HIDE AND SEEK “Those goddamn ghosts and their spray paint!”
Hide and Seek
dir. Polson
Opens Fri Jan 28
Various Theaters

Did anybody else have the same reaction to seeing Robert De Niro in that American Express commercial? A reaction like "Hey, there's a great legend of cinema! And he's… pimping American Express?"

It wasn't a shock, really, considering what De Niro's been up to--like Shark Tale, or Godsend, or Meet the Fockers. Once one of film's most vital and passionate actors, De Niro's turned into a guy who apparently selects his projects using a blindfold and a dartboard.

In Hide and Seek he plays David, a psychologist whose wife (Amy Irving) melodramatically commits suicide and whose creepy daughter, Emily (Dakota Fanning), starts acting even more creepy as a result. David--who's clearly never seen a horror film--decides that what'd be best for Emily is to move to a quiet, dark house in the woods; Shining-inspired shenanigans ensue.

But just as you're starting to fall for one or two of the film's red herrings, there's a twist which relies on a device so laboriously unoriginal that you'll think it must be yet another trick. (It's not.) And even worse than watching a moderately eerie script turn into laughable preposterousness? Seeing De Niro blindly throw himself into an increasingly absurd role. On second thought, maybe those American Express commercials are as good as we're going to get. ERIK HENRIKSEN

Sex Is Comedy
dir. Breillat
Opens Fri Jan 28
Cinema 21

If you share the opinion that French actors are the most beautiful in the entire world--especially when they talk, and especially especially when they talk about sex--then your panties, like mine, will be thoroughly soused after Catherine Breillat's Sex is Comedy. Breillat's 2002 film follows a filmmaker, Jeanne (Anne Parillaud), coaxing and cajoling two nameless actors (Grégoire Colin and Roxanne Mesquida) through a difficult sex scene.

While neither overtly sexy nor "ha-ha" funny, Sex Is Comedy is a solid exercise in the deconstruction of filmed intimacy. Within the confines of its approach to fucking on screen, there shines through a weird, voyeuristic sexiness and a manic sort of humor rarely seen stateside. And as the film careens forward through the sea of talk, there is a building sense of tension about whether or not there will be the obligatory money shot we're all waiting for, or if the two hours of hot Frenchy foreplay will only lead to a massive case of les balles des bleus. Either way, pack a smoke for afterward. MICHAEL SVOBODA

A Tree of Palme
dir. Nakamura
Opens Fri Jan 28
Clinton St. Theater

Anime's great and all, but I'm getting a bit sick of it being the perpetual "next big thing." Despite billions of DVDs worth of sort-of-famous anime, the art form's remained on America's pop cultural fringe, celebrated only by too-lonely geeks who like to dress up as Akira characters at comic book conventions and… well, too-lonely geeks who like to dress up as Sailor Moon characters at comic book conventions.

Unfortunately, A Tree of Palme--Takashi Nakamura's overlong, overworked retelling of the Pinocchio story--ain't going to be the thing that pushes anime into the mainstream.

Its half-baked plot: Palme, a robot boy, inherits an orb that has something to do with a magic tree. Traipsing through a gorgeous, unexplained world that's both pristine and dystopic, the shallowly developed Palme is soon accompanied by a gang of unlikable kids while he dodges bewildering swarms of cognizant and phallic cacti.

Where Palme does succeed is in anime's irrefutable edge: aesthetics. From the ethereal landscapes to some stunning action sequences, it's nearly worth seeing Palme just for Nakamura's detailed, imaginative, and utterly surreal visuals. As eye-candy, Palme's fantastic--but as anything more, it'll likely only be remembered as fodder for embarrassing costumes at FantastiCon 2006. ERIK HENRIKSEN