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MCCORMICK'S QUICK TAKES.

Notting Hill (Universal Studios: 1999) Can an American superstar (Anna Scott) with Julia Roberts' megawatt smile find happiness with a shy British bookstore owner (William Thacker) with Hugh Grant's toothy, self-effacing grin?

More to the point, can a madcap romantic comedy about Cinderella and Juliet bemuse and entertain us while simultaneously satirizing a pop culture that idolizes and consumes celebrities? You bet In Notting Hill, Grant is as funny and engaging as he's been in anything since Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Roberts gets an opportunity to poke fun at the trials and tribulations of superstardom in the sort of lighthearted romp that's fun to laugh at and with.

Quite entertaining are the many encounters between Scott and Thacker's friends and family and between him and her press entourage. ***

Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (20th Century Fox, 1999) OK, so it's not the Second Coming, or even Titanic, and it doesn't live up to the wind-tunnel hype that's been blowing through Hollywood for nearly a year. But this latest addition to the Star Wars saga is awfully entertaining, in that over-the-top Saturday-afternoon-matinee sort of way that characterized the first three episodes and helped build George Lucas's own magical kingdom.

Part high-paced intergalactic romp, part sweetly naive morality tale, and part special-effects bonanza, this prequel to the famous trilogy is as amazing as anything that's popped out of a wormhole in ages.

If some of the characters in this tale of the early years of Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi are at times a bit 2-D, the wit, humor, and pacing are just right for a Jedi light-saber fight and a jet-sled chariot race that Basil Rath bone and Buck Rogers would have envied. *** 1/2

Affliction (Universal Studios, 1997) Not for the faint of heart, the noir into which this film descends is a personal and familial hell that would have shaken Dante. In director Paul Schrader's understated adaptation of Russell Banks' novel about a small-town cop whose simmering rage is about to go ballistic, Nick Nolte offers the sort of performance he was born for--darkly edgy, brooding, and deeply unsettling.

The middle-aged son of an alcoholic sadist (James Coburn), Nolte is a man growing too weary to keep the spinning plates of his own stunted savagery from crashing to the floor. Here is a tale of original sin in which the evil being passed from generation to generation is small enough to fit into the cracks and whispers of a New Hampshire village and big enough to spill over onto the front pages. ****

The Thomas Crown Affair (MGM, 1999) In this breezy remake of the 1968 caper film in which the oh-too-cool Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway played an icy tango of cops and lovers, Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo are at least as entertaining as the original--and perhaps just a bit more engaging. It's not that the characters have any more substance than Redi-Whip or that any of their angst about fear of commitment deserves more than a passing glance.

It's just that if you're going to watch a couple of very attractive 40-something adolescents play sexual checkers at the Ritz and the Met, you might as well do it with folks who can laugh at themselves.

Oh, and the caper? About as clever as It Takes a Thief and much more amusing than Mission Impossible. ** 1/2
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Oct 1, 1999
Words:561
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