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In this episode: Run Lola Run | Tiny Desserts | An Ideal Husband

Talk about your limited release! This is showing in one theater here in L.A. despite it getting very good reviews. I saw it Sunday night, and the theater was packed, so word of mouth is doing well for this German confection. Maybe one theater's fine because, with an audience the size of Sunday's, you get all the laughter and cheering you'd want for a movie like this.

"An audience laughing and cheering for a foreign film? Really? They didn't do that during Wild Strawberries! Guess Lola Rennt must be fun." You got it, sister. Run Lola Run is what I guess you could call a European Hollywood film. It's fast-paced and filled with action. Unlike most Hollywood films, though, there's a solid sense of style and purpose to this movie. (The nearest comparison that comes to my mind is La Femme Nikita.) Such solidity is rare in a mass-produced American film because too many people stick their fingers in the film can. Nothing's useless or wasted here, not even the yellow train Lola runs under or the white Beemer driven by three thugs or the silly, long piece of glass carried, of course, slowly across the road by workmen.

Run Lola Run, to give you a brief synopsis, is simple: Lola gets a call from her boyfriend, Manni. Thanks to a series of events revealed in an at-first confusing style, Manni loses a bag full of cash he was supposed to deliver to what I must assume is some drug dealer guy. (I need to see it again to catch that detail.) Manni has to meet the guy in 20 minutes, but without the DM100,000, he's dead. Lola tells him to wait for her, and she runs. She doesn't know what she's going to do, but she runs.

The movie is split into thirds. In the first third, Lola chooses a course that ends up going wrong. However, all is not lost; the movie is reset, and Lola gets the chance to try again to save Manni. It's a linear video game. No luck the first time? Try again. Like in a video game, timing is everything in the movie, and one event effects another to change other events in the future, even by fractions of a second.

Now we've all seen the plot where the same events happen over and over until things are done right. But as I said, this movie stands out in detail and style. The movie is so overly-stylized, in fact, that for the first 15 or 20 minutes, I wasn't sure I was liking the film. It looked like Tom Tykwer, the writer and director, was trying a wee bit too hard to be cool. But the movie grows. It grows in cleverness and spectacle, and it grows on you. Like William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, the opening is a bludgeon of peculiarity, forcing the director's style into your head so that he can relax a bit later and pull out the style cards more leisurely during the rest of the movie without losing the audience. Best to lose audience members at the very beginning than over the course of the whole movie. I thought the blunt style worked for Romeo + Juliet, and it works here, too.

Lola's actions not only effect her and Manni's futures, but the futures of others, as well, as is shown in either a series of quick cut stills or in shot-on-video footage. The quick-cut stills, which always begin with a title card "AND THEN" or its German equivalent, are used by Tykwer to show when Lola's actions effect others' lives in the long term. For instance, a man on a bicycle she shrugs off: AND THEN *poof* accident *poof* hospital *poof* bandages *poof* restaurant *poof* waitress *poof* conversation *poof* love *poof* marriage. The next time Lola encounters the bicyclist, her interaction with him is different and his series of stills change to a more unhappy fate.

The video footage is used to show when people other than Manni and Lola are living their lives while not directly being influenced by either of them. After Lola's third encounter with the bicyclist, for instance, instead of stills he gets video footage. Lola is out of his life, now, and while she's still running somewhere else, the bicyclist's life is continuing. He turns a corner and the movie cuts to video. He pulls up to a sausage stand and orders some food. He encounters a man there and makes a deal to sell the bike. All events are connected in the movie, and we need these video pieces to show us how others' actions will be influencing Lola and Manni's lives later. Everyone's interconnected.

Another thing rarely used in your typical Hollywood blockbuster crap is symbolic color. Check out how red is used in this movie. Lola's hair, first of all, is bright red. The logo on the store Manni is tempted to rob to get his money is red. The ambulance, which is connected to Lola in a very surprising way beyond the obvious, is red. The red phone. The red plastic bag. The red lighting in the interludes between segments. And several other small occurrences that will require me to see the movie again to pick up on consciously. I also think there is something about yellow, maybe symbolic of Manni, but I'd have to watch for that in a second screening, too. I may just be making that one up.

Beyond style, the movie works because you really have no idea how things will change from one section to the next. There are genuine surprises all throughout the movie, things you never would have guessed would happen. I can tell you that when Wild Wild West comes out tomorrow, nothing in that movie will really be a surprise. But here, the plot and the characters are always surprising you, and that's the most fun of all.

Run Lola Run is stylish fluff with just a hint of weight. It's really fun and if it comes to a small theater near you, you need to go see it. If you have to wait for video, fine. Better to see it than not. Big recommendation on this one.

Here in L.A., Run Lola Run is being shown with a short called Desserts. It's only a couple minutes long, but it is hilarious. Ewan McGregor stars, which makes the tiny film that much more interesting. If you see Run Lola Run, brace yourself for Desserts. Hopefully it will be showing in your town as well.

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To my knowledge, I have never seen or read any Oscar Wilde before this month. I blame the aluminum in my anti-perspirant for my being unable to be sure about that. Now, within two weeks, I have seen a Wilde play (The Importance of Being Earnest) and a movie based on a Wilde play (An Ideal Husband). Interestingly enough, in one scene in Husband, the characters are at the theater watching a production of Earnest! Very amusing.

The Importance of Being Earnest was tons o' fun. It was staged in high comedic s tyle, with lots of bold mugging and overdone gestures. An Ideal Husband, on the other hand, is quite reserved. Stage acting of course is always bigger since it has to reach people way in the back or up in the balcony of the theater, but a film, with its close-ups and close miking, can be more subtle. An Ideal Husband is a very good comedic "thriller." I say thriller because it includes politics, blackmail, sexual deceit, and classic misunderstanding, all with a small, subtle touch. The film unfolds as slowly as the characters speak, as languidly as they live their lives. But there's plenty of sideways glances and barely-visible mugging to provide substance. Oh, and there's the writing, too, of course. It's splendid.

I won't bother with a plot summary here. I'll just say instead that the acting is all very fine. Rupert Everett is perfect as the smug bachelor Lord Arthur Goring. Watch him carefully here for his subtlely humorous line readings, because he's gonna go completely the opposite way in Inspector Gadget. Rupert is funny. Funny, funny, funny. And as he's the central character, that's a good thing.

Cate Blanchett. Ah, can I say enough good about her? When I've seen her before, she's played very intense, strong, powerful characters (Oscar and Lucinda, Elizabeth). Here, as Lady Gertrud Chiltern, the moral wife of politician Sir Robert Chiltern, she tones down her intensity enough to show you that Gertrud is strong and intelligent, but not controlling. An excellent performance. And those eyes!

Minnie Driver is cute as Mabel Chiltern. She gets to be a little more goofy then some of the other characters, so she makes funny faces and stuff. Minnie's good. So is Julianne Moore as the slimy Mrs. Cheveley. Jeremy Northam is a good put-upon Robert Chiltern. All good, nice, and often excellent performances.

The movie was dark. At first I thought the projector bulb was dim, but I think this is really how the movie was supposed to look, because the previews were okay. So the dim look of the film—at least the interiors and night shots—ads to the "thriller" feel. I wonder how this play would look as staged by the folks who did Earnest at the Pasadena Playhouse, all jaunty and light. Probably very different. This version, though, stands up very well and is worth your time to see. With the usual disclaimer that it's always better to see a movie in the theater rather than on video, this movie would play nicely on the small screen, since it's such a reserved feature. Letterboxed, of course, would be preferable.

Give ol' Oscar a try!



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  ©1999 Steven Lekowicz