Being Julia Istvan Szabo. (R) This bittersweet backstage drama, set in 1938, skillfully combines a love of the theater with the certain knowledge that actors are delusional creatures who can scarcely tell where their characters end and their true selves begin. Adapted from a forgotten W. Somerset Maugham novella called "Theatre," it stars a ravishing, period-perfect Annette Bening as Julia Lambert, a renowned English stage diva on the far side of 40 and worried about it. Maugham's signature wit and tragic colorations are well served by director Istvan Szabo (Mephisto) and screenwriter Ronald Harwood (The Dresser): Julia has a revivifying affair with a young American (Shaun Evans) who turns out to be a cad, is betrayed by her husband (suave Jeremy Irons) and takes revenge the only way she knows how -- through her acting. For Bening, here's another chance to shine, and she makes the most of it. Slowly but surely the California girl within comes to convince us, by word and deed, that she's an authentic English icon beset by English whims and English fears. Opens Friday, November 5, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Bill Gallo)
The Brown Bunny Vincent Gallo. (unrated) Rare is the film that caters to fans of rabbits, motorcycles, Gordon Lightfoot and fellatio, but now, thanks entirely to Vincent Gallo (Buffalo '66), we've got that demographic nailed. Gallo plays a miserable Formula II motorcycle racer traveling from New Hampshire to California who sticks us in the passenger seat for perhaps the most authentic -- and anesthetizing -- drive across America ever filmed. He encounters an actual brown bunny and briefly woos and abandons three women (Anna Vareschi, Cheryl Tiegs, Elizabeth Blake) en route to his true sweetheart (Chloë Sevigny). As the dipshit Don Quixote quests for his dumbass Dulcinea, Gallo the writer-producer-director-editor forces us through outrageous tedium, shots loitering, dialogue flat, a million miles from artful. Then, in a bland motel room, Sevigny goes down...in cinema history. Without the brief, graphic scene, the movie would probably get a PG rating. With it, it gets our attention. Despite its formalistic failings and Porn Moment, there's a morbidity here that feels quite genuine and -- after the movie -- amounts to rough-hewn poetry. Opens Friday, November 5, at the Tivoli. (Gregory Weinkauf)
La Dolce Vita Federico Fellini. (unrated) Time has been kind to Federico Fellini's sprawling, uneven classic (one of them, anyway), which vibrates unsettlingly with all things crass and horrible, yet fascinates on a very human -- and ultimately humane -- level. The glamorous and soul-sucking exploits of Marcello Mastroianni (as a tabloid journalist, and essentially the director's stand-in) prove as intriguing as anything in the showbiz circus today -- notably, his pesky shutterbug assistant's name is Paparazzo. An entertainment-world epic and a telling segue between the macho arrogance (and doom) of La Strada and the loopy femininity of Juliet of the Spirits, 1960's The Sweet Life delivers on both the irony and disturbing sincerity of its title. Watching Mastroianni struggle between true love (Yvonne Furneaux) and larger-than-life temptations (Anouk Aimee, Anita Ekberg) while also longing for a proper writing career (supported, for a while, by Alain Cuny as his heartbreaking role model), one is left with the impression of a man teetering at the edge of a glorious black hole. See it big, while you can. Opens Friday, November 5, at the Tivoli. (Gregory Weinkauf)
The Incredibles Brad Bird. (PG) Opens Friday, November 5, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.