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Entranced by the ways of wealth

September 19, 2008|Kevin Thomas; Gary Goldstein; Michael Ordona

For his keenly observant narrative feature debut, documentary filmmaker Chris Smith and writer Randy Russell have deftly transposed Russell's short story "The Pool" from Iowa to the Indian state of Goa, in the small city of Panjim. It centers on Venkatesh (Venkatesh Chavan), a poor but resourceful and determined youth who has left his native village and found part-time janitorial work in a hotel. Captivated by a large swimming pool in a rambling country estate, Venkatesh talks its middle-aged owner (Nana Patekar, an icon of the Indian cinema) into letting him help him with the gardening.

His new employer is gruff but kindly and takes a paternal interest in Venkatesh, encouraging him in his desire to get an education and to consider trying his luck in Mumbai. The employer's daughter Ayesha (Ayesha Mohan) challenges the get-ahead values her father embodies to the impressionable Venkatesh. She believes that he would be better off staying in Panjim than going to the harsh, competitive Mumbai.

In its leisurely, exceedingly subtle way, "The Pool" charts Venkatesh's gradual awakening to the larger world, where he meets people who have more money and opportunities than he has ever known. A nonprofessional but a natural, Chavan reveals Venkatesh as an affable, hard-working young man, utterly devoid of self-pity like his feisty 11-year-old pal, Jhangir (Jhangir Badshah). Best of all, Venkatesh has the capacity to think for himself.

-- Kevin Thomas

"The Pool." MPAA rating: Unrated. In Hindi with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes. At the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 281-8223; Edwards Westpark 8, 3755 Alton Parkway, Irvine, (949) 622-8609.


Under pressure to deliver on time

As ubiquitous, yet essential, as the takeout menus they spread around town, Manhattan's Chinese-food deliverymen get no respect. But who exactly are these dirt-poor, often undocumented immigrants who risk life and limb biking across the city, surrendering stir-fried goodness for two-buck tips? Co-writer-directors Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou answer the question with cinema-verite verve in the micro-budgeted "Take Out."

This digitally shot drama involves Ming Ding (Charles Jang), a recent Chinese arrival toiling at a bustling Upper West Side takeout joint, suddenly faced with a midnight deadline to settle his debt with the violent smugglers who sneaked him into the U.S. Ming's last hope at repayment -- to rack up a near-impossible amount of tip money from a day's worth of deliveries -- sends him zigzagging all over Upper Manhattan on his tire-challenged bike playing Beat the Clock. His endless string of demeaning apartment-doorway interactions with a convincing cross-section of hungry customers is darkly funny, even if it never snowballs into the "After Hours"-type obstacle course one might hope.

-- Gary Goldstein

"Take Out." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. In Mandarin and English with English subtitles. In selected theaters.


No story, but it's nice to look at

It's tempting to analyze the new Disney animated feature "Tinker Bell" -- in which the pretty pixie bristles against society's expectations of her vocation (as a "tinker" fairy, as opposed to a light or water fairy) -- as a propaganda piece promoting happiness in knowing one's place, with its class-warfare elements and Tink as the Great Proletariat Fairy. But to its target audience, it will be another self-empowerment fable with loads of imagination and colorful, painterly images (and a keen marketing blast for Disney fairies).

The origin story fills in her pre-Pan days with dazzling colors and a mediocre script. After a rival leads Tinker Bell astray, leading to the possible postponement of spring, can she save the season? The picture revels in a macro view of nature in which sprites paint ladybugs, ride in mouse-drawn wagons and wear goggles with dewdrop lenses. It sports a lush look that pleasingly bridges the old-style, hand-drawn Disney features and the photo-realistic, toys-come-to-life Pixar generation.

There are impressive names in the voice roster (Anjelica Huston, for starters), but you'd never know it without reading the cast list. The script is light as a breeze in the character and dialogue departments. It's lovely to look at, if less delightful to know.

-- Michael Ordona

"Tinker Bell." MPAA rating: G. Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes. At El Capitan, 6838 Hollywood Blvd., (818) 845-3110.

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