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JANUARY 20, 1998: 

DEEP CRIMSON

Drawing from the same real-life stories as Leonard Kastle's astringent 1970 "The Honeymoon Killers," Arturo Ripstein's "Deep Crimson" is a sordid delight. Set in the 1940s, the story follows Coral, a plushly upholstered nurse who lives through her delusions about Charles Boyer. Answering a lonely hearts ad, she comes upon Nicolas, a handsome con-man who looks like, wouldn't you know, Charles Boyer. When she discovers his scams, she doesn't let him go, instead teaming up with him to seduce and murder women along the back roads of Mexico. Ripstein's camerawork dazzles, gliding and dancing around his characters, across points-of-view; the drained sepias and silvers of the design create a kind of lush claustrophobia. It's a spell-binding romp. (Ray Pride)


FALLEN

Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, best known for "Usual Suspects," is the star of "Fallen," rather than Denzel Washington or anyone else in the cast. The autumnal palette of "Fallen" is a joy to look at, even as the uneasy mix between supernatural thriller and detective tale fades in and out of focus. Set in and around Philadelphia, the story tracks Washington as he struggles to find out how the soul of an executed serial killer has lived on. In each scene, the settings are as stark or lush as stage settings. The police station is a wonder, verdigris lit by starbursts of lamplight. Sheets of rain provide a milky wash over night interiors. The antiqued, burnished irreality dazzles as flatfoot Washington drags out the truth about a 4,000-year-old fallen angel named "Azazel" (the intonation of which led to gales of giggles at the screening I saw). Director Gregory Hoblit's follow-up to "Primal Fear" winds up being a mildly compelling, often ponderous, yet great-looking arts-ploitationer that will disappoint fans of both genres. (Ray Pride)


JOUR DE FETE

A sort-of-lost film rediscovered. Jacques Tati's 1947 feature, released for the first time in color, boasts an early version of Tati's Hulot character -- also a ringer for Charles DeGaulle here -- as a bicycle postman weaving in and out of Sainte-Sever, a French village awaiting the arrival of a fair. Tati's patience with a gag is as rewarding as in his later, better-known work like "Mon Oncle" and "Playtime." Tati shot "Jour de Fete" in an early color process, but was never able to make any prints, much to his disappointent, as he'd designed the village to bloom with color when the fair arrived. 79m. (Ray Pride)


KUNDUN

A biopic of the early life of the Dalai Lama, Martin Scorsese's reverential-yet-inert "Kundun" (written by Melissa Mathison) is one of the handsomest movies in ages, with each shot suffused with color and compositional care. ("Lama of Arabia"?) The first few shots are riveting -- a Werner Herzog mountain swathed in snow, a village of Taviani tumult. At first there's a sense that Scorsese's placid attempt to imagine the childhood of the Tibetan leader is of a piece with his "Last Temptation of Christ," here imagining the missing child-years of Jesus. There's little drama, however, and while watching the exquisitely mounted, daringly banal drama, eventually one gives oneself over to cinematographer Roger Deakin's rich color schemes and waits for the movie to end. ("Seven More Years in Tibet"? "The Longest Story Ever Told"?) There are two moments of blistering concentration breaking the lush, hypnotic torpor -- one, where the Dalai Lama dreams himself at the center of a world carpeted with murdered, red-robed monks, another, where a flash of intense empathetic imagination allows him to imagine Tibetan children being forced by Chinese troops to shoot their parents. In virtually every other scene, there is only the basso tootling of Philip Glass' score to nudge one awake and hope for story's end. The eye is filled; the heart wanders. A daring departure for all concerned, even Disney, which has had second or third thoughts and dispatched noted spiritual leader Henry Kissinger to apologize to the current regime in China. Now Scorsese moves on to his next biography -- Dean Martin. (Ray Pride)


THE WINTER GUEST

Actor Alan Rickman's directorial debut is an adaptation of Sharman Macdonald's play about the shifts in the lives of eight people in a Scottish seaside town on the coldest day of the year, when the ocean has frozen over. The look of the movie is simultaneously austere and luscious, but the arch screenplay, a tintinnabulous piano score and self-regarding performances by Emma Thompson and real-life mother Phyllida Law as a bickering mother-daughter duo really get on the nerves after a bit. There's a pair of wild cards in the deck, though: a pair of sex-obsessed pre-teen boys whose fears, worries and aspirations cut through the theatrical doldrums in curt bursts of burr-inflected profanity. I wanted a movie about them. I'd be amazed by what Macdonald and Rickman had devised for them, only to realize that in moments we'd be back to Thompson and Law. 110m. (Ray Pride)


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