These movies arrive on video store shelves this week.
(R, 1998, 113 minutes, Miramax)
Kenneth Branagh does an extraordinary Woody Allen impersonation as neurotic New York writer Lee Simon, in Allen's funny and incisive black-and-white meditation on fame and romantic failure. The romantic failure part will be familiar from Allen's other film comedies, but the topic of our obsession with celebrity is new. With Donald Trump playing himself, and Leo DiCaprio acting like a Leo DiCaprio- esque movie star, the bizarre casting of someone other than himself in the central "Woody" role seems less accidental than an inspired joke by the director. Contains profanity, inexplicit sex and a lewd act involving a banana.
-- Michael O'Sullivan
THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN
(PG-13, 1999, 109 minutes, Columbia Pictures)
Producer/star Michelle Pfeiffer plays a Milwaukee mother whose grief over a missing child keeps her out of touch with her husband (Treat Williams) and remaining children. There are passingly good moments but, for the most part, the movie (based on Jacquelyn Mitchard's novel) never engages us as it should. Pfeiffer carries her emotional weight a little too nobly. Her pain seems regal and phoned-in, as if whe's working too hard behind the camera to get down and dirty. Director Ulu Grosbard and scriptwriter Stephen Schiff plot a strange, ellipsis-dotted voyage that avoids emotional high points instead of dealing with them. But there are commendable performances from Jonathan Jackson and Ryan Merriman, as two children who become very significant in Pfeiffer's life. Contains obscenity and explicit talk of sex.
-- Desson Howe
LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS
(R, 1999, 108 minutes, Polygram)
Spring-loaded with cockney esprit, this "Eastenders" approach to "Reservoir Dogs" peppers its audience with aggressive, sarcastic grapeshot. The story in this street-tough British comedy concerns a Londoner foursome (Nick Moran, Jason Flemyng, Jason Statham and Dexter Fletcher), who use guile, gall and two antique shotguns to save one of their own from a heavy gambling debt to Harry the Hatchet (P.H. Moriarty), a nasty geezer who takes nonpayment very seriously. There's a great cameo from English soccer player Vinnie Jones as a tough debt collector. But as these characters insult or beat on one another, the humor takes it on the chin. You don't know whether to laugh or duck. Contains obscenity, violence and cockney accents.
-- Desson Howe
*SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
(R, 1999, 122 minutes, Miramax)
Shakespeare's not just for English majors, as proved by this intoxicating period farce that speculates about the circumstances surrounding the writing of "Romeo and Juliet." It's 1593 and Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is in London working on "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter," but he suffers from writer's block and romantic dysfunction. The stage-struck aristocrat Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) changes all that when she enters the bard's life. He not only falls in love with her but ends up casting her as Romeo (!) in this whirling romantic stew that mixes elements of Shakespeare's "R&J" with "Twelfth Night" in a witty script by Marc Norman and playwright Tom Stoppard. Don't ask how it works. Just go and see it and leave the books at home. Contains a bit of profanity, some dirty double entendres, a melee, discreet sex and a flash of nudity.
-- Michael O'Sullivan
(R, 1999, 127 minutes, Warner Bros.)
Craggy Clint Eastwood, who has finally turned into a candidate for Mount Rushmore, remains an incredibly watchable actor; and if there was ever a movie to test the resilience of his appeal, it's this one. In "True Crime," which he stars in, and produced and directed, Eastwood's plays Steve Everett, a chain-smoking, alcoholic, womanizing reporter. His last chance for redemption comes when he's ordered to file a human interest story about an almost saintly African American (Isaiah Washington) condemned to die for a brutal murder. Everett starts picking up clues that cast serious doubts on the prosecution, and so he's got to save this man's life and, of course, save his own. The movie's heavy on emotional button pressing, hollow depictions of character degradation and a deus-ex-mush-in a ending so laughable, it destroys any slim trust you may have built up in the movie. But Clint watchers will not be disappointed. Contains sexual aftermath scenes, murder scenes, a gruesome car accident and graphic language. -- Desson Howe