Amandla!, Bringing Down the House, and More

Also: Open Hearts, Tears of the Sun, and The Safety of Objects.


Fri., March 7-Thurs., March 13 at Varsity This documentary about the history of South African protest songs during the apartheid era earned a 2002 prize at Sundance. You just wish the film focused more on the wonderful songs and less on the already well-chronicled history, which makes Amandla! feel like a PBS special dutifully wading through the decades. Yet the film does benefit from considerable new archival footage of demonstrations and police-state brutality. The music, of course, is gorgeous and sad; hearing the aching, crystal-clear voice of Vusi Mahlasela will make you want to rush out and buy all his albums. Interviews with performers like Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba are alternately revealing and sardonic. Bookending the saga is the 1998 reinterment of Vuyisile Mini, whom the government executed in 1964. Legend has it that he went to the gallows singing, and this film will have you believing it. (NR) BRIAN MILLER BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE

Opens Fri., March 7 at Pacific Place and others Eddie Murphy ambling around mid-'80s Manhattan in whiteface for SNL? Incendiary, audacious, pitch-perfect cultural satire. How about Queen Latifah getting into a Schwarzenegger-caliber scrum with a country-club WASP who calls her "Jemima"? Or Steve Martin's milquetoast tax attorney donning Sean John threads and challenging thugz to an impromptu nightclub dance-off? Neither incident serves any purpose other than bemusing "enlightened" suburban Caucasians who secretly enjoy The O'Reilly Factor, yet they provide a few chuckles in the otherwise appalling House. Martin courts what he thinks is a svelte, blond lawyer via online dating, but jailbird Latifah shows up on the ensuing date claiming she was framed for armed robbery. As Martin reluctantly cracks the case, his affluent neighbors and co-workers openly belittle homosexuals, Latinos, and blacks. It makes for cringe-worthy shock treatment in a comedy wasteland. (PG-13) ANDREW BONAZELLI OPEN HEARTS

Opens Fri., March 7 at Seven Gables Ever since the epochal Breaking the Waves unleashed the Dogma movement upon world cinema, it's been identified not only with its formal stricturesno fancy lighting, dolly shots, or effectsbut with iconoclastic nihilism. Yet now, Dogma is renewing itself (just in time!) by getting all up with people, first in the perky quasi-comedy Italian for Beginners and now in Susanne Bier's superior, quite uncynical tearjerker. Hearts starts with a vivid, swiftly skillful sketch of about-to-be-newlyweds Cecilie (Sonja Richter) and Joachim. He's a climber, and she worries he'll fall. He doesafter he walks into the speeding car driven by Marie. Bier's artful artlessness plunges us into the hearts of all the victims of the accidentand then things get worse. Joachim's bitterness drives Cecile into bed with the guilt-wracked Marie's husband, Niels (Mads Mikkelsen). It's soapy, but never phony. (NR) TIM APPELO THE SAFETY OF OBJECTS

Opens Fri., March 7 at Metro and Uptown From Go Fish director Rose Troche, this is an ambitious, overlong look at the intertwining lives of four nice white suburban families that unsurprisingly turn out to harbor not very nice secrets. Glenn Close is believably stunned as a mother whose most intimate relationship is with her comatose son, who lies in his room symbolizing various things to various characters. Meanwhile, her teenage daughter struggles with guilt about the night of the car wreck that left her brother a vegetable. Elsewhere, a lawyer hides the fact that he's quit his job; the pool boy makes his innuendo-filled rounds; kids smoke cigarettes and play doctor, etc. The humming of lawn mowers underscores some interesting montages, and a boy's obsession with his sister's doll is very funny. But Objects doesn't live up to its sweep, fails to attain any depth, and deploys a couple of cheap dramatic devices. (R) BETHANY JEAN CLEMENT TEARS OF THE SUN

Opens Fri., March 7 at Meridian and others "I broke my own rule," growls Bruce Willis' Navy SEAL lieutenant of the terrified Nigerian refugees suddenly in his care. "I started to give a fuck." Dispatched to evacuate an American doctor (Monica Bellucci, who's Italianbut never mind that), he and his hard-ass crew find themselves in the midst of an ethnic-cleansing nightmare. A military coup has Muslim rebels massacring and hacking the limbs off Christians; unlike the actual situation in Rwanda, however, there's also oil at stake in Sun. Although it hasn't got an ounce of surprise to it (Willis softens; his men have their eyes opened to Third World horrors; the Nigerians sing and dance), the film does actually include a few ounces of compassion in its action-movie heft. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) does a commendable job of humanizing the Nigerians. Their fear and suffering seem realreal enough to reach Willis, which is saying something. (R) B.R.M.

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