The Bridge and Tunnel Crowd

Random Hearts
Has Harrison Ford's lucrative persona consumed his interest in daring material, leaving him with only two cards -- Charming Everyman and Earnest Hero -- in his hand? Once again Ford plays a cop, this time a D.C. Internal Affairs sergeant named William "Dutch" Van Den Broeck. Dutch adores his wife, Saks fashion consultant Peyton (Susanna Thompson), who, unfortunately, is having an affair with Cullen (Peter Coyote), the husband of New Hampshire Congresswoman Kay Chandler (Kristin Scott Thomas). A storm forces a 737 down into the Chesapeake Bay. Among the 103 dead: Peyton and Cullen, posing as husband and wife, en route to a weekend in Miami. There's great potential for emotional complexity in this premise, but screenwriter Kurt Luedtke and director Pollack fail to kindle much in the way of passion. The main problem throughout is that Ford doesn't really seem to ache. On the other hand, Scott Thomas is a faceful of veiled vulnerability as Kay, her performance enhanced by her gift for restraint. The denouement is graceful and mature, but the only theme here that resonates clearly is the question: How much denial is necessary to maintain one's sanity? (Gregory Weinkauf)
Thursday, Oct. 7, 7 p.m. at the Rafael Solomon & Gaenor
This Romeo and Juliet weepie set in 1911 Wales is blessed with a fresh setting and fine landscape photography, but the central plot is beyond stale. An independent-minded Welsh maiden (Nia Roberts) falls in love with a handsome Jewish door-to-door salesman (Ioan Gruffudd), and forces conspire against the couple. Director Paul Morrison evokes an anachronistic world on the verge of erupting; the explicitly filmed sex scenes suggest the lovers' passion is the match that will inflame underlying tensions in their harsh village. As the film wears on, however, the blend of naturalism and melodrama devolves into a murky porridge, thanks to a clumsy script and a bafflingly inexpressive performance by the male lead. In English with sprinklings of Welsh and Yiddish. (Michael Fox)
Sunday, Oct. 10, 7:15 p.m. and Monday, Oct. 11, 9 p.m. at the Rafael

The Sterling Chase
Right before graduation, three nominees vie for the Sterling Chase Award, given to the student who best exemplifies the spirit or whatever of Chadley College. Alexis (Nicholle Tom) has just dumped her lesbian lover so she can follow in Daddy's senatorial footsteps. (Stuff you do in college never comes back to haunt you in a political campaign.) Darren (Sean Patrick Thomas), the school's first black nominee for the award, has earned this honor by assimilating in classic Oreo style, but at what cost? And Amanda (Allana Ubach of Freeway) spouts feminist platitudes attacking men. What she really wants, of course, is to be loved. What you'll really want is to get the hell out of the theater. A former child actress and recent Harvard grad, Tanya Fenmore's first feature entombs her actors. Ubach manages a valiant spikiness; the rest are only too happy to play dead. (Joe Mader)
Saturday, Oct. 9, 4:45 p.m. at the Sequoia; Tuesday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m. at the Rafael

Train of Life
Paris-based Romanian filmmaker Radu Mihaileanu made this bittersweet portrait of shtetl life in the shadow of the Holocaust as a tribute to his father. The desperate Jews of one (French-speaking!) Eastern European village attempt to escape their inevitable deportation by "passing" as deportees: They build a train, instruct a bunch of their own to salute, speak, and act like Nazis, and head east. It's Fiddler on the Roof meets Von Ryan's Express, but with its own dizzy pacing and manic tone. This is one of those movies in which all the characters wave their arms and yell a lot; despite (or because of) that bogus stereotype, Train of Life was been a crowd-pleaser at Sundance. (Michael Fox)
Saturday, Oct. 16, 6:30 p.m. at the Sequoia; Sunday, Oct. 17, 3:45 p.m. at the Rafael

Two Women
Two young women, one privileged and the other poor but uncommonly intelligent and ambitious, become great friends at a Tehran university just as the cultural revolution threatens class closures and the abridgment of women's rights. The beautiful Fereshteh returns to her village and meets a series of misfortunes, all caused by zealous and resentful men, that determine her sad, shrunken fate. The power of this fine film, a perfect companion to the recent documentary Divorce Iranian Style, is in its penetrating dialogues between the men and women -- most of the men want to trap the women into their limited sphere, and the women want to break out into a universe of ideas and adventure. (Frako Loden)
Wednesday, Oct. 13, 9 p.m. at the Sequoia

Valerie Flake
A road movie about a woman who has more in her reserve tank than she realizes, Valerie Flake initially follows a young widow (Susan Traylor) through a series of impersonal, joyless sexual encounters. "Nothing is beneath me," she says. Overqualified for her job as a checkout clerk, Valerie, a talented painter, finds absolution, unexpected refuge, and romance on a trip to Palm Springs. Though Ms. Flake is always ready with a quick-witted comeback -- "I'm tired and I smell like cattle," is how she initially turns down the man (Jay Underwood) she ends up falling for -- her flippant, jaded persona conceals her grief and pain. The film is carried by Traylor's strong, convincing performance as one of the walking wounded. She puts on a smartass false front and then, without fanfare, makes it matter to us when that facade cracks. This stripped-down indie has a good script, quietly assured direction by John Putch, and a plaintive score by Kathleen Wilhoite. (Sura Wood)
Saturday, Oct. 9, 9:20 p.m. and Monday, Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m. at the Rafael

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