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This Dogg's Got Bite

The Tenants (Sony)
Fifteen seconds into the video for "Nuthin but a G Thang," it was obvious that Snoop Dog had charisma to spare. More than a decade later, with his performance as '70s-era radical author Willie Spearmint, it's official: The man can act. Snoop's shambling, searing performance is just one reason The Tenants ends up better than it sounds on paper. The warning lights go off when you learn it's based on a novel about (gulp) novel-writing. But Dylan McDermott, as a blocked scribe living in a near-abandoned Brooklyn apartment, and Snoop, as the Afro'd squatter who starts typing next door, manage to convey the numbing dullness of writing without being numbingly dull. The film's not perfect: Several of the plot twists come out of left field, the racial politics aren't as interesting as the artistic ones, and it all feels stiflingly claustrophobic. But it's Snoop's best movie to date -- though maybe not for long. -- Jordan Harper

The Taisho Trilogy (Kino)
To most of us, the story of Japanese New Wave genre berserker Seijun Suzuki leaps from his firing from Nikkatsu Studio in 1967 for the abject lunacy of Branded to Kill to his reincarnation more than three decades later as the decor-crazed surrealist behind Pistol Opera. But Suzuki reemerged with a defiant splat in 1980 with Zigeurnerweisen, the first chapter in a loosely knit trilogy set during the decadent 1920s. Stuck in a seaside resort village, two old university cohorts fall for the same grieving geisha, and from there the mistaken identities, children of questionable birth, eyeball-licking foreplay, and languid enigmas proliferate. Astonishingly, it swept the Japanese Academy Awards. The subsequent films are similarly predicated on narrative Dadaism and sexual confusion. -- Michael Atkinson

Zu Warriors (Miramax)
Now that film snobs have pretty much won the wide-screen/full-screen DVD war, they can go back to telling you that subtitles are the only way to watch foreign movies. But while subtitles often help you savor the performance, they're nothing but a distraction in a film like Tsui Hark's Zu Warriors. For one thing, while you're busy reading, there's a goddess-assassin shooting blue kung-fu lasers at a demon; for another, the dialogue makes no sense either way. So thanks go to Miramax for including both the Cantonese original and a dubbed version. You wouldn't read subtitles or care about plot in a porno, and Zu Warriors is nothing so much as violence porn anyway. (So that guy walks in the door, and they just start fighting? Hey, where'd that other guy come from? Whoa, she's flexible!) And if it doesn't have the power of Hark's earlier films with Jet Li, it does have nifty effects and the lovely Ziyi Zhang. It's the best flying-laser kung-fu demon flick to hit the shelves this year. -- Harper

You loved him as Huggy Bear; Snoop's even better in The Tenants.
You loved him as Huggy Bear; Snoop's even better in The Tenants.

Howl's Moving Castle (Walt Disney)
This film from Japanese anime maestro Hayao Miyazaki airily occupies a hybrid past, part fin-de-siècle Ruritania, part WWII siege, and part Tolkienesque magic play. Giant battle planes rain bombs on Tudor Euro-cities and unleash swarms of flying war demons. The story involves the titular castle (on mechanical chicken legs), a petulant wizard, and the requisite young Miyazaki heroine, who is cursed with premature old age by a spiteful witch. The film's relationship with real-world sights and textures is dazzling; no recent American movie has attended so carefully to the details of aging, gravity, destruction, and atmosphere. The DVD comes in both the Japanese original and the predictably semi-awful Americanized dub. -- Atkinson

 
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