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Jordan's mediocre Thief

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The teaming of Neil Jordan and Nick Nolte is an interesting one, considering the director only seems capable of making a good film every other time out (his most recent was The End of the Affair), while the actor has been able to successfully carry a film approximately once over the last 10 years (Affliction). In other words, the chances of The Good Thief (opens Friday, April 25, at the Little) being a memorable picture would be pretty close to the odds of the damn Yankees finishing the season in the AL East basement (Lord, hear our prayer).

            But Thief isn't bad. In fact, it's practically entertaining, assuming you're interested in seeing a slightly more indie, slightly more international, slightly less fun version of Ocean's 11. Or assuming you'll be titillated by watching Nolte play a disheveled alcoholic and junkie just a few months after his arrest for being a disheveled alcoholic and junkie (Hey, haven't you ever heard of method acting before, Officer?).

            Nolte plays Bob, an expert crook-turned-degenerate booze/heroin/gambling-addicted mess with jet-black hair and a gravelly voice that sounds like Satan from The Exorcist --- that is, when Nolte bothers to project beyond a mumble. As Thief opens, Bob is at a horse track on the French Riviera, bidding farewell to his last bit of money. But a bunch of his pals then discuss the possibility of knocking off a Japanese-run, Monte Carlo casino on the eve of the Grand Prix. Along the way, we meet an interesting array of supporting characters, like the teen whore (Nutsa Kukhiani) Bob manages to rescue from her pimp, an evil art dealer (an uncredited Ralph Fiennes), a pair of wacky twins (directors Mark and Michael Polish), and the cop (Tchéky Karyo) who knows his old pal Bob is up to something, and seems intent on stopping it.

            Thief takes forever to get going, but once it starts to focus on the safe heist, it becomes increasingly enjoyable. Jordan incorporates clunky freeze-frame shots and awkward jump cuts throughout the film, which is more forgivable than allowing Thief's music to step on many of Nolte's best lines, most of which are already inaudible due to his mumbling. To make matters worse, Jordan's last handful of films have been visual treats, shot by the likes of Roger Pratt, Darius Khondji, and Adrian Biddle. But for Thief, he returns to boring, Michael Collins cinematographer Chris Menges.

            Aside from a decent performance by Nolte (to be honest, I saw Thief a few weeks before his arrest, and I've downgraded my opinion since then, because I'm not sure how much of it was acting), there isn't much else here, other than the cast of throwaway supporting characters. Thief is a remake of Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le Flambeur, from 1955.

If you've been wondering whether someone can make a film as moody, atmospheric, and downright disturbing as Se7en, you'll want to head down to the Dryden Theatre this Friday night (April 25), to catch Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure. Actually, it's more of a blend of Memento's amnesia, The Manchurian Candidate's mind-control and power of suggestion, and the bent serial killer from the aforementioned Se7en.

            Yakusho Koji plays Detective Kenichi Takabe, a man clearly beaten down from both dealing with his mentally unstable wife and his inability to solve a string of bizarre murders. The victims all have a large "X" carved into their throat and chest, but the killings have an even more bizarre link. The murderers are always found near the crime scene, but they have no recollection of committing any crime. They're usually friends and acquaintances of the victims, too.

            Enter a peculiar psychology student named Mamiya Kunio (Hagiwara Masato). Mamiya might be connected to the murders, but he suffers from acute amnesia, making it impossible to question him, as he can't remember anything that happened more than a few minutes ago. Mamiya keeps asking, "Who are you?" over and over again (his memory is much worse than Leonard Shelby's), but is he merely trying to figure out who you are, or is he trying to get you to question your own identity?

            Kurosawa uses long shots almost exclusively in Cure --- which, amazingly, is his first film to be released in the United States. The result makes the film a bit creepier, sort of like you're spying on the characters, but it also makes everything more realistic. It's one bleak film, and its ending would make Kevin Spacey proud. But if you're the kind of idiot that needs every loose end neatly tied up before the credits roll, you'll want to skip this and see Bringing Down the House again.

A double award winner at Sundance, but noticeably snubbed by Oscar, Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony (also opening April 25 at the Little) is a documentary about the history of Apartheid in South Africa. The film mostly focuses on the protest songs created in response to the enactment of the Apartheid laws in the late 1940s. Like the folk tunes brought to the Americas by the Irish and the Scots (as seen recently in Songcatcher), these angry a cappellas were handed down from generation to generation as important tales. Since most Apartheid victims were illiterate, the songs are the only link back to their appalling roots.

            The morale-boosting tunes, like "Beware Verwoerd (The Black Man is Coming)," aren't really harmonious in the way the title might suggest. If you're not into this kind of music, Amandla! is likely to be an extremely grating experience (I found the songs to be moving, but painfully repetitive after 15 minutes). For those unfamiliar with the details of Apartheid, however, it should at least be educational.

Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.

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