Indie film fest lights up Magic Lantern
By HANS IBOLD
Express Staff Writer
Just when you thought it was safe to stay at home with a video and wait
for the onslaught of summer feature films, the Magic Lantern presents its Spring Film
This years festival showcases the work of some of Hollywoods
most talented and iconoclastic directors, including Steven Soderbergh, Jane Campion, Jim
Jarmusch, Barry Levinson and Ang Lee. And it features the most recent work of Italian
director Giuseppe Tornatore, who seemed to endear the world in 1990 with his Oscar-winning
They might be independent and slightly rebellious films, but there is also
no shortage of stars in any of the festival films.
Ang Lees "Ride With the Devil" stars Tobey Maguire, Skeet
Ulrich and the pop music star Jewel.
But Lees film is all about story and character, not star power.
Lees past films, "The Ice Storm" (1997) and "Sense
and Sensibility" (1995), felt like anthropological studies of the
culturesaffluent Long Island and Victorian Englandthey explored. "Ride
With the Devil" is no exception.
Lee turns his anthropological lens on the Civil War and on a ruthless
paramilitary band who defend the Confederate cause.
Two Missouri bushwhackers, best friends Jake Roedel (Maguire) and Jack
Bull Chiles (Ulrich), wage war against Union forces and sympathizers in the fields, farms
and back roads along the Kansas-Missouri border.
The film includes a reconstruction of the harrowing Quantrills Raid,
the massacre of 1863 in which 450 Confederate guerrillas descended on Lawrence, Kan., and
slaughtered 180 citizens.
A goal of the attack is the destruction of a school where children,
according to one of the deranged Confederate raiders, are educated with "no regard
for status, custom or propriety."
Jewel makes her film debut as Sue Lee, a young widow who nurtures the
guerrillas with bacon and bread in a muddy, dugout hiding place.
"Ride With the Devil" is not a wait-till-it-comes-out-on-video
film. Lee and cinematographer Frederick Elmes ("Blue Velvet," "The Ice
Storm") shot the film in wide-screen format. It was filmed on location, where the
terrain looks as lush as it did 140 years ago.
Richly symbolic, frustratingly oblique, often slow-paced and always filled
with odd characters, the work of Jim Jarmusch is an acquired taste.
But for those who have stuck with his filmsfrom "Stranger Than
Paradise" to "Down By Law" to "Dead Man"Jarmuschs
work proves immensely rewarding.
"Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" plays with the gangster film
genre by introducing Eastern philosophy, hip-hop music and urban decay.
The film stars Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog, a modern day samurai who
lives on a rooftop with his carrier pigeons above a nameless, decrepit American city.
Ghost Dog lives according to an ancient Japanese warriors manual
called "Hakakure," which has tenets like "Meditation on inevitable death
should be performed daily."
He is employed by a "master" named Louie (John Tormey), a
small-time mobster who once saved Ghost Dog from a life-threatening beating.
As an assassin, Ghost Dog communicates only through his pigeons and moves
through the night like a phantom, handling his weapons with the skill and speed of a
medieval Japanese swordsman.
Complications arise after one of the hits and Louie and Ghost Dog find
themselves in trouble with the mob higher-ups, including Vargo (Henry Silva) and Sonny
Whitakers zen-like performance is complemented by the films
music, which was composed by The RZA, one of the hip-hop masterminds behind the Wu Tang
Clan. The RZAspronounced Rizzahsoundtrack underscores Ghost Dogs
ghost-like qualities and the violence of his world.
Jarmuschs quirky sense humor, exemplified in "Down By
Law," makes his films a rare pleasure. That absurdist humor shines in "Ghost
Dog" when Ghost Dog encounters a young girl, Pearline (Camille Winbush), and a
French-speaking ice cream salesman, Raymond (Isaach de Bankole).
Jane Campions latest film is likely going to be cursedin the
same way Stanley Kubricks "Eyes Wide Shut" wasby critics rants
about the frequent nudity of its stars, Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslet.
Winslet plays Ruth, a young Australian woman who takes a trip to India and
runs with a crowd of starry-eyed, sari-clad Westerners who are under the spell of a guru
named Baba. Ruth undergoes some sort of spiritual transformation when Baba touches her
Whatever has happened to her, shes not the girl she used to be and
her Aussie family is peeved. They hire a slick and expensive "cult exiter," P.J.
Waters (Keitel), to deprogram her. Waters arrives on the scenewith the seasoned
discipline of, say, a Japanese warriorwearing cowboy boots, pressed jeans, shirt and
Ruth and Waters retreat to a desert cabin for what is supposed to be three
days of deprogramming. Alone and in the middle of nowhere, the power dynamic shifts, and
the deprogramming pro falls under the spell of Ruths luminous beauty. Waters become
obsessed and confused by herso confused, in fact, that he ends up wandering the
desert in a red dress, in one cowboy boot, his hair dye running.
The film is Campions sardonic twist on the old battle of the sexes,
and its obvious who will win if youve seen any of Campions other films
starring sexually charged, strong women"The Piano," "Portrait of a
The films dreamy music, which reflects the love and loathing between
Ruth and Waters, was scored by David Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. The soundtrack
also includes Neil Diamonds "Holy Holy" and Alanis Morissettes
"You Oughta Know," which both provide music video moments for the smoldering
Another strong-willed heroine is at the center of "Mansfield
Park," Patricia Rozemas adaptation of Jane Austens third and most
controversial novel, which was published in 1814.
The Cinderella story of an impoverished young woman, Fanny Price (Frances
OConnor), the film touches on weighty social and economic themes. At its core,
though, the film is about the search for identity and the transcendence of true love.
Fanny is sent to live with her wealthy relatives, the Bertrams, who treat
her as their inferior. She finds immense relief in her writing, at which she excels, and
with Edmund Bertram (Jonny Lee Miller). When Henry Crawford (Alessandro Nivola) pursues
Fanny and asks her to marry him, she throws everyone into a tailspin of adultery, betrayal
and truth telling.
Rozema said in a press release that she wanted to capture Austens
irreverent, mischievous nature in her film.
"The aspects of Jane Austen that have not really appeared so far in
cinema are her astute, incisive humor; her searing stylistic vitality; her
anti-authoritarian rebelliousness; and her subtle atmosphere of sexuality," Rozema
said. "These qualities are what I wanted to capture in the film."
In "Liberty Heights," director Barry Levinson explores the
social traumas and pop culture of the 1950s as seen through the eyes of two teenage
brothers, Ben (Ben Foster) and Van (Adrian Brody).
The brothers, who are Jewish, fumble through various rites of passage as
they grow up in the mostly middle class, Jewish northwest section of Baltimore, Md.
Theyre also coming of age at a time when America was, in a way,
coming of age. Television, rock and roll and teenage car culture were blossoming in 1954,
the year "Liberty Heights" begins. Its Levinsons fourth film based
in his hometown of Baltimore. The others are "Diner," "Tin Men" and
"Avalon." He makes big Hollywood films, like "Rain Man,"
"Sphere" and "Disclosure," and he makes smaller, more personal and
more critically acclaimed Baltimore films.
"Whenever this gifted filmmaker seems in danger of succumbing to
Hollywoods schlokiest temptations, he dips back into the personal memory of his
Baltimore boyhood and comes up with something sweet and heartfelt," wrote Stephen
Holden of the New York Times.
"The Legend of 1900" and "The Limey" will be previewed
For a complete schedule, see Page C2 of the printed edition of the Idaho
Mountain Express, or call the Magic Lantern at 726-4274.