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NOVEMBER 24, 1997: 

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL

Clint Eastwood and screenwriter John Lee Hancock ("A Perfect World") take a spirited whack at John Berendt's bestseller-list perennial and the result is leisurely paced entertainment, where everyone is having a grand time. With John Cusack as the Berendt stand-in, Kevin Spacey as the nouveau riche, closeted antiques dealer, Jude Law as his rough-trade hustler boyfriend who is killed, and in small, yet still ripe parts, Jack Thompson, Alison Eastwood, Paul Hipp and Geoffrey Lewis. One of the more unhinged parts of the tale is the appearance of the true-to-life Lady Chablis, a trash-talking black drag queen who successfully plumped herself for the role and plays it to untamed perfection. Savannah itself, verdant with parks and squares, is also a featured player. Panavision. 154m. A longer review will appear next week. (Ray Pride)


THE RAINMAKER

Francis Coppola has been threatening the world -- and himself -- for a few years that he would return to his roots and make a personal, self-originated picture like "The Conversation," that his days as a gun-for-hire would soon be over. From the evidence of "The Rainmaker," it's time. While there's little anyone could do to rise above a John Grisham potboiler, Coppola (with the help of narration written by Michael Herr) works wonders with the limited material at hand. It's an astonishingly well-made piece of work, offering formal control in both script and visual style, a radiantly imagined Memphis (courtesy of John Toll, working without sunsets for the first time), inspired acting and even a sense of humor. You know the plot -- kid lawyer (Matt Damon) goes up against the world (an evil insurance company) and after a few twists, makes a magnificent court case of it all. The usual Grisham stuff. Coppola, however, elevates the material with all the substantial skills at his disposal, and the result is very, very impressive and entertaining in even its most foolish turns. Panavision. (Ray Pride)


SCHIZOPOLIS

A $200,000 experimental feature by Steven Soderbergh, "Schizopolis" leaps happily from lucidity to literal babbling, from cool visual style to nutball gibbering. Soderbergh, less than pleased with the work he had done with "The Underneath," arranged to make a guerrilla-style production, a kind of throat-clearing exercise, with himself as director, writer, cameraman and lead actor. It seems to be a parody of a Scientology-like religion called "Eventualism," and then a quirky satire of the contemporary workplace, then as quick as you make sense of that, Soderbergh lurches in another direction. Confounding at first, it becomes a playful, near-Dada experience and there are moments inspired and nonsensical throughout that seldom fail to amuse or at least happily perplex. (Ray Pride)


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