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NewCityNet New Reviews This Week

By Ray Pride, Frank Sennett, Ellen Fox, Bill Stamets

NOVEMBER 23, 1998: 

The Cruise

Directed by Bennett Miller. One of the great D.I.Y. stories of contemporary indie filmmaking: Miller saw that New York City tour bus guide Timothy "Speed" Levitch had opinions and eccentricity to burn and starting videotaping the compulsive storyteller on Hi-8 video. The result was picked up for distribution, a rare enough feat for documentaries, let alone one made out of someone's back pocket. Levitch reinvents New York with each word that tumbles out of his mouth: it's an aboriginal songline with more jokes. 78m. (Ray Pride)



Enemy of the State

There's a decent thriller lurking somewhere inside "Enemy of the State," but an overly earnest presentation and several painful missteps doom the Tony Scott-directed, Simpson/Bruckheimer-produced film to second-tier status. Every point is ham-handedly hammered home as if the creative team relied on the old public-relations adage "Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, then tell 'em what you told 'em." And that's too bad, because the film's thesis--that current communications technology has brought us to the brink of a security state bereft of privacy--is a plausible one. Gene Hackman is strong as the ex-spook who serves as grudging ally to Will Smith's good man in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Hackman's even better in "The Conversation," the 1974 Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece on the same topic. (Frank Sennett)



The Headhunter's Sister

Scott Saunders' "The Headhunter's Sister" is the kind of discovery that film festivals were once known for. Like a comedic, latter-day version of "Low Life," Luc Sante's classic portrait of turn-of-the-century Manhattan, Saunders' satisfyingly dense plot is filled with wild digressions. The story, built on an odd community of people living on Manhattan's eminently multicultural Lower East Side, lunges from love to heroin, from corporate head-hunting to lounging in Central Park, from green cards to gay flirtation, from a day at the beach to the routine of a Spanish-language telephone sex operation. Shooting over two weeks in old tenement buildings during an August heat wave, Saunders and company filled their dense narrative with fresh verbal wit and jolting narrative turns. The result is a wholly convincing, non-slacker portrait of how communities evolve and clash and blend, and there's an intense, tactile sense of how these characters have changed each others' lives. There's also something piercing in its lovingly detailed portrait of how, as Saunders' emphatic co-writer-producer-lead actor, Bob McGrath puts it, "Our generation has managed to take the idea of youthfulness way beyond any attractiveness." (At first, the film's life-worn characters give the impression of being vagrants with apartments.) "Headhunter's Sister" is low-low budget, a good-looking blow-up directly from Betacam video to 35mm. The gift of video for this film is the how collaborators who have known each other for years--Saunders, McGrath, production designer Laurie Olinder, actors Elizabeth Scholfield and Michael Harris--were able to take their friendships and theater-trained chops and somehow concoct an intimacy in the movie that results in that intangible quality called charm. "The Headhunter's Sister" feels like a breakthrough for features originated on video, but it's also utterly accessible, a sexy, loping comedy that ultimately rejects moodiness and despair and embraces the absurd plausibility of life and the possibility of all manner of change.(Ray Pride)



Lolita

Having once actually been a young girl who felt that grown men were attracted to her--not as a harbinger of womanhood, but as I was--I was reticent about watching "Lolita." I knew it would capture all the tingly, ego-drenching exuberance of finally sensing a power over men that was something more than just girlish charm. After all, we the thoughtful, targeted audience are savvy (or jaded) enough to be okay with the concept of sexual girls. All that was the easy, artful part for "9 1/2 Weeks" director Adrian Lyne, who slicks the dizzying first half of the film in sunshine and saliva, and who, from the faucets to the flinches, demonstrates his fetishist's eye for detail. But how well would "Lolita" be able to mingle that radiance with its terrifying accompaniment: the slightly sick feeling of not being sure that you want what you're clearly "asking for." The creeping awareness that men are allured by teasing but aren't quite satisfied by it, and that playing with the big boys entails something that flirtatious, 14-year-old bodies don't seem cut out for--in a word, penetration? Lyne--and actress Dominique Swain--come through. From all the buoyant grins to the numerous double entendres, most everything can be construed as both sexy and just awful, with a few burts of eroticism or utter misery to break up the tension. It's never been hard to relate to a grown man's obsession with a lithe girl, but, surprisingly, it's just as easy here to taste the nausea of a young person who feels complicit in her own seduction. The tension of this duality carries over to the sex scenes, where I felt both my hand on Lolita's knee and Humbert beneath me. That's quite a rarity, as most sex scenes--trained as they are on the face of a moaning female object of desire--force me to play the transvestite and align myself with the man--the subject of the story. I'd be curious to hear if male viewers will also be able to relate as easily to Lolita as they do to Humbert: If they can look between, not past, those innumerable shots of Lolita's flexible, breakable legs to what all that fetishism hints at: the virgin, red tightness they hide and then--no, not even that, but the tearing, the stretching, the bleeding. (Ellen Fox)



Ringmaster

Released alongside Jerry Springer's hardcover memoir "Ringmaster!", the movie "Ringmaster" stars talk-show host Jerry Springer as "Jerry Farrelly," the host of a Jerry Springer-like talk show called "The Jerry Show." Director Neil Abramson (whose credits include the 1996 Sundance hit "Without Air" and the North Ugandan documentary "Soldier Child") brings a surprisingly observant style to a project that reeks of shameless, self-serving schlock. There's a little flacking for Singer's so-called populism, but Jon Bernstein's script thankfully mocks that pose. Ever cynical, Singer lampoons his own preachings with non-sequitors like: "Just because it's happening on TV doesn't mean it's not happening in reality." Trashy lust brings two batches of guests together to appear in "Jerry" episodes titled "You Did What With Your Stepdaddy?" and "My Traitor Girlfriends." Blowjobs ensue. Cartoonish "boing!" sound-effects signal below-the-frame erections. Nicely shot, this hybrid docudrama outstrips the cheesy look of Springer's television show and the cheesy layout of his book, while the movie's semi-literate press kit preserves the downscale demographic of Jerry's world. "Ringmaster" oozes its own odd integrity in sticking to the roundelay of exploitation cheered by Springer's circus. (Bill Stamets)



The Waterboy

Alternately sweet and spit-out-your-smuggled-in-beer funny, Adam Sandler's latest goofball odyssey centers on a slow-witted, big-hearted mama's boy who transforms a backwoods college football team into a bowl-game contender. If the idea of seeing Fonzie's stunt ass sporting a Roy Orbison tattoo sounds strangely appealing, this is the movie for you. There's also a great running gag featuring an old professor who looks and dresses exactly like Colonel Sanders. As they say in those new KFC ads, "Colonel's gettin' jiggy with it." (Frank Sennett)


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