Opens Fri., Sept. 5, at Seven Gables
It took some work to wring such a mirthless send-up out of ripe Indian melodrama, but writer-director Deepa Mehta (Earth) is evidently a very industrious woman. It helps her cause, in a routine mistaken-identity nuptial-comedy framework, that the whole thing is set in Ontario, Canada, where laughs wait politely at traffic lights for signals that never come. Attractive leads Rahul Khanna and Lisa Ray play the caste-crossed lovers who ultimately connect despite many obstacles (chiefly family-created). The dialogue's in English, with regular musical numbers in Hindi, but the lurches into gaudy song-and-dance routines aren't dissonant enough. Mehta starts in dark-and-stormy-night spoof mode, then shifts to sincerity, leaving her characters stranded. Not only have Bend It Like Beckham or My Son the Fanatic done this kind of cultural-collision thing much better, but this flick even makes one yearn for Jimmy Mistry and Heather Graham in The Guru. The curry here has curdled before it even hit the flan. (NR) BRIAN MILLER
Opens Fri., Sept. 5, at Varsity
Homosexuals of America, rejoice! Yes, your long struggle for equality has finally resulted in a practically PG-ratable tale of love, betrayal, and teary reconciliation that even the Disney Channel would consider too sappy for broadcast. Spanning some 14 years in an on-again/off-again relationship, Trip dares to offer heartfelt schmaltz, three-hankie melodrama, and completely desexualized romance without a hint of recognizably naughtymuch less recognizably humanbehavior. Republican closet-case Alan falls for dashing activist Tommy in '73. Before long it's "I hate you!" followed by passionate kisses (though no visible sex). A committed relationship follows until '77, when Alan's old homophobic writing is discovered. Flash forward to '84, when Alan's now the activist and Tommy's "ill" in Mexico (cough-cough like Camille)can our boys get back together in time? Jill St. John is the sorriest gay icon available to play Alan's lovable fun-drunk mother. To paraphrase Richard Pryor, this shit's so bad, it'll turn you straight. (NR) B.R.M.
Shirley (Shirley Henderson) mulls over the sex vs. love dilemma with old boyfriend Jimmy (Robert Carlyle).
photo: Dean Rogers
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS
Opens Fri., Sept. 5, at Metro
The ostensible joke in Midlands is its relocation of the gritty spaghetti-Western ethos to the meek, muddlecrass suburban setting of Nottingham, England. But this mild and occasional parody is only a small part of the considerable charm of Shane Meadows' comic valentine to small-town folkways; it's closer to Local Hero than Sergio Leone.
In the fine opening scene, milquetoast Welsh car mechanic Dek (the brilliant Rhys Ifans, Hugh Grant's disheveled roommate in Notting Hill) proposes on national TV to Shirley (Shirley Henderson). Charismatic, thuggish thief Jimmy (Robert Carlyle) happens to be watching in Glasgow. He fathered Shirley's preteen daughter, Marlene (Finn Atkins), then buggered off to a life of crime. But he still carries a torch for Shirley, so the sight of her on the tube with the man who's helping Shirley raise Marlene sends him back home to win both back from nebbishy Dek. For Shirley, it's the classic choice: sex or love.
The cowboy showdowns in Dek's auto shop and the streets of Nottingham are amusingmore touching than gut-busting funny. In fact, everything about the movie is muted, the opposite of the clobbering obviousness of American films. Dek and Jimmy's love duel is just an excuse to introduce a rich cast of local eccentrics, chiefly Jimmy's scrappy sister Carol (Kathy Burke) and Charlie (Ricky Tomlinson), the country-western singer Carol kicked out of her house but not her heart. The film's heart is in the ensemble scenesthe squabblesome clan crammed onto one bed for TV and pizza or into the pub to dance to Charlie's tunes.
Ifans outdoes his previous star turn as the apeman in Human Nature, and Caryle plays a more raffish variation on his soulful Full Monty prole. Atkins is a major find in a minor role. The tale ambles and sputters, but even while it's running out of gas, it's taking you someplace special. (R) TIM APPELO
Runs Fri., Sept. 5-Thurs., Sept. 11, at Grand Illusion
Director Alex Cox (Sid and Nancy) finally returns to form after nearly 20 years: This ferocious adaptation of Thomas Middleton's 17th-century sex-and-carnage romp is the most visceral, engaging slice of revenge since Julie Taymor's Titus. Set in a ravaged, futuristic Liverpool ruled by majestic punks who gather to watch Foosball matches via satellite television, the film follows Christopher Eccleston as Vindici, who has determinedly returned to the city after his wife's long-ago poisoning at the hands of the lusty Duke (Derek Jacobi). The seething Vindici has bloody good luck when one of the Duke's amoral sons (Eddie Izzard), unaware of the avenger's identity, hires him to help court Vindici's own sister, Castiza (Carla Henry). Cox gets things roiling immediately and doesn't let up, and the entire acting company is perfectly pitched. Despite the campy, carnal, incestuous ooze surrounding them, no one goes over-the-top: Eccleston, most recently the deranged major in the similarly apocalyptic milieu of 28 Days Later, is fierce and heartbroken; Izzard is calmly despicable; and Jacobi is powdered and lipsticked and not a little chilling. (NR) STEVE WIECKING
Late night screenings on Friday and Saturday will be introduced by Cox and Izzard.
Runs Fri., Sept. 5-Thurs., Sept. 11, at Varsity
Eleven big-name directors were invited to commemorate Sept. 11 last year with the gimmicky timing of 11 minutes, 9 seconds, and one frame per each short film. My top pick is Ken Loach's astringent historical reminder that Sept. 11 is also the date of Chile's 1973 CIA-backed coup. Danis Tanovic (No Man's Land) similarly links the date to the Srebrenica massacre. In Amos Gitai's staging of the aftermath of a Tel Aviv car bombing, an aggressive TV correspondent is told her reporting won't go out because something "really, really important" has happened in New York. "Are you crazy?" she explodes, "Who gives a shit about New York?" Samira Makhmalbaf's effort is humanistic, Sean Penn's embarrassingly squirm-inducing. Alejandro Gonzᬥz I�itu's attempts to turn the event into an art piece (using actual sounds and retina-blinding flashes of falling bodies) seems pretentious and self-important. Whatever the flaws of this uneven omnibus, it's worth a look. (NR) SHEILA BENSON