Cinephilia, Eyestrain, Vertigo

This year's New York Film Festival kept movie buffs reeling.

          subUrbiaOr: The Further Decline of Western Civilization. Director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused) again proves his gift of gab and love of young actors in adapting an acid script by Eric Bogosian (based on his play), which follows some 20-year-old Caucasian slackers during a very long night of pounding beers and hanging out in the parking lot of a convenience store. Set in the fictional, aptly named town of Burnfield, subUrbia conducts an anthropological study of cable TV/Lotto/alternarock/Slurpie/skateboard culture, and its deadening, ultimately violent effects. With its spare budget and dialogue-driven narrative, this film could conceivably be made by one of its characters, although one punk who wields a stolen camcorder is interested only in plotting his MTV manifesto. As in Kids, the boys are depicted as volatile predators, the girls as fragile prey. The two most sensitive of these souls almost connect, but not quite--a tragedy which the director observes somberly, as if mourning the fate of an entire generation. Or does Linklater believe that this post-teen angst is just a phase? In either case, Clerks director Kevin Smith has nothing on him, and this will surely be a major film when it's released in February.

          The People vs. Larry Flynt A romance set in the porn industry, a bio-pic of Hustler's publisher by the Czech director of Amadeus (Milos Forman), and a near-great studio movie, this is holiday-season entertainment at its most perverse. It charts the life of Larry Flynt (Woody Harrelson), an enterprising Kentucky redneck who built an "adult magazine" empire from the toilet up, married his star model (Courtney Love), and became paralyzed by an assassin's bullet before finding God, losing his mind, and antagonizing arch-nemesis Jerry Falwell in a series of hilariously anarchic court cases. Obviously, an amazing story. But the film is also a shrewd amalgam of talent, combining the sympathy-for-the-weirdo approach of Ed Wood's screenwriters with the counterculture fixations of Forman, the capitalist satire of co-producer Oliver Stone, and the more sordid details of Love's own biography. As the sole voice of sanity, Flynt's lawyer (Edward Norton) serves as a surrogate for the lefty viewer: He detests his client's profession even while passionately defending the man's civil liberties. Going a step further, Larry Flynt sells us on the notion of a "smut peddler" as a First Amendment hero and the epitome of family values. Only in America, indeed.

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