Scanlines

Trees Lounge

D: Steve Buscemi; with Buscemi, Carol Kane, Mark Boone, Jr., Bronson Dudley, Anthony LaPaglia, Michael Buscemi, Elizabeth Bracco, Debi Mazar, Chloe Sevigny, Samuel L. Jackson.
VHS Home Video
Waterloo Video, 1016 W. Sixth

Trees Lounge

Omnipresent indie actor Buscemi plays thirtysomething barfly Tommy Basilio in a film that shows off more than his acting talent -- here Buscemi makes his feature debut behind the camera (and behind the pen, too). An out-of-work mechanic who has recently lost his girlfriend to the boss he ripped off, Tommy spends his days at Trees Lounge, a Long Island neighborhood bar. Nothing seems to be going right for this two-time loser, but he keeps his tongue sharp and his lips on the bottle while he waits for some kind of break. Of course, when a break comes, it's no consolation -- a much-loved uncle passes away and Tommy takes over driving his ice-cream truck (a job Buscemi once held for real). When Debbie (Chloe Sevigny -- last seen in Kids), the 17-year-old niece of Tommy's ex, starts riding around on his route, he almost suffers a third strike and has to pay for it anyway. Trees Lounge is a rich glance into lives of barroom fringe dwellers. And though the scene it sets is pretty dour, this melancholy little film surprises with a spark of hopefulness. -- Jen Scoville


Richard III

D: Richard Loncraine; with Sir Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey, Jr., Nigel Hawthorne, Kristin Scott Thomas, Dame Maggie Smith.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th St.

Richard III

Based on Richard Eyre's stage creation, director Richard Loncraine does more than adapt Richard III, he reinvents it. Loncraine's Richard has shed the robes of a 15th-century monarch and donned instead the crisp uniform of a 20th-century European fascist. Instead of creating an incongruous mess, however, Loncraine successfully dovetails Shakespeare's original dialogue, albeit abridged, with a stunning computer-generated vision of 1930s England. Sir Ian McKellen, who collaborated on the screenplay with Loncraine, holds tight to the reins of both Shakespeare's scheming (but charming) villain and the character of a charismatic modern dictator. When McKellan's Richard cries out in his mud-mired jeep from a tank-strewn battlefield "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!" it comes off without a hint of irony. -- Kayte VanScoy


Walking and Talking

D: Nicole Holofcener; with Catherine Keener, Anne Heche, Todd Field, Liev Schreiber, Kevin Corrigan.
VHS Home Video

Not to be confused with Kicking and Screaming, Walking and Talking had the most descriptive title of any film released last year. Amelia (Keener, in a role originally written for Joan Cusack) can't find a decent guy. Laura (Heche) is struggling with issues of her impending marriage. So how is it that a film about a couple of chicks gabbing on and on about their miserable lives has such a broad appeal? Much like an episode of Seinfeld, it has got a lot to do with Holofcener's ear for the way people really talk -- usually about nothing in particular. When W&T's neurosis-infused discussions run from cat vomit to porno videos to schlock horror flicks, we can see a little bit of ourselves in every one of these people. Then again, some of the film's more explicit discussions about bodily functions would put off Courtney Love. Watch especially for Schreiber, whose hilarious turn as a phone-sex obsessive put him on the acting map to stay. -- Christopher Null


Withnail and I

D: Bruce Robinson; with Paul McGann, Richard E. Grant, Richard Griffiths, Ralph Brown.
VHS Home Video
Encore Movies & Music, 8820 Burnet

Apparently, the late Sixties were just as freaky in England as they were here, especially if you were an actor on the dole. Withnail and I, a film about two such chaps with nothing more to do than a lot of drugs, is both humorous and compelling. Withnail, played by Richard E. Grant -- who proves that he really can play more than uptight fops à la L.A. Story -- is the persnickety master thespian who will not stoop to play anything but the lead. The charm of this low-budget flick comes from the depth of its character development and, simply, strong writing. Gems of insight are nestled throughout Withnail and I, and the last quarter of the movie is stellar. Plus, anyone even marginally involved in theatre will get the vague feeling that they have met these guys before. -- Adrienne Martini


Flirting With Disaster

D: David O. Russell; with Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Téa Leoni, Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, Josh Brolin.
VHS Home Video

Virtually unseen during its theatrical release last year, Flirting With Disaster remains one of the funniest romantic comedies released in ages. No one would have suspected director Russell of having a comedic bone in his body; his first film, Spanking the Monkey, is a mouth-drying drama about mother-son incest. But surprise, surprise. Russell proved able to brilliantly avoid the sophomore slump into which most of his contemporaries had fallen with this work of true greatness. As a tale of one man (Stiller) searching for his natural parents, the movie is compelling in its own right. But throw in some farcical screwball elements -- Moore's now-famous uplifted-shirt shot, Brolin's armpit fetishist, Alda and Tomlin's Ronald Reagan acid tabs, and, especially, Leoni's award-worthy turn as a klutzy yet horny social worker -- and Disaster becomes pure genius. -- Christopher Null

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