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- Breakfast On Pluto - The Crying Game writer-director Neil Jordan never really does get into why Patrick “Kitten” Braden becomes a transvestite, but he does manage to save his film from being a rote and self-indulgent celebration of uniqueness when he bobs and then weaves a political cry (for Irish independence) into it. The criminally attractive Cillian Murphy plays Kitten a little too much like Mrs. Doubtfire, though he does sustain the character, and an incredible glam-packed soundtrack helps create an energetic sense of time and place.
- Deep Blue - While not as stunning as the likes of Winged Migration or March Of The Penguins, this BBC-produced nature film sure is pretty to look at. With a calming, minimalist narration by Pierce Brosnan (supplanting Michael Gambon's from the UK release) and a dreamy score by George Fenton, the underwater photography is stunning. The beast-on-beast violence is a bit intense, with one hapless sea lion meeting his end when two orcas play hacky-sack with his mangled corpse (in slow-motion, no less).
- Duane Hopwood - With a balls-out turn as an Atlantic City drunk whose world is unraveling, David Schwimmer joins Jennifer Aniston on the list of Friends With Acting Chops, twisting our guts and breaking our hearts. Judah Friedlander, as Schwimmer's fellow casino worker with dreams of stand-up glory, is a riot, earning a pass on the heap-show that was Date Movie. Writer-director Matt Mulhern expands the character (originally played by Alan Ruck) from his Walking To The Waterline, and while the film feels like there are a couple of scenes missing, it has warmth and value beneath all Duane's self-loathing. Watch for a too-short cameo by Dick Cavett as a gay neighbor, and Janeane Garofalo as Duane's ex, casting off her lefty bent and just plain acting for a change.
- Hostel - Violence for the sake of violence is not something that most moviegoers can usually stomach. They prefer it to have a point, and Boston native Eli Roth's first feature since the dark treat Cabin Fever has one ...sort of. In telling the story of three 20-something backpackers who end up playing a most dangerous game while searching for thrills in Europe, Roth builds, somewhat sloppily, to the point that "Violence begets violence." His scenes of torture are harsh, though not completely gratuitous, but his time could have been better spent developing his characters better and building the tension before the climactic carnival of carnage. He does create a real sense of desolation in his Eastern European locales, making the horror that comes from them pretty understandable. Commentary tracks include Roth, "presenter" Quentin Tarantino and Ain't It Cool News mogul Harry Knowles. A more intense unrated version is available.
- Mrs. Henderson Presents - Lovely dame Judi Dench plays the, well. .. titular character in this saucy fact-based yarn about a bawdy English widow who buys a London theater and, umm ... raises morale for the soldiers fighting in the World War, with her pioneering nude revues. Dench and co-star Bob Hoskins (who also produced) make an easy, natural show of things, and seeing these lovely English women in their natural states -- pasty and with unenhanced shapes as varied as their smiles -- is refreshing, too.
- Natural City - You'd think that if a guy like South Korean Yuryeong director Byung-chun Min was going to spend so much time, effort and money in making his Matrix-flavored sci-fi epic look just so damn purdy that he could at least attempt some originality, too. Instead, this very mixed bag Blade Runner pretender is the result. It's the story of future cop R (Ji-tae Yu), who faces the prospect of his beloved cyborg Ria (Rin Seo) expiring very shortly. With the feel of the illogical, blustery and also-flawed gonzo faves Immortel and The Fifth Element, Min's vision -- myopic though it may be -- and conviction that he is telling a totally unique tale help make his effort more than just tears in rain.
- One Bright Shining Moment - Despite its hippie smarminess and inability to efficiently get to a point, director Stephen Vittoria's profile of liberal Democrat George McGovern and his disastrous loss to Richard Nixon in the 1972 Presidential election does get us to consider one core question: What would the world be like today if McGovern had won? We will never know that for sure, but the American people were clear, giving Nixon 49 of 50 states, even though McGovern promised to end the Vietnam War on the day of his inauguration. The film is overlong, put together a little clumsily and a little too dependent on talking heads, although one of them -- the still-kicking deified Genuinely Nice Guy himself -- is a total treat.
- Pray - First-time J-horror director Yuichi Sato's moody ghost story is by no means perfect, but in telling his story of two opportunistic no-goodniks who kidnap a young girl and hole up in an abandoned elementary school waiting for her ransom, he manages some effective scares as well as a solid story, and sets his movie apart from the deluge of belabored Ring and Grudge imitators.
- Return Of The Living Dead 4: Necropolis - After seeing this incomprehensible mess, horror fans who waited 13 years since the last cheeky zombie installment can do what Highlander fans do when forced to consider the illusion-shattering inanity of Highlander 2: The Quickening -- pretend it doesn't exist. When some friends attempt to rescue a friend being held by a corporation that is experimenting upon him, they accidentally unleash a horde of the living dead, which are hungry for brains, brains, brains (which they announce more than Pacino said the f-word in Scarface). Considering this turkey has no brains, they should starve before the equally fetid Return Of The Living Dead 5: Rave To The Grave can pollute video store shelves and Netflix queues.