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For the week of May 10 through May 16, 2000

Indie film fest lights up Magic Lantern

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 Festival.

This year’s festival showcases the work of some of Hollywood’s 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 "Cinema Paradiso."

They might be independent and slightly rebellious films, but there is also no shortage of stars in any of the festival films.

Ang Lee’s "Ride With the Devil" stars Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich and the pop music star Jewel.

But Lee’s film is all about story and character, not star power.

Lee’s past films, "The Ice Storm" (1997) and "Sense and Sensibility" (1995), felt like anthropological studies of the cultures—affluent Long Island and Victorian England—they 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 Quantrill’s 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 films—from "Stranger Than Paradise" to "Down By Law" to "Dead Man"—Jarmusch’s 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 (Cliff Gorman.).

Whitaker’s zen-like performance is complemented by the film’s music, which was composed by The RZA, one of the hip-hop masterminds behind the Wu Tang Clan. The RZA’s—pronounced Rizzah—soundtrack underscores Ghost Dog’s ghost-like qualities and the violence of his world.

Jarmusch’s 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 Campion’s latest film is likely going to be cursed—in the same way Stanley Kubrick’s "Eyes Wide Shut" was—by 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 forehead.

Whatever has happened to her, she’s 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 scene—with the seasoned discipline of, say, a Japanese warrior—wearing cowboy boots, pressed jeans, shirt and a blazer.

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 Ruth’s luminous beauty. Waters become obsessed and confused by her—so 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 Campion’s sardonic twist on the old battle of the sexes, and it’s obvious who will win if you’ve seen any of Campion’s other films starring sexually charged, strong women—"The Piano," "Portrait of a Lady," "Sweetie."

The film’s 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 Diamond’s "Holy Holy" and Alanis Morissette’s "You Oughta Know," which both provide music video moments for the smoldering Winslet.

Another strong-willed heroine is at the center of "Mansfield Park," Patricia Rozema’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s third and most controversial novel, which was published in 1814.

The Cinderella story of an impoverished young woman, Fanny Price (Frances O’Connor), 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 Austen’s 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.

They’re 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. It’s Levinson’s 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 Hollywood’s 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 next week.

For a complete schedule, see Page C2 of the printed edition of the Idaho Mountain Express, or call the Magic Lantern at 726-4274.


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