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JULY 31, 2000: 


Tyvian Jones (Stanley Baker), a Welshman in Venetian exile, has become a howling drunk in residence at Harry's Bar, and, in flashback, we see the story of his descent. Once a literary lion with a celebrated autobiographical novel about his early days as a coal miner, Tyvian reigns at the Venice Film Festival; what's more, he's engaged to the glamorous editorial assistant (Virna Lisi) of his Italian publisher. Then one night he meets Eve (Jeanne Moreau), a high-priced courtesan who's broken into his apartment, and it's all over. She's the ultimate femme fatale, and he bites deep into her apple. Whether she kicks him out of bed or makes him pay for sex, he can't resist her, and he goes down, down, down.

Eve is a semi-victory of style over content. Michel Legrand's jazzy score, Gianni di Venanzo & Henri Decae's free-flowing, Nouvelle Vague cinematography, Jeanne Moreau's many moods before the camera -- these are all plusses, but both main characters are so offputting and so narcissistic that their tryst becomes tiresome. Any rediscovered film directed by Joseph Losey (Accident, The Servant) is welcome, but this one, from a potboiler novel by James Hadley Chase, proves a minor work. -- Gerald Peary


If only real life could be as rewarding as writer/director Amy Heckerling's world. In each of her movies -- from Fast Times at Ridgemont High through Clueless and right up to Loser -- the nerd always gets the girl (or, in Clueless, the guy). And when Loser gives us a glimpse of Fast Times' meek, many-Coke-drinking Mark Ratner all grown up, a doctor with graying temples, it's proof positive of Heckerling's unshakable faith in the Triumph of the Dork.

That said, I have to report that Loser is no Fast Times. I wanted it to be, believe me. But despite decent performances by Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari and some welcome cameos by Dan Aykroyd, David Spade, and Stephen Wright, it still falls flat.

Biggs plays Paul, a small-town innocent who heads off to college in NYC like a lamb to the slaughter. With his Holden Caulfield red-plaid deerstalker and painfully earnest expression, Paul is easy prey for the sadistic machinations of his rophynal-dispensing, tequila-swilling roommates. Sure, we know he'll eventually best his oppressors and lure Dora (a bedraggled-looking Suvari) away from the indifferent Professor Alcott (Greg Kinnear). How else could it end? (And at that the abruptness of the ending is unseemly.) But despite its happy dénouement, Loser has none of the aching adolescent pathos and we've-all-been-there predicaments that earned Fast Times its cherished place in the teen-movie pantheon. Perhaps Paul could learn something from Mark Ratner. -- Mike Miliard

The Five Senses

When Krzysztof Kieslowski structured films around such paradigms as the Ten Commandments and the rouge-blanc-et-bleu of the French flag, the result was some of the greatest cinema ever. When earnest Canadian director Jeremy Podeswa tries the same with the title faculties in The Five Senses, the result is like an especially ambitious high-school senior project.

Leaden irony abounds. Ruth (Gabrielle Rose), for example, is a massage therapist who's "out of touch" with her troubled teenage daughter. Their neighbor Rona (Mary Louise Parker), a baker, makes cakes that are a feast for the eye but taste like crap, and that's where her new Italian lover, Roberto (Marco Leonardi), comes in -- he's a hunk and a gourmet. Rona's best friend, gay stereotype Robert (Daniel MacIvor), has a keen sense of smell -- he claims his nose knows when someone's in love. And finally, Richard (Philippe Volter), whose office is near Ruth's, is an eye doctor who's losing his hearing. Throw in a missing child, some arty photography, and some contrived connections and near-misses and out pops the kind of pretentious piffle that gives independent cinema a bad name. For a start, Podeswa might work on developing what's most absent from this effort: a sense of humor. -- Peter Keough

The In Crowd

This pretentious little thriller from director Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary) about the J. Crew set behaving badly is less a trite, intellect-free foray in filmmaking than it is a shrewd exercise in teen-market targeting. The formula gets rolling when sultry psychiatric in-patient Adrien (Lori Heuring) gets furloughed and is handed a job at a posh beachfront country club. There she breaks through the staff-member barrier when Brittany (Susan Ward), the club's resident bombshell prima donna, takes her under her wing. The two party hearty with the ignoble trust-fund clique and get along sisterly, though both harbor dark secrets: Brittany is sibling-obsessed, and Adrien's committal had to do with delusional romantic fantasies about her doctor. But none of that comes into play until way late in the film, when jealous affections and a few corpses pop up. Until then, the only "thrill" is watching some bitchy bikini-clad debutantes get felt up by the bust-hugging camera work. For a murderous romp through the sex games of the rich and depraved, The In Crowd is about as "in" as white shoes after Labor Day. -- Tom Meek

Thomas and the Magic Railroad

Thomas is not a little boy but a talking Tank Engine on the magical Island of Sodor. He and his mates -- Henry, James, Gordon, Percy, Toby, and many more -- criss-cross the island carrying milk, produce, lumber, and coal and trying most of all to be Really Useful Engines; overseeing them all, under the watchful eye of railroad magnate Sir Topham Hatt, is Mr. Conductor. Originating in an obscure series of British children's books written in the 1940s by the Reverend Wilber Awdry, Thomas the Tank Engine has gone on to star in a pair of internationally renowned TV series (one narrated by Ringo Starr). And now, inevitably, in his own movie.

I had an expert reviewer lined up, my six-year-old nephew -- but he's off in Italy visiting his station-master grandfather. Well, I figured that having read him the stories, watched innumerable TV shows and videos with him, and spent hours playing with his Thomas train set, I could handle the movie, though like the TV series (but not, as far as I can make out, the original books), it keeps jumping from Sodor to the human world of Shining Time Station -- the kind of imaginative leap that children handle better than adults. The trains all have British accents; Shining Time Station, on the other hand, seems to be located in a generic PBS kids' America.

The story starts out simple and gets confusing. (It didn't help that, because of screening problems, we didn't get to see the beginning, but none of the children in attendance batted an eyelash.) Thomas's world of magic and innocence is threatened by a nasty diesel engine named Diesel 10 and his sidekicks, Splatter and Dodge, who represent unwanted "progress." Their activity is causing Mr. Conductor (Alec Baldwin) to lose the "sparkle" that enables him to travel the "magic railroad" between Shining Time and Sodor. He calls on his surfer-dude cousin, Mr. C. Junior (Michael E. Rodgers), for help, but with Diesel 10 rampaging all over the island, our heroes are in danger of being trapped there. Meanwhile, back in the human world, Lily (Mara Wilson) has come from the big city to visit her recluse uncle Burnett Stone (Peter Fonda), who's secretly pining because he can't get his train, Lady, to start. Along the way, Lily meets an Indian named Billy Twofeathers (Russell Means), a boy her own age named Patch (Corey McMains), and a mutt named Mutt (not credited on the cast sheet), none of whom has much to do with the plot. In the end, Thomas proves Really Useful by saving Lady from Diesel 10, and the Magic Railroad -- a metaphor for the imagination, of course -- is re-established. If there's a sequel, Iet's have fewer human characters and more time for the trains. -- Jeffrey Gantz

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