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by Jim Wunderle

"Wings of the Dove"

Directed by: Iain Softley

Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roache, Alison Elliott

Rated: R

"Afterglow"

Directed by: Alan Rudolph

Starring: Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Lara Flynn Boyle

Rated: R

A great thing happens every year about this time. In the wake of the Oscar nominations and before the actual awards ceremony, a great number of films get a boost from all the publicity surrounding the Academy Awards.

"L.A. Confidential" and "The Full Monty," two of 1997's best movies, have made it back to town for return engagements. "The Apostle," Robert Duvall's personal powerhouse, is in its third week, and adding a really rare twist to the mix is the fact that not one, but two, "little" films helped by the fact they are up for various and sundry Oscars are here at the same time.

"Wings of the Dove" and "Afterglow" are both love stories and both fine films, but are worlds apart in their design.

"Wings of the Dove" is based on the Henry James novel and is a very serious, sad and compelling love story, while "Afterglow" was written and directed by Robert Altman protege Alan Rudolph and is a quirky (even by "quirky" standards) modern love story with a fair amount of dark humor thrown in for good measure.

Much like Jane Austen was a few years back, Henry James is the classic author du jour of Hollywood 1998. Three recent films are based on his work: "Washington Square," "Portrait of a Lady" and "Wings of the Dove."

In the latter, Helena Bonham Carter strikingly beautiful as always plays Kate Croy, a young woman who's been taken under the wing of a wealthy aunt.

Aunt Maude is much involved in the social scene of London circa 1910, and though Kate is hopelessly in love, the man of her dreams is beneath her new "social station." Maude has forbidden Kate to see her beloved, but Kate is desperate in her desires.

Enter Milly, a very wealthy young American who has come to the continent for an extended visit. When Kate finds out that Milly is seriously ill, she devises a plan to ensure that her lover will no longer be a poor working stiff and will eventually come into a great deal of money. When this happens, Aunt Maude must approve of their love.

At the devastating finale of this classic love story, most viewers will find their hearts aching and eyes tearing. Thankfully, director Iain Softley wasn't compelled to tack a standard "Hollywood" ending on here, and the result, while not exactly upbeat, is powerful drama. Serious film fans should not miss this movie.

"Afterglow" takes a slightly different approach but packs a good deal of punch into its love story, as well.

Julie Christie, up for a best actress award for her role as Phyllis Mann, is the anchor of a "love rectangle" that is by turns sad, hilarious and somewhat unsettling.

Phyllis is married to a handyman named Lucky (yeah, that's right, Nick Nolte's character is named Lucky Mann), and while they've been married for 24 years, the last eight have been a bit ... out of the norm. Phyllis and Lucky have stopped having sex, by Phyllis' choice, and she allows him to carry on affairs with a great number of his female clients.

He begins doing some handyman work for a young yuppie couple whose marriage seems just as strange as his own. Marianne is beautiful and sexy, but husband Jeffrey is too wrapped up in his work to notice her. She wants a baby, but he's just not interested. So, Marianne decides that she's going to have a child with or without her husband's cooperation. This is where Lucky comes into the picture.

In the meantime, Jeffrey has decided to carouse a bit on his own and who does he meet up with other than Lucky's wife, Phyllis.

Director Alan Rudolph is well known for telling rather off-the-wall stories, and "Afterglow" fits in nicely with his other films.

Christie, who has been absent from film work for quite some time, turns in a perfect performance, one well-deserving of the Oscar nomination it received. Christie is a class act, and since she hasn't been around much lately, one tends to forget the classic performances she gave in films like "Dr. Zhivago," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" and "Shampoo."

Both the Los Angeles and National Society of Film Critics gave her their best actress honors for "Afterglow," but she's probably a long shot for an Oscar.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

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