Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Young Lust

Of teen sex and sci-fi

By Noel Murray and Rob Nelson

AUGUST 3, 1998: 

On the wall recommended new releases

Childhood's End. Set in Minneapolis, this is a teen-sex melodrama like no other, portraying a handful of intimately connected high-school grads as they work, screw, make friends, and defy their mothers. In fact, one of them even works on screwing his friend's mother, who also happens to be his own mother's friend. This Mrs. Robinson (Cameron Foord) leads the graduate, Greg (Sam Trammell), on a series of unusually down-to-earth trysts in one post-coital scene, she casually squeezes the zits on the kid's neck, while a hard white light reveals her stretch marks and his shriveled penis. In a more typical teen-pic, Greg would easily hold the center; but writer-director Jeff Lipsky audaciously cedes his film to the older woman's lesbian daughter (Colleen Werthmann) and her new lover, Rebecca (Heather Gottlieb) a shy and heretofore straight girl who'd previously admitted her attraction to Greg. Individual scenes evolve unpredictably and with tremendous daring, as when the girls' tentative first clinch becomes a matter-of-fact, explicit sex scene over the course of one five-minute shot. (RN)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Collector's Edition. Twenty years, one re-edit, and one way-overlong TV version later, Steven Spielberg is still tinkering with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Like a middle-age facelift, this "collector's edition" video release makes a few minor nips and tucks to pull the narrative more tightly across the whole, combining elements from the 1977 original version and the 1980 "special edition" that featured gratuitous FX from inside the Mothership. As you may recall, the story of Close Encounters is a fantasy of regression in which an overburdened family man (Richard Dreyfuss) catches the next spaceship off the planet, leaving his wife and kids to fend for themselves. Peter Biskind's book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls charges the auteur with similarly selfish behavior as regards the Close Encounters screenplay, for which he insisted on receiving sole credit even though he'd drawn liberally on the work of friends like Paul Schrader and Matthew Robbins. In any case, this "collector's edition" will probably go down in film history as the definitive one unless, like me, you think the movie works best in its original version, wherein the special effects of adult delinquency are left unknown. (RN)

Jerusalem. Luckily for director Bille August, he had this religious drama in the can when he started working on the patently ridiculous Smilla's Sense of Snow. Clearly, this true story is also the more personal one, relating the impact of religious dissent on two young lovers in a rural Swedish community at the turn of the 20th century. The small town of Ingmargaden is split when a fundamentalist preacher (Sven-Bertil Taube) leads a band of emigrant settlers to Palestine to prepare for the Second Coming. Meanwhile, August gives history a human face by focusing on Gertrud (Maria Bonnevie), whose beloved Ingmar (Ulf Friberg) abandons her to keep his family's farm and to keep his hold on what's left of the community. In the same way that Gertrud interprets this romantic betrayal as a sign from God, Jerusalem unleashes various natural disasters that simultaneously punctuate the melodrama and hint at divine intervention. (RN)

Oscar and Lucinda. It's criminal how the success or visibility of a movie depends so much on a release date. Oscar and Lucinda, directed by the acclaimed Gillian Armstrong, would seem to have been a natural for arthouse success; but it was released sporadically at the end of 1997 for Oscar consideration, then limped into a few theaters at the start of 1998 while critics were preoccupied with Titanic, As Good As It Gets, and Good Will Hunting. And just what did the zeitgeist miss? A poignant, haunting period tale of unrequited romance, wherein a gambling-addicted Anglican minister (Ralph Fiennes) wagers that he can transport a glass church across the Australian outback to prove his devotion to a wayward Sidney socialite. The film's novelistic origins are betrayed by some loose ends and awkward subplots, but what sticks with the viewer is the way the plot twines across decades without ever losing the intimate detail. Also memorable is Fiennes, whose apologist rants about the divinity of gambling transform his reedy, nervous character into a spiritual dynamo. (NM)

Work. Loosely following the affair between a white, married young woman and her college-bound African American neighbor, this stark indie drama takes The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love to more uncommercial (read: truer) ends. It's set in a depressed factory town where 22-year-old Jenny (Cynthia Kaplan) grows tired of cooking for her clueless husband (Peter Sprague); gets treated with condescension during interviews for dead-end jobs; and whiles away the summer with June (Sonja Sohn), who's heading off to school and thus feels less pressure to sell her time for an hourly wage. Commendably, writer-director Rachel Reichman refuses to draw simple connections between Jenny's marital discord and her affair, or between her unemployment anxiety and her faint resentment of June's scholarship; she's more interested in capturing the tumult of her heroine's life than explaining it. Reichman's elliptical editing and verit cinematography are riveting; and her title is provocative when applied to the film's vast scope. Marriage, love, looking for a job, merely "living" it's all work. (RN)

Off the wall alternatives to new releases

Class Action. Upon reading John Grisham's The Rainmaker and later watching Francis Ford Coppola's weak film version I found myself thinking of this crisp little courtroom drama, directed by Michael Apted in his "entertainment-with-a-socially-relevant-edge" mode. (See also: Thunderheart and Extreme Measures.) Gene Hackman stars as a legendary liberal attorney who files a suit on behalf of a group of people who were badly burned by automobiles with faulty wiring. Opposing counsel is his daughter (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), a budding corporate shill who harbors a grudge for all the times that Dad broke Mom's heart by sleeping around. Class Action is one of the rare films that combines a truly affecting family crisis with a good potboiler. In its tense courtroom scenes, where father and daughter conspire to stick it to a heartless bean counter, you'll thrill to both the medium and the message. (NM)

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