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Can’t refuse a drink

Young-seok Noh’s “Daytime Drinking” is a droll minimalist comedy with major insights that has been understandably heralded as a breakthrough in independent filmmaking in Korea. A great-looking film made for a mere $20,000, with Noh also serving as cinematographer, editor, composer and art director as well as writer-director, “Daytime Drinking” turns upon the Korean custom of never turning down a drink, which greatly complicates its feckless hero’s escalating misadventures in a chilly off-season resort region.

At a Seoul bar, where Hyuk-jin (Sam-dong Song) is nursing his sorrow over a breakup with his girlfriend, one of his pals suggests that their whole group take a trip to a small town, where a festival is underway. It’s supposed to cheer up Hyuk-jin, but when he arrives at his destination the next day by bus he discovers his pals have gotten so drunk they entirely forgot their plan -- and that the festival was over weeks ago. Trudging off to the mountain hostel where the group was supposed to stay, Hyuk-jin ends up at the wrong address, at which point his woes start piling up.

If his friends are sensationally unreliable, even worse, in a comical way, are the people Hyuk-jin is about to encounter, starting with the couple in the room next door to him at the hostel.

Others are a loud, aggressive and finally downright crazy young woman and a big, crude truck driver who looks to be Hyuk-jin’s savior only to put the make on him. “Daytime Drinking” is a wonderfully idiosyncratic gem with universal humorous appeal.

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Kevin Thomas --

“Daytime Drinking.” MPAA rating: Unrated. In Korean with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes. At the Music Hall in Beverly Hills.

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A daughter pining for absent dad

Like its central character, Henry Jaglom’s 16th feature is gangly and graceful, awkward and tender, a jumble of astute observation and clunkily heightened reality. In “Irene in Time,” the indie auteur’s ongoing exploration of the female psyche reaches into the charged relationship between daughters and dads. If the melodrama is less than convincing, the film’s emotional truth packs a wallop, and the wise humor clicks.

Tanna Frederick, Jaglom’s on-screen muse since 2007’s “Hollywood Dreams,” plays a thirtysomething little girl, a skilled singer-songwriter so emotionally raw, it’s as if she has no skin. She’ll wax nostalgic about “my daddy,” a long-gone gambler, with anyone she meets and uses the word “magical” with alarming frequency -- and dwindling conviction.

Irene’s exuberance is both lovely and excruciating. Living with a family friend (Karen Black), she hangs on every word of the cronies who knew her father while striking out with men and amassing a library of dating advice books. The story’s variously lying, cheating and just-not-getting-it males don’t come off well, but Irene too is capable of insensitivity.

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Her mother (Victoria Tennant), understandably, wants her to grow up. With her calm clarity, Tennant more than holds the screen, as does Andrea Marcovicci, representing a more fevered brand of womanly self-knowledge. Harriet Schock’s literate songs are characters in themselves; the harmonizing voices of Irene’s recording sessions provide eloquent counterbalance to the soul-searching dialogue.

Even as the story enters telenovela territory, Frederick makes Irene’s neediness matter, and Jaglom orchestrates a stirring crescendo.

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Sheri Linden --

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“Irene in Time.” MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. In selected theaters.

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On a one-way road to trouble

Although sexy and scenic, the Peruvian road movie “Mancora” lacks the heart and soul required to fully invest in its central trio’s free-floating journey of self-discovery. Director Ricardo de Montreuil (“La Mujer de mi Hermano”), working from an often-episodic script by Oscar Torres, also never infuses the film with sufficient energy to propel its potentially loaded emotional and physical conflicts.

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When flunking college student Santiago (Jason Day) learns of his estranged father’s suicide, he decides to escape wintry Lima for Mancora, a laid-back beach town north of the city. Joining “Santi” on his drive there are his attractive, slightly older, photographer stepsister Ximena (Elsa Pataky) and her rakish, narcissistic husband, Inigo (Enrique Murciano), who’ve just arrived from New York for a visit. By the time the three reach Mancora, the stage is set for some not-unpredictable sexual tension that, when mixed with heavy-duty doses of partying, may have life-changing consequences. What happens in Mancora doesn’t necessarily stay in Mancora.

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Gary Goldstein --

“Mancora.” MPAA rating: R for some strong sexual content, drug use, language and violence. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. At Laemmle’s Sunset 5, West Hollywood and Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.

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Not what Mike had pictured

Young Italian American Mike Manadoro (Kevin Zegers), a child of Brooklyn’s old neighborhood and the protagonist of “The Narrows,” has a gift for photography and a thirst to record everything with his camera. He sees it as his ticket out of the mean streets and into a fancy college. Too bad Mike’s eye isn’t observant enough to detect the hoary gangster melodrama around him that has his every move mapped out.

Director Francois A. Velle and screenwriter Tatiana Blackington -- adapting a Tim McLoughlin novel -- often can’t decide if their movie is a brooding character study (as evidenced by Eddie Cahill’s overwrought morphine-addicted war vet), a beautiful-people romance (Mike falls for a smart, pretty classmate played by Sophia Bush) or a stylishly lit genre piece. Eventually, mob dynamics win out in the final third when a delivery gone south becomes a battle for Mike’s soul between his bookie father (Vincent D’Onofrio) and the local mob boss (Titus Welliver). D’Onofrio does his eccentric best to save the picture at this moment, but “The Narrows” is too riddled with cliches reaching past Scorsese all the way to Cagney flicks to be any more effective than a mowed-down capo.

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Robert Abele --

“The Narrows.” MPAA rating R for pervasive language, violence, sexual content and some drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. At Mann Chinese 6, Hollywood.

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Safety was an unpopular idea

In his illuminating, timelessly timely “Sex Positive” documentary, Daryl Wein calls attention both to unjustly neglected pioneering AIDS activist Richard Berkowitz and his still widely ignored groundbreaking promotion of safe sex.

As the AIDS epidemic broke out in the early ‘80s, Berkowitz, a hustler who specialized in sadomasochism, joined forces with virologist Joseph Sonnabend and Michael Callen, the late singer and musician who became famous as an activist and longtime AIDS survivor. Of the three, Berkowitz was perhaps the most controversial, for he insisted on publicly acknowledging the role of promiscuity in the spread of the disease and argued that the way to stop it was to practice safe sex -- an unpopular notion in a time of great sexual freedom.

In 1983 Berkowitz self-published a 40-page pamphlet, “How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach,” now regarded as the framing document in the safe-sex campaign. His struggle in the cause for safe sex is framed by the Reagan administration’s failure to respond to the pandemic’s outbreak and the George W. Bush policy to emphasize abstinence over safe-sex practices.

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Now in his 50s, Berkowitz still lives in New York but alone and destitute. He has learned that “People prefer simple answers to complex problems -- even if they’re wrong.”

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Kevin Thomas --

“Sex Positive.” MPAA rating: R for strong sexual content, including graphic dialogue and images, and for language. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes. At the Sunset 5 in West Hollywood.

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Famous actor and a mystery child

Tahmineh Milani is considered one of Iran’s most accomplished filmmakers, but you wouldn’t necessarily glean that from her disappointing drama “Superstar.” This potentially rich if familiar father-daughter tale never really takes off, largely because of its unpleasant main character, Kurosh Zand (Shahab Hosseini), an insufferably narcissistic, self-destructive actor. Why the handsome, seemingly wealthy and successful movie star is so tense and angry is one of several key questions that are never adequately answered in director Milani’s script.

Then there’s the inconsistently drawn relationship between Kurosh and Raha (Fattaneh Malek-Mohammadi), a precocious young girl he meets when she starts hanging around his movie set. Kurosh reluctantly -- and not very believably -- lets her into his messed-up life and soon learns Raha may be the product of an affair he had at 16. Curiously, he never follows through on a briefly mentioned DNA test, which would have easily resolved the is-she-or-isn’t-she? of it all.

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In addition, though Kurosh and Raha eventually bond, the youngster doesn’t much improve the actor’s bad attitude, at least until the film’s third act, whose abrupt conclusion is vague and unsatisfying. Still, if an American remake of “Superstar” was announced, it wouldn’t be a surprise.

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Gary Goldstein --

“Superstar.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. In Farsi with English subtitles. At Laemmle’s Music Hall, Beverly Hills, and Laguna Hills Mall Cinema.

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calendar@latimes.com


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