Film Clips

BILLY'S HOLLYWOOD SCREEN KISS. This is gay romantic comedy as whipped non-dairy topping: light, sweet and cloying. Tommy O'Haver wrote and directed this trifle about a struggling photographer who falls for an empty-headed pretty boy who likes to drink beer. The twist is that the pretty might be straight...or is he? Billy (the charming Sean P. Hayes) is darned sure going to find out! This is clearly not the stuff of high drama, and it seems like Screen Kiss goes out of its way to have absolutely no substantive content. There certainly are some funny scenes though, and near the end of the film the script tends to loosen up and dares to take a few digs. Unfortunately, they come too late. This is one of those movies that tells us that whether gay or straight, on some level we're all the same. It's sort if like a very long episode of Ellen, but full of men. --Richter

Film Clips 54. This is essentially Whit Stillman's Last Days of Disco and Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights mixed together and mildly dumbed down. It tells the story of Shane (played in Greek-god-with-a-lobotomy style by Ryanne Phillippe), a beautiful New Jersey boy who comes to the big city and finds happiness in the drug-crazed party atmosphere of legendary discotheque Studio 54. While we're treated to endless images of tasty men cavorting shirtless in the club of dreams, the movie lacks substance beyond the free play of manly nipples. Mike Meyers is particularly awful as Steve Rubell, Studio 54's Quaalude-loving impresario, hamming it up like a drunker, gayer version of Austin Powers. Director Mark Christopher may have meant to make a downbeat, moralizing film, but in failing at that he at least makes something that shows how much fun the New York club scene was. There seems to be no consequence to any action in this fairy-tale version of the late '70s/early '80s: Shane's drug use is condemned but never gets him into any trouble; the marriage of his two closest friends is strained by their club life, but not terribly so; and even Rubell's prison sentence seems like nothing more than a brief vacation from the rigors of all-night partying. This film manages to capture the ambiance of the disco scene in a way that other films have not, making 54 a lightly pleasant nostalgia piece that casts an unwittingly kind and loving glance at that magical era that brought us Donna Summers, the herpes epidemic, and glittery spandex posing straps. --DiGiovanna

THE GOVERNESS. Minnie Driver plays Rosina, a beautiful and spirited 19th-century Jewish girl whose life changes after her father dies, leaving the family destitute. To survive she must either marry a smelly old fishmonger, become a whore, or pass for a gentile and go work among the uptight goyim. So she becomes a governess (disguised under the vaguely Goth pseudonym Mary Blackchurch), and somehow manages to combine all three. She finds a position on an island and ends up falling for the man of the house, Mr. Cavendish (the utterly unappealing Tom Wilkinson), a brooding man of science. The two invent photography, oddly enough, but Cavendish is so repressed he freaks out because Rosina/Mary Blackchurch is forever wanting to get naked with him. (If you're dying to see Driver in the buff, this film is for you.) Meanwhile Cavendish's hot young son is swooning for Rosina, rolling around in her bedcovers and such, but she'll have nothing to do with him. This has the feel of a once-good script that's been homogenized and dumbed down by the movie studio for ease of digestion. First-time writer and director Sandra Goldbacher shows some spunk, but this ends up being just another one of those pointless period movies where everyone's always overcoming repressive times by having sex. --Richter

ONE TRUE THING. Poor Rene Zewiggler--she perpetually looks like she's about to cry. At least that probably made her a shoo-in for this weepie about how a family handles their dying mother/wife (Meryl Streep). Daughter Ellen (Zewiggler) has a crush on her father (William Hurt and runaway goatee), and is therefore successfully manipulated into postponing her promising writing career to play caretaker. In the process she discovers how devalued her mom has been as a homemaker and that her dad would not be a fun date. While it's nice to see a film that focuses on a mother-daughter relationship, it seems a bit cruel to show the underdeveloped characters wading through the contrived scenes with the assistance of alcohol without offering any to the audience. Most recent Hollywood films about women over 40 are just plain boring, though in this case it probably has a lot to do with the insane amount of Bette Midler music on the soundtrack. For you Beverly Hills, 90210 fans out there, you'll be glad to see that Mr. Walsh (James Eckhouse) has expanded his range to include a supporting role as a lawyer.--Higgins

PECKER. John Waters may not be as funny and gross as he was in the old days, but at least you can hear the dialogue in his movies now. Pecker weds a dash of Water's campy old style to a heartwarming story about a young photographer (they call him Pecker) who makes it big in the New York art world. No one is more surprised at this than Pecker himself (Edward Furlong), a clean-scrubbed young man with an eccentric family. Mom (Mary Kay Place) runs a thrift shop, for example, and grandma has a special "talking Mary" figurine. Those slick New York scenesters, buzzing around in their black turtlenecks, try to mold Pecker into their flavor-of-the-moment art star. But Pecker has his own ideas of how to unleash the style of Baltimore upon the world. Though a John Water's movie today is not as shocking as it was in the '70s, in Pecker you can still find plenty of his inimitable and wonderfully offensive panache. --Richter

PERMANENT MIDNIGHT. If you hate Ben Stiller's acting, you'll want to avoid Permanent Midnight like it was a weekend with Richard Simmons. If not, this is definitely worth checking out. Although not long on originality, this true story of Jerry Stahl, the heroin-addicted writer for the TV series Alf, has some creative and engaging moments, including the best crack-smoking scene ever filmed. In the role of Stahl, Stiller does his entire quivering, double-talking, hyper-active shtick here, and it works well in conveying the excited desperation of someone on the edge of fame. Still, I know a good number of people who find Stiller unbearable, and this is him at his most intense. Maria Bello (of ER) turns in a creditable performance as the anonymous woman who finds him working at a drive-through burger stand after his rehabilitation; and Elizabeth Hurley plays her standard role as Stahl's beautiful green-card wife, but really it's Stiller's show. Even if you can't stand him, at least slip in for the last few minutes where, as Stahl, he goes on all the talk shows for the obligatory post-modern, post-addiction, post-recovery, public self-flagellation. --DiGiovanna

RUSH HOUR. Although this is the first Jackie Chan movie to score big at the box office in its opening weekend in America, it's probably his worst film. Other than the five jokes that have been spread out over the 90 minutes of this films length, all the dialogue is incredibly painful. When asked why he's so gung-ho about capturing the villain, Chan is even forced to utter the line, "He killed my partner." There's a couple of good acrobatics/martial arts sequences, but not enough to make this worth sitting through. On the other hand, if you think you'd like to watch Chris Tucker do an exaggerated impression of an Asian while Chan tries to get "funky" and "down" to some soul music, then this film's for you. --DiGiovanna

RONIN. John Frankenheimer, who directed bizarre and comically complicated thrillers like Seconds and The Manchurian Candidate in the 1960s (both worth renting, if only for the yuks), takes another stab at the genre with Ronin. Unfortunately, a lot of action film conventions have worn off on him, so in this one explosions often stand in for dialogue or ideas. Still, this is better than the run-of-the-mill guns and cars flick, and features the unmatched beauty of Southern France being shot at and blown up by Robert DeNiro. Also starring the good Natasha McElhone, the bad Jonathon Pryce, and the French Jean Reno. The "plot" revolves around the attempts of some hired goons to steal a briefcase. It must be a really nice briefcase because DeNiro and company kill about four hundred innocent bystanders while trying to get it. The mystery of what's in the briefcase is the maguffin that runs the show, a la Kiss Me Deadly (another campy classic that's a must-rent). However, in an effort to do a modern turn on the existential films of his heyday, Frankenheimer leaves a lot of question unanswered, like "What's with the briefcase?" "Who are these people?" "Why are they shooting at each other?"; and "What the hell is going on here?"

SIMON BURCH. Hollywood has the Oscars on its mind, and, since films about mentally and/or physically challenged people are surefire Oscar bait (Children of a Lesser God, Rain Man, Forrest Gump), Disney goes for the jugular with a story about the very, very tiny Simon Burch (Ian Michael Smith). The unfortunate result is an assemblage of loosely related scenes which milk the shock value of Smith's physical appearance in an attempt to force viewers onto an emotional roller coaster. A weak plot does surface about two-thirds into the movie, but by then the audience has already been subjected to at least a dozen references to Simon as a miracle/hero/instrument of God, a Forrest Gump-ian use of an overly obvious soundtrack, and a whole lotta wooden child acting (not Smith). The real tragedy of the film is that its dramatic impact derives not from Simon's character, and the obstacles a norm-obsessed society tosses his way, but rather from exploiting how different Smith looks. Jim Carrey provides cutesy narration and the always likable Oliver Platt contributes to the few digestible scenes.

SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS. This manipulative, cautious and contrived comedy came out of the stifling Sundance Workshop, and it shows. Like every other movie these days, it's set in the '70s. The won't-this-be-touching story focuses on a young girl coming of age, and her efforts to accept her body and her family, who are a little off-beat, but not so off-beat as to challenge the audience's beliefs or sensibilities. Alan Arkin does his usual decent job playing the aging single father. (God forbid there should be a single mother in a lighthearted film...single mothers equal tragedy and pain.) The jokes are all reasonably funny, there's enough sex to make it titillating but not enough to push it into controversy, and there's a general lack of plot. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this intentionally forgettable film are the body doubles: both Marissa Tomei and newcomer Natasha Lyonne must show their breasts at least twice, but their faces are never in the shot, and the actresses hired to stand in for them sport bodies with no visual relation to the ones they're supposed to represent. A real oddity, that: There's Tomei, she gratuitously opens her robe, and suddenly there's a shot from the neck down of someone else's body. I guess if you're doing tits-for-tits-sake you might as well bring in the best you can find, and damn the torpedoes. Other than the curious interest that provides, though, the film refuses to take any chances or do anything risky, and winds up being so benign as to be a bit boring. Perhaps this can be blamed on the heavy and notoriously treacly hand of Robert Redford, who produced this cowardly, if somewhat humorous, project. --DiGiovanna

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