Blood, Sweat, and Tears

The barroom scene is full of portents, and the omens continue once Captain Billy takes the Andrea Gail back out. A stray shark grabs Bobby's leg; another member of the crew gets yanked overboard with a hook through his hand; a "rogue wave" knocks the old tub on its keister. Meanwhile, even as the Andrea Gail heads east of the Grand Banks toward what's colorfully known as the Flemish Cap (a place where, as one old salt informs the bar, there's "lots of fish and lots of weather"), an inexplicable sailboat, Mistral, is turning somersaults in a hurricane off Bermuda and the TV weatherman tracking events in the North Atlantic is gleefully predicting "a disaster of epic proportions."

Given that The Perfect Storm is a relatively concise 129 minutes, we don't have to wait too long for the action—which, for my money, is marginally more fun than the lugubrious slaughter offered by its July 4th rival, The Patriot. The Andrea Gail heads right into the mad vortex of the colliding storm systems and then has to execute the "turnaround of all time." Still, The Perfect Storm rains on its own parade. Clooney has less authority than attitude as the foolhardy captain, while the largely convincing effects are somewhat weakened by a puzzling slackness in the crosscutting between the two boats, various rescue vehicles, and their respective maelstroms.

Although The Perfect Storm is based on one of the most widely read nonfiction books of the past few years, Warners has requested that the press not reveal the film's ending. Suffice to say that the big "You'll Never Walk Alone" conclusion of Carousel, to cite an earlier exercise in the New England mawkish, is dry-eyed by comparison.

A mix of showboat formalism and insouciant nose-thumbing: Walsh in Blood Simple
photo: USA Films
A mix of showboat formalism and insouciant nose-thumbing: Walsh in Blood Simple


Blood Simple
Directed by Joel Coen
Written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
A USA Films release
Lincoln Plaza Cinema
Opens July 7

The Perfect Storm
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Written by Bill Wittliff from the book by Sebastian Junger
A Warner Bros. release

Directed by Zhang Yang
Written by Zhang, Liu Fen Dou, Huo Xin, Diao Yi Nan, and Cai Xiang Jun
A Sony Pictures Classics release
Opens July 7

Winner of audience awards at festivals from Rotterdam to Thessaloniki, the hit of this year's "New Directors/New Films" series, Zhang Yang's Shower has proven to be a dependable crowd pleaser. The second feature by the onetime music-video director uses an old-fashioned Beijing bathhouse as the site for a family reconciliation between the old China and the new. Will a modern son abandon his lucrative business in the boom-boom south to take his traditional dad's place alongside a mentally retarded brother in operating what amounts to an irreplaceable neighborhood mental health clinic?

Even if you can't guess the answer (or anticipate the film's moral), you may not be surprised to learn that this sentimental tribute to humble pleasures and the healing power of aqua therapy is amply stocked with lovable oddballs. (Perhaps that's why the script required five writers.) Predictable as it is, Shower has a few quirks—as well as a flinty performance by veteran actor Zhu Xu as the old bathhouse proprietor—but it's far too soggy a confection for my taste. Someone is surely considering a Hollywood remake that would allow Tom Hanks to play either (or both) of the brothers.

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