David Ansen

Movie Club: 'The Third Man'

I think I was about 14 years old when I first saw "The Third Man" on television, at night, all alone in my room in Los Angeles. It took me deep inside a place and time--postwar Vienna--that I couldn't shake and under no circumstances wanted to shake.

INVADING HIS SPACEY

Beyond the Sea" tells the life story of singer Bobby Darin (Kevin Spacey), framing it as a musical film he's making about his life. Raised in the Bronx, Darin's not expected to live past 15, a consequence of rheumatic fever.

STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE

The boys are back in town. Actually, they're in several European towns this time--Amsterdam, Rome, the shores of Lake Como--all because nasty Vegas entrepreneur Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the man from whom they stole $160 million in "Ocean's Eleven," has tracked them down and is demanding full repayment, with interest.

THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE, FROM CHAT ROOM TO BEDROOM

Mike Nichols's "Closer," based on the acerbic 1997 play by Patrick Marber, brings the battle of the sexes into the brave new world of cybersex. One pair of the story's heterosexual London quartet--a dermatologist named Larry (Clive Owen) and the divorced photographer Anna (Julia Roberts) meet because Larry thinks she has summoned him to a rendezvous after a salacious chat.

NOT SO GREAT

How do you make a movie, in 2004, about a man who wants to conquer the world? That question hangs uneasily over Oliver Stone's three-hour epic about Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king who, by the age of 25, dominated the greater part of the known world, lording it over an empire that stretched from Greece to India.

BOYS WILL BE GIRLS

Under the opening credits of "Bad Education," Alberto Iglesias's roiling, Bernard Herrmann-like score prepares you for something darker, more Hitchcockian, than we have come to expect from Pedro Almodovar.

SNAP JUDGEMENT: MOVIES

Birth Directed by Jonathan GlazerA wealthy Manhattan widow (Nicole Kidman) is about to remarry, a decade after her husband's death, when an intense 10-year-old (Cameron Bright) appears, insisting he's the reincarnation of her late husband.

REVIEW: UNDRESSING AMERICA

It makes deep sense that Alfred Kinsey, whose 1948 study "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" revolutionized American thinking about sex, was raised by a rigidly puritanical father.

COOL IN THE SHADES

"Ray," Taylor Hackford's ambitious, honest, music-drenched, handsomely mounted, wonderfully acted biopic of the great Ray Charles, has so much good stuff going for it that it ought to be a killer.

SNAP JUDGEMENT: MOVIES

Being Julia Directed by Istvan SzaboFilms about great theatrical divas (so temperamental! So divine!) all strike familiar notes. This Somerset Maugham adaptation is no exception.

LIFE IS A CABERNET

Alexander Payne has to be the most unassuming great filmmaker in America. And the better he gets, the less attention he calls to himself: there's not a frame in his wonderful new movie "Sideways" that asks you to marvel at the director's virtuosity.

OF DEALS AND DEVILS

Dinah Lasker, who had briefly been a communist in her youth, agrees to name names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. She does it to save her husband Jake's career as a writer and director of Hollywood comedies.

TRANSITION

Rodney Dangerfield, 82Dangerfield was the patron saint of losers everywhere. Dangerfield (born Jacob Cohen) didn't hit it big until his mid-40s, when he started roasting himself with lines like "I was very, very ugly.

SNAP JUDGMENT: MOVIES

Stage Beauty Directed by Richard EyreIn 1660, when women were barred from appearing onstage, Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup) is England's most cherished performer of female parts.

THE GLARE OF THE LIGHTS

In Odessa, Texas, high school football is no casual pastime, it's a passion religious in its fervor. And the teenage boys who play for the Permian Panthers--Texas's most successful high-school team--are treated, in those all too brief years of glory, like gods.

What The Huckabees?!

Unlike Altman or Scorsese, who have instantly recognizable styles, David O. Russell ("Flirting With Disaster," "Three Kings") never takes you to the same place twice.

SNAP JUDGMENT: MOVIES

Shark TaleDirected by Vicky Jenson, Bibo Bergeron and Rob LettermanNot up to "Shrek" level, but a feast for the eyes, DreamWorks' computer-animated underwater adventure is crammed to the gills with pop-culture in-jokes, movie quotations and a stellar vocal cast including Robert De Niro and Renee Zellweger.

Snap Judgment: Movies

Infernal Affairs Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan MakFinally arriving stateside, this 2002 Hong Kong hit thriller has already spawned two sequels and a planned U.S. remake by Martin Scorsese.

High-Society Girl

She's no mere social climber," a character observes of Becky Sharp in Mira Nair's sumptuous condensation of "Vanity Fair." "She's a mountaineer." Scheming, beautiful, seductive and utterly self-serving, Becky--played with great verve and an impeccable English accent by Reese Witherspoon--is one of the most vivacious monsters in 19th-century literature.

HISTORY IN THE FAKING

Leaving Aileen Wuornos and her murderously unglamorous ways far behind, Charlize Theron dons 1930s garb and vamps her way through "Head in the Clouds" as a French-American heiress, bohemian and international heartbreaker named Gilda Besse.

PAST THE BOILING POINT

If talk radio and Fox TV are the preferred media of the right, film has emerged this year as the left's not-so-secret weapon. There's never been an election in which political documentaries played a significant role--until now.Michael Moore's incendiary "Fahrenheit 9/11" packed movie houses, but most of these new documentaries are meant for home viewing; theatrical distribution is just the icing on the cake.

YOU GO, GIRL

"She's no mere social climber," a character observes of Becky Sharp in Mira Nair's sumptuous condensation of "Vanity Fair." "She's a mountaineer." Scheming, beautiful, seductive and utterly self-serving, Becky--played with great verve and an impeccable English accent by Reese Witherspoon--is one of the most vivacious monsters in 19th-century literature.

SNAP JUDGEMENT: DVDS

'The Passion of the Christ' Directed by Mel Gibson What you get on the DVD of Mel Gibson's dramatization of the crucifixion of Christ--scheduled for release on Aug. 31--is exactly what you got in the theater, nothing more or less, unless you count the theatrical trailer.

PUTTING SPIKE ON THE SPOT

In "She Hate Me," Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie), a VP at a pharmaceutical company, is fired after he blows the whistle on his corrupt bosses. Jobless, he accepts an offer from ex-fiancee turned lesbian Fatima (Kerry Washington) to impregnate her and her girlfriend Alex (Dania Ramirez).

JOAQUIN AFTER MIDNIGHT

Director M. Night Shyamalan has made a fine career out of delayed gratification. In "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable," "Signs" and his newest sleight of hand, "The Village," he stirs his pot of suspense with slow, steady strokes, keeping the flame low, gambling that audiences weaned on microwave-fast filmmaking can still savor a simmering narrative--and trusting in himself to deliver a full-boil payoff.In "The Village," the deliberate, dialogue-driven Shyamalan style gets transported to a...

SNAP JUDGEMENT: MOVIES

Collateral Directed by Michael MannGetting back to his noir-genre roots, the always stylish Mann casts Tom Cruise as a natty, gray-haired assassin who flies into L.A.

REVIEW, SEIZING THE THRONE

Why, you might well ask, would anyone want to redo John Frankenheimer's great 1962 satirical thriller "The Manchurian Candidate"? Everyone knows it's folly to remake a classic.

SNAP JUDGEMENT: MOVIES

Zatoichi Directed by Takeshi KitanoThe blind (and blond) swordsman Zatoichi is as legendary a character to Japanese audiences as James Bond is to us. The stone-faced writer-director-star "Beat" Takeshi, a legend himself, resurrects this icon with characteristically quirky zest.

Making Sweet Music

"If you're sad and like beer, I'm your lady," purrs Isabella Rossellini as Lady Port-Huntley, a flamboyant Winnipeg beer baroness, double amputee and sponsor of a global competition to determine which country has the world's most melancholy music. "The Saddest Music in the World," which is set in a snowbound, studio-created Winnipeg in the depths of the Great Depression, is itself anything but sad.

THE IMPORTANCE OF KILLING BILL

To the delight of some and the disappointment of others, "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" was essentially one show-stopping fight scene after another, as the revenge-minded Bride (Uma Thurman) eliminated the first two members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, not to mention countless guilty bystanders.

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