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Hot Fuzz, Days of Glory, Breaking and Entering

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BREAKING AND ENTERING / DAYS OF GLORY Here we are with Summer 2007 just around the bend, and our city is still receiving holdovers from the 2006 movie slate. Anthony Minghella and Juliette Binoche both won Oscars for The English Patient, while Jude Law earned nominations for his work in the director's Cold Mountain and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Yet after a rash of demoralizing reviews, the trio's recent collaboration, Breaking and Entering, was barely released theatrically and now turns up in Charlotte with a debut at the second-run theater. Days of Glory enjoyed a sunnier fate, as this Algerian import earned a pair of awards at the Cannes Film Festival (including a collective Best Actor prize for its five leading players) and an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Yet the truth of the matter is that the former is underrated while the latter is overrated, in essence leveling the playing field between the two pictures. The London-set Breaking and Entering is a messy yet occasionally affecting drama about an architect (Law) who strikes up a romance with the Bosnian tailor (Binoche) whose son (Rafi Gabron) has recently robbed his office. Days of Glory, meanwhile, is an earnest yet heavy-handed WWII flick about the racism that existed between French soldiers and their North African allies (subordinates, actually). Both movies: **1/2

HOT FUZZ The team that brought us Shaun of the Dead -- writer-director Edgar Wright, writer-star Simon Pegg and costar Nick Frost -- now take a shot or 12 at the police procedural with Hot Fuzz, a funny if distressingly overlong comedy that also manages to evoke memories of The Wicker Man, Plague of the Zombies and other spooky yarns centering on eccentric villagers inhabiting the less-traveled paths of the British Isles. Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, a dynamic, by-the-book cop who's so efficient at nailing the bad guys that his three superiors (cameos by familiar English actors) ship him off to the remote hamlet of Sandford so he won't keep embarrassing the rest of the London force. Upon arriving in Sandford, he realizes that his commanding officer (Jim Broadbent) is a flake and his peers are morons, although he does strike up a friendship with Danny Butterman (Frost), a well-meaning cop who finds spiritual guidance in the movies Bad Boys II and Point Break. But a string of gruesome accidents convinces Angel that some dark secret exists in Sandford, and he enlists the bumbling Butterman to help him get to the bottom of the mystery. Hot Fuzz appears to be England's attempt to prove to Hollywood that it can make brawny, blustery blockbusters every bit as noisy as those churned out by Tinseltown on a weekly basis, but even this pissing-contest mentality can't drown out the satiric edge that earns this a recommendation. But did the film have to feature more faux-climaxes than even The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King? ***

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BLADES OF GLORY Unless he keeps his eye out for innovative fare like Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell might find himself driving his career into a rut. Blades of Glory shows the strains of the comedian trying to keep himself contained in a box: His Chazz Michael Michaels, a coarse sex addict who's also an unlikely skating champion, mines the same comic territory as most Ferrell performances ranging from Talladega Nights to Anchorman and beyond. Since Ferrell is only playing variations on a theme, it's costar Jon Heder (of Napoleon Dynamite fame) who provides most of the modest chuckles. As Jimmy MacElroy, a rival figure skater who's forced by circumstances to team with Chazz to become the first male-male figure skating team in history, Heder plays up his character's delicate traits to the point that they offer a pointed contrast to Ferrell's predictable boorishness. "You're like a 15-year-old girl," taunts Chazz, "only not hot." After a sluggish beginning, the laughs pick up during the midsection, and I appreciate that Queen's Flash Gordon theme plays a prominent role in the finale. Otherwise, this is one more assembly line comedy by the Ferrell-Stiller-Vaughn-Wilsons conglomerate (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are AWOL, but Ben Stiller serves as a producer and Luke Wilson pops up in a tiny role). For a similar yet superior film, rent the Farrelly brothers' 1996 bowling flick Kingpin. Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid and especially Bill Murray offer moments of lunacy so inspired, they make Ferrell in Blades of Glory look like a visitor to the comedy genre. **

GRINDHOUSE Designed as an homage to the low-budget exploitation flicks that ran rampant in past decades (most notably the 1970s), Grindhouse finds cinematic bad boys Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez attempting to create their own down-and-dirty double-bill, two grisly features (complete with bogus trailers, the best being Werewolf Women of the S.S.) that would have been right at home playing in a disreputable Times Square movie theater circa 1974. It's a terrific idea, but unfortunately, the quality of the individual works veers all over the map. Rodriguez's Planet Terror is tons of fun, not only in its gleeful siphoning from George Romero's zombie classics but also in the manner in which Rodriguez insures that every frame looks like it came from a beat-up film print buried in somebody's garage since the 70s. As for the story, it's the usual slime-and-grime saga of a plucky band of survivors fighting off hordes of shambling, oozing creatures who have all been infected by a deadly virus. But while Planet Terror is the bomb, Tarantino's Death Proof is simply a bomb. Did he not understand the assignment? Presented in a blemish-free style full of show-off techniques and scene after scene of dull chatfests, this ends up resembling not so much a grindhouse flick as a Quentin Tarantino movie -- and a bad one at that. As Stuntman Mike, a psycho who uses his own souped-up vehicle as a weapon with which to murder comely young women, Kurt Russell is the story's MVP, but Tarantino too often leaves him stranded on the side of the road. Planet Terror: ***1/2; Death Proof: *1/2; Overall: **1/2

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