Aside from a brief pre-credit sequence, Bob Giraldi's Dinner Rush is set exclusively within a chichi Manhattan restaurant over the course of a single hectic evening. Like Big Night, it pays serious homage to Italian cooking and the way it can bring a fractious family together. Danny Aiello plays the owner of the TriBeCa trattoria where his chef son (Edoardo Ballerini) is wowing NY foodies with his fashionable cuisine but leaving the old man cold – he still wants pasta like Momma used to make it, and is uncertain about handing over the ownership. That's the centre of the film, around which orbit various plotlets and vignettes, such as the sous-chef's chronic gambling problem and the two thugs from Queens who are trying to muscle in on Aiello's business.
Giraldi, who actually owns the restaurant ("Gigino") where the film was shot, divides the action à la Gosford Park. Downstairs in the kitchen, it's a continuous frenzy of searing and chopping and steaming, while upstairs we watch the hustle and swank of New Yorkers chowing down and, in time-honoured fashion, checking one another out. "When did eating dinner become a Broadway show?" someone asks, not unreasonably, given the way some diners like to perform. Look out for a hatefully plausible cameo by Mark Margolis as an art entrepreneur with one of those truly unpleasant New York whines, a bewigged Sandra Bernhard as a huffy restaurant critic, and John Corbett (Aidan from Sex and The City) as a Wall Streeter with an interesting part-time job. Giraldi's ensemble directing hasn't anything like Altman's fluency, and the melodramatic climax is quite ridiculous, but it won't spoil the fun of these scenes from an Italian restaurant, scripted with a lively twang by Rick Shaughnessy and Brian Kalata. Plus the best lobster you'll see all year.
Always good to have a blast of mittel-European high seriousness, and it doesn't come much higher than Werner Herzog. His latest, Invincible, is based on the true story of a Jewish blacksmith, Zishe Breitbart, who rose to fame as a music-hall strongman in Weimar Berlin. Zishe (Jouko Ahola) performs under the aegis of the celebrated hypnotist and clairvoyant Hanussen (Tim Roth), who seeks to parlay his gift into political office: under the burgeoning power of the Nazis, he establishes himself as their Minister of the Occult. As the dark clouds of anti-Semitism gather over Europe, Zishe ceases hiding his Jewishness and tries to warn his people of the danger ahead – in vain. Instead of saviour, he becomes a market-square Cassandra, and thus a classic Herzog figure: the heroic failure.
Invincible has its problems. At the time of filming, Jouko Ahola was title holder of the World's Strongest Man, a qualification ideal for the heavy lifting, not so good for registering the moral weight pressing down on Zishe – he will never be anyone's idea of the World's Strongest Actor. As Hanussen, Tim Roth cuts a bloodless, almost vampiric presence, yet lacks a charisma and a voice that would persuade us of his hypnotic powers. In truth, Herzog seems hardly interested in actors beyond what they represent in mythic terms; it doesn't seem to bother him that concert pianist Anna Gourari as the woman Zishe loves can't really act, either, because she plays the Beethoven piano concerto so beautifully. Yet in spite of its gnomic dialogue and stilted performances, the film is riveting in an old-fashioned kind of way; it has a self-belief and urgency that are the unfakeable mark of a director determined to have his say – and careless of who might be listening.
The story of an Indian immigrant made good in Trinidad, The Mystic Masseur plods along under Ismail Merchant's sedate (or possibly sedated) direction before sliding harmlessly to a halt. I gather that the V S Naipaul on which it is based is a vibrant comedy of manners: to say that something has been lost in the translation would be a prize understatement. Merchant, working from a script by the novelist Caryl Phillips, has little understanding of pace and flow, and his hero, Ganesh (Aasif Mandvi), adopts several different roles – pundit, writer, masseur, politician – without really suggesting the character that drives his ambition. The triumphs, the errors, the highs and lows, all are steamrollered into one long monotonous mulch. Inoffensive, in truth, but quite savourless.
I'm not sure the comic-strip-based martial arts-cum-bloodsucker movie Blade required a sequel, but when did my opinion matter? In Blade II, Wesley Snipes reprises his role as the eponymous vampire-hunter who himself has a touch of the old bloodlust but none of the antisocial tendencies that go with it. His evil adversary is a super-acrobatic bald ghoul played by Luke Goss, who looks only slightly less frightening than he did in his former life as lead singer of Bros. Director Guillermo del Toro, back to slumming after the art-house spookery of The Devil's Backbone, lends an impressively lurid glow to the Gothic settings, and packs in enough high-kicking violence to keep 12-year-olds diverted until the next Matrix movie.
Director Emir Kusturica enjoyed unique access in making his rockumentary, Super 8 Stories, about the Balkan rock band No-Smoking – he happens to play guitar for them. Founded in 1980, the band's music is a busy ethnic brew of gypsy brass, punk, polka and rock, played with breakneck enthusiasm to adoring crowds. Imagine a Sarajevo folk collective emulating the Clash, and you've an idea of where they're coming from; indeed, at one gig, Joe Strummer turns up breathing fire as a guest vocalist, perhaps twigging that this band matters to the Balkan scene in a way that the Clash once did over here. Kusturica doesn't add much to the rock-doc tradition, but there's a warmth and a companionship one can't help admiring.
Crossroads for me will always mean a cut-price motel and that twanging Tony Hatch theme tune, memories that won't be supplanted by the sight of Britney Spears jiggling in her underwear at the start of her identically named debut movie. To be honest, that's the highlight of Crossroads, a perfunctory tale of a small-town ingénue who, via a makeover and the encouragement of her boyfriend (Anson Mount), becomes an overnight pop sensation. Goody for us! Not as terrible as Mariah Carey's vanity project Glitter, though that might not cut it as a quote for the poster.Reuse content