Under the Tuscan Sun
dir. Audrey Wells
Opens Fri Sept 26 at Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Guild 45.

Diane Lane has become the specialist in female postcoital rapture. In A Walk on the Moon, Lane's straight-laced wife and mom was extramaritally unbuttoned by Viggo Mortensen. In Unfaithful, she triumphed in a solo scene on a subway car as she giddily recalled a fresh liaison. In Under the Tuscan Sun, Lane breaks a celibate period by sleeping with an Italian guy, then retreats to her home and privately celebrates the end of a dry spell: "Yes! I knew it! I still got it!" This fine moment might translate as Diane Lane's own victory; after being employed but neglected in the '90s, she is rediscovered and handed an entire film to carry.

Under the Tuscan Sun, based on Frances Mayes' nonfiction bestseller, has a number of those moments, and it has Diane Lane, and this is what saves the film from utter formula. And it is formula--the sex talk can't disguise the fact that this film is designed to make your mother feel good. Lane is the plucky divorced heroine, who impulsively buys a crumbling villa in Tuscany and discovers that "family" need not conform to the customary model but can be anything one makes of it (this last bit is Hollywood's favorite beaten horse). There are cute Italian people, cute Polish laborers, beautiful wildflower-filled vistas, and the obligatory gay best friend--a stock role salvaged by the splendid Sandra Oh.

The movie is pleasant anyway. Writer-director Audrey Wells (whose film Guinevere heretically suggested that an affair between a young woman and a much older man might work out rewardingly for both parties) understands the small things and why they matter--like the way Lane notices that closing each eye makes a wine bottle in front of her change its location. Only the movie's last 90 seconds or so (I sense the studio's meddling hands), in which Lane gets every damn thing she wants, is truly unforgivable. And the main character keeps spilling out of the usual mold. When a Eurotrash couple bidding on the villa takes umbrage at Lane's counterbids, the husband tells her, "You Americans think you're so entitled." Lane beautifully and sincerely replies, "A lot of us feel really badly about that." And then outbids him. CLAUDE ROC

The Animation Show
Fri-Thurs Sept 26-Oct 2 at the Varsity.

The Animation Show is being billed like this: "Finally, there's an animation festival with the artists themselves at the helm!" Who is "at the helm" here? Two giants: Mike Judge, creator of King of the Hill and Beavis and Butt-head, and Don Hertzfeldt, whose prank series Rejected remains one of the funniest works ever doodled upon celluloid (and which, thankfully, is included here). What they've assembled is a somewhat uneven package, the highlights of which are their own work, along with Tim Burton's gloomy, beautiful Vincent (pure genius) and Cordell Barker's goofy Strange Invaders. Also on tap are the weird Mt. Head from Koji Yamamura, and the beautiful but fairly dull Cathedral from Tomek Baginski (plus the obligatory work from Bill Plympton). Beware the Ricardo series, however--it ain't funny in the least.

What does this all add up to? That there is enough good work on display in The Animation Show to satisfy animation freaks (that is, if they haven't seen everything already--chances are they have). This, though, is a bit of a problem, for those who aren't rabid fans (or who merely enjoy what they've seen of Judge's work) may find themselves underwhelmed; somewhat surprisingly, Judge and Hertzfeldt's control over the project does not make for the greatest animation compilation ever, but just another adequate one--no matter how the package is billed. BRADLEY STEINBACHER

Luther
dir. Eric Till
Opens Fri Sept 26 at Guild 45, Meridian 16.

Clearly there is a trend here. Contemporary cinema, it seems, is in the process of recovering Christianity. The popularity of the documentary on German theologian and spy Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who assisted in several attempts to assassinate Hitler), and now this feature-length film based on the turbulent career of the founder of Protestantism Martin Luther, means something is in the air. There's also Mel Gibson's recently completed portrait of Jesus, The Passion, which is performed completely in Latin and Aramaic.

What Gibson's film has in common with both the Bonhoeffer documentary and Luther is that they all, either directly or indirectly, endeavor to humanize Christianity, to make it less about the clouds and heaven and more about the earth and dust--about being in the world, being with others, being human.

In Luther, which is directed by Eric Till and stars Shakespeare in Love's Joseph Fiennes as Martin Luther, the German theologian is portrayed as a radical liberal, as a man who spoke for the people and openly opposed the all-powerful Roman Catholic Church--its politics, its reading of the Bible, its shameless profiteering from the suffering and ignorance of the poor. The film also emphasizes Luther's commitment to the idea of a loving God, rather than a revengeful one who operates and maintains control by fear alone.

Luther is successful because it's not really about Martin Luther at all, but about the general mood of an important period in Western history. The way the film is edited, written, photographed, and directed captures, as if from a mountaintop, a wider, larger arena of events, so that what is seen is not an individual but a whole society under great transformation. Not the will of Luther but the will of the abused German masses fuels the motor of this movie's epic narrative. CHARLES MUDEDE

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