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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Bullet' Misses, but 'Circle' Charms

The two current offerings at the Americom House of Cinema make for a strange double bill. The titles alone tip you off: "Circle of Friends," a heartwarming, gentle look at love in 1950s Ireland, and "Bullet," yet another loud and indecipherable vehicle for the increasingly strange Mickey Rourke. Viewers might be advised to take them one day at a time.

Any warm, gooey sentiments you'll have worked up during the first will be completely obliterated by the ham-handed technique of the second.

Viewers might be advised just not to watch one of them at all, because "Bullet," directed by Julien Temple, is indeed a dreadful experience in many respects. The film begins with Butch "Bullet" Stein (Rourke), a "tough Jewish convict," returning from an eight-year prison stint to his New York neighborhood.

Bullet is sad proof that tiny cracks in the American correctional system still remain, squeezing in an armed robbery and the resumption of his long-lost heroin habit before a welcome-home dinner with the folks that evening. The rest of the film is more of the same vicious cycle -- crime, drugs, parents -- with not much logic to glue one vignette to the next.

Rourke spends most of the movie uttering profanities from deep within layers of black knit hats and various hoodwear -- life in the big house certainly hasn't affected his fashion sense -- and lolling around with needles hanging out of his muscular arms (the film's dreamy fascination with heroin seems to be a direct lift from "Pulp Fiction").

An artlessly blunt climax and a dearth of standard movie features like plot and depth do their part as well to make this film a lot, lot less than it has to be. Because ultimately there is something gripping about "Bullet."

Many of the scenes are vividly shot, the violence makes its point without being overwhelmingly graphic, and several of the supporting actors -- particularly Ted Levine as Bullet's older brother, a Vietnam veteran permanently trapped in combat mode -- are mesmerizing to watch.

Why is it so much harder to write about movies that are simply good? Nearly everything about Pat O'Connor's "Circle of Friends" is mesmerizing to watch, and so effortlessly charming and likable that it feels therapeutic.

The film, based on the novel by Maeve Binchy and set in 1957 Ireland, matches up those classic cinematic adversaries, sex and Catholicism, and weaves a tight, pretty romance that dips fleetingly into conflict but never threatens you with anything but a happy ending.

Top billing goes to the American actor Chris O'Donnell, who gives a fine, subtle performance as Jack, the handsome college student struggling to come to terms with his future.

But the true star of the film is Minnie Driver, the British actress who portrays the plain but ferociously self-possessed Benny, a young college student caught in a crush between first love, morality and troubled friendships who emerges gratifyingly dignified. Driver is not nearly as dowdy as this picture would like us to believe, but "Circle of Friends" is still refreshing for its realistic, even-handed approach to love and sex among the mortals down here on Earth.

Both films are being shown through Sunday, Jan. 14, at the Americom House of Cinema. "Circle of Friends" will be at 7 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, and at 3 p.m. Sunday. "Bullet" will run at 9 p.m. Thursday, 4:30 and 9 p.m. Saturday, and 9:30 p.m. Sunday. There will be no shows on Friday. Tickets are $8, payable by credit card or in the ruble equivalent. The theater is located in the Radisson Slavjanskaya Hotel, 2 Berezhkovskaya Naberezhnaya. Tel.: 941-8890. Nearest metro: Kievskaya.