Brief Encounters


Meridian, Bella Bottega, and others

Has Hollywood ever let an unapologetically amoral, hedonistic, homicidal minority get the girl, the bankroll, and the mansion? Maybe if Tony Montana had just one wingman with a grenade launcher . . . but I digress. We can all quote The Godfather, GoodFellas, and Scarface, the holy trinity that has colored practically every mainstream American gangster flick of the last decade. While Empire shares the latter two's the-good-life-at-all-costs arrogance, it's no Generation MTV facsimile. The remedial first act is a likable trifle, as John Leguizamo entertainingly delineates the nuances of four rival South Bronx heroin posses, Blow-style. Desperate to go legit, Leguizamo unloads some dirty venture capital upon inscrutable investment banker Peter Sarsgaard, cuing a witty compare-and-contrast of boroughs, lifestyles, and ambitions. Cool ideas, but the mediocre Empire is subsequently damned by funneling its gritty, unique fringe characters through the too-familiar meteoric rise/catastrophic descent story arc. (R) ANDREW BONAZELLI


Pacific Place

Equilibrium is a glum trudge down a path worn into a deep ditch by 1984 and every futuristic movie since. The witless prologue is like Road Warrior; there's also a dim homage to Citizen Kane's snow-globe scene. The film is so amazingly derivative, it's almost an achievement. Christian Bale, the go-to guy for robotic violence, is like the cop in Fahrenheit 451, only instead of just books, he destroys any cultural artifact that could evoke emotion. In with the fascist architecture, out with doilies, puppies, and early Yeats. Emily Watson is hopeless as a real emotional girl who gets busted. Bale corruptly quits taking his Prozium, and feeling trickles in, making him feel bad as he hunts down other feeling types in martial artsy/action scenes that are the palest imaginable pastiche of The Matrix. Any 10 minutes of Equilibrium is watchable, even dumb fun; any more is torture. I have seen the future, and it is drab. (R) TIM APPELO



When a bratty 7-year-old city boy is plunked into the care of his mute grandmother in a distant village, it's a foregone conclusion that he'll finally bond with the crone. Illiterate and painfully stooped from a lifetime of hard labor, grannie stoically endures the boy's selfish misbehavior—peeing on her shoes; demanding Kentucky Fried Chicken; wailing disconsolately when his GameBoy batteries expire—and plies him with treats. There's a subplot about his crush on a local girl, plus a few narrow escapes from "the crazy cow," but 85 minutes of the rural life's rhythm pass very in this short, simple, and sentimental South Korean movie. Home's best scene comes without the brat, of course, as his grandmother silently gossips with an old storekeeper friend who says, "Come again—before one of us dies." (PG) BRIAN MILLER

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