The Guru, Willard, The Hunted, About Schmidt, The Pianist

Director Daisy von Scherler Mayer ably mines the comedic potential of the culture-clash premise without the usual overt stereotypes of other ethnic-rooted comedies. She also stages a couple of fizzy Bollywood-style musical numbers that are guaranteed to leave you grinning. And Marisa Tomei turns in another game second-banana performance. Sadly, it all goes flat in the final act. ***

"Willard" — This droll, brilliantly realized horror film has "cult-classic" written all over it. Here, writer-director Glen Morgan ingeniously remakes both the 1971 "Willard" and its 1972 sequel, "Ben," in lurid, Kafkaesque style. The perfectly cast Crispin Glover plays the milquetoast protagonist, living in a rundown manse with his near-desiccated mother (Jackie Burroughs). Faced with a huge rat invasion in the basement, Willard can't kill the rodents because he identifies with them. Soon, he's trained them to swarm and "tear up" things on his command. Hmmm, what better way to get even with his abusive boss (R. Lee Ermey)? But Willard has his own power-struggle going with the biggest rat, Ben, which we know cannot and will not end well. Plus fans of the originals will get a kick out of Morgan's humorous nod to the kitschy source material. ****

"The Hunted" — Although much of this William Friedkin thriller is tough to stomach (it has some of the most realistic slash-n-gash knife fights), there's also a compelling subtext about the toll violence takes on its perpetrators. Stars Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro explore this with great subtlety, even when Friedkin seems to be reveling in the blood and gore. In a Kosovo-set prologue, we see Special Forces Officer Aaron Hallam (Del Toro) successfully take out a Serbian officer practicing ethnic-cleansing in an Albanian village. Beset by nightmares and stress-induced flashbacks, Hallam takes to the woods, stalking and killing those who hunt for sport. Enter L.T. Bonham (Jones), who trained Aaron and now must track him down. Guilt over the monster he helped create sets Bonham on the path to a bloody confrontation. Intense, bloody and slightly unfocused, "The Hunted" is not for the squeamish. ***

"About Schmidt" — Jack Nicholson gives a master's class in the fine art of understatement in this character-driven tale of one man's reawakening, rekindling and reassessment of his life. Nicholson is Warren Schmidt, a newly retired insurance executive who's off to Denver where his estranged daughter (Hope Davis) is about to marry a waterbed salesman (Dermot Mulroney, sporting a hilarious "mullet"). Although the movie (by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor) and Schmidt move slowly, powerful emotions percolate just below the surface. Plus, Nicholson's performance is worth the ticket price.*****

"The Pianist" — Fugitive director Roman Polanki's wrenching Holocaust drama follows the strange destiny of Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody, in a career-defining performance), a young pianist from Warsaw who miraculously survives the Nazi invasion of his hometown. But survival is cruel: He hides in buildings while the Nazis destroy his people. A fugue of tragic human suffering and the nurturing nature of art, Polanski's "The Pianist" is a


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