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MESSAGES FROM THE BERLIN FESTIVAL --'LET THEM EAT CAKE' AND 'GET OUT OF GITMO'

The 56th Internationale Festspiele kicked off with Marc Evans’ “Snow Cake” on February 9. For details on that film and others scheduled for the festival, which ends on February 19, see below. To get complete information on festival events, click here and visit the official festival site.


SNOW CAKE: Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Hampshire, James Allodi (Directed by Marc Evans; Written by Angela Pell; Momentum Pictures/TVA Films) Alex Hughes (Alan Rickman) is not a happy traveler when first seen in a dismal Canadian diner somewhere on the road to Winnipeg. Recently released from prison, where he’d been sent for killing someone, he tries to lose himself in a good read but is thwarted by a young woman who plops down at his table. She then hitches a ride with him, only to perish when the car crashes. Alex feels duty-bound to visit her mom in Wawa and break the news to her in person, but when he does, Mom (Sigourney Weaver) doesn’t get all that ruffled, presumably because she is afflicted with a form of autism. Depressing as Wawa is, Alex decides to stay on a bit. And things do start looking up when Mom’s foxy neighbor (Carrie-Anne Moss, shown above with Alan Rickman) invites him to dinner but doesn’t serve him anything but herself. The man from Variety seemed to feel that “Snow Cake” was a bit overbaked to open the festival; click here for the review.

BREAKFAST ON PLUTO: Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, Brendan Gleeson, Gavin Friday, Laurence Kinlan, Ruth Negga, Eamonn Owens, Ruth McCabe, Charlene McKenna, Neil Jackson, Morne Botes, Tony Devlin (Written and directed by Neil Jordan; Sony Pictures Classics) Who’s the sweetest, swingingest, sleep-around babe in all of 1970’s London? No contest--it’s Cillian Murphy. Yes, the virile young star of “28 Days” and “Red-Eye” plays Patrick “Pussy” Braden, the bastard son of an Irish priest (Liam Neeson) who escapes the poverty and grief of Tyreelin, Ireland, and soon succeeds in becoming a transvestite prostitute who makes herself quite at home with the Brits. , a favorite among British politicians, soldiers and just plain blokes. Based on Pat McCabe’s novel, this “Breakfast” is being served by Neil Jordan, the writer/director who demonstrated a genius for blurring sexual boundaries in “The Crying Game.”

CANDY: Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish, Geoffrey Rush, David Argue, Tara Morice, Nathaniel Dean, Jim Wyatt, Paul Blackwell (Directed by Neil Armfield; Written by Neil Armfield and Luke Davies; Renaissance Films). Dan (Heath Ledger) is plenty sweet on Candy (Abbie Cornish), but even sweeter on another kind of candy, namely heroin. How low does this couple sink in order to stay high? Very low indeed--think damaged veins, prostitution and madness for starters. Coming on the heels of “Brokeback Mountain” and “Casanova,” this could well be Ledger’s third triumph in a row. To read the Variety review, click here.

CAPOTE: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Mark Pellegrino, Bruce Greenwood, Chris Cooper, Amy Ryan, Bob Balaban (Directed by Bennett Miller; Written by Dan Futterman; Sony Pictures Classics) To the rich and beautiful Manhattanites who blackballed him, Truman Capote was a brilliant, flamboyantly gay gossip who charmed them with fluff like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” but eventually told one too many scandalous tales out of school to be trusted; to devotees of juicily ripe southern-gothic yarns, he was cherished for “Other Voices, Other Rooms,” his debut novel, published when he was 23; to literary critics and just-plain-readers, Capote is best remembered for “In Cold Blood,” a masterful depiction of the murder of a Kansas family and a disturbingly sympathetic study of Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, the young drifters responsible for the bloodbath. In 1967, Richard Brooks turned this real-life story into a searing film, one that contained a memorable performance in the role of homicidal Perry Smith by Robert Blake. In researching his book, Capote, played here by the remarkably versatile Philip Seymour Hoffman, developed an intense rapport with Smith (acted by Clifton Collins Jr. on this occasion), and “Capote” devotes extensive footage to their bonding process. Capote’s close friend, Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is played by Catherine Keener.

FIND ME GUILTY: Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Annabella Sciorra, Linus Roache, Ron Silver, Richard Portnow, Alex Rocco, Aleksa Palladino (Directed by Sidney Lumet; Written by T.J. Mancini and Robert McCrea; Stratus Films) Starting with “12 Angry Men” 49 years ago and running through “Serpico,” “Prince of the City” and “The Verdict,” director Sidney Lumet has demonstrated a remarkable skill for exposing the dark complexities of American crime and punishment, from street violence to courtroom connivance. Now, at 81, he’s focusing on the true drama of Jack DiNorscio (Vin Diesel), a mobster who grew weary of his wicked way of life and decided to confront the serious federal charges against him. The one hitch: DiNorsio insisted on serving as his own defense lawyer. To read the Variety review, click here; for Guy Flatley’s 1974 interview with Sidney Lumet, click here.

THE NEW WORLD: Colin Farrell, Q’Orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer, August Schellenberg, Wes Studi, David Thewlis, Raoul Trujillo, Noah Taylor, Ben Mendelsohn, Roger Rees (Written and directed by Terrence Malick; New Line) Although you might not have learned this particular lesson in school, the truth is that the majority of 16th and 17th-century Native Americans resented British invaders every bit as much as Native Iraqis resent contemporary British (and U.S.) invaders. That point is presumably made clear in this film from writer-director Terrence Malick, whose small but impressive body of work includes such innovative standouts as “Badlands,” “Days of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line.” Colin Farrell plays the awesomely romantic Captain John Smith to Q’Orianka Kilcher’s Pocahontas, the enchanting maiden who eventually married John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and moved with him to England.

THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE: Gretchen Mol, Lili Taylor, David Strathairn, Chris Bauer, Jared Harris, Jonathan Woodward, Cara Seymour, John Cullum, Austin Pendleton, Norman Reedus, Tara Subkoff, Kevin Carroll (Directed by Mary Harron; Written by Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner; Picturehouse) If you were around in the fifties and enjoyed flipping through skin magazines, you probably stopped flipping and started lingering over the photos of a stark naked cutie named Bettie Page. Who was she and where did she come from? Bettie (Gretchen Moll), a proper Christian girl, was born, schooled, married (briefly) and then gang-raped in Nashville. She had a somewhat better time once she moved to New York and stumbled into a modeling career that eventually catapulted her into the center of an investigation of the porn industry led by Senator Estes Kefauver (David Strathairn). In the end, she re-connected with Jesus.

A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Virginia Madsen, Robin Williams, Linda Williams, John C. Reilly, Lindsay Lohan, L. Q. Jones, Maya Rudolph, Garrison Keillor (Directed by Robert Altman; Written by Garrison Keillor; Picturehouse) In provocative, unforgettable films ranging from “Nashville” to “The Player” to “Short Cuts,” director Robert Altman has demonstrated a special genius for assembling actors with boldly individual styles and shaping them into a seamless ensemble. There’s a strong chance he will pack another character-driven wallop with this tale of the backstage craziness that prevails on what is meant to be the final broadcast of a quirky and extraordinarily popular radio show not unlike Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” A special bonus: Keillor himself, shown above with Meryl Streep and Lindsay Lohan, consented to be transformed into a thespian by starmaker Altman. For the Variety review, click here; to read about six other upcoming Meryl Streep movies, click here.

THE ROAD TO GUANTANAMO: Rizwan Ahmed, Farhad Harun, Waqar Siddiqui, Afran Usman (Directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross; Revolution Films) Michael Winterbottom, never one to shy away from controversy, and Mat Whitecross tell the harrowing true story of three young British citizens who set off for a wedding in Pakistan and ended up spending more than two years in captivity at Guantanamo. To see how co-directors Winterbottom and Whitecross fared with the Berlin Festival jurors, click here; for Variety's review of the film, click here.

STAY: Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling, Bob Hoskins, Janeane Garofalo, Kate Burton, B. D. Wong, Elizabeth Reaser (Directed by Marc Forster; Written by David Benioff; Fox) A troubled Ivy League student played by Ryan Gosling (so unforgettable as the Jewish anti-Semite in "The Believer") vows to kill himself within three days. But Ewan McGregor, as his brand-new shrink, is determined to see that the kid stays in the picture. Presumably he receives a helping hand from the ubiquitous Naomi Watts, an actress who--like her sister Aussie Nicole Kidman--seems never to sleep. Forster, of course, is the director who established himself as a talent to be taken at least a little bit seriously with "Monster's Ball" and "Finding Neverland."

SYRIANA: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Amanda Peet, Chris Cooper, Michelle Monaghan, Jeffrey Wright, Greta Scacchi, Tim Blake Nelson, Gina Gershon, Max Minghella, Christopher McDonald, Dagmara Dominczyk, David Clennon, Viola Davis, John Higgins (Written and directed by Stephen Gaghan; Warner Bros.) Some bad-guy Iranians relieve George Clooney of his fingernails--and that’s just for starters--in this thriller based on the adventures of Robert Baer, as related in his memoirs, “See No Evil: The True Story of a Foot Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism.” Politics, oil, greed and deceit figure prominently in the plot. For what it’s worth, Clooney was required to gain 20 pounds in 30 days in order to make a believable Baer. In the old days, they used padding.