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Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a filmmaker who loves magic-realism, as he put to brilliant use in Amelie. In A Very Long Engagement he’s teamed up again with his Amelie star, Audrey Tautou, in a gorgeous looking movie based on Sebastian Japrisot’s World War I-era novel about a woman who refuses to believe that her soldier love has been killed. He was one of five French military prisoners convicted by their superiors of self-mutilation to avoid duty. Tautou is truly moving as Mathilde and Gaspard Ulliel is excellent as her beloved Manech. You should go to this film reading little about it, so I’m not going to spoil the vision you’ll encounter with any more information. This is an epic love story that proves to be an emotional juggernaut.

Screenwriter-director James L. Brooks enjoys making movies about human nature. Even when his films border on drama, he goes for the joke. Sometimes the dramedy wears thin. Before you see Brooks’ latest, Spanglish (the odd mix of Spanish and English spoken in multi-cultural cities like Los Angeles), you have to get used to three things. One is Adam Sandler in a calm role. Two is Adam Sandler as a leading man. Three is Adam Sandler married to Tea Leoni. Hit and miss here, folks, hit and miss. The movie is about colliding cultures. It goes from amiable comedy to nasty comedy faster than a rattlesnake strikes. A Mexican woman with a daughter arrives in L.A. hoping to capture the American dream. She ends up as a maid in a comfortably well off Beverly Hills household. Dad is Sandler, a nice guy who has a popular, well-rated restaurant to run. Mom is Leoni and she’s a neurotic mess. High maintenance doesn’t begin to describe her. These are the Claskys, parents to a son and daughter. Along for the ride is their wisecracking grandma, Cloris Leachman, who’s good in the role, but the cliches start falling out of Leachman’s mouth right from the get-go. Are their any seniors in Hollywood who aren’t feisty? The gist of Brooks strained effort is that dad is running out of excuses for mom’s behavior. The kids are not okay. Granny is a boozehound. Eventually, the Clasky clan takes the maid and her kid to their Malibu place for the summer. It’s here that the movie’s cultural commentary crumbles. The dialogue really gets mean-spirited. There are no insights into dysfunctional behavior and the Upstairs-Downstairs connections are pointless. The usually wonderful Leoni is so over-the-top that she has nowhere to go with her character. Sandler’s low-key performance is fine, but soon becomes dull. The movie fades into the Pacific Ocean as it tries to tie-up Brooks’ views of the relationship between a maid and her bosses, mother-daughter bonding, and having a career versus hanging around.

Closer is based on the hit play of the same name. We’re in contemporary London, and the movie expertly captures the look of the new architecture that has befallen that town. Some of it is striking, but most of it is deadly. The film feels modern, but its roots are in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. This is a terrifically tough, lacerating adult drama about four lonely souls searching for passion. Sexual passion, relationship passion, human contact passion. Closer seethes with bitter emotions. Would-be novelist Dan (Jude Law) meets an American who’s a part-time stripper. She’s Alice (Natalie Portman) and it’s lust from the start. You know there are going to be complications. The movie, directed by Mike Nichols, uses flash-forwards and flashbacks as unsettling expository elements. The technique works. Seems that Dan has met photographer Anna (Julia Roberts) at a photo shoot and betrays Alice by seducing Anna, who meets a hyper-masculine dermatologist named Larry (Clive Owen). Since nothing stops on a dime in this movie, she and Larry are soon in bedded bliss. But the bliss doesn’t last for anyone as backstabbing and betrayal are the order of the day. The quartet keeps the sparks flying. Closer has scathing insights into the negative things that humans do to each other in relationships. The acting is brilliant from all. This is one hard-edged movie.

Twelve is the new eleven. That’s what the posters read. Like the movie, it’s a saying that’s meaningless. Ocean’s Twelve is a trifle wherein the good-looking gang from the Ocean’s Eleven remake returns to carry out a series of scores so they can pay back Las Vegas casino owner Andy Garcia who’s out for vengeance. He’s already collected on the insurance, but the boring Garcia, looking like Peter Lorre, wants to double his money. Enter Danny Ocean and company (the twelfth member of the gang will end up being Ocean’s wife, Julia Roberts (sans make-up and with stringy hair – her interpretation of homemaker, I guess). Also along for the ride – and a ludicrous ride it is – is a lifeless Catherine Zeta-Jones as an Interpol agent trying to outguess what Ocean plans to do in Amsterdam, Paris, or Rome. It turns out she once had a love affair with Brad Pitt’s character, but we didn’t see that in Ocean’s Eleven, so it comes out of left field. Zeta-Jones seems to have been modeled after actress Anna Karina from some of Jean-Luc Godard’s faux gangster films. She can’t pull it off. In fact, she pulls nothing off. Another subplot involves a Frenchman known as The Night Fox wants to keep his title of world’s greatest thief. Add Bruce Willis as Bruce Willis, Eddie Izzard and Albert Finney in cameos that look truncated from longer bits, and you’ve got a caper movie that isn’t about anything except George Clooney playing ennui until it hurts. Hurts you, not him. I like Clooney a lot, but come on. This is a film that is virtually without solid elements. It’s more like the Frank Sinatra Rat Pack 1960s Ocean’s Eleven than a next step in the Ocean caper progression. Director Steven Soderbergh has made a movie that’s lighter-than-air and just as gassy. A bit of it is fun, but most of it isn’t. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor

There’s been a ton of buzz about the movie Kinsey since it showed at the Toronto Film Festival. The buzz is justified. We’ve heard that America was an uptight place, but whew, who knew the parameters. Liam Neeson rules the screen as sexual behaviorist Alfred Kinsey, who studied sex the way numismatists study coins. He’s obsessive and, as it turns out, a tad obsessed. Kinsey began work studying critters and ended up taking pictures of human subjects in all their nude glory. He also had a taste for sex that included all the options. He was a nerd that grew up. He married a lovely lass (the great Laura Linney) and when the two had problems in the sack, they sought professional help for their intimacy issues. The result? Kinsey’s groundbreaking studies of American sexual hang-ups, masturbation, homosexuality, bisexuality, and the way to achieve an orgasm. He sleeps with one of his best friends (colleague Clyde Martin; the always-talented Peter Sarsgaard giving and showing his all), shatters taboos and stereotypes, and makes quite a name for himself. Director Bill Condon mines the subject for humor and truth and mixes visuals and dialogue to perfection. Kinsey focuses on the good old U.S.A. from 1930 to 1950 when sex was an act done fast, often with bedclothes on, and seldom talked about. It’s a smart movie; wonderfully acted by a cast that’s seems eager to prove to the moral guardians amongst us that sex is going to be around for a while.