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Film Openings 

Week of December 31, 2003

Bus 174 (unrated) Felipe Lacerda and José Padilha. The suspenseful and terrifying Bus 174 documents the four-hour standoff on June 12, 2000, between 21-year-old hijacker Sandro do Nascimento and the Rio de Janeiro police. Alerted following Nascimento's attempted robbery of bus passengers, the authorities close in quickly but fail to establish a safe perimeter. In full view of television cameras and crowds, police bungle negotiations and take no action as Nascimento sticks his head out bus windows, waves his .38, parades prisoners up and down the aisle, shouts curses and screams that "this is not a movie." But directors Felipe Lacerda and José Padilha go beyond the disconcerting excerpts from the more than 24 hours of live-broadcast video to illuminate (and indict) the social and personal circumstances leading to this tragic incident. Flawlessly weaving together interviews with police, friends, hostages, a social worker and an aunt (who tells of young Nascimento witnessing his mother's murder), Lacerda and Padilha intercut shocking footage of the horrid treatment of Brazilian street children (including a massacre Nascimento survived) and of brutal, subhuman prison conditions. Opens Friday, January 2, at the Tivoli. (Diane Carson)

Calendar Girls (PG-13) Nigel Cole. This year's British assault on the Yank funny bone is a spirited (if sometimes bland) farce about those proper club women from Yorkshire who decided to raise a few quid for the local hospital back in 1999 by posing nude for the annual club calendar. Unexpectedly, they became celebrities and to date have raised 600,000 pounds. The movie version of the widely publicized story is dolled up with all the heartwarming country charm we've come to expect from recent British comedies -- including the phenomenally successful Full Monty. A pair of top actresses, Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, star as the playful perpetrators of the calendar plot (hatched as a fund-raiser in memory of a husband who'd recently died of leukemia), and the talented supporting cast includes Penelope Wilton, Geraldine James and John Alderton. There are many winning moments here, but director Nigel Cole (Saving Grace) sometimes imparts to the thing a terrible case of the cutes and an overeagerness to please. Opens Thursday, January 1, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Bill Gallo)

The Singing Detective (R) Keith Gordon. Pulp writer Dan Dark (Robert Downey Jr.) is traumatized by the fact that his mother (Carla Gugino) slept around and also by the fact that, perhaps more horrifically, he is portrayed as a child by David Dorfman, that creepy kid from The Ring. Dark's trauma has manifested itself in the flesh as an extreme form of psoriasis (from which writer Dennis Potter also suffered), turning him into a "human pizza" taut with rage, teeth forcibly clenched and hands permanently seized up into fists. What we are watching is a subjective projection of his mind as he works through his issues, flashing back and forth between a detective novel he wrote some years ago and now sees himself in, and the real world, past and present, with characters who occasionally break out into '50s tunes. Try to forget about Michael Gambon in Potter's original BBC miniseries; Keith Gordon's film is its own thing, full of Brechtian artifice and oddball humor -- Mel Gibson's old man act in particular. Opens Friday, January 2, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Luke Y. Thompson)

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