This Week's Attractions

The Housekeeper, Love the Hard Way, Masked and Anonymous, and Scorched.


Opens Fri., Aug. 1, at Harvard Exit One of the more tragic aspects of middle age isn't just routinization; it's pretending to embrace routinization simply because life is dwindling down to (a) tasks or (b) death, and the latter option isn't that fun. Jacques (The Taste of Others' Jean-Pierre Bacri), Housekeeper's 50-ish, craggily handsomeif just the slightest bit paunchyprotagonist, has no choice in the matter. Abandoned by an unstable wife, his days and nights are inundated with the rote: long, idle hours at cafes; afternoons in bed reading fiction; empathy sessions with other aging, single friends; and a lucrative, uninspiring day job as a classical-music sound engineer (admittedly, this would be a lot more haunting and sad here than in Paris). In the film's early stages, veteran director Claude Berri patiently underscores the crushing silence of an aging man's forced bachelorhood. That powerlessness weighs heavily when Jacques finally makes a simple, substantial adjustment: He hires a maid. Laura (Rosetta's Émilie Dequenne) is a young, bubbly pop-culture junkie also recently dumped. Desperately in need of cash, she whirls around in miniskirts and makes Amélie look like Sloth. Wonder where this is going? It goes there. Luckily, Berri's interested in neither a Harold and Maude May-December mismatch or the ain't-it-great-when-two-lonely-souls-find-each-other banality of a Meg Ryan rom-com. Yet The Housekeeper ultimately sags and settles on simply exploring the power dynamic in an affair between a wary, old pro and a naive, impulsive rookie. Other than the presence of 206 bones, Jacques and Laura have zilch in common, even though they enjoy each other enough to vacation together on the Brittany coast. The problem is the underlying imbalance among lust, infatuation, and love in their enjoyment. Berri suggests, cynically, that the weary, wary lover who surrenders to love will ultimately suffer for it. He also suggests, less cynically, that the adventureany adventureis worth it. (NR) ANDREW BONAZELLI LOVE THE HARD WAY

Runs Fri., Aug. 1-Thurs., Aug. 7, at Varsity When I once tried to sweet-talk Amy Irving into emoting more for practice photos on a magazine cover shoot, she purred, "I don't put out for Polaroid." Charlotte Ayanna looks slightly like Irving way back when: a dimply kewpie with piercing pale eyes, eruptive curls, and curves that could make a monk revise his vows. Alas, Ayanna puts out too much for the camera in Love. Playing Claire, a Columbia premed who throws it all away for a snakeskin-clad criminal (Adrien Brody), she's ridiculously eager to please any man in sighton either side of the screen. One minute she's making straight A's, but one look at Jack's bent schnozz and fright-wig coiffure, and she's knocking the cigarette out of his mouth with a protuberant nipple. Jack writes bad Beat novels in a storage locker. For rent money and literary material, he hires acting students to seduce Asian businessmen in hotel rooms, then breaks in just prior to penetration, impersonating a corrupt cop, and robs them. When he declines to reciprocate Claire's love, she gets even by joining his scam and shtupping the shakedown victims right in front of Jack's crooked nose, which makes an even sharper left turn as if to avert itself from a repellent smell. Long before vice cop Pam Grier calls a predictable halt to their livelihood, we long for this aimless flick to end. Somebody could've made this preposterous farrago funor even art. It's adapted from noir-monger novelist Wang Shuo, who's up the aesthetic alley of any number of modish directors. But German director Peter Sehr makes it all too remote, inert, derivative without deriving anything vital from his sources. If Mike Myers' supercilious SNL character Dieter succumbed to the delusion that he was Jean-Pierre Melville and banned all dancing from Sprockets, he'd be like Sehr. Brody is OK in this pre-Oscar performance. His Jack acts as if he expects to be choking Halle Berry with his tongue any day nowit's his natural right. His haughty, deadpan gaze dares the world to come up to his sky-high standards of coolness. Asked why he robs businessmen, Jack replies, "I don't do it for the money. I do it for the juice." The only juice in Love is canned and frozen. (NR) TIM APPELO MASKED AND ANONYMOUS

Opens Fri., Aug. 1, at Guild 45 On the plus side of this Bob Dylan debacle, easily the worst film released so far this year, the man does actually sing. It's possible to view the entire misconceived vanity project as a shambling, 107-minute music video, and its performance snippets are pretty damn good; but plug your ears and avert your eyes for the rest of its ludicrous incoherence. Bob appears with his current touring lineup of Larry Campbell (rhythm guitar), Charlie Sexton (lead), Tony Garnier (bass), and George Recile (drums), and they're tighter than cowhide left out to dry in the sun. While Dylan covers by Los Lobos, the Dead, and others supply an underscore, Bob and band play "Down in the Flood," "Diamond Joe," "Dixie" (weird but true), "I'll Remember You," "Drifter's Escape," "Dirt Road Blues," and a jangled-up, reworked "Cold Irons Bound" from his brilliant, Grammy-winning 1997 Time Out of Mind album. But that's just another way of saying you should buy the soundtrack (Sony, $18.98) instead. Spare yourselves the spectacle of this convoluted fable about a near-wordless political prisoner (Dylan, looking pinched and disgusted) released from jail in an America-turned-banana- republic so that two corrupt promoters (John Goodman and Jessica Lange) can stage a phony benefit concert to pay their debts. Jeff Bridges is on hand as a menacing, insinuating, '60s-obsessed reporter bent on doing a hatchet job on the affair; Penélope Cruz provides the only enjoyable performance in an otherwise atrocious movie as the journalist's batty, clingy, religious-kook girlfriend. While everyone else labors under the weight of this leaden parable, her ditsy clowning seems more appropriatesolemn old king Dylan needs a fool to bring him back from the tragic heath of this cameo-stuffed folly (which he allegedly co-wrote with director Larry Charles, using pseudonyms). Says Bob in voice-over, "I stopped trying to figure things out a long time ago," which will be no consolation to audiences trying to figure out this film. Whoever bears ultimate responsibility for Anonymous, it's not enough that they should be prevented from ever making another movie. They shouldn't even be allowed to watch movies again. They should be refused entry to every multiplex in America. Blockbuster should revoke their rental privileges. (PG-13) BRIAN MILLER SCORCHED

Opens Fri., Aug. 1, at Meridian and others Gavin Grazer's heist flick aims to tell the tale of four bank employees who, unbeknownst to one other, are separately plotting to rob their bank. It's a cute premise, but Grazer can't make up his mind whether he's making a romantic comedy, a buddy comedy, or a revenge comedy, so he incorporates all three elements into a film that first teeters, then topples, under the strain. Alicia Silverstone and others deliver completely unfunny performances, while Woody Harrelson scores laughs as an electric- car-driving, animal-obsessed bank teller who lives in a yurt. John Cleese plays the millionaire get-rich-quick video hawker against whom Harrelson is plotting his revenge. But even Harrelson's slapstick antics gets tired halfway through Scorched, and Cleese's very funny portrayal of a sadistic hunting-obsessed nut can't lift the film. You could wait for Scorched on video, but renting A Fish Called Wanda instead would save you the pain of Cleese being stifled by his cast mates. (PG-13) NOAM REUVEN

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