Gangster clichés fly like submachine gun bullets in the Italian crime biopic "Angel of Evil," a restless and hollow rundown of '70s criminal Renato Vallanzasca (Kim Rossi Stuart).
The Milan mobster robbed, kidnapped and terrorized with a pitiless conviction ("I was born to be a thief," his narration tells us), which earned him a media-friendly cult status all over Italy. But even sporting a centralized figure drawn from a real-life, seesaw reign of lawlessness, notoriety and multiple incarcerations — keeping track of the different prison settings alone is its own story-comprehension battle — director/co-writer Michele Placido prefers quick-n-easy bites of rock-scored ruthlessness and gang-loyalty sentimentality.
Nowhere to be found are the kind of eccentric vicissitudes that make "Goodfellas" the much-imitated exemplar of movies about big, bad lives. Besides, Stuart doesn't have the dangerous charisma of Scorsese's regulars or recent heavyweight villain portrayals from Edgar Ramirez ("Carlos") and Vincent Cassel ("Mesrine").
Though there's no shortage of mustache-quivering energy and wide-collared strutting, "Angel of Evil" can't separate itself enough from the pack as a character piece to be memorable as anything other than a blood-spattered timeline.
— Robert Abele
"Angel of Evil." MPAA running: R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, some sexual content, nudity and drug use. Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes. At Mann Chinese 6 Theatres, Hollywood.
Irish step dancing, a traditional performance dance most widely known from the "Riverdance" theatrical franchise, receives exuberant treatment in the superbly crafted documentary "Jig." Producer-director Sue Bourne (with a strong assist from cinematographer Joe Russell) follows a group of ambitious young hopefuls from the U.S., Europe and Russia as they prepare to compete in the 40th Irish Dancing World Championships, held last year in Glasgow, Scotland.
This highly involving film deftly captures the unique physical, emotional and financial aspects of diving into competitive Irish dance, with the participants' addictive immersion the overwhelming takeaway. Ten-year-olds such as Northern Ireland's captivating Brogan McCay, Long Island's uber-focused Julia O'Rourke and the "Billy Elliot"-like John Whitehurst from Birmingham, England, are a few of the memorable contestants seen at home and, later, at "The Worlds," where 6,000 competitors vie for 22 championship titles in nail-biting showdowns.
Several teen and young adult dancers — most notably rising star Joe Bitter, whose family relocated from California to England so he could train with world-class teacher John Carey — are also intriguingly profiled, as are the various entrants' parents and hard-driving instructors. The female dancers' over-the-top wigs and dresses get their due close-ups as well.
As for the dancing itself, it's nothing short of dazzling.
— Gary Goldstein
"Jig." MPAA rating: PG for infrequent mild language and drug references. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.
Colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon in which honeybees vanish from their hives and never return, might be a lesser-known issue than climate change, but it's one that's arguably more critical. As honeybees pollinate — and thus, make possible — a reported 40% of our food supply, the startling loss of millions of bee colonies in the U.S. alone has caused a serious change in the ancient relationship between man and bee.
Director Taggart Siegel examines this startling crisis in the vital documentary "Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?"
With an accusing finger pointed squarely at the mechanization of commercial beekeeping and single-crop farming or "monoculture," Siegel hops the globe interviewing an eclectic array of beekeepers, philosophers, scientists and activists who discuss the vast problems and potential solutions surrounding the beleaguered honeybee.
But it's not all doom and gloom. This crisply shot picture also offers stirring views of these industrious little creatures, their complex habitats and the rich amber goodness they create. Some jaunty animation enlivens things as well.
However, a later-on look at the burgeoning movement of rooftop and backyard beekeeping, though intriguing, slackens the film's narrative structure and lessens its prior urgency. Nonetheless, "Queen" sheds much-needed light on a disaster in progress.
— Gary Goldstein
"Queen of the Sun." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. At Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica; and Laemmle's Fallbrook 7, West Hills.
Director Monte Hellman returns to features after a 21-year-absence with "Road to Nowhere." The film is a stylish, shimmering neo-noir with a multi-layered narrative for which the director's longtime collaborator Steven Gaydos has written an exceedingly elliptical and challenging script.