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Cronicas, from Ecuadoran-born filmmaker Sebastián Cordero, another writer-director hyphenate, is inflammatory fiction on inflammatory journalism, an unscrupulous exploration of professional ethics, a cynical exploitation of cynical exploitation. In it, a scripture-spouting Bible peddler (Damián Alcázar) accidentally kills a child who runs out in front of his car, the twin brother of a boy raped and murdered by the Monster of Babahoyo, and just buried on the very day of the accident, an offense for which the driver gets dragged from his car by an angry mob, beaten to a pulp, set on fire (all in front of the TV cameras of One Hour with the Truth, nightly out of Miami), and thrown in jail on unclear charges. He then solicits the help of a TV field reporter (John Leguizamo), in exchange for intimate knowledge of the elusive Monster. What a scoop that would be! But could the informant himself be the Monster? The sensationalism of both subject and treatment tends rather to push you away than to pull you in. By the time of the final haymaker, you are likely to be well out of reach.

Happy Endings, to position it by its title, or anyway by the noun in its title, interweaves three plotlines with occasional points of intersection, one of them to do with the tested friendship between homosexual couples of opposite sexes, one to do with the boat- rocking new female lead singer of a garage band, and one to do with a wannabe documentary filmmaker who focuses his camcorder on a Mexican immigrant sex worker. Children feature prominently in each line, not as actual presences, but as life choices, abstract concepts: the sperm-bank baby, the aborted baby, the adopted baby. The entire cast of characters, however widely scattered, comes together in a fantasy finale reminiscent of Places in the Heart or Fellini's 8 1/2. Despite that stab at magnanimity, the film doesn't really amount to much, though it whiles away a couple of hours. Writer-director Don Roos (yet another one) keeps the tone on the light side, the glib side, the superficial side, the self-conscious and posturing side. His principal tone-setting device is the intermittent split-screen title card, dispensing silent narration in the omniscient third person, an uncommonly chatty, catty third person, omniscient into the future in addition to the past, telling us, for instance, that so-and-so has had sex with twelve women since his wife died and will have sex with two more before he himself dies. Verbatim prose samples: "She's not dead. No one dies in this movie. It's a comedy, sort of" and "Charley is now gay. Who isn't?" and "Nicky never lies. He's not her son, if that's what you're thinking." Apparently intended to be ingratiating but more apt to be just grating, these bring to mind the old Saturday Night Live gimmick (back when I sometimes still watched it) of picking out an audience member with the camera and captioning the image with some potential embarrassment such as "Has hemorrhoids" or "President of the Olivia Newton-John Fan Club." Lisa Kudrow, who did good work for Roos in The Opposite of Sex, does some again here. (Though Steve Coogan, with unconcealed British accent, seems an odd choice for her stepbrother, especially since we have met the brother sans accent in an earlier stage of life.) And Maggie Gyllenhaal habitually does good work for whoever gives her a chance. And this is a particularly good chance.

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Alternative programming: the one-week booking of Machuca at Hazard Center, as part of the monthly Cinema en Tu Idioma series, is now entering its third week on Friday, and at the same time is expanding to one-week bookings at the Escondido 16 and Rancho Del Rey 16. You have no excuse to have missed it. And fair warning: Dark Water, in only its second week in wide release, looks to be sinking fast, if that's the term. Draining fast, maybe.

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