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FEBRUARY 21, 2000: 

The Cup

Fresh from a warm reception at Sundance, this charming tale of the ancient world crashing into the modern one offers an offbeat glimpse into Tibetan monastic life. Inspired by true events, Khyentse Norbu's film is refreshingly matter-of-fact, making recent filmic forays into Tibet seem ersatz and tacky by comparison. Two boys arrive for study in an exiled Northern India monastery, escorted by their uncle, whose sister wants a better life for her sons. Palden and Nyima brave armed Nepalese border guards and other terrors to escape the poverty and tyranny of their native land, and are immediately engulfed in the life of the acolyte. Heads shaved, saffron robes donned, their daily prayers, lessons, and chores are a radical departure from shepherding in the steppes. But an even stranger cognitive dissonance arises: several of the young monks are soccer fans, and as the World Cup final approaches, a Zen sort of mayhem ensues. The top priority: procurement of a satellite dish and a television in time for the big match. Viewers interested in Tibetan culture will love the lushly photographed rituals, temple decor, and landscapes. The Cup eschews heavy-handed politics in favor of feel-good anachronism and the sweet tempos of life lived simply.

-- Peg Aloi


Hanging Up

If there's one thing worse than Walter Matthau playing a horny geezer, it's Walter Matthau playing a horny geezer who's dying. Indeed, a little geriatric jesting goes a long way in Diane Keaton's directorial follow-up to 1995's Unstrung Heroes. As a boozer addled with Alzheimer's, the Grumpy Old Men star gleefully subverts senility into stupidity, ranting about the un-Duke-like proportions of John Wayne's dick and goosing an unsuspecting rear end as he utters, "Coodgie, woodgie." Yet because Nora and Delia Ephron penned the script, the focus -- gratefully! -- shifts away from Matthau's senescent shtick to the gluey-eyed charm of Meg Ryan.

With pluck and poignancy, Ryan plays the "good daughter," the one who cares for dad while her wretchedly self-absorbed kin (Keaton and Lisa Kudrow, both trapped in caricature) steamroll over her like a couple of monster trucks. However, for every flash of authenticity, there's a shower of clichés, most of which self-righteously tsk-tsk at ambitious women. All the while the family's main mode of communication -- the telephone -- rings and blares and chirps until this King Lear-ian allegory feels like one bad connection.

-- Alicia Potter


Diamonds

The last Kirk Douglas movie I saw was the woeful Oscar (1991), in which he played a man who rose from the dead to slap Sylvester Stallone in the face. That would have been a more respectable swan song for his career than Diamonds. In it he plays Harry "The Polish Prince" Agensky, an ex-welterweight champ (cue in scenes from The Champion) recovering from a stroke who heads to Reno to find a cache of diamonds. The gimmick, of course, is that Douglas himself suffered a stroke several years ago, and the effects are painfully apparent in this return to the screen. His courage may be inspiring. Nonetheless, his performance takes on the air of a freak show daring you not to love it. All of which would have been acceptable had the rest of the movie -- the direction, the screenplay, the other actors -- not seemed to have suffered a stroke as well. In Diamonds, ineptitude is equaled only by cynicism.

Forgoing the lawnmower of The Straight Story, Harry tools into town in a convertible, accompanied by his son Lance (Dan Aykroyd, bloated and sad) and grandson Michael (Corbin Allred, insufferable). Their tri-generational bonding undergoes numerous tantrums and a trip to a cathouse run by Sin-Dee (Lauren Bacall, why?). It's hard to say which scenes are more painful: Harry's emetically mawkish monologues before mirrors, or his grotesquely clichéd dialogue with Sin-Dee after he fails to make it with four of her best. And the diamonds? They had been given to Harry years ago for throwing a fight. In this bout, Douglas never had a chance.

-- Peter Keough


Boiler Room

Do clever homages make a derivative movie any more original? Maybe not, but it's hard not to be taken in by the chutzpah and chops of Ben Younger, whose debut film Boiler Room is an MTV-generation retooling of Wall Street, Glengarry Glen Ross, and The Firm, with all but the last acknowledged in cinematic footnotes. The Charlie Sheen character from Wall Street this time is Seth (Giovanni Ribisi), a college dropout making money running an illegal "casino" in his Queens apartment. His ambitions stir when old friend Gregg (Nicky Katt) pulls up in a Ferrari, inviting him to join up with J.T. Marlin, a disreputable brokerage firm miles from Wall Street on Long Island. Soon Seth's making a mint along with all the other mini-Gordon Gekkos (a scene in which the gang parrots Michael Douglas's lines in Wall Street is creepily effective), pretending that his fortune hasn't been made at the cost of his soul and his clients' life savings. Why should he care? It's not so much the money as the rush as Seth exults on the phone with his barrage of bullshit and bravado. Younger doesn't follow this nihilism to its bitter end, however; he grants his hero a lame excuse (his father, the ever-vitriolic bad dad Ron Rifkin, slapped him as a child when he broke his leg) and an eventual change of heart (he feels guilty about a sucker he has ruined). In the end Younger goes even easier on Seth than the feds. Though Ben Affleck (trying out the Alec Baldwin role from Glengarry) doesn't help his case any when he asks if anyone has seen that movie, Boiler Room still churns out more steam than hot air.

-- Peter Keough



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