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MAY 17, 1999: 

Trippin'

Another high-school comedy that gets a facelift by going hip-hop and getting jacked up on testosterone -- think Clueless meets Booty Call. The ethnocentric colloquialism of the title is the favorite pastime of G (Deon Richmond), who dozes off in class, on the job, and at the family breakfast table, envisioning voluptuous "Fly Girls" offering up their booty to him. G can't score any real-life action, though his two-bit hood sidekick, June (Donald Adeosun Faison), has scooped nearly every girl in school under the pretext of taking each one to the prom.

David Raynr's film is incredibly sophomoric and frequently borders on misogyny, but as G falls for the school's wholesome prom queen (a sincere, doe-eyed Maia Campbell) and his parents hit him with the reality of college and the future, the movie struggles for dramatic balance. A few of the daydream sequences -- G's parents berating a college recruiter about the availability of booty on campus; the "Schwarzen-Nigger," "Terminator" shtick in a BBQ joint -- are uproarious, but Trippin' tries to get real too late in the game.

-- Tom Meek


Three Seasons

Seasons come and go; so do national crises. With headlines focused on the Balkans, the Vietnam War seems almost a nostalgic memory. So it is in Tony Bui's Three Seasons, the first American film shot in that country: the wounds of history recede before a charming postcard of picturesque love and loss. A lyrical quartet of languidly interlinked tales set in modern-day Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon), Seasons settles for platitudes rather than politics.

Not that it is without some edge. One story features Hai (Don Duong), a long-suffering pedicab driver who notes with his colleagues the unfair distribution of wealth in the new Vietnam when they pick up snooty fares at ritzy hotels. Among those fares is Lan (Zoë Bui), a young prostitute with whom Hai falls predictably in love. Then there's James Hager (a wooden Harvey Keitel), a Marine vet searching for his long-lost daughter. In his drunken peregrinations he bumps into Woody (Nguyen Huu Duoc), a street urchin selling war-vintage Zippo lighters, and finally into Kien An (Nguyen Ngoc Hiep), a young flower seller with her own tale to tell.

Bittersweet, periodically poetic and engaging, Seasons squeezes tears from such scenes as a rain-soaked orphan sharing her last bun or a leprosy-stricken poet's flower-strewn final request. But twenty-five years later and 12,000 miles away, Bui's film hardly seems worth the long trip back.

-- Peter Keough


This Is My Father

Paul Quinn's film resonates as a sincere, heartfelt effort, even if the Gaelic-American tale rides long and complex. James Caan is gruffly resilient as frustrated schoolteacher Kieran, who after a chance discovery sets off for Ireland to trace the identity of the father he has never known and get a new lease on life. As a favor to his sister, he takes along his peevish, likewise unsettled nephew Jack (Jacob Tierney), and together they journey to a remote Irish village, where they unearth the story of their lineage and in the process experience life-affirming epiphanies.

But This Is My Father is less about Kieran's spiritual odyssey than it is about his father's romantic quest. As sputtered in flashback segments by an old Gypsy innkeeper, Kieran learns that dad (a thick-necked Aidan Quinn) was a poor sod farmer involved in a "Romeo and Juliet" love affair with the fiery daughter (a sparkling Moya Farrelly) of his landowner (an angular Gina Moxley as the bitter widow Flynn). Tragedy, romance, and realization lie at each toggle of the story's chronology-hopping framework, and though the craftsmanship is at times stunning, there's too much going on across time and distance. The amazing ensemble cast also includes John Cusack, Brendan Gleeson, Colm Meaney, Stephen Rea, and Pete Postlethwaite.

-- Tom Meek


The Mummy

This isn't your father's Mummy. Ostensibly a remake of the 1932 original with Boris Karloff (recently re-released on video, or catch it on the big screen at the Harvard Film Archive June 29), this eye-candy cornucopia bears scant resemblance to its sedate, chilling predecessor. The film opens with a jaw-dropping re-creation of the City of the Dead, Hatumnaptra, replete with towering statues, golden temples, and wealthy sarcophagi. Imhotep, a temple priest, is entombed alive for dallying with the Pharaoh's mistress -- both their souls are condemned to eternal suffering, and the city pulls a Shangri-la and disappears into the dunes. Fast-forward 3000 years to 1924: Brendan Fraser is O'Connell, an Indiana Jones-styled adventurer seeking the lost treasure of Hatumnaptra. He's thrown into a Cairo prison and narrowly escapes the gallows when clumsy-but-comely British librarian Evie (Rachel Weisz) realizes he can help her access rare, hieroglyph-covered artifacts. They set off for the desert with her Glenlivet-guzzling, golddigger brother Jonathan (John Hannah) in tow. En route they meet a gang of greedy American cowboy types, as well as a mysterious band of husky Islamic warriors trying to protect Egypt from the ancient curse of Imhotep.

But naturally the curse holds sway: Evie unwittingly reads aloud from the Book of the Dead, thus regenerating Imhotep (who must, uh, acquire the organs and fluids of others to become whole) and loosing the Ten Plagues of Egypt upon the land, including locusts, flies, and flesh-eating scarab beetles. If that wasn't bad enough, Evie is also chosen as the sacrifice for Imhotep's mistress: will O'Connell rescue his damsel in time? Some fine actors are wasted here, with pedestrian writing and ham-handed direction that often seems more suited to Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. But the special effects and cinematography are grand and magical. Mummies and daddies be warned: this is probably too gross for the kids.

-- Peg Aloi


The Castle

This odd little farce has nothing to do with the great work by Franz Kafka, though things do hit a Kafka-esque snare when a working-class family's ramshackle estate is annexed by the Australian government for the expansion of the ever present -- and ever noisy -- airport in their backyard. To Darryl Kerrigan, a man's home is his castle, so he rallies the family, digs in his heels, and goes head-to-head with the impersonal bureaucratic powers trying to usurp his domicile.

Rob Sitch's film is a prickly David-versus-Goliath turn that loses its edge as it gets bogged down in courtroom semantics and an unnecessary framework of sugary commentary provided by Darryl's youngest son. What keeps the picture afloat is the devilish, intrepid foolhardiness of its protagonist. As the self-empowered everyman (he's a tow-truck driver) and provider of the Kerrigan clan, Michael Caton incarnates Darryl's idiosyncratic ideologies -- neighborly good will towards the airport, the Zen of greyhound racing, and histrionic cooing over his wife's cooking at the onset of each meal -- with precise, understated verve. The rest of the cast, playing off Caton's indomitable lead, fill out the Kerrigan family circus, which sputters along like The Simpsons realized in the flesh and Down Under.

-- Tom Meek


Tea With Mussolini

Until the brownshirts start busting windows, Franco Zeffirelli's childhood looks charmed. Luca, the directorial alter ego in this piquant film that expands on a chapter of Zeffirelli's autobiography, may be the illegitimate son of a dead fashion designer and a father who acknowledges him only furtively. But 1930s Florence is gorgeous, Mussolini is "the gentleman who makes the trains run on time," and little Luca spends much time nestled under the collective wing of a kindly if eccentric crew of art-loving English and American women that includes Dames Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Joan Plowright, as well as dames Lily Tomlin and Cher.

"Which one plays Mussolini?", I was asked by a wag who was betting on Plowright. Actually, the Italian dictator is played by Claudio Spadaro, and Maggie Smith is the haughty hatter of an English aristocrat who has tea with him. Plowright is Luca's surrogate-mother-in-chief. And Dench, taking a break from ruling England in one guise or another, is an aging, Isadora-esque protector of art. Among the Americans, Tomlin is a cheeky, weather-beaten lesbian archeologist, and Cher, resplendent in fancy braids and furs, is a Jewish-American ex-showgirl who deals in wealthy husbands and modern art.

Set in Tuscany between 1935 and '45, the film is, in part, a valentine to the mafia of English-dowager expatriates known as the "Scorpioni," whom Zeffirelli remembers with amused affection. Eventually these ladies, who ignore every indication that the party between Italy and England is over, end up under house arrest in the tower town of San Gimignano. Luca -- who's played at seven by Charlie Lucas and at 17 by Baird Wallace -- does what he can to help them. But the film's real damsel in distress is Cher, whose madcap Jewish-American must ultimately be spirited out via a collaboration between the Italian Resistance and the Scorpioni.

Even with World War II in the margins, Zeffirelli's memoir can seem slight, and the events of the film are sometimes muddled. But the performances are as delicious as anything that could be served for Tea with Mussolini.

-- Carolyn Clay


Bird by Bird with Annie

If there were no Anne Lamott, some publisher's marketing whiz kid would have to invent her. A recovering addict and alcoholic, a single mother (see her Operating Instructions), a born-again Christian (ditto, Traveling Mercies), and a liberal feminist, she pretty much covers every demographic in the New York Times bestseller list. Plus, as is abundantly demonstrated by Freida Lee Mock's sparkling if too-brief documentary Bird by Bird with Annie, she's also self-depreciating and very funny.

A casual glimpse of the author at readings, workshops, and church services and at play with her young son, Bird hardly suggests the monumentality of Mock's Oscar-winning Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision. The writer's traumatic past (she does mention that she spent every night from age 19 to 32 wasted) gets shrugged off, and Lamott never seems genuinely piqued except when spotting a typo in her new book or recalling a run-in with a slow McDonald's employee. Her vision, though clear, doesn't come across as especially strong: the film's title, which it shares with yet another bestseller, refers to her father's advice to her brother to take a school ornithological project "bird by bird." Funny and soothing, the movie is also fly-by-night. At the Museum of Fine Arts.

-- Peter Keough


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