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FEBRUARY 16, 1998: 


Directed by Morgan J. Freeman. Brendan Sexton III, the teen torturer from "Welcome to the Dollhouse," shows range with the vivid authenticity of his performance here as a 15-year-old lower Manhattan street kid who's part of a gang of kids who steal small stuff to sell to other kids. Freeman's work isn't groundshaking, but it's less morbid and more urgent than "Kids." Larry Clark's a voyeur; Freeman's trying to tell a good story. 89m.


Pedro Almodovar's excellent previous film, "The Flower of my Secret," was a mature, understated drama in the George Cukor mold, disappointing those who loved his hothouse style in movies such as "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" and "Kika." Now, both Almodovars join to make the engrossing "Live Flesh" (Carne Tremula), a free adaptation of a Ruth Rendell mystery novel. Victor Plaza (Liberto Rabal), born on a Madrid city bus stopped on deserted streets during a 1970 crackdown by the Franco regime, is a doe-eyed, lush-lipped innocent who loses his virginity in a club washroom to Elena (Francesca Neri) the strung-out daughter of the Italian consul. Confronting her a week later, a chain of coincidences and a single gunshot eternally entangles Victor's life with that of the two policemen who come to Elena's rescue, as well as both their wives. Part of the great pleasure of "Live Flesh" is the particulars of its plotting, which I'll describe no further. But Almodovar's sexy soap opera of obsession and revenge is luminous in its view of Madrid, taking on the geometry of a specific city, not just in the harsh angles of soulless modern buildings, but also in the odd shapes formed by lights in distance, glowing classical edifices, circling views from buses, a city of floating, circling images. (During the immaculately choreographed face-off between Victor and policemen, there is a post-DePalma slow-motion 360-degree shot that puts the lie to any claim of mastery by that cold clinician of a director.) Almodovar scores the film with mad, unabashed songs of carnal vengeance, yet there is always time for grace notes, in decor, widescreen compositions, and especially in behavior, such as, after a night of unending sex, a woman sniffing her nude skin for the last traces, the last unguents of the other before she showers them away, committing the lover's scent to memory before confronting her husband. The characters growl morose lines like "No one ever owns his youth or the women he loves" but Almodovar well demonstrates why they feel that way. This is the kind of vigorous entertainment we should be able to go out and see any night of the week.


Broody, bizarre adaptation of Truman Capote's fine, career-making 1948 first novel, David Rocksavage's "Other Voices, Other Rooms" tries to be seductive Southern Gothic. The ambiguity in the telling, where the lyrical and cryptic alternate, only adds to the dark mood of this story of a young boy's coming of age in 1930s Alabama. As young Joel revisits his long-disappeared father, he finds a new world filled with strange characters, and Rocksavage never pins down their particular passions or dispassions; the homosexual subtext is left to flutter in the wind. Strong production design and an insistently "outdoors" soundtrack vividly summon a different time, a different place. You can almost smell the leaves, the hard clay dirt. With Lothaire Bluteau, Anna Thomson, David Speck.


Of the many things that may be said about "Sphere," the Barry Levinson adaptation of a Michael Crichton potboiler, the first must be: This is the "Showgirls" of sci-fi. Psychologist Dustin Hoffman prepared a study for the Bush administration of what must be done if aliens were discovered on earth. A few years later, when an apparent alien craft is discovered beneath the Pacific Ocean, his study becomes a textbook for the secret government agency studying the vessel. Bring on a covey of his old friends -- mathematician Samuel L. Jackson, astrophysicist Liev Schreiber, biochemist, former patient, secret lover and attempted suicide Sharon Stone -- and before you can say, "Who wrote this shit anyway?", a thunderously scored, neurotic-aside-filled technothriller about the fears we all hold inside ourselves veers from bad suspense to not-bad comedy dialogue. If you've seen "Forbidden Planet," you've seen a better version of the same material -- ah, monsters from the id! If you've seen "Solaris," you've seen the mystic, art-house edition. There are moments of big, dumb fun, particularly in Hoffman's superb comic lines, but it's mostly a watch-watcher.

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