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OCTOBER 5, 1998: 

PECKER. John Waters may not be as funny and gross as he was in the old days, but at least you can hear the dialogue in his movies now. Pecker weds a dash of Water's campy old style to a heartwarming story about a young photographer (they call him Pecker) who makes it big in the New York art world. No one is more surprised at this than Pecker himself (Edward Furlong), a clean-scrubbed young man with an eccentric family. Mom (Mary Kay Place) runs a thrift shop, for example, and grandma has a special "talking Mary" figurine. Those slick New York scenesters, buzzing around in their black turtlenecks, try to mold Pecker into their flavor-of-the-moment art star. But Pecker has his own ideas of how to unleash the style of Baltimore upon the world. Though a John Water's movie today is not as shocking as it was in the '70s, in Pecker you can still find plenty of his inimitable and wonderfully offensive panache. --Richter

RONIN. John Frankenheimer, who directed bizarre and comically complicated thrillers like Seconds and The Manchurian Candidate in the 1960s (both worth renting, if only for the yuks), takes another stab at the genre with Ronin. Unfortunately, a lot of action film conventions have worn off on him, so in this one explosions often stand in for dialogue or ideas. Still, this is better than the run-of-the-mill guns and cars flick, and features the unmatched beauty of Southern France being shot at and blown up by Robert DeNiro. Also starring the good Natasha McElhone, the bad Jonathon Pryce, and the French Jean Reno. The "plot" revolves around the attempts of some hired goons to steal a briefcase. It must be a really nice briefcase because DeNiro and company kill about four hundred innocent bystanders while trying to get it. The mystery of what's in the briefcase is the maguffin that runs the show, a la Kiss Me Deadly (another campy classic that's a must-rent). However, in an effort to do a modern turn on the existential films of his heyday, Frankenheimer leaves a lot of question unanswered, like "What's with the briefcase?" "Who are these people?" "Why are they shooting at each other?"; and "What the hell is going on here?"

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