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Capsule movie reviews: ‘The Fields’ and more

This can’t be correct: Cloris Leachman and Tara Reid topline a period horror-thriller about a young boy who becomes convinced the Manson family has moved into the cornfield in back of his house? And it’s not some mad parody but, rather, an earnest effort, which makes it even more weird. The absolute best part of “The Fields” is simply that, letting the very idea of this cast and this story marinate in the brainpan for a moment before coming to the obvious common-sense conclusion: This cannot possibly work out.

And indeed the film, directed by Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni from a screenplay by B. Harrison Smith, is flat and lifeless, not even the odd object promised by its unlikely cast, who play it straight and with little energy. Which is a shame, as there is much in the film’s premise — is there anything out there to be scared of? — that feels like the grounds for something more exciting. Though told ostensibly from the perspective of the boy, the story spends far too much time dealing with the family’s domestic/custody issues and not nearly enough getting down to being creepy.

The inclusion of clips from low-budget horror classics like “Carnival of Souls” and “Night of the Living Dead” only highlights all that is missing, as those films made more from less, while “The Fields” simply feels like something less.

—Mark Olsen

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“The Fields.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. At the Laemmle Noho 7 in North Hollywood.

The humanity behind UFC brutality

There’s a lot of big talk in Petra Epperlein’s and Michael Tucker’s documentary"Fightville” from its subjects, about the nature of man, the primal power of violence and a warrior’s spirit. The words reach high, but the speakers aren’t philosophers or decorated soldiers. They’re mixed martial arts amateurs hovering on this controversial yet popular sport’s fringes: the strip mall gyms and rented rodeo centers where everyone’s hoping to find the next UFC champion.

Epperlein and Tucker focus on a handful of characters, including amiable Louisiana-based promoter Gil Guillory and ex-UFC fighter Tim Credeur, an oddball mixture of Zen-like mind-body-spirit trainer and drill sergeant. But the emotional money on “Fightville” is in its portraits of up-and-comers Dustin, a quiet Credeur disciple with a violent past of boot camps and juvenile jail, and Albert, whose showbiz flair (he likes to dress as a droog from"A Clockwork Orange”) masks an unhappy childhood.

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Although the underdog story feels artificially pumped-up early on, as the movie tips toward make-or-break bouts for Dustin and Albert, Epperlein and Tucker’s psychological acuity merits some cage-match suspense. By the end, “Fightville” feels authentic about this world, where success may be measured in wins, but the balance of unrelenting brutality and self-discipline needed for those wins is a trickier equation.

—Robert Abele

“Fightville.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. At Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills.

Did he really know the woman he loved?

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The Korean import “Helpless” proves a largely absorbingmystery-thrillereven if it sometimes loses its way amid a whole lot of cinematic onion-peeling. Director Byun Young-Joo, who also adapted the densely plotted script from Miyabe Miyuki’s novel “All She Was Worth,” takes a fairly muscular approach to the twisty action yet manages to texture the film with helpful dollops of honest emotion and romantic sentiment.

After Seoul veterinarian Mun-ho (Lee Sun-kyun) discovers his seemingly playful fiancée and traveling companion, Seon-yeong (Kim Min-hee), has vanished from a highway rest stop, he disappears down the proverbial rabbit hole in an obsessive quest to find her. With the help of his cousin (Cho Seong-ha), a former detective with his own set of troubles, Mun-ho discovers an unraveling succession of secrets about his missing soul mate involving financial chaos, identity theft and possible murder.

As the puzzle pieces slowly fit together, Mun-ho must come to terms with the fact that the woman he loved may actually be a serial liar and wanted criminal. It’s a poignant conflict that the appealing Lee handles with deep sensitivity as well as, unfortunately, the sporadic overreaction. As the desperate Seon-yeong, seen here in the present and in flashbacks, Kim convincingly infuses the femme fatale with the requisite beauty, mystery and danger.

—Gary Goldstein

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“Helpless.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes. In Korean with English subtitles. At CGV Cinemas, Los Angeles.

An insider’s view of grunge mania

Culled from more than 40 hours of personal video footage from her time with the band Hole, “Hit So Hard” tells the story of Patty Schemel, drummer with the band during its peak years and at the height of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love grunge mania. The film also explores Schemel’s life apart from the band, including her addiction to drugs and alcohol and identity as a gay woman in the world of commercialrock ‘n’ roll.

For fans of Hole and Nirvana, the film is a treasure trove of unguarded moments with Love and Cobain, bringing a startling intimacy to these epic-sized figures. Most fascinating is how the period footage often feels so apart from the chaos and infamy of Hole during that period, capturing the numbing travel/show/travel grind of being a touring band even while at the eye of a media storm. In recent interview footage, Schemel’s former bandmates Eric Erlandson and Melissa Auf der Maur provide their own perspectives on their shared experiences, while Love’s garish clown makeup for her interview session is a healthy reminder of what made her the band’s most combustible element.

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Yet director and editor P. David Ebersol seems uncertain throughout of what tale he is telling, whether to focus on Schemel specifically or the larger picture of the band and the moments in contemporary rock history they were all witness to. Often the film pushes Schemel to the edge of what is intended to be her story, so in “Hit So Hard” she feels forced into the role of self-sacrificing side-player once again.

—Mark Olsen

“Hit So Hard.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. At the Los Feliz 3 in Los Angeles; Laemmle’s Monica 4 in Santa Monica.

Tracking down his genetic father

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In"Jesus Henry Christ"— the exclamation “Jesus H. Christ” is something of a refrain throughout — a single mother tries to hide from her gifted son the fact he was conceived from a sperm donor. When circumstances lead the boy to find the man who is his genetic father, with a daughter of his own, the four of them inadvertently get down to the messy business of being a family.

As the adults in the story, Toni Collette and Michael Sheen play the somewhat stock versions of themselves: she a brittle, idealistically implacable feminist activist and he a nervously uncertain college professor. Both of them have such an easy command that they make convincing even the more far-fetched moments in writer-director Dennis Lee’s storytelling, which frequently pushes to the edge of absurdity. The mega-watt name of Julia Roberts is an executive producer on this rather modestly scaled release, presumably because her husband, Danny Moder, is the cinematographer and she appeared in Lee’s previous film, the ill-fated “Fireflies in the Garden.” Where that film was a more straightforward (and overwrought) drama, this time out Lee looks to bake a touch of twee-ness into the film in the hopes of keeping things light, though more often than not, the film’s flourishes come off as Wes Anderson-lite.

Pleasant without being revelatory, underwhelming but not obnoxiously so, the film explores how we become who we are, whether by genetics or environment or some combination of the two.

—Mark Olsen

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“Jesus Henry Christ.” MPAA rating: PG-13 for some violent images, language and smoking. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. At the Mann Chinese 6 in Hollywood; Laemmle Monica 4 in Santa Monica; Laemmle Encino Town Center 5.

The violence of the drug cartels

“Murder Capital of the World” is a speedy follow-up to Charlie Minn’s recent documentary “8 Murders a Day,” both of which examine the deadly effects of Mexico’s ultra-violent drug war. “Capital,” however, moves beyond the single locale of the director’s previous film — the ravaged border city of Juarez — and takes a broader look at the country’s narco-terrorism crisis.

The facts remain startling: Since 2006, nearly 50,000 people have been murdered across Mexico because of drug cartel violence, with a record-setting 16,000 killed last year alone. In addition, sectors of the nation’s police and military forces suffer from massive corruption, aligning too many “lawmen” with the felons. Abject poverty continues to plague vast numbers of Mexican citizens, whose susceptibility further swells the influence of drug gangs.

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Immediate solutions are limited and, according to the various authors, academics, reporters and politicians interviewed here, would require quantum changes in local legal and governmental systems as well as in a national zeitgeist wherein crime has largely become normalized. Pundits also posit that the U.S. could be of greater help.

Minn, who often appears on camera, packs this grimly compelling, if slightly padded film with strong archival TV news footage, plus wrenching testimony from the relatives of several innocent bystanders gunned down around the El Paso-Juarez border.

—Gary Goldstein

“Murder Capital of the World.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes. In English and Spanish with English subtitles. At Edwards South Gate Stadium 20.

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A long way to the finish line

Epically restless, loud and with a gore-sentimentality ratio John Woo might envy, the South Korean ‘30s-'40s-era war extravaganza “My Way” is combative to a thematic and stylistic extreme. It details the competitive tug of war between a haughty Japanese scion Tatsuo (Joe Odagiri) living in occupied Korea, and the servant family’s son Jun-shik (Jang Dong-gun), who each excel at marathon running. Their road from rivals to friends is told over numerous lengthy, Cuisinart-edited scenes of chaotic struggle, small-world reunions and preposterously whisker-thin escapes.

It starts with a riot at the 1939 Olympic tryouts after Jun-shik is illegitimately denied first place, followed by Imperial Japan’s suicidal approach to fighting the Soviets on the Mongolian border, with Tatsuo as a colonel, Jun-shik as a forced conscript. Time together as tortured POWS leads to a forced date alongside the Nazis at Normandy Beach. Director and co-writer Kang Je-kyu, commandeering South Korea’s most expensive production ever, engineers one long pummel session of elaborate CGI effects, shaky battle cinematography and trial-by-fire heroics, but the nonstop adversity lacks any real sense of danger. Or, for that matter, emotional punch. Why these two long-distance runners keep each other alive should be of front-and-center concern. Instead, “My Way” is mostly an endurance test.

—Robert Abele

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“My Way.” MPAA rating: R for intense realistically graphic sequences of war violence. Running time: 2 hours, 24 minutes. At the ArcLight Hollywood; Laemmle Noho 7 in North Hollywood; Laemmle Monica in Santa Monica; the Playhouse Pasadena and Fallbrook 7.

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