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Un Héros Très Discret
(1996) Imagine a tale of a confidence man told by the Coen brothers (Raising Arizona, Fargo) with a light touch of magical realism and slapstick. Albert Dehousse (Mathieu Kassovitz) is a French provincial boy of the years between the world wars. Through the tutelage of an old spy on the skids, Dehousse creates a story of his own exploits as a Resistance hero to get the free food at parties and bars. The lie takes on a life of its own. Director Jacques Audiard begins to hint that Dehousse isn't just a renegade but an embodiment of a postwar France eager to rewrite its history. As Audiard notes, "Overnight, we were no longer defeated, we were the conquerors; we were no longer collaborators; we were Resistance fighters." Kassovitz is superb; also deserving praise is Anouk Grinberg as a mannish Resistance hero. Risky, imaginative, daring. (RvB)

Full text review.
(PG-13) M. Night Shyamalan wrote, directed and produced this much-anticipated follow-up to his thriller The Sixth Sense. Bruce Willis stars as David Dunn, a man who is the sole survivor of a catastrophic train wreck, escaping the disaster completely unscathed. Samuel L. Jackson plays a mysterious stranger whose theory about why David escaped unharmed changes David's life forever.

Uncovered: The War on Iraq
Full text review.
(Unrated; 83 min.) Producer/director Robert Greenwald's documentary charges that because of panic in the wake of Sept. 11, the Bush administration bulldozed its way past the United Nations and into a long-planned pre-emptive war. Seventeen months after the war commenced, we've lost hundreds of soldiers, killed countless Iraqi civilians, spent an inconceivable amount of national treasure and weakened our nation and our national prestige for years to come. All in all, it's been a windfall for Al Qaeda. Maybe the above is a bitter way of looking at the situation, but in Greenwald's review of the sad history of the war, incident after incident, it's hard not to succumb to bitterness. Here it all is again, the intelligence-insulting dog-and-pony shows, meant to scare the bejesus out of the America public. CIA vet Robert Baer describes the Bush administration's methodology as "data-mining"—taking old intelligence and squeezing it for new results. The administration's imperatives to unleash war are retrieved from the public memory hole: the chimerical yellow-cake Niger uranium, the aluminum tubes for breeder reactors, the enormous stockpile of sarin. Greenwald's approach—sober, fact-laden, the opposite of the impressionist crowd-rousing in Fahrenheit 9/11—isn't a personal derogation of Bush. Or not quite, until Bush's most indefensible moment, his flight-suited strut down the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. (RvB)

Under Capricorn/Spellbound
(1945/1940) The title Under Capricorn refers to the Tropic of Capricorn and the continent of Australia, which lies underneath it on the map. This obscure Alfred Hitchcock feature, which sports Jack Cardiff's handsomely muted photography, must be one of the first films to suggest that a costume drama ought to look faded, like a tinted photograph. The action is set in 1830, when the new governor of New South Wales has arrived in the rough and ready colony. In the governor's van is his cousin, Adare (Michael Wilding), the ne'er-do-well younger son of an Irish peer. To the fury of the local establishment, Adare attaches himself to a wealthy, sinister rancher named Flusky (Joseph Cotton). As it turns out, the rancher's drunken, miserable wife (Ingrid Bergman) is the ruins of Lady Henryetta, a noblewoman Adare knew when he was a child. As Adare tries to snap Henryetta out of her despair, he awakens the jealousy of her husband—and the conniving of a servant (Margaret Whiting) who loves Flusky and hates Henryetta with Iago's own hatred. Under Capricorn is one of two films Hitchcock produced himself, under his independent studio Transatlantic Pictures. It was a $2.5-million failure, and Hitchcock was forced to go back to the studios. As in Under Capricorn's predecessor with Transatlantic, Rope, Hitchcock's principal curiosity seemed to be in devising ways of lengthening a scene without cutting, in order to heighten dramatic intensity. When this method works—as in the rehearsal scenes of Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy and the barbecue scene in his Secrets and Lies—the scenes have a depth and tension that's almost hard to bear. When it doesn't—as it doesn't in Rope and here—the material looks talky and stagy. At times, Hitchcock seems to be perversely avoiding action—not cutting to obvious material for flashbacks, not even showing us a horse-riding accident that occurs right outside Flusky's door. And Cotton may be one of the most underappreciated actors of the American cinema, but he's too sensible to play a Gothic wounded hero. Bergman is great—the knowing, angry flash of her eyes when Adare asks her a stupid question about how she supported herself in colonial Australia, alone and penniless; the way she pads into a fancy dinner, half-mad and barefoot. BILLED WITH Spellbound, a more popular entertainment by Hitchcock, including the rich dream sequence designed by Dali. (RvB)

(PG; 95 min.) "Based on an idea from rising 24-year-old actor-rapper-comic Nick Cannon," says the press kit—hope it's not his only idea!—Underclassman asks the question: What would happen if a street-wise cop infiltrated an L.A. prep school, trying to track down a ring of luxury car thieves? Cannon, who exec-produced, plays Tracy "Tre" Strokes, an excitable but none too deft LAPD cop, trying to play the urban wisecracker at a country-club-like school. Cannon is less apt than Will Smith, and he's got the street credibility of an "urban" cereal mascot. Cannon picked precisely the role to make him look foolish, and so he's got himself to blame. To be fair, Cannon's not without potential as an actor. When he snaps out of his endless dribble of bleached street talk, he warms up to his female co-star Roselyn Sanchez, revealing a shyness that's at odds with his character. Otherwise, Underclassman is the kind of ugly and vapid movie only a producer can love. It's padded out with arthritically staged sports sequences, including a jet ski moment that sprays the coliform-tainted waters of Marina Del Rey all over the camera's lens. Cheech Marin (basically playing the peeved uncle-cop from the Jackie Chan movies) looks as ornery as Jack Nicholson. If Marin buys some good paintings with the paycheck, it'll be the only positive result of making this movie. (RvB)

Undercover Brother
(PG-13; 88 min.) This spoofy ode to blaxploitation about an Afro and a giant set of teeth (played by Eddie Griffin) is surprisingly good. The film is also about blacks regaining power after Afro-U.S.A. took its trip down cultural regression lane via the bleaching forces of assimilation. The film's opening scene gives a quick take on history's downward spiral from breakthrough highs (Martin Luther King Jr. and Pam Grier) to embarrassing lows (Urkel and Dennis Rodman). Griffin plays Anton Jackson, Undercover Brother, a secret agent with a butterfly collar and fuzzy black balls hanging from his daddy's rear-view mirror. Brother joins subversive group the Brotherhood, featuring the hilariously paranoid Conspiracy Brother (Dave Chappelle), to go up against the Man and save James Brown and potential black presidential candidate Gen. Boutwell (Billy Dee Williams) from succumbing to a whitewashing scheme involving mass-opiate fried chicken and the evil Mr. Feather (goofy Chris Kattan). The nonstop joke about the Brotherhood vs. the Man never gets old. Neither do the pop-culture race jokes shamelessly hurled every two seconds. (AG)

Underground Bunker/Viva Erotica
(1994/1998) Two unpreviewed films from Hong Kong. Underground Banker stars Anthony Wong. Viva Erotica stars Leslie Cheung. Recommended for adults. (RvB)

The Underground Comedy Movie
(88 min.) Undisputably midnight movie fare, this offering of comic sketches plays for sophomoric laughs, often profane and childish and sometimes downright disgusting. But for that breed of comedy, this film, with cameos by such unlikely walk-ons as Joey Buttafuoco and guitarist Slash of Guns n' Roses, heartily delivers.

Under Heaven
Full text review.

Under Siege 2: Dark Territory
Ex-Navy SEAL cum chef Casey Ryback (Steven Seagal) takes his pouty niece (Katherine Heigl) for a Cook's tour of the West via luxury express train only to find himself scrambled up in the middle of your typical "Yo! Middle Eastern potentates, give me a billion dollars and I'll cause an earthquake under the Pentagon with a satellite beam" scheme concocted by demented genius Eric Bogosian and violently overseen by Everett McGill. If you can ignore the lame sidekick humor and occasional low-budget back-projection work, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory delivers a relatively uncut dose of raw, nonstop action leading up to the best train-overboard sequence since Bridge on the River Kwai. (MSG)

Under the Sand
Full text review.

Under the Skin
Full text review.

Under the Sun
Full text review.

Under the Tuscan Sun
Full text review.

(R; 107 min.) A thriller with James Bell, Dermot Mulroney and Josh about violence between two generations of brothers. Directed by David Gordon Green.

(R; 131 min.) Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a very beautiful vampire who keeps vigilant in the centuries-old war against the Lycans. The Lycans, well, they are not so pretty, although their hirsute leader, Lucian (Michael Sheen), does have a kind of Nine-Inch Nails appeal. In steps Michael (Scott Speedman), the human—rugged enough for a werewolf, winsome enough for a vampire—at the turn of the tide. This movie really wants be to taken seriously. It dives into a prefab mythology with official parlance—"Lycans" for werewolves—and offers job titles like "Death Dealer." Underworld apes various aesthetic elements of The Matrix, The Crow, The Lord of the Rings and Blade to amp up the slickness, and even introduces a facile post-colonial subtext to add gravity. In fact, it has all the makings of a fun cult-fantasy franchise, just with none of the invention or levity to pull it off. (JT)

Underworld: Evolution
(R; 105 min.) If there was any doubt remaining that Bush is a vampire, the Underworld movies should erase it once and for all. In fact, the bloodsuckers in these movies would have to be in with not only the prez but also the entire military-industrial complex to get their hands on the kind of firepower they throw around here. This series is already getting long in the tooth, though, and in Evolution its Anne Rice-meets-the-Matrix style seems weirdly dated. But in fact, the original film came out just a couple of years ago and was part of a wave of CGI-heavy potboilers that managed to suck the fun out of monster movies for quite a while there. Surprisingly, this sequel remedies that somewhat—after a dreary beginning, the vampires vs. werewolves action eventually moves to a castle of exile where things pick up. Perhaps the producers realized that the horror genre had left it completely in the dust and were willing to indulge their inner Hammer camp sensibilities for want of any other reason to exist. The lengths they will go to preserve Kate Beckinsale's modesty—even in a sex scene—are enough to make you feel sorry for the perverts who came just to see her hoo-hahs. Spare me your sympathy—I got to see a winged lord of the undead actually type on a keyboard to get the information he was looking for and learned why a werewolf makes a terrific can opener. (SP)

(PG-13) Young people try to make it in the entertainment world in L.A. Stars Steven Strait, Pell James, Carrie Fisher and, gulp!, Ashlee Simpson.

(R; 90 min.) A fight film that's been in the refrigerator too long. Director/co-writer Walter Hill, A-list director of the '80s (48 Hrs.), mounts a comeback in this story of "Honor and Courage" in a small-budgeted big house in the Mojave Desert. A Mike Tyson-like champ named George "Iceman" Chambers (Ving Rhames, good as he can be in a one-note performance) is sent to prison for date rape. Once there, he's manipulated into a bout with the prison's contender, Monroe Hutchins (Wesley Snipes), the undisputed champion of behind-bars boxing matches. It's almost phony enough to be funny. Hill and co-writer David Giler spell out the drama in block letters. The film contrasts Snipes' Zen approach (signified by his building a Japanese temple out of toothpicks while in solitary confinement) with Iceman's me-against-the-world orneriness. The conflict leads to a final bout that has all the emotional pull of a round of Rock'em, Sock'em Robots. Still, the film is notable for leaving the matter of Tyson's—I mean Iceman's—guilt in the air. Yet it implies that Iceman becomes a better man for going to prison, which has not been the case for the genuine Tyson. Thank goodness for Peter Falk in one of those "point me at whatever I'm supposed to be squinting at" roles as a big-time mobster with a long memory for the golden age of boxing. Even when his dialogue seems like the result of a computer program in which the stored key phrase is "fuck," Falk is entertaining. So is Michael Rooker, amusing as the folksy head guard. And as Rhames' cellmate, Wes Studi, the Bad Indian in The Last of the Mohicans, is similarly too worthwhile for this baloney—be a damned shame if he only gets cast in Danny Trejo parts. (RvB)

Une Affaire de Goût
Full text review.

Une Femme Française
(1995) A story of a French wife's many affairs during her husband's absences as a soldier in WWII and in the colonial wars in Vietnam and Algeria. Emmanuelle Béart and Daniel Auteuil star; Regis Wargnier (Indochine) co-wrote and directed. (RvB)

(R; 121 min.) Diane Lane sleeps around with Olivier Martinez much to the deep chagrin of her husband, Richard Gere.

Unfaithfully Yours/A Night at the Opera
(1948/1935) Considering himself a cuckold, a violent-tempered conductor (Rex Harrison) imagines three various ways by which he might dispose of his wife. It's Preston Sturges in decline—fancier, less grounded with the finest slapstick and romance—but it's still Sturges. BILLED WITH A Night at the Opera. Seeking an entrance into society, a dame (Margaret Dumont) signs on a very dubious artiste called Otis B. Driftwood—played by Groucho Marx. Perhaps it was the opera that brought out the best high-society yearnings in Margaret Dumont; perhaps it's the fact that the brothers had cut loose an anchor called Zeppo; and perhaps the Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones duets gave Groucho a little more fire in his belly. But this one is the Marx Brothers movie that holds the cult together, turning the Brothers into a money-making proposition. Duck Soup is for the cognoscenti, but A Night at the Opera is one for comedy lovers of all kinds. (RvB)

An Unfinished Life
Full text review.

(PG-13; 107 min.) An Unfinished Life has a stale flavor unperked by Lasse "Wholesome" Hallström's direction, star Robert Redford's movie-long séance for John Wayne or Morgan Freeman's more credible attempt to channel Walter Brennan. Jean (Jennifer Lopez, seriously miscast) and her daughter, Griff (Becca Gardner) flee Jean's battering boyfriend. Jean decides to go to the only place she can think of: her home town in Wyoming, where she must make amends with Griff's ornery grandfather: the dry-drunk Einar (Redford), who tends one lone milk cow, the last of all his stock. Einar's other duty is nursing the still unhealed wounds of his ex-hired hand, Mitch (Morgan Freeman). The secrets of Mitch's wounds and Einar's anger with Jean are all revealed in time. Meanwhile Jean waltzes into a job and commences a sex-only-please tryst with the local sheriff (Josh Lucas). Scriptwriters Mark and Virginia Korus Spragg are working from formulas that were old when they were young. Unfortunately, as an actor Redford is a cute boy who turned into a cute codger. An Unfinished Life is a synthetic drama, loaded with easy-reader symbolism. (RvB)

United 93
(R; 111 min.) Here is a movie that I didn't want to see, didn't enjoy seeing and wouldn't wish upon anyone else. It left me shaking and sweating. Like a modern-day Battleship Potemkin, it re-creates some of the events of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, focusing on United Flight 93. British director Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, The Bourne Supremacy) avoids a single hero to drive the film, choosing instead a collective of Americans, and shies away from casting any easily recognizable actors (thus denying us distractions or comfort). Using research and interviews with the victims' family members, Greengrass imagines what might have happened on board that hijacked flight, specifically the Americans standing up to the terrorists, who here twitch and bark like animals. Greengrass doesn't venture into any unfamiliar territory, like explaining why the terrorists attacked, or wondering where the president was; it is merely a docudrama of that horrible morning, which none of us is likely to forget anytime soon. It is a well-made, effective work, but the mere fact that it is a fictional movie reeks of exploitation and self-satisfaction, as if Greengrass were very aware that he is doing something "important." I would rather have seen the estimated $15 million spent on this thing go into a monument or a museum. (JMA)

Unhook the Stars
(R; 104 min.) Nick Cassavetes directs his mother, Gena Rowlands, in an aggressively heartwarming drama. She plays Mildred Hawks, a well-off widow whose joy in life is the young neighbor kid J.J. (Jake Lloyd), who is the son of a negligent working-class woman, Monica (Marisa Tomei). Mildred learns not to interfere and not try to bend over backward to help people. Unhook the Stars is soft-eyed piffle, on the level of a drama about a woman's servant problems.(RvB)

United Nations Association Film Festival
For three days (Oct 23-25), the Midpeninsula Chapter of the United Nations Association and the Stanford Film Society host a noncompetitive festival featuring 22 documentaries about human rights, environmental survival, foreign affairs and the like. Among the features are three films by director Barbara Trent (who will appear at the screenings): Panama Deception (Oct 23), winner of the Academy Award for best documentary in 1992; Coverup: Behind the Iran-Contra Affair (Oct 24) and Destination Nicaragua (Oct 25). Some of the other documentaries include The Menace of Landmines and The Air We Breathe (Oct 23); Women and Fidel and Mongolia on the Edge of Time (Oct 24); and All God's Children (Oct 25). (Plays Oct 23-25 in Palo Alto at Stanford's Cubberley and Annenberg auditoriums; check the Web site for schedule details.) (AR)

United Nations Association Film Festival 2000
The United Nations Association Film Festival presents 26 documentaries made by filmmakers from around the world. The festival is noncompetitive and aims to present a public forum for exploring human rights and U.N. related issues.

United Nations Association Film Festival 2001
Four days of dozens of short documentaries from around the world, including here. Only some of the selections: Thursday, Oct 25: Long Night's Journey Into Day (6:45pm). Berkeley's Francis Reid and Deborah Hoffman's study of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, which sorted through the atrocities of the old regime. La Honda filmmaker's Christopher McLeod and Melina Maynor's In the Light of Car Cultureerence (8:30pm) is an overview of three sacred Native American sites (Mt. Shasta, the Colorado Plateau and Devil's Tower in Wyoming) under siege by miners from below and New Age cultists from above. Friday, Oct 26: Where Woman are Banned (9:15pm) a shot-in-Afghanistan account of the Taliban's war against women. Saturday, Oct 27: The Splint Horn: Life of a Hmong Shaman in America (1:55pm), about the communities of Laotians that turn up in the most unlikely places (Iowa, for example). Oct 28: Our Own Road by Palo Alto filmmakers John Montoya and Charlotte Beyers examines how local farmers in Mexico have come up with ways to aid those crippled in the drug wars and traffic accidents. Sunday's program includes a closing night reception with international food and music by Potential. (RvB)

United Nations Association Film Festival 2003
Not the actual UN but rather a grassroots non-profit aiming to further the spirit of the UN; the festival itself is headed by Jasmina Bojic, film critic and teacher. The theme is "Promotion of Universal Respect." Oct 24, 9pm: Liberia: America's Stepchild. Liberian Nancee Oku Bright, who co-directed with Jean-Phillipe Boucicault, narrates a story beyond the talents of a Graham Greene or Evelyn Waugh to fictionalize. Liberia went from democracy to oligarchy to kleptocracy to barbarism in a little more than 150 years—helped down this path by greedy, muddling U.S. foreign policy. In the last century, the African nations was a plantation for American tire companies, leased for pennies an acre and farmed with de facto slave labor. The backward military dictator Master Sgt. Samuel K. Doe was originally a fire-breathing nationalist, later a huge fan of Ronald Reagan's. Doe's anti-Communism was not enough to save his ears, his testicles and his life, taken in that order by the troops of his successor Charles Taylor. During a civil war that raged in the 1990s, the death toll racketed to 150,000. Taylor was the peace candidate, if only in the sense that he was the only one powerful enough to stop the ethnic cleansing. "He killed my ma, I will vote for him. He killed my pa, I will vote for him," chanted war-weary souls. But Taylor has exported children's armies to neighboring nations, becoming such a menace that the United States finally sent in such Marines as could be spared this summer—until they were felled by the same malaria that struck the first former U.S. slaves that arrived in the 1820s. Bright maintains hope for her country, which she loves. Despite the aims of the UNAFF, this gripping film is hardly an advertisement for the goodness of man. Interviewees include the actor Ossie Davis, who soldiered in Liberia during WWII and remembers its honorable past as the first free republic in an Africa; Elizabeth Blunt of the BBC gives an eye-witness account of Doe's last day of power. Various screenings continue through the weekend. (RvB)

United Nations Association Film Festival 2004
Full text review.

United Nations Association Film Festival 2005
The festival (which runs Oct 19-23 at Stanford) offers a special kickoff event Saturday in East Palo Alto. The day features a showing of Omar & Pete (2pm). Tod Lending's film looks at the lives of African American men who have been in prison and how they adjust to life on the outside. Next is Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story (4pm). The film tells the story of how the vital Mexican-American community was razed to allow for the building of Dodger Stadium. At 7pm, there will be a screening of the short Speak Luvo Speak Jane, about AIDS in the African American community. The evening concludes with Boxers and Ballerinas (8pm), a documentary about athletes and dancers in Cuba. There will also be a reception for audiences and filmmakers at 5:30pm. (Plays Oct 8 in East Palo Alto at the Eastside Theater, 2101 Pulgas Ave; $5; 650.853.3140.)

Universal Soldier: The Return
(R; 89 min.) Jean-Claude van Damme's zombie dogface character saves central Texas from a platoon of supersoldiers. It's a moronic piece of crap, and so's anyone stupid enough to waste their money seeing it. (BC)

An Unreasonable Man
(Unrated; 122 min.) A model of routine documentary filmmaking, this film's first hour lists Ralph Nader's formidable accomplishments up to the year 2000. At one point, interviewees claim that it is impossible know the "real" Nader, that he has no romantic interests or personal life outside his work. This seems like a lazy way to justify the fact that filmmakers Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan had access to Nader himself but choose to use him merely as another talking head. Nevertheless, the second half, which deals with Nader's controversial presidential runs in 2000 and 2004, launches a fascinating, heated argument between Nader's supporters and a few detractors, each firing off reasons as to why Nader may or may not have been responsible for George W. Bush's "victory." (JMA)

The Unsinkable Molly Brown
(1964) Debbie Reynolds and Harve Presnell star in wide-screen musical comedy about a wealthy 19th-century eccentric. The score is by Meredith Wilson.

Unstrung Heroes
(PG) A definite heartstring tugger, Unstrung Heroes portrays how a 12-year-old boy, Steven (Nathan Williams), and his family must cope as their mother (Andie MacDowell) faces a terminal illness. As many stirring moments as there are in the film, it offers more than the touching story of a family tragedy; it's also a kind of modern parable, demonstrating within one family of diverse characters that there is no one best way to live. As his mother's illness worsens, Steven retreats from his unfailingly science-minded father (John Turturro), who is determined to help cure his wife, to live with his eccentric uncles, Arthur (Maury Chaykin) and Danny (Michael Richards), conspiracy theorists whose cluttered dwelling outdoes even the most extreme pack rat with its bizarre collections. (HZ)

(R; 100 min.) Diane Lane is a long way from the Tuscan sun in this soggy FBI procedural that mulches elements of Saw, Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs. She plays an FBI agent tracking cybercrimes in rain-sodden Portland who finds a real-time torture-porn website where an unseen sadist slowly kills a kitten (a kitten!); as more viewers watch the site, the feline dies more rapidly. We website viewers (and moviegoers) are implicated as voyeurs. As the streaming murders proliferate and take in human victims, Lane intones, "I think he's just getting started," in the first of many overly obvious lines of dialogue. The tortures grow more elaborate, but the manhunt is dull. Despite Lane's cool performance, Untraceable is irredeemable. (DH)

(Unrated; 80 minutes) The renowned fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi—part George Sanders, part nice Jewish chatterbox who loves his mom—is profiled in a fast 80 minutes. Douglas Keeve, a fashion photographer, shot his documentary in ultragrainy black-and-white, and the film is skilled enough to unzip prejudices toward fashion designers. It's not Mizrahi's clothes that are so especially fabulous. His 1994 line consists of yards of fluorescent plush fake fur, something like the prehistoric costumes on the mannequins at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Still, tides flow fastest in shallow waters. Unzipped carries you along on sheer speed and excess, and during its course, Mizrahi becomes a backhandedly sympathetic character. (RvB)

Up and Down
Full text review.
(R; 108 min.) A flashing and funny portrait of the current free-market Czech plight directed by Jan Hrebejk. The lineup of desperate characters includes a stolen baby; a likable but bitter old mom; a gentle numbskull (Jirí Machácek) and a senescent professor (Jan Triska) representing the ailing humanist tradition. The trouble begins when smugglers bring some illegal Balkan immigrants into the Czech Republic, and two Czech coyotes end up with a Rom infant. The baby gets sold to a woman on the verge of collapse in longing for a child. Drab Mila (Natasa Burger) has a husband: the hulking, shaven-headed Franta (Machácek). Meanwhile, Otto (Triska), an aged professor, collapses with a brain ailment. When he comes to, he asks to see two people from his past: his discarded wife, Vera (Emilia Vásáryová), a Russian translator, and his son, Martin (Petr Forman), who long ago emigrated to Australia. The film shuttles back and forth between the story of these high-level academics and the clerks, criminals and lager louts who live in the unpicturesque parts of Prague. While celebrating that beloved city, they mourn the land's tragic infection by racism and xenophobia. The filmmakers are less alarmed by the human traffic pouring west than they are by the rise of a new barbarism at home. (RvB)

Up at the Villa
Full text review.

Up Close and Personal
(PG-13; 124 min.) As the ads put it, "The attraction was unmistakable. The passion was undeniable. Their love was unconditional." It does seem to echo Lord Chesterfield's definition of sex: "The position was ridiculous. The pleasure was momentary. The expense was damnable." Tally Atwater (Michelle Pfeiffer) is mentored from blonde hick to adored brunette news reader by the last honest man in broadcast news, Warren Justice (Robert Redford). After much vacillation, Tally becomes Warren's lover; later, her fame starts to supersede his. It's A Star Is Born all over again—and all the way to the bitter end. Screenwriters Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, who scripted a version of A Star Is Born in 1976, haven't forgotten the drill. In this version, it's age and not the bottle that causes the rift. Actors don't age less gracefully than Redford, who resembles the Hideous Sun Demon in some of his close-ups. In a similar role in Network, William Holden evinced regret, wounded pride, the knowledge that his much younger fling was going to slip away. Redford, playing boyishness at an indecent age, is still the narcissistic star, and all Pfeiffer can do is orbit him. The film is a long, dim, strange and self-congratulatory look at network news, free of the exhilaration of the craft and the chemistry of romance. (RvB)

Uptown Girls
(PG-13) Brittany Murphy is an uptown girl. She's been living in her white-bread world. As long as anyone with hot blood can. And now she's looking for a downtown nan ... ny job. That's what she finds in yet another comedy about little kids who supposedly have lots of uplifting lessons to teach us, if we can just put up with their bratty bullshit and endless narcissism long enough to keep from kicking their sorry asses to the curb. (Capsule preview by SP)

Full text review.

Urban Legend
(R) Another in the series of Scream knock-offs, Urban Legend begins with a scene lifted from 1983's Nightmares, a collection of scary stories in which Larry (William Sanderson of Newhart's Larry, Darryl and Darryl fame) plays a scary gas station attendant. Frightening the first time, it's tired the second time, and by presenting this old idea as new, the filmmakers offer no terror for those who know the punchline. The whole movie continues in that vein, bringing well-known urban legends to life. Starring another crop of teens handpicked from television, the forgettable characters never expect the audience to care if they live or die. Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street) is largely wasted as a professor who teaches a class on urban legends. The model-perfect co-eds do all the classic no-no's (running into haunted houses, empty buildings and dark forests) and the students flout the horror movie rules, engaging in parties, sex and a communal disbelief that a lunatic is murdering people on campus. There are funny moments and amusing self-references, but director Jamie Blank took a clever idea and made a so-so movie. (SQ)

Urban Legends: Final Cut
Full text review.

(PG; 90 min.) Chanukah may seem a little overexposed compared to Christmas. Yet it's positively a famous religious holiday compared to Sukkot. Sukkot is a weeklong Jewish harvest festival, centering around the pleasant custom of setting up booths for living and eating in—sheds representing the temporary dwellings of the Israelites during their 40-year exodus. According to Yiddish maven Leo Rosten, a philosopher named Philo considered Sukkot a way of leveling the rich and the poor for at least one week. It's a custom that would be in the interest of the whole community. Perhaps the most piquant part of Sukkot involves the enshrining of an aromatic fruit called a citron; in gentile households, citrons are only seen chopped, candied and stirred into fruitcake batter. Ushpizin, a comedic holiday movie, concerns a pair of Breslau Hassidic Jews. Moshe (director Shuli Rand) and his zaftig wife, Mali (Rand's real-life wife, Michal Bat Sheva Rand), are both as poor as Job's turkey, and as childless as Abraham and Sarah. As the holy week begins, the two receive a pair of ushpizin (strangers), unexpected guests to be wined and dined. Unfortunately, the two are Moshe's nephew and his cell mate from prison—a pair of noisy, dodgy drunks. The visit is a species of home invasion. Most would see the pair as an impossible nuisance, but Moshe understands them as a test of his faith. Orthodox Judaism may not be a tolerant religion; still, this sweet fable demonstrates the tolerance needed when dealing with the arrogance and noise of the modern world; you don't have to be Jewish to sympathize. (RvB)

U.S. Marshals
(R; 115 min.) Tommy Lee Jones reprises his role from The Fugitive as Chief Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard, this time tracking down a deep-cover assassin named Roberts (Wesley Snipes). And therein lies the trouble. The Fugitive was about a bewildered civilian trying to evade the strong arm of the law, but the sympathies are muddled here. Roberts has too much going for him to be worth worrying about, and the real villain (Robert Downey Jr. in an obvious plot twist) is more smarmy than menacing. What U.S. Marshals has going for it is the ever-personable Jones, a mostly fine support cast and a rousingly spectacular airplane crash. As a thriller it's no more than adequate—but it is entertaining. (BC)

The Usual Suspects
Director Bryan Singer's new movie is urgent and exciting, with tasty, lurid photography and a tricky plot about a high-priced gang that embarks on a series of escalating crimes. The theft of some emeralds leads into another jewel heist that goes wrong and finally slides the crew into an assault on a heavily guarded ship. The plot involves an unseen master criminal, Keyser Soze, who is a modern version of Sherlock Holmes' nemesis, Moriarty. If you're sharp, you'll be ahead of the film on a few points, but I doubt if anyone could foresee how it finally resolves itself, thanks to not one but two untrustworthy narrators: the crippled, passive-aggressive confidence man "Verbal" (Kevin Spacey) and a glinting-eyed police detective (Chazz Palminteri). (RvB)

(R; 125 min.) While on his way to Las Vegas to pay off a debt to a gang of finger-choppers, Bobby (Sean Penn), a small-time grifter, finds all kinds of grief when his car breaks down in a scary Arizona town. A hot-and-cold brunette (Jennifer Lopez) wants Bobby to kill her husband (Nick Nolte), who wants Bobby to kill his wife; Bobby just wants to get his car back from a vindictive mechanic (Billy Bob Thornton). This very slim tale exists mostly as a way for director Oliver Stone, longtime Stone cinematographer Robert Richardson and the superior cast (including Jon Voight as a sort of panhandling shaman and Joaquin Phoenix as a rockabilly Boo Radley) to show off their chops. Which they do very well, even if Bobby is such a rat bastard that it's difficult to care what happens to him, as long as it's something bad. (BC)

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