★★ out of four stars
Rated R for some language.
Convicted conservative lobbyist Jack Abramoff put his tentacles in so many pockets it's exhausting to keep track of it all. Director Alex Gibney has unspooled complicated tales of wrongdoing before ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" and "Taxi to the Dark Side" are documentary classics), but here the kickbacks and double-dealing befuddle the mind. The film offers a sprightly rundown of Abramoff's larger-than-life career. He produced and wrote the campy Dolph Lundgren bullet-fest "Red Scorpion." He organized freedom conferences lauding the likes of Angola's tyrant Jonas Savimbi. He brazenly swindled American Indian gaming interests. Here is a con man and hypocrite of Boss Tweed dimensions.
We're all familiar with the big picture: Congress sucked in contributions, wrote legislation pleasing to its corporate benefactors, and we got stuck with the bills. But the devil is in the details. The decimation of the economy of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. protectorate; the creation of a cash-laundering Republican "think tank" headed by a Lebowski-esque beach bum who says he "couldn't run a Baskin-Robbins," let alone an international policy center -- these are outrages to savor at leisure.
Ousted House Majority Leader Tom DeLay explains on-camera why it's fine for legislators to sell their votes, "as long as it's transparent." A prosecutor reads Abramoff e-mails that refer to his Indian clients as "morons" and "monkeys."
Gibney met Abramoff in prison, where he is doing time for wire fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion, but he couldn't get Abramoff on-camera. That is a crucial void in the story. It would have been nice, too, if Gibney had noted the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent watchdog agency newly created to correct the failures of the toothless, see-no-evil House Ethics Committee. There's probably no cure-all for the vast dysfunction of the lobbyist-Congressional complex, but this is a tentative step in the right direction.
Rated PG-13 for a brief sexual situation with partial nudity. In French with English subtitles.
An exquisite trifle. James Ivory returns to the mood of "A Room With a View" in this languid literary romance. Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney and Charlotte Gainsbourg play the surviving relations of an Uruguayan novelist sharing a sprawling family estate. Omar Metwally plays the writer's would-be biographer, whose arrival causes them to re-examine their lives of idyllic exile. There's no dramatic mainspring to the story, but the civilized dialogue is refreshing, the South American locations are lovely and Jorge Drexler's score is rapturously romantic.
★★★ out of four stars
Rated R for sexuality and brief violence. In English and subtitled Spanish.
"Micmacs" is French for hanky panky, and that's a good handle for this fantasy-caper. The story, about a menagerie of oddballs taking down two mean arms dealers, plays like an "Ocean's 11" movie starring carnival performers. Whimsical, theatrical and long on make-believe, it's as light as a feather and twice as ticklish.
Like most films by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Amélie"), this is best taken as a succession of set pieces and variety acts in the whimsical mode of Chaplin and Jacques Tati. It begins as a desert explosives expert makes a sudden "Hurt Locker" exit. The hero's orphaned son grows up to be Bazin (Dany Boon), a forlorn video-store clerk. He's the sort of hard-luck guy who ends a boring day at work by getting a stray bullet in the forehead. After the accident, he's taken in by a troupe of misfits living in a junkyard clubhouse. These eccentrics turn trash into mechanized sculptures and quirky contraptions. Bazin enlists them in an elaborate plot to sink the munitions makers who have loused up his life, and countless others'.
Bazin is not alone in hating his country's top arms dealers. They hate each other. André Dussollier is all quivering jowls as the CEO of the more traditional firm; his high-tech rival is played with seething arrogance by Nicolas Marie.
"Micmacs" submerges social critique in nostalgic make-believe. Jeunet has never outgrown his love for comic books; the movie plays like a live-action Tintin adventure. Every moment has the charming exaggeration of a childhood reminiscence. There's an unexpected, very funny, sequence of nudity and simulated sex that makes the movie inappropriate for sheltered American kids; otherwise this would be a slam-dunk family classic.