New Reviews


See "Friends With Benefits." (Countywide)

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's first feature has a superbly alienated title and a quintessentially 20th-century premise. Set back when the Berlin Wall seemed the immovable center of the geopolitical universe, this melodramatic evocation of everyday betrayal makes for a compelling thriller but an unsatisfying character drama. The movie's tragic trajectory is betrayed by an increasingly squishy humanism-even more than the police spy he's invented, the filmmaker exercises the power to make everything (almost) right. (J. Hoberman) (Countywide)

Light, airy and sweet, Patrice Leconte's latest comedy swings his favorite premise—fruitful encounters between opposites—away from romance and into the wistful hunger for friendship in a careerist world. Daniel Auteuil slyly tweaks his easy geniality into a subtle form of heedlessness as Franois, an ambiguously successful antiques dealer who treats everyone around him with the same chilly dispassion he brings to his pursuit of beautiful objets d'art. When his business partner (Julie Gayet) challenges him to a pricey bet that he can't come up with a true friend in 10 days, he finds himself stumped for buddies until he meets his opposite, Bruno (the adorable Dany Boon), a sociable cab driver and collector of Panini stickers who gives Franois free tuition in how to be loyal and sympathique. The lesson backfires, and their rocky friendship is tested in an uproarious and tender climax on the set of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?—where Bruno captures France's heart just by being a nervous wreck. Leconte embraces sentimentality with the wisdom of a seasoned man and the goofy, light heart of a teenager, but he's never glib or condescending, and his mastery of tone makes this delightful farce a nutty feel-gooder about the difference between a friend and a contact. (Ella Taylor) (Edwards University, Irvine)

Milos Forman has built his career by pushing the limits of the Hollywood biopic. Amadeus showed Mozart through the eyes of Salieri; The People vs. Larry Flynt made a porn-pusher look like Jimmy Stewart; Man on the Moon hinted that Andy Kaufman faked his death. One thing Forman has never done with a biopic, though, is not make a biopic. In that respect, if in no other, Goya's Ghosts breaks new ground. Set in late-18th-century Spain, the drama centers on Goya's muse (Natalie Portman), the daughter of a wealthy merchant who converted from Judaism. Unfortunately, Portman's picky eating (who doesn't like pork?) leads the Inquisition to condemn her, and it only gets worse when a young priest (Javier Bardem), in a spectacular example of scholastic logic, takes her request for prayer as an invitation to rape. Not a bad setup, but then the French Revolution sweeps in and mucks everything up. After that, the film takes as many plot-twists as Pirates of the Caribbean; distinctly Goya in its emphasis on the grotesque, it shows none of the Spaniard's artistic economy. (Charles Petersen) (Edwards University, Irvine)


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