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A fresh vintage, truthful and funny

The wine industry mockumentary “Corked” seems destined to be paired with last year’s scruffy indie charmer “Bottle Shock” in a kind of buy-one, get-one-for-a-penny deal. Both are low-budget efforts, awkward in places but tasty and easy enough to swallow, coming as they do from places of heightened truth.

Written and directed by Ross Clendenen and Paul Hawley, “Corked” comes by its credentials thanks to the filmmakers’ background in Sonoma County. Hawley’s family has its own wine label, while Clendenen worked in cellars and tasting rooms.

The “Office"-style documentary follows several characters, including a pretentious wine ambassador (Clendenen, channeling Philip Seymour Hoffman in “The Big Lebowski”), a vineyard manager (Todd Norris) determined to protect his grapes by any means necessary and an independent winemaker (Jeffrey Weissman) desperate for recognition and an outside life. Some bits with a couple of numskull wine marketers often feel as labored as their ad campaigns, but that doesn’t keep “Corked” from leaving a pleasant aftertaste.

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Glenn Whipp --

“Corked.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At Downtown Independent Theater, Los Angeles, (213) 617-1033.

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Musical journey across Africa

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As stirring as its evocative title, “Throw Down Your Heart” follows banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck on a musical journey across Africa that proves a joyous celebration of cross-cultural unity. If that sounds too “Kumbaya,” get over it and settle in for an exhilarating feast of sight and sound, courtesy of the talented Fleck and the documentary’s director, Sascha Paladino.

Though most may summon up the American South when they think of the banjo, it actually has its roots in Africa, an obscure fact that inspired 11-time Grammy winner Fleck to explore the origins of his beloved instrument. Amid stops in Uganda, Tanzania, the Gambia and Mali, Fleck meets a vivid array of townspeople who generously bring him into their earthy, relatively cheerful worlds. Fleck (whose personal and professional background is oddly kept to a minimum here) doesn’t act the fish out of water, respectfully and comfortably fitting into the local ways, while jamming with a host of vibrant musicians.

The sounds they make together are exciting and infectious; the various traditional instruments used -- many banjo-related -- are intriguing to behold. A striking recording session, which most notably features charismatic Malian diva Oumou Sangare, caps Fleck’s amazing African adventure.

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Gary Goldstein --

“Throw Down Your Heart.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. In English and Lusogan, Swahili, Jola, Bambara and French with English subtitles. At Laemmle’s Music Hall, Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.

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Please, put her out of our misery

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“Downloading Nancy,” about a disturbed woman in a death spiral, is a shabby shroud of a movie that grasps for torture-chic nihilism but mostly bores you like a date with a creep.

The titular character, played to a dingy, self-hating fare-thee-well by Maria Bello, is a suicidal housewife who leaves her cold, uncaring husband, Albert (Rufus Sewell), to meet up with an ultra-serious dude named Louis (Jason Patric) for a most grim form of liberation. Shot in what can only be called Pallor-ama by Christopher Doyle, the movie wallows in extremes of not-for-the-squeamish foreplay between Nancy and her chosen reaper -- involving cigarettes, rat traps and broken glass -- as well as far reaches of soul-scooping performance style. But director Johan Renck, who hails from Sweden and the world of commercials, likes arty angles, shock tactics and coloring-book-level triggers (bad husbands and golf) more than mapping out a truly scary tale of an impenetrable woman’s lust for oblivion. Add William Petersen and it could be an episode of “CSI.”

It was probably unintentional that this empty-headed drear-a-thon inevitably draws viewers toward feeling as Nancy does: eager to be put out of their misery.

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Robert Abele --

“Downloading Nancy.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. In selected theaters.

calendar@latimes.com


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