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Mother (PG). By some grievous oversight, the sharpest comedy of the year has turned up as a straight-to-video release. Writer-director Albert Brooks stars as John Henderson, a blocked science-fiction novelist emerging from a messy second divorce. As whiny and self-involved as you'd expect a Brooks alter-ego to be, John resolves once and for all to get to the bottom of his numerous failed relationships - he's attracted to women who don't support him, and it all apparently has something to do with his habitually cheery, casually critical, passive-aggressive mother (a note-perfect Debbie Reynolds). Embarking on what he terms "the Experiment", he moves back home, hoping that the regression to boyhood will trigger an epiphany or two.

A Freudian psychodrama disguised as a warm and breezy comedy, the movie features scenes of mother-son sparring that are not just funny, but unnervingly spot-on. Being an Albert Brooks film, Mother never gives way to teary catharsis; John reacts to the climactic breakthrough by triumphantly declaring to his puzzled mother: "We've figured it out! We know why you hate me!"

Big Night (15). This directorial debut by actors Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott is a good-natured, old-fashioned movie, unquestionably low-key but also more enduring than you might imagine. Set in the outskirts of New York in the late Fifties, the film gracefully charts the fortunes of two restaurant- owning Italian-immigrant brothers, one a temperamental master chef (Tony Shalhoub), the other a quietly determined businessman (Tucci, who also co-wrote the screenplay with his cousin Joseph Tropiano).

The picture thrives on lovingly observed details and winning performances (Ian Holm's sorely overpitched rival restaurateur is the exception); co-director Scott contributes an inspired cameo as a smarmy car salesman.

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