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This warm, upbeat movie about lost love merits revival
Once upon a time there was a popular comedy team, "Cheech and Chong." Chong had a daughter and named her Rae Dawn. She is beautiful and she plays "Julie" in Erin Dignam's 1991 "Denial," a poignant poem of lost love and obsession.

There is another beauty in this warm, upbeat movie, and that is Robin Wright, portraying "Sarah." "Sarah," a sometime actress and tall, dark, handsome loner, "Michael" (Jason Patric), are lovers, as they were in real life, pre Sean Penn. "Michael" inhabits the realm of obsessional love with "Sarah becoming his "sickness," as he calls it--or her. "I'm sick" he tells her. "I'll help you" she says. "You are the sickness" he replies.

They tangle with each other and untangle as they seek each other's warmth without burning up. But they only seem able to push and to pull away from each other. She is loving and playful and has many actor friends. He has no one but her, and his jealousy.

When he leaves her, she is unable to forget him. He becomes her sickness, her obsession, as is often the case with the lovers we have lost, the ones that still have the power to bestir us. Her past then becomes her present.

Why does she look back? Perhaps to understand what happened, to know how and why her love was lost. Perhaps because she's imbued by the feelings and memories that love left behind. She craves the intensity and the poignancy of her lost love, the melting sensation in the stomach, the fluttering around the heart.

"Denial" may suggest that love affairs are imcomprehensible to those not involved, and that love doesn't necessarily have a neat ending. "Denial" doesn't present answers regarding lost love, perhaps indicating that we can only answer to and for ourselves.

The writer-director, Erin Dignam, is a poet of love, and Robin Wright embodies that poetry by dancing sylphlike through this swirling, dreamy film. Wright is a woman with the mien and voice of a girl, able to evoke the inner world of youthful, passionate love.

We wonder about "Julie" (Rae Dawn Chong). Is she in love or in awe of "Sarah" or is she just an observer? We find her quietly and thoughtfully watching "Sarah" seemingly with longing, but there is little interaction between them.

"Denial" lacks nothing in crisp cinematography and excitement, from the train scenes that frame the movie, to the cliff-top, ocean scenes, to the lovely house and grounds where much of the magical action takes place.

"Denial" is imbued with the haunting piano chords of Harold Budd which complement the songs on the sound-track. It's an intriguing love story without special effects, car chases, "Matrix"-like calisthenics or gunshots to jolt you and "move you to the edge of your seat." There are no heroic death scenes.

Here are excerpts from Dignam's lyrical script. "Julie" in voiceover:

"I've always just wanted to leave... Live another life... Start over again... Different... An unknown person... So that what is written on me is with my own hand.

I didn't know if I'd ever see her ["Sarah"] again But two years later I saw her... in an airport. Again things had changed Again there was little acknowledgement of what we both knew."

What is it that they "both knew?" Has something gone on between them that we've missed? Is it the acknowledgement" that Sarah is a lightweight, that she's out of touch with reality, a "loon" as her friends call her? "Julie" implies that "Loon" makes things up. "Loon" was an alternate title for the movie.

Julie continues:

"Then Sarah opened a book and showed me a poem, And 'wasn't it beautiful?' Sarah said. Apollo stood on the high cliff 'Come to the edge...' he said 'It's too high...' they said 'Come to the edge...' he said 'We'll fall...' they said 'Come to the edge...' he said And they did... And he pushed them... And they flew."

A shame that "Denial" went straight to video. If the movie came from Europe, or the director's name was Bergman, Rohmer or Bunuel, its reception and fate would probably have been more sanguine.

Erin Dignam and Robin Wright, with a fine performance by William Hurt, later made "Loved" ('97), another subtle, clever, underrated movie. Both merit revival and writer-director Dignam deserves another film.

Teaching Mrs. Tingle

If only our substitute teachers were more like Molly Ringwald
If you like the high school genre based movie, and even if you don't, "Mrs. Tingle" tops many other movies. We know that the "students" in high school movies are usually actors in their twenties, but so what! High school antics are metaphors, or preliminary steps toward the antics that pass for adulthood.

What makes "Mrs. Tingle" special is not only a stellar cast, led by Helen Mirren ("The Cook The Thief His Wife...") as Mrs. Tingle, but an outstanding, for once, literate script. One of the elements of that script is the correct use of terms like "irony" and "metaphor." There aren't many high school movies that get that esoteric.

There are romance and sex, and cute actors and comedy, and plot twists, all well done. Barry Watson, Katie Holmes and Marisa Coughlan play the tudents (or antagonists) of Mrs. Tingle, as well as her kidnappers. They are vivacious, they are silly, they are moving and they are charming.

In "Mrs. Tingle" I expected the usual high school romp, and the usual cliches, but I didn't expect the intelligence behind the making of this film. "Tingle" may not be as ambitious as the brilliant "Wild Things" which moves away from the high school milieu, for its exciting development. And so does "Tingle" though in a less flamboyant way. "Tingle" is more of a theatre piece, but not a wit less enthralling than "Wild Things."

Much of "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" takes place in Mrs. Tingle's elegant mansion, and in Mrs. Tingle's luxurious bedroom, in which a "restrained" Helen Mirren gives one of her not to be missed performances. And in which Marisa Coughlan gives one of her own splendid performances.

When she's not the principal's receptionist, Molly Ringwald takes on the task of substitute teaching, and she delivers a 21st Century lesson on Napoleon and Josephine that is raunchy and hilarious. When I went to school, for some reason, we gave our substitute teachers a hard time. If they were more like Molly Ringwald, I think we wouldn't have.

"Mrs. Tingle" is one in a long line of American high school movies, and one that joins my list of extraordinary ones like, "Pump Up the Volume" and "Wild Things." And the sound track doesn't disappoint.

Love Crimes

Hollywood sometimes surprises us.
Does a woman become exquisitely androgynous when her hair is cut short and combed like a man's, and she is made to look boyish? Hell, yeah! At least, as long as she has her clothes on. For an erotic psychological thriller, try "Love Crimes" (1991), with an exquisitely androgynous Sean Young and a handsome Patrick Bergin.

Sean Young's co-star, Patrick Bergin, is special as the perp. Her voice is velvety and seductive, and so is his. Prosecutor/detective Dana Greenaway (Young), is good-looking, and so is photographer/perpetrator, David Hanover (Bergin). They're a perfect match, on opposite sides of the coin, since he's the evil one and she is trying to nab him by switching jobs from prosecutor to detective and going out into the field alone.

Nothing is far-fetched in cinema any more than in life, and the plot of "Love Crimes" is based on events in the life of fashion photographer, Richard Avedon.

It's so gripping and near-perfect a movie, that I postponed watching the denouement for one night so as not to spoil what I'd seen so far, by an ending. Then, I thought to watch the movie to the end in increments, or to never know it. But, I gave in the second night and watched it through.

If "Love Crimes" has anything but a Hollywood ending, it will make for a rare American movie because the potential is there. And, in part, that's where director, Lizzie Borden, leads us. Aren't we right to expect something unusual from a director with the name, Lizzie Borden, named after America's notorious axe-murderer?

In "Love Crimes" Sean Young does something erotically outrageous, the likes of which hasn't been seen in a movie since beautiful Maruschka Detmers fellated her co-star, Federico Pitzalis, in Marco Bellochio's gem,"Il Diavolo in Corpo" ("Devil in the Flesh"), fifteen years ago.

In "Love Crimes" an exciting cat and mouse chase is enacted between photographer, David Hanover (Bergin) and prosecutor/ detective, Dana Greenaway (Young). Something strange occurs in several confrontations between Greenaway and Hanover when Hanover disarms himself by giving up a loaded gun--and more than once. By this act, the director suddenly ups the tension many notches by abruptly shifting the balance of power.

Lizzie Borden is up to something and on track for deviating from the Hollywood norm. The episodes of power shifting played slowly (as they should be) make us wonder what the good guy will do. They may be the best moments of a remarkable movie. See how far the director is willing to take it.

"Love Crimes" like any movie has flaws but they don't take away from the delicate psychological jousting of the antagonists Some time in their lives men and women possess a physical beauty that reaches its height. When that beauty is exploited by a director and captured by the camera, beauty's pleasure is transmitted to whoever is sensitive to it. Such is the beauty of Sean Young and Patrick Bergin when they made "Love Crimes."

Patrick Bergin may engender as much sympathy as we give Don Juan, but we shouldn't confuse that with a fine performance. He is the perp and he is superb as a convincingly seductive confidence man.

Bergin is gentle, smart, soft-spoken and manipulative. He is also liable to self-destruct or to attack when his mind or emotions dictate. We don't know what he'll do next, or what Sean Young will do either, and that is the film's charm.

Some of the new female directors either like having their female leads appear mannish, like Robin Wright in "Loved" and Sean Young in "Love Crimes," or choose to make a movie in which the lead character calls for a male impersonator like Hilary Swank in "Boys Don't Cry."

If you look at some films directed by women going back to Diane Kurys' "Entre Nous" to "Thelma and Louse," "The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love," "Loved" "Kissed" and "Love Crimes" you get a refreshingly varied perspective on the nature of women and men. The new female directors travel along interesting paths with their unique vision of the human animal and the human condition, and hopefully they'll let us come along more often.


Along with "Kissed" "Loved" is the other sleeper of 1997.
If "Titanic" is what moves you, then skip "Loved." If you prefer slow-paced, thoughtful drama without special effects, noise or guns, where you have to put a lot of pieces together yourself, this is your movie. I don't believe that a movie is to be seen, half-digested and compartmentalized after one viewing, certainly not if it has any of the elements of subtle poignancy that this movie has. And because they are so good, I want more from writer-director, Erin Dignam and the lead actors, William Hurt and Robin Wright. I like looking at William Hurt and at Robin Wright even when they say nothing, when they struggle to find the right words. They can take all the time in the world, they are so impressive in their thoughtful solitude. Speak of a mismatched pair: a tall, dowdy lawyer of scholarly mien and a beautiful waif of athletic prowess. In this movie there is a chance to see if opposites attract after all. William Hurt and Robin Wright deliver flawless acting. He is a California prosecutor taking on a battered woman case, and Wright is the more than willing victim, the reluctant witness that has to be subpoenaed to testify. Imagine a sunny, naive, diffident, young California woman moving to New York City to get away from a first teen-age entanglement that leaves her damaged physically and emotionally. That's Wright character, Hedda. A one-time Olympic swimming contender, she returns to California for the prosecution of her former abusive boy-friend, who is wont to repeat his aggressive behaviour with others. Hurt is recruited to prosecute this difficult case, to end, or at least, to put a dent in this man's damage. If there are flaws in the film, they lie in no information being given about Wright's life in New York, and what it is that has hurt the prosecutor's past life and career. He seems to have lost his way but we don't know why. There is only so much reading between the lines one can do though it could be me that doesn't read well. Wright's character may be too naive to be believable, but on the other hand, it is called the battered spouse "syndrome." In the loose ends and in the space between thelines lie the beauty of this movie. Something unsaid may be happening between the prosecutor (Hurt) and his witness (Wright). Two lovable, damaged people may or may not be inching, reaching out to each other. Two near-fully realized characters are presented to us to make of them what we will because the writer-director won't give the store away. I prefer it that way. "Loved" is a compelling theatre piece, perhaps in the vein of an "Oleanna." In "Loved" the dark courtoom scenes are set within those of a bright, sunshiny Santa Monica and Redondo Beach. You may feel like walking around Santa Monica after when the movie ends. I do. Adventure seekers, romance novel readers and fans of "Godfather 15; 16; 17," ad nauseum, need not apply.

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