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NOVEMBER 22, 1999: 

Felicia's Journey

Evil and catastrophe have no explanation, Atom Egoyan demonstrated with searing eloquence in his last film, The Sweet Hereafter -- which is why they can be transcended. Nonetheless, he tries to come up with explanations in his adaptation of William Trevor's schematic novel Felicia's Journey, and his conclusions are much less satisfying. The title wanderer (Elaine Cassidy) is a naive teenager from an intolerant small town in Ireland. Pregnant and denounced by her father, she heads to an industrially blighted England in search of her faithless lover. There she is assisted by Hilditch (a lubricious Bob Hoskins), manager of dining services in a large plant, who offers to help her. He has ulterior motives, of course, and the sly, wheedling duplicity with which he insinuates Felicia into his tawdry, sadistic delusions makes for fascinating if irritating viewing.

The problem with Felicia's Journey is not so much the nature of evil as the failure of sympathy. Hoskins has never equaled the pathos or humor of his performance in Mona Lisa, and those qualities are sadly lacking here; Hilditch is just a creep, and delving into his past doesn't make him any more appealing. And Cassidy's Felicia is an infuriatingly passive victim. Egoyan does manage some of his wry reflexivity in scenes where Hilditch reverently watches tapes of his mother's old BBC cooking show -- it's Psycho by way of The French Chef. And some of The Sweet Hereafter's quasi-mysticism surges toward the end as the journey takes an unexpected turn. Otherwise, the terrain is familiar: a bus ride with no unscheduled stops.

-- Peter Keough

Last Night

Somehow, the end of the world seems downright comforting when the Fifth Dimension play on the soundtrack. In Last Night, his debut as a feature director, Don McKellar shows more the slyness of his screenplay for 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould than the sentimentality of his script for The Red Violin. The result is a dry, black comedy about annihilation that seduces with its loopy insouciance and then overwhelms with its emotional commitment.

The lives and imminent deaths of a handful of Torontonians intersect as the world fumbles through its last six hours to the end, from inexplicable causes, at midnight (a clue might be the fact that there no longer is any night). Chief among these people is Patrick (McKellar, who could pass as Tom Hanks's forlorn brother), for whom the world ended some time ago, when his beloved died. After meeting with his family for "Christmas" (Sarah Polley is undistinguished in a cameo as his sister), Patrick returns home for a quiet apocalypse alone, but his solitude is disturbed by Sandra (Sandra Oh), a young woman whose agenda includes a bottle of bad wine and a mystery briefcase.

What follows is expected but somehow utterly surprising. Despite some coy whimsy at the beginning, McKellar makes the transition from droll irony to poignant tragedy with blithe assurance. Perhaps most moving is the dorky piano player whose desperate debut piano recital on doomsday seems a joke until he actually plays in the minutes before midnight and brings tears to the audience's eyes; similarly, Last Night starts with a giggle and ends with a bang.

-- Peter Keough

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