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Today Sept. 15, 9:30 p.m., Scotiabank 3; Sept. 16, 5:30 p.m., AMC 5; Sept. 17, 2:30 p.m. Varsity 1



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The Damned United

Tom Hooper (Britain)

***

To some, a film about the rise of British football (that is, soccer) manager Brian Clough and his troubled days at Leeds United in 1974 might seem as arcane as championship darts. To others, namely those who spend Saturdays watching Premier League matches, it must sound like pure heaven. In fact, the film is aimed at both and everyone in between. Clough's story is about pure ambition, sport is only its raison d'être. Character actor Michael Sheen (David Frost in Frost/Nixon, Tony Blair in The Queen) carries the film with bracing bravado, as the hot-shot manager rises through the ranks to eventually manage former arch-rival Leeds. The other characters, from the various team owners to Clough's under-appreciated assistant and the scruffy players, are merely bumpers off which Clough's pinball-frenetic personality bounces. Period detail abounds: Players have a spot of tea before a game and smoke without a care. Like the novel by David Peace which dramatized Clough's Leeds days, absolute accuracy isn't the point, and Clough's rare moments of uncertainty and alienation can be a tad heavy-handed. Then again, this is human drama in bunker-like changing rooms and soggy pitches, where viewpoints are as subtle as a knee-crushing tackle. Add an extra star rating for footie fans. G.D.

Sept. 14, 9:30 p.m., Roy Thomson; Sept. 17, 9 a.m., Scotiabank 1



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Dorian Gray

Oliver Parker (Britain)

**

Say this at least for Parker's risible adaptation of the Faustian tale: It manages to ratchet up Oscar from Wilde to Hysterical. Set in a lazy CGI rendering of Victorian London, the film grossly inflates the delicious subtext from the novel and then stuffs it in our face, daring us not to guffaw at the sight of Dorian - so constantly beautiful on the outside, so insidiously rotting within - enjoying S&M romps with dark-skinned whores of both sexes. Hey, who can help but take that dare? Among the hyperbolic cast, the only one to retain a shred of British dignity is Colin Firth as Henry Wotton, although he cheats a bit, mouthing Wildean witticisms shamelessly trucked in from the writer's other works. Definitely keep the book in your library, but this picture is best confined to the attic. R.G.

Sept. 11, 9:30 p.m., Roy Thomson; Sept. 13, 12:30 p.m., Winter Garden



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Down for Life Alan Jacobs (USA)

***

Based on a true story, the gritty, wallop-packing Los Angeles-set drama Down for Life follows a day in the life of 15-year-old Latina gang-leader. Some day. Some life. Unflinching (but not gratuitous) in its depiction of domestic violence and girl-on-girl brutality, Down for Life does nothing to glorify a gangsta culture that frowns on anyone leaving the heinous lifestyle. A cameo by Snoop Dogg is hilarious - the rapper is made up like a Zimbabwe-fied Spike Lee - but the star is first-time actress Jessica Romero, who freshly plays the lead role of a troubled student with a talent for writing that could be her ticket for a radically better life, if a mentoring teacher (Danny Glover) has his way. Disturbingly frank, the film assaults its viewers, but in a very effective way. B.W.

Sept. 18, 6:15 p.m., AMC 7



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Excited

Bruce Sweeney (Canada)

**

The Vancouver director who gave us such acerbic serio-comic group portraits as Dirty and Last Wedding returns to familiar ground (after his odd detour with American Venus) with an adult family comedy that's more bold in its premise than in its execution, The hero, Kevin (Cam Cronin), is a strait-laced single guy in his 30s who runs a golf course. The sport of shafts and balls and holes is an obvious corollary for Kevin's premature-ejaculation problem. The problem has cost him a marriage and left him girl-shy for the past eight years, but then he meets an attractive woman (Laura Sadiq) who really likes him and is patient with his problems. Within this 40-Year-Old Virgin-style premise, there are a couple of thinly connected subplots: Kevin's mom (Gabrielle Rose) is comically overbearing. His brother, a recovering addict, shows another kind of vulnerability. None of these issues seems especially relevant to the issue of Kevin's hair-trigger organ, in a film that is so carefully balanced between being comic and serious that it doesn't quite succeed at either. L.L.

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