Alias Betty. Claude Miller. The blood disease porphyria sparked madness in England's King George III, so its impact on manic Margot (Nicole Garcia) and her hapless daughter Betty (cucumber-cool Sandrine Kiberlain) is about as shocking as a hoosier mom beating her kid on camera, and as scarring. What's wonderful about director Claude Miller's adaptation of Ruth Rendell's novel The Tree of Hands is its grand capacity for compassion and complexity. As an adult, Betty (née Brigite but hates it) is a successful author and repressed suburban mother whose own mother brings madness yet again, but by weaving into these episodic yet intricately linked stories a poor child (Alexis Chatrian); his careless, libidinous barmaid mother (Mathilde Seigner); her seeming layabout boyfriend (Luck Mervil); and a persistent detective on everyone's case (Yves Verhoeven), Miller creates a deceptively simple but extremely fulfilling cross-section of humanity. Barring the ludicrously explosive climax, the movie is deftly delivered, intimately lensed by Christophe Pollock and elegantly edited by Véronique Lange. Its thesis: Sometimes we all need a transfusion. Opens Friday, January 17, at the Tivoli. (GW)
The Hours. Stephen Daldry. The heady emotional content of Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman, yes, really) ripples dramatically -- and traumatically -- through the lives of a depressed 1950s housewife (Julianne Moore, sound familiar?) and flustered modern-day Manhattanite (Meryl Streep, sound familiar again?). This portrait of despair from director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot) is adapted by David Hare (Strapless) from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham, and it's a noble, elegant, compassionate work -- if also a somewhat tedious and glaringly self-important Oscar magnet. Philip Glass's trademark doodle-doodle-doo music irritates the nerves as multiple storylines weave sinuously through the hearts and minds of these women. But this is actually a men's movie -- with Ed Harris at its core as an AIDS-stricken poet -- which could explain why the female characters are so moody but lack depth. Complicating matters, Kidman's fake nose blows, making a mockery of Woolf's drowning suicide; anyone with that much prosthetic goop on her beak is definitely going to float -- and survive. Opens Friday, January 17, at the Chase Park Plaza and other locations. (GW)
Kangaroo Jack. David McNally. Opens Friday, January 17, at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.
National Security. Dennis Dugan. Two mismatched security guards bust a smuggling operation. Opens Friday, January 17, at multiple locations. NR
Tadpole. Gary Winick. To enjoy Gary Winick's Tadpole, shot on low-res digital video, you'll have to deal with wide shots that occasionally reduce character faces to pure pixelation. You'll have to accept that the color scheme is going to be mostly dull and that none of the visuals will dazzle you or even particularly interest you. Fortunately, that doesn't really matter, for this is one of those films that gets by on script and character alone, and the dig-vid look ultimately gives the piece a home-movie feel that adds a voyeuristic level to the proceedings. Impressive newcomer Aaron Stanford plays fifteen-year-old boarding-school student "Tadpole," who wants to date middle-aged women -- specifically his own stepmother, Eve (Sigourney Weaver). Home for the holidays, he intends to finally declare his love but encounters inevitable complications when Eve's best friend, Diane (Bebe Neuwirth), becomes part of the dysfunctional triangle. It may sound a little like Three's Company, especially with John Ritter around as Tadpole's effeminate dad, but the wit is sharp and the timing is perfect. Opens Friday, January 17, at multiple locations. (LYT)