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Reviews of "Sweet and Lowdown," "Scream 3," "Topsy-Turvy" and on video, "Lovers on the Bridge"


!B! "Sweet and Lowdown"
!B! "Scream 3"
!B! "Topsy-Turvy"
!B!And on Video: "Lovers on the Bridge"

"Sweet and Lowdown" - For the second time in a row, Woody Allen does not play the protagonist in his own movie. Kenneth Branagh filled the filmmaker's shoes in his last film, "Celebrity," giving us a dead-on impersonation of Allen. Nothing even remotely as entertaining happens in "Sweet and Lowdown" where Sean Penn plays a talented but drug-dimmed '30s jazz guitarist by the name of Emmett Ray.

Although Penn seems the embodiment of the callow Ray, the movie belongs to Samantha Morton who plays the mute love of Ray's life. Without uttering one word of dialogue, she captures every nuance of her character's sweetness. In a more strident role, Uma Thurman shows up as a high-society type who scores the ultimate slumming trophy by marrying Ray.

Presented as a "mockumentary" about the obscure legend of Emmett Ray, Allen and his cronies show up as talking heads throughout. This was an unnecessary conceit for me, interrupting the uneventful but entertaining flow of Ray's life and loves.

"Scream 3" - Not nearly as scary as the original "Scream," nor as gory as the second, Wes Craven's media-savvy "Scream" series ends appropriately by becoming media-crazed. The fun of this final installment isn't in watching folks get slashed but in catching the throwaway lines and the way the movie tweaks itself, calling attention to the stupidity of the genre it's spoofing as well as to its own archness.

The convoluted plot brings Neve Campbell's Sidney back to confront some demons from her past as the bodies of cast members of "Stab 3" start to pile up. No longer set in the small-town weirdness of Woodsboro, "Scream 3" has gone Hollywood, giving us both original cast members as well as their tinsel-town doppleg„ngers. Of the new batch, Parker Posey steals the show as "Stab 3's" version of Courteney Cox Arquette's tabloid journalist Gale Weathers.

"Topsy-Turvy" - I dearly loved this offbeat biopic about Gilbert and Sullivan from talented writer-director Mike Leigh. Despite its 160-minute running time. Despite its opera house setting. Despite my not knowing more than a few characters or a few lines from the operettas of this Victorian pair.

When the movie begins, we find Gilbert and Sullivan at a crisis point in their collaboration. It seems their fans have gown tired of G & S formula and the two have just experienced their biggest flop. But then thanks to Gilbert's long-suffering but loving wife, there's a creative epiphany and "The Mikado" is born.

As the near-tyrannical W. S. Gilbert, Jim Broadbent turns in one of the year's best performances. Which is not to say Allan Corduner's portrayal of Sullivan is lacking, it's just not as showy or forceful.

Now on Video

"Lovers on the Bridge" - New on video this week is one of the most expensive French films ever. Despite being pretentious and messy, there's something intriguing about the performances of the leads that might make it an entertaining rental. In this romance set among the homeless of Paris, Juliette Binoche is a starving artist named Michelle who also happens to be going blind. Denis Lavant is Alex, a man who befriends her. After the requisite visit to the beach and ride on a Ferris wheel, the two become lovers. But wait — there are posters all over Paris seeking the blind artist because an operation has been devised to cure her. Now Alex fears losing her. Will he keep the surgery a secret to keep her tied to him? You make the call.

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