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The Anniversary Party; Kiss of the Dragon; The Score; Sexy Beast

Quick Flicks

!B! "The Anniversary Party;"!B! "Kiss of the Dragon"!B! "The Score"!B! "Sexy Beast"

"The Anniversary Party" — When you hear a new film has been written and directed by a pair of actors — one of whom is Jennifer Jason Leigh — your heart sort of sinks. Your thoughts race, immediately wondering what fresh hell or self-indulgent anguish you're about to sit through. Then you find out it's been shot on digital video over a mere 19 days and, well, could your anticipation be any lower? If you fall victim to such pre-viewing analysis, I've got great news for you — "The Anniversary Party" is a movie worth celebrating. Smart, energetic and often quite funny, the movie also contains sharp, vivid performances by a terrific ensemble cast. Co-written and co-directed by Leigh and Alan Cumming, it's a telling look at Hollywood movie-industry life as its characters struggle with everyday stuff like marriage, mortgages and children. Although it suffers in a final act topped off with an overwrought climax, the real fun comes from watching the actors make the most of roles written with each other in mind.

"Kiss of the Dragon" — When it comes to swirls, whirls, kicks and punches, Jet Li is as formidable as they come, but it's all for naught in this dour, solemn thriller. Once again, the plot deals with a tough cop caught up in intrigue in a foreign land. This time it's Paris, which could explain why you leave the movie suffering from an acute case of ennui. Now, I'm a big Jet Li fan, which could explain why watching the master struggle with both love scenes and scenes of raw brutality left me cold. The fight scenes, however, are stellar — filled with Li's trademark grace, strength and humor.

"The Score" — Forget the plot. The reason to plunk down hard-earned cash for this so-so crime caper is the cast: Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Edward Norton. What a rare treat for movie fans, getting to watch three generations of method actors fill the screen with their equally incredible talent. Brando may not be physically in fine form, but his acting is as lean and mean as ever. De Niro, playing a safecracker ready to retire, holds his own in his trademark quiet way while Norton returns to his "Primal Fear" days when he wowed us with his ability to step in and out of character.

As for the movie — well, it isn't nearly as focused or gifted as its cast. Laboriously paced and meandering wildly, it takes forever to get to the tension-filled heist and the "gotcha!" payoff. Thankfully, whenever the movie threatens to come to a confusing halt, Brando pops up. Decked out in Truman Capote-esque haberdashery, he outshines, outacts and outsteals every scene he's in.

"Sexy Beast" — Brutal and brilliant, this British crime caper boasts one of the best acting performances of the year. Ben Kingsley's raw turn as mob psychopath Don Logan will have you saying "Ghandi who?" Wanting to bring thief Gary Dove (the equally wonderful Ray Winstone) out of retirement for one last heist, Kingsley is a profanity-spewing, whirling dervish of perversity and pain. On the other hand, the formerly hard-boiled Gary has no intention of risking his "perfect" life. Although the underwater heist takes up much of the film, the real action comes in the confrontational scenes between Kingsley and Winstone.

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