Even when playing a villainous clod, we are so accustomed to seeing Ben Kingsley be civilized and soft-spoken, not unlike Claude Rains in another era, that the Oscar winner for "Gandhi" (1982) cocked more than a few eyebrows with his portrait of a terrifying, borderline psychotic gangster in the thriller "Sexy Beast" (2001). A bit more blistering than your customary Royal Shakespeare Company gig, the dynamic, Oscar-nominated performance was among the year's best.
Now he's back to Mob-ular skullduggery, albeit refined, in Friday's opening of "Lucky Number Slevin." Just don't expect quite the same intensity.
Set in New York, it's another mistaken-identity yarn, this time with Josh Hartnett finding himself sandwiched in the middle of a turf war between two of Gotham's crime kingpins, The Rabbi (Kingsley) and The Boss (Morgan Freeman). Meanwhile, Slevin (Hartnett) is under surveillance not only by dogged detective named Brikowski (Stanley Tucci) but the cold-eyed assassin Goodkat (Bruce Willis). But it turns out Sleven has some moves of his own, and he just may devise an ingenious plot to turn the tables.
Lucy Liu, Danny Aiello and Mykelti Williamson complete a talented cast for this latest film by director Paul McGuigan ("Wicker Park," "The Reckoning"), from a script by first-timer Jason Smilovic.
The breezy, idiosyncratic "Duck Season" has been a remarkable success story in Mexico, a small film that captured hearts (and an unprecedented 11 Ariels, the South of the Border Oscar). Now it's charming North American audiences.
Writer-director Fernando Eimbcke, delivering his first feature after a strong series of shorts, has screened his picture in 70 festivals in more than 30 countries. It seduced viewers during Critic's Week at Cannes, took the grand jury prize at AFI Fest and got a best foreign film nomination from the Independent Spirit awards. Not too shabby for an 85-minute black-and-white film about a lazy Sunday experienced by two 14-year-old boys from Mexico City.
The "action" occurs in the Mexico City apartment of Flama (Daniel Miranda), accompanied by best pal Moko (Diego Catano). Left to their own devices by Flama's mom. And if you think that's a recipe for trouble, just wait until a neighboring 16-year-old hottie named Rita (Danny Perea) shows up wanting to use the boys' kitchen to bake a cake. Add off-the-wall pizza delivery man Ulises (Enrique Arreola), who shows up after power goes off in the apartment, and you have the final element in a slight but disarming plotline. Yet in the end, it is less about antics and wacky personalities as matters intrinsically human.
The title, by the way, reflects a hint (but only a hint) of magical realism, referring to a painting of ducks on the wing decorating one wall.
A meld of music, dance, art, theater, circus and acrobatics ? which is to say, anything by Cirque du Soleil ? promenades on DVD again with "Corteo" ("Cortege" in Italian), a spirited procession and festive parade "situated in a mysterious space between heaven and earth," and imagined by a clown.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release the video Tuesday, coinciding with the opening of "Corteo" in New York City, slated for April 25.
During Cirque du Soleil's 22-
year history, it has produced 17 distinctive, often mesmerizing shows. "Corteo" joins the ranks of other live productions filmed for home video, "Midnight Sun," "La Nouba," "Solstrom," "Varekai," "Fire Within," "Journey of Man" and "Saltimbanco," among others.
The first time many in the States saw him, opposite then wife Emma Thompson in "Dead Again" (1991), Kenneth Branagh was so utterly believable as a denizen of Los Angeles that it came as a shock to discover he was British. Of course Branagh, perhaps the finest Shakespearean actor of his generation, already had wowed film buffs with his first leading role in "A Month in the Country" (1987) and his brilliant work as director and star of "Henry V" in 1989.
But somehow his dual role in "Dead Again," even when it strayed into campiness, stays in the mind.
An unabashed fan of the American cinema and its stars, Branagh has gone on to direct eight major films in a wide variety of genres, ranging from film noir to horror and comedy. His directing style remains energetic and often audacious, mixing the brio of Orson Welles with the stage-to-screen acumen of Laurence Olivier.
In "The Films of Kenneth Branagh" (Praeger Publishers, April 4), Ohio University English professor Samuel Crowl delves into the work of this bold but sometimes self-indulgent actor-filmmaker ? of whom we have seen little of late ? showing how Branagh tries to make films that appeal to the general audience (with varying success) while treating his subject matter with respect. Crowl examines all of Branagh's work as director and actor-director, which also includes "Love's Labour Lost," "Peter's Friends," "Much Ado About Nothing," "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," "A Midwinter's Tale" and "Hamlet."
Bits and pieces
Now starring as Judy Garland ... Adrienne Barbeau? The former supporting player on TV's "Maude," whose high-water mark in feature films was in the cinematic quicksand of "Swamp Thing," is playing the iconic Hollywood star in "The Property Known as Garland," now before the footlights at the Actors' Playhouse in Greenwich Village. The play's author, Billy Van Zandt, is Barbeau's husband. ... Ryan Gosling, last seen hereabouts in "The Notebook," returns to the screen with "Half-Nelson." ... Next up for Kristin Scott-Thomas is "The Valet," opposite Daniel Auteuil. ... "Becoming Jane" is the story of the real-life love affair that, in part, inspired Jane Austen to pursue a literary career. It stars Anne Hathaway, Maggie Smith and Julie Walters. ... It's amusing to note that the Alvy Singer Trust, named for the character in Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" who loathed Los Angeles, is buying up properties in La La Land and Malibu, Calif. Allen does not own the company, by the way. ... The three-time Oscar-winning romantic comedy "Moonstruck" returns to DVD in an expanded new edition ? the first in widescreen ? on April 18 from MGM and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. It arrives in time for Mother's Day, which would make the matriarch played by Olympia Dukakis a little less crabby.