ACADEMY LEADERS

Runs Thurs., April 24-Sun., April 27 at Little Theatre Harnessing together all nine animated and live-action shorts nominated for Oscars this year, this

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Fellini, Hoffman, and The Man Without a Past

ACADEMY LEADERS

Runs Thurs., April 24-Sun., April 27 at Little Theatre Harnessing together all nine animated and live-action shorts nominated for Oscars this year, this 90-minute package fires on about half its cylindersa better ratio than you'll find at the multiplex this month. The German Rocks makes nice use of stop-motion animation, as two talking stone cairns observe the abrupt emergence of civilization in contrast to their slow-moving geological perspective. I loved the pencil work in the Japanese Mt. Head (no CGI here!), which recalls Bill Plympton in style and sensibility. Back from Monsters, Inc., Mike and Sully experience all-too-familiar automotive problems in Mike's New Car. Among live-action fare, the better entries tend not to preach about love, tolerance, and diversity. The French I'll Wait for the Next One has a single guy literally begging for l'amour in the subway, while the Belgian Gridlock neatly combines road rage, cell phones, and adulteryand we all know how that leads to bloody death. (NR) BRIAN MILLER

CONFIDENCE

Opens Fri., April 25 at Metro and others James Foley's Confidence gives one new confidence in the future of the B-movie. It's not as complex, skillful, or deeply satisfying as the best in the sting-flick genre (The Spanish Prisoner), but it passes the time with a certain swift bliss. Jake (Ed Burns) is a con man, slick as deer guts on a glass doorknob, who owes a favor to the King (Dustin Hoffman in greaseball mode). The favor concerns a mobbed-up banker (Robert Forster) requiring Jake to assemble a squad of goons, plus a sexpot pickpocket (Rachel Weisz) because . . . well, she's a sexpot, and if the bank-fraud scheme doesn't need one, the viewers do. There are echoes of Mamet and all the usual tough-guy suspects in the script, but the lingo is jaunty enough. Zippy horizontal wipes goose up the pace, which tends to flag now and then. As the cop chasing Jake's gang, Andy Garcia wears his body like a suit he's slept in for a week in his banged-up car. Hoffman is too mannered as the King (how unexpected): He has tics on his tics. Burns is better, cocky, promisinggive this man an A-movie, already. (R) TIM APPELO

FELLINI: I'M A BORN LIAR

Runs Fri., April 25-Thurs., May 1 at Varsity Fellini was "a martinet, a Tartar, a demon . . . almost like a child!" says Donald Sutherland in this delightful, insightful new documentary. Duh, Donald! Being a bratty child was his very genius, as demonstrated by clips of his films, footage of the making of them, and interviews with the Maestro and his minions (including Italo Calvino). "An artist has a childish need to offend," says Fellini. "I need an enemy!" We see him oppressing Sutherland (as Casanova), manipulating actors like a puppeteerphysically pawing them, making them ape his words and gestures. Terence Stamp, the first English actor to be Fellinized, does a bravura impression of the director and what it was like to be in his pawsthough he's more amused by the experience than spluttering Sutherland. When Stamp asked why Fellini added a little curlicue to his right eyebrow in Spirits of the Dead, Fellini replied, "Eet's like a question markyou're always questioning." It also looks like an exaggeration of the unruly curlicue that erupts from Fellini's own inquisitive right eyebrow. Fellini shaved the rebel Sutherland's eyebrows entirely and replaced them with fake ones, because he thought they looked misplaced after Fellini had shaved three inches off Sutherland's hairline. When Stamp dared to address the Maestro on the set, "He looked at me like I was a puppet come to life." Exactly! (NR) T.A.

IDENTITY

Opens Fri., April 25 at Metro and others I won't spoil the truly peculiar plot twist devised for Identity by writer Michael Cooney, the auteur behind Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman. Let's just say that its very mutant originality strains the willing suspension of disbelief beyond the snapping point and, for me, spoils what could've been an admirable update of Ten Little Indians done in the hardboiled, highly literary style of Raymond Chandler. As odd as Identity is, there's much to admire in James Mangold's direction of Cooney's tale. The entire ensemble is strong: a cracked-up cop (John Cusack, iconic as usual), now reduced to driving a limo for a washed-up gorgon actress (Rebecca De Mornay); a Vegas mattressback (Amanda Peet) who just hung up her hooker high heels; a volatile cop (Ray Liotta) with a convicted killer in tow (Jake Busey, who resembles an unruined Gary Busey); plus others holed up in a motel one dark and stormy night. The corpses and coincidences mount up with increasing ingenuity. There's also nifty camera work by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. You get jolt after satisfying jolt of eye-candy thriller shock. (Should that lady really be walking out into the dark to get a cell phone signal?) But despite the movie's claustrophobic psychological intensity, its big plot twist deprives us even of the integrity of an old-time Jamie Lee Curtis slash-a-thon, though some will praise Identity for adding a whole new head trip to the slasher mix. Me, I'd rather take my murder concoctions straight up, without the twist. (R) T.A.

THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST

Opens Fri., April 25 at Harvard Exit When watching an amnesia movie, you almost have to have amnesia yourself to forget about every amnesia movie you've seen before. Because they're all the same, aren't they? Granted, I like Aki Kaurismäki's new deadpan-comic contribution to that small genre. I like the mysterious "Man" (Markku Peltola) who washes up at a Helsinki squatters' encampment. I like the Salvation Army worker he falls in love with (Kati Outinen, the soulful-eyed star of Kaurismäki's 1989 The Match Factory Girl). I like the way the squatters form a shambling seaside community in derelict old shipping containers turned into stackable, infinitely adjustable homes (just like in The New York Times Sunday Styles section!). And I like Kaurismäki's use of vintage rock and R&B tunes filtered through that dolorous Finnish spirit of endless night and endless vodka (though Past takes place during the near-endless sunlight of Scandinavian summer). There's even a cute dog. Kaurismäki has basically made a fairy tale here, a sweet, small fable about second chances. Freed from the need to create anything really new (again, this is an amnesia movie), Kaurismäki can concentrate on what he does best: simple touches of texture, color, and gestureall of them under-understated. The Man hauls an old jukebox into his container/home, where he and a pal sit listening to the music. There's almost no movement, aside from his friend's foot slowly tapping, at the very bottom of the frame. Later, the Man stumbles into the world's most low-key bank robbery; trapped in the vault with the teller, their oxygen expiring, he calmly asks, "Mind if I smoke?" Taking place on the forgotten rust-belt periphery of modern Finland (land of Nokia), Past put me in mind of old Depression-era comedies like Hallelujah, I'm a Bum or My Man Godfrey. Though he's often accused of being an ironist, Kaurismäki seems to sincerely believe you have to be broke before you can be fixed. (PG-13) B.R.M.

TOSCA

Opens Fri., April 25 at Big Picture Every time a serious film director takes on opera, it seems, the question uppermost in mind appears to be: "How do I make this stuff more like a movie?" Benoît Jacquot took a reverse approach in filming Puccini's red-hot 1900 melodrama: He seems to have asked, "How do I make film more like opera?" In consequence, Jacquot's Tosca is must viewing for opera fans, even if (like me) they think Tosca is among the most meretricious operas in the 400-plus history of the form. Apart from a few irritating cinematic gimmicks (apparently included just to establish that Jacquot could have screwed around with the material if he'd wanted to), 90 percent of the film is shot in extreme close-up. Although performing to a prerecorded vocal track, there is no question that these people are singing, and that sing-ing is a very fleshy, physical business. Husband-and-wife team Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu are reasonably attractive, but neither one has a spark of It, so their constant grapplings as the fiery diva Floria Tosca and her painter-lover Mario Cavaradossi are about as sexy as watching Mom and Dad neck-ing; but listening to them's a different matterhot stuff for sure. They flourish Puccini's high-flying vocal lines like sabers. As their nemesis, Black Baron Scarpia, Ruggero Raimondo is past his vocal prime but more exciting than the other two put togetheralmost too exciting, because his character is, after all, a total pervert. (And we shouldn't get turned on watching him get turned on, should we?) Despite its spectacular first-act finale and the starry sky that twinkles over the third, Tosca is a chamber-drama, and Jacquot's approach intensifies the emotional heat. The way he shoots the Big Numbers, "Vissi d'arte" and "E lucevan le stelle," you can almost believe that Puccini wasn't already calculating his royalties as he penned them. Almost, but not quite. (NR) ROGER DOWNEY

RAISING VICTOR VARGAS

Opens Fri., April 25 at Neptune and Uptown Impeccably naturalistic and well- observed in its Latino accents, colors, and textures, Raising Victor Vargas is a lovely little story about two enormous subjects: love and family. It's summer in N.Y.C.'s Lower East Side, meaning that 17-year-old Victor (Victor Rasuk) spends most of his days with shirt off, flaunting his skinny young bod. Although he sports a gold chain and tattoo, Victor is anything but tough. His whole identity is that of the suave playerendlessly pleased with himself, proud of a lip-wetting maneuver he believes makes him irresistible to girls. Naturally, the hottest girl in the hood resists. Judy (Judy Marte) is aloof, but Vargas gradually reveals her aloofness to be a defense, just like Victor's posturing. Because guys dog her unmercifully, she tries to use Victor as a beard, like "bug spray," to keep guys away. Yet Victor has a soulful, quiet side that reflects his fragile family. The only adult in his household is his strict, religious Dominican grandmother; he shares a bedroom with his half-sister and a bed with his brother (played by Rasuk's brother, Silvestre). His parents are gone. "I'm a private person," Victor says repeatedly, insecure about letting strangers into his home. Wary at first, Judy responds to that vulnerability and protectiveness, and so will moviegoers. Though Vargas gets an R for language (which is often wonderfully funny, just the way Nuyorican teens talk), it's like the anti-Kids: Everyone finds ways to behave better, not worse. It's a family-values flick that the family-values crowd would do well to seean eye-opener, perhaps, into how conscience, trust, and faith work in the barrio. By restricting its focus to a few city blocks, Peter Sollett's debut feature has universal appeal. (R) B.R.M. info@seattleweekly.com

 
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