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GOOD WILL HUNTING

Directed by Gus Van Sant. 127m. Charm is a funny thing, as mysterious as any of the components that a movie comprises. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, two handsome, up-and-coming actors wrote "Good Will Hunting" for themselves to star in, and in the meantime, with Affleck in "Chasing Amy" and Damon in "The Rainmaker," they've become hot, hunky commodities. But that doesn't guarantee the kind of lucid appeal we see on screen. What happened? Through five years of Hollywood intrigues, their sometimes florid, yearning script finally wound up in the hands of van Sant, who works with uncustomary visual restraint. An intensely acted feel-good movie seems an unlikely quantity from the career chronicler of sweetly lawless outlaws, but here it is. Will Hunting is a janitor at MIT, an unlikely mathematics genius and autodidact philosopher who's more content to get into dust-ups with his childhood buddies and to drink his life away. Whenever someone gets too close, whether math professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), or Harvard undergraduate Skyler (Minnie Driver) who falls in love with the pretty-mugged brawler (Driver is a big bonus in this boy's-story-- smart, darling and never subordinate to any other character). On one hand, "Good Will Hunting" could be taken as a modestly more ambitious version of studio high-concept: the therapeutic opening-up of a character's adolescent pain in "Ordinary People" meets the precocious genius of "Searching for Bobby Fischer" or "Amadeus." Yet the pop simplicity of the script--particularly once Lambeau brings Robin Williams' damaged therapist into the picture--is actually a joy. Etched with van Sant's trust of his actors and a remarkably textured use of Boston's Irish South End neighborhood, it all comes together to create a charming, affecting fairytale about finding the roles of parents and siblings satisfied in the larger world. 120m. (Ray Pride)


THE POSTMAN

Kevin Costner's directorial followup to the overrated "Dances With Wolves" is a frighteningly self-indulgent mess that runs an excruciating three hours and contains more close ups of Costner than "Wolves" dared. It's the year 2013--you know the lay of the land, I'm sure, your basic post-apocalyptic-blasted-desert-no Government-roaming weirdos-lone drifters-turpentine-for-water kind of future. One night, the drifting Costner sleeps in an abandoned postal delivery truck. He snags a mailman's uniform and a mailbag, then pretends to be a postman to get entrance to border towns. To get some food and shelter, he tells the despondent denizens that the government has been restored and President Richard Starkey (Hey! Get it? That's Ringo!) has restored the postal system. This so inspires everyone that Costner not only gets fed, he gets laid as well. Soon, an adoring Larenz Tate starts delivering mail himself, recruiting more folks to deliver letters. The evil Will Patton, whose army of horse-riding, raping, pillaging maniacs will do anything to squelch the rumors of a restored government, isn't happy. It's too distracting from his life's work of crushing the spirits of the dirty faced, post-apocalyptic cuties. When the film finally came to a halt, my first thought was: "Does Costner think he can get away with ANYTHING?" Not only is "The Postman" subpar on all levels--you know, little things like acting, script, direction--but it's also further proof that Kevin Reynolds, one-time friend of Costner and director of the brilliant "187," has a lot more to do with "Dances With Wolves" than Costner would care to admit. I attended a bachelor party a few years ago where the featured attraction was a porno tape where Ron "The Hedgehog" Jeremy gave himself a blowjob. "The Postman" is pretty much on the same level. (Nick Digilio)


THE SWEET HEREAFTER

Directed and written by Atom Egoyan. Egoyan has long had a fascination with ways of seeing yet not comprehending. While immaculately crafted, Egoyan's earlier films, such as "Speaking Parts" and "Family Viewing," were steeped in a chilly regard for how layers of media--the commonplace of home videos and answering machine messages--increase rather than narrow the gulf of interpersonal communication. His stories would escalate into the baroque, as characters became obsessed with bit-players in B-movies or were shown living lives of domestic banality, photographed by the filmmaker in the manner of television soap operas. By the time of the international success of "Exotica," the gamesmanship existed mostly in the artful layering of plot strands woven into an intricate if artificial whole cloth. "Exotica" suggested that the public would ponder the filmmaker's complex constructs, if given enough palpable humanity. And as the 37-year-old Egoyan's work moved coming closer to emotional accessibility, it seemed that he could take his movies out of arthouses and into the hearts and malls of the world. This may be the movie that Egoyan's admirers have been waiting for. Based on Russell Banks' novel of the same name, "The Sweet Hereafter" deals with the effects of a tragic school bus crash on a ravishingly beautiful small town set amid the scenic mountains of British Columbia. Outsider Ian Holm arrives, much like the Pied Piper, a lawyer trying to lure the citizens of the town into a class-action suit that would allow the mourning parents to try to sate their immense loss with the small solace of cash. Where Egoyan has dealt with emotional traumas of different sorts of outsiders and marginal characters in the past, with this adaptation, he has made a stirring portrait of the effects of loss within a community. An interview with Egoyan appears in next week's issue. (Ray Pride)


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