By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
|Photo by Holly Stein|
Still, even to those who know a hawk from a handbag, 365 episodes worth of eh-ohs, Tubby custard and big hugs, broadcast now in 21 languages across 120 countries and territories, might seem something like a plan for world domination. At the very least, it might be considered too much of the same good thing. But repetition is, after all, the raison d'être not only of Teletubbies but of television itself, with its same time, same place unities and endlessly recycled back catalog. Adults as well like their pleasures familiar, which is why I Love Lucy is still running, and why it matters little that both in its constituent parts and overall purpose Earthly Possessions -- an HBO road movie about a bank robber, his hostage, and the shared adventures that shape their antipathy into understanding, antagonism into cooperation, and irritation pearl-like into love -- is a ride you will have taken before. One roller coaster differs from another only in the sequence and slant of its twists and turns, and in the ingenuity of its filigree; and this machine, sped along on the big-screen star power of Susan Sarandon and Stephen Dorff, is very well constructed indeed. Like any good thrill ride, it lays the illusion of danger over the solid expectation that one will arrive safely home. Its antecedents, built to satisfy the human craving for self-revelation, romance and a change of scene, go back at least to It Happened One Night and include works as superficially diverse as The 39 Steps, The Defiant Ones, Smokey and the Bandit, Something Wild, Midnight Run, that film with Bill Murray and the elephant, and the new Sandra BullockBen Affleck "vehicle" Forces of Nature, along with a few dozen others it wouldn't take me 10 minutes to remember. That Earthly Possessionsis based on a novel by Anne Tyler, a woman of literary renown, does not make it any less a genre exercise; novelists crib from the movies, too.
The picture unrolls in small towns and along back roads, giving pride of place to the quirky bar, the colorful motel, the funky gas station, the Chinese bowling alley, and as a result seems to belong to an earlier time. (Tyler's book dates from the late '70s.) Directed by James Lapine, better known as a man of the theater (Sunday in the Park With George) than of film (Life With Mikey), it's talky in the best way and is well-sized to the small screen; its moments of ignition occur almost exclusively within the dwindling space between its attractive, attracted stars. Everything interesting here happens in moments of discovery, connection and transformation, as the characters slough off old skin for new. Sarandon is not a brazen beauty; she cleans up real nice, but her particular loveliness has nothing to do with glamour -- she's the slightly strange girl next door, rather, and has the trick of seeming both passionate and plain, which makes it easy to buy her as a mom, a nun, a minor-league-baseball groupie or, as here, a self-defeating preacher's wife. Her Charlotte can't drive, won't dance and doesn't drink, but will of course let her hair down both figuratively and literally -- there's more than a bit of Why, Miss Jones, you're beautiful without your glasses(and in that tight skirt and sweater) at work here -- before the movie's done with her. A wonderful, subtle, Jean Arthurian sort of pure-American actress, Sarandon in her early 50s is still quite plausibly an object of desire for young Stephen Dorff, the good-bad-but-not-evil agent of her liberation, whom I mistook for a himbo until I saw his Candy Darling in I Shot Andy Warhol, and who does well in a difficult part, managing to remain likable while doing unlikable things. Old-fashioned, well-fashioned fun.
NOT FUN FOR A MINUTE IS SHOWTIME'S THE DEVIL'SArithmetic, based on a young-adult novel by Jane Yolen and presented as part of the network's "Original Pictures for All Ages" series. This version of the oft-told tale of a thankless or discontented child propelled by magic upon a journey via which she will come to understand who she is and appreciate what she has -- parallels to The Wizard of Oz are intentional, clearly drawn, underlined and circled -- is here applied to a Westchester County 16-year-old (Kirsten Dunst, of Interview With the Vampire, Little Women, Jumanji and Kiki's Delivery Service) uninterested in her Jewish heritage and family history. She is transported miraculously from a present-day Passover Seder to wartime Poland, arriving just in time to be carted off to a concentration camp, where she becomes part of that family history, ripening in the face of death while guaranteeing (to the viewer and her fellow prisoners alike, to whom she becomes a sort of Scheherazade) a future.
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