DETERRENCE (R) *** Film critic Rod Lurie's first feature has divided the critics. I'm on the pro side. In a stroke of casting genius, Kevin Pollak stars as an unpopular US president who grows into his role - as Pollak does before our eyes. Snowbound in a Colorado diner, the president responds to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait by threatening to nuke Baghdad. The story unfolds in virtual real time. What might have been a rack to hang political arguments on is a gripping, entertaining drama (and a strong candidate for stage adaptation) first and foremost. Don't let politics deter you from seeing it. SW
GOSSIP (R) Inspired by their journalism class project about the nature of gossip, three college students decide to put their theories to the test by spreading a rumor about a beautiful, wealthy and chaste freshman, whom they claim had sex with her boyfriend after a wild party. Things quickly get out of hand when the girl's boyfriend is arrested for date rape and one of the three instigators is revealed to have a deep, dark secret.
JOE GOULD'S SECRET (R)** In this nostalgic period piece, Big Night's Stanley Tucci directs himself as a New Yorker writer who makes a temporary celebrity of an eloquent, mercurial Greenwich Village street person (Ian Holm). While Holm gives a pleasingly cantankerous performance, Tucci never gets under the skin of his character (the bogus Southern accent doesn't help), and despite a genuine affection for mid-century Manhattan, the film leaves you feeling like you saw the slides of someone else's visit. CH
LOVE AND BASKETBALL (PG-13) *1/2 Love and Basketball stars Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps as two gifted basketball-playing neighbors who begin a relationship as children, which may or may not blossom into love as adults. Nope, the ending isn't a surprise. Nope, it's not directed very well. Nope, it's not written very well. Nope, co-star Alfre Woodard never gets to reveal the talent we've come to appreciate. And nope, it's not really worth your time. RJ
MIFUNE (R) *** The cinema vérité style of Denmark's Dogma 95 filmmakers continues to pay off, with this idiosyncratic comedy of familial dysfunction suggesting Flannery O'Connor penning a draft of Rain Man. Never predictable and always alive, Mifune is only diminished by a weak, confusing conclusion. CH
U-571 (R) Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton and Harvey Keitel costar in this WWII drama about a daring feat of heroism in which the Americans become trapped in a German submarine and are unable to make contact with American forces. Their mission is to sneak the vessel back into US waters without being mistaken for the enemy.
FIGHT CLUB (R) *** 1/2 A spoof of cures for millennial malaise evolves into something darker, then takes a turn of Sixth Sense proportions. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) loosens and toughens Edward Norton's unnamed character, and spectators at their Saturday night fights want to participate. Burned-out punkette Helena Bonham Carter isn't much to fight over, but she'll do. Director David Fincher may have overestimated the intelligence of American moviegoers, and isn't that refreshing! GSU's cinéfest, April 17-20. SW
I STAND ALONE (NR) *** And you thought the French were all Derrida, tiny coffees, smart ensembles and disdain-filled looks. The debut film from Gaspar Noe, about a jobless butcher on a hateful, racist, misogynist bender is a sojourn to the other side of the tracks the France of rampant unemployment, an influx of immigrants, lumpen people and barren, postindustrial boulevards without a touch of Vigo fairy dust. Relentlessly brutal, Noe's film suggests a more formally rigorous, intellectually tight Abel Ferrara. Moments of nasty humor (if castration, impotency and marital despair strike you as amusing) peek through the desolation, in this nevertheless engrossing study of a contemporary, very ordinary sociopath. GSU's cinéfest, April 14-20. FF
ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (R) *** 1/2 A lovely mix of campy humor and heartfelt affection for the sacrifices made by the women who made us, Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar's film follows a bereaved mother (Cecilia Roth) who's just lost her teenage son on her odyssey to Barcelona, to inform the boy's father of his death. Fierce performances by a cast of high-octane women, including Roth, Marisa Paredes as a flinty stage actress and Antonia San Juan as a goofy, loveable transvestite, enhance this fiery, earnest meditation on the multiple roles women play, and the thin, permeable divide between film and life. FF
AMERICAN BEAUTY (R) *** Full of arch, sardonic dialogue and shot with real style, this tale of anomie and sexual frustration in the suburbs and the snide, brow-beaten husband (Kevin Spacey) who defies it is a slick but occasionally thoughtful social skewering. The film falls short of greatness for its fuzzy moral perspective, hokey ending and a very teen boy point-of-view that casts the girls and women as vacuous and the men as cultural seers in a peculiar vision that feels halfway between Risky Business and Ordinary People. FF