Mad Hot Ballroom (U)<br/>Everything is Illuminated (12A)<br/>The Exorcism of Emily Rose (15) <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Mad Hot Ballroom (U)

Pitched as this year's Spellbound, Marilyn Agrelo's documentary is a heartwarmer about the lives of 11-year-old schoolchildren in New York who learn ballroom dancing. Selecting three schools as they prepare for a citywide dance competition, Agrelo and writer Amy Sewell draw deeply from the melting pot, whether Italians in Brooklyn or Dominicans in Washington Heights, and find not just humour but some remarkably sensible young people.

When one girl says that she wants "a guy that doesn't sell drugs", we are reminded that, for some working-class kids, dance classes can be an escape from a life of limited horizons: it may be that these Cinderellas aren't just going to the ball.

If it hasn't quite the eccentric charm of the competitors in Spellbound, it does present ballroom dancing as much more fun, and a better preparation for life, than learning how to spell "heleoplankton". There's energy and optimism here, not to mention some nifty hoofing.

Everything is Illuminated (12A)

Elijah Wood stars as Jonathan, a young Jewish writer who travels to the Ukraine to find the woman he believes helped to save his grandfather from the Nazis. There he falls in with two different guides, Alex (Eugene Hutz), a bumptious culture gannet, and his morose grandfather (Boris Leskin), who hides a troubled history of his own.

Alternating solemnity with slapstick, Liev Schreiber's feature debut is quite faithful to Jonathan Safran Foer's novel, though this doesn't necessarily constitute a recommendation. Wood, with his outsize spectacles and neat hair, looks like a fun-size Clark Kent, a persona not best suited to the serious business of Jewish memorialising. But then the insufferably arch tone of Foer's writing presents a challenge that even good casting wouldn't solve.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (15)

Three top-drawer actors, one schlocky horror movie. A parish priest (Tom Wilkinson) is put on trial for criminal negligence, having allowed a young woman to die during an exorcism. Laura Linney and Campbell Scott play defence and prosecution respectively as the story unfolds in flashback: a devout Catholic, Emily (Jennifer Carpenter) is a college student who believes she is possessed by demons. But is she actually an epileptic? Or psychotic? Or both?

The courtroom drama is played with acceptable gravity, but writer-director Scott Derrickson indulges all the usual horror tricks in the flashback scenes - diabolic voices, freakish accidents, violent fits - to mounting disbelief. The only mystery is how Linney, Wilkinson and Scott involved themselves in it.

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