Three Times and other new releases

How to triple the love story with the same two performers

Three Times

IFC, $24.95

Wafting across the decades, Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times presents the same romantic couple, played by Shu Qi and Chang Chen, in a trio of psychologically fraught settings and historically charged situations. Hou's latest opens, mid-'60s, in a small-town Taiwanese billiards parlor, goes back 45 years to a brothel in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, and concludes amid the techno-driven confusion of contemporary Taipei. Politics, however, are submerged by Hou's exquisite formalism and, to a degree, his autobiography. My first impression of Three Times was that it was high middling Hou, conceptually bold but unevenly executed. The movie's implicit themes of time travel, eternal recurrence, and the transmigration of souls seemed as muddied by the director's devotion to Shu as they were dissipated in the confusion of the final present-day section. But Three Times improves on a second viewing as Shu's limitations become more affectingly human. Three Times does appear to fall apart in its final movement. But as that disintegration is a carefully edited contrivance, Hou's sense of motion pictures as a temporal medium seems all the more profound. Is there another filmmaker who can so fluidly celebrate the moment as well as the epoch, and do so in the same shot? J. HOBERMAN

American Dreamz

Universal, $29.98

Till this, Paul Weitz had a stellar filmography, a career in ascension: American Pie (good), About a Boy (great), In Good Company (absolutely perfect). But this, er, satire about a dumb American president (Dennis Quaid, channeling whassisname) trying to get smart, a cynical wanna-be singer trying to get famous on an American Idol knock-off (Mandy Moore), and a would-be terrorist sent to do them in (Sam Golzari) feels more like a sitcom spoof; it's a letdown—about six feet down, to be precise. Nobody seems terribly into it, least of all Hugh Grant as the Simon Cowell character more in love with himself than his contestants. Only Willem Dafoe as Dick Cheney/Karl Rove seems to get the joke, wherever it is. What should have been scolding feels tepid; what might have been sharp is merely dull. ROBERT WILONSKY


Paramount, $19.99

Warren Beatty, in the lengthy postmortem that debuts with this freshly minted two-fer, nails the movie he wrote, directed, produced, and starred in 25 years back: It's "a three-and- a-half-hour movie about a Communist who dies." With an intermission, no less, not to mention the talking heads who break into the action to explain what the movie can't, doesn't, or shouldn't do. Now, though, the tale of fidgety journalist John Reed, his partner-in-agitation Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton), and their playwright pal Eugene O'Neill (Jack Nicholson) is better seen as an epic love story than a historical docudrama. It charms and delights more than memory serves: Beatty plays Reed with something approaching boyish idealism, which makes him utterly lovable even at his stubborn worst. Nicholson's never been more suave; Keaton, never more alive. ROBERT WILONSKY

Other Releases

The charmingly straightforward junior fright flick Monster House arrives in time for Halloween. Season three of The OC will appeal to older siblings (and perhaps even some parents, after the teens have gone to bed). Donald Sutherland and company won't scare anyone in An American Haunting, while the very funny Slither smartly updates sci-fi horror conventions of the '50s, as Michael Rooker is transformed into an alien-colonized host body for a carnivorous beast. Jack Black half-naked cavorting in Nacho Libre may make luchador costumes popular on Halloween. Hard-core British comedy fans won't want to miss the first series of Steve Coogan's I'm Alan Partridge. Alec Baldwin gets seduced by his stepdaughter (Nikki Reed) in the enjoyable black comedy Mini's First Time—a kind of older-sister companion volume to the Reed-scripted Thirteen. Michael Winterbottom's docudrama The Road to Guantánamo is still timely and pertinent as the legal status of detainees in the War on Terror remains unresolved. Various interviews and extras have been added to the 1981 Body Heat (though no Lawrence Kasdan commentary). A new collection of Fred Astaire–Ginger Rogers musicals includes the priceless Flying Down to Rio and five other titles. And for completists of a different stripe, there's a 10-disc Beavis and Butt-Head collection from Mike Judge—122 episodes that just might occupy an entire weekend. E

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