Agnes browne

Director-star Anjelica Huston is superb in this touching, funny, and at times heartbreaking tale of an Irish woman trying to keep her brood together while looking for love. There’s lots of local color and character in this sweet Valentine to the heart and human spirit. Set in 1967, Huston plays Browne, a middle-aged mother of seven trying to make ends meet when her husband dies. Her quest to lead a simple, honest life takes a tailspin when she’s forced to borrow money from a local hood in order to bury her husband.


Agnes takes a job selling fruit and vegetables at a street market with her best friend Marion (Marion O’Dwyer), trying to scrape together enough money to keep her kids fed and pay off the loan shark. Huston is magnificent both in front of and behind the camera. Her family’s personal history allows her to take an honest look at Ireland and all its problems. Filled with bright, lyrical dialogue and colorful characters, there is also a serious side to the film, and Huston balances the two with equal ease. I loved this film and the characters in it. I liked the way they interact with each other, and how the Browne’s cope with the hand that God dealt them. (USA)

MIFUNE (R)

Absolutely delightful off-beat comedy about a man who hides his past in order to marry into a respectable family. This Dogma ’95 entry, which demands that the directors avoid the usual conventions of filmmaking, relies on its story and spirited characters to carry the day, and director Soren Kragh-Jacobsen plays by the rules and stills delivers the goods. Anders W. Berthelsen stars as Kresten, a man celebrating the good life. He’s a successful businessman who has just married the boss’ daughter Claire (Sofie Grabol). When Kresten’s father dies, he’s sent into a panic. He has kept his family a secret from his new wife and in-laws, but must head home in order to deal with his father’s estate. Well, it’s not really an estate. It’s a rundown farm, hardly the place he wants to bring his new bride. Forced to contend with his retarded brother and a farm that has seen better days, Kresten hires a housekeeper to help him whip the place into shape. Iben Hjejle, the lovely blonde who starred as John Cusack’s girlfriend Laura in “High Fidelity,” plays Liva, the housekeeper who is actually a former hooker on the run from her pimp. Of course it’s only a matter of time before Kresten and Liva fall for each other, but not before director Kragh-Jacobsen and his co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen have made several points about class. The meager filmmaking techniques actually work for the film, and allow the actors to literally sparkle. In Dutch with English subtitles. (Columbia-TriStar)

NOT ONE LESS (G)

Zhang Yimou, the visually arresting director of “Raise The Red Lantern” and “Shanghai Triad,” reaches back into his past to tell the story of a young Chinese girl who is assigned to be a small village’s substitute teacher. Told with conviction and the kind of emotional honesty that seldom rises above a film’s theatrical veneer, “Not One Less” echoes the sentiment of the director’s bleak existence as a laborer during the 1970s. Yimou sets the story in a poor village where everyone is expected to pull their weight. That means 13-year-old Wei Minzhi must become the school’s substitute when the teacher takes leave due to his father’s death. Still a child herself, Minzhi does her best. Because the school is subsidized, her only directive is that she must return to the teacher the same number of students she was left with. That task becomes impossible when student Zhang Huike leaves school for the big city in search of work. Desperate to fulfill her directive, Minzhi makes her way to the city (with the help of the other students) and goes in search of Huike. Her journey is filled with all sorts of unexpected side trips, including a television appearance. The director’s insistence on using non-actors is a risky choice that pays off. Using their actual names, the performers are real in their emotions and reactions. Yimou is a master of taking us into his world, and here he teaches us a few life lessons along the way. What an education. (Columbia-TriStar)

SIMPATICO (R)

Despite strong performances and stirring dialogue, director Matthew Warchus fails to elevate the film beyond it’s theatrical origin. Sam Shepard’s stage play has been adapted by Warchus and David Nicholls with all of its emotional impact, and the cast looks extremely comfortable in their respective roles. Yet there’s something about the film that never clicks. It’s as if director Warchus wasn’t capable of making the play more than it is. Characters tend to talk in speeches, which is fine on stage, but distracting on film. Warchus doesn’t help matters by making the landscape look flat. The characters are on fire, yet nothing seems to happen around them. Jeff Bridges, Nick Nolte and Sharon Stone are very good as three long time friends who share a dark secret from their past. They rigged a horse race, and now the deed has come back to haunt them. Bridges and Stone play the well-to-do couple who have turned their back on Nolte, who is going through a tough time and needs their help. How he negotiates a little peace of mind from the couple makes for powerful acting. The supporting cast is especially colorful, including Albert Finney as a track official caught up in his own web, and Catherine Keener as Nolte’s current date. Not a great film by any means, but worth a look to appreciate the performances and dialogue. (New Line)

THIRD WORLD COP (R)

Direct-to-video (shot on digital) action-thriller stars Paul Campbell and Mark Danvers as two childhood friends who take different paths as adults. Despite his name, Capone (Campbell) is a celebrated crime fighter who returns home to learn that his best friend Ratty (Danvers) has hooked up with a local gangster named Wonie (Carl Bradshaw). There’s immediate tension between the two, which only escalates when Capone vows to bring down Wonie and his enterprise. Caught in the middle (isn’t there always someone caught in the middle?) is Rita, Capone’s childhood girlfriend who has made a good life for herself. Shot in Jamaica, “Third World Cop” features gorgeous scenery and not much more. The performances are barely adequate to make a difference, while the script is extremely derivative. Come for the view. (Xenon)

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