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APRIL 17, 2000: 

Where the Money Is

In this quirky little crime caper directed by Mariek Kanievska, Henry (Paul Newman), a convicted mastermind, feigns a stroke. Luck and a prison-overflow problem get Henry relocated to a nursing home, where he receives therapy in the form of a lap dance by Carol (the always sexy Linda Fiorentino), who doesn't buy Henry's near-coma state. After much goading and a wheelchair push into the bay, Carol cracks the old coot's game and the two bond, waxing on about Henry's past deeds and contemplating their next move. Hanging in the background, with a touch of jealousy, is Carol's small-town husband (Dermot Mulroney). Eventually the trio hatch an ingenious scheme to knock off an armored car at the start of its route and then, disguised as the guards, complete its pick-up schedule. Things go off almost without a hitch and so does the film. It's not terribly predictable, and the three leads create some chemistry. Where the Money Is knows where the smart box-office money is. -- Tom Meek

The Color of Paradise

Majid Majidi's portrait of a torn Iranian family is riveting both in its scope and in its emotional texture. Mohammad (the arresting Mohsen Ramezani) is an eight-year-old blind boy who spends the school year at an institute in Tehran and then journeys to the highlands to be with his family for summer vacation. As the film opens, his father (Hossein Mahjub, the movie's only professional actor) is late to pick up his son, and when he does arrive he's reluctant to do so. Back home in the hills, where life unfolds in small, simple strokes, Mohammad is warmly received by his grandmother and sisters, but his father, a widower, remains disdainful. He perceives the boy's handicap as an obstacle to his proposed marriage with a woman from a strict Islamic family, so he tries to place Mohammad outside the homestead. This self-interested action causes a division and triggers a chain of tragic events.

Majidi, who impressed American audiences with Children of Heaven, makes a visually stunning film and yet communicates the lack of sight with sensual brilliance, whether it's Mohammad pawing through a pile of leaves to save a hatchling or touching his sister's face gently to measure her growth. Like Mohammad's ever-reaching fingers, and the soul they bear, The Color of Paradise offers great rewards. -- Tom Meek

Ready to Rumble

How do you make a fictional movie about a sport that admits to being fake and expect anyone to give a damn? The answer, as the makers of Ready To Rumble figured out, is to concentrate on the real aspects of pro wrestling: the fans and the business end. When righteous World Championship Wrestling champ Jimmy King (Oliver Platt) has his belt taken away by the ruthless and greedy WCW owner (Vince McMahon-inspired, no doubt), two rabid fans and perpetual adolescents (David Arquette and Scott Caan (James's son) decide to go to the mat for King. What they don't bargain on is that in real life King is not royalty.

Caan, who looks like every arrogant frat boy, is all wrong for his part, but Arquette has the Dumb and Dumber thing down pat. Director Brian Robbins (who gave us the underappreciated Good Burger) doesn't overdo the joyless pratfalls that take up so much of today's dumb comedies -- instead he leaves them to the humorous slo-mo-heavy wrestling scenes. And though the film overall is not very funny, you can tell that Robbins at least tried to come up with some original absurd moments. So, at the risk of having my name and the following quote plastered atop every newspaper ad for this movie, let me state: "Ready To Rumble could have been a lot worse." -- Mark Bazer

Now & Then: From Frosh to Senior

College kids feel at ease being scrutinized by the empathetic filmmaking team of Dan Geller and Danya Goldfine. That pair's Frosh: Nine Months in a Freshman Dorm, which they made at Stanford University in the early 1990s, was such an agreeably non-judgmental peek behind the scenes of university life that they decided to make a sequel. Now & Then: From Frosh to Seniors, another triumph, takes the same students and brings them up through graduation.

The three African-American students all move away from white friendships. An insecure sports-obsessed guy with no girlfriends rises to be president of his fraternity. A Chinese-American obsessed with business and banking graduates to an anxious career in the monetary world. The one declared bisexual as a freshman realizes that he's gay, truly gay.

You might be tempted to compare this film to the 28-Up series, but there's no way a movie as restricted as Now & Then can compete with Michael Apted's monumental examination of England's class system. Geller and Goldfine nonetheless have their epiphanies: the ditsy blonde who turns into an articulate feminist-studies major; the out-of-her-element African-American girl (her mother is a crack addict) who becomes, miraculously, the only senior allowed to teach her own course. -- Gerald Peary

Keeping the Faith

No one who sat through Ed Norton's last film, Fight Club, would have believed that his next movie -- which he stars in as well as directs -- was going to be a romantic comedy about a priest and a rabbi (stop me if you've heard this one) who fall in love with the same girl. But it's true. And it's funny as hell.

Best friends since childhood, Father Brian Finn (Norton) and Rabbi Jacob Schram (Ben Stiller) try to modernize their sermons with stand-up-comedy routines, game-show-host enthusiasm, and a gospel choir singing in Hebrew. Their communities adore them, calling them "The God Squad"; but despite numerous dates set up by well-wishing Jewish mothers, Schram can't find the right woman, and as a Catholic priest, Finn can't have a woman, even if he could find the right one. Until, that is, their old friend Anna Reilly (a surprisingly versatile Jenna Elfman) comes to visit. When both men fall for her, the love triangle strains under questions of loyalty to friendship and God.

Norton has fun with organized religion without making fun of it. He proves he's more than a droopy-eyed psycho, and Stiller is at his best. These two play off each other so naturally, they even make the old basketball-to-the-nuts joke funny. -- Jumana Farouky

Joe Gould's Secret

For a practicing journalist the ultimate horror movie might be the story of Joseph Mitchell; he showed up for work one day at the New Yorker, sat down at his desk, and suffered writer's block for 32 years. Before that, however, he was hot stuff, noted especially for a story he wrote about Joe Gould, Manhattan barfly, raconteur, and reputed author of a multi-volume in-progress "Oral History of Our Time." This is natural material for Stanley Tucci, the actor-turned-director who dazzled with his debut, Big Night, in which artistic perfection -- culinary in that case -- supersedes acknowledgment or immortality. His touching but unemphatic Joe Gould's Secret is like a ruminative cordial following that hectic feast.

Played in an unwashed, scenery-chewing performance by Ian Holm, Gould is the artist as anarchic fool -- Charles Bukowski by way of Gulley Jimson with a touch of a flea-bitten James Joyce -- who cadges from the arty Greenwich Village crowd on the power of his ongoing project and his zesty egotism. As Mitchell, Tucci is as mild-mannered and top-coated and happily-familied (Hope Davis plays yet another supportive wife) as one of his publication's dour cartoons, the antithesis of Gould but also, perversely, his complement. The success of Mitchell's story about Gould puts pressure on both to produce -- and in the end, perhaps, Mitchell realizes his most hideous link with Gould is that neither has anything to say. Tucci's movie does, however, if only in its depiction of how pleasant Manhattan in the '40s must have been to stroll through, and its assurance that human contact is preferable to the loneliness of genius. -- Peter Keough


French filmmakers lately have been celebrating national heroines, from Claude Berri's bio-pic of World War II Resistance warrior Lucie Aubrac to Luc Besson's epic about Joan of Arc. The heroine of Regis Wargnier's Oscar-nominated East-West is more of a composite, and the film is a melodramatic hodgepodge.

Sandrine Bonnaire is tight-lipped and long-suffering as Marie, the French wife of Alexei (Oleg Menchikov), a Russian physician who's a bit leary about leaving Paris for the Workers' Paradise when Stalin offers amnesty to all expatriates in 1946. Her misgivings prove justified; no sooner are they off the boat than she's brutally interrogated as a spy. Things improve slightly when they move into a squalid tenement filled with sluts, thieves, informers, and saintly martyrs and the seemingly perfidious Alexei toadies up to the party. Indomitable, Marie plots her escape, ludicrously with a visiting French artiste played by Catherine Deneuve in a cameo and then more touchingly with a young Soviet swimmer. After what seems a gulag sentence later, the remarkably unaged Marie seems headed for brighter prospects, but by then it's hard to care. Instead of paying tribute to human endurance, East-West tests it. -- Peter Keough

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