These movies arrive on video store shelves this week.
*LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL
(PG-13, 1998, 116 minutes, Miramax)
Italian clown Roberto Benigni starts off with his usual manic inanity, playing inept waiter Guido Orefice as he tries to woo pretty schoolteacher Dora (Nicoletta Braschi) in 1939 Tuscany. Just as you might begin to tire of the rich lunacy that flavored such comedies as "The Monster" and "Johnny Stecchino," "Life is Beautiful" becomes a very different and more serious film, as the Jewish Guido, his now-wife Dora and their young son (Giorgio Cantarini) are shipped off to a Nazi death camp. The difficult tonal transition is deftly handled by Benigni, who also directed and co-wrote the brilliant, sad and funny film. Contains disturbing, but not particularly graphic, death camp scenes. In Italian with subtitles. -- Michael O'Sullivan
(PG-13, 1999, 124 minutes, Universal)
Julia Roberts is Anna Scott, a self-obsessed megastar passing through London. Hugh Grant is William Thacker, a reticent bookseller in Notting Hill, still recovering from a divorce. In this delightful comedy from the team who gave you "Four Weddings and a Funeral," they create the kind of romantic magic you don't see very often any more. Primarily, they play themselves, dealing in their inimitably charming way with such romance-extinguishing factors as social differences, bad timing and meddlesome roommates. Speaking of which: It isn't just Grant and Roberts angling for a first kiss that makes "Notting Hill" an affair to remember. It's the sight of Spike (Rhys Ifans), Thacker's painfully embarrassing roommate, standing in his standard-issue white underpants and flexing what he considers to be a stunning body. Contains sexual situations and some strong language. -- Desson Howe