BASQUIAT. Jean Michel Basquiat was described by The New York Times as "the art world's closest equivalent to James Dean." Young, talented and good looking, the painter died of a heroin overdose in 1988 at the age of 27. The film Basquiat, made by his friend and fellow art sensation Julian Schnabel, follows Basquiat's rise from a kid sleeping in a box to a rich, indulged superstar, both recipient and victim of the art world's largess in the 1980's. Though the acting is often great in this film (David Bowie does a dead-on impersonation of Andy Warhol), and though the New York art world and Basquiat himself are interesting fodder for a feature film, Basquiat lacks direction and tension, and gets a little slow at times.
THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS. Screenwriter William Goldman, who wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men and The Stepford Wives, among others, proves once again that the nineties will never be as good as the seventies, movie-wise. This "true" tale about great white hunters protecting the natives from a couple of man-eating lions endorses the standard myopic myths about colonialism, manhood, hunting, etc. Val Kilmer plays John Patterson, an engineer who has been sent to the African savanna to build a bridge that will expand the ivory trade. He speaks of Africa as if it were a town, rather than a continent ("I love Africa!"), and sets about proving his manhood and protecting his men (various racial stereotypes, mitigated somewhat by one or two heroic black characters) against a pair of man-eating lions. A great hunter, Charles Remington (Michael Douglas) comes to show him how it's done. The two men bond, hunt, kill etc. Remington remarks with revulsion that the pair of unnatural lions "are doing it for pleasure," i.e., killing, but the movie doesn't have the intelligence to draw the connection between the lion's pleasure in killing and man's pleasure in hunting, colonization and dominance. After a while, it's hard to not root for the lions. At least they're resisting the conquest of their domain.
THE GRASS HARP. This adaptation of the Truman Capote novel about a boy coming of age is dull and sentimental until about halfway through, when it suddenly comes to life. Edward Furlong plays Collin, a quiet, serious orphan who has been turned over to a pair of eccentric spinster aunts after the death of his parents. His aunts Dolly (Piper Laurie) and Verena (Sissy Spacek) are complete opposites; Dolly is shy and imaginative, while Verena is all business. The sisters fight and Dolly makes the unusual decision to live in a nearby tree house rather than put up with her sister's bossiness. In the most delightful, least contrived part of the movie, the magnetic Dolly attracts all of the other misfits and outcasts in town to the tree house, including a suitor for herself (Walter Matthau) and a love-interest for Collin (the dashing Sean Patrick Flanery).
MICHAEL COLLINS. A film that presents Neil Jordan's version of the controversial life and death of Michael Collins, a charismatic freedom fighter who led the IRA against the British in the early part of the century. Jordan, who also made The Crying Game and Mona Lisa, focuses on a much broader series of events here, giving us a wide, sweeping narrative that resembles nothing less than an old-fashioned war movie. The violence is graphic, and it's hard at times to sympathize with our hero, Michael Collins, appealingly played as he is by Liam Neeson, because his special gift in life seems to be terrorism. The British aren't any better, but those of us who aren't especially involved in the issues of Irish independence may find ourselves wishing that Jordan had brought the stakes and history of the fighting a little more to the fore. There's a silly love story with Julia Roberts thrown in for good measure, and lots of explosions, if you get bored of the male bonding.
PAPERBACK ROMANCE. A loopy, endearing little romantic comedy from down under, Paperback Romance has, um, interesting production values and not a familiar face in the cast. There's nothing very weighty here, but the story of a pretty, handicapped romance writer (she conveniently composes her smutty stories aloud) who pretends to have been injured in a skiing accident in order to nab Prince Charming has a ridiculous but undeniable charm. Like While You Were Sleeping or even Funny Face, Paperback Romance does a fine job of conflating absurdity with romance. Bring a date.
SECRETS & LIES. With Secrets and Lies, acclaimed British director Mike Leigh turns in gentler, more human effort than his previous film, Naked. An extended family muddles through issues of love and parenthood, spurred by Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a grown, adopted child searching for her birthmother Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn). To Hortense's surprise, her mother turns out to be white, but the friendship that springs up between these two women quickly cuts through any racial boundaries. Leigh's view of humanity is characteristically surly, nonetheless, and the relationship between Cynthia and her daughter Roxanne (Claire Rushbrook), a street sweeper, is hilariously bleak. Somehow, Leigh has a talent for making human failings seem viciously funny and absurd, and the most miserable characters in this film often turn out to be the most entertaining. Still, there's a spirit of connection and society reminiscent of Jean Renoir in this film (Timothy Spall as the rotund Maurice bears a striking resemblance to Renoir as Octave in Rules of the Game), and everyone emerges a little wiser for their troubles.
WALLACE AND GROMIT. This 90-minute compilation is a mixed bag of fairy tales, a fable of the urban labyrinth, misadventures with "Rex the Runt" and "Pib and Pog," "Creature Comforts" commercial spots and, of course, Wallace and Gromit's "A Close Shave." The more you watch, the funnier they get; and the animation is first-rate. Go if only to see the subversively hilarious zoo mocumentary.
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