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SEPTEMBER 20, 1999: 

The Source

Chuck Workman's documentary about the Beat Generation is a muddled yet engaging blip of nostalgia. The title suggests that the film's focus might be the genesis of the notorious literary/social movement in the '50s that arose after Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg met at Columbia University and took up with elder Beat statesman William S. Burroughs. But it's really a loose chronology of the three Beats' lives recklessly interspersed with a broad smattering of cultural icons along the way. There's little historical structure in Workman's excitedly romantic ode, and the film hardly slows down to acknowledge the authors' cornerstone achievements: On the Road (Kerouac), Naked Lunch (Burroughs), and Howl (Ginsberg).

The Source works best when it offers archival footage of its subjects pointedly expressing social criticism, debunking their critics, or simply reading from their works. Johnny Depp, John Turturro, and Dennis Hopper pop up to dramatize works by the Beats; period legends like Ken Kesey, Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan, and Timothy Leary also appear. The brief footage of Kerouac protégé Neal Cassady makes for an amusing sideshow, but the film belongs to Burroughs. When in pundit mode, he's sharp, witty, and hysterically humorous.

-- Tom Meek


Stigmata

More terrifying than believing there is no God, reflects Stigmata's Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) after she's woken up in the ER with spike wounds through her wrist and later been flogged by invisible assailants in the subway, is believing there is. The film itself is almost terrifying when it delves into the nature of divinity, but ultimately Jesus comes out looking like a talk-show guest plugging a new-age self-help book. Meanwhile director Rupert Wainwright makes Frankie's plight -- simple Pittsburgh hairstylist ("Who's Francis of Assissi?") miraculously afflicted by the wounds of Christ and caught up in a murky Vatican conspiracy -- seem like an exhausting music video combining S&M, chant, and Björk related with the stylistic excesses of David Fincher's Seven and the theological hokum of John Boorman's Exorcist II. Gabriel Byrne plays the thankless role of the voice of reason as Father Andrew Kiernan, a Vatican specialist in debunking miracles who meets his match in more ways than one in Arquette's unwilling stigmatic. Unfortunately, he doesn't uncover the fraudulence behind this picture. Stigmata is too dimwitted and confused to be blasphemous -- the only god it worships is bad taste.

-- Peter Keough


For Love of the Game

The love of the game Sam Raimi could probably have handled; the love of the vain is another matter altogether. Why the gifted director of schlock horror who just made it into the big leagues with the Oscar-nominated A Simple Plan succumbed to this simple-minded paean to fading superstar Kevin Costner is a head scratcher. Costner plays an aging baseball player, fireball pitcher Billy Chapel of the equally fading Detroit Tigers, in town to pitch the last game of the season against the hated Yankees. He's off to a bad start: his estranged girlfriend, Jane (good sport Kelly Preston), has stood him up; he's stayed up all night sampling the hotel mini-bar; he wakes to learn that the team's owner is about to sell and he's trade bait. And once he's on the mound, every pitch is followed by a belabored flashback into his past in which he lost the love of his life because of his "love for the game" (i.e., he's a self-involved prick).

But every pitch brings him closer to a perfect game, and the hostile Yankee crowd and the hostile Jane (conveniently delayed in front of an airport TV) are gradually drawn into the time-defying feat of this sexist, conceited asshole of a demigod, in a way that adds to mere adulation the religious thrill of conversion. Like Costner's other baseball films -- the crypto-fascist Field of Dreams and the overrated Bull Durham -- this is all insidious, self-aggrandizing fantasy; an aging ballplayer's balking on a lucrative contract renewal is as likely as Sam Raimi's turning down a paycheck for a vanity production like this. As for the outcome of the game, let's just say Costner's no-hit streak continues.

-- Peter Keough


Blue Streak

Martin Lawrence has already shown that he's comfortable doing action as long as there's a little comedy thrown in, so this was a no-brainer for both the actor and director Les Mayfield (Flubber). When the cops catch professional criminal Miles Logan (Lawrence) stealing a $20 million diamond, he hides it in a construction site; three years later he emerges from prison to find that the site has become the LAPD's newest precinct. In order to reclaim his booty, Logan has to pose as a cop, and through a zany turn of events he ends up fighting bad guys and solving crimes.

Lawrence is lucky he looks and acts like an overgrown 12-year-old boy -- that's how his floppy-body, rubber-face antics manage to reach deep down to the juvenile inside and, once in a while, yank out a chuckle before you even know wazzup. Sure, Blue Streak has gratuitous wacky characters (pizza-delivery guy with buck teeth and ugly jogging suit) and a few too many instances of "BAM!" and "Ka-POW!" in Lawrence's dialogue. Then again, nobody claimed this was the thinking man's movie.

-- Jumana Farouky


"23"

Why have so many notorious political assassinations or elections occurred on the 23rd of the month? Why do Masonic symbols appear on US currency? Why is information more important than wealth? Hans-Christian Schmid's German thriller makes clever use of the writings of Robert Anton Wilson, whose Iluminatus trilogy explores the web of secret societies that rule the world as we know it.

Karl Koch and his pal David are 19 years old in 1985: phone phreaks and computer hackers involved with anti-nuclear protesters. They meet a couple of small-time gangsters who arrange to sell their information to the KGB. Drunk on power, high on drugs, and obsessed with conspiracy theory, Karl and David take to their life of cyber-crime like ducks to water. Later a TV network wants to buy their story, and Karl, who has become a coke and speed addict, manages to hack into the security system of a nuclear facility. But he's being followed by cops, and he's increasingly paranoid and out of touch with reality, seeing occult significance in news headlines and secret agents around every corner.

Remember the '80s? People snorted coke on dashboards, Reagan sold weapons to Qaddafi, computers were as big as fridges, and a small brotherhood of geeks with PCs infiltrated the political and economic infrastructure. Based on true events, "23" follows the maze of discovery that made hackers into global terrorists and suggests a terrifying explanation for the Chernobyl disaster. Using lots of claustrophobic slow motion and fuzzed edges, Schmid crafts a slice of history so surreal it seems a fairy tale -- and so plausible it must surely be our future.

-- Peg Aloi


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