The Opposite of Sex

D: Don Roos (1998, DVD)

with Christina Ricci, Martin Donovan, Lisa Kudrow, Lyle Lovett

Still photo from The Opposite of Sex

Christina Ricci as DeDee Truitt in The Opposite of Sex

Let's see ... sex with a minor, illegitimate pregnancy, physical abuse, blackmail, murder, drugs ... this is a comedy? Damn straight it is, and a funny one too. As America continues to get increasingly numb over such atrocities, sickos like me can get our jollies off of little movies like The Opposite of Sex, a regular parade of white trash and bad taste unseen this side of John Waters. Christina Ricci plays Dedee Truitt, a foul-mouthed 16-year-old who figures she can seduce the boyfriend of her gay half-brother Bill (Donovan) without too much trouble. Which she does, sparking a series of road trips that culminate in the above list of crimes. Also of note is Friends' Lisa Kudrow, radiant as Bill's ultra-bitchy confidante who ends up falling for the local lawman, played by our own Lyle Lovett. The DVD version adds some nice extras, a commentary track, and five ousted scenes which add context to the picture. But with Dedee's own wry, running voice-over ("Things get very complicated very quick, and you're going to have trouble getting through it without me talking."), you may not want anything to get in the way.--Christopher Null

Wild Bill

D: Walter Hill (1995)

with Jeff Bridges, Ellen Barkin, John Hurt, David Arquette, Diane Lane

The popularity of the Western genre in filmmaking seemed to die with the disappearance of the images of John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and Steve McQueen wading through the savage, dusty plains of 19th-century America. Of course, there are a few recent exceptions. Namely, Eastwood's Unforgiven, Costner's Dances With Wolves, and the little-known Wild Bill, Walter Hill's look at the final, twisted days of buffalo hunter and Western lawman James Butler Hickock. The film opens with a violent montage of Hickock's post-Civil War days, his thirst for whiskey and women and his enforcement of the strict principle of "never touching another man's hat." Bridges, who seems predestined for this role, plays Hickock with a larger-than-life intensity, a trait that was said to have been part of the historical figure's persona. The film's narrative opens in the lawless town of Deadwood, South Dakota, just as Hickock arrives with his traveling companion and the film's narrator Charley Prince (Hurt). Given the notoriety he has gained during his violent jaunts around the young, unbridled West, Hickock has been nicknamed Wild Bill. He has acquired quite a following, including an indecorous ex-lover named Calamity Jane (Barkin) and a quiet, gutless kid named Jack McCall (soundly played by Arquette in his pre-Scream days), who is set on killing the famed gunslinger. The film moves quickly, using the device of flashbacks caused by the opium Hickock has taken to help with his glaucoma, and finally to the unraveling of the complex psychological relationship between McCall and Hickock. Hill, who is better known for his work in action films like 48 Hrs. and Last Man Standing, gives this historical tale the feel of a classic Western. Cinematographer Lloyd Ahern captures this darker side of the West beautifully through a mix of saturated sepia shades and bright, striking colors. It is not surprising to me that Wild Bill was panned by many critics around the nation considering that it is not a factually accurate piece. That may be true, but Hill constructed the film from the Western lore of Hickock's turbulent life and when the legend deviates from fact, print the legend. --Eli Kooris

The Whole Wide World

D: Dan Ireland (1996)

with Vincent D'Onofrio, Renee Zellweger

A dark, touching film, The Whole Wide World introduces us to the father of Conan the Barbarian. Not his literal dad, but rather his literary parent, author Robert E. Howard. It was from his folks' home in Cross Plains, Texas, that Howard wrote a slew of Conan stories for pulps and created other medieval characters (Kull, Red Sonja). The film is based on Novalyne Price's autobiography and chronicles her relationship with the brilliant and often disturbed Howard. Starring as Price is Renee Zellweger, who puts on her best twang and pout to portray this would-be writer who befriends the ultimate harbinger of barbarians. As Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio's brutish expressions, sharp tongue, and childish mannerisms bring to life a character that is as sympathetic as he is frustrating. His chauvinistic, highly sexualized attitude at times offends Price yet touches a blushing nerve within her. Their relationship is awkward yet sincere, but Howard is torn between his loner ways, professing his love for Price, and his near-Oedipal obsession with his mother. The film beautifully captures 1930s Texas with its choice sets and accurate wardrobe. Best of all, it creates two characters so inviting, it is hard to fathom them as actual people. Underneath the relationships, however, exists a muted madness that personifies the writer and his creations. Through it all, this is a tight tale that covers all the bases and is not overshadowed by any of the bad films featuring Howard's sword-wielding characters. --Mike Emery

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