’s jarring use of on-screen captions to explain key scenes is just one of several poor choices that underscore the film’s storytelling deficiencies.

In addition, the locally cast actors are so uniformly amateurish that sadly, you anticipate the movie’s many tragic moments not for their potentially dramatic heft but for how embarrassingly they’re bound to be performed.

A powerfully frank coda in which Siamey details the unthinkable sexual abuse she experienced during her years of illegal servitude is haunting but feels awkwardly tacked on.

-- Gary Goldstein “Punctured Hope.” Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. In English and Ewe. At Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica.

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