BEAUTIFUL THING. A wonderfully touching story of first love, this British film is sweet without being sentimental. In a cramped city tenement, two teenage outsiders, Ste (Scott Neal) and Jamie (Glen Berry), are unhappy and misunderstood until they muddle through their adolescent emotions and figure it out--they're in love! Together the two discover how to run the obstacle course of parents, friends and onlookers, who all have some pretty powerful reservations about teen boys in love. Written by playwright Jonathan Harvey when he was 24, Beautiful Thing has a direct, unpretentious style that's almost overwhelmingly endearing.
GIRLS TOWN. A film that tries just a little too hard to be gritty, Girls Town is the story of a group of teenage girls coping with loss, high school, and the predatory male. When Nikki (Aunjanue Ellis), a smart, pretty senior bound for Princeton unexpectedly kills herself, her friends bond together to fight their own sense of powerlessness and sexual exploitation with a mix of vandalism and violence. The dialogue for this movie was worked out by the actors in rehearsal, rather than scripted; the result is probably exactly the opposite of what director Jim McKay wanted--stilted, false and out-of-date. Part of the problem seems to be that the cast, led by Lili Taylor, is much too old to play high school-aged children; another problem is the mean-spirited set of events that deteriorate into plotlessness.
LOOKING FOR RICHARD. Al Pacino's directorial debut is a surprisingly fresh, witty introduction to the complexities of one of Shakespeare's more knotty plays--Richard III. Pacino, along with a cast of famous actors, obscure academics and the stray passerby, comments on the background and meaning of Richard, the tale of a ruthless, hunchbacked and totally fascinating evil guy. The actors perform scenes from the play both in costume and in informal attire; Pacino cuts them together for a truly original version of Shakespeare that could only be realized on film. Robert Leacock--one of the pioneers of the cinema vérité documentary style--is the director of photography, and at times Looking For Richard has the feel of a concert film from the 1960s. There's a sense that anything can happen. What's more, Pacino is terrific as Richard.
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.
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.
TOUR DE BICYCLE THIEF. Perhaps one of the most beautiful bummers of all time, The Bicycle Thief, the classic Italian neo-realist film by Vittorio de Sica, plays this weekend at the Screening Room. Using non-actors and authentic settings, de Sica tells the moving story of an impoverished laborer searching for the stolen bicycle he desperately needs in order to work. Set in post-war Rome, the sense of desperation and poverty is palpable. Don't forget your Kryptonite lock.
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