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If that last bit sounds a touch naive, you're not alone. Fox did call his film The Bubble. He seems to be split on his central characters, loving them for their spirit but recognizing the foolishness of thinking a mere ape of hippiedom will solve such a clusterfuck. Fox is a slick filmmaker whose films have struck a nerve back home. (That America hasn't produced a beloved director who regularly slips fairly graphic man-on-man shtupping into his hits makes Israel look infinitely more progressive.)

But there's an intelligence brewing underneath The Bubble, one that's more nuanced than its characters'--or, for that matter, the entire grim third act. Flawed though it is, at least the film lets Knoller and Sweid become three-dimensional characters, not bold representations of Israel and Palestine.

Romance and Cigarettes
Directed by John Turturro
Reviewed by Sean Burns
Now showing

John Turturro's whacked-out raunchy musical folly premiered on the festival circuit more than two years ago, and then languished in distribution limbo before the filmmaker himself finally forked over his own cash to put the picture in theaters independently.

I wish Turturro all the best, and I'm relieved to see that Transformers paycheck went to a worthy cause. But as much as I hate to side with the suits, if I were in their position I wouldn't release Romance and Cigarettes either.

This blisteringly profane, tone-deaf karaoke movie gone horribly wrong stars James Gandolfini as a horndog construction worker carrying on a torrid affair with Kate Winslet's comically voluptuous lingerie shopgirl. All hell breaks loose when his wife (Susan Sarandon) finds a smutty love poem in his pocket, and before you know it everybody's bellowing obscenities, while also tentatively singing along to hit tracks by Englebert Humperdinck, Janis Joplin and Tom Jones.

It's easy to see what Turturro is trying to do, contrasting the gritty, drably photographed working-class Queens milieu with the pop romanticism on the radio, and offering his sad, beaten-by-life characters overwrought arias of obscenity that sound like John Cassavetes by way of The Aristocrats. It's the kind of outrageous conceit that only a master filmmaker could pull off, and Turturro hasn't the skill set. The numbers are stilted where they need to be transporting, and the choreography is halting at best. The movie's tone veers wildly, almost drunkenly, from tragedy to farce and back again.

Sure, there's a certain gotta-see-it-to-believe-it factor when you're watching Tony Soprano suffering horrific bowel problems and singing Springsteen's "Red-Headed Woman" at the same time. But any sort of gonzo goodwill earned by that what-the-fuck first hour thins out during the sad and protracted final reels, which silence the soundtrack in favor of a grim and wintery meditation on mortality. (Here's something silly musicals about sex don't need: terminal cancer.)

Steve Buscemi has a couple of droll moments playing a perverted Ed Norton to Gandolfini's rude Ralph Kramden (at times the movie seems to have been spun straight out of all their Jackie Gleason riffs from The Sopranos season five), and Winslet's cockney sex kitten is a marvel; the actress locates a disarming innocence in dialogue better suited for Jenna Jameson. But overall the movie is so shapeless and erratic, you're left admiring only the intentions.

The Mist
Directed by Frank Darabont
Reviewed by Sean Burns
Opens Fri., Nov. 23

Professional Stephen King-adapter Frank Darabont is an author's dream fan--he's never read a page he felt like cutting. After scoring countless Oscar nominations with his egregiously overlong and bizarrely overpraised cinematic transcriptions of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, Darabont set his sights smaller for The Mist, a slender, gimmicky King novella that the director has still somehow absurdly managed to drag out for more than two hours.

The setup is ripe for a kicky little genre picture: A demographically inclusive cross-section of Maine folks find themselves trapped inside a supermarket after a strange otherwordly mist engulfs their cozy little town. Visibility is zero, but there's definitely something out there, and it seems to be eating anybody who tries to leave.

Thomas Jane (one of those generically good-looking actors Hollywood execs keep trying to make into a movie star) plays the swarthy father figure, concerned first and foremost with protecting his mewling little son from all this madness. Except of course for when he ditches the kid to go play alpha-male and lead our concerned shoppers in dubious battle against the scores of nasty spiders, giant flying insects and bizarre tentacled creatures who could obviously devour the entire store in moments, yet inexplicably choose to deliver only a couple of faint, half-hearted attacks every half-hour, whenever the movie has gotten intolerably boring.

Lacking any shred of common sense or internal logic, The Mist instead goes for hamfisted social commentary, positioning Marcia Gay Harden as a psycho Jesus freak (there's one of those in every King story, isn't there?) delivering endless, grinding monologues that somehow convert these terrified supermarket patrons into bloodthirsty soldiers of God pitted against one another.

Darabont apparently never figured out that the nifty thing about subversive political subtext in '50s monster movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the fact that it's not the actual text. In The Mist everybody sort of stands around explaining the allegorical importance of what just happened in the previous scene, so you get the movie and the Cliff's Notes at the same time.

This brings us to the ending, which differs radically from the one in the book and struck this reviewer as the most ghastly, nihilistic, completely unearned, depressing finale ever seen in a tedious movie about giant spiders. King went so far as to issue a press release saying "anybody who reveals the ending should be hung from the neck until dead."

Funny, I could say the same about whoever came up with it..

August Rush
Directed by Kirsten Sheridan
Reviewed by Nadine Kavanaugh
Opens Wed., Nov. 21

Wannabe feel-good fairy tale August Rush sets out to create a magical world where music has the power to bring a fractured family together. But it winds up telling an incoherent story choked by deadly doses of cute.

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