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War Stories : 'Dancing,' 'Saviors,' 'Gods' battle inner demons.

November 26, 1998|Alternate Screen MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Theatergoers may recall South Coast Repertory's quality staging of "Dancing at Lughnasa" in 1994. This elegiac drama is now on the screen, starring Meryl Streep in the central role of Kate Mundy, and you can see it at Edwards Town Center in Costa Mesa.

Brian Friel's Tony Award-winning play, adapted for film by Pat O'Connor, is set in Ireland in the mid-1930s and focuses on five sisters, all staring hard at spinsterhood. Streep plays Kate, a teacher and self-appointed guardian of the clan.

One of the women is Christina (Catherine McCormack), who has raised her son without much help from his father, Gerry (Rhys Ifans). The household, so poor that a new radio takes on the aura of found treasure, is surprised when Gerry shows up, followed by the return of the sisters' brother, Father Jack (Michael Gambon).

Needless to say, emotions pick up, and "Dancing at Lughnasa" goes on its muted, dramatic way.

In his review for The Times, Jack Matthews complained of "plodding" moments but also saw much to like.

"The film's greatest strength is its superb ensemble cast," he wrote. "Streep, manufacturing her eighth or ninth immaculate screen accent, is convincingly unsympathetic . . . and Gambon is truly wonderful as the unbalanced figure symbolically perched on the line separating hope from despair."

* Edwards Town Center, 3199 Park Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (714) 751-4184. MPAA rating: PG for mild language and thematic elements.

Brutality in Bosnia

"Savior" is another new release with a limited engagement in Orange County. The film explores something of the brutality in Bosnia through the eyes of a mercenary, played by Dennis Quaid.

Directed by Predag Antonijevic, "Savior" was written by Robert Orr, a relief worker and photographer's assistant in Bosnia from 1993 through 1995. Critics have praised the plausibility of the script, which was based on Orr's own experiences.

"Savior" begins violently. After his wife (Nastassja Kinski) and small son are killed in a cafe bombing, Guy (Quaid) resolutely goes to a mosque, where he murders several Muslims at prayer. The act may be one of revenge, but we learn later that Guy is a professional who acts more for profit than anything else.

Times reviewer Kevin Thomas found "Savior" confusing at times but was moved by Guy's transformation in regaining his humanity by the picture's close.

"This regeneration, persuasively expressed by Quaid, unfolds amid too much incessant danger to become sentimental until the film's final minutes," Thomas wrote. "Murky at the start, needlessly softened at the finish, 'Savior' is nonetheless an important and timely achievement."

* Closes today at Edwards University, 4245 Campus Drive, Irvine. (949) 854-8811. MPAA rating: R, for strong violence.

Whale's Last Days

It's alive! And now you can see it at a few more places.

"Gods and Monsters," which had an exclusive engagement at Edwards Town Center in Costa Mesa, is now screening at a few more local theaters.

The movie--written and directed by Bill Condon and a hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival--follows James Whale during his last days, when he was found floating in the pool behind his Pacific Palisades home.

Whale's name may not trigger instant recognition, but his most famous films do. He directed "Frankenstein" in 1931 and "Bride of Frankenstein" four years later. He is an interesting, often disturbing character with a compelling story, and critics have praised Ian McKellen for conveying his complex personality.

As for McKellen, he said he was surprised when preparing for the role. "It's funny talking to people who knew him. Some people said to me nobody liked James Whale, nobody wanted to work with him," McKellen said in a recent Times interview.

"But Gloria Stuart [an actress who appeared in his films] was full of compliments about him, the imaginative way in which he described what he wanted. There is an undercurrent of feeling that Whale somehow rocked the boat; he didn't quite fit into the mold."

* Closes today at Edwards Rancho Niguel 8, 25471 Rancho Niguel Road, Laguna Niguel, (949) 831-0446, and AMC 30, The City Drive, Orange. (714) 769-4262.

Not rated. Times guidelines: some nudity and sexually themed discussions.

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