Brief Encounters

BELOW

Meridian, Bella Bottega, and others.

Credit goes to Miramax's low-budget Dimension arm and co-writer/co-producer Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) for this totally solid, yeomanlike haunted submarine movie. Is that a new genre? It could be, given the no-nonsense telling of an American sub that picks up the three survivors of a British hospital ship sunk during WWII. Bruce Greenwood is the skipper and Olivia Williams the nurse; she brings bad luck, the sailors grouse, because she's a woman. A thousand leagues better than K-19: The Widowmaker, Below makes ghosts and mysterious deaths the natural complement to undersea claustrophobia. It's a tense, suspenseful B-movie to its core, where the repression of guilt and truth is literalized by an out-of-control sub that refuses to surface. When a crewman grimly declares, "This boat is cursed!" you can imagine the dialogue bubble as if in a comic book—and that's a compliment. (R) BRIAN MILLER

GINGER SNAPS

Grand Illusion. Fri., Oct. 18-Thurs., Oct. 31.

Sure, cramps are no fun, but Snaps stretches that idea to its limits (tagline: "They don't call it 'The Curse' for nothing"), turning the onset of one girl's menstruation into a guts-and-claws bloodbath. Morbid teen siblings Ginger and Brigitte fill their extracurricular hours by staging and photographing gruesome suicide scenes, but when the high-school outcasts are actually attacked by a mysterious beast (just when older sister Ginger has finally gotten her first period), fantasy turns to gory—and sometimes silly—reality. Soon, extra sprouts of hair, a vestigial tail, and an insatiable thirst for blood—whether it be from yappy neighborhood dogs, bitchy gym-class rivals, or horny boys—overtake Ginger, and the once-inseparable sisters are driven apart by one's quickly accelerating beastliness and the other's attempts to save her. Buffy the Vampire Slayer does the mix of high-school politics, female empowerment, and effects-heavy horror better, but Snaps gives it the good old low-budget try—and almost succeeds. (NR) LEAH GREENBLATT

THE MAN FROM ELYSIAN FIELDS

Seven Gables

Seeing Mick Jagger as an immaculately tailored L.A. pimp is reason enough to rent, not line up for, the bland, predictable Man. Producer Andy Garcia plays a nice-guy novelist forced to work as a gigolo to support his wife (Julianna Margulies) and child. Mick sets him up with lovely Olivia Williams, who's married to a dying old writer. James Coburn brings a little grandeur to this Hemingway-meets-Gaddis figure, who condones his wife banging Garcia—as long as the latter provides some collaborative editorial assistance on his final novel. Uh-oh. Man is less a collaboration than a rip-off of Sunset Blvd., right down to the empty, leaf-strewn swimming pool. It's also entirely empty of the wit, nastiness, or invention of Billy Wilder. Insisting on redemption and family values undercuts any of the potential fun here; who wants to watch a cad with a conscience? On second thought, rent American Gigolo instead. (R) B.R.M.

MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT

Varsity. Fri., Oct. 18-Thurs., Oct. 24.

Claude Chabrol has made lots of nifty French thrillers over the years, but this isn't one of them. His year-2000 effort starts with a fine, suspenseful premise, then does nothing with it. Isabelle Huppert (8 Women) is the wealthy Swiss chocolate factory owner recently married to a widowed pianist. "Keeping up appearances is all that counts," she says, and she doesn't like the way the pianist's slacker teen son reflects on her immaculate household. Nor does she care for a 17-year-old girl—also a pianist—who arrives at her door, claiming to be her husband's illegitimate daughter. What's Mika to do? Spike everyone's hot chocolate with her husband's sleeping pills. Poisoned cups are switched while many murderous glances are exchanged, but one remembers little about Chocolat other than the Lake Lausanne scenery. After four decades of making crime movies, maybe Chabrol should switch to travelogues. (NR) B.R.M.

THE RING

Majestic Bay, Meridian, Oak Tree, and others.

Remember that white-hot audition scene in David Lynch's Mulholland Falls where bombshell Naomi Watts wriggled all over our collective libido? The Ring likewise employs a macabre, Lynchian imagination and Watts' smoking body, much the same way that a cat employs its tongue to lick its own ass. Director Gore Verbinski doesn't have an original take on recent Japanese horror sensation Ringu—in which everybody who views an unsettling, unmarked videocassette dies seven days later—so he simply rearranges old bouquets . . . in the infinite drizzle of Seattle! Watts plays intrepid P.I. writer Rachel Keller, who, immediately after learning that her niece died horribly after watching said haunted tape, watches the haunted tape! (Later, Watts smartens up and makes her ex watch it, too.) The quasi-couple races (well, jogs) against the clock to decode the tape's seemingly random images. Poetic justice for gentrification foes: Almost all the mayhem transpires in a Belltown high-rise. (PG-13) ANDREW BONAZELLI

WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD

Meridian

Homages are fine, cinematic references are nice, but remakes are generally a bad idea. Collinwood is at least the second reworking of the gentle 1958 Italian caper spoof Big Deal on Madonna Street, and let's hope it represents a fading tradition of flattery. The bungling lowlifes conspiring to crack a jeweler's safe include William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell, Luis Guzman, and George Clooney (who, as the film's co-producer, wisely limits himself to a small role). Scenes of their inept planning alternate with left-field romantic subplots and occasional grace notes from the able cast. (Check out the cocky pugilist Rockwell's Ali-style footwork before revealing his glass jaw in the ring.) Everything about Collinwood feels far too dated, innocent, and cutesy—which the filmmakers try to disguise with a thrift-shop amalgam of '60s and '70s period style. "It's not like the old days anymore," sighs one of the crooks. Collinwood remains genially, fatally oblivious to that fact. (R) B.R.M.

 
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