The Heart of Me
Directed by Thaddeus O'Sullivan (ThinkFilm, opens June 13, at Angelika and Cinema 1, 2, 3)
Nobody works the ascetic aesthetic like a celluloid Brit in a period piece, her soul so often a crucible of smothered ardor, his kisses and avowals checked by a stiff upper lip and a held tongue. You're damned if you act on your passions and damned if you don't, and there's abundant death-and-desperation sentencing to go around in Thaddeus O'Sullivan's tragic romance. In 1934 London, uptight Madeleine (Olivia Williams) wields a certain chilly elegance that only leaves her husband, Ricky (Paul Bettany), shivering for Madeleine's boho sister, Dinah (Helena Bonham Carter). A free spirit, an art student, Dinah is something of an HBC composite, blending Howards End's Helen with The Wings of the Dove's Kate; The Heart of Me tries adhering to the latter film's triangular template, but Madeleine's such a cold bitch that the adulterous lovers' anguished scruples scan like inert masochism. Jessica Winter
The Hard Word
Written and directed by Scott Roberts (Lions Gate, opens June 13, at Angelika)
Guy Pearce looks mighty fearsome sporting a greasy mane, a week's growth, and an underbite more prominent that his cheekbones. Such chiseled menace provides the only edge in this uninspired heist flick, an antipodean re-Heat of the genre's Usual Suspects. As the leader of a trio of revolving-door inmates specializing in con jobs for their lawyer/fence, Pearce tries repeatedly to double-cross his way to freedom, only to land back in the slammer each time. His unfaithful wife (Rachel Griffiths) weaves her devious webs as she contemplates whose side she's on (naturally, she's on her own side). Convoluted yet simple-minded, the movie frequently equates verbosity with wit, exhausting itself long before the racetrack robbery climax. Still, it's almost worth sticking around for Griffiths's bloody coup de grâce. Serenely discharging her Magnum, she projects an otherworldly poise that verges scarily on beatitude. David Ng
Directed by Danièle Thompson (Miramax, opens June 13, at the Paris)
In Casablanca, the lovers part on the tarmac, where Bogart assures Bergman that "We'll always have Paris." Jet Lag, a manic French romantic comedy, skips Paris entirely for the equivocal charms of the city's Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport. Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno (both cast against type) play travelers stranded by a general strike in a universe of rolling sidewalks and glass-enclosed corridors. She's a melancholic beautician fleeing an abusive boyfriend; he's a chef turned frozen-food magnate, on the way to his ex-girlfriend's grandmother's funeral. Director Danièle Thompson, co-writing with son Christopher, inserts a cell phone joke at the outset (as in her previous film, La Bûche), which brings these two thorny characters together. The writerly restraint that confines them to the airport is admirable, though the fairy-tale ending in Acapulco seems like a throwaway. Leslie Camhi
'New York-Tokyo Film Festival'
(June 13 through 15, at the Tribeca Grand)
Anyone still woozy from Subway Cinema's brain-fry of Asian bedlam would be advised to brace themselves for more. In a Mecha-Godzilla-esque challenge, the first annual New York-Tokyo Festival is showing off fewer movies, albeit in a far swankier setting. Though the local premiere of The Animatrix will doubtless cough up its share of cultists, it's the overdue unspooling of Sogo Ishii's Electric Dragon 80,000V that qualifies as the event of the weekend. A frizzle-fried Tokyo mix of his 12th-century epic, Gojoe, ED reimagines the samurai combatants as modern electric warriors. "Dragon Eye" Morrison (Tadanobu Asano, last seen soulfully halving his tongue in Ichi the Killer) is a private detective whose lizard gets swiped by half-man, half-hood-ornament Thunderbolt Buddha (Masatoshi Nagase). Morrison juices up this love spat by merging with his electric guitar, emitting riffage so head-splitting and lightning-large as to shut down the whole damn city. The skronky soundtrack makes noticeably loony use of DTS directional speakers, a fine testament to the admitted source of Sogo's stuttercut editing: Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Edward Crouse
Directed by Eric Eason (Film Movement, opens June 13, at the Quad)
An audience favorite and award winner at last year's Sundance and Tribeca fests, Eric Eason's brief but affecting slice of sub-Scorsesean ethnography is modesty itselfa 75-minute, shot-on-video tale of two independent Washington Heights brothers struggling with the legacy of their absentee, drug-dealing dad. Manito peaks at midpoint when college-bound Manny (Leo Minaya) learns the price of giving in to his macho impulses in tough-on-crime Giuliani-era Gotham. The violent denouement and abrupt ending are disappointingly sketchy, but Eason's warm regard for his gutter-mouthed characters, Didier Gertsch's assured verité-style camerawork, Kyle Henry's quick but never jangling cutting, and Franky G.'s boisterous debut performance as elder sib Junior make for an unusually impassioned indie. Mark Holcomb
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