Artist, Con Artist, Art House

  • Frida Kahlo, the Mexican surrealist-communist painter, lived her life in ghastly pain, the result of a crippling accident. But pain, though knowable, is also indescribable. Alas, Frida is one of those chipper biopics in which the heroine (Salma Hayek) cheerfully endures her suffering while incidentally creating her art and carrying on her endlessly tormented love affair with the muralist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina). The result is a trivializing movie, especially disappointing because it was directed by Broadway's lionized Julie Taymor (The Lion King). Her first theatrical film, Titus, was distinguished by a bold and visionary sweep. In Frida that inventiveness has diminished to a kind of strained cuteness. Everything that makes an artist an artist — the obsessions, the egotism — is ignored in favor of upbeat movie conventions. --By Richard Schickel

    A pretty Parisian widow is menaced by grisly thugs and wooed by a mysterious man who may want only the money she has but can't find. In 1963 this was a recipe for Stanley Donen's romantic thriller Charade, with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Now it's a sorry mess called The Truth About Charlie. From Grant and Hepburn in Charade to Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton in Charlie, the charisma drop is steeper than that of Martha Stewart's stock price. Director Jonathan Demme's jittery melange is shot in punishing close-ups by a Ritalin-deprived camera circling the actors like a Formula One driver racing around the Place de la Concorde. Donen got it gloriously right the first time. Why do it again? And why do it like this? --By Richard Corliss

    The French continued to make movies during Germany's World War II occupation, and as long as they didn't criticize the Nazis, they did so with surprising freedom. Bertrand Tavernier's Safe Conduct is an epic (almost three hours long) reconstruction of that era — comic, suspenseful, romantic. It's a richly populated movie, focusing most intently on a clever assistant director (Jacques Gamblin) who is desperately balancing the demands of career, family and Resistance activities. The film's great set piece is his sober-hilarious overnight flight to Britain on underground business, which must be completed in time for him to be on-set the next morning. It's lovely and winning — words that aptly apply to the entire film. --R.S.