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Clothes Off and No Place to Go
By Laura Leon

In the Cut
Directed by Jane Campion

Based on Susannah Moore’s controversial novel blending sexual desire with prurient interest in gory murder, In the Cut is director Jane Campion’s attempt to deliver a powerful message about the expectations of modern women. Of course, should you not subscribe to Ms. Campion’s “the sky is falling” take on those expectations, you might have a serious problem. This movie has all the sex of, say, Last Tango (including a topless Meg Ryan and—did I mention?—a masturbating Meg Ryan), and heaped onto a side platter is a generous serving of severed hands and heads, and Laundromats and bathrooms dripping with blood (there’s a serial murderer on the loose). Watching all this, about the only emotion I could muster was a tired yawn and an urge to run away, fast, from this drivel.

As with The Piano, In the Cut rests comfortably in its perception that women’s most basic desires, those of love and commitment, are: a) at odds with the crazy lives we lead, and b) just too much for self-absorbed men. And for Campion, all men are such (save the savage who poked his finger up the mute pianist’s stocking and introduced her to fulfillment). Poor Frannie (Ryan): She’s an English teacher who stares moonily at the poetry stuck up on subway placards, feeling that each and every line is written about her. Her self-absorption knows no limits. She pumps a black student for street words, feeling that she’s stocking up on something she can use in that great novel, even as the student, Cornelius, knows that deep down she lusts for him. This intense interest in self, however, can’t get her self-awareness past the starting gate in realizing that she’s hopelessly frustrated. Campion makes it seem that Frannie, who is attractive and, according to half-sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), strong, is a victim not of her desires (among them, apparently, to have great sex with her lover and then accuse him of murder), but of men’s inability to offer her the world on a platter. Campion seems to be asking, “Is that too much?” But given Frannie’s failure to articulate why she’s so riddled with angst, it’s little wonder that her lover, Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo), recoils as if it is too much.

In the Cut is dark, with too many scenes filmed with what appears like Vaseline on half of the lens. A pulsing violin weeps throughout, attempting to underscore the idea that Frannie is a tragic heroine but only reminding us that the tragedy is wasting two hours on a crappy movie. The tone is dark and unremittingly depressing, with far too many scenes of Frannie gasping and crying over her confusion at wanting to have hot, passionate sex while all around her, women are getting their heads hacked off. Scenes of women gyrating on a strip-club stage, or of dismembered body parts being fished out of a washing machine, or even of Ms. Ryan in all her glory, somehow fail completely to involve the viewer. While Ryan delivers an admirable, even believable performance that departs from her usual sunshiny persona, it’s hard to imagine why she got naked just for this.

That’s Amore for You

Mambo Italiano
Directed by Emile Gaudreault

In the spritzy Canadian comedy Mambo Italiano, nothing could be worse for a young gay man than to be Italian, or at least that’s the viewpoint of Angelo Barberini (Luke Kirby), the son of Italian immigrants living in Montreal’s Little Italy. Actually, Angelo doesn’t have it so bad: His parents, Gino (Paul Sorvino) and Maria (Ginette Reno), are old-school homophobes, but they love their son, and Angelo’s neurotic sister, Anna (Claudia Ferri), makes a determined effort to keep the family together. Readjusting cultural mores is the mambo of the title, and though Italian immigrants are the butt of the film’s shamelessly stereotypical humor, the struggle of the Barberinis transcends nationality: “Italians talk a lot without listening,” says Anna, an observation that can be applied to just about any group.

Labeled a sissy since grade school, Angelo realizes he’s gay when a camping trip with his hunky former schoolmate, Nino (Peter Miller), turns romantic. Nino is not only Italian, he’s a street cop with an image to maintain. Nino is comfortable in the closet, but Angelo has a burning desire for full disclosure. After Angelo comes out to his parents—who immediately inform Nino’s widowed mother—there are tears, arguments, accusations, a near heart attack, and every other variety of Mediterranean histrionics. The comedy is as broad as a buffet table, but also warmhearted and often quite funny—especially Sorvino’s befuddled patriarch, who narrates how the family first went wrong. Not realizing there are two Americas, they emigrated to the “fake America,” which is Canada. Meanwhile the zanily candy- colored set design could be anytime from the 1950s on.

Unhappy that he’s been forcibly outed, Nino breaks off with Angelo. Angelo is heartbroken. Nino’s mother is elated, which humiliates Angelo’s parents. A wedding is inevitable. Yet the film does not steer to a predictable ending, despite being unabashedly inspired by My Big Fat Greek Wedding (a debt that’s openly acknowledged with an in-joke coda). Angelo, the wronged party, is kind of self-centered, while Nino, the macho mama’s boy, may have more self-awareness than he’s given credit for. Both are played by attractive and naturalistic actors, and the entire supporting cast is zestfully engaged with their stereotypes. So OK, Mambo Italiano isn’t exactly in the forefront of political correctness, and some of the Italiano lampoons are a tad shopworn. But it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than what it is: a chuckle-a-minute slice of life, with a dollop of raunch and an abbondanza of affection.

—Ann Morrow

These woods I think I know: Brother Bear.

Ursa Minor

Brother Bear
Directed by Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: When reviewing any work—books, television programs, and certainly movies—whose primary audience is children, reviewers almost always take on that oh-so-bored tone of voice that we, in this culture, often tacitly agree is appropriate for kids’ fare. Reading a number of reviews of Brother Bear, I couldn’t help but cringe at the nasty barbs flung this Disney creation’s way, not because I completely disagreed, but because one would think that these writers were dissecting something far more important—say, what’s really being said when Condaleeza Rice opens her mouth. Children’s entertainment deserves to be given the same chance as, say, the latest Coen brothers movie, rather than relegated in our collective consciences as some inferior subspecies or a handy babysitter when we’re too busy to deal with our tykes.

Brother Bear has nothing new to offer. It’s a familiar tale, this time of a Native American boy, Kenine (Joaquin Phoenix), who wrongly—duh!—kills a mother bear, only to then get turned into a bear himself, a Great Spirit riff on seeing how the other half lives, or checking out whether the grass really is greener on one side or the other, or . . . well, you get the point. Obviously, Kenine will discover that bears are, er, people too, and the circle of life will be that much richer for the realization. Of course, Phil Collins (Elton John apparently was not available) stretches his thin vocal chords over the course of a few scenes, and Tina Turner provides some soulful bellowing to get the whole thing rolling. And for comic relief, not only do we have an adorable little bear cub (Jeremy Suarez), who, hmmm, can’t seem to locate his mother, but we have Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas reprising their dumb Canadian shtick, but this time as a pair of dumb moose.

So, in tried-and-true Disney fashion, there’s something for everybody—something as recognizable as a favorite, worn pair of jeans. That said, I quite enjoyed Brother Bear. The hand-drawn animation conveyed the most wondrous sense of forest fauna since Bambi. The story’s pace was quick and energetic, for all its well-worn maneuvers, and the scene in which the moose play a game of I Spy in which the only thing spyable is a lone tree, is well worth the price of admission. For the most part I can go without the inevitable philosophical musings, which end up sounding like so much new-age claptrap (and whose absence in the earliest Disney films were to those films’ credit), but, generally, this movie was about fun and life, and its buoyancy was contagious. Brother Bear is no Snow White (or fill in your own favorite classic children’s movie), and sure, its makers could have spared some ingenuity. But it is a solid, entertaining family film, and your kids will be no worse for having seen it.

—Laura Leon

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