Gregg Pritikin (U.S.)
Following his Oscar-winning turn in The Pianist, Adrien Brody reaches out for light comedy here, and comes up well short. Not through any fault of his own. He's adroit enough as a thirtysomething nerd, still living at home with his boisterous parents, his anxiety-ridden sister, and his chronic shyness. Help comes in the wooden shape of a ventriloquist dummy, which serves its usual metaphoric purpose as the guy's alter-ego an outlet for his suppressed aggression and sardonic wit, the better to pursue the emerging love-interest. If this sounds a little too silly and a lot too contrived, it is. Worse, Greg Pritikin falls into the trap of many young directors, shooting in cluttered bursts of short scenes. There are a few yuks to be had en route, but, mainly, Dummy is just a mechanical comedy you can see its lips moving. R.G.
(Sun., Sept. 7, 5 p.m., Varsity 8; Wed., Sept. 10, 11:15 a.m., Uptown 3.)
Thom Fitzgerald (Canada/U.S.)
Canadian actors (Sarah Polley, Don McKellar, Brent Carver) play Americans in this New York-set story of the death of a cellist, Matt (McKellar), who is suffering from AIDS. The look is sepia-tinted, and the humour shaded black, at least until the end, the story gets awfully mawkish. The story reconstructs a suicide party conducted by friends of Matt, led by hospice worker, Brian (Brent Carver) while an assistant district attorney (an oddly cast Parker Posey as the investigator) to get to the bottom of a series of AIDS patients' premature deaths. Olivia Dukakis plays Matt's mother, and the scenes she and McKellar share are strong, though the kooky extended crowd around him (including Frasier's Jane Leeves as a lesbian therapist) grow tiresome. The allusion to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York during the period of Matt's illness has a jarring effect, serving only as a reminder that the whole movie looks and feels like a period piece from a decade or more ago. L.L.
(Fri., Sept. 5, 9:45 p.m. Varsity 2 or 3;.Sun., Sept. 7, 9:15 a.m., Varsity 1.)
Peter O'Brian (Canada)
Director Peter O'Brian's satire about Canadian film production in the dark days of the tax-shelter period is an entertaining idea that suffers from heavy-handed execution. The story concerns a Canadian debut producer (Matthew Modine) who decides to adapt a famous Canadian literary work for the screen, but immediately begins making compromises and turning it into an action film when financing looks possible. The arrival of American star Michael Baytes (played by Alan Bates) exacerbates their problems. Meanwhile, another Yank star (Jennifer Tilly) seduces the boyfriend (Fabrizio Fillippo) of the filmmaker (Deborah Kara Unger) who is documenting the entire event for her own film. L.L.
(Sat., Sept. 6, 4:15 p.m. Isabel Bader Theatre; Sat., Sept. 13, 1 p.m., Varsity 8.)
Investigation into the Invisible World
Jean-Michel Roux (France)
A large minority of everyday Icelanders believe they are in touch with in elves and fairies, an anomaly which filmmaker Jean Michel Roux attributes to the survival of paganism in a country which is also afflicted with endless earthquakes and geysers. The interviews are interesting so long as they delve into folkore, but there's a chintzy overlay of alien sightings and too many reference to U.S. movies like Contact and Sixth Sense. Also a little too much boogaloo in the lighting effects. R.C.
(Mon., Sept. 8, 10 p.m., Varsity 3; Wed., Sept. 10, 2:15 p.m., Cumberland 1.)
François Dupeyron (France)
High-end sentimental twaddle about a Sufi shopkeeper in 1950s Paris who befriends Moise, a Jewish adolescent abandoned by his suicidal father. Ibrahim (Omar Sharif) tolerates Moise's shoplifting and ends up adopting him and taking him on a journey to his birthplace in Turkey. It's got the nifty writerly touches one associates with author Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt (Ibrahim buys a red sports car for the journey though he doesn't know how to drive), but also the contrived feel-good philosophy. A hollow film, even if Sharif's performance is fine. R.C
(Sat., Sept. 6, 9:30 p.m., Elgin; Mon., Sept. 8, 10 a.m., Uptown 3.)
Vincenzo Natali (Canada)
Too soon, Nothing lives down to its title. Vincenzo Natali, the talented director of Cube, tries his hand at a surreal allegory, but with very mixed results. Embittered by the unjust society around them, a pair of comic losers wake up one morning to discover that they've hated the world into a literal non-existence everything except their ramshackle house is a foggy expanse of unending whiteness. Both the characters and their plight owe a lot to Samuel Beckett, but without the master's knack of elevating absurdity into poignancy. Natali's special effects are intermittently distracting, yet not nearly enough to sustain the running time. The result plays like an NFB short on steroids; as a feature, Nothing is nowhere. R.G.
(Tues., Sept. 9, 9 p.m., Varsity 1 or 6; Sept. 12, 12:45 p.m., Cumberland 3.)
On the Corner
Nathanial Geary (Canada)
Earnest drama about a young native brother and sister on Vancouver's Skid Row, starts well with a convincing sense of grit and colourful, mixed-up lives. Randy (Simon Baker) arrives straight from the Prince Rupert to a Vancouver flophouse where his sister Angel, a prostitute, lives. Soon Randy is dealing drugs and falling for another prostitute (Katharine Isabelle) and setting himself up for a predictable fall. A subplot concerns Randy's vsearch for his father and pursuit by a violent enforcer, but the dramatic momentum slips away in the course of compounded crises as naturalism slips into melodrama. L.L.
(Tues., Sept. 9, 6:15 p.m. Cumberland 3; Thurs., Sept. 11, 4:45 p.m., Cumberland 1.)
Lou Ye (China/France)
This historical movie is about the Japanese invasion of China, the Chinese resistance and star-crossed lovers on either side of the fight. Mostly, it rains a great deal. The plot a kind of Rubik's cube of Casablanca-like characters is almost unfollowable (reportedly the film has been edited since its debut in Cannes). Cynthia is a young Chinese woman who in love with Itami, a Japanese man who must return home for military service When her older brother is killed by the Japanese, she joins a resistance group called Purple Butterfly, which later plots to kill Itami. Mistakes in identity, kidnappings, sumptuous dance halls and slow deaths ensue. L.L.
(Fri., Sept. 12, 9 p.m. Uptown 1; Sat., Sept. 13, 6 p.m., Isabel Bader Theatre.)
Zhou Yu's Train
Sun Zhou (China, Hong Kong)
This train gets derailed by its own arty intentions. Designed as a study in love's conflicting impulses, the film is set in contemporary China, and features Gong LI as a Westernized woman infatuated with a reclusive poet twice a week, she takes a train to his book-lined abode, there to vent her passion. Enter the conflict in the form of a fellow commuter an earthy, pragmatic, manly man. This puts her on the horns of a familiar female dilemma, torn between the sensitive poet and the macho pirate. Fair enough, except that Sun Zhou keeps shunting the narrative back and forth, here and there, until the love story bogs down in a morass of misdirection. So what is meant to be lyrically elliptical winds up as just plain dense. Gorgeous photography, though. Gorgeous Gong Li, too. R.G.
(Fri., Sept. 5, 6 p.m., Varsity 8; Sun., Sept. 7, 9 a.m., Uptown 2.)