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"Tea With Mussolini," "William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Trekkies," and on video, "The Theory of Flight"

Quick Flicks

Tea with MussoliniWilliam Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's DreamTrekkiesNow On Video: The Theory of Flight

"Tea with Mussolini" Officially labeled as semiautobiographical, this period drama is a valentine to the women from director Franco Zeffirelli's formative years. Though much of the story is inspired by Zeffirelli, novelist John Mortimer (creator of "Rumpole of the Bailey") crafted the reminiscences into a workable dramatic framework. To be quite honest, that narrative is terribly uneven. But the real reason to catch "Tea with Mussolini" is the cast: Cher, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Lady Joan Plowright and Lily Tomlin. These women are a joy to watch, even when all they are doing are the gestures and speech patterns we have come to love them for.

The story begins in 1935, when Mussolini is still regarded as a somewhat benevolent leader. Living in Florence at that time are a group of British and American ladies who the locals have dubbed the "scorpioni." It doesn't take long to understand this is not a compliment.

On the American team are Cher, playing the flamboyant, too-wealthy art collector Elsa Morgenthal, and Tomlin, who is lesbian archeologist Georgie Rockwell. On the Brit side of the group are Plowright as the motherly Mary; Smith as the haughty Lady Hester Ransom; and Dench as the flighty Arabella Delancey. In the middle of this pit of outspoken, flamboyant and caring femmes lives 7-year-old Luca (first played by Charlie Lucas and then by Baird Wallace), who represents the young Zeffirelli.

As the time shifts throughout the movie, so do the winds of war and sentiments about England and America. So also do the roles each woman plays in Luca's life.

Lovely to look at and listen to, "Tea with Mussolini" entertains but never really engages.

"William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream" Although there's fairy dust and star-crossed lovers aplenty in this latest big-screen adaptation, the folks misplaced the charm. This version suffers from trying to please everyone. It pairs popular actors from American TV and movies with their British counterparts and plops them down in 19th-century Tuscany. By maintaining the Shakespearean dialogue the filmmakers went for the tony set. But not wanting to overlook the less literate, they infused the movie with slapstick schtick. Oh, well, what fools some mortal filmmakers be!

Kevin Kline steals the show — and comes close to saving it — as the overly theatrical wannabe actor Bottom.

"Trekkies" Warning: This is a documentary. A very funny, often touching and occasionally disturbing documentary I might add, but a documentary nonetheless. I offer this warning because many folks would rather die than spend their free time dealing with real life.

However, if you enjoy an offbeat slice 'o life every now and then, you won't be disappointed by this look into the benevolent cult of "Star Trek" enthusiasts. Those fans, of course, divide themselves into subgroups by show cast — original or "The Next Generation," for example, and then by character. In the latter category, we meet a lovely young woman who swoons over Brent Spiner's "Data" droid character. She classifies herself and others of her ilk as "Spiner-femmes." Filmmaker Robert Nygard introduces us to German Trekkies, Trekkies in wheelchairs, transsexual Trekkies, and one Florida dentist whose family and employees wear Starfleet garb.

Now On Video

"The Theory of Flight" Although at first glance this movie looks like another button-pushing, tear-jerker about a guy who falls in love with a quadriplegic young woman, the movie is surprisingly upbeat and actually enjoyable.

Kenneth Branagh stars as an immature artist whose harebrained scheme to launch a homemade hang glider off a building earns him lots of community service time. He's assigned to take a disabled girl out into the fresh air. When that girl turns out to be a rebellious beauty played by Helena Bonham Carter, all bets are off.

Carter plays Jane, who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease, at full throttle. Jane has a wicked sense of humor and an even more wicked mouth. There's not an ounce of self-pity in her. But there is a regret: that she will die a virgin. Branagh decides to fulfill her request, and begins searching for just the right man. We — as well as Jane — know that he's the right man.

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