Studio executive Griffin Mill (Robbins) drinks designer bottled water and drives a black Range Rover, but he's still a little insecure. Probably because he's been receiving death threats from a disgruntled writer: The most violent coincides with the arrival of an up-and-coming exec from another studio (Gallagher) who's there to compete for Griffin's next-to-top-dog position. Robert Altman is a brilliant satirist, capable of bringing a larger-than-life, almost documentary sense to the community he is ribbing. We've seen this sensibility loosed in the never-ending, mid-Seventies Nashville, and too subjugated in the auteur's more recent Prêt-à-Porter, but in The Player, Hollywood, in all its shininess, makes such a worthy subject that a perfect balance between style and substance is struck. The Player also breaks the fourth wall with regard to cameos, as this is a film in which actors play characters and play themselves as well -- a wide
representation of both the Hollywood hot (Peter Falk, Anjelica Huston, John Cusack) and the has-beens (Marlee Matlin, Gary Busey, Jack Lemmon). Lyle Lovett is hilarious as an eccentric yet astute small-town (outside the L.A. city limits) dick. And Buck Henry's opening pitch for a sequel to The Graduate is practically worth the rental itself. -- Jen Scoville
D: Paul Anderson; with Sadie Frost, Jude Law, Sean Pertwee, Fraser James, Sean Bean, Marianne Faithfull, Jonathan Pryce.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th
This movie is like the younger brother of A Clockwork Orange trying to shave his prepubescent face in the mirror behind the older brother he worships. The adoration is endearing to watch, but a little embarrassing at the same time. Nevertheless, the utterly contrived plot about violent British youth stealing fast cars and then driving them through shop windows just to steal the sunglasses off a mannequin inside does have its own delightful nihilism, despite the obvious copycatting. Sadie Frost, who played Lucy in Bram Stoker's Dracula, and up-and-comer Jude Law deliver powerful performances as the cynical criminals trying hard not to love each other or anyone else in their bombed-out lives. Most notable to American audiences is the total absence of gunplay which is at once refreshing and disarming amidst the crashing cars and senseless destruction. Fortunately, director Paul Anderson, also behind 1995's Mortal Kombat, has no difficulty pulling off an ultraviolent thrill ride, with or without the spray of bullets. -- Kayte VanScoy
D: Barry Levinson; with Kevin Bacon, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Bruno Kirby, Jason Patric, Brad Pitt, Brad Renfro, Ron Eldard, Billy Crudup, Minnie Driver.
VHS Home Video
When Sleepers hit theatres last year, its controversy created a media frenzy out of virtually nothing, because it was "allegedly" based on a true story. The film centers around four boys who experience horrible brutality in a New York juvenile center and the vengeance that the quartet wreaks on the worst guard of the lot (Bacon) 11 years later. The big shocker is that fellow victim and the now-assistant D.A. (Pitt, in one of his best roles to date) intentionally blows the case in order to free his friends and expose the center's corruption -- as if a story about underhanded dealings in New York was much of a fiction to begin with. Still, mainly by packing the movie with every male star on the planet, Levinson manages to redeem himself for the twin idiocies of Disclosure and Toys. Be warned, though -- at 21/2 hours, Sleepers sometimes feels like a heavy-handed history lesson, laced with dull narration and a surprisingly bad (yet Oscar-nominated) John Williams score. But at least this is a lesson with a moral at its end.
-- Christopher Null
D: John Duigan; with Noah Taylor, Thandie Newton, Nicole Kidman.
VHS Home Video
609 W. 29th
Flirting, set in rural Australia in 1965, is an eloquent comedy about adolescence that takes place at neighboring boarding schools, one for boys, one for girls. Two intelligent students, both deemed outsiders by their peers, begin flirting and eventually fall in love, though the facts that the girl is from Africa (Newton) and the boy (Taylor) is precocious create unending problems. Kidman plays a strict, forbidding prefect who gradually learns to make friends with the outsiders, though director Duigan, who also wrote the screenplay, wisely observes her conversion rather than beating us over the head in the hope that we realize her moral victory. Perhaps even more noteworthy are the various dead-on portraits of gawky adolescence -- you'll leave this comedy thinking you've been acquainted at one time or another with this film's vivid characters. -- Clay Smith
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