D: Anna Campion; with Oliver Milburn, Dearbhla Molloy, Danny Cunningham, Catherine McCormack, Thandie Newton, Nick Patrick, Brady Hodson, Matthew Eggleton, Caleb Lloyd.
VHS Home Video
Waterloo Video, 1016 W. Sixth

Camp Crystal Lake meets Psych-Out in this feature film debut (1994) of Australian writer-director Anna Campion, encouraged by famous sister Jane (The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady) to make her own mark on celluloid. Here, a group of pretty Gen-Xers sporting cool, down-under accents weekend at an old house with a morbid past to film a low-budget horror flick. But the movie star is a virgin (not for long) and her dysfunctional boyfriend suspects she's having an affair with someone else in the clique. Heavy on psychology and light on thriller, Campion is deft at revealing the motivations of her angst-ridden characters as they divide and regroup in discourse true to their ages -- both innocent and full of pretense. At some point they embark on an acid trip that does its best not to appear hokey, and it's here the arteests find they really have something to fear. Like her sister, Campion seems interested in defining character, not an easy task with such a large cast. Still, Loaded's eerie little unencumbered plot makes a nice backdrop for the genuineness existing all around it.

-- Jen Scoville

Sweet Smell of Success

D: Alexander Mackendrick; with Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster, Susan Harrison, Steve Dallas.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th St.

If its plentiful mention in recent film publications is an accurate indication, Sweet Smell of Success is making a comeback. This dark 1957 drama is so quick-witted and well-composed that it comes across as more of an observation than a meditation on ambition, deceit, and revenge. Tony Curtis plays pretty Sidney Falco, a Broadway publicity agent shunned by the all-powerful, omnivorous J.J. Hunsecker (Lancaster), a New York Globe columnist who makes and breaks careers with the turn of an insinuating phrase. In order to get back into Hunsecker's good graces, Falco forces a rift between Hunsecker's sister and her jazz musician boyfriend Marty Milner (Dallas). Good does triumph, but with disastrous consequences. James Wong Howe creates another cinematographic wonder with his stark lighting of Broadway at night -- in fact, all aspects of this film coalesce to strike a minor, though not discordant, chord in the American dream. -- Clay Smith

Grey Gardens

D: David and Albert Maysles.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th St.

You might think you know all the dirt there is to know on JFK's clan, but there are also a couple of skeletons rattling in the closet of Jackie-O's blue-blood line. Jackie's aunt, 79-year-old Edith Bouvier-Beale and her 57-year-old daughter, Little Edie, are a couple of humdingers you'll never see in a White House photo op, mainly because they don't get out much. In fact, when this documentary was shot, in 1974, they hadn't left their dilapidated, 28-room, East Hampton beachfront "cottage" in 20 years. Sleeping in twin beds in a room strewn with evidence that these women were once the toasts of their well-bred set, the two aging beauties slurp ice cream and feed the raccoons that have overrun their estate. David and Albert Maysles, who also chillingly capture the devastating Altamont Speedway concert in the Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter, deliver your best entertainment bet outside the walls of an asylum. -- Kayte VanScoy

The Birdcage

D: Mike Nichols; with Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane, Dianne Wiest, Hank Azaria, Dan Futterman, Calista Flockhart.
VHS Home Video

Before this film, Nathan Lane was best known as the voice of the weasel in The Lion King. Now that he's practically a household name, it's amazing that one film could change a man's career so radically, but when you see his tour de force in The Birdcage, you'll know why. A contemporary remake of La Cage aux Folles, Lane steals the show as Albert, the more feminine half of a Nineties couple with nightclub-owner Armand (Williams). The story, revolving around Williams' son Val (Futterman) and his impending marriage to Audrey Hepburn lookalike Barbara (Flockhart) is almost incidental to its source. Culminating in one big dinner where Albert tries to, ahem, play it straight, Barbara's arch-conservative parents (Hackman and Wiest) meet the strange duo with some incredibly funny consequences. A perfectly cast Lane manages to upstage the antics of Williams, as does the hilarious Azaria, playing the couple's ultra-feminine, Guatemalan houseboy. The Birdcage may not sit well with the intellectuals or the politically correct, but you have to give points to any film that gets Gene Hackman in a dress. -- Christopher Null

Jacob's Ladder

D: Adrian Lyne; with Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello.
VHS Home Video

I'll never figure out how Jacob's Ladder got made. The brainchild of death-obsessed writer Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost, My Girl) and a rare departure for sex-obsessed director Lyne (91/2 Weeks, Indecent Proposal, Fatal Attraction), this film is a stretch for both. Although Jacob's Ladder covers its bases on the subject of death (in fact, that's all it covers), it contains none of the mushy sentimentality of Rubin's other works. For Lyne, the lack of voluptuous females must have been a hardship, but, ultimately, the pair have crafted a fine motion picture. It's perfect for video (in that you have to watch it five times before you finally get it), and its richly labyrinthine plot (concerning Vietnam vet Robbins' demonic paranoid visions) benefits from multiple rewinds. One of Robbins' finest unheralded performances, plus a slew of supporting roles from then-unknowns Eriq LaSalle, Ving Rhames, Jason Alexander, Pruitt Taylor Vince, and an uncredited Macaulay Culkin. -- Christopher Null

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