Writ. & dir. Rolf Schübel, based on a novel by Nick Barkow; feat. Erika Mározsan, Joachim Król, Ben Becker, Stefano Dionisi, András Bálint (R)
Suffused with the delicate Weltschmerz of 1940s Budapest on the brink of devastation, Gloomy Sunday offers the rich textures of movies from an earlier era. Like Casablanca, it tells a story of love, loyalty, and betrayal set against the backdrop of World War II. Characters converge on a restaurant - owned by a man named Laszlo, not Rick - where a pianist - András, not Sam - plays a haunting tune - "Gloomy Sunday," not "As Time Goes By" - again and again.
Like Jules and Jim, Gloomy Sunday is generated by a romantic Pythagorean theorem, a triangle in which two men agree to share the affections of one gorgeous woman. "Everybody needs two things," says Laszlo, whose understanding equals his forbearance, "something that fills you up and something that makes you hungry."
Laszlo (Król), the generous and sensible restauranteur, fills Ilona (Mározsan) up with more than his renowned beef roulade. András (Dionisi), a brooding musician who composes a melancholic song that inspires dozens of suicides, keeps her on edge.
Ilona is so drop-dead beautiful, men frequent Laszlo's restaurant just to drool over her, and some even kill themselves for unrequited love. One who does not is Hans (Becker), a German colonel who is willing to overlook Laszlo's Jewishness in order to savor his roulade, listen to András' song, and ogle Ilona.
Gloomy Sunday takes its title and its tone from András' mesmerizing musical creation. The English translation lacks the resonance of the original title: Ein Lied von Leibe und Tod, A Song of Love and Death. One admirer describes the song as "a perfect balance of bitter and sweet," and the same could be said of the film itself.
Framed by a dramatic event in the present, most of the film is a flashback to 60 years earlier. It becomes impossible to extricate love from death as the Nazis set about eliminating Hungary's Jews and the plot thickens to the consistency of Laszlo's most exquisite roux. Despite the stunning resolution in its final frames, a viewer is not easily released from the spell of Gloomy Sunday. — Steven G. Kellman
Dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud; writ. Alain Godard, Jean-Jacques Annaud; feat. Guy Pearce, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, Freddie Highmore (PG)
Though Guy Pearce, playing a great white hunter, author, and looter of antiquities, has the largest speaking part, the leading men in Two Brothers are adorable tigers named Kumal and Sangha. What Babar did for elephants and Bambi for fawns, this film does for tigers: It humanizes them, which is preferable to demonizing them, but, given the film's dim view of our species as greedy, vain, and stupid, humanizing is a kind of libel. Two Brothers follows Kumal and Sangha out of the jungle and into the clutches of human captors; Kumal as a slave to the circus, Sangha into the private zoo of a pompous local potentate.
What made Jean-Jacques Annaud's The Bear (1988) into a classic of ursine art was his willingness to focus entirely on the experiences of a creature in the wild. In Two Brothers, Annaud gets his tigers to exhibit a remarkable range of actions and expressions. The scene in which a desperate mother barely fails to rescue her cub from his cruel abductor will surely make tiger fans even out of viewers who never cared for LSU.
In this movie it is the human beings who are cartoon figures - caricatures of arrogant colonialists and deceitful natives - and they intrude into the tigers' compelling drama. The eloquence of Kumal's melancholy eyes makes all the uttered lines seem stilted. Though it is set in French Indochina in the 1920s, Annaud chose, no doubt for marketing purposes, to make his film in English, which several of the characters speak with a Gallic accent. The tigers purr and roar in their own vernacular.
"After this is all over," says Pearce's Aidan McRory, when the film is almost all over, "I'll never touch a gun again." Two Brothers offers a lesson in respect and restraint. If closeups and flashbacks anthropomorphize tigers, attributing human thoughts and memories to them, they do so to remind us that tiger lives are more than skin-deep. However, not every species is as cuddly and colorful as the Asian felines, and when Kumal and Sangha pounce on a bunch of domesticated pigs, the film has no sympathy for slaughtered pork. Two Brothers concludes by announcing that, though there were 100,000 a century ago, only 5,000 tigers remain in the wild today. On the evidence of this film, it has been an incalculable loss to the acting profession. — Steven G. Kellman
Dir. Keenen Ivory Wayans; writ. Keenen Ivory Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Andrew McElfresh, Michael Anthony Snowden, Xavier Cook; feat. Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Terry Crews, Rochelle Aytes, Anne Dudek (PG-13)
It took six writers to craft the screenplay for White Chicks, the latest comedic effort from director Keenen Ivory Wayans. Among them, this army of writers managed to concoct two lengthy fart scenes, one puke scene, one panty-sniffing scene, one toenail-in-the-champagne-glass scene, and countless riffs on the classic man-gets-his-testicles-scrunched routine. But let's not belabor the highlights.
White Chicks is the story of FBI agents Kevin and Marcus Copeland (played by real-life brothers Shawn and Marlan Wayans), who are forced to impersonate two white, female Hamptons socialites in danger of being kidnapped. The result is an unholy union of Eddie Murphy's old Saturday Night Live skit "White Like Me" (itself a parody of the book Black Like Me) and Bosom Buddies.
The inspired premise of Murphy's skit was that by impersonating a stiff, uptight white guy, society showered him with all kinds of rewards. In White Chicks, that notion is turned upside down. When Kevin and Marcus revert to their African-American roots - braiding a girlfriend's hair, or breakdancing to Run-DMC's "It's Tricky" - they win the admiration of the Hamptons crowd.
The script is so lame it can't even keep its repugnant stereotypes straight. Terry Crews has the unenviable task of playing Terrell Spencer, a rich black basketball player obsessed with white girls, particularly Marcus Copeland's impersonation of socialite Tiffany Wilson. When Spencer finally discovers that the white girl he's in love with is in fact a black man, the racial surprise upsets him, prompting him to angrily call Marcus a "jigaboo."
In this world, the white debutantes are either overconfident skanks or insecure skanks in need of a confidence boost from the Copelands; the black men turn to putty whenever a white girl suggests that they look like Denzel Washington; and the serious journalists brag about searching for J-Lo's house. Latinos are depicted as maraca-shaking cheeseballs with bad comb-overs who spontaneously break into "La Bamba" and "Guantanamera."
The real stars of this debacle are the makeup artists who transform Shawn and Marlon Wayans into reasonable facsimiles of Hamptons socialites. If only a fraction of that commitment had gone into the screenplay, White Chicks might register as a guilty pleasure. As it stands, it's a depressing dud. — Gilbert Garcia
Wiggle Room Wednesdays
The Wiggle Room, the former Piggly Wiggly that has become a well-known alternative art venue, has begun a Wednesday night film series. The films come from the laser disc and DVD collection of Kevin Casey, whom lovers of Korean Barbecue know as part of the Casey family that runs Go Hyang Jib at 4400 Rittiman.
As he set up for his free screening two Wednesdays ago, Casey explained that he had developed a taste for a variety of unknown films over the years and wanted to share them with others. That night he featured two black-and-white, 1-hour films: the 1932 Freaks, and a 1927 silent film with Lon Chaney, The Unknown, which was wildly different from Freaks and had the audience laughing.
Freaks stars real-life circus "freaks" and is a film of horror and human drama. The "freaks" are pitted against two supernormal characters: a remarkably beautiful woman and an unusually strong man. Outwardly perfect, these two lovers are shallow and conniving; they let a midget think that the beauty loves him in what begins as a sick game but ends in an attempt at his inheritance. The duplicitous couple does not count on the revenge that the midget and his friends hatch, however.
After that macabre movie, a second horror film would have been too much. The Unknown at first seemed to follow in Freaks footsteps, with a new round of circus performers and Alonzo the Armless. The movie quickly turned on the audience though, as it turns out that Alonzo was faking his disability and was both a murderer and thief. The movie, both sadistic and dramatic, was over-the-top hilarious.
Casey doesn't just show older films; he's attracted to kookiness and interesting content. Patrons can meet interesting characters, including three people from Spain and Casey's part-Husky, part-wolf who is attracted to Limón-flavored chips. — Eric Bradshaw
Wednesday films at the Wiggle Room screen at 8:30 p.m., 2301 S. Presa. Admission is free. Info: 534-2375.