Elizabethtown (12A)<br></br>Black Orpheus (PG)<br></br>Murderball (15)<br></br>The Brothers Grimm (12A)

The nauseating warmth of simple country folk
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The Independent Culture

Some film-makers give a voice to the lowly and the oppressed. Cameron Crowe prefers to give a voice to handsome young men who have made a killing in big business, which is why, after Jerry Maguire and Vanilla Sky, he's written and directed Elizabethtown. It stars Orlando Bloom as Drew, a hotshot shoe designer who gets away with naming a trainer the Spasmotica (impossible, surely). This is such a bad move that it loses his company $972 million (impossible again, surely), and leaves Drew feeling either suicidal or constipated, but as Bloom is so unexpressive it's difficult to say which. That very day, his father dies while visiting his hometown in Kentucky, so Drew has to fly out there, partly to collect the body, but mainly, it seems, to learn to appreciate the warmth and the cookery of decent, ordinary, slightly mad country folk.

On the flight, he catches the eye of a dimpled air hostess played by Kirsten Dunst. She pursues him with the pitiless persistence of the Terminator, doling out trite Thoughts For The Day all the while, but it still takes them ages and ages to get together. "Just tell me you love me and get it over with," she instructs him, and we know how she feels.

And is it just me, or is there something revolting about two lovers flirting cheekily in a funeral parlour while one of them is choosing an urn for his dad's ashes? Telling the same story as last year's far superior and far shorter Garden State, Elizabethtown takes everything that's wrong with all of Cameron Crowe's films and then multiplies it by 10. It's protracted, undisciplined and plotless, with verbal-diarrhoeic dialogue and never-ending voice-over. The soundtrack is overloaded with every single Seventies rock track that hasn't already been in Almost Famous, and most of the songs are so thuddingly literal that when Drew scratches his head, you expect Elton John to pipe up, "Whoah! Ah remember ah was scratching ma head!"

Worse still is that Elizabethtown peddles the spurious notion that romance is all about grand gestures, the more monumental the better. Take the scene of Drew's dad's memorial dinner, a send-off more lavish than most US presidents get. Susan Sarandon, playing the widow, meanders through a eulogy that somehow wins over the hostile crowd, and when she eventually finishes, Crowe has the entire cast applauding, laughing, whistling and cheering at a joke he's written. You sit there thinking that nothing could be more excessive, nauseating or self-congratulatory than what you've just witnessed. And then Sarandon begins her tap dance routine...

Watching this film is like being buried under an avalanche of Valentine cards.

Black Orpheus (PG)

The winner of both the 1959 Palme d'Or and the 1960 best foreign film Oscar, Black Orpheus transposes the Greek myth to the clifftop slums of Rio De Janeiro. Orpheus (footballer Breno Mello) is now a tram conductor who can't sing his beguiling song until he gets his guitar back from the pawn shop, and Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) is a Halle Berry lookalike who has fled from her country village to escape a menacing mystery man. Even Cerberus, guardian of the underworld, makes an appearance as a guard dog outside a voodoo church.

It doesn't take much distortion to fit the legend's sex and tragedy into its new setting. The couple's instant love seems plausible when the sky is brilliantly blue, the bay is sparkling, the colours of every dress burn through the screen, and the feverish samba rhythms never stop. (Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfa provide the music.)

The Carnival, too, is shown to be so exhilarating and overwhelming that it has a haze of ancient magic about it - at a time, that is, before it became an essential stop on every backpacker's itinerary. (The film is being rereleased for the BFI's Black World season, www.bfi.org.uk.)

Murderball (15)

Murderball is more properly known as quadriplegic rugby, although it's closer to a hybrid of basketball and dodgems, with players crashing their customised wheelchairs into each other as they battle to stop their opponents getting the ball from one end of the court to the other. This inspirational but unsentimental documentary follows the US quad rugby team to the Athens Olympics. Its main character is Mark Zupan, a tattooed tough guy who lives to overturn society's preconceptions about the partially paralysed, including Hollywood's belief in the quiet nobility of the disabled. "He was very much an asshole before the accident," cracks one of his friends, so it shouldn't be blamed for how much of an asshole he is now.

Zupan and his team mates - as well as their arch enemy, an American who has defected to Team Canada - are well worth the screentime they get, but Murderball tells us so much about their families, their recuperation and, in some detail, "sexuality following spinal cord injury", that the sport itself gets left on the sidelines. It's a betrayal of the men's priorities to overlook all their training and teamwork, and it also means that we don't care very much who wins the climactic game.

The Brothers Grimm (12A)

At last, seven long years after Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Terry Gilliam has got another film out, and it's a return to the muddy historic fantasy realm which he toured in Jabberwocky and The Time Bandits. In Ehren Kruger's script, the Brothers Grimm (Matt Damon, pictured, and Heath Ledger) have been reimagined as a pair of conmen who roam French-occupied Germany in the early 19th century, vanquishing monsters which they themselves have rigged up. When they're called upon to investigate the disappearance of some children in a supposedly enchanted forest, they assume they'll be unmasking a rival trickster, but a few wolves, witches and walking trees later, they start to think that some fairy tales might have their basis in fact.

This is a less challenging, less outlandish Gilliam than usual. The CGI here is less realistic than his cardboard cut-out animations in Monty Python, and his tussles with the movie business's brothers grim, producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein, have left livid scars where the film has been chopped up and sewn back together. But there's still plenty to enjoy, not least the offhand bullshitting of Damon and Ledger, who do their best Michael Caine and Tommy Cooper impersonations.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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