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GUY FLATLEY'S REVIEWS

THE BELIEVER ****

CAST: Ryan Gosling, Summer Phoenix, Theresa Russell, Billy Zane, Glenn Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Reaser, Dean Strober, Ronald Guttman, Jacob Green, Henry Bean

DIRECTOR: Henry Bean

Danny, played by Ryan Gosling with an intensity so vivid and frightening that it immediately establishes him as a major talent, is a charismatic fascist who spews anti-semitic venom, tyrannizes a fragile young Jew on the subway, and plants explosive devices in a synagogue. The truly shocking thing about Danny, however, is that he is a Jew who was once considered the most brilliant student at his Yeshiva.

How did Danny evolve from an intellectually precocious boy to an adolescent who troubled his teachers with blasphemous taunts to a potential terrorist sporting swastika-emblazoned tee-shirts? The question is raised by Henry Bean--the gifted writer-director who also persuasively acts a minor role--but he never gives us pat answers or facile solutions in his haunting, piercingly relevant drama. Scariest of all is the fact that he's based the character of Danny on a real-life neo-Nazi who committed suicide after a journalist identified him as a Jew.

In addition to supplying us with more intellectual and emotional substance than we've come to expect from contemporary American moviemakers, Bean--known heretofore chiefly as the screenwriter of "Internal Affairs," "Enemy of the State" and "Murder by Numbers"--displays a strong, appropriately jagged visual flair and draws uniformly excellent performances from a cast that includes Theresa Russell and Billy Zane as a pair of all-too-credible fascistic Manhattanites who spot the political value of Danny's gift for passionate articulation, and Summer Phoenix as Russell's daughter and Danny's eventual bed(and soul)mate.


LATE MARRIAGE ***

CAST: Lior Ashkenazi, Ronit Elkabetz, Moni Moshonov, Lili Kosashvili

DIRECTOR: Dover Kosashvili

When the groom slips away from his bride at the wedding celebration, enters the men's room, steps up to the urinal, scrutinizes the equipment of the man next to him and says, "That's a nice dick you've got there," you sense the evening will not end well. Especially when the man at the next urinal is the groom's father.

This is just one sign that what we have here in Israeli director Dover Kosashvili's amusing--but more often harrowing--debut feature is no ordinary wedding and no ordinary family flick. For starters, Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi), a handsome agnostic working toward his PhD, doesn't love his insipid new wife; he loves and probably always will love Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), the free-spirited, truly hot divorcee and single mom whom his rabidly traditional Georgian emigre parents have maligned, threatened with a deadly weapon, and all but booted out of Tel Aviv.

What choice did they have, after all? Their son was scandalously single at the age of 31, and the woman he was shagging on the sly was not only a divorced mother, but she was also Moroccan. And, worst of all, she was 34. Despite their steely insistence--and the entreaties of their narrow-minded emigre friends--that he stick to his own kind, Zaza can keep neither his mind nor his hands off Judith. (In truth, their nude, lengthy and extremely energetic lovemaking is as steamy as anything coming out of Hollywood these days.)

Occasionally, the scenes depicting the harassment of Judith by Zaza's parents (played with scary conviction by Moni Moshonov and Lili Kosashvili, the director's real-life mother) are clumsily staged, bordering uncomfortably on burlesque. Still, Kosashvili and his striking leads have created something special here, a deceptively simple story that is sexy, funny, sad and cleverly disorienting.

So why did this good son come on to his own father in the men's room? As it turns out, it had nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with pride, prejudice and psychological rape. And getting even.


ABOUT A BOY *

CAST: Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult, Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz, Isabel Brook, Sharon Small, Victoria Smurfit, Nicholas Hutchison, Peter McNicholl, Ben Ridgeway

DIRECTORS: Chris and Paul Weitz

Our hero is a self-absorbed hedonist-about-London who's never held down a job, lives off the royalties from a cheesy Christmas song written by his father, and makes a habit of telling stupid whoppers to get women into the sack. After discovering that single mothers are the easiest lays (they're sex-starved, give great massages, and won't chain a man down because they themselves are chained down by their children), he somehow gets tricked into bonding with a 12-year-old nerd whose whiny, suicidal mother he finds ferociously unattractive. In the end, the kid makes a man of him.

Do you find that side-splittingly funny? Then there is a chance you'll be entertained by this flaccid, witless, depressing soap-operatic sitcom, an attempt by American siblings Chris and Paul Weitz to manufacture a British romp in the style of "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill" and "Bridget Jones's Diary." Alas, it takes more than the presence of Hugh Grant--looking spent and bored, despite his incessant mugging--to transform a flimsy scenario into a solid, resonant romantic comedy. This "Boy" suffers from stunted growth.




THE CRITICS' VERDICT

ABOUT A BOY

"I'd just about given up on Hugh Grant, but in 'About a Boy' he drops his stuttery-suave routine and comes through with some genuine emotion... 'About a Boy' is sophisticated and nuanced, and every character is bursting with emotional contradictions... It's rare to find a comedy that also hits the low notes as well as this one does. It's inevitable that this movie is going to be referred to as a male version of 'Bridget Jones's Diary' (which Grant also starred in), but it's light years ahead of that dippy, curdled confection." -Peter Rainer, New York

"Hugh Grant has grown up, holding on to his lightness and witty cynicism but losing the stuttering sherry-club mannerisms that were once his signature. In doing so, he has blossomed into the rare actor who can play a silver-tongued sleaze with a hidden inner decency...part of the picture's funky sweetness is that codirectors Paul and Chris Weitz, aiming a bit higher than they did in'American Pie,' do more than transform Will from a trampy hedonist into a nice guy. They trace the careful, step-by-step process through which compassion starts to feel more real to him than his shiny, empty mirror of a life did...
It would have been nice if the big school-performance scene at the end were as inspiring a heart-tugger as it wants to be. Alas, it's a mixture of the heroic and the embarrassing..." -Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

"... the Weitz brothers-notorious as the authors of the "American Pie" series- handle the sentimentality of the story with a light, sweet touch. Their version of Mr. Hornby's cheeky pop style is less inventive than the one Stephen Frears put forward in 'High Fidelity' two years ago, but also more satisfying...Mr. Grant, leaning on his mumbling charm until it turns into its opposite, is an ideal cad...You succumb to the movie's warmth and bonhomie because the alternative is to remain in the isolating, self-protective cynicism from which Will has been lucky to escape." -A.O. Scott, The New York Times

"Given the trajectory of the plot--immature, selfish single man is set straight by relationship with lonely kid--it's almost a miracle that this smart, painfully funny adaptation of the best-selling Nick Hornby novel never gives way to sentimentality...Without Grant's soft-edged charm--and superb comic timing--it would be impossible to root for Will, a cynical, narcissistic womanizer...Collette and Hoult both give convincing, courageous performances, but 'About a Boy' is really another triumph for Grant..." -Jonathan Foreman, The New York Post

"Even people who don't usually like Hugh Grant will be charmed by him in the scrappy, slightly scandalous comedy 'About a Boy.' The foppish, self-deprecating, shambling romantic of 'Notting Hill' is gone. In his place is a new Hugh, a guy with no conscience who pretends he is a single father in order to get more dates. Even so, he remains adorable..." -Jami Bernard, The New York Daily News



LATE MARRIAGE

"...an Israeli movie written and directed by Dover Kosashvili, has perhaps the most languidly realistic sex scene I've ever seen in a movie... Judith and Zaza's extended bedroom sequence--it lasts about a third of the movie--is so intimate and sensual and funny and psychologically self-revealing that it makes most of what passes for sex in the movies look like cheap hysterics." --Peter Rainer, New York

"Although both are about arranged unions in cultures whose traditions seem exotic to outsiders, there's none of the happily-ever-after spangle of 'Monsoon Wedding' in 'Late Marriage'--and that's part of what makes Dover Kosashvili's outstanding feature debut so potent...There's no simple solution to Zaza's crisis, and even the most inflamed relative gets a kiss of respect -- and a slap of horror." -Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

"...the depth of the family values ingrained in Zaza is revealed in a tearful father-son reconciliation in which the son, in gratitude and humility, falls impulsively to his knees and kisses his father's crotch, whence emanated the seed of his birth. That moment, at once touching and grotesquely funny, distills the raw emotions uncovered by this powerful and very bitter comedy." -Stephen Holden, The New York Times


THE BELIEVER

"This intense project, a directing debut for screenwriter Henry Bean , provokes troubles and shocks...Bean's commitment to serious theological examination is exciting, Gosling's performance is riveting, and this fiery and imperfect feature shines as a demonstration of independent filmmaking at its most uncompromising." -Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly


"This willfully provocative film portrait offers lots of raging, vulgarity and shock but little insight into the character's psychopathology...Like Danny, the movie fulminates with inchoate thoughts and proceeds with more energy than coherence... It's arresting and horrifying to watch Mr. Gosling's Danny put on a prayer shawl and chant sections from a religious service as he gives a Nazi salute, combining two rituals into one. But its meaning, apart from choreography, is unclear, if it exists at all. --Julie Saloman, The New York Times

"...deserves to be seen chiefly for a star-making performance by Ryan Gosling...The big problem with 'The Believer' is that Danny's virulently anti-Semitic remarks go unanswered...Any intellectual arguments being made about the nature of God are framed in a drama so clumsy, there is a real danger less sophisticated audiences will mistake it for an endorsement of the very things that Bean abhors." --Lou Lumenick, The New York Post


ENOUGH

"It's really a bogeyman horror film in sociological drag - 'I Know You Married an Abusive Creep Last Summer'...There's only one place that a movie like this one can possibly be heading, and that's to a demagogic blowout of violent, femme-power payback ... when our heroine, after a few trendy Zen martial-arts lessons, turns the tables on her nemesis, Lopez, who looks bored throughout most of the picture, finally comes alive as an actress. The audience, starved for a payoff, is primed to see the villain get a taste of his own abuse, and a movie that started off as an outcry against sadism ends up glorying in sadism." -Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

"Wife beaters with large bank accounts are above the law. Abused wives, especially those who used to work for tips, are toast. The only recourse for these women is to change their identity, muscle up and kill the bum. This is not the only simplistic notion that drives 'Enough,' the preposterous new Jennifer Lopez rabble-rouser. It is merely the most reckless..." -Jan Stuart, Newsday

"...the Fem Rage flick lives or dies by the centripetal force of its leading lady, so let it be said at once: J. Lo keeps it together. Although Lopez is an accomplished enough actress to handle the interior struggles of a woman freeing herself from an abusive relationship, this is a movie about actions, and she consistently hits her mark. ...By the time she has decided what she has to do--in this case, by the time she becomes a Ninja-spymaster-she-devil-on-a-very-bad-hair-day--even the most hardhearted critic will let out a sisterhood-is-powerful whoop." --Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post

"... a caricature even more monstrous than Glenn Close's voracious Medusa in 'Fatal Attraction' ...Throughout, Ms. Lopez holds the screen in a star performance that has less to do with acting than with embodying a forceful, streetwise woman who stands up for herself...Its wife-battering scenes, which had the preview audience gasping at their brutality, characterize the movie's head-banging aesthetic, if aesthetic is the right word...you have to wonder why the highly reputed director Michael Apted ('Coal Miner's Daughter') and the gifted screenwriter Nicholas Kazan ('Reversal of Fortune') chose to go slumming in territory like this. They must have been offered wads of money to do the dirty job. -Stephen Holden, The New York Times

"Fairly gripping fruit-pulp at least half the way through, Jennifer Lopez's sojourn into bitch-slap-the-alpha-male terrain doesn't mince circumstances, making her fearsome hubby (Bill Campbell) a wealthy, monstrously handsome, openly philandering, right-hook-throwing megalomanic demiurge whose macho viciousness is exceeded only by his male-model smugness...'Enough' works as long as it faces the horror of extreme male privilege, but dissipates quickly once Lopez begins over-preparing for a face-off with hand-to-hand combat training and calibrated techno-gadgetry." -Michael Atkinson, The Village Voice

"The gimmick is casting two TV nice guys-- Campbell of 'Once and Again' and Wyle of 'ER'--as creeps. But the trick doesn't work: Not for a second do you believe these weenies are bastards. What does work is Lopez, who has a genuine star presence (see 'Out of Sight') even in dim projects like this and 'Angel Eyes' and 'The Wedding Planner.' Say the word, girl, the next time you're offered one of these barrel scrapers: Enough! -Peter Travers, Rolling Stone