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Lucky You, Black Book, Spider-Man 3, others

New Releases

LUCKY YOU Director Curtis Hanson has spent the last decade delivering nothing but winning hands, so it's not without a measure of irony that his luck has run out with Lucky You. After the incredible run of the critical darlings L.A. Confidential and Wonder Boys, the box office hit 8 Mile and the underrated In Her Shoes, Hanson (co-scripting with Eric Roth) finds himself at the helm of a film so disowned by its parent studio (Warner Bros.) that not only has its release date already been changed at least twice, but it ended up serving as the sacrificial lamb chosen to open against Spider-Man 3. In truth, it deserves a less gruesome fate, even if it never reaches its full potential. Eric Bana, nicely underplaying, stars as Huck Cheever, a Las Vegas poker ace who's allergic to responsibility and constantly at odds with his father L.C. (Robert Duvall), a poker champ who abandoned him and his mother decades earlier and now haunts the same casinos as his son. But Huck finds his heart softening -- and his infrequently employed principles hardening -- once he meets struggling nightclub singer Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore), whose sincerity and naivety win him over. The romance between Huck and Billie isn't credible, partly because Billie isn't sufficiently fleshed out but mainly because Barrymore delivers an atypically flat performance that leaves her costar stranded. Far better are the scenes between Huck and L.C., and Hanson and Roth make sure to surround this pair with a wide array of interesting characters, including Little Children's Phyllis Somerville as a pawnbroker and Jean Smart as a fellow card enthusiast (even an unbilled Robert Downey, Jr. and Borat's manager make appearances!). But did it all have to climax with, yes, a championship poker tournament?  **1/2

Current Releases

AFTER THE WEDDING / THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY Just because the summer blockbuster season is upon us doesn't mean that moviegoers uninterested in pungent pirates or a shrieking Shrek should stay home and warm up the DVD player. The local art-houses will continue to provide healthy alternatives, as witnessed by this twofer that opened locally against a certain friendly neighborhood you-know-what. A recent nominee for the Best Foreign-Language Film Academy Award, Denmark's After the Wedding stars Mads Mikkelsen (the bleeding-eye villain in Casino Royale) as a humanitarian trying to save his orphanage in India from going under. He travels to Copenhagen to meet a millionaire (Rolf Lassgard) interested in financing the project, only to learn that the businessman has a more personal motive for bringing him to Denmark. Initially threatening to turn into the most shameless of melodramas, After the Wedding instead builds upon its rickety foundation with such dexterity and grace that it eventually emerges as a deeply moving experience. The Wind That Shakes the Barley, meanwhile, is the latest from British iconoclast Ken Loach, a hard-hitting political drama that snagged the Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival. Focusing on Ireland's bid for independence in the early part of the 20th century, it stars Cillian Murphy as a medical student who puts his career as a doctor on hold in order to help his countrymen, including his brother (Padraic Delaney), fight against British rule. But as the conflict grows more complicated and the Irish factions begin to split and quarrel among themselves, the two siblings suddenly find themselves in opposition. More convincing than Hollywood's take on the conflict, 1996's Michael Collins, this down and dirty import is honest enough to acknowledge that war has the ability to turn everyone -- despite their convictions -- into thugs and murderers. Both movies:  ***

BLACK BOOK Director Paul Verhoeven's first Dutch film in over 20 years is slam-bang entertainment that's almost delirious in its attempt to emulate some of the ambitious World War II epics from the past. Verhoeven, whose notable career (The Fourth Man, RoboCop) was singlehandedly derailed by Showgirls, infuses Black Book with plenty of verve and passion, and he's aided by a top-notch cast led by the wonderful Carice Van Houten. In Rachel Stein, Van Houten has created a truly memorable character, a Jewish woman who endures her share of heartbreak and humiliation yet is above all else a survivalist. Even though her family is gunned down before her eyes, she manages to escape the carnage, determined to find the duplicitous rat whose actions caused their demise. She joins the Dutch underground, where she becomes attracted to Hans Akkersmans (Thom Hoffman), a macho marksman (he bears some resemblance to Russell Crowe) who seems to have more lives than your average cat's grand total of nine. In true Mata Hari fashion, Rachel is asked to get chummy with a high-ranking Nazi official (Sebastian Koch, the conflicted playwright in The Lives of Others), a problem once she begins to fall in love with him. With its series of blazing gun battles, numerous espionage capers (will Rachel get caught while bugging Nazi HQ?), and characters repeatedly double-crossing each other, Black Book rarely gives the viewer time to breathe -- it's like The Guns of Navarone for the art-house set.  ***1/2

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