Film Clips

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 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).

RANSOM. A Ron Howard film is like a Hallmark card: You know what it's going to say, but who doesn't get excited about seeing one? This is a by-the-numbers sleazy bad-guy flick about a corrupt cop (Gary Sinise) who abducts the son of a billionaire airline mogul (Mel Gibson). The latter's fine-honed business sense tells him to place a $4-million bounty on the kidnapper's head rather than pay the $2 million ransom, which leads to two full hours of screaming cell phone conversations and moralistic banter. Gibson and Rene Russo turn out impressive performances as the distraught parents, and Sinise is appropriately evil.

ROMEO AND JULIET. In his second film, director Baz Luhrman gives the Bard's only teen-movie script an MTV/Miami-Cubano style, producing the noisiest rendition any Elizabethan play has ever received. Still, he remains largely faithful to the original, not only in the language, but also in the youth and aching immediacy of the protagonists. Claire Danes is especially good as Juliet, uttering Shakespeare's difficult English without affect, and John Leguizamo defines the role of the petulant Tybalt, playing the part with an insightful butch-camp swagger. Kenneth Branagh could learn a thing or two about bringing the Bard to the big screen from this effort--it's not only exciting, stylish and witty in its small details, it's also accessible without being condescending. The action conveys so much sense that the teen audiences even laughed at Shakespeare's puns. If you need to see bodkins and ruffled collars to enjoy your Veronese tragedies, stay home; but if a boy's choir singing "When Doves Cry" seems the perfect accompaniment to the wedding of two star-cross'd lovers, you'll surely enjoy the two hours' traffic of this staging.

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.

SLEEPERS. Director Barry Levinson overshoots the mark in Sleepers, a long, overly dramatic movie emphatically about the loss of innocence. Though the first part of the film, about a group of mischievous friends growing up in Hell's Kitchen, has some of the neighborhood charm of Levinson's Diner, the story unravels in the second half into an annoying series of flashbacks that are basically all the same. The plot concerns a group of boys who pull a prank that gets out of hand; as a result they're sent away to a Draconian boy's prison where the guards torture and abuse them. Fifteen years later the boys (haunted by black and white flashbacks), take their revenge on the guards. (One astute viewer leaving the theater commented on the similarities to First Wives' Club.) Though the plot gains some power through the fact that it's based on a true story, the tension never feels genuine, and the boys never seem as real as adults as they did as happy children. Dustin Hoffman gives a nice performance in his plum little role, and Robert Deniro manages a kind of manly rectitude as the neighborhood priest; unfortunately, the adult versions of the boys aren't played nearly as well.

SWINGERS. Picture Woody Allen in Los Angeles in the 1990s pretending to be a hipster from the 1940s who's just been dumped by his girlfriend from college and you have Swingers, a funny, imaginative independent film with serious era confusion. The story concerns a neurotic guy named Mike who's too heartbroken after leaving his old girlfriend to get out and enjoy the nightlife of L.A. with his buddies. His buddies, who share an unquenchable yearning for the golf-putting, swing-dancing, highball-swilling days of Sammy and Sinatra, want nothing more than to see Mike on his feet again and spend endless amounts of energy to this end. The guys call each other Daddy, refer to women as "babies," sleep until one in the afternoon, then cruise the bars in sharkskin suits. This movie is pretty lightweight, but it pokes fun at L.A. and the slacker aesthetic with ruthless accuracy.

Special Screenings

WE DON'T NEED NO EDUCATION. This weekend the Screening Room presents the Japanese film classic Rashomon, by ultra-famous director Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa used flashbacks to present four different interpretations of the same crime, showing just how subjective history can be. Come see what all the hype about this Kurosawa fellow is about. Also playing is animated flashback Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982), a biography of the fame and life of a guy named Pink Floyd featuring music by the band. Pink Floyd: The Wall is said to be the first real rock opera ever made. Move over, Jesus Christ Superstar, there's a new kid in town.

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