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"American Beauty," Mumford," "Jakob the Liar" and "Buena Vista Social Club"

Quick Flicks

"American Beauty""Mumford""Jakob the Liar""Buena Vista Social Club"

"American Beauty" A disturbing, provocative treat that at first seems to be just another suburbia-as-hell retread. But then pow! like a powerful punch to the solar plexus, this very, very dark look at the American dream starts veering off into uncharted territory.

Kevin Spacey is the "loser" dad who lets us know from the start that he's dead. Annette Benning is his success-obsessed Realtor wife who's suffering her own mid-life crisis. Thora Birch is their spoiled teenage daughter. She falls for the new weird kid who moves in next door with his ex-Marine dad (Chris Cooper) and catatonic mom (Allison Janney). But the real catalyst in this subversive little comedy is the Lolita-esque Mena Suvari ("American Pie") who fuels Spacey's life-altering binge.

Once his eyes focus on Suvari, Spacey's character goes on a full-out lust meltdown. Think "Happiness" with a dose of humanity. Think "Ice Storm" with a dollop of dark humor. Think sublimely original.

"Mumford" Hmmm. Let's see here: No big name stars. No action to speak of. Lots of quirky talk and quirky characters. And a delightful little script. Doesn't that scream "play" and not "movie" to you?

Certainly not one of writer/director Lawrence Kasdan's best, this tale of a faux shrink with a penchant for ignoring patient-doctor confidentiality is a pleasant afternoon's entertainment for those not weaned on the fast-paced, big-reveal plotlines of most mainstream movies. Another plus — the talented presence of Alfre Woodard.

Watching "Mumford" brought to mind the "character-driven" movies of the '40s from such masters as Ernst Lubitsch or Preston Sturges. But where those movies celebrated the quirkiness of their characters, "Mumford" never quite fulfills its farcical or heartwarming premise. Cute but slight, "Mumford" only pretends to shake up the status quo.

"Jakob the Liar" Unfortunately, the overwhelming feeling this Holocaust-driven comedy-drama evokes is one of deja vu. Didn't we see all this in Robert Benigni's wonderfully original "Life Is Beautiful?"

This time out Robin Williams is the man with the vivid imagination who buoys his fellow Jews in the Nazi-occupied Polish ghetto with reports of Allied troop movements and Nazi losses he gleans from a contraband radio. Only problem is — there is no radio; Jakob Heym (Williams) is making it all up. Thrust into the spotlight, Jakob becomes a target himself as the Nazi's scour the ghetto for the nonexistent radio. Some in the community debate his credibility; others hang on his every word, allowing the warmth of hope to filter back into their desperate lives.

"Jakob" pales by comparison to "Life Is Beautiful," but then again, what wouldn't?

"Buena Vista Social Club" This charming documentary from German filmmaker Wim Wenders chronicles musician Ry Cooder's attempts to persuade a generation of legendary Cuban musicians to come out of retirement and make an album. For anyone who embraces the musical paradox of diversity and universality, this heartwarming journey is a must-see, must-hear, must-feel experience.

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