FEBRUARY 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 2


Holy Smoke

The Talented Mr. Ripley
Man on the Moon
Any Given Sunday


Short Takes
Grading from A-F

Die-hard football fans will enjoy the on-field action and numerous cameos (Johnny Unitas, Lawrence Taylor, Jim Brown) while the casual movie-goer can appreciate the performances of James Wood, Diaz and Pacino. With all the sports-as-life metaphors flying around today, you could do much worse than "Any Given Sunday." [More]

This film definitely needed to do something to help it from its tired, slow moving agenda. I found myself as disconnected from Tom Ripley at the end as I did at the beginning. And I barely cared whether he killed anyone else or was killed himself. As long as I didn't have to watch anymore, I was ready to applaud for the one who came out on top. [More]

A film about, at best, a secondary comedy talent who didn't have enough time on this earth to establish himself as a performer or actor must rely on strong characterization to make the film interesting. Unfortunately, the story lets down a strong cast and solid direction. [More]

- Renaissance Online staff

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Holy Smoke - Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel, Pam Grier Up In Smoke
Unanswerable questions turn beautiful journey into hazy, ridiculous jaunt

Rating: B

Starring Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel, Pam Grier. Directed by Jane Campion. Written by Anna Campion and Jane Campion.

Rated R for strong sexuality and language.

Running Time: 114m.


The American release of Jane Campion's Holy Smoke amidst the public's tug-of-war over the fate of Elian Gonzalez is fitting: the film begins with the decision of a young woman, Ruth (Kate Winslet), to forsake her Australian upbringing and remain in New Delhi, India, where she has sought and found truth through a guru. Her family in Sydney devise a plan by which the mother flies to India, finds her daughter, feigns the coming death of her husband and entreats her daughter to return home.

Ruth is none too eager to leave her newfound freedom, especially when confronted with the next phase of the family's plotting. They have flown in PJ (Harvey Keitel), American cult-exiter extraordinaire, to spend three full days removing all traces of Ruth's recent experiences.

And thus she finds the privacy of her own spiritual persuasions exploited. She is prohibited to exercise any authority over her own life, and this includes the ability to choose her own environs. The film is an exploration of possession, specifically the ownership of one's children, one's mind, one's body. Ruth's dependence on her faith is destroyed and briefly replaced by the presence of the man who is supposed to fix her. But this soon shifts and Ruth assumes control of an acquiescent PJ. Such an easily phased man provides an interesting extension of Keitel's all-too-familiar character of the "fix-it guy" from Pulp Fiction. Here, Ruth's power deprives him not only of his initially detached, authoritative position as cult-exiter, but also of his pants; He spends much of the film prancing about the outback in red lipstick and a matching dress, vaguely reminiscent of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert.

Such blurred gender lines are signature to Australian film making, but Campion also succeeds at entwining physical geography and spiritual enlightenment; ancient dance and modern, Western music; the traditional Indian Sari dress and the newer, German Berkenstock sandal. Clothes in this film, as anywhere, become defining labels of people, beliefs and cultures, and loss of clothing allows both Ruth and PJ to reevaluate their bodies as reflections of their minds.

Campion's premise is strong, but she offers no instruction, no play of morals, no distinction of right and wrong. Instead, her resolutions are circumstantial and comical. To her credit she has avoided the distinctions of good and evil; there are no winners at the end, and Ruth's battle is within herself. The film's first half is engaging and involved, and includes some gorgeous shots of India. Campion dares to raise certain unanswerable questions. But that is the rub and that is why the film loses momentum. There are no answers. What begins as a beautiful and stirring quest of the mind becomes a ridiculous jaunt through the country. The intrigue halts, the humor dries up, and then there is only frustration.

LAURA MACCABEE is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine.

PICTURE copyright © 1999 Miramax Pictures.

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