In his directorial debut, actor Edward Norton plays a Catholic priest who, along with his best friend, a rabbi (Ben Stiller), falls for a woman (Jenna Elfman) whom apparently neither of them can marry. This isn’t quite a comedy, but the overall mood is light and warm and the charm of the three leads makes it a movie worth seeing. As a director, Norton bites off more than he can chewhe doesn’t seem to know how to handle sight gags, and some material about Stiller’s unseen brother suggests that either Stuart Blumberg’s screenplay is disjointed or a lot of footage got discarded. The handling of New York settings is pretty good, and so are the costars, including Anne Bancroft, Eli Wallach, and Milos Forman in parental and/or avuncular parts. 128 min. (JR)
Alexei Guerman’s mad, brilliant sequel to My Friend Ivan Lapshin (1982) was begun when the Soviet Union still existed and completed in 1998 with finishing money from France. Set in 1953, during the last days of Stalin’s regime, it has a narrative of sortsthe central character is a brain surgeon and former alcoholic Red Army general who’s sent to the gulag during the anti-Semitic doctors purge and released in a last-ditch effort to save Stalinbut one generally experiences it more as a visionary nightmare. Filmed in high-contrast, deep-focus black and white, in cluttered, claustrophobic interiors and snowy exteriors, often in long takes and with a moving camera, it suggests The Magnificent Ambersons, especially in the way its baroque mise en scene is organized around a subjective camera and various activities in the foreground. But its overall ambience certainly isn’t nostalgic as with the Welles film; it leaves one with a corrosive and unforgettable whiff of the Stalinist era. (JR) 137 min.