Though he doesn’t qualify as a minimalist, Atom Egoyan tends to score when his obsessions are most concentrated (Calendar, Exotica) or, failing that, when his source material seems amenable to him (The Sweet Hereafter). Adapting a Rupert Holmes novel about the dirty secrets of an American showbiz team, loosely based on Martin and Lewis and humorlessly played by Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon, Egoyan seems both out of his element and out of control, and the results are unsatisfying and gratuitously unpleasant. Alison Lohman isn’t very convincing as the reporter who’s trying to dredge up some dirt on the entertainers, and the elaborate flashback structure can’t hide the fact that the story never fully comes to life. 107 min. (JR)
This 2002 drama about a hip-hop gangsta (Richard T. Jones) settling in the Hamptons was inspired by The Great Gatsby, though the filmmakers have ignored its style and narrative point-of-view, updated the action by 80 years, made all the major characters black, and drastically changed the ending. Seems like a dopey idea to me, but if you aren’t familiar with the Fitzgerald novel, you may enjoy this; at least Jones and his costars (Blair Underwood, Chenoa Maxwell, Andre Royo) play the story as if they believed in it. Christopher Scott Cherot directed. R, 96 min. (JR)
Writing in the New York Times, Dave Kehr called Bruce Posner’s 19-hour box set, Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941, one of the major monuments of the DVD medium. Yet one peculiarity of this medium is that its monuments are easily overlooked, and this 89-minute program offers a rare chance to sample Posner’s uncommon discoveries and rediscoveries on a big screen. The films in this batch will include Kinetoscopes, mutoscopes, and films by Edison Studios and American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, Fernand Leger and Dudley Murphy’s Ballet Mechanique (in a version including the original music score and some color shots), Case-Sponable Sound Tests by Theodore Case and E.I. Sponable, J.S. Watson Jr. and Alec Wilder’s Tomato Is Another Day, and Ralph Steiner’s H2O. (JR)
David (Bryan Greenberg) is a 23-year-old Jewish painter and Rafi (Uma Thurman) a 37-year-old WASP divorcee, so when these New Yorkers become a couple, everyone’s a bit surprised. But no one’s more confused than Rafi’s therapist (Meryl Streep), who turns out to be David’s mother and whose progressive ideas don’t extend to her son. Writer-director Ben Younger (Boiler Room) handles the actors with a light hand, but the real revelation here is Streep, who spends every moment comically negotiating her conflicted impulses. PG-13, 105 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Gardens 7-13, Lake, Norridge, 600 N. Michigan, 3 Penny, Village, Wilmette.
Banking on the prestige of Monster’s Ball, director Marc Foster goes for broke in this hallucinatory free-for-all about a suicidal artist (Ryan Gosling), his psychiatrist (Ewan McGregor), and the psychiatrist’s lover (Naomi Watts), another suicidal artist who used to be his patient. Trying to solve various mysteries, the shrink soon becomes crazier than the other two. If this is a psychological thriller, I stopped being thrilled once I realized anything could happen; if it’s a mystery, the denouement raises more questions than it answers. With its flashy, pretentious visual effects, this is really a 98-minute dream sequencethough it’s worth recalling that the most effective dream sequences tend to be only a few minutes long. David Benioff (The 25th Hour) wrote the script; with Bob Hoskins and Janeane Garofalo. (JR)