Runs Fri., Oct. 3-Thurs., Oct. 9, at Varsity Olivier Assayas has several engaging qualities as a film director. He likes shooting beautiful women looking


Demonlover, New Suit, and More


Runs Fri., Oct. 3-Thurs., Oct. 9, at Varsity Olivier Assayas has several engaging qualities as a film director. He likes shooting beautiful women looking beautiful, which is a plus for us all. He's stylistically restless, ensuring that none of his movies adheres to some tired formula, commercial or avant-garde. And, for a Frenchman, he's delightfully free of self-importance. If he only cared just a little more about where each movie was going before he started making it. Case in point: Demonlover. Here we have Connie Nielsen looking gorgeous as a razor-edged Bond girl, Chlöe Sevigny looking zaftig as her nemesis, and hot- button material like cybersex, S&M, and snuff cinema. And Assayas keeps it all in an eye-dazzling and mind-teasing whirl until you realize, sooner or later, that he doesn't care where it's all going. If anywhere. If you sit down to Demonlover determined to enjoy the ride for its own sake and to hell with plot, theme, redeeming social value, sexual arousal, or any other identifiable end, you may thoroughly enjoy it. You have been warned. (NR) ROGER DOWNEY NEW SUIT

Opens Fri., Oct. 3, at Metro Smart but not smug, breezy without being lightweight, Suit engages all the movie- industry stereotypes so amply skewered in Altman's The Player without descending into that film's out-and-out cynicism. While Altman filled the screen with celebs, Suit director François Velle shepherds a cast of relative unknowns (biggest name: Dan Hedaya) through the amusing convolutions of a Hollywood fable whose premise involves a certain emperor's new clothes. Hedaya plays a Robert Evans-esque producer with profane brio, while Jordan Bridges is appropriately winning as struggling screenwriter Kevin, the naïf at the center of a growing garden of lies. Kevin eventually wises up and reaps what he sows, but in this fast-paced, quick-witted satire, the trip is more than half the fun. And any film in which Heather from The Blair Witch Project shouts: "Don't bogart the Xanax!" must have something going for it. (R) NEAL SCHINDLER PREY FOR ROCK & ROLL

Opens Fri., Oct. 3, at Varsity From the title on down, you'd expect Prey to be pulp, and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong. But you'd also be a bit less right than you think. Co-producer Gina Gershon stars in what is essentially a star vehicle, portraying a 40-year-old frontwoman for an all-female hard-rock band in L.A. Gershon is eminently believable as the lifer equivocating between hanging it up and pursuing a record contract with a tiny indie label, and so is Lori Petty as her lead guitarist. (Shelly Cole plays the band's drummer, also Gershon's lover; Drea De Matteo is the alcoholic bassist.) There's even some nice chemistry between Gershon and the fine Marc Blucas, as Cole's ex-con brother. The script, by former L.A. rocker Cheri Lovedog and Robin Whitehouse, hits its marks in the music-biz underbelly milieu, while lesbian relationships in and around the band are treated in a refreshingly nonexploitative manner. (Gershon's girl-on-girl scene is hot, but it's also a good illustration of how the rock life interferes with real-world interactions.) But the movie's middle, involving an attack on members of the band, is women's-revenge-picture muddlewhich one could almost forgive, if the music didn't suck. (R) MICHAELANGELO MATOS SCHOOL OF ROCK

Opens Fri., Oct. 3, at Metro and others If Mr. Chips played air guitar, there'd be a better benchmark for this dismal Jack Black rocker-out-of-water comedy. More recent points of comparison are Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, Richard Dreyfuss in Mr. Holland's Opus, or Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds, and I'd rather see those dullards form a schoolhouse combo than the multiracial classroom of privileged preteens whom teacher Black ropes together in a musical act designed to resuscitate his rocksorry, make that "ROCK!"career in a citywide battle of the bands contest. Of course, I was looking forward to Black in full, off-his-meds, rolling-on-the-floor mania, and Richard Linklater's shockingly bland School gives us just thatwhich is funny for the first 10 minutes, then excruciatingly repetitive for the next 100. Joan Cusack looks stiff and embarrassed in her small role as the by-the-book schoolmistress whose leg the ingratiating Black humps like a slobbering puppy. But you'll be even more embarrassed if you're suckered into seeing this snoozer. (PG-13) BRIAN MILLER SECRET LIVES: HIDDEN CHILDREN AND THEIR RESCUERS DURING WWII

Runs Fri., Oct. 3-Sun, Oct. 5, at Little Theatre I know, I know, the last thing you need in your life is another Holocaust documentary (this one is being shown as part of the First Person Cinema series). But I implore you to go see this amazing film about Jewish children who were saved from the Nazis by gentile families. It's rather conventionally done and covers ground I thought was old hat, but in the way of all great art, it reawakens the familiar with new vision and new depth. Through incredibly moving interviews with grown-up children and their former caretakers, the film looks at the tiny, tiny fraction of kids who, in occupied countries like Holland and Belgium, were harbored by Christian families, who risked their own certain death and that of their children to save them. (Director Aviva Slesin herself was one such "hidden" child.) With a thoroughly un-Spielbergian willingness to entertain the disputes, mixed feelings, and resentments that this situation engendered, Secret Lives becomes much more than a historical narrative; it's a meditation on the infinite complexity of parent-child love and the banality of saintliness. See it, for chrissake! (NR) MARK D. FEFER TAKING SIDES

Opens Fri., Oct. 3, at Metro Critic John Simon had Stanley Kramer's number: His dogged, liberal-dogma- thumping message moviemaking resembled "pirouettes in astronaut boots." István Szabó's adaptation of the 1996 play by Oscar-winning no-talent Ronald Harwood (The Pianist) is like a Kramer message movie with the message removed but the clumsy posturing intact. It's so crude and repetitive, it's not even like pirouettesmore like flamenco in lead-soled deep-sea diver boots. The opposing sides in this stage-bound two-hander are Maj. Arnold (Harvey Keitel), a de-Nazification investigator in postwar Germany, and his prey, Hitler's favorite orchestra conductor, Wilhelm Furtwängler (Stellan Skarsgård). Arnold was an insurance man before the war, and he treats Furtwängler like a crook who's trying to file a fraudulent claim. The conductor retorts that he never joined the Nazi Party, refused to give the Nazi salute when Hitler greeted him after a concert, and saved Jewish musicians from the camps. Arnold then acidly asks why the conductor didn't flee the country, like his great Jewish rivals, or stay and risk his life resisting Hitler? It's an interesting moral question, but Harwood fails to dramatize it. Arnold is a braying philistine who calls the conductor "that bandleader." His line of questioning is so abusive that it reduces his bosomy stenographer to tearsit's precisely the tone the Gestapo had used in interrogating her. Arnold's assistant (Moritz Bleibtreu, Run Lola Run), a Jewish-German-American officer, defends the conductor and objects to the abuse. (He also courts the stenographer in an utterly pointless subplot.) Furtwängler keeps saying he tried to keep art and politics separate, that he behaved morally in an impossible context. Arnold keeps repeating his abusive view, then screens extraordinarily horrifying (real) footage of a bulldozer shoving Jewish corpses into a trench. Arnold is an appalling assholehow does he know he'd have shown more suicidal courage in the conductor's shoes? Yet he's right that Auschwitz negates the art-for-art's-sake position. The conductor admits he was naive, but not a Nazi. Neither side advances an argument. It's a very stale stalemate. Keitel makes an excellent asshole, and Skarsgård a fine ruined maestro (his woebegone Scandinavian face seems to decay before our eyes, like the Nazis in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), but the film doesn't know what to think of their clash. Is the American just a Gestapo officer in a different uniform? Does the conductor deserve to take the rap for the Holocaust? Taking Sides fails because it fails to take sides. (NR) TIM APPELO UNKNOWN PLEASURES

Runs Fri., Oct. 3-Thurs., Oct. 9, at Grand Illusion With its constant references to Godard, Bresson, and Tarantino, this slow study of slackers in a small provincial town is only a step backward for Sixth Generation director Jia Zhang Ke (Platform). Shooting DV and mostly hand-held, he follows a pair of aimless 19-year-olds, to aimless effect. (Always a mistake to let the sluggish structure of a slacker film echo its slacker subjects. Slacker, you'll recall, had enough pace and laughter to keep it moving.) One guy falls hard for the tarty girlfriend of a petty mobster; the other can't find a job, considers joining the army, and gets no satisfaction from his chaste, studious girlfriend. By the time she softens a little, he's become a skinny, brooding, chain-smoking caricature of alienation. (How French.) "There's no fucking future," he deadpans between disconsolate puffs. Gee, that's original. By so glumly and unimaginatively aping the New Wave, Jia only succeeds in looking old school. (NR) B.R.M.

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