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Memphis Flyer Lost Boy

"Boys Don't Cry" tells the story of one woman's short life and tragic death.

By Susan Ellis

NOVEMBER 8, 1999:  When there's nothing to do in a small town, you've got to do something. Witness the gang of twentysomethings in Falls City, Nebraska. They gather in a small, muddy field to tailgate ski, which involves strapping yourself to the back of a pickup truck and hanging on for dear life as the truck goes round and round. One woman dreams of leaving town to work professionally singing karaoke; another young single mother's only ambition is to snare a husband. One man cuts and burns himself as a hobby. His best friend dotes on his young daughter -- until she pees on him and he tosses her violently to the floor. Later on, this same man grows protective again, when the guy who cuts himself tries to offer the girl a drink of his beer. The father won't hear of it; his daughter will drink out of his beer.

All of this too-rich trashiness would be hilarious if it weren't so dangerous -- as the effective and memorable Boys Don't Cry shows -- especially when met by something so foreign as the likes of Brandon Teena.

Brandon Teena, née Teena Brandon (Hilary Swank), is a transvestite. Not that she sees it that way. She's a boy. Binding her breasts, dealing with her monthly cycle, and figuring out which side to place a roll of socks down the front of her pants are mere inconveniences she has to deal with. In every other way, she's a rather average young man, swaggering, confident, and on the lookout for the perfect girl.

Brandon winds up in Falls City on a whim, and given that she's got legal trouble back in her hometown of Lincoln and that she's just about used up all her family's patience, she decides to stay. And when she does go back to Lincoln to deal with these things, the lure of Lana (Chloë Sevigny) has Brandon in Falls City again.

Lana is the most clear-headed of her group, though she's having trouble figuring out what she wants. Her biggest problem is John (Peter Sarsgaard) -- the aforementioned abusive father. Lana was the only one who wrote to him while he was in prison, and subsequently, John is both controlling and in awe of her and he won't leave her alone. John is jealous when Lana takes up with Brandon, but when Brandon's true identity comes out, a whole new, desperate emotion is sparked.

Boys Don't Cry, with its mix of identity, sting of betrayal, and roil of confusion, is Shakespearean. But director and co-writer (with Andy Bienen) Kimberly Peirce leads the audience on the straightest path of storytelling -- a wise choice, as the film is based on true events. She lays out the plot in a workman-like fashion that is less dramatic than it is suggestive of what happens everyday, everywhere. The only cinematic flairs are Brandon's memory flashes and the scene-breaking shots of sped-up film, showing Falls City in a blur of lights to illustrate the small-town truism about how time passes while nothing changes.

Boys Don't Cry's biggest triumph lies with Swank as Brandon. It is a frank and brave performance by an actress whose best-known role was as Steve's girlfriend in Beverly Hills 90201. Even with her close-cropped haircut and her square jaw, Swank has full lips and tiny, fine hands that betray her gender. Nevertheless, her unwavering stance as the girl who is a boy is utterly believable, so entrenched that the same-sex love scenes lack a controversy that may have otherwise accompanied them.



Seemingly, The House on Haunted Hill was released on Halloween weekend to scare the wits out of you. All wits are spared, however, leaving you with the bigger terror of facing all those howling trick-or-treaters after you've run out of candy.

The House on Haunted Hill stars Geoffrey Rush as Stephen Price, a vaguely sleazy amusement-park owner who gets a kick out of giving people bowel-loosening scares. His wife Evelyn (Famke Janssen) is of a like mind -- though the pair has a love-to-hate-you relationship -- and demands that her birthday party be held at the former site of the Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane. The location is creepy enough, and it's creepier still since the Vannacutt was burned down in the '30s during an inmate revolt in response to the horrific treatment of Dr. Vannacutt. Only five people made it out alive.

Price shreds his wife's original guest list out of spite, and then his list is replaced by someone, or something. The guests include Eddie (Taye Diggs), a one-time professional baseball player; Dr. Blackburn (Peter Gallagher), a doctor; Sara (Ali Larter), who stole her boss' invite to the party; and Melissa (Bridgette Wilson), a former TV host looking for a break back into show business. None of them knows who Price is; they are there for the $1 million promised to those who survive the night. Also in attendance is Watson Pritchett (Chris Kattan), the building's owner, who just wants to get out alive.

In addition to Price's staged antics and a few things Evelyn's got up her sleeve, strange things begin to happen. One guest disappears, leaving only a pool of blood. Pritchett drinks and drinks, moaning about the house, the house did it. Pretty soon, everybody comes around to Pritchett's way of thinking, and it becomes them versus the house.

The House on Haunted Hill teeters between campy (all of Rush's and Janssen's scenes) and doggedly mundane. There are a few nifty twists, but those are overshadowed by the smirky sarcastic dialogue, with "fucking" being the chief adjective.

What really smarts about this movie is that it was released as The Haunting just a few months ago -- with the same premise (a pissed-off house) and Academy Award-winners (Rush and Liam Neeson) who really should have known better.


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